“50 years from now when you look back at your life, don’t you wanna say you had the guts to get in the car?” – Transformers
Earlier this year, Rocket asked me: “So what do you think about Kuwait?”
“Wait…Kuwait?” I thought to myself. Honestly, I didn’t know what to think about Kuwait. I could recall snippets about the war and it not being a middle eastern country that’s high on the western tourist visit list (not that there are many).
Rocket proceeded to ask me if I wanted to join him on a business trip to Kuwait. Normally I would have been more apprehensive, but I have a friend who recently got married and moved there. I wanted to visit her at some point and when I found out that they would be free during our trip, I readily agreed to join Rocket on the trip.
We were only there for 1 day and two nights. During the day, both Rocket and my friend were busy with work which meant I was completely on my own! Rocket could sense my hesitation, and encouraged me to sightsee despite being alone. Deep down, despite his reassurance, I was worried. I don’t know how to speak Arabic, Kuwait is a little more conservative in dress code than Dubai, and I didn’t know what areas of town to avoid. I definitely felt more comfortable staying back to enjoy the beautiful safe resort, Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel & Spa.
Despite my apprehension, after eating a nice breakfast at the hotel and walking around the gardens, I decided that I couldn’t come all the way to Kuwait to stay in the hotel (that wouldn’t make a very good blog post, haha). All morning I practiced the few words I knew in Arabic and learned several more:
Enough or Finished – Hallas
There is none – Mafi
Let’s go – Yalla
Yes – Na’am
No – La
I don’t speak Arabic – Ana La Atakalam Alearabia
I’m Amercan – Ana Amreeki
Hello – Salam Maleckum
Goodbye – Ma’asalama
I took a deep breath, made sure I had everything I needed and scheduled a Careem (the Middle Eastern version of Uber) ride as I set out on this new adventure. I had 5 hours and I needed to make them count!
As I curiously glanced out the windows of the Careem car, it didn’t seem that scary. Everything seemed to be “working” properly, the streets were well built, and people were all around. The only difference from Dubai (other than the incredible buildings, shopping centers, and nice beaches) was the amount of dust and sand in the air. Even the buildings were brown giving it the illusion that sand was everywhere. It reminded me of the news and movies I’ve seen depicting life in the Middle East. I tried to speak Arabic to the driver, but soon realized that he was Pakistani and didn’t speak Arabic. In fact, that happened to me several times throughout the day.
The first place I visited: Kuwait Towers
Kuwait Towers are a group of three slender towers (functionally water towers) built in 1979 that symbolized the country’s modernization and rapid economic growth. The planning of the towers started in 1962, less than a year after Kuwait won its independence from England. During the Gulf War, Iraqi soldiers planned to destroy any reminders of Kuwaiti independence including the towers. They damaged an estimated 75 percent of the towers, but they were later rebuilt.
After being dropped off near the Souk Al-Mubarakiya (the oldest market in Kuwait I surveyed my surroundings in hopes of finding a nice cafe for a quick coffee break. To my surprise, I spotted a well decorated shop named Wahibiyat Restaurant and Cafe that stood out from the dusty, old surrounding buildings. It was the perfect place to stop and they even had sugar free Chai!
Afterwards I headed to the souq (market). I was thoroughly surprised at the cleanliness of the walkways and the nice (“not aggressive”) merchants. I finally practiced a little Arabic, and I was shocked to find how weak the US dollar was in Kuwait. One Kuwaiti Dinar is equivalent to about US$ 3.33!
In the end, although I was very apprehensive about traveling alone in Kuwait, but I was glad that I did. While I didn’t get to practice Arabic as much as I would like, I am proud that I can now understand simple conversations, and will continue to work on it!