Monday, April 19, 2010

Kuwait Diary

As a child when ever I heard about Gulf Countries, the picture that came to my mind was that of camels, deserts, oil fields, money, men in white long dress / rob and ladies wearing burkha, totally covered. I had never dreamt of coming to Gulf. I got the oppurtunity to come to Kuwait when my husband decided to join KOC-Kuwait Oil Company,a premier oil company of the world. As I landed in Kuwait International Airport and drove to my new house, the thing that struck me first was the greenery all around, as I had imagined desert.

As we drove my husband informed me that Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly elected parliament of the Persian Gulf Arab countries. Chief of State is the Amir; 'Amir" is a hereditary title.  The Amir also known as Sheikh appoints the prime minister, who until recently was also the crown prince. A council of ministers aids the prime minister in his task as head of government which must contain at least one of elected members of the parliament. The parliament has the power to dismiss the prime minister or anyone of his cabinet through a series of constitutional procedures. According to the constitution, nomination of a new crown prince or head of state (Emir) by the ruling family has to be confirmed by the National Assembly. If he does not win the votes of an absolute majority of the assembly, the Amir (or the royal family members) must submit the names of three candidates to the National Assembly, and the Assembly must select one of these to be the new crown prince. The parliament known as the Majlis Al-Umma (National Assembly), consists of elected fifty members, who are chosen in elections held every four years. Government ministers, according to the Constitution of the State, are given automatic membership in the parliament, and can number up to fifteen.
We passed by beautiful villa's which indicated the taste of the rich Kuwaitis. They have a well developed road system and drivers drive very fast. I was little worried / nervous as our driver drove at a speed of 120km but slowly with time one get used to such speed. I slowly adjusted to a new life and waited with excitement for the evening when I along with my husband would go out and discover new places,sight and sounds. It had become our habit to go window shopping and later pick up a meal from a restaurant and head to one of the many beaches that line Kuwait on the east.We had spent hours on the beaches just talking and relaxing and often it was late in the night when we returned home.There was no hurry to get home and people lingered out at all hours and traffic filles the roads till late in the night.
Most people all over the world has the impression that Kuwait is a dangerous and insecure place.This is very far from truth. It has a very low crime rate and is perfectly safe to go out even late at night.

The people of Kuwait are widely referred to as peace loving and generous. Although diverse in their make-up, Kuwaitis are united as one entity. Their activities revolve around family life, which is the building block and centerpiece of Kuwaiti society. This family centered approach to life can provoke two opposite reactions: Some visitors or expatriates feel excluded from all Kuwaiti society; but those who develop family centered relationships with Kuwaitis feel exactly the opposite, as if they truly have become 'members of the family.' People who visit Kuwait for the first time leave the country with more or less the same impression about the Kuwaiti people, that they are a generous, hospitable, and sincere loving people who expect nothing in return for such actions. This behavior is a reflection of the third pillar of Islam known as zakat or almsgiving where Muslims are expected to give a certain percentage of their earnings to the poor and needy. Reaching out to help those in need is therefore considered to be a personal obligation and not entirely the government's job.The Kuwaitis are very respectful towards women and they mostly stop their car to allow a lady to cross the road.I have experienced it many times. Kuwaiti families are usually quite large, and many different families are interconnected and related to one another through ancestry and marriage. Therefore, there exists a community of interpersonal relationships in which it seems that everybody knows each other through only a couple degrees of separation. Regular gatherings and lunches are common.For the men, the diwaniyas is a common custom that has existed throughout Kuwait's history. A special room in the house, or a tent set up outside, is designated as a nightly meeting place for the men of a family or the neighborhood to meet to discuss politics, business, and just socialize.The women also hold several gatherings to meet with one another to socialize. Large weddings are a common tradition, where the men and women gather separately, and the women's reception usually lasts through breakfast. This all-night celebration of the matrimony of two people, of the coming together of two families, demonstrates the importance of the idea of family in Kuwaiti society.
 As one visits the various malls,beaches and restaurants one will find them full with Kuwaiti men with their families also proves that they spend quality time with them.A Kuwaiti men can marry four times as allowed by their religion .

Oil transformed Kuwait into one of the richest countries in the Arab peninsula and in 1953 the country became the largest exporter of oil in the Persian Gulf. This massive growth attracted many immigrant labourers and foreign workers.One can find people from America,Phillipine,India,Bangladesh,Pakistan and Afganisthan.There are Bangladeshi Fish market's and few Bangladeshi grocery and vegetable shops at Fahaheel and Kuwait City.The fish comes from Myanmar.The fish market at Al-Kout and Sharq are two big , clean air-conditioned market where one get variety of sea fish.The king size prawns found in these markets are very tasty.One can save money and live comfortably if they plan. But one can become a pauper if one descides to wear only International Brands,which is available easily and eat at the restaurants everyday.

Kuwait's official language is Arabic, though roughly half the country speaks the language primarily. Most foreigners speak English,Hindi, Urdu, Filipino or Bengali. But its not problem communicating in big malls and shopping complex's as English is spoken but to communicate with the local people,its adviseable to know a lilltle bit of Arabic. There are plentiful opportunities in Kuwait to buy modern clothing, household goods, cosmetics, perfumes, and many other items imported from all over the world.

Though many of Kuwait's traditional souks (markets) still exist, the country has an abundance of modern supermarkets and shopping malls. Most areas in Kuwait have a large supermarket operated by cooperative societies. These cooperatives (Jameeyah) usually open early, work till quite late at night and stock a vast range of food and other household items. Some of the basic food items are subsidised. The prices of some other items are controlled.There are also many private supermarkets. Of these, some are open 24 hours a day. The larger ones stock a range of goods such as toys, furniture, car accessories, clothes and accessories and perfumes.Stocked with goods from all parts of the world, their prices are somewhat higher than the cooperatives, though prices of some basic foodstuffs are subject to control.

There are many modern facilities with spacious walkways and attractive shop displays, such as the Salhiya Complex in the city, Al-Watya behind the Sheraton Hotel, Al-Zahra, Al-Bustan and Al-Fanar Complexes and Laila Galleria in Salmiya, Al-Muthanna Complex across from Le Meridien, and Al-Othman complex in Hawally. In addition, there are many major shopping areas, or souks, in districts such as Salmiya, Fahaheel, Hawally, and elsewhere. These offer not only consumer items but may also include opticians, travel agents, and amusement centers for children.Despite the influx of modern supermarkets and shopping malls, some of the traditional markets are still flourishing. The souk area in central Kuwait City retains some of its labyrinths of covered The Gold souks, for which Kuwait is famous, were prime targets for the Iraqi troops during the first days of the invasion in August 1990. Most of these souks are now back in business, with the exception of the old gold souk in Kuwait City centre, which has been shifted to a specially-built building. There are gold souks and gold shops, which both buy and sell gold, in most of the shopping areas in Kuwait. Jewellery styles are mainly Arabic, Indian (which is very popular in Kuwait) and Italian. Most food shops in Kuwait sell a mixture of chilled or frozen products, and canned and preserved foods. However, plenty of fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables are readily available. The main large souks for fresh foods (meat, fruits and vegetables) are in Shuwaikh and in Fahaheel. Though these are essentially wholesale markets the vendors welcome all buyers. Prices are cheaper than at the large private supermarkets. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be bought at several vegetable souks, such as the vegetable souk near the Hawalli Immigration roundabout in Salmiya. Most areas of Kuwait have a souk selling fresh vegetables. Bargaining is expected. But in the famous Convenient Shopping malls like Lulu Hyper Market and Sultan Center, its "fixed price" but you get a lot of varities to choose from. One of the things I love here is the cleanliness be it at the markets, roads, shopping complexes or beaches. Everyone dumps in the nearest garbage bin and also there is the Cleaning Crew, vast in number which the goverment appoints.

Kuwait has many places of interest for both the young and the old.
Dominating Kuwait with its 372meters, Liberation Tower is the fifth tallest communication tower in the world. It was named after the multinational coalition that liberated the nation from seven months of Iraqi occupation during the Gulf War. The tower has now become a symbol of resurgent Kuwait. The structure uses ceramic tiles on the facade from the base to the first mezzanine level, which is about 308 metres above the ground. Three light natural shades provide a geometric design from the base.The tower and the telecommunications complex is divided into three working areas : a public communications centre; the revolving observation level and restaurant at 150 metres.
One of Kuwait's famous landmark infact the symbol of Kuwait is the Kuwait Towers. Designed by a Swedish company, the towers consist of two towers and a third pole feeding them with electricity.The tallest tower,187 meters high,holds two spheres.The upper sphere has a revolving observation area,with one full turn every half hour,as well as a Coffee Shop.The other sphere contains a restaurant.The middle tower is a water reservoir containning 2 million galons of water in two tanks.The third tower which is 11.60meters high,is a lighthouse which illuminates the architecture wonder with 96 concealed spotlights.Inaugurated in 1986, the Grand Mosque is considered to be an important landmark of Kuwait,with its Islamic and traditional architectural heritage being inspired by Arabic construction qualities from around the Gulf region. Built in 1985, the National Assembly complex is a must-see official building in Kuwait. It allows access to visitiors and even allows them to attend sessions.The Yaum AL-Bahhar Village is one of the most visited traditional places that reflect Kuwaits history and what Kuwaiti life looked like in the old days. Kuwait is full with museums and to understand its past and its tradition one can visit the Kuwait National Museum ,Tareq Rajab Museum, Al-Hashemi Marine Museum , Kuwait House of National Works , Al Sadu House, The Museum of Modern Art , KOC Display Center, Educational Science Museum, Qurain Martyr's Museum, Bayt Al Qurain and Al Marsam Al Hur. A visit to the Scientific Centre is also a must as it houses the largest Aquarium in the Gulf Region. Visitors can focus on the natural habitats of the sea, with underground passages rich in marine life, natural habitats of the coastal edges and the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, watch a motion picture projection in the IMAX Theatre, visit the Dhow Harbour and explore childhood skills in the Discovery Place and take a break at the Scientific Centre restaurant. For people who love adventure and sea-sports there are lot of facilities to enjoy them.Then there is the Green Island and Failaka Island that one can visit. But one will enjoy more if one forms a group and visit them.The most important historical and archeological locations that go back thousands year in Kuwait are on this island.
The Entertaintment City,  Aqua Park, Al Shaab Park, Sabahiya Garden, Marina Waves, Kuwait Zoo and the Messillah Water Village are few of the places to pass some quality time with the family.
Just 20kms south of Kuwait City is the AHMADI town.Its completely owned by KOC. Residence is restricted to employees only. It is famous for its greenery and British architecture.The town is built on a slope facing the sea which is about 7miles away. Al-Ahamadi forms an important part of Kuwait economy as several of Kuwaits oil refineries are located here. Kuwait City ,the capital is the heart of the state.

Though we have visited many places in Kuwait, I feel there are still lot to explore.With every visit to a place, museum or mall we are getting to learn and explore something new and more.


Chinmoy said...

Excellent. Informative...and presented nicely with well composed photographs.

dudumoni said...

Gr8 writing, enjoyed reading it !

Scott said...

I move to Kuwait City on Aug 1. Thanks for the great info!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ruchi said...

Hi Parimita...i will be moving to hawally kuwait in Oct last week...i simply loved ur writing and making me feel very positive about kuwait...excellent write up..thanks :)

Knowledge said...

Hello Parimita, It was so exiciting and truly speaking I felt nostalgic while browsing through your rich write ups.

I am from Bangladesh( very close to Assam) and stayed twice (1999-2000 and 2007-08) in Kuwait. Me and my wife were blessed with our son Ismaar in Kuwait (2007). Your stories took me back to one of the most precious moments of our lives.

At present I am serving in a United Nations Mission in Darfur Sudan. Love for your lovely daughter and regards to your husband.

Thanks and best regards once again.


PARIMITA said...

"Thank You" everyone.Nice to know that the post is helpful.

Subhashini said...

Hi Parimita..i am just 3 days old in kuwait and i hv been reading your blogs over the last 3 months. As far as knowing kuwait is concerned, i refer your blogs more than google. My husband is also in KOC and i would like to know where you stay in kuwait...we hv taken a furnished accom for a short period and would like to move to a new house after knowing the place well, facilities, playschools for my son, etc. Can u let me know where u stay...the KOC cum indian locality...i prefer to stay in such locality where my son can have a cosmopolitan indian environment and KOC families.

PARIMITA said...

Hi Subhashini

Thanx for liking my blog...really happy to know that its helpful to you.

There are two areas where you will find mostly Indians...Abu Halifa( Block 1 n 2)a main road divides the two area. And Salmiya

As for other areas in Kuwait you will find mix community

I stay in Abu Halifa,Block2. You will feel like staying in India in Salmiya and Abu Halifa. You will find lot of Indians in Mahbula but its basically BACHELOR area(though families stay there),I don't suggest you.

Lot of KOC people stay in Abu Halifa area. Infact you will find buildings in Abu Halifa,known as KOC buildings as husbands of all the 32-35 families work in KOC.

Kids of most of the families go to DPS or FAIPS(as its known here.)
As for playschools, you will find 3-4 of them in Abu Halifa run by nice Indian ladies. My daughter goes to one of them in Abu Halifa(block 1)

Any more questions feel free to ask

Subhashini said...

Thanks Parimita for the quick reply. Would u suggest Abu Halifa better than Mangaf / Fahaheel?

PARIMITA said...

Fahaheel is mainly commercial area, though families stay there. But I will not suggest for families....I myself don't like the area as its full of bachelors and a lady gets some uncomfortable look from them.
As for Mangaf, its good but depends on the area as you will find people of mix community.There might be buildings full of Indians.

Subhashini said...

Hi Parimita,
Just a revert on our earlier conversation. We have taken a house in Mangaf itself, as we found a good playschool for my son, nearby. Maybe, after a year or so, when he goes to playschool, we would think of moving to Abu Halifa. Once again, thanks for the guidance.
To be true, I feel like I know you for long. Kind of connect. Would love to stay in touch with you and know you better. If not an issue, pls let me know your FB or mail ID.

PARIMITA said...

Good decision...its near the beach,fahaheel(market area)and good play schools in the area.You will like the place.
Have no issues in keeping in will get me in FB. just give me/message your mail id(dont worry i will not publish it in my blog), will reply/mail back to you

Preethi said...

HI Parimita,

I stay in Abu Halifa and am interested in sending my 1.2 yrs old daughter to a play school nearby after another 2 months.
Will be really kind of you if you could share with me the details of playschools nearby abuhalifa as per your knowledge.28

Thanks in advance,

Preethi said...

Thanks for the details Parimita:)

PARIMITA said...

Hi Preethi

There are lot of playschools both in Abu Halifa(Block 1 n 2)run by Kuwaiti and Indian ladies. I would suggest you to send your daughter to a play school run by Indian lady/ladies because in the schools run by Kuwaiti ladies the language used is only Arabic.

There are two good play schools in Abu Halifa Block 1.One is near the farm( just walk forward n as you take the u-turn on the walking track)the last building (there is a gents saloon), in the ground floor is the play school. Then again walk ahead and you will get Al Rai building where there is another play school.

The one near the U-turn is run by two Indian ladies and the school is more than 10years old.My daughter goes to this school. The school is open all year round as one or the other teacher stays and run the school when the other has to go to India. They have a lady maid who helps them.
The one in Al Rai I don't know personally but one of my friends son go there.Have heard it is nice But the problem is that when the teacher goes to India(she runs the school in her house) she closes the school.So my friends son at present is going to my daughters school.

Just opposite the road of Abu Halifa police station you will find a big nice playschool in a villa but as far as I know it is not run by an Indian.

Again there are play schools in Block2 also.

Just take a evening walk(before its dark) in Block 1 n will get to see lot of playschools.

Here a child should be at-lest 3 years old to be admitted to a play school.Anyways you can talk to the respective teachers.

Any more questions feel free to ask me.