Mark Gillett

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Reconciling Kuwait

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Reconciling Kuwait.

I have changed names in the text.

I have now completed my 3 weeks that turned into 5 in Kuwait.  I find myself on the Qatar Airways flight out to London reflecting on the experience. Freddy asked me last night if I was sad to be leaving. I said no.

But I am not not sad because my time in Kuwait was one I regretted or did not like. Quite the opposite. However, I was so glad to be going home as the power of family is so great in my make up that nothing would be could be better than returning. <–more–>

The sadness I now find myself feeling on the flight is partly induced by the good red wine I had and partly by a good film. But also by the thoughts and memories I have from my time spent in this intriguing country.  The people I met and the values they hold. Values not dissimilar to mine but that seem to have eroded in my own society. Values based on family and faith.

I met some truly lovely people.  I was introduced to many people through the seminars and workshops I delivered and I learnt so much from those I was there to work with in an advisory or teaching capacity. Now I find myself on the plane in awe of a country that so many just see as an oil rich state with little soul. How wrong could they be?

So, to answer my wife again, yes I am sad to leave Kuwait, but more-so cannot wait to get back to her and my family and strengthen what we already have, reconcile my time in the Emirate and learn form it.

The people I met during my 5 weeks were mostly Muslim. Not a good word at home which sickens me, really. I am not particularly religious, however, I see the strength of faith and have found myself in church more often over the last years than I would ever have believed before. Our perception of the Middle East in the West is of fanatical islamists who wage war on the infidels of the western world.  How wrong could they be. Life in Kuwait is free, warm, family oriented, friendly and full of creative people allowed the freedoms of anywhere in Europe. And in many ways more freedom. Or cleaner freedom.  Oh! And Facebook seems to rule!

My liberty was unhindered except for alcohol or walking the streets half naked and even the latter is not disallowed though I would not wish to do it. It is just not done. But these are not freedoms in my mind. In Kuwait, people tend not to offend others but respect them. They live by their faith and values but still have fun and their liberty. They remain human and enjoy life as most would. There is more money here than in most countries and things may seem less stressful but stress still exists. Of course it does as many are hugely overweight and don’t like being so. Some work too hard and others have family issues. Bad health is an issue.  But the overriding factor in their happiness seems to be their faith in God not the wealth they might have.

I met Ahmed who saw my freedoms as greater than his. He had to go to Dubai to have a drink.  My reply was that being able to drink is an indulgence not a freedom. His life was not in a police state with CCTV everywhere and banks/governments controlling its people with debt, media that claims freedoms but is as frightened by its government as any and can still be gagged when it pleases the leader… Tony Blair doing it frequently.

Sara was a photographer. A talented 25 year old who should go far. Will go far. She is from a wealthy Kuwaiti family and she does not have any money issues. But she can’t travel alone. She can’t do the photography she would like to….  This is mainly because of her traditional family values and her not being allowed to travel alone for safety reasons. I chatted to her, found out stuff that intrigued me. She was still very content. More than content and when I questioned her on her travel limitations it was just the way it is. The way Allah had directed, the way she had been brought up.

I tried to compare her with the western equivalent and initially felt sorry for her. Then I thought that things are not that different at home.  Where she had no money restrictions but family ties and bonds her western counterpart might not have family tying them down but heavily restricted by wealth. If not restricted by wealth then they might be off to Thailand for a year off to party on beaches, travel, indulge in drugs and return home with deep seated dissatisfactions with home life often leading to early onset of depression. So who is better off?

And in fact the majority of the worlds populations are restricted by wealth. Sara was happy, though, and does travel the world but always with her family. And she loves that too.

Then there was Basma, a Kuwaiti who was quite shy. She called me to ask if she could talk through some “stuff” following the workshops. To say I was honoured was an understatement. I was driving my car when I got the text so I stopped and called back immediately. She talked freely and we discussed stuff that would help her move forward.

I met an artist who produced work that would fit in a private gallery in Paris. Her father was also a renowned artist in the region and from what I can see much further-a-field too.  Her work is absolutely stunning but just like any artist in Paris or London she is struggling to see when her first exhibition might be. “Am I good enough? Do I have enough good pieces? Where should I have it? I have to finish 10 more pieces first!” Just the same as other artists around the world.

On my last day I was introduced to the head of the Kuwait Journalist Association who was a great man with much history. He talked freely about the press and how he could publish anything. Write anything freely without question. Politicians were criticised as in our own press. His stories of Kuwait through the invasion filled my mind with images of war. It certainly was no easy time as with any other war and it still troubles many Kuwaiti’s. Kuwait had its “house burgled” and people raped of their home within hours. This seems to have strengthened this nation though, not weakened it.

My meetings went on. I met Sheikhs, Indians, Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians, in fact you name it and they were in Kuwait! People chatted freely to me, they confided and let me into their world explaining the religion or dress codes, different codes of conduct and nothing seemed taboo.

I was honoured to able to talk to people who might normally be perceived as quite private. People who are the same as any others around the world. People with problems, passions, likes and dislikes. We are all pretty much the same, really. We all just need understanding.

I concluded that the West is more deluded than than I previously thought. I also concluded that the power of the US and western values is crumbling fast and this is much to do with the weakness or flakiness of our faith. Our spiritual being.

I will return to Kuwait as I have much unfinished business.

Written by markgillett

June 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm

12 Responses

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  1. it was nice meeting you Mark
    it is unfortunate for me that i met you only once 🙂
    but do come back soon 🙂



    June 17, 2010 at 10:15 am

  2. Hello Nada,

    Yes, sorry but I was so busy in the end and had to make two trips back to London and Paris. I left exhausted and not wanting to travel for a while. Just need to be in one place. I will be back though….


    June 17, 2010 at 10:26 am

  3. great !!
    well relax away from all that dust 🙂

    exams start soon 🙂
    take care


    June 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

  4. […] leave a comment » Reconciling Kuwait. I have changed names in the text. I have now completed my 3 weeks that turned into 5 in Kuwait.  I find myself on the Qatar Airways flight out to London reflecting on the experience. Freddy asked me last night if I was sad to be leaving. I said no. But I am not not sad because my time in Kuwait was not one I regretted or did not like. Quite the opposite. However, I was so glad to be going home as the power of family is so grea … Read More […]

  5. I love this post, Mark.

    It seems you had a good reception here and I’m pleased to see the positive image Kuwait left on you. It’s not often the case but you saw through the ‘dust’ and captured my country in more ways than your superb photography.

    Will follow your interesting blog on my google reader.

    Enjoy catching up with your family and keep up the great work.

    Bu Yousef

    June 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    • Hi Mohamed,

      Thank you. Kuwait definitely left its mark….Just been to your sites too and I am very impressed. We must get together. I will read more about you tonight….



      June 22, 2010 at 6:05 pm

  6. Mark,

    A beautiful reconciliation of a beautiful country. You echo many of my feelings towards Kuwait and dissatisfaction towards The West and our perceived freedoms. I visited for 2 weeks and felt more free in Kuwait than at any time in the UK…no CCTV cameras on every corner and no signs telling me what I can and can’t do. Not having to strip off to go through airport security. Every shop and restaurant welcomed my family and I with a smile and gave happy attention to my 3-year-old toddler, rather than sneering and seeing her as a loud inconvenience. I could go on…but we can learn a lot from Kuwait and I am sure much of the region.

    We have lost our way, lost values, seen the breakdown of the concept of family, become selfish and materialistic…and unimaginably arrogant in our belief that The West is a blueprint for an ideal way of life.

    I met great people in Kuwait and developed relationships that continue to develop, grow and bear fruit. I will return soon to foster these…I will return to feel free…I will return over and over again to learn and be humbled.


    Nicholas Weaver

    June 24, 2010 at 11:23 am

    • Hi Nicholas,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and reply…. I have had this feeling since I first arrived in the Middle East in 1983…. I was 20 and it has stayed with me. The most misunderstood region of the world.


      June 24, 2010 at 11:33 am

  7. Interesting article!

    I say, there are pros and cons where ever you go. It depends on which “freedoms” you are looking for. Kuwait can be liberating, stress-free but can also be suffocating and limiting – especially if you are a “minority”.
    I love seeing other people’s point-of-views on Kuwait. It makes me SEE.

    Thanks for another great article! =)

    M. Al-Saeed

    Mohammad Al-Saeed

    June 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    • Hi Mohammad,

      Thans for commenting. Yes I heard a few people who disliked it. Felt suffocated and I understand that. I think I am trying to dispel the myth that the West is freer and better. It really irks when our governments claim democracy and freedom when we all know its not true. They are all systems of control otherwise you would have anarchy which I also know is not good. I do think there are better ways than those of America and Europe. Again, thanks for reading….


      June 25, 2010 at 8:22 am

  8. What an interesting article Mark. Well done. You’ve really captured something there. It is nice to see a different perspective on Kuwait to that normally portrayed in the middle eastern stereotype in press.


    June 26, 2010 at 9:06 pm

  9. Hi Richard, Thanks for the words….. Will go back soon.



    June 28, 2010 at 9:52 am

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