Monday, November 14, 2022

Juman

 


I watched all 30 episodes of the Kuwaiti drama series, Juman (2019), on Netflix with (not always so accurate) English subtitles.  I’ll tell you my impressions, but I would like to know what other people who saw it think about it.  It was disturbing in many ways but also touched upon some forward-thinking points.

 I found myself somewhat depressed watching the series through so many episodes and it had a lot to do with the solemn music score throughout - as much as the subject matter.

The plot of Juman revolves around an extended Kuwaiti family and their marriages and relationships. It also underscores the social problems affecting Kuwaitis (which can also be felt by expats married to Kuwaitis, although that point is not brought up in the series). 
 
The main message of the series is the importance of keeping families together, regardless of what problems a couple may face. Marital problems in “Juman” included a lot of domestic abuse/violence and adultery (committed by husbands in the series). (On a positive note, the directors never showed the actual violent acts against the women, which is a plus.)  Husbands that took zero ownership or accountability for their actions while their wives were told by an older generation of women and parents  that of course it isn’t right, but to go home and make it work; that a good wife should appease her husband and calm him. That is her job.
 
It was a disturbing message to give to young generations of strong, smart, educated Kuwaiti women. A message that they should give up their careers and/or educations to be stay home wives and mothers for men who flauntingly married second wives, or who forced their wives to cover - not out of religion, but out of jealousy (which supposedly means love in this series). And to return to husbands that were “sorry” after beating them; of course, to return and accept for the sake of the family.
 


I kept watching to see how they would wrap things up. You may have guessed it - happily ever after with family units intact and lots of babies; and wives who were content to stay at home and do what their husbands told them to do.
 
I wonder if the series will have the same affect as “Bye Bye London" (1982).  “Bye Bye London” was designed to show that London had vices and Kuwaitis were better off not to go there for vacations (as so many Kuwaitis do – for decades).  The series actually had the opposite affect and made people want to travel to London (team vice!).  Maybe “Juman” will make women consider what they (not anyone else) really want to do with their lives.  Dunno.
 
Ok, a few progressive messages I caught:  there was a brief discussion about Kuwaitis marrying foreigners and how their marriages have just as much of a chance of working out. The same was said about age difference in marriages and arranged vs love marriages.  It’s a matter of luck.  There was also an episode with a message about domestic workers and how they should be treated kindly.  
 
And something that I should mention is the quality of acting: Really good acting all around. Although I didn’t agree with or like the plot, it evoked strong emotions and made me think. And as an afterthought- the series had some of the most beautiful and obviously talented female actresses imaginable.  Hopefully, women who are living their best lives without any of the issues in the series.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Reflections

Carol was one of the poorest students in a rich Southern university; getting a scholarship at the age of 17.  Her mother, my grandmother, Anne, was a sibling to 9 who had immigrated from Finland.  They had very little.  Grammy pushed mom to get an education.  Even when Grammy passed away, mom spoke to her spirit every morning in gratitude and love (which is what I do daily with my mom, holding the folds of her robe or touching the last birthday card I have from her hanging on my wall). 


Mom became an award-winning journalist and was the only person I know who could make you smell something just by her vivid descriptions; weather it be food on the table at a restaurant review or the spray of the ocean on her cheek standing on a beach or breakwater.  She wrote for the Providence Journal in Rhode Island for almost 40 years and various magazines and newspapers as a travel writer.  Before that, she had a pretty fabulous journalism career where she worked in Washington DC, and interviewed Presidents, politicians and Hollywood stars (and was herself often likened to the beautiful actress,  Kim Novak).   I’m secretly thankful that mom never learned to drive because I got to travel with her as her driver to many of the world’s most romantic places (like Australia and Ireland and Tahiti and beautiful small islands, Isles de la Madeline in Canada where she loved the sunlight on the cliffs).  Beautiful, strange and amazing romantic places -  with my MOTHER.   It has been a blessing.


Mom was one of those unique people who could make a friend wherever she went; frequently embarrassing her daughters as teenagers as she would always compliment or have a nice word to say -often to the people who appeared to need it the most.  (“Mom!  Why do you have to talk to everybody?!”)   She taught us to look around the room and tip the busboys in restaurants as they were the lowest paid.  She sent money to people she met along her travel writing journeys who she thought needed help.  Like on the Navajo reservations and in the South on her “Hunger in America” series.   She was always kind that way. 


Because of mom, Cait and I both have “ears like dogs.”  As part of mom’s restaurant reviews, she listened to (ok, eves dropped) other patron’s conversations about the food.  She would shush us and turn an ear to listen.  Cait and I can now hear a conversation across a crowded room while never letting you know that you don’t have our full attention.


Mom always taught us to be independent – sometimes/mostly fiercely independent.  She never relied on any man and she instilled the same in Cait and I.  I remember once receiving an expensive gift from a male friend as a teenager.  She was very upset because she said, “I don’t have much money right now and we have to go buy him a gift of equal value.  You should never owe anyone anything.”  I loved that silk dress!   But I’ve never owed anyone anything.  And neither has my sister.


To those she left behind:  Mom was super proud of her businesswoman daughter, Cait, and loved to hear Cait talk about her work adventures (often humorously).  She was proud of me and my adventurous spirit leading me to work in the Middle East.  She was equally proud of her grandson, Alex, who has inherited the writing gene in the family (whether he chooses to use it or not, she knew that he has it because of several eloquent stories and letters he has written) and of the man and father he has become.  She was happy to have known her great-granddaughter, Avery who brought her so much joy in the later part of her life; and admired Kelsey for being such a wonderful mother to Avery.  She loved the fortitude and support of Cait’s husband, Wayne, and his calming presence in all of our lives.  Mom loved the bond that cousin, Margaret, had with her and our Finish side of the family; a reminder of who she was and where her side of the family was from.


And she loved the friendship and support of her neighbors, Liz, Trish, Gary, and Amy who orchestrated the little things that meant so much to her daily life;  like visits,  baked goods deliveries, taking out the trash for her and making sure her newspaper was delivered close to her door.  Little things that make a big difference to an elderly person who was once so much more independent.


Mom often said that even though your body is aging, you are still the same person inside.  People who knew her knew that – she had a sharp sense of humor and fascinating perspective of life right to the end. 

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Mom - The Departure

One of the major reasons I moved back to the US from Kuwait was to help take care of my mother in her elder years.  I had 4 great years with her.  She might not think they were so great, as she was declining in health and couldn't get around, but I still had time with her and I'm so grateful I was able to be there with her.  She has been my best friend for as long as I can remember.


I haven't been able to write about her death in November.  It is too fresh and I get too sad.  Still having sobbing fits every night.  It feels like it was yesterday; it feels like it was 10 years ago.  I'm waiting for signs.  I've had a few; my sister has had a lot more.


I talked her her 5 times a day.  She lived only 15 minutes from me, but we were always in touch.  The most difficult thing about my days is the drive to work when I would always call her and hear her perkly little voice in the morning - telling me how great a day I was about to have, and asking where on the road I was.  "Where are you now?"  I heard her on my drive the other day, and I responded, "No, where are YOU now?" and we both had an imaginary giggle.  I play her voicemails sometimes on my way to work now just to hear her voice and pretend that she's still here.


Mom had lived in a beautiful condo next to a lake for the past twenty-something years.  She spent her days looking out at the water and the people on or near the water.  The geese, the foxes, little boats.  My sister and I moved her into assisted living after some bad falls.  She really missed the lake and was sad because she was no longer mobile and had to be helped to do most things.


So, I'm going to write about her transition and departure and then backtrack a little when I can push myself to write more.  I have a terrible memory and blogging helps me keep the details in mind.

Mom had had several falls at her condo and mom agreed that it was time to move into assisted living.  Mom moved close by to my sister and me in June.   The home looked like the Ritz Carlton and I think mom was reluctantly happy there.  Mom had lost a lot of mobility during 2020/Covid when she basically stayed at home much of the time and wasn’t walking (which she loved).  Mom was no longer able to get up the stairs (2 inside the condo and 10 to get up to street level).  At the AL home, she was helped 24/7 by some very loving caregivers (most attended her funeral).  She had a walker and had started using a wheelchair to get around.  My sister got her the Cadillac of all motorized wheelchairs and although mom never learned/wanted to drive (and had to learn the basics of “driving” her chair), she got around pretty well.  All of the other residents were envious.  


Mom was taken to the ER several times for unstable blood pressure.  She had a very bad geriatrician/GP (in my opinion) who didn’t’ listen to her symptoms (swollen ankles, loss of voice, difficulty breathing, BP spikes and lows).  We found her another GP and about 10 days before her final admission to the hospital.  The new GP had ordered oxygen and the appropriate tests (blood/echo).  It was, at that point, too late.  I’m not a doctor, but I feel very bad/guilty that I didn’t understand her symptoms better and that they were classic of congestive heart disease.  Had we known, we may have had more time with her.  However, mom was 89 and by her own accounts, ready to let go.


She was admitted to the hospital on November 14, and it wasn’t looking good. Mom was in/out of consciousness and coherency (kept telling me to take care of the sandwich mom had left on the table and to get her blue sweater from the cleaners) and her color was bad.  She spoke to the nurses and told them what a wonderful life she had lived (I think she knew it was bad). 


The next day, her best friends and us/immediate family gathered around her.  Mom regained consciousness for about 45 minutes (“rally”) and made us all laugh, thanked us for loving her, and told us mom loved all of us.  Some of her last words were, “This is weird.  I’ve never done anything like this before.  Have you?  You’re all here!  I guess it is true what they say that you are surrounded by ‘your friends and family.’  Are these going to be my famous last words?”  She also advised her grandson, my nephew, to trim his beard.  Mom asked if we could sneak in a bottle of her favorite wine (Meursault) the next day; we were planning it.   She then went to sleep again. 


We admitted her into hospice that afternoon, and at 4am the next morning, mom passed away.  True to form – with humor, grace and dignity.


It was the best transition any of us could have hoped for.  She didn’t want to have a prolonged death or be in hospice for any long amount of time (I believe that less than 12 hours was sufficient for her!)  Her best friend, Liz, suggested that we play Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at her funeral. 


Mom left VERY specific instructions on what mom wanted at her funeral and we followed them pretty precisely.  (She left a file folder for everything.)  She was cremated and has a beautiful blue hand-blown glass urn (which is in my living room); eventually I will make the trip to the UK to her favorite islands (Channel Islands) to scatter her ashes  (“on a beach, somewhere sunny”).   We were asked NOT to have “one of those online obituary things” but these days, it is the best way to get the information out there, so it is out there.


Her celebration of life was the best funeral that I’ve ever been to (and better than any wedding I’ve attended).  We laughed, we cried, we had great food and music surrounded by loving, interesting people.  Mom would have loved it.   We expected maybe 65 people and over 140 showed up; many who had just known her briefly or who mom had touched lives with like check out clerks at the grocery store, people who she had met on the trail with their dogs, handymen, her hair stylist (MY hair stylist), contractors, etc. She had a posse of close friends who mom had found late in life and they were all there for her.   The service was held here in Virginia at a venue on a lake with vaulted ceilings.  Mom had asked for a song to be played (“Ascent of the Lark” by Vaughn Williams) which is usually played by a violinist or cellist, so we had a string quartet that played and it was amazing.  A few of the guests said that they saw a heron take flight from the lake right after the song; befitting.  We had asked for yellow roses and peonies and the woman who coordinated the celebration did a stellar job of finding them – in bloom – in the winter.  Everything was beautiful and perfect and happy and sad.


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Getting Old Just Sucks for Everybody Involved

 My mom (89) moved into assisted living (by her choice) a few months ago. It has been really hard.   After a few bad falls at her condo, she needed 24/7 care to help her get around.  Staying home for almost a year during COVID had a negative affect on her mobility.  She used to be able to walk several miles around the lake where she lived.  It was hard for her to get to the kitchen alone.  She hated moving out of the beautiful condo with a direct view to the lake where she would sit and watch the beautiful sunsets and changing of seasons.   

I was the one who orchestrated (with her help) giving things away and storing others; effectively dismantling her life for the move. She was a beauty queen in her 20s and 30s and later a decorated journalist that traveled the world (often taking me with her). Newspaper and magazine articles, photos, and a lifetime of memories locked in things she loved or had loved had to be sent to different corners. I was thankful that we were able to sift through it all together:  If I had had to separate the pieces of her life after she had passed, I would be inconsolable and most likely, just put everything into a storage unit until I could deal with it,  potentially years later.  

It has been hard watching my mom’s health decline - and sometimes, when she gets tired, her memory.  I find myself getting really angry and frustrated when I'm around her and I have had to stop and question why am I doing that? What the Hell is wrong with me that I would get angry at my mother - a helpless little old lady?! But I have figured it out: she has been my best friend all of my adult life and I am angry that my energetic, vibrant, active, social buddy has gone somewhere. It is completely stupid and awful, but now that I know why I do what I do and have discussed it with her.  The irony of it is that she said she has always understood why I feel the way I do - and she has just been patient with ME.

You just don't know all that happens - or how you will react - when your parents get old. I NEVER let her want for anything. I am there for her 24/7 and she knows it. I bring her flowers every week. I stock her refrigerator and make sure she has enough Ensure and snacks.  My sister visits often and got her an electric wheelchair so she can get around the building freely.  Mom has almost mastered it (which was difficult because she never has had the coordination enough to drive a car).  Her friends visit her weekly and even though she has a hard time talking, they call her often. Mom is also cared for by some incredibly kind and loving care givers where she lives. They make her coffee in the morning and help her get into bed at night (and everything with a push of a button in-between).  Some of them call her, “grandmother” and tell her that they love her.   

Mom’s brother, my Uncle Doc (also in his 80’s) drove with my cousin to Virginia from their home in Florida just to see her for a day on her birthday.  He is in similar shape, although his memory is failing fast.   I’m glad that they got to see each other.  They both worry about each other constantly.  Uncle Doc asked me if she is “terminal.”  I answered that we are all terminal in old age. 

You always think that you have more time.  You think that the dinners out and shopping and going for drives to the mountains will continue.  But then, just like that, they’re not able to do it anymore. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Promoting local artist in Kuwait

 Someone asked me recently about where to get a painting of Kuwait by a local artist (not necessarily a Kuwaiti artist).  Well, here ya go....



Touch of Hope Kuwait Animal Shelter Needs Your Help!

 Please SHARE this everywhere:


Touch of Hope is an animal shelter in Kuwait. (Instagram @ touch_of_hope_q8) run completely off donations and volunteers. People think, "Why help Kuwait? It is a rich country. They should take care of their own animals." Well, ZERO money is allocated to the welfare of animals in Kuwait by their government and pets are often dumped, neglected, and abused (I'm not going to be graphic, but it is BAD and it happens often). ToH works with Wings of Love Kuwait (a Baltimore-based shelter) (Instagram @ wingsoflovekuwait) to bring pets to the US to rehome. (Both run off separate entity donations.)  Check out their accounts for photos and videos of their amazing work.


Touch of Hope Kuwait animal shelter is being evicted and is in urgent need of aid! They've found a new place to create a shelter, but it needs a LOT of work and Kuwait summer (think 120F!) is quickly approaching. Any help is greatly appreciated! $5/$10 - anything will help. 



GoFundMe  

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-stray-animals-evicted-from-their-shelter?fbclid=IwAR1ao5fC2qbvc2f1cQ1gzuOzYrkb2B9fWZuBc8WatQYPZy3gzDJpjRljFYk


A large number of rescued dogs, cats, and a horse have lost their home after an eviction notice was served at the farm in Kuwait that serves as their sanctuary.  Can you help these helpless souls?


An amazing woman named Marlene has dedicated her life to the injured, abused, and abandoned animals of Kuwait.  For years she and her elderly mother have been renting a rundown farm in the desert, just so she has room for her many rescued animals.  She works around the clock, in very challenging conditions, and receives no official funding or support.  Nevertheless, Marlene puts a positive spin on her life.  She calls her animal rescue effort Touch of Hope.  With love and tender care she rehabilitates her rescues and prepares them to be adopted into loving, permanent homes.

But tough times for Marlene and her mom just seem to always get tougher.  Due to budget cuts at her company, Marlene lost her job.  Her old car overheated and caught fire on a dusty desert road and was damaged beyond repair.  The pandemic has made things even more difficult.  Huge numbers of house pets are being dumped on the street, and with many new rescues, Marlene's pet food and vet bills have skyrocketed.  Despite all this, she never closes her eyes or her heart to an animal in need.  It has only been by borrowing money and with limited help through fundraising and donations from some local animal-lovers that Marlene manages to continue caring for the animals and giving them a touch of hope.

On August 6, 2020, Marlene received tragic news from her family in her native Lebanon.  Her home, located near the port of Beirut, was completely destroyed in the devastating explosions.

Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse, Marlene received a notice for IMMEDIATE EVICTION from her Kuwaiti landlord.  She frantically began searching for another farm.  Options are extremely limited and she was forced to rent a place that is badly in need of work.  At least $20,000 is needed in order to make it secure and habitable.

Please help.  ANY donation, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated.  We can't let these animals down, they have already suffered enough!  TOGETHER we can make a difference and enable Touch of Hope to continue its vital mission.

Please share this campaign with all your contacts.  Thank you for caring and God bless you.

For more information please see: Instagram @touch_of_hope_q8


Monday, February 15, 2021

Yo, Expat! Are you staying or going?

Mark at 2:48AM blog has a very interesting post recently (https://248am.com/mark/personal/us-vs-them/).  He is thinking of leaving Kuwait.  I think many lifelong or long-term expats have either left by now or are battling with themselves on whether to stay or leave.  In Mark's case, he was born in Kuwait and his mother and father were in Kuwait long before that.  


His post inspired me to write this post.


It is a hard decision.  I think it is harder when you wallow in an uncomfortable situation; not feeling happy and somewhat apprehentious about what may happen when  you leave. Or where you will go.  Or what kind of a job you will find.  And you can't have the same things as you have had in Kuwait (like a maid or cheap healthcare and insurance).  And where you go:  paying taxes, paying for air for tires using a credit card at the gas station, vet bills in the thousands....etc, etc. (More of that for future posts.) 


Kind of like a bad romance.  You've been with that person for a very long time.  You know you should go (and your departure will be inevitable someday), but the constancy of it leaves you in limbo.  You are comfortable in your discontent somehow.  Kind of paralized in it all.


How many more expats are going through the same thing?  Is it just the pandemic that is making it so bad?  Or at least you tell yourself that.  But really - it was getting uncomfortable even before. The pandemic has just made it really hard with people losing jobs or having their salaries cut so it pushes the decision to stay or go to the forefront.   


Disclaimer:  Don't get me wrong.  I still love Kuwait (and God knows how much I miss the country and my friends and adopted Kuwaiti families)  but the country has changed a lot since I initially washed up on it's shores in 1993.  (I moved to Kuwait in 1996.)

 

I wrote a post about the reasons I would leave Kuwait - back in October of 2017.  I left Kuwait (physically) in December of 2017, to work remotely from the US with travel to the UAE and other places when requested.   I was back and forth between Kuwait and the US after that; and just before the pandemic hit hard in early 2020.  I am so grateful that I moved house out of Kuwait when I did.  Perfect timing.


Sidebar:  Seriously, how many of us can just work remotely just using e-mail?  I mean, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that working remotely works.  Case in point:  I was working on a contract recently and thought that the woman was in Kuwait (I was calling her Kuwait number).  We got to talking and she told me that she is actually in Georgia.  I said, "Girl!  Give me your number, I'm in Virginia!"  Another associate turned out to be working from London while I was calling him on a Kuwaiti number.  Another, two towns away from me in Virginia.

 

I went through the process of getting quotes from shipping companies for my household goods and car to actually doing it - shipping it all.  I had a whopping seven suitcases I would take back with me on the plane, plus the cat and the dog.  The logistics!!   I downsized a LOT.  I couldn't stand the thought of  selling my things to bargain-hangry buyers, so my process was, "Things I love to people I love."  My friends came over and post-it-noted their names on things they wanted.   The purge continued for 2 months - and I still ended up with a 40' container back to the US.   (I wish I had taken more of some things and I equally wish I had purged more of others.)  The ship takes 2 months to arrive with the container, so I brought lots of clothes in check-in luggage.


Only my really close friends knew that I was leaving "for good."  I had lunch with the man who basically brought me to Kuwait the first time in 1993.  He asked me why I was leaving and I told him that I was no longer comfortable living there.  I felt unwelcomed (in general - as an expat).  That I was feeling more doom and gloom than joy and contentment.  And.... I didn't like the expat-bashing trend; especially by members of parliament and government; those with a short memory of the events that transpired in 90/91.  The kind of people who forget their friends.  His response was, "Oh, but they don't mean Americans or Brits...."  I believe the word "expat" is all-encompassing of foreigners in Kuwait, so when a politician calls Expats, "bacteria," I take offense to it.


A million times over the years I was asked, "Are you planning to leave Kuwait someday?"  My response was, "Whenever I decide it is time to go."  


Time to go...


Time to be with my family.  Time to buy property that is in my name with a huge yard so that my dog has a real understanding of grass and playtime.  Time to pay into my eventual retirement. Time to breathe in clean air and be surrounded by trees and green and birds (and in my neighborhood - foxes and deer and skunks and bald eagles).  A different kind of natural beauty where people don't litter or pollute (at least where I live).  


A lot has happened since I've been away (even though I came back to Virginia every summer on annual leave).  My nephew has grown into a man with his own daughter, home and business.  My mom has aged and counts on me to help her.  Some of the friends that I had have died.  Others have just moved on with their lives; marriages, children, divorces.  Oh and the time that I spent on summer vacations from Kuwait that I always spent visiting my family has turned into reeeeally nice family travel vacations together.  


I'm going to write a separate post(s) about the transition and my reverse culture shock.  And of course, the things I miss in Kuwait.  It has been a journey.  How do I feel now, three years (I can't believe it!) later:  Content.  Grounded. Secure. 


Why am I posting this now?  Well, inspiration from Mark's post and it's follow-on comments by expats for one.  I have been in discussions with friends still in limbo in Kuwait wondering if they should leave.  I know many expats are weighing the decision, so maybe this will get them thinking.  Or maybe they'll get some comfort in knowing that they're not alone.  A little support perhaps.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Donate to help Stray Animals in Kuwait

Expats are leaving Kuwait in droves.  And unfortunately, many feel that they have no other alternative (they do!) than to dump their pets.  Shelters are overwhelmed.  Many people find animals and want to help.

Give Hope Club works with Touch of Hope Rescue and is an easy way to help the many rescued animals at Touch of Hope during this crisis. Pay your monthly membership through a link in your phone and you'll also be eligible to win great prizes in the monthly lucky draw.

Choose from one of these memberships:

 -Silver (10 KD monthly)

-Gold (20 KD monthly)

-Platinum (30 KD monthly)

-Diamond (40 KD monthly)

 Then send a what's app message to +965 99835252 with your full name & type of membership and we will send you the payment link. Please share this widely and help the helpless!

  

Touch of Hope works with Wings of Love Kuwait in Baltimore to fly animals out of Kuwait to homes in the US.  Please help if you can.  Any amount makes a big difference.


Saturday, August 08, 2020

I Banish You: Reflections on Kuwait

 This is a very interesting article written by a Kuwaiti woman about the current situation in the country.

Source: https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/banish-reflections-kuwait/

I Banish You: Reflections on Kuwait

We remain in the midst of a global pandemic. This public health disaster has cracked open fault lines that have threatened Kuwait for decades. At the start I clung to a sliver hope that the crisis might trigger radical transformation. What it has done instead is confirm that we are no longer on the road to failure. We are already there.

My rage over this brings to mind Coriolanus. The fifth century BCE general fearlessly saves Rome from the Volsces, only to have the plebeians turn on him. He refuses to give in to their demands, seeing them as a threat to the sovereignty of Rome. Coriolanus has always been an ambivalent figure. Is he a noble warrior and anti-populist banished by ungrateful citizens for telling it like it is? Or an arrogant proto-fascist punished for his disdain of the common people? I’m no judge. What draws me to Coriolanus in this moment, as I witness my nation fall, is the purity of his fury, which precisely mirrors mine.

In Shakespeare’s play, the tribunes banish Coriolanus for refusing to humble himself. In response to his punishment he declares, “I banish you.” A tirade follows in which he reprimands the people for their lack of foresight, ignorance, indecision, falling prey to rumors, and becoming their own worst enemies. He predicts that Rome, left defenseless, will be overcome by a stronger nation, as the weak often are — as Kuwait once was.

I am as livid as Coriolanus about the state of my nation. This pandemic has highlighted our utter ineptitude, even as we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. For years I have written lamenting lost opportunities in this country once poised to become a paradise on earth. A few have been willing to do what it would take to realize Kuwait’s potential. One by one, their hope has been snuffed out. Without hope there is no future. The most dedicated continue to work selflessly without any sense of legacy. The loyal and industrious are disdained, the lazy and corrupt honored — all signs of a decadent state.

How are we failing? Let’s start with Kuwait’s handling of the pandemic. At first it appeared authorities were acting prudently, but their moment of glory fizzled out. A porous partial curfew allowed 40,000 Kuwaitis to be repatriated, accelerating contagion. By the time a three-week lockdown was in place — over two months after the first case was recorded — cases were already skyrocketing. Kuwait’s “full” lockdown included two hours to go outside for exercise without social distancing enforced, making a mockery of it. Two months after lifting the full lockdown, Kuwait’s positivity rate hovers at around 20%. Unable or unwilling to comprehend relevant data, Kuwaitis celebrate the lockdown’s great success. The first day it was lifted, cars lined up around several blocks to pull into drive-throughs at Starbucks and McDonald’s, illuminating the citizenry’s priorities.

The pandemic has also laid bare and intensified the racism structuring everyday life in Kuwait. Racism is entrenched, yet most citizens believe they are good Muslims, treating everyone with humanity. Examples of racism range from our mishandling of the bidoun — the so-called stateless Kuwaitis our government refuses to legalize — to our treatment of non-citizen residents, many of whom are victims of the corrupt kefala(sponsorship) system.

The kefala system was criticized in the early days of the pandemic, when the inhumane living conditions of migrant laborers were identified as contributing to its spread; but five months on, the system remains intact. Kefalalegalizes de facto slavery. Hiring involves negotiating a price with the current sponsor as well as the agent who legally brought the indentured person into the country. Both agent and sponsor collect money in exchange for a human body. A state that legalizes any form of slavery is a morally bankrupt state. Citizens who profit from this moral bankruptcy and do nothing to stop it are themselves morally bankrupt.

Instead of terminating the kefala system once and for all, members of parliament and prominent citizens began calling for non-Kuwaitis to be tossed out and for the public and private sectors to be magically Kuwaitized. The demographic imbalance between 30 percent citizens and 70 percent non-citizen residents is nothing new, but it has been long ignored by the 30 percent it benefits. The migrants themselves have been viciously blamed for this imbalance, as if they materialized out of thin air. The migrants have nothing to do with it. Agents and citizens acquiring and selling sponsorships could not do so without the approval of Kuwaiti officials in high places. Period.

The response of authorities to the migrant labor community during the pandemic was to barricade their residential areas with barbed wire for months, allowing those inside to mix freely. These communities were not asked whether they wanted to participate in this risky herd immunity experiment. To date, Kuwaiti areas with the highest number of cases have not been barricaded. Photos of food lines inside barricaded areas evoked the Great Depression; meanwhile, on the first day malls reopened, citizens lined up at Rolex and Louis Vuitton.

From oil rig operators, construction workers, and stevedores to garbage collectors, delivery drivers, and domestic labor, most non-citizen residents perform jobs Kuwaitis never would. It’s one thing to announce that Kuwait’s demographic must flip overnight, but unless Kuwaitis decide to do the work of running a country and a home for themselves, assertions won’t make it so. Kuwaitis should work as janitors or taxi drivers because all work is honorable and because these are the jobs some of them are best qualified to do. In a meritocracy, people get the jobs they deserve. In a declining state, people are paid to do nothing, while incompetent individuals are given jobs they are unable to carry out. This money for nothing scheme may benefit the individual in the short term, but over time it culminates in national collapse.

Another sign of failure uncovered by the pandemic is just how much of Kuwait’s social fabric is threaded with self-entitlement, intransigence, and corruption. Kuwaitis consistently flout the rules of social distancing and mask wearing. No two meters apart or masks when they exercise, making it dangerous to share public spaces. No two meters apart in supermarkets or lines, threatening those who want to survive. No two meters apart for public officials at meetings photographed for newspapers, setting a stellar example. Kuwaitis have used supermarket and hospital curfew passes to visit friends. They have partied at their beach chalets, diwaniyas (male gatherings), and farms. Most Kuwaitis don’t care about their obligation to the greater community, to protect the elderly, the vulnerable, and those putting their lives on the line. From cradle to grave, they have been conditioned to care only about their own convenience; wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance requires too much effort. That it may save their own lives matters less than maintaining their right to do as they damn well please.

We witness this ethically corrupt behavior even as we learn more about the fleecing of the national pension fund by its former head. Over $500 million stolen. Some of that money was my father’s, a physician who worked in the public health sector and at the public university for over half a century, contributing to that fund with the sweat of his brow. Some of it was mine, having paid into it for the last 26 years and counting. That crooked head of the pension fund — like his non-mask-wearing compatriots — has no regard for the greater good. Without a broad sense of responsibility and justice, a society falls apart at the seams. We are at this juncture.

What about education? I teach English and comparative literature at Kuwait University. All faculty and administration have been given paid rest from March until August. Five months without any form of online teaching for around 40,000 university students at the only public university in the country. All private universities and most private schools shifted to online teaching within weeks of closure. Not Kuwait University. Not the government school system. The argument made by authorities was that e-learning standards couldn’t possibly match in-person education and that professors and students wouldn’t be able to cope with the sudden shift online. That our current circumstances are exceptional, that the shift would last only as long as the pandemic, that we should at least give it a try, didn’t register. Our high standards had to be maintained, even at the cost of wasted salaries and wasted young minds.

This lack of logic didn’t start with the pandemic. The pandemic merely sharpens the writing on the wall: the government system of education in Kuwait has failed. For decades, countless reports have been written and submitted by institutions and individuals, local and international alike. These collect dust in neglected drawers, and nothing changes. A dumb populace, lacking the skills to think critically, maintains the corrupt status quo. Even if education shifts online, the quality of education itself will not have changed. No amount of technology can gild an archaic program. We are where we are today because of our substandard curriculum, trapped by our inability to think ourselves out of a paper bag.

What’s true of education applies also to healthcare. So far the healthcare system has not collapsed in the face of COVID-19. However, even after five months of curfew, doctors are still advising us to avoid hospitals whenever possible. A friend’s chemotherapy cycle was cancelled because the hospital has run out of the necessary medicines, endangering his prognosis; another friend’s auto-immune medication is no longer available, leaving her in chronic pain. The fear that my sick father might require an emergency visit to a hospital keeps me up at night. Even in the best circumstances, Kuwait’s healthcare system is frustrating to navigate, with a mix of excellent doctors among truly incompetent ones. How long even this frayed status can be maintained is hard to gauge. Given that the majority of doctors who work in the public healthcare system, as well as all of the nursing staff, support staff, and most technicians are non-Kuwaiti, what will happen if plans now rumbling among parliamentarians to reduce the non-Kuwaiti population by 40 percent are actualized? The pandemic is not over. The way rules are defied in Kuwait, there is no doubt we will see a second wave and a third, if we ever emerge out from under this first one. Without non-Kuwaiti healthcare workers and with the added pressure of rising COVID-19 patients, the system will shatter.

Economically the situation in Kuwait is dire, thanks not only to the pandemic, but to a lack of decisive action before it, combined with zero responsiveness during it, and heightened like never before by the shock to oil prices and the global economy brought on by it. As with the educational and healthcare systems, what needs to be done to remedy the economic crisis has been evident for years, from diversifying the oil economy to reducing unproductive public spending. Kuwait must take on public debt for growth investment; if it doesn’t, it will be bankrupt within five to seven years. There has been no sign that the government is willing to overhaul the system. Over the course of this pandemic, the government’s feeble response to the needs of small private businesses, the rental market, and labor are clear indicators that our economy is heading for a crash. Most Kuwaitis remain in denial about this result and its repercussions. Given that on August 1, 1990, few believed Iraq would invade, our capacity to assess future outcomes is, put mildly, low.

As with many other places on earth, the pandemic provided a brief respite for our environment. Now that curfews have been mostly lifted, we’re back where we started. Oil production, incineration, and unregulated motor vehicle emissions color our skies yellow, brown, and gray. Kuwait, one of the world’s smallest countries, is one of the highest per capita waste generators, just as we now have one of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases per million in the world, the lowest productivity rate in the world, and one of the highest diabetes and dementia rates in the world. Numbers to be proud of. Our coral reefs have been dying for decades; our waters and shores are thick with plastic; our fish have become toxic. Rising rates of cancer and other environmental diseases change nothing. The government and parliament can’t be bothered to exert the effort and investment required to tackle climate change since their citizens don’t care. After the lockdown was lifted, photos circulated of shorelines blanketed with plastic bottles, bags, and containers, abandoned by thousands of visitors to the country’s beaches. They consider it beneath their dignity to clean up after themselves, expecting Bangladeshi cleaners to pick up after them. That couldn’t happen, given that most of those cleaners were trapped behind barbed wire, under threat of deportation, so the mess was swept into a ravaged sea.

Like the nobles and tribunes Coriolanus scorned, Kuwait’s authorities have led the country to ruin. Like the oblivious citizens of ancient Rome, we have allowed them to do it. Racism and slavery, self-entitlement and corruption, education and healthcare in crisis, economy and environment on the brink — any one of these could bring down a nation-state. All of them together at once spells the end. This is where Kuwait stands today, without the leadership or a population intellectually and emotionally equipped to admit to the magnitude of the disaster, let alone to commit to its remedy.

Coriolanus turns away from Rome. “There is a world elsewhere,” Shakespeare’s version claims, but he is wrong. We are the worlds we make. Coriolanus could not let go, held back by hubris and a sense of pietas. He raged against Rome and its ignorant citizens to the point of war. Whether idealistic or misguided doesn’t matter; he came to a bad end.

I’ve learned his lesson. My rage serves no purpose. I write with the knowledge that my words are futile, that my love for Kuwait will remain forever unrequited. “There is infinite hope in the universe,” Kafka said, “but not for us.” So I choose to let go, despite fear and regret.

We deserve what comes next.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Why I haven't posted in a while

Usual excuse:  I've been busy.  This time, very busy.

I should be keeping up more, but I am between places all the time.  I got a promotion at the company I work for and it includes taking on projects in different countries for our business owner - who I adore. I got so lucky working for his company and I am grateful to him every single day.  Literally.  I've worked for him for ten years now.   So, I am back and forth between Kuwait, Dubai and the US. Super thankful to be working and have a job.

I also work with my sister at her company while I'm in the US doing government work.  Again, couldn't ask for a better business owner.  I'm truly blessed on both continents - Mashallah.  Her business here is considered essential, so I am at the office every day.  Quarantine rules are somewhat relaxed in Virginia compared to other places - especially Kuwait.

I am truly blessed to have the life I have. 

Every expat would like to believe that they will stay in Kuwait forever, but that's just not realistic.  Even if you are married to a Kuwaiti, at some point, you are going to want the security of something in  your home country.  So I bought a lovely little house (maybe not so little, but lovely) near my family in Virginia.  I have a garden and everything is green and beautiful.  It is 15 minutes from mom, my sister, and my nephews homes.  My neighbors literally welcomed me with open arms (ran across the street to hug me). 

My house is close to the airport and a short trip back and forth to Kuwait (you get used to it).  My vacations used to be going to the States to see my family.  Now they are vacations together outside the US (Turks & Caicos is our favorite).

I don't have to worry about being noisy or having noisy neighbors.  It is a very quiet neighborhood and everyone takes care of each other.  One of my elderly neighbors passed away shortly after I bought my house.  She was a dear woman and I wish I had had more time with her.  Her husband, probably pushing 80 now, is equally as kind and I bring him home made pies and food once in a while.  I think he is lost without her after 60 years of marriage.

My neighborhood (Mishref) in Kuwait is not on lock down other than the country-wide curfew.  I think I made the right choice there being in a predominantly Kuwaiti neighborhood.  Again, a place where neighbors take care of each other.  I can't imagine not having Kuwaiti friends through this pandemic and feel a degree of pity for expats who have made the choice not to.  The amount of concern I've had from Kuwaiti friends is overwhelming and heart-warming.

Right now, through the pandemic, I'm in the US.  And super happy about that.  I was supposed to be back in Kuwait right now, but I stayed in Virginia to see what was happening.  Thank God.  My mother has been self-quarantined in her home for six weeks now.  I buy her groceries and go to talk to her on her steps.  There is a farmers market close to where she lives, so I can buy farm products and plants at an open-air barn.  Everyone is planting things to keep busy.  I'll have a jungle in a few years. 

Our biggest issue in Virginia with the pandemic is so trivial:  Lack of toilet paper.  Not that I should care because I had bidet hoses installed in every bathroom in my house.  My family and friends laughed at me, but who is laughing now?  I finally found a place that sells TP to businesses, so I bought a case of 96 rolls and I'm a very popular girl now.

I am missing machboos a LOT. 

I will try to post more often.  Thanks to those of you out there still reading - and who sent me messages asking how I am.  I'm still here. :)  I hope that all of you are well and safe and healthy.