by Alex Maguire
It all started two years ago. As a family, we were set for our big Arabian adventure. We were moving to Kuwait, to the unknown, to a place we had only ever seen on the news headlines. To be frank: Kuwait since the invasion has not been on the international news agenda that often, so it was a case of “wait and see.”
Setting foot off the plane in Kuwait can feel like stepping into another world. When we landed as a family of three at the time, we felt like we were stepping into a bubble, a place locked in place and time and where life is very different because of its slow pace and its size.
First to hit us in the face were the flash cars, the clogged traffic, the dodgy driving, sleepy suburbs, the incandescent sunsets and the slow pace of life. Kuwait was anything but what we expected. Over the months, the country has become our home and one where we no doubt will have spent some of the happiest times of our life. After a life on the road, living where work took us, Kuwait has been different. We haven’t just dropped our anchor. It has become our home away from home.
As a family, we have traveled to Malaysia, the Philippines, Micronesia, Myanmar, France, Oman, Switzerland, Italy, Tanzania, Libya and even Sweden. Our passion is traveling. And the more miles on our clocks, the more satisfied we are. So living in a country roughly the size of Wales should give us cabin fever. But it doesn’t. And these are the reasons why…
The hospitality is not that of Western or Mediterranean countries. It captures the best of the Arab tradition. It is discreet, warm, humble. In other words, it feels, smells and is genuine when encountered, in a way that the hospitality in other Arab states such as Egypt or Lebanon can be exuberant, lively and loud.
The hospitality is everywhere. At the doctors surgery when I take my daughter for her vaccinations, in shopping malls, and even on the crowded roads as well as the Diwaniyas and typical Thursday lunches around tables flowing with fish and rice.
What makes Kuwaiti hospitality so genuine is that nothing is wanted or expected in exchange. It is genuine in a way that is rare in the world these days. It is built on the notion that if you are well, we are well. We share what we have because that is what our ancestors did. That is how we survive in the desert and on the seas alike.
LOVE OF FAMILY
The traditions and values around family, children and the elderly are legendary in Kuwait. I can’t think of many countries where children are treated like Kings and Queens combined. Our daughter’s social life is more exciting than ours. And she is only verging on two-years-old. No exclusion of children at dinners, parties, outings or even shopping… A family is a family and when one is invited, all follow. And it’s safe. No need to keep children in check. If there is a risk, it’s your little one gets mobbed with kisses.
STRONG IDENTITY AND LOVE OF NATION
The sense of national identity is binding. Occupation or not, Kuwait seems to have built its identity on its trading roots, compounded it with independence and sealed it with the occupation. The result? A deep seated love for a country that was threatened in the recent past and which today still stands at the crossroads.
ARTS AND CULTURE
One may not find traditional arts and culture on every street corner. Kuwait City may seem like a cultural desert. But start searching and you will find. Some of the most outstanding regional art can be found in the Dar al Ithar al Islamiya and the Tariq Rajab museum of Antiquities. There is a myriad of galleries. The Grand Mosque hosts a calligraphy festival. So Kuwait’s cultural values are not only substantial, they are cultivated in these special places that are not tainted by the need to constantly advertise, but are known to the connoisseurs.
ONLY IN KUWAIT
You know when it has happened. Do you ever have a moment when you think “did this really happen?” The size of Kuwait, its hospitality and its unique chemistry makes what is improbable anywhere else possible here. Smile, be gracious and most things are possible. If they are not, try again another day and it will probably work.
HALFWAY TO SOMEWHERE
When it all gets too much, and it inevitably does, at least the airport is not far to travel. Kuwait may be in the middle of nowhere, but it is half way to somewhere. It is in the middle of the world, quite literally, and a stone’s throw from the connections offered by Dubai to the rest of the world. So when the downsides outsize the advantages, it offers a quick getaway to Europe or Asia in equal distances.
The other day, driving back home, I saw a sticker that read: “Kuwait, love it or leave it”. I smiled. This is exactly what we are doing as a family. Loving every minute. At least for now.
An expat mother of two looks at the traditional Kuwaiti values that have captivated her heart and keep her family anchored in the region. Alex Maguire writes about what makes Kuwait, the people and life such an Arabian adventure.