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!