Mark Gillett

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Living Free..

with 7 comments

Nut and sweet seller in Salmiya

My Laundry....

Being here in Kuwait has made me question so much about our freedoms and democracy in the west and how we all perceive freedom.

This morning I ran and as usual I thought much about my day. What I had to do  and when I would do it.  To blog was one of my tasks so I thought about continuing from the last one. I would walk to my office, Cafe Supremo, and take a few shots on the way. I would focus on people though.  In the end I didn’t take as many shots as I would have liked as I got a disturbing call so that took my focus for a while so I jumped in a cab.  I will shoot more later…

The Kuwait I have seen so far has been beautiful. The people are relaxed, happy, work hard, play hard and generally contented with life. There is certainly a multi-cultural society here too…

In UK we claim to have a multi cultural society but each of the cultures tend not to co-exist but rather set up their own communities in parts of the country or parts of a town. They then keep to themselves and rebuild their own little countries within the UK. Here it is different. Locals live next to Pakistanis who live next to Syrians who live near Lebanese and so on… I am sure there are pockets of cultures but it is certainly not so evident.

Freedom is another anomaly. We here of how the Middle East is not “free”, the things you can’t do but I have not found any of these here or any other Middle Eastern country I have visited. In Kuwait you can’t drink alcohol or openly be affectionate. Adultery is a crime and all the other crimes we know pretty much are the same here. I can’t kill another person or steal from them but as those are all things that I consider crimes too I cannot see that they hinder my freedom. In fact I feel more free here than at home.

In England there is police everywhere, CCTV cameras, your data is held by all authorities, we have huge taxes that we pay but have no idea where it goes other than straight out of a tank barrel or machine gun at 70k a pop in Afghanistan in order to secure better gas prices in the future. NI pays for what? A pension? Our health service is the largest employer in Europe and third in the world. For what? And as I found out more recently we have little rights over our children. We are beholden to a banking system that encourages a debt society in order to keep everyone working and under control and in general we are living with our hands tied. Thats my moan for the day…..

Kuwait has laws that protect people, no taxes as such, no or little CCTV and I can pretty much do what I wish as long as I do not offend other human beings. Business is good and flourishes and people seem to be very happy.

It is not without its issues. Obesity is a problem. Poor general health is a problem as fitness had not reached here until recently. There is an American fast food legacy here where if the packet says its healthy this tends to be believed…..I was asked recently “is Subway was healthy? It must be healthier that a Big Mac, surely? The advertising says it is”. My reply was that it was the equivalent of smoking light cigarettes instead of full strength……He was shocked.  This is not un-resovable and certainly not something that inhibits freedom, though, the original reason for this blog..

On my run, I started getting angry.  Cross with what we are led to believe by what we see on the news, what we read and what we are taught in school.  How we lead our lives without real personal responsibility but reliant on rules and laws that control and inhibit us. Rules here are more set by personal discipline. That of Islam as well as the legal system. But you are free to be non religious, not attend the mosque or lead your life as you wish but with personal responsibility.

One funny example I have seen here everyday is in the driving. Hugely funny, hugely scary at first but then quite ok once you see how it works – a bit like La Place de La Concorde or l’Arc de Triomphe roundabouts in Paris!. Each time I have taken a taxi or a lift from a friend I notice the roundabout discipline. At first I thought there was none….  Then, with a friend, having put my hands over my face, screeched inside and burst out laughing probably more from fear, I asked “Shaikh, whats the protocol on a roundabout?” His reply was curt and needed no clarification….. “first one goes!” And it really is.  If your headlights are in front its your right of way! I have now seen this many times.. I have seen no accidents and in the same time in Paris I would have witnessed a few!  In London there is no such disorder. But here is works. Drivers are careful and it reminded me of an experiment in Holland where in a town roads were paved and pedestrians and drivers had equal rights of way. Because of this, the drivers drove slowly and carefully. Sometimes at walking pace weaving in and out of the pedestrians who wandered from shop to shop. There were no accidents and it was proven to be very successful. The roundabout protocol is similar here in that you take more care and traffic just flows.

There is so much to say about Kuwait and I have more on this subject too. I like it here a lot and resent more the lack of freedoms we have in the UK. Paris first showed me this and Kuwait even more so. It provides a good income for many people. Its safe, you can sunbathe, swim, run, walk the streets, write, photograph without being harassed, go home and watch a good movie. It’s very family oriented and a fun place. It does not have places to get drunk and be abusive to fellow human beings and does not tolerate that either.  So what? You can “do and be” here very safely.

The images above are of a couple of places I visited on the way this morning before my call that distracted me. My laundry man and  a shop that sells nuts, coffee beans and sweets. The latter wanted to sell me two kilos of coffee beans and if I had such a machine I would have bought them. He was Egyptian and very kind. Both were very happy, chatted for a while and went on with their lives once I left.

Written by markgillett

May 10, 2010 at 9:43 am

7 Responses

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  1. Hi Mark
    as always great shots and comments. BUT: I think you as an Englishman find a different atmosphere there than people with other nationalities. I know quite a few Egyptians who are working there and aren’t so happy as they are very much treated as “underdogs” by the locals, not much respected, exploit, etc They are there to work because the income is much better than in Egypt and because they have to feed families/want a certain standard for their families. But none of them confirmed the picture of the friendly, hospitable Kuwaiti…they would all much rather be back home but bear for the sake of the money/job.
    Sorry, don’t want to be negative, you know how much I like the Middle East as I am living in a Middle East country since 17 years. But sometimes things need to be seen through several eyes and viewed from many sides.


    May 10, 2010 at 9:10 pm

  2. interesting post mark, the concept of freedom is interesting, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the level of state intervention and legislation which impacts on my daily life in england.

    it is an interesting thought that you might have more freedom in your daily life in the middle east, given our press present it all as oppressive restrictive regimes.


    May 18, 2010 at 9:25 am

    • Kes, thanks for your as usual well thought out reply.

      I think it depends on how you see freedom. For me, having cctv, traffic wardens, police, taxes, NI, and the banking system we now live under feels very restricting. It is more a form of control. I know we need security but what has happened to personal responsibility? Here in the Middle East there is more reliance on God to ensure responsibility and morals. Being offensive is not tolerated but I do not really see a problem with that.

      I felt the restrictions this last weekend when Freddy was here. We could not kiss and she could not wear her bikini on the local beach. These, though, are more annoyances than freedom issues to me.

      I think our freedoms are overrated and my point is really that there is little difference and where there is a difference its usually over sensible issues like drink and public nuisance..


      May 18, 2010 at 2:26 pm

  3. Mark,

    I think we are of a likemind here, i always surprised over the manner in which over the last 50-60 yrs we have (in the UK) begun to see it as the govt’s responsibility to control/legislate/police/impose so much of our daily lives.

    Communities that are closer to their original cultural or religious values perhaps do not need to resort to state control so much as society’s values are clear.

    is there an interesting metaphor for business, do the employees pick up on a clear set of values that people live, or do they just exist in some arcane mission statement and are “enforced” through the grinding purgatory of the appraisal system ?


    May 24, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    • Hi Kes,

      I think there is still a lot of state control or more interference, however, as you say religious and cultural values are far stronger.

      Is your question about business metaphor aimed at UK? If so I think you are very right…

      What are your thoughts on the Google business model? The environment?


      May 25, 2010 at 9:40 am

  4. yes, I was talking about the UK.

    the “google business model” was not something i was really aware of so have just invested a puzzling 5 minutes and am now aware of it but befuddled by it, so can’t really comment aside the principle of “doing no evil” might perhaps (definitely) be at odds with the requirements of their investors, it will be interesting over time to see how this plays out. certainly a strong culture.


    May 25, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    • Hi Kes,

      I think as with any business it will rise, it will model future business and it will be superseded by better models. At the end of the day its about money. Getting good hard working human beings under control by giving them perceived freedoms and then milking their minds for the purpose of making money. If it makes those that work for the business happy and rich then I suppose its fine. Here is the vid



      May 26, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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