Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kuwait

This might sound a little strange but I think Kuwait is more like America than anywhere else I've been (in a materialistic, quick glance sense). It's really weird. There is tons of money here, oil wealth, and everything is new and spotlessly clean. New skyscrapers and 6 lane roads with SUVs, trucks and shiny new cars. I don't think I've ever seen this many Hummers or Porshe SUVs in my entire life as I have today. There are no tourists here at all as it is a very isolated, boring and expensive country. The only way here is to fly and until last year that was really expensive. The hotels are about $100/night and up. Fortunately for me I am being hosted by a guy from Kenya that works for Kuwait airways. He is quite the character and we are having a good time.
In short the story here is that it is a very boring country and nobody actually wants to live here. There is nothing except a nice, new American style city. It looks like it could be somewhere in Arizona (but it needs a coastline so maybe California without the excessive pollution) because it is dry and flat. It doesn't smell like fast food everywhere you go but they have all the stuff from home here somewhere and you'd have to replace the Mexicans with Indians. They drive fast but at least they stay in the lines. Oh yeah, there is no crime at all and it is arguably cleaner too. The population is close to 3 million, nearly all of which live in the city. I haven't met a single Kuwaiti (though I've seen them but they largely keep to themselves) as they are a minority and only number half a million or so. The whole country is based on and run by others. In fact, it is like little India as most of the population consists of "slaves" from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan (the head wobble is back in a big way). There are other Arabs here too (Egyptians, Syrians, etc.) but they aren't quite as common. I call them slaves because the conditions are horrible for them and they are treated like second class citizens. There is no tax here but as the place is loaded with money everything is quite expensive. Rent is similar to home prices as is McDonald's (though that isn't always a good indicator of food prices, and no I haven't been eating there) but the problem is that the wages are based on your nationality. If you are from the west or are a skilled worker from somewhere else then the wages are quite good and you can really live it up (as much as that is possible in a country with no alcohol or nightlife and a shortage of women). Big flats and fancy cars to drive around and show off is the life. People generally come for a couple years to make big money and then head home. The flipside is that the unskilled workers make almost nothing and can barely live, crammed in tiny rooms by the dozen. They work all day and night hoping to make ends meet (washing cars at 5am for extra cash) and find a little to send their families back home. It is winter and a nice 22C here but in summer it is up to 50C. Needless to say, everything is aircon and nobody goes outside. Except the poor Indian or Bangladeshi guys. They are the only people outside, cleaning the streets, washing people's cars or walking around. I get tons of strange looks because only Indians take the buses and walk around. Everyone else takes a taxi or has their own car. Heaven forbid they should be hanging out with the lower class people. They are really nice though and have helped me out a lot. I have only seen 1 or 2 westerners here. The Kuwaitis meanwhile are all "employed" by the government and receive fat salaries (5+ times more than everyone else) for minimal work and I swear they do nothing but drive around all day. Actually there is nothing else to do here anyway.
They do have lots of shopping now that I think about it but I don't know who can afford it. That reminds me, the hours here are strange. The shops open at 9 or 10am, close at 1pm and then reopen at 4pm for another couple hours. It is to avoid the heat of summer but right now it seems really weird. Really it just feels like there is nothing going on at all. Everything is too quiet except on the road. I didn't really believe it at first. After all, how many places are closed on Sunday at home now and how many Mediterranean countries shut down for their afternoon naps anymore? Well, they really do shut down everything here. I was walking around at 2pm in a ghost town (except for the ever present traffic that is going nowhere) and eventually went home because there was nothing I could do. The money is cool too. One dinar is worth over $3 so the numbers are really low. They have 1/2 and 1/4 dinar bills. Not written in xxx "cents" but actually as a fraction. They also divide the dinar into 1000 fils instead of 100.
As I said, I haven't met anyone here that wasn't from Egypt, India (mostly the southern part) or Bangladesh so I can't say for sure but rumor has it that they still love the Americans here for saving them in the Gulf War. I have seen no evidence of it or any American military presence (Sky was asking and has been through here) though I am sure it is here somewhere. I have been in the city only and the Iraq border is about 50km away. I have seen and done enough so tomorrow morning I fly to Bahrain for the next 2 days. I suspect it will be much the same as here. In fact what I think we should do is give India to the Israelis, the gulf to the Indians and Israel to the Arabs and everyone should be happy :) Things seem to be naturally moving in that direction anyway.....
Ammon

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