by - April 01, 2020

I can’t do those frivolous travel posts where the writer who also happens to be the traveller boasts about the dreamy travel destination they have visited. Everything is usually described as strawberry flavoured pink bubble gum. I’m not trying to take a hit on those in la la land, but for me travelling usually involves a wakeup call, where I either discover the bubble I live in or the horror that I blindly embrace. Either way, it’s mentally stimulating for me and invokes new outlooks in life. 

In the case of visiting Saudi Arabia in 2011, the hypocrisy I have realised was upsetting. Besides the very obvious gender discrimination, there was also class and race discrimination, in addition to the unnecessary mass consumption in a city that’s meant to be spiritual and religious. I am sure some of you have read about Saudi Arabia and there are numerous articles, research and books on how ‘barbaric’ and ‘backward’ the country is whilst simultaneously being powerful, oil rich and innovative. Of course, that always dependeds on the narrator’s extractive benefits. But in any case, there are numerous entities involving the current state of Saudi and I am not here to further feed into any existing stereotypes. I’m not particularly fond of the country, to describe the least, but my opinions are as meaningless as anyone criticising Saudi Arabia without constructivism or productive solution. I merely gave this example to briefly outline out that particular travel destination led to my final major project during my bachelor’s degree at the end of 2011...And how visiting Kuwait led me to apply for a master's degree and base my final dissertation on its women.

This longwinded start was to set the scene for my visit to Kuwait in August 2014. If you live in the Gulf region or have previously travelled there, you’re probably already thinking what a mistake it was to travel to the region during a heatwave season. It was hot, like sauna room hot, where you first get hit by a blazing hot air before the sweats follow up. Shockingly, I enjoyed it. What I didn’t enjoy was the temperature drop when going indoors. To this day, I think no one in the Gulf region (or any hot country…Hong Kong, I am including you) thought through the temperature contrast of the outdoors and indoors. It really agitates me, it’s both physically and mentally aggravating for me to go from a warm/hot natural temperature to a cool/cold artificial one. I understand the heat may be unpleasant for most and having a cooler indoors area to escape to is a relief, BUT (and here is big but) can we not go from 50 degrees to 20 degrees?! 30 degrees Celsius difference between one and the other. Meet me in the middle please? Besides feeling a little irritated writing this part, I also feel like an entitled brat making this point, but I hope you understand where I am coming from. 

Anyhow, I have to admit, I practically went to Kuwait without any preparation. Hell, I didn’t even bother googling anything about the country. I planned an almost two weeks trip to escape the long hours of Ramadan in London, to meet Ascia and Dalal and to explore a new culture. Or what seemed new to me. I spent my first two days shocked, just utterly flabbergasted. I travelled with my brother, and this is where I have learned the important lesson about travel companions. They make up a large aspect of your travel experience. He’s more impulsive in expressing his emotions than I am, which meant that he was very vocal about his opinions and views of the place. However, I won’t be publically discrediting his experiences. I equally didn’t enjoy my stay there but was less vocal about it. There wasn’t a point in complaining about a culture I have had yet to experience. What was fairly new for me was the concept of malls, the lack of people’s presence outside of malls and the general lifestyle. I wasn’t sure whether that was due to Ramadan or whether there simply wasn’t much to do in Kuwait besides eating out and shopping. The country didn’t lack authenticity, it simply removed it or ‘renovated’ anything that was remotely historic. I guess it’s aspiring to be the next Dubai and at that time, I’ve only heard about the myths of Dubai (I later found out, it is as described by many). In fact, the Gulf somehow aspires to be more a fusion of United States and Middle East. The lack of public transportation (and the fact that only social class expats use it), the skyscrapers, the malls and the somewhat artificial lavish city life all seems like to come out of an American sitcom…not Sex and the City or Friends, but more like a fancy version of Superstore or any depressing urban city with malls. Do I make sense?  

I guess this is a lifestyle that’s comfortable to many but so different to cities across the Middle East, Europe and even Asia. Kuwait just lacks an outdoors life and tries to make up for it through Arabella Mall and Souk Al Mubarakiya. Both different but more on the outdoors spectrum than the rest of malls. And yes, I have visited every big mall in Kuwait. They all pretty much looked the same to me. I’ve never been too impressed or fond of malls. Besides malls, I visited the Grand Masjid, the Kuwait Towers and public beach. You have to take a taxi everywhere or drive. The food is quite delicious, and I was so happy to eat halal meat that was so tasty. I mean meat in London pretty much tastes like plastic rubber or soggy cardboard and this was before my vegetarian days! Food in Kuwait tastes much better than in London. The people in Kuwait were lovely but then I was an obvious tourist and not an expat or migrant. I will write more about Kuwaiti people I had the pleasure to meet but, in the meantime, I hope I’ve given an honest picture of Kuwait without offence. It’s an interesting place to see but definitely not a place I would visit again. It just wasn’t for me but I have learned a lot, a valuable experience. 

Until next time, love and peace! 

Ps. how different was my style? I dressed like this 6 years ago...this blog serves to remind everyone of my public evolution haha

(Photography by Zak Nur Sharif and Zinah Nur Sharif)

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