“So, do you have to cover up from head to toe every time you go out of the house?” I am asked this question, at least seven out of ten times, when I tell people that I live in Kuwait. Others usually are, “Can you drive there?” or “Can you go out of the house without your husband?”, “Isn’t it difficult living in a desert?” and the most absurd one yet, “….so do you still have people going from one place to another on camels?”
A deep “NOOooooo…” and sometimes an almost annoying “NO” is my answer as I begin telling them about the Kuwait that I live in and the Kuwait they have not the faintest idea of. Aboard a morning flight bound for Kuwait, flying over the rugged mountainous terrain, miles and miles of that barren and desolate desert and the endless expanse of the serene blue-green sea, there at a distance, as you are inching towards it, you are met with a land mass, all of 17,820 square kilometers – just a little smaller than the U.S. state of New Jersey.
The land – punctuated with tall tinted-glass buildings, like the famous Hamra Tower soaring through the skies, iconic towers such as the ‘Kuwait Towers’ and ‘Communication Tower’ reaching up to you as if to say, “Welcome to Kuwait”, the snake-like, zigzag lines of the highways running all across the island, beautifully and abundantly landscaped with trees, flowers and stretches of dark-green grass –makes for a truly breathtaking picture, indeed.
The picture of today, so different from that of four hundred years ago, when all that Kuwait was, was stretches and stretches of desert, as far as the eyes could see, and devoid of a spec of shrubbery or greenery. Look at Kuwait today and it is hard to believe that it was only a gateway through which caravans of camels and tribesmen passed.
Modern, contemporary, chic and stylish are the adjectives that make up the Kuwait of today. Modernity, which is ever reflective in everything –the tall, modern, futuristic-looking sky-scrapers, the modern-styled homes and sprawling mansions, the entertainment centers like the malls, eating hang-outs, cinemas and the parks. The Louis Vuittons’, Diors’, Rolexs’, Swarovskis’ and the IKEAs’ – the biggest brands, the biggest names which have made a home here. The swankiest of cars and motorbikes one can find on the planet congregate, every day and night, on the brightly lit, long-winding highways of Kuwait. Zoom…..zoom…..vroom – a sea of those Mercedes Benzs’, BMWs’, Audis’, the Rolls Royces’, Bentleys’, Porsches’, Lamborghinis’, Jaguars’ and Corvettes’ as far as the eyes can see, zipping through the roads as the young Kuwaiti men and women, sitting behind the wheel, maneuver their ‘beasts’ all over town.
And most importantly, modernity, which manifests itself in the people of Kuwait –men and women– who look at life and live it with a contemporary, open, free and forward-thinking approach.
Kuwait – a country liberal and progressive in its outlook, makes sure that it progresses ahead, hand-in-hand with its women-folk. Women in Kuwait study in universities, at home and abroad, they work, hold high positions, they own companies and are shareholders, they vote and they hold key portfolios in the parliament – in short, Kuwaiti women contribute equally, if not more, to the growth and development of their beloved country as do Kuwaiti men.
Having said that, Kuwait and its people are still rooted to their history and culture. They value traditions, they follow customs and they treasure their distant past, paved painstakingly by their hard-working ancestors, which is a foundation for their prosperous present. From the camels to the Cadillacs, the people of Kuwait have indeed come a long way.
By Shireen Passi Chopra