Sunday, February 01, 2009

What are those lights in the desert? Party On, Kuwait!

No, not a cluster of UFO's....

I have been asked by an 'merican friend to explain what the hey is going on at night out in the desert and why there are so many camps with speeding Corollas around them. So, here goes. This is a slight re-write/update of an article that was published in a Western expat magazine in 2004 in Kuwait. Nothing mentioned here hasn't already been said in public print.


Is there a party scene in Kuwait? Unless you have been living under a rock or just got off the plane, you will know that of course there is. Parties are going on in homes, chalets, in tents in the desert, and in little apartments all over Kuwait.

The most common form of Kuwaiti party is the “gaada” or gathering. Gaadas usually take place in very dark, very noisy apartments. These are considered the lowest-class of all parties and usually only involve couples or very close friends. Apartments are rented and fitted with sound proofing: some with an exterior and interior door. All have high-decibel sound systems that, if correctly fitted, should be undetectable from street-level. Shades on the apartments are always drawn (if the windows aren’t completely covered - sometimes by aluminum foil).

If you are a single female in Kuwait (regardless of nationality), you have an open invitation to most of the parties in Kuwait. For hosts, it is considered chic to have the most and the prettiest ladies at your parties. Single men have problems getting invitations as only some invitations are for couples. Ladies are always offered refreshments and never have to bring their own. Sorry guys!

There are preferred party locations; chalets in the summer (resort homes away-from-home), desert tents in the winter. B’naider and Julai’a are higher class areas for both summer and winter partying. Before the farms in Funaitees, Agalia, and along Fahaheel expressway were torn down (during the past years) to build new homes, parties were also held at farms close to the city. Now, those farms have been moved to Kabd which most party-goers consider too far and too dirty (serious party-goers in Kuwait will turn up their nose at the thought). Some of the wealthier farm owners have rented villas closer to the city, but in areas where the neighbors won’t complain about the flow of traffic. Again, most indoor parties are sound-proof, so noise is not considered a problem. Renting is preferred rather than owning because if the neighbors do complain too much, the owners can always pack up and rent elsewhere.

Historically, all Kuwaiti families used to spend 2 weeks every Spring when the kids are on vacation in the desert. It used to be a very family-oriented event: sometimes perhaps it still is, and I am sure many camps are only for families or just for guys; but in general, camping has morphed into what it is now. Most parties start after 12 am so the people can leave well after the police checkpoints have been shut down for the night (around 4 am). The past few years have been pretty stressful for those taking the risk of partying in the desert: a lot of people are afraid to party in the desert as there have been an increasing number of raids and checkpoints throughout Kuwait. The government formerly had had a somewhat "hands off" approach to the goings on in the desert - similar to Kubbar Island (which is also changing, as has been stated in the media).

Desert camp compounds form cities in the winter time. Camps start going up around October and are taken down by the municipality-mandated date of 1 April. Some, however, are semi-permanent with owners obtaining special permission from government offices to keep their camps in locations year-round. This preferential treatment is usually granted through good wastah; meaning that the camp owners are wealthy or powerful. In desert camps (and most every other aspect of housing in Kuwait) the name of the game is to outdo the neighbors. Tent prices have skyrocketed from a mere 100 kd for a basic small tent that could possibly hold ten people, to 15,000 kd for a fully-fitted Moroccan tent with lighting fixture, bathroom, and generator. Ahmed J, a former DJ, has become a millionaire in the process of importing and selling/leasing tents. His party camp rents for 1,500 kd per night and includes bathrooms with marble floors.

A camp should consist of a large tent to accommodate guests and dancing (big enough to fit at least 200 people), a kitchen tent and adjacent dining room/area, several bathrooms (both men’s and ladies with porcelain fixtures and plumbing), sleeping tents with king-sized beds and sofas (sleeping tents may or may not be fit with their own bathrooms); these are the basics. Western-style toilets are chic, Arabic/Turkish are not. Elaborate camps include palm trees, fountains, and tiled walkways in their courtyards (so that guests’ feet don’t get dusty). There is just nothing like having barbecue in the desert and there is usually someone cooking something (from shawarma stands to kababs).

The quality parties are easy to spot in the desert at night by the types of vehicles in front of the tents. Several years ago when the first new-shape Mercedes 500 SL was introduced to Kuwait, a camp (and hotel) owner purchased one of the first in the country and parked it directly outside his tent door (the new breed of Bedouin of the Arabian sands!).

What do you wear to a party in the desert: for the ladies, a soiree dress with heels and a warm coat. Most ladies leave their coats in their cars. The dresses are usually short or very long with (believe it or not) lots of skin showing. Men usually wear jeans or semi-formal attire (dishtashas have been almost completely replaced). An essential accessory to be sure not to forget to bring with you: ear plugs. As with most Kuwaiti-style parties, the music is loud enough to be heard by passing planes and the speakers are usually concert quality. You might also want to bring sunglasses for the drive home.

Unfortunately, because Kuwait is so small and the party crowd is equally as small, the same faces are at the same parties. Everybody knows everybody. (This, however, could be said about going to a nightclub at anyone’s hometown in the US or Europe.) Unfortunately, because everybody knows everybody, the gossip tends to be high and many of the Arab ladies either avoid the parties all together, or use different names. There is a well-known party schedule in Kuwait: people generally know where to go and who’s to attend at what time of year. The three days of Eid following Ramadan are huge for parties and refreshment prices soar. The party season generally starts as soon as the new school season begins and most people have returned from vacations. The desert camps start as soon as it gets cold. Chalets are generally year-round, although the outdoor activities start when it gets warm.

How do Kuwaiti parties differ from Western parties? Generally there is much less small talk. The music is too high for talk and the lighting is too low to see very far. No one usually bothers here to ask the Western party pleasantries such as, “What do you do for a living? Where do your kids go to school? How do you know (the host)?” You don’t ask these questions at Kuwaiti parties, as it is considered too nosy or gossipy. People here want to avoid being talked about (DG note: taking photos with your mobile phone will get your ass kicked). You could always exchange numbers and ask the questions later. So what do you do at these parties? Most of the time you sit and smile, dance, or sip on your refreshing drink. If your voice doesn’t go raw from shouting over the speakers, you can shout small talk. A better choice would be to take out your mobile phone and SMS your friend sitting across the room. Most of the time, if you want to see what party life is all about in Kuwait, you really have to know (and be invited by) a Kuwaiti friend.

So.... go forth, white people! Make Kuwaiti friends!


Zaydoun said...

Hilarious and spot-on, and as valid today as in 2004. Except for the current booze crisis!

Desert Girl said...

Zaydoun - it IS a crisis, isn't it? Just when we needed it most, there is a shortage. I've found that it isn't so easy to be on the receiving end of good refreshment hospitality, either. You can usually have as much as you want on the first go-around, but then after that, you might not be as lucky - unless you really know the people and they don't mind the mooching! LOL

Taste the Cobra said...

I like the way you describe the goings on with the young & the restless in Kuwait. Do they still flow in DJs from London and Barcelona regularly for the weekends or is there now enough home brewn DJ talent in K-Town?
Next time you are in one of those parties, please post some pictures on your blog.
I will have you know that when my flat mate who's new to Kuwait went visiting the Avenues the first time on a busy Friday evening she thought there was a street party going on. So she broke into a "Shakira" much to the consternation of morality police stalking the premises who let her off with a warning.
So much for spontaneity in Kuwait.

Desert Girl said...

Cobra - Thanks for stopping by. As for pictures, please refer to "getting your ass kicked" reference in the post. :) Are there morality police in the Avenues (me giggles)? Maybe you refer to the security guards who make indecent tongue gestures at the young ladies?

Anonymous said...

Oh geez, I feel so flattered that I inspired your blog! I'm blushing like a little girl! Group meeting today: our joint objective, big trip to Kuwait in April for technology trials in the desert. Party on!
Schlummy Boy

Desert Girl said...

Yo Schlumberger Boy! :) Thanks for posing the question so I could provide a full explanation.

When you are new to Kuwait and want to make friends and learn something totally cool about the culture, ask a male Kuwaiti if he can take you to a diwaniya or a Kuwaiti wedding. Kuwaitis are known for their hospitality - especially towards people who are new here and show an interest in the culture and people. You are sure to make friends and then a trip to the desert is just a hop, skip, and a jump away! :)

Kuwait Nomads said...

Now that Wataniya Airways have started operations the party circuit in Kuwait can only get bigger and livelier. The Wataniites are such a fun crowd.
:)Bye the bye, your post has created quite a stir in the Gulf and the Levant region. I have had the "bold-and-the-beautiful-set" from Dubai, Cairo and Beirut, ask me for invites to these exclusive soireẻs in the Kuwaiti desert. Of course,I was out on a limb and suggested they touch base with you. Expect your party agent to get a tinkle from them in the next couple of days.

Desert Girl said...

Kuwait Nomads: Alas, I can do nothing for your bold and beautiful friends. I have no camp of my own. Likesay, I highly recommend that they go forth and make Kuwaiti friends because if not, they will more than likely just look at the lights from the highway without ever having the experience of being there.

No one can reap cultural rewards of being in a foreign country with different customes without trying to integrate into it.

If the friends are from outside of Kuwait, tell them to get onto, or and make buddies via the internet.

nasser said...

well check it... i've not been to many parties in kuwait but i know one sure thing .. if u want a stinky small space kind of party then u would mostlikely find one fast if ur a 18+ girl or even less.. the problem with those kinds of parties is that the rock bottom class of kuwaities always think about getting laid no matter how old the girl is... hens child rape... those kind of parties REALLY suck. i mean i'd rather go out with friends and maybe drinking alittle in one of thier places if i desperatly need or want a drink... or just head off to one of those easy going private school brat parties... they are brats but i wont denie the fact that they have the best parties all year round. *20 yearold guy*

farah said...

can we talk im new to kwuait and totaly lost im half kuwaiit half lebanese but im lebanese more than kuwaiit and cant imagine that 5 years outside kwuait made me a tourist :D \

Anonymous said...

hi!!!! we are spanish girls flight attendants. we just arrive to kuwait, we´ll stay here for 3 months, so we want to meet cool people and going party. kissssesss
contact throught this blog

Desert Girl said...

Spanish Flight Attendant - send me an email ( with yours and I'll help.

brighteyes_5652 said...

Hey sweety.. I've read your post about the parties that are going on in kuwait and it really attracted me. I'm seaching for a pace to make a party with many couples and a dj and dancing but I couln't find a place as you know such parties are illegal in kuwait. I hope you could help me find a perfect place such as an apartment o restaurant :)
Thanks alot :)
Regards, tia

Desert Girl said...

Tia feel free to write to me.

Lees said...

I am an English girl fresh from London... been here for a few months and the detox is going well. A pure and serene lifestyle in comparison... any other girls out in Kuwait on their own? Contact me via blog.

Anonymous said...

No - the true spiyrit of q8 is this thing. Plz you look:

if yu do this, many girls will want to do desert party with you *wink ink*

signed *21 year old @guy@*