Kuwait Day 3 – Like a Fish-Market Cat

IMG_5322Monday morning started bright and early with the call to prayer from the mosque across the street. Thankfully, I could fall back asleep afterwards and finally got up around 8, showered and headed up to have breakfast. The small restaurant is on the 12th floor (as is the pool and weight room) so I was enjoying my yogurt and honey while deciding what to do with the day. The rest of the Aga-Boom crew was due to arrive this morning, in fact, they should already be here and…

There was a ping on my phone – They were here and would be coming up for breakfast shortly. We had a nice reunion and made plans. They were all going to take a brief rest after their longs flights and then we’d meet up at 2 for our arranged tour. I’d gotten a possible itinerary the day before from Fatma, our contact with the production company, and of the eight stops, 5 of them were malls (and of the remaining 3, one was a souk, which is basically a swap meet or mugė). So lots of shopping was on the agenda.

IMG_5376Our first stop, though, was at Kuwait Towers, which look much more impressive up close than they do from our hotel. It’s a landmark made up of three spires, with 0-2 spheres pierced on each. The largest spire, with two spheres, offers an observation deck on the second, smaller sphere and a restaurant in the larger, lower one. We went up as high as we could and enjoyed the views before heading back down to continue our tour.

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The problem with the tour, though, is that Joseph, our driver, while a very good driver, is not a tour guide. So when we asked questions about what to do and see, he couldn’t offer a lot of insight. But he was nice and friendly, so that was okay. We could wing it. Our next stop was the Souk, an old, and huge, market. We assumed we’d want a bit of time there so we arranged for him to pick us up about 90 minutes after dropping us off – which turned out to be a mistake.

IMG_5375Whether the souk was closed for “siesta” or we were in the wrong area, is beside the point. Ultimately, it was either a meat or fish market, which did us no good, or they were selling schlock we didn’t need. We’d been looking for souvenirs but this really wasn’t the place for them. In fact, I really hadn’t seen any type of souvenir shops. It seems Kuwait is not a big tourist destination. Starbucks being the only place I’ve seen where you can get a “Kuwait” mug.That said, most of the inhabitants, even those who were born here, are not from here. You can live here your entire life, but unlike the US or Europe, where birth or a certain number of years of residency equates to nationality or citizenship, evidently that’s not the case in this small country. I’ve been meeting Egyptians and Jordanians and Indians who IMG_5368have lived their entire lives in Kuwait but are still nationalist and citizens of the countries of their ancestors.

Anyway, we were ready to leave the souk after a very short time, unfortunately no one had

See below for Jesse’s story of his picture*

Joseph’s number so we made a couple of phone calls to get it, finally got hold of him and arranged for pick up. While we were waiting, though, Jesse and I were approached by an old Arabic man who told us stories about his bad knees (evidently inherited since his father was tall and thin but his mother was short and round) and showed us the copy of the Koran he was carrying with him. It was a pleasant way to kill tie while we were waiting for our ride.

By this time, we were all hungry so off we went to a mall (I know, big surprise) where we had dinner at Chili’s (and I was good, having a chicken Caesar salad and not another burger!). Afterwards, Dimitri wanted some pictures of the fishing boat harbor we had passed earlier so off we went. Naturally though, the harbor was right next to the fish market and what hangs around a fish market? That’s right, cats. Iryna was in heaven, counting all the cats we saw and wanting us to just drop her off there. The smell, however, put an end to that dream. No wonder the cats were drawn to this place. Even through the closed windows of our van IMG_5372the smell was permeating. Of course, this also spawned a euphemism – Jesse had recently shaved his head and so when Iryna rubbed it, she exclaimed it was just like petting a “fish market cat.” Now that’s a metaphor I could live with.

By now, the sun was down and we were getting a bit tired. One more stop seemed in order. We had all heard about Liberation Tower, one of the top ten communication towers in the world, which evidently had a revolving restaurant and observation deck. We asked Joseph about it and he repeatedly said no, we couldm’t go up the tower. Armed with our (admittedly) outdated guidebooks, we insisted we could, blaming language barriers for the IMG_5374misunderstanding. Joseph dropped us off and we went into the building, which is a huge government office with many different departments represented. I bee-lined for the information desk and asked the guard how we get up to the tower.

“It’s closed,” he said.

I looked at my watch, it was just after 6pm. “When did it close?” I asked.

“Years,” he smiled.

Seemed Joseph was right and we couldn’t, in fact, get to the top. Ah well. And with that defeat, the energy of the day departed and we headed back to the hotel, ready to sleep and get to work on Tuesday in preparation for our shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

*This has got to be one of my favorite pictures from my time in Kuwait City. It totally communicates the generosity, kindness, appreciation and overall hospitality the Kuwaiti people showed me during my visit. I say this only because, before leaving, I faced so many preconceived fears, warnings to stay safe from friends and (dare I say it) personal apprehensions of going to this Middle-Eastern country. I can now say that all of that was for nothing. I am and have always been a firm believer that a person should travel. It opens the mind, creates new understandings and forces you to look at the world through different eyes.  

The story behind this photograph is simple but to me, very impacting. My friend Jaq and me were taking a break after walking through the old Kuwaiti souq market. As we stood at the entrance to the market I noticed an old man approaching us, dressed in a traditional Arabic dishdasha and carrying a black leather case. A couple minutes earlier, I noticed the man stumble and catch himself on a nearby road sign. Once he reached us, he greeted us with a great big hello and salām, the Arabic for “peace be upon you”. We returned the greeting with a smile and he began to tell us how his body was no longer what it used to be. He urged me to enjoy the pleasures of a youthful body before the curse of old age sets in. Through listening to his story, we learned that he was born in Jordan but moved to Kuwait as a young man almost 63 years ago. He pointed to the old souq market and told us that he enjoys coming here to relax and visit with people from all over. He first began visiting the market many years ago when it was surrounded by nothing but tents and sand. Now, large buildings and sky scrapers adorn the surrounding areas. Jokingly he spoke of how things had changed… “As things grew up, I grew down!” We all laughed. It was at this point he opened his bag and pulled out a book. Now, the other thing travel has taught me over the years is that there is always a local wanting to sell something to a souvenir hungry tourist. I had actually enjoyed the old man’s company to this point but feared that the conversation was just a ploy to get us to buy whatever he was peddling. I couldn’t have been more wrong. With a sense of pride, he showed us a book of what seemed to be poetry and told us he had written 2 others which were also in his bag. He returned the books to his bag and with a smile, essentially thanked us for our time. He gathered himself, shook our hands and slowly continued on into the market.  

I only wish that more people would transcend the barriers of age, religion and skin color. Tear down walls that keep out anything unfamiliar and learn to embrace diversity. It truly makes the world a much happier place to live.

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