People who have lived abroad as students, all seem to have one thing in common upon returning to Kuwait – they all miss walking and exploring the city in which they lived. Taking the path less traveled and discovering new nooks and special hideaways are always the highlight of any walk. Even coming across a walking tour that takes you on a journey into a city’s past, is spectacular. You learn, you laugh, and you fall in love with the city all over again. With all that in mind, one lovely lady – Madeenah’s Managing Director Deema AlGhunaim – had a vision to curate the city’s paths, stories, and people and give others the chance to explore and appreciate their beloved country. We get to fall in love with the country, one literal step at a time.
Meeting with the ladies behind Madeenah was an education. We had agreed to meet at one of the coffee places in the Salhiya Plaza and I was immediately whisked away to what they referred to as a “pocket garden.” “Can you believe we don’t have a single group photo?” Madeenah’s Creative Director Sarah AlFraih laughed, “We’re in the process of taking one now!” As I sat and observed their process, it became clear as to how passionate these ladies are about what they do. Perfectionists in their own rights, they all work really hard with their immaculate attention to detail. Madeenah started off as an idea, by Deema, to curate and scribe all of Kuwait’s history. Not the history taught in schools, but an alternative history – the people’s history. A history retelling the stories told by parents, grandparents, and stories from the older residents of the city – stories of change, growth, and the ever-evolving metropolis and its suburbs.
The idea kept growing, and Deema knew she had to do something about it. So at Start-Up weekend back in 2014, Deema teamed up with a group just as passionate as she is about the prospect of documenting the country’s history. Deema credits what Madeenah has become, an informational walking tour, to her Start-Up Weekend team – Rawan Alsaffar, Aziz Alsaffar, and Moiz Dahodwala. Today, Deema has developed the idea further and brought together a wonderfully zealous team. Meet the new team: Founder and Managing Director, Deema AlGhunaim – Operations Director, Hind Francis – Editor in Chief, Sarah AlZouman – Creative Director, Sarah AlFraih – Design and Marketing Director, Suad AlFraih. Together, they’re curating all the unconventional and multifaceted stories of the city and its history through the walking tours. Everything is documented and nothing is considered too small or insignificant. Every story matters, and they wish to honor that – especially that these actual histories aren’t documented.
In a country where driving has become the main mode of transportation, Madeenah is making walking cool again. The official launch happened at the most fitting of moments – November of last year at the annual Nuqat Creative Conference. Informing people about their mission throughout the conference, they hosted their very first walk that same weekend! Their aim is to bring the people closer to their city and pull them from their social media faux reality and into the real world – to interact with the city, its architecture, and build a relationship with it. The message they want to spread is simply to slow down, look around, and appreciate the city that’s become your home through its multiplicity.
Through their research and interactions with the public, they were able to piece together a beautiful narrative for the city. Taking pieces of the stories, and stitching them all together, they’ve managed to create the ultimate storyline for every walk they go on. They’re giving the people a chance to break out of their social norms and experience the city completely. It’s always a learning opportunity for them as they explore the city – before the walks and even during, there’s always something new to learn. The idea was such a hit here in Kuwait that they even got invited to Saudi to create a walking tour there! All their walks are bilingual so no need to bring your own interpreter along – unless they want to join. Connecting with so many people through so many stories, has given them all the incentive to keep going.
They currently have their walks every Saturday of the month from November to April! And be sure to tune into their last event of the season in May where they’ll be presenting their walking buddies with a surprise. Finally, when I asked them why the name Madeenah was chosen and what it means to them, they all agreed on one thing – the name gives off a sense of belonging.