Sunday, September 10, 2006

In Kuwait- The Locals

In this series of posts I am going to write about my impression of Kuwait, the country that has been home to my father and many others for the last 26 years.

"The State of Kuwait (Arabic: الكويت‎) is a small oil-rich constitutional monarchy on the coast of the Persian Gulf, enclosed by Saudi Arabia in the south and Iraq in the north. The name is a diminutive of an Arabic word meaning "fortress built near water." (From

As might be already clear, Kuwait is a very rich country, rich from the petrodollars. Even while other countries in the gulf like U.A.E. and Bahrain are trying to drastically reduce their dependence on oil exports, Kuwait apparently doesn't care. The government is assured by the fact that Kuwait has 10% of the world's proven oil reserves. Petrol here sells at about ten Indian rupees a liter!

You could expect to find all major attributes associated with a developed country: world-class transportation and telecommunication systems, efficient administration. But you better not ask about freedom of expression and independence and equality and secular ideas. Indians and westerners have come to associate such high values to these that I am sometimes amused. What would a hungry man value more: freedom to worship his God or a good meal?

Yes, despite all its shortcomings (many prefer to call it that) Kuwait has been the Promised Land for thousands of expatriates from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Srilanka and most importantly Bangladesh. Bengalis are the most visible community here after the locals. I will write about the expats and their lives here in a second post. Here I will concentrate on the locals.

It seems to me that Kuwaiti citizens here are living in some land that is vastly different from the Kuwait I know. Most of them wear dishdhashas (the traditional arabic gown worn by men in the gulf). My dad tells me it is an ideal dress in the very hot and dry weather in Kuwait. The summer temperatures here go up to 55 degrees Celsius. Though many younger Kuwaitis wear western clothes too but they are in a minority.

Due to their excessive fondness for a kind of arabic tea called ghava, which is cloyingly sweet, many Kuwaitis suffer from diabetes. Only the other day my dad's sponsor lost his eyesight temporarily because of diabetes. The other disease very common here is a syndrome that causes the birth of deformed babies. This is because Kuwaitis are known to marry very closely in their families.

Inspite of all their wealth, elder citizens value and respect money and foreigners. (Though that cannot be said of all citizens these days). Islamic culture places a lot of importance on food, it is called rizq in arabic. Kuwaitis never eats alone (men and women eat separately); so whenever food is brought, they invite those in sight to eat with them. My dad has had such experiences with complete strangers!

The government here provides huge interest free loans to citizens for whatever purposes they may require. As a result, the salaries of many Kuwaitis go completely towards repaying these loans. In order to maintain a high and lavish standard of living they have to look for other avenues of earning money.


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