up in India will be free of the distractions of sex and drugs and grow
up being obedient and respectful. Yeah, right! They usually change their
opinions after a couple of years, just like I did. Friends of my
parents however, inevitably asked what I thought of Kuwait. They probably
were just making conversation, but I detected a sense of pride mixed with
genuine concern that I like Kuwait. It seemed to mirror my own feelings
whenever I met someone in the US who was from elsewhere. Of course, everyone
loves the US, right?
bright and clear, and my brother Praveen and I drove down to the beach.
He lives in India, and was visiting as well. Until I reached Kuwait, he'd
been bored out of his mind, since he couldn't drive there with his Indian
driver's license. I, on the other hand, had on me a ge-nu-ine driver's
license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and could drive on one wheel
if I so wished.
a few people fishing but otherwise everything was quiet. It was the month
of Ramadan, and people generally spend the days indoor. Even if you're
not a Muslim, you're not allowed to eat or drink in public during the day.
Dad had told us to eat and drink plenty before we left home in the morning.
But since the distances were so short, we wouldn't have been more than
a 45 minute ride to home at anytime.
I wish I'd spent more time outside the city, but my parents were reluctant
to venture too far off the beaten track. Justifiably so, as the only health
risk listed for Kuwait at Lonelyplanet.com is "unexploded bombs and mines."
Also, a recent foray by a few expat families (including my parents) to
the oil fields of Wafra in the south had ended with them being surrounded
by Kuwaiti security. They were questioned, albeit politely, as to just
what they were doing in a restricted area. Turned out they were lost, and
no one could read the warning signs in Arabic. The security men wanted
to see what had been filmed in one of the camcorders, which also held some
footage of south Tamilnadu in India. The guards wondered just why anyone
would leave such beautiful country to come and live in Kuwait. The grass
is always greener.
later in the day and went by the science center next to which is this pyramid
shaped mosque. We saw this tent like structure on the beach but couldn't
figure out what it was. Seemed ornamental, in any case. I wanted to ask
someone, but no one seemed interested in talking to me. People don't say
"hello" or smile at strangers as they do in the US. I suppose it is a cultural
thing, as I don't remember going about smiling at strangers in India. I
was trying to be friendly but most people looked right through me, like
I was non-existent. It may have had something to do with the fact I was
Indian, since the Kuwaitis didn't seem particularly friendly towards what
is after all the hired help. Of course, this was my initial impression
and as events would prove later, they are as friendly as people from any
I pretty much
bummed around the house, writing emails and playing solitaire. I also read
some Indian magazines and the pictures in the Tamil weeklies convinced
me that Kuwait was quite liberal when it came to showing skin. However,
I noticed that a couple of pictures depicting bare midriffs in English
language Indian magazines had been blackened with a marker. I was first
surprised that they actually had people hand censoring every single issue
that came into the country. Then when I realized they did this only with
English language magazines, I was even more intrigued. May be they assumed
that vernacular magazines wouldn't have any "offensive" pictures. But they
have Indian movie posters replete with such "suggestive" pictures in public
places! And of course MTV India pretty much gets beamed into every house.
On a trip to
the beach, I encountered a few other foreigners, and I soon found myself
again answering a lot of questions about life in the US. I was also asked
what I thought of Kuwait, and by now I'd come up with a standard answer:
"Interesting!" Truth be told.
I do think
that the trip was quite interesting, though at that time I was feeling
a bit bored. You see,
I like my
forests and trees and rolling hills. I found it incredibly boring driving
around Florida (at least around Orlando) with its flat featureless landscape
and straight roads that intersected at right angles. However, it was the
people and not the landscape that captured my attention in Kuwait, and
I wish I'd started talking to the locals sooner than I ultimately did.
Not that the people were too boring in Orlando, they just weren't all that
different from the Bostonians. Well, maybe a bit older.
On the way
back, we stopped to pick up some sand that a friend back in Boston wanted,
much to the amusement of our fellow travelers. There were a couple of "camel
crossing" signs but one particular sign caught my attention. It was obvious
that it had something to do with rules for grazing, but it took me a while
to figure out the red and green shape in the background. It's a map of
Kuwait, and grazing was allowed only on the western portion. We also passed
a stop sign with a couple of bullet holes through it. We stopped by an
open market where fresh produce was being sold and I missed a great opportunity
to shoot some interesting pictures. I was just too tired to get out of
the car and go out in the hot(!) sun.
We got home
late in the afternoon, and I started planning another road trip for the
next day. I'd been talking to my father about driving up to Doha village,
which was mentioned on the Lonelyplanet web site. He wasn't too happy about
it as he worried for my safety. Someone had told him that the US army base
was up there and he didn't want me mistaken for a terrorist. Nonetheless,
I poured over the map to find the best way to get there.
night we were invited for dinner by yet another of dad's friends, and I
had some interesting conversation with them. People are as ill informed
about the US as most Americans are of the rest of the world. The movie
"Speed" was playing on TV and I was asked if "things like that" happen
in the US. I kept a straight face and said that life was pretty boring
actually. Then they wanted to know if I owned a gun, and how hard it is
to bring up kids "in that culture." I remembered the chef at my office
cafeteria who wanted to know "how come every Indian I know is smart and
makes a lot money, yet India seems so poor and backward in all those National
take much to make a long lasting impression on us of a particular country
or society, does it? One wildlife documentary and instantly a billion people
are living in the jungle stuck in the Stone Age. One dumb movie and we
assume 300 million people dodge bullets on their way to work (actually,
this was the same week 7 people were gunned down by a co-worker in a company
near Boston, so I guess it is true to some degree).
It was Saturday,
so I started the drive up to Doha village just for the heck of it. It was
a thirty minute drive north of the city, and I had no trouble getting there
- or at least to the general area. There was an army checkpoint manned
by both Kuwaitis and Americans. Past that, the road forked. One went towards
Entertainment City, a local amusement park and the other I assumed, towards
Doha. "That whole place is filled with American soldiers and is probably
restricted" was what one of dad's friends had told me.
I could see
a huge walled enclosure to my right that I took to be the US base. On my
left was the electrical plant I had seen on the map, spewing out the grayest
of smoke. I later learned that it burned crude oil to generate electricity.
love being President of Kuwait. I went up the road, and even though I couldn't
read Arabic, the signs seemed to be screaming at me to turn back. There
was a checkpoint at the very end, and there was a sign in English that
said "Authorized Vehicles Only".
From the map
I checkpoint in 20 minutes. I saw a road lead off to the left that I could
reach after making a U-turn. I decided to go down that narrow road, and
this time I could clearly see the entrance to the US army base, which was
now on my left. Again I saw a lot of signs that essentially said "Don't
even think about stopping or slowing down." I drove with growing apprehension,
when I saw a humvee that pretty much took up both lanes of the road. The
humvee looked pretty menacing painted in that desert camouflage pattern,
and I decided that I'd better turn around and get out of there. By
the time I reached the checkpoint, I'd regained my composure. I had to
at least ask somebody before giving up. I made yet another U-turn and this
time parked the car some distance away. Leaving my camera in the car, I
picked up the map and held it open in my hands as I walked towards the
soldiers. Hopefully that would convince them I wasn't a threat.
I went up a
narrow strip of land towards a gate and adjoining guardhouse and parked.
A guard from the guardhouse came up to me and started speaking in Arabic.
The guard became very friendly and kept pointing at my camera and talking,
so I took a picture of him. The Indian smiled and said "He wants you to
mail the picture to him. I said thanks in Arabic and walked towards the
Then I heard
the helicopters. There were helicopters landing and taking off from
the base all the time, and I shot a few frames. Then an Apache (I guessed,
and later confirmed) took off and flew over Entertainment City and seemed
to hesitate over the water. He went back over the base and then I couldn't
see him as the sun was in my face. I realized he was going to fly directly
over me, probably trying to find out just what the heck I was up to. He
made sure I couldn't see him by keeping the sun behind him, but I dared
not raise my camera anyway. What if he thought I was trying to shoot
him down with a rocket launcher? As my dad later told me, he probably had
equipment that could tell him the make and model of my camera, but I wasn't
taking any chances. I couldn't see anything anyway. At the last moment
he veered off and I took a couple of shots. Damn, he was flying so low.
I then hung around until sunset hoping he'd take pity on me and fly close
again so I could get some decent shots. No luck. I exposed a couple of
frames of the sunset, then headed home.
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