When I first moved to Kuwait, I didn’t really think about the quaint little store in the neighboring building. All I thought was “this is useful”.
Little did I know the true potential of the place and how dependable it would be!
The baqalah (or bakalah or bakala) as a concept, is not unique to Kuwait. Most countries have their little corner stores, bodegas and neighborhood mini-marts. These ones, however, deliver to your door and if you park outside one and honk, someone will come and help you out. They open at 6AM and close at midnight, some even operate almost 24 hours.
The first time I realized we had hit the jackpot was when we had run out of milk at 6:30AM, and lo, and behold I had a fresh bottle in under five minutes!
There are probably four or five in my neighborhood that I could easily walk to. But mostly, I deal with just one and consider it “my baqala”.
What makes them stand out, is the volume, diversity, and strangeness of their inventory. You name it, they have it! They are usually small, but merchandise lines the shelves from floor to ceiling. There is zero waste of space.
I’m also pretty sure they have a doorway to an alternate dimension where they store things there, too.
Because they are small, they are also agile and will quickly stock things that their clientele asks for. They serve the neighborhoods they are in by selling the stuff people want and need. The vegetables, spices and snacks on display usually mirror the taste of expats living in the area.
There is a newspaper rack at the doorway which is completely normal and expected. What’s really unexpected are the giant inflatable toys that hang in the entrance. Who suddenly needs a giant inflatable zebra? Apparently someone does, and most baqalas in Kuwait have them on display.
You can also find socks, balloons, candles, glitter glue, disposable cutlery and flatware, iTunes cards, frozen chicken, dried shrimp, notebooks, USB thumb drives and other endlessly random items. No matter how strange it might seem, there will come a day when you will need something that is so out there, and they will probably have it.
The storekeeper is always very accommodating. If I am not happy with something, they will change it right away, no questions asked. On the rare occasion that they don’t have something I need, they will try to find it at the other nearby stores. I am not sure if all baqalas do this, but I am very grateful mine does. They are indispensable during Ramadan. It is comforting to know that almost anything I might need is just a phone call away.
They are never phased by my strange orders or my inability to articulate them. I don’t speak their language, and their grasp of Arabic and English is not the best, but through a lot of pointing, gesturing and mangled words, we have never fail to communicate – they always come through with what I need. If that isn’t a superpower, I don’t know what is.
The baqala is probably one of the best things about in living in Kuwait. The convenience and practicality is unrivaled anywhere. Their job definitely is not an easy one, but it sure does make our lives better!