When you hear the name Kuwait, what exactly comes to mind? When you hear somebody talk about the Middle East what do you envision? For me, with one deployment under my belt and some of the most infuriating experiences over there my first time around, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. I had lived in Kuwait for about six months on a US Military base after coming out of Iraq. As frustrating as it was to live in the middle of nowhere, I tried to keep an open mind, that this was not the entire Country of Kuwait that I was experiencing.
Fast forward about five years, and here I am flying into Kuwait City. Everyone tried to warn me about the heat and the misery that would ensue while staying during the summer. I couldn’t help but laugh and reply to their comments in my head, “When you train in 60lbs. give or take of gear in the blazing heat, and live in a 50 man bay tent for six months, then come complain to me.” I took a deep breath and stepped off the plane for the first time. Immediately the familiar smells and gritty air texture of Kuwait flooded my senses. But something was different. This was a more calming familiarity flooding my senses, instead of a flood. Something felt different, and I could not quite put my finger on it.
As we made our way through customs, and gathered our bags to wait for the hotel shuttle, the first thing I noticed that was different was the heat. Of course flying in at an early hour would make for cooler heat, but it definitely beat flying in at noon during the middle of summer. It was cool and dry. A welcoming sign that the desert herself was in her winter months. I quite enjoyed the weather and began to observe as we waited under the overhang. The first thing I noticed were the men. Whether dressed in traditional Middle Eastern garb, or the foreigners who were in the country to work for their families, they all seemed calm, collected, and confident. In their own world, driven by their own purpose. They moved about with a non chalant demeanor that I had never really experienced before. In the South in the United States, everyone warned me it was a lot slower and a lot more laid back than city life back in Denver, but there was still that impression of American drive in the south. But here, it was leisurely, as if they had all the time in the world. My first thoughts were, “Well why wouldn’t they? They live in a really hot climate in the summer.” But I believe it had more to do with the culture. Things just weren’t in a rush to get done as fast as possible here. When I did notice the one or two women about at this hour, they were mostly foreigners for India or south east Asia. They were allowed to wear their traditional Saris and show their faces.
Again another stereotype blown out of the water for me. Kuwait is actually a very welcoming city to foreign women, as long as you respect their culture in terms of modesty. Saris had longer fabric to not show as much skin, and western wear consisted of long sleeves and skirts/pants to cover as much skin as possible. Of course in my culture brief during training, I knew as an employee representing my airline it was expected of me to dress as conservatively as possible, I just hadn’t considered that applying to everyone else as well. If anything I would at least have expected Kuwait to make women wear headscarves, but this was not the case at all.
Our bus had arrived to take us to the hotel. We loaded up the hotel shuttle with our bags, chose our seats and were on our merry way to the hotel. I looked outside the closed curtains on the bus and recognized the route. The last time I drove down this highway I was stuffed into a crowded bus full of soldiers with my assault pack “front loaded” (A military term meaning you wore your backpack forwards to help with the loading process) heading home. Again it was a familiar feeling settling over instead of an onslaught of memories and bad experiences. This entire visit to Kuwait, so far,just felt way to different from the last time I was here.
When we got to the hotel, my jaw dropped. Not only were the accommodations more then adequate, I pinched myself a little to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This could not be our hotel. This had to be a mistake. Surely we had made the wrong turn somewhere. But no, this magnificent marvel of architecture that stood before me was our hotel. I had heard the rumors about the flight attendants who would get layovers here for over a week and would live like Kings and Queens. I had thought that was an exaggeration, honestly, to make it seem more glamorous to us first year flight attendants. No, their stories did not disappoint, they were completely correct.
Between the Hotel amenities and our convenient location to the city and the beach, its true, living like a Queen was an understatement compared to my last living quarters in Kuwait. But thats not what interested me. What interested me was the city. I was eager to get out and explore. I was eager to get out and experience a country I was forbidden to see. (And rightly so. The Army takes security very seriously and complete accountability of its personnel at all times in a foreign country is a must).
We had all signed up to go to the Souk (A Middle Eastern Market) at 1600 (4:00pm) the next day. They told me to get some rest and make sure I tried the breakfast in the morning. As I signed for my room key and took the elevator up to the floor I was assigned, I still couldn’t believe I was in this hotel. Imagine the shock I felt when I checked into my room for the first time. The king size bed, the softness of the sheets, the rain head shower. Heaven. The second my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light.
That next morning I decided to head down to breakfast. My first impressions of the breakfast buffet? Wow! Never in my life had I seen so much scrumptious looking food in one place. The succulent melon slices and fruits, next to the appropriately placed “World Tour of Cheeses” platter. The omelette buffet, literally, its own separate buffet within the buffet! I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to eat that morning so I tried a little bit of everything. The crispy, cool, crunch of the cucumbers. The heavy but mellow texture of the meatball sauce over rice they served that morning. I even requested a veggie and cheese omelette. (It wasn’t until later that I discovered I could also order smoked salmon to eat with my omelette, either on the side, or cooked into the omelette itself). After a hearty breakfast fit for a Queen, nay a freaking Goddess at this point, I decided to head upstairs for a little nap before my first trip into the city.
When I met everyone downstairs in Lobby at 1645L (thats 4:45pm) I was wearing long sleeves, jeans and my boots. I had also brought my trusty Nikon D3200 (who now at this point in my blog I will refer to as Nikolai. (Yes, I named my camera its that serious. Don’t judge me.)) with assorted lenses and a backpack. I was excited. I had never been to a souk, let alone any sort of Market or shopping center in the Middle East and I was excited to see what treasures, trinkets, and goodies this adventure would hold. I went to the hotel ATM and pulled out 10KD (about 33$ and some change based on the currency exchange rate). As we loaded up the bus, I started putting a lens on Nikolai hoping I would catch some good sights.
One of the first photos I snapped in Kuwait was of this tower by Al Shaheed park while on our way into the city. The architecture alone was enough to make me fall in love at this point. I knew right then and there I would explore every inch of this fascinating city. At this point I was so eager to explore and discover that I made a vow to myself. Every time I fly into Kuwait City, I have to explore something new. As we approached the souk, our driver let us out on the curb, and I snapped my first picture of the Souk.
As we ran around and toured the Souk, my lead (Head Flight Attendant on the Crew) instructed us on the different shops and sections, where we could buy custom jewelry, and where the best priced silk and cashmere scarfs are. They call her the scarf lady amongst the flight attendants. During this mini tour of the souk, I was able to capture many views of a magical forbidden destination. And thus began my love affair with a forbidden city. Thank you so much for reading. Part two coming soon.