Most of what I learned about Kuwait as a teenager, I learned from my next door neighbor - let's call him "Tailored Suits" because that's how I best remember him from those days. TS was 22 years my senior and lived smack-dab next to me on the other side of our bedroom walls in The Irene building in Chevy Chase, Maryland. TS was the Kuwaiti Military Attache. He was one of the most elegant, graceful men that I have ever met; former or present. He had all of his suits tailor-made at a very expensive shop in Mazza Gallerie next to Nieman Marcus. He drove a big, elegant car. He went to all the great parties and knew all the beautiful women. Oh, and he always smelled wonderful (great taste in cologne). I was in awe of him as a teenager (an "intense like" thing, rather than a "love" thing). I felt bad for him because he was recently divorced and obviously in pain, so although he knew how to cook (I later discovered), he would put up with my feeble attempt at making (burning) falafel and whatever other kinds of Middle Eastern foods I could try to make him; probably just because he was courteous and wanted the company.
TS and I were pals; my mother was open-minded and didn't mind him taking me to the best private clubs (no ID required back then) or cool embassy parties. We had a great time during those days.
TS introduced me to a lot of the people I keep in touch with now; and alas several of our friends who have passed away. We laughed about the Kuwaiti "kids" who were flocking to the States to go to school in DC (many of whom are now politicians and very well known business people). These were the "kids" who I saw in the nightclubs or driving around in their flashy cars in Georgetown.
He was the one who ingrained a curiousity in me about Kuwait and Islam; ultimately leading to my life here. He probably doesn't know it - and I should probably tell him - but he is my best role model of how those of faith spark interest in others. He didn't drag me by the arm to a religious center; nor did he drag religion to me. He just gave me books and quiety walked away - just opening the door and allowing me to walk through (if I wanted to) at my own pace. I will always be thankful to him for that because it allowed me such a great understanding of Islam and this culture.
We had a great friendship. I hope that he learned something (if anything) from me and my family in return. I was so young and stupid that I don't see how he could have. In my own personal experience, I've often learned new things from children and even animals - so it is possible. Anyways, our days were busy and we would see each other when we both knew we were home (often by hearing through the wall). I went to school, TS was busy with whatever it was he did at the embassy with several of his cousins. I often called him at work (this was waaaaay before cell phones) and crack him up with jokes while he was in the middle of meetings. It was fun. I thought it odd that he had a buzzer on his desk that when pressed, someone would appear with coffee or sweets. I had never heard of such a thing and I thought he was lazy because he didn't get his own. (Look at me now!)
One day, I knew he was home and he wouldn't answer the phone or the door. I could hear him inside. I was confused, so I called a mutual friend who told me the news. TS's x-wife suddenly re-married (to someone very close to him) and his world was turned upside-down. I was so sad for him and I knew he was heartbroken. He (at 37) immediately called his mother; a swift marriage was arranged to a "beautiful girl from Saudi Arabia". I was no longer an inner-circle pal atfter that. She arrived and their son was born. We were relinquished to being just neighbors. Only a chance goodbye on the elevator one day made me aware of the fact that they were moving back to Kuwait. We lost touch for years.
I often thought of him when I moved to Kuwait a decade plus later, but didn't know where to begin to look for him. I was here for 3 years before I mentioned his name in passing to someone who I didn't know was a mutual friend. TS called me the next day. One of the stores in his chain was located right behind my apartment building. He immediately came to visit me.
Since then, we have kept in touch. He is very good at it. Although I think I am good at maintaining friendships; I now hate the telephone and I haven't been very good at keeping in touch. (People get mad and go away when you don't return calls. I'm better at the written word.)
TS came to visit last night and I had no idea that it had been five years since I last saw him. It seemed like only a few months ago. How does time slip by so fast? I knew it must have been a while because he's not the same. Two wives and ten children (plus grandchildren) probably does that to a man. He looked so different (but then, I guess I probably do too); It was hard to see the man I knew in him. TS is still married to the same woman and added another later on. They all live within walking distance and are all good friends. I am very happy for him. He now has lots of people to cook falafel for him. He is still a very confident man; with stories of beautiful women who are still after him. He is still snobby like he used to be. But, he's different. So am I.
Thank you for teaching me about Kuwait, Tailored Suits. I owe you, my friend.