Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another Country

Strange the way I can feel a sense of duty when I go travelling – to keep busy and active, to visit all that there is to visit, see all there is to see. Am I living my life for myself or am I on stage being watched and judged by some audience? Is there no getting away, even outside work, from the examining eye of assessment, in this case an eye driven purely by the superego, by nothing conventionally official.

Possibly because of the enervating effects of a lingering, waning depression (I trust), my interest in summoning up a fervent commitment to be ‘engaged’ with the Bay has been less avid than it might have been. To an extent, this makes me feel guilty. But then I remind myself that I’ve already been to San Francisco twice (in 1992 and 2002), that I’m essentially here to visit friends (Patrick and Sasha) and to relax and drift with the clouds or with whatever it is that happens here, even if it's little.

Still, I haven’t been entirely inactive. Well, except on my first day when I was undermined by a jet lag that paralysed time and wheeled it backwards. Can a day really last that long?

Seeing Patrick was weird. We agreed that in each other’s mind we both belong in another country (Kuwait); but the uncanniness was greater for him. I was merely seeing him in a very different locale, but to him I'd crossed the dividing line between his two worlds. I was pottering around in his flat, amongst his friends, in a domain that for the period of his Gulf wanderings he'd managed to keep completely separate from his life in the desert (two years in Saudi Arabia, six months in Kuwait).

Things are much bigger and wider in the States. I don’t just mean the roads and the cars. It must have something to do with the relatively low population density. England, after all, fits by land size into the USA 75 times, but the population of the States is only six times bigger. Into each square mile of Planet Earth, indeed, 928 more people are squeezed into the land of the Angles than the land of the Eagle.

Things are also, at least in the California I’ve seen, very clean and sparkly, far more so than in Kuwait at least. There’s also far less dust, and far fewer roads hacked up and being reconstructed, frightening off pedestrians. The Americans I have met so far, it must be said, have been almost entirely friendly, chatty, warm and helpful. Except for one guy, that is, at Oakland Coliseum Bart station who berated me for not immediately understanding his offer of transport to Oakland airport, and for therefore wasting his time.

More to follow…I must spend more time walking up and down San Franciscan hills.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Flowers In The Hair

It's certainly a refreshing change, being out of the desert.

As anonymous might have supposed (?), California, for me, is not the most imaginative choice of holiday destination, given that Americana and the neon glossiness of the West defines one half of modern Kuwaiti culture. If it's contrast one's supposed to be hankering after, surely I could have done better than to head to the source of the cultural schizophrenia that Kuwait embodies?

And yet here I am. I'm not in the US on exploration, in quest for the exotic or the intriguing. I am here to take a break from the theocratic ambience of the lands of the hard-core crescent be somewhere, anywhere, where I might have a drink, speak openly about politics and religion, see veiless women, feel free, indeed, to talk to any woman I want to; and to take a break, moreover, from the maddeningly labyrinthine intricacies of the office politics and general climate of back-stabbing skullduggery that have beleaguered the context of my life for the past five months, bringing me down, corrupting my soul, to a level of the banal and sordid I do not remember asking to be defiled by.

In my first 48 hours of cultural reversion, of disenganement from the 'space station' (which is how I think of Kuwait), I have become sensitive to a certain lightening of pressure in the texture of my stance. As if a mist or film had been removed, some impediment to receptivity peeled away from my brain. Emerged from a shell, crept out from a shadow, a feeling of homecoming, the return of the known and accustomed, is reassuringly evident. Kuwait, though bursting with the pyrotechnics of yankee razzledazzle, is different enough in its fibres from America to make it clear that this is not Kuwait.

Indeed, no doubt, this levity to a great extent will be the mere blessedness of relief that all holidaymaking brings. It will no doubt also be due to the priveleged status I now enjoy, if only for awhile, of being entirely liberated, courtesy of the money in my pocket, from the doleful systems of work and obligation, and from the various humiliations that attend the power relations of the office.

But it's also nice to have returned to my own cultural domain, which America, despite no longer being British (haha!), is clearly a participant of.

And I say this not by way of criticism of Kuwait or of Islamic culture - each to their own, after all (even though it will probably be interpreted as a criticism); but because, believe it or not, I am not a Muslim, and the culture of Islam is not mine.

Why do I feel that someone or something is trying to make me feel guilty, and that I should apologise for what I have said, and felt?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Heading West.

After having resigned my passport to my employer on January 13th so that my residency and Civil Id could be processed, I finally got my passport back last week. This twelve week period, you will agree, exceeds the four week period that I was originally told I would be illegally without possession of Her Majesty's property, by quite a wide margin.

In my opinion (and believe me there are many opinions) this process took as long as it did because the company for which I work lacks sufficiently significant Wasta. Wasta means influence. It is the informal, nepotistic matrix of interconnectedness between the various dimensions and strata of Kuwaiti society that 'binds the universe together', rather like the force did, though differently, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It allows things to be got done, if I can put the matter simply, with an effectiveness, and above all in a reasonable time frame, that cannot reliably be presumed upon if one intends to negotiate the various systems of bureacracy without it.

So there one has it. If you work for a multi-national, or at least a better company than I do, you will be without your passport for no more than two to three weeks. If not, your unimpressive location in the hierarchy of significance will receive the attention it deserves, which is not much. Nothing written, no law or guarantee, no Embassy or promise will save you from the harsh, frustrating, unaccountable realities of 'tomorrow' and 'Inshalla'.

Anyway, Its time for me to jet away from this land which, despite my tone, I do not actually mind, and in ways certainly like, but which has simply got to me after not having been able to leave it since January.

And so, after much hesitation, I go to California for almost three weeks. At least to begin with, to stay with Patrick, who has now left Kuwait, alas.

I wonder what I shall get up to there???

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Nonsense of Nothing

Nothing is ever forever
Nothing is ever foregone
Nothing is solid or stable
And nothing is not going on.

By Lee James Hutchinson

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On the Road...?

Kuwait is designed for cars. Not to have one – as I do not have one – is to place oneself outside the circle of human existence car drivers expect all mortals to belong to.

‘Oh you don’t have a car?!”…right I see. Er…’

Why don’t I have a car? Let me see.

I don’t want to buy one as leasing will cost more per month than the cost of taxis. Kuwait is bereft of sufficient interesting places to roam around in and explore in random spontaneous ways. My transport to and from work is provided and paid for by my employer. I hate looking for parking places and parking in general. Finally, and possibly most significantly, Kuwaiti drivers are insanely aggressive and rule-defying, or should I say rule-free. Why I presume I’m any safer as a passenger than a driver, however, is, I can accept, dubious indeed.

On the other hand, when the heat hits 50 centigrade plus in the shade, even walking to the local mall might force me to go independently mobile.

Then, as must all new venturers onto the highways of this dusty land, I will have to learn the new principles of inter-vehicular discourse. Which comprise:

Not expecting cars to signal at any time
Not expecting drivers to defer to or wave you on at any time, but to exploit every opportunity to force their way in front of you
Distrusting the meaning and purpose of traffic lights.
Expecting to be overtaken in any lane at any time.
Having an annoying bleeping noise irritate you whenever you exceed the 120 Kph ‘speed limit.’