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A WELCOME RETURN

A WELCOME RETURN

Returning to Kuwait recently after a period of prolonged absence, I was comforted by the quirky characteristics that epitomize the desert state. When you leave the country for a significant amount of time, it’s easy to forget the sights, sounds and smells that capture its very essence. The same could be said of any country, I suppose, but from my point of view, I’d forgotten some of the little things so symbolic of Kuwait’s charm.

I was greeted, as always, by an air of indifference from the Visa processing staff. A smile, it seems, is still a rare occurrence in this area of bad tempered grunts and officious nods. The arrivals hall was predictably frenetic and the usual oppressive heat wrapped itself around me as soon as I stepped out of the terminal building. Despite my ten hours of travel and the intimidating atmosphere, I stood for a moment to savour the feeling. Yes, it was good to be back.

There were no seat belts in the rear of the taxi so I sat beside the driver who spent most of the journey on his mobile phone. These two safety issues should, at the very least, have raised an eyebrow of concern. Instead, I allowed myself a wry smile. Some things will never change.

Re-familiarizing myself with Kuwait was an absolute pleasure. Things I had previously taken for granted were now forcing themselves to the forefront of my senses. The unmistakable scent of a shisha bar, a smell formerly considered unpleasant but now symbolic of the country I loved. The alluring Call to Prayer, a cultural delight quite literally, music to my ears. The iconic landmarks – Kuwait Towers, Liberation Tower, Al Hamra Tower – instantly recognizable and reassuringly familiar. It all added up to a heart warming return to my adoptive home.

Of course, not everything about Kuwait is satisfying. The roads are still as chaotic as ever. The beaches, although beautiful, are often scattered with litter. And the heat, whilst a welcome change from the UK’s unpredictable seasons, can be overwhelmingly intense. Still, I guess nowhere is perfect.

From my hotel room, I was afforded a wonderful view of the city’s skyline. It’s a constantly changing landscape with new landmarks vying for space as they soar towards the sun. But while I was happy to see new architectural treasures on the horizon, I was saddened at the demise of Al-Sawaber complex. As history is sacrificed in favour of progress, another iconic landmark is forever lost.

As always, Kuwait manages to conjure a cocktail of emotions.

One of the first things on my to-do list was a visit to my local beauty salon. It may have been over a year since I’d indulged myself with their services but their recognition was instant and their enthusiasm overwhelming. I had missed their warm smiles and infectious laughter and it was an absolute treat to reacquaint myself with such genuine, kind human beings. My nails were grateful for the reunion too!

Hair and nails done, I made my way to the first event of the week. The first of many, it had to be said. It always irks me when people say there is nothing to do in Kuwait. Only small-mindedness and laziness prevent folk from finding out what Kuwait has to offer. There really is so much more to it than restaurants and shopping malls.

Determined to make the most of every minute, I headed to Sharq to enjoy a leisurely break in my favourite coffee shop. Overlooking the marina at Souq Sharq, the city’s skyscrapers providing a perfect backdrop, I recalled the countless hours I’d spent watching the world go by in that very spot. The sound of boats cruising back to their mooring, the sun slowly melting into the horizon.

There are few better ways to relax and switch off from life’s demands. And few nicer places to do it.

Since my last trip to Kuwait, many of my friends have moved on. Some have returned to their homeland. Others have relocated elsewhere in the Middle East. And some have become parents, their lives changing beyond recognition from the carefree existence that first brought them to this part of the world. That said, I was still able to catch up with a number of them, their stories of life in my favourite country a welcome tonic indeed. One thing they all had in common was their gracious hospitality. Travelling alone can be an isolating experience but the family values so often evident in this conservative state ensured I barely had time to be lonely. With a generous embrace, I was invited into their family and reminded, once again, of just why I love Kuwait.

Returning to more of my favourite locations, it was a pleasure to see the same staff who had previously served me so well. Some had not returned to their home country since I had last visited, the time spent separated from their families ever increasing. Not everyone is sympathetic when it comes to ex-pats in Kuwait but the majority are hardworking individuals making the most of the hand they’ve been dealt. The very least they deserve is a kind word or a friendly smile. Talking of which, I was hoping to find an old friend of mine, a street cleaner known affectionately as Mr. B. This particular gentleman cleaned the streets of my neighbourhood when I lived in Shaab. He worked long hours, in extreme conditions for very little reward but always greeted me with a smile.

The lack of a common language prevented us from communicating in anything other than simple signed gestures. However, a beaming smile and a cheery wave are the same whatever your nationality. Sadly, I was unable to find Mr. B but wherever he is, I hope he’s still smiling.

My trip to Kuwait was over all too soon but I’d happily reacquainted myself with the country and its people. This little corner of the Middle East will always have a place in my heart. It may not be perfect but it’s certainly special and one thing’s for sure, I’ll be back!

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