After another week of self discovery and enjoying the “me time” I have to say I was delighted to spot a friend across the gym floor, unaware they were back in the land of sand. What followed was a quick catchup, as not to disturb each other’s mid workout heart rate, we fixed a day to have a proper get together. So on my merry way I went, back to my self indulgent alone time, but looking forward a day of company. Yesterday came and we headed into the city for a bite to eat and a debrief on our summer travels, fighting the humidity and 50 degree heat, battling Kuwaiti style for a parking space (which basically means finding any available gap, be it on the pavement, roadside, dust track or a rare designated area) but it was good to be back in the social game.
As we got further into our conversation, just about managing to not inhale the food when it came, I was intertested to hear how this desert girl was finding her first year desertside. She like me had a very open mind moving here and had adjusted so fast, settling into life with no real issues, but as we talked we laughed over a few random situations we had witnessed and it got me thinking…. this desert life is one of many contradictions, I find myself in the midst of first world problems but at the same time observing strange, sometimes wonderful, archaic moments. What is it like to straddle two contrasting worlds?
I am not naive to think that everyone has the same experience living abroad and living in the Middle East definitely highlights vast differences in how people are perceived, treated and live. I came across a few articles pre our desert move about how Kuwait has repeatedly made the top spot in the worse countries for expats. Now before those of you about to land or have just landed in the sandpit, don’t panic, all is not what it seems. Now I can only talk from my experiences but I do know that my life is by no means the life of others and sad to say, is mainly dependant on my nationality.
The contrasts of life here, I guess happen in many places around the world, but coming from the UK and especially from Jersey, I have grown up in a bubble of comfort and somewhat privileged life, rarely seeing the literal social line that exists here. You can be at the mall and see the valet parking filled with £250k cars, the most stylish designer clothes on display and handbags which have me drooling. Now of course not everyone can buy into this lifestyle, I certainly can’t, but its a common aspect of living here, which makes you desensitised to some of the wealth on display. The irony comes, when a £250k Bentley is parked on a dust track, because of the lack of wealth spent on infrastructure or
that you have to walk 50 yards in your Jimmy Choos through literal sand as no pavement exists to the restaurant.
Did I really think it would be like this?
As a western expat, I hate to have to say that, I do have a different view of life here than others. I know that I will never have to experience some of the derogatory behaviour I have witnessed towards those that are deemed lower on the expat scale. I am not going to pretend this doesn’t shock me, how hierarchical this culture is and that is widely accepted as the norm. I am sure there are many of you reading this, that would never even consider living in a country, that has these divisions. However, whilst it certainly isn’t the way I was brought up or how much of the western world behaves, you quickly see that everyone here has a place, a role and rightly or wrongly it how the country functions. Shamefully, I also have to accept that I won’t be effected by this, my “classification” if you want to be so crude about it, means that I get to experience an expat life very different to some, even if that admission makes me very uncomfortable and deeply saddenes me that in 2017, in one of the worlds richest countries, not everyone is treated alike.
On a lighter note and one of the lovely contrasts of living here, is the new generation of Kuwait. The young trendsetters and influencers, frequent the new trendy coffee bars, snap chat their presence at the place to be seen, wear the new up and coming designers, creating a vibrant city over looking the gulf. This is what most picture about modern Arabia, fast cars, glam life and beautiful skyscrapers and of course this certainly exists. Even the desert girls and I feed into it, trying the latest place or instagramming the perfect shot, worthy of any cosmopolitan city.
Then on that very same day you’ll randomly see a baby camel sitting on someone’s front yard (veggies may want to skip this bit) waiting for the weekend BBQ, where it will feed the whole neighbourhood in celebration. As my friend witnessed, a dead sheep just randomly in the middle of the road! The souq swimming with people every day of the week, reminding you of where you are, embracing the local culture that has been present for hundreds of years.
In a singular 200 yard street, you can see everything that is modern versus the traditions of old, this is what makes it a fascinating place to live.
So yes there are contradictions, yes there are things that have left western cultures, yes I would love if it was cleaner but do you know what? It’s those contrasts, those two juxtaposed worlds, the old versus the new, that makes it an experience. The cultural traditions, which can be a struggle but you have to accept a country worts and all, whether you agree or not. This is part and parcel of being and expat, its the whole experience and whilst there are many things I will never “get” or want to (witnessing racial divides for example) I respect that this country is currently giving me a wonderful life, albeit a little random and one of contrasts.