Kuwait 2000 #5: Departure

Kuwait 2000

Pix & Text by
Pradeep Selvakumar

I was leaving Kuwait the next day, so decided I might as well go to Doha village. There wasn’t much else to do anyway. From the map I realized I had indeed gone towards the port and not the village the day before. I left after an early brunch, and made it to the checkpoint in 20 minutes. Past it, I made a right towards Entertainment City and the road seemed to lead straight to it. Confused, I saw a road lead off to the left that I could reach after making a U-turn. I decided to go down that narrow road, and this time I could clearly see the entrance to the US army base, which was now on my left. Again I saw a lot of signs that essentially said, “Don’t even think about stopping or slowing down.”

I drove with growing apprehension, when I saw a humvee that pretty much took up both lanes of the road. Before I could decide if had to get off the road to allow him to pass, he got off the road and made a beeline for Entertainment City. Guess he was in a hurry to catch a roller coaster. The humvee looked pretty menacing painted in that desert camouflage pattern, and I decided that I’d better turn around and get out of there.

By the time I reached the checkpoint, I’d regained my composure. I had to at least ask somebody before giving up. I made yet another U-turn and this time parked the car some distance away. Leaving my camera in the car, I picked up the map and held it open in my hands as I walked towards the soldiers. Hopefully that would convince them I wasn’t a threat.

I spoke to a Kuwaiti soldier, whose English was limited. He seemed puzzled that I wanted to go to Doha village. &qupt;Why you go there?” he wanted to know. I shrugged and said I wanted to take pictures. He didn’t seem to know the way and I later realized he just didn’t think I wanted to go to Doha of all places. He kept pointing in the opposite direction. I then asked an American soldier, but he didn’t know anything about the village either. He apologized for being unable to help, when the Kuwaiti walked up to me and told me to go the same way I’d gone before.

This time I drove more confidently, and there was no humvee blocking the road. I drove past the base and went past a few run down buildings. I stopped by a shop that had model dhows for sale. I wasn’t planning on buying any, but they seemed fairly well-made. Finally, something that was authentic Kuwaiti handicraft instead of those “Made in Taiwan” trinkets at the jamaiyas.

There were three men in the store, and they gathered around me. I asked how much and one said 20KD. Didn’t seem too shabby for US$60. Then another asked if I was Sri Lankan. I said I was from India and immediately their faces brightened. Turned out they were all from India: a Punjabi, a Keralite and the other from Andhra. The Punjabi made the models. So much for authentic Kuwaiti craftsmanship! I took a picture of them and told them I’d come back later.

If ever I saw a one-camel town, this was it! There was very little there and even fewer people. So this was the place I had been trying to reach the last few days. No wonder everyone looked at me strangely whenever I said I wanted to go to Doha.

There seemed to be some boat building facilities as promised by Lonelyplanet, but they were all closed. Then came the boat junkyards. What a depressing place! There were all sorts of boats in all stages of decay, most rotting in the water, a few on land. I could see great sand dunes far away across the channel, and from the map I couldn’t see any road that ran along the water on that side, so either I could go home or hang around. I decided to hang around.

I went up a narrow strip of land towards a gate and adjoining guardhouse and parked. When I got out I noticed a man on his back painting the underside of a boat-trailer. A guard from the guardhouse came up to me and started speaking in Arabic. I told him I didn’t speak the language and looked towards the painter for help. He asked me if I knew Hindi – obviously an Indian. My Hindi is very limited and by the time I told him I knew a little bit I had exhausted my meager vocabulary. I asked him where he was from and he said Andhra which meant he knew Telugu. My Telugu is way better than my Hindi and we proceeded to have a three-way conversation.

“Ask him if I can take pictures.”

“He wants to know if you’re from the government.”

“Tell him my dad’s a doctor and that I’m from the US.”

“He says you can take pictures outside the gate, but not inside.”

The guard became very friendly and kept pointing at my camera and talking, so I took a picture of him. The Indian smiled and said “He wants you to mail the picture to him. I said thanks in Arabic and walked towards the rusting hulls.

Nothing much here. I gave up after a while and decided to drive back. An African couple passed me in a car and the man waved at me. I waved back and thought “another Lonelyplanet frequenter.” I drove past the village and decided to park under the shade of the only tree in sight. A rare car went by me once in a while. I started thinking about work. The place was absolutely still.

Suddenly, I heard a chopper. By the time I got out of the car they (there were two) had flown past me behind the buildings. I looked around and decided I might as well walk towards the water and take some shots of Kuwait City in the distance. May be I’ll get lucky and get a picture of a chopper landing at the base. I remembered the “unexploded mines” from the Lonelyplanet health risk warning and decided to walk on the tire tracks of off-road vehicles that seemed to have frequented the flat expanse of land between road and sea. There were a few waist high shrubs, but nothing else.

I reached the high water mark, and since it was low tide the water was a couple of hundred feet away. All sorts of things had washed up on the beach, but the most interesting was the remains of a cow, the skeleton all twisted up on itself. I decided to be even more careful about where I stepped. Mines were one thing, but I definitely did not want to step on a dead cow.

I started walking towards the water, when the ground felt a little sticky. The water hadn’t gone out all that long ago. I could see fresh bird footprints (is that the right term?). I looked about for a while, then
decided to walk in a bit more. My shoes’d get a bit muddy, so what? I stopped when one of my shoes almost came off, sticking to the ground. I pondered the situation for about five minutes and then decided to turn back. I almost fell over! There was about 4 inches of mud stuck to the sole of my shoes, and the weight was throwing me off balance. I walked v-e-r-y carefully and decided to walk back to the car, just so the mud would come off. Once I got back I decided I might as well take the car up to the high water mark, there seemed to be a dirt road of sorts running along the shore.

I drove back and proceeded to setup the tripod and waited, though I didn’t know for what. May be I could get some more sunset shots, but it looked like it was going to be setting over the base and it didn’t look very interesting. I took a couple of shots of the skyline, and a few more of the gulls that seemed to be everywhere.

There were helicopters landing and taking off from the base all the time, and I shot a few frames. Then an Apache (I guessed, and later confirmed) took off and flew over Entertainment City and seemed to hesitate over the water. He went back over the base and then I couldn’t see him as the sun was in my face. I realized he was going to fly directly over me, probably trying to find out just what the heck I was up to. He made sure I couldn’t see him by keeping the sun behind him, but I dared not raise my camera anyway. What if he thought I was trying to shoot him down with a rocket launcher? As my dad later told me, he probably had equipment that could tell him the make and model of my camera, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I couldn’t see anything anyway. At the last moment he veered off and I took a couple of shots. Damn, he was flying so low. I then hung around until sunset hoping he’d take pity on me and fly close again so I could get some decent shots. No luck. I exposed a couple of frames of the sunset, then headed home.

Went to a New Year’s party, which was as interesting as could be expected, wished everyone a Happy New Year and hit the sack. I remember thinking that I must have discovered something deep about myself on this trip, but I was too tired to be “straining at profundity” as one movie reviewer recently put it. I got back to Boston’s refreshing 30�F weather, dropped off my 8 rolls of film (am not yet up to the three-rolls-a-day standards of some photographers) and slept soundly from 6pm to 2am. #$%^ing jet lag!