Our family spent one year in the little multi-cultural country of Kuwait. The weather can be harsh with brutal heat and sand storms. The law allows women freedom in travel and dress, but many of the cultures found in Kuwait do not understand why a woman would be in public without a man. As a result, my children and I spent much of our year inside our apartment. This post shares what could be learned by looking out of our windows.
Do you see the beautiful water? The Persian Gulf has been a heavily traveled sea way since ancient times. Ships from India, Africa and beyond made their way to Kuwaiti ports bringing a variety of goods, and parts of their own cultures with them. Before oil was discovered in Kuwait, many Kuwaitis were fishermen. Boating and fishing are still popular in Kuwait today.
Do you see the green plants? Although Kuwait is largely dessert, the land is arable. In the south, there are large vegetable farms, and it is common to see beautiful gardens.
Do you see the signs on the stores? Our neighborhood was inhabited almost entirely by expatriates who had come into Kuwait to work. Arabic is the official language of Kuwait, and would always be seen on any signs, but in our area where citizens of Australia, the United States, Britain, the Phillippines, and India (all countries which include English as an official language) live, most road and restaurant signs were also in English. Many restaurant chains and stores found in the United States or Europe are also found in Kuwait.
Kuwaiti families typically live in villas with several levels of apartments for various family members. Our neighborhood was made up primarily of high rise apartment buildings that housed single family units, or large groups of international workers. On the side of the neighborhood toward the Gulf, workers from the richer nations of Europe, America, or Australia would typically be found. As you moved away from the Gulf, the apartment buildings would be occupied by natives of poorer nations such as the Philippines, Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Also prominent in our neighborhood were the Bidoon people. Although they live in Kuwait, they are not considered citizens, and therefore do not share in the privilege and affluence that Kuwaiti citizens enjoy due to their oil earnings.
Notice color the color of the sky in this picture. Sand storms are part of the climate of Kuwait. “Dusty” is a word used to describe the spring weather. Most people try to avoid being outside during these storms which can be somewhat dangerous. Those who must go out cover their faces.
This mosque was not yet in use at the time of this picture. Once it opened, it was heavily attended. On Fridays around 11 am, men would lay large carpets on the ground between the porch and the road. By noon all the space would be filled with the bodies of men prostrating themselves in the traditional Muslim manner.
We heard the call to prayer five times on a normal day, and on holidays there would be extra announcements from the loud speakers. The first call is heard before dawn, and the last call is heard around dusk.
Kuwait follows Sharia law. Pork and alcohol are illegal. During the holy days of Ramadan, only small children and pregnant women may eat or even drink water out doors, in public, or anywhere that a Muslim may be present. Men are welcome to marry up to four wives at one time. However, unlike neighboring countries, women are free to dress as they choose.
The small store in this photo is called a Bakala. Bakalas are a type of convenience store found everywhere in Kuwait Typically the store was run by an Indian man, although all businesses must be owned by Kuwatis. This store offered excellent service, fresh milk, fresh eggs and an amazing selection of other items. If we were running low on water or milk, I could call the bakala. In a matter of minutes, a tall man in typical south Asian dress of a long shirt and loose pants would be walking from the bakala toward our building with my order.
Kuwait is a unique mix of dessert and sea. It possesses a proud national heritage, and engages the entire world. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek out of our windows.
Thank you for this post, Christy! What an incredible view you had from your apartment windows!
MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.
18 thoughts on “World Culture for Kids: Kuwait”
I’ve lived in Kuwait most of my life. I was born and raised there.
Bedouins are nomads and that is why they aren’t considered Kuwaitis.
Though women do have the freedom to move out on their own, it would be preferable to do so in your own private vehicle and not use public transport to do so. Americans would definitely get stared at and people from Asian countries using public transport would be the ones working as maids or lower level workers. That is the reason why I was stared at when I used the public transport in Kuwait.
It has been 15 years since I left Kuwait. But that looks like just one part of town. Each area is so different from the rest of Kuwait. But the common thing would be a mosque at every area. I once lived in an apartment with the speaker of the mosque right next to my window! I got used to the prayers (especially the early morning ones) pretty soon and could sleep through the noise :-)
Bakaalas are found everywhere and almost everything we Indians needed we got there. When I was younger, it was difficult to vegetables and food items that were used in India. Around the time I was a teenager, we used to get everything we would get in India….even state specific food items. I guess that’s because there are quite a lot of Indian expatriates there.
Except during the time of the invasion, I’ve had a good life there and miss my younger days.
Thank you for sharing your experience living in Kuwait!
Those interested in the Bidoon people may find this article by Amnesty International helpful. http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/kuwait
Thank you for your comment. We met many excellent Indian people in Kuwait, and I was privileged to become friends with two wonderful Indian women during our time there.
Thanks for this reply, Christy – especially for the link to more information about the Bidoon people.
I live in Kuwait and all this is very close to my house even the mosque i can see it from my window!
How interesting! I can’t say I’m surprised though:).
What an interesting post! I had no idea about the Bidoon people. And I didn’t realize that in Kuwait you had to be outside with a man. Was it a difficult year in Kuwait?
Thank you! I had no idea about the Bidoon either, until I was sharing their neighborhood! It was a challenging year. I kept this post to what I would share with children, but we lived at close range with some very “adult” realities. Also, I think any significantly cross-cultural life brings stress.
I should note that you don’t legally have to have a man to go out in Kuwait, although that is true of other countries in that region. I preferred not to, because I would typically be followed by a stranger hoping to “get lucky” with an American, even though I had two small children in tow. It is widely believed by many cultures that American women sleep around as a matter of habit. The law tends to side with the more powerful nationality. I did go out a few times with a group of friends and felt safe. Some of my friends went out and felt very comfortable. They said you, “You just have to turn and confront them.” I think it is somewhat a matter of personal temperament on the woman’s part.
I’ve never been to Kuwait, so this was an interesting read. The laws sound similar to those in Saudi Arabia.
The laws are similar, but Saudi Arabia is significantly stricter, particularly when it comes to women’s dress and the right of expatriates to follow religions other than Islam.
Interesting. I like the delivering convenient store!
It was nice, and as Elisa mentioned all restaurants deliver too!
Such a great peek of this country from your apartment!
The architecture is interesting, I’m not too surprised there’s a fair amount of sand colored items there.
Kuwaiti architecture is fascinating! The traditional housing though is tents, which they still use extensively. They are quite elaborate as well. It is interesting how comfortable they are with the color tan.
How amazing!! My dad visited Kuwait several times to help with the oil refineries there, but I never knew what it looked like.
Your pictures and stories remind me of the two years I spent living in Maadi, a wealthy, heavily-expatriate suburb of Cairo, Egypt. The shops all had English signs in addition to Arabic, and you could get literally anything delivered to your door with a simple phone call. For instance, a friend of mine with teenagers frequently ordered McDonald’s for one child, KFC for another, and a steak dinner or something else for she and her husband – all delivered to her door for a single meal.
One of my favourite things was when dust storms occurred (not as serious as in Kuwait, but still a nuisance), our English-speaking Egyptian maid would say to me, “too many dusting, baby!” She also liked to say “too many money, baby” if we were considering buying something she thought was expensive. :)
In Cairo, the laws are more relaxed (well, they were when we lived there – I do not know what it is like today). Pork and alcohol were available, though you had to know where to get them. Women had freedom of dress and could be out by themselves – though it was unwise to take too much freedom with dress when alone, if you didn’t want too many blatant stares. When I went out without my husband, I dressed like a Coptic Christian, covered from neck to toe, but without a head covering. Many, many women lived like you did, largely indoors. I often looked up at the windows of all those high-rises and tried to imagine the lives going on there behind the scenes. Thank you for this glimpse!
I can sympathize with your maid. Sometimes I dusted twice in a day! Your time in Egypt sounds very interesting.
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