I didn’t know what to expect of Kuwait, but everyone I spoke to before going seemed to expect something tough and dangerous. I didn’t do any research on tourism or traveling there, but I knew I was visiting a friend that would answer all my questions once I got there. I knew Nima from university days back in Canada, and though he’s Iranian, he’s lived half his life in Kuwait and lives there now with his American wife and son. I thought they’d be an exception, but there were dozens of international couples and even more North American raised or educated residents and ex-pats.
The surprises started as soon as I landed. It was the middle of the night, but we drove to a neighbourhood of mansions where I was shown to their home’s guest bedroom, outfitted with a welcome package of toiletries, snacks, and my own pyjamas. Their house was more like a private apartment complex, with an elevator connecting the 4 floors. His family lived on the top floor, his brother below, his parents on the ground floor, and the driver, maid, nanny and cook in the basement, where they also had a gym, pool, and hottub. There was a library too, but it looked more like a museum of fine china, oriental ornaments and exotic collectables.
I soon learned that Kuwait is one of the safest and richest countries in the middle east, quickly rebuilding and developing itself since Iraq finally left them alone. They have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, and many jobs and even land are given by the government. They’ve also perfected a sort of modernized slavery, an economy of servants and workers imported to help the upperclass people avoid any undesirable or mundane tasks. Today Kuwait feels more like Southern California, with every American restaurant or coffee chain accessible from multi-lane highways filled with oversized Ford trucks or shiny Dodge sports cars. All the cars are shiny, since having a dusty car means you don’t have someone to clean it every day, which is an impressive feat in a desert country where dust falls constantly. There are also more Landcruisers and Toyota Landcruisers per capita than I’ve seen anywhere else, and just in our parking lot there were 5 cars, including a Bentley and Nima’s buttercup yellow BMW M3.
But not all things are so modern in Kuwait, a country where some of the most conservative Muslims rule the country. There was even a call to prayer at the Kuwait International airport when I was flying out, a sound that’ s become all too familiar starting at 4 or 5 am and repeating itself throughout the day. Pork is illegal, and a luxury commodity for any ex-pats who manage to smuggle in some jamon Iberico. Alcohol is very illegal, for everyone except ambassadors, and those who manage to buy any off the black market pay an extraordinary premium. Other things, like gasoline, may as well be free, since the price for on liter of gas is more expensive than a liter of bottled water. I guess this helps people afford their gas-guzzling cars and other expensive hobbies, like horse-back riding which they do very well. I visited one riding club and don’t think I’ve ever seen so many beautiful, fit, well-groomed horses at one stable. I wanted to stay forever, but I don’t think the Indian or Pakistani grooms would have liked me trying to compete for a job.