Kuwait 2000 #2: Wandering

Kuwait 2000

Pix & Text by
Pradeep Selvakumar

Tuesday dawned bright and clear, and my brother Praveen and I drove down to the beach. He lives in India, and was visiting as well. Until I reached Kuwait, he’d been bored out of his mind, since he couldn’t drive there with his Indian driver’s license. I, on the other hand, had on me a ge-nu-ine driver’s license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and could drive on
one wheel if I so wished.

We stopped by one of the more distinctive features in Kuwait City, The Kuwait towers. There is, of course, a rotating restaurant in one of the globes on the largest tower, and the globe on the smaller tower actually holds water! The smallest tower exists solely to illuminate the other two (picture at top of page 1).

We couldn’t go to the top of the tower as it was closed for Eid and would only open in January. My poor brother was shivering in the 60�F (15�C) weather, and was bundled up in three layers and a Russian hat. He wasn’t too concerned about making any fashion statements.

There were a few people fishing, but otherwise everything was quiet. It was the month of Ramadan, and people generally spend the days indoor. Even if you’re not a Muslim, you’re not allowed to eat or drink in public during the day. Dad had told us to eat and drink plenty before we left home in the morning. But since the distances were so short, we wouldn’t have been more than a 45-minute ride to home at anytime.

I was beginning to feel bored. The city itself didn’t seem to present too many photographic opportunities and the harsh sunlight wasn’t helping. This was my first trip after I had taken up photography as a hobby, and was still at a loss as to what comprised “Interesting photography.” I had impressed everyone with my Canon Rebel-G (the cheapest SLR made by Canon, but who’d know?), the Sigma 28-300 Lens (a “penis lens”, as labeled by Philip Greenspun of photo.net fame) and my humongous Sunpak flash. What little I knew of photography I’d learned off the Web, and knew enough terminology to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

If nothing else, a huge camera would at least merit an army Apache helicopter checking you out, as happened to me towards the end of the trip. Everywhere I went, I had my camera backpack with the tripod hanging off the back and I got plenty of glances from the locals.

I took a few more shots, then decided to drive up the road to check out if there was anything interesting that I could come back and shoot in the soft evening light. The buildings are all brand new. After the Iraqis were driven out, every single building was rebuilt exactly as it was before the war. I saw a couple of buildings that caught my interest and decided to return later. We went home for lunch.

Looking back, I wish I’d spent more time outside the city, but my parents were reluctant to venture too far off the beaten track. Justifiably so, as the only health risk listed for Kuwait at lonelyplanet.com is “unexploded bombs and mines.” Also, a recent foray by a few expat families (including my parents) to the oil fields of Wafra in the south had ended with them being surrounded by Kuwaiti security. They were questioned, albeit politely, as to just what they were doing in a restricted area. Turned out they were lost, and no one could read the warning signs in Arabic. The security men wanted to see what had been filmed in one of the camcorders, which also held some footage of south Tamilnadu in India. The guards wondered just why anyone would leave such beautiful country to come and live in Kuwait. The grass is always greener.

We returned later in the day and went by the science center, next to which is this pyramid-shaped mosque. I had to go around a few times before I figured just where exactly it was OK to park. There were more people out at this time of the day strolling along the beach. I was slowly beginning to relax and enjoy myself. Even my brother had decided to brave the cold and left the Russian hat behind.

We saw this tent like structure on the beach but couldn’t figure out what it was. Seemed ornamental, in any case. I wanted to ask someone, but no one seemed interested in talking to me. People don’t say “hello,” or smile at strangers as they do in the US. I suppose it is a cultural thing,
as I don’t remember going about smiling at strangers in India. I was trying to be friendly, but most people looked right through me, like I was non-existent. It may have had something to do with the fact I was Indian, since the Kuwaitis didn’t seem particularly friendly towards what is after all the hired help. Of course, this was my initial impression, and as events would prove later, they are as friendly as people from any other country.

I was waiting for the sun to set so I could shoot the towers illuminated at night. We went back closer to the towers and I was waiting on a bench while my brother decided to sit in the car since it was too cold for him. That’s when the cats came out.

Apparently, it’s against the Koran to have dogs as pets, and so there are a lot of cats – stray ones at that. They seemed pretty tame, and followed me around expecting handouts. There were a few people jogging or walking but no one seemed interested in being sociable. It was getting dark, so we went over to the towers and I set my tripod in the middle of the parking lot and shot a couple of extended exposures. Then we went home for dinner.

I spent Wednesday dodging my mom’s questions about when I planned to get married and settle down. She’d cooked the best breakfast I’d had in a long time and I was enjoying being pampered. She told me she’s reconsidering her planned visit to the States during winter. She’d always wanted to see snow, but seeing how she could barely stand the 60�F Kuwaiti winter, she feels she might not be able to tolerate Boston in the winter.

I pretty much bummed around the house, writing emails and playing solitaire. I also read some Indian magazines, and the pictures in the Tamil weeklies convinced me that Kuwait was quite liberal when it came to showing skin.
However, I noticed that a couple of pictures depicting bare midriffs in English language Indian magazines had been blackened with a marker.

I was first surprised that they actually had people hand censoring every single issue that came into the country. Then when I realized they did this only with English language magazines, I was even more intrigued. Maybe they assumed that vernacular magazines wouldn’t have any “offensive” pictures. But they have Indian movie posters replete with such “suggestive” pictures in public places! And of course MTV India pretty much gets beamed into every house. Seemed odd.