Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Faced with another summer in Kuwait, still a visitor with localized feelings of general discontent, I move throughout the day and trade sporadic numbness and unreality for a few laughs and an occasional sense of achievement.

I want to know if I can take all my lessons--all comprehensions and all warnings and ride them hard, put them away wet; I want to know if I can move
on from here knowing that there has been some point made somewhere along the line.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Safar Jinoob

Taking a university job in the eastern province would require a new focus and a new perspective on routine and self discipline--an "on the road to Damascus conversion".

It would mean adapting a new set of principles. It would mean a lot more effort. Whether or not I go back to the magic kingdom will depend upon new principles. Digging deep and finding renewed inspiration and regaining a sense of innocence as well as awe.

Maybe with time -- if I am on
my toes--I'll find unfurling deep inside an ability to finally step into the shoes of the feller whom I've loathed and admired to hazardous extremes.

I have little doubt that the move will call for surrendering my distinctive, frequently anti-social, and mildly unique experiences of my existance up to this phase of life, trading all this
in for what is generally considered to be behavior which reflects well the chronicles and chronology of my life.

Still, life in the kingdom doesn't have to be an entirely hopeless a situation although viewed from the outside it can't help but appear to be.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Going bush in Kuwait

Last week, Kuwaiti women won their voting rights. It came as no real surprise to me. Five years ago, I recall a front page headline punctuated by an exclamation mark which cried out "Emir Expects Women's Votes in Five Years." So there.

I don't expect that any woman will anytime soon arise from Kuwait's minority population of citizen Kuwaitis and take the reigns of power, not now, not for the next four hundred generations. This is not to imply that they are unreliable or incapable of leading. There is no one man who has that role. Leadership elsewhere in the region may be easily defined. Before Ziyad diedin the UAE, there was no doubt who ran the show there. He rules in death, from his hole in the desert. The ruling family in Saudi Arabia named the country after itself. No question there. In Bahrain, when the Emir passed through the great divide between sky and earth, his son gave men and women voting rights, established a parliment then seemed to contradict these actions by naming himself king (where hisfather had basically been a prince.)

To arise from the crowd here, to take charge, to not have someone to your left, right or above you to take the blame for your decisions is foolish. All things requiring a decision, from a doctor writing a prescription to a nation becoming involved in world affairs always begs the question "Why should I?"

Since I went bush last year. I've learned it is possible to not worry about making a difference at home or on the street.

I find it hard to define the emotional stages I've experienced since going bush. They seem similar to the stages of grief: denial, resentment, bargaining, depression, acceptance, but in reverse. At the same time, one daily rides the roller coaster of culture shock: anxiety, elation, superficial adjustment, depression-frustration, acceptance of host culture, integration.

There are questions which spin around various regions of my brain like black holes, bending and distorting light, consuming all energy.

Will I ever go home again? Am I now old enough (or too old) to outgrow some habits, quirks and odd behavior patterns? Have I achieved some sort of resolution or failed and found shameless resignation? "What is it I can give now or what was it I gave that will make or made a difference?"

Will I ever be able to resume following only my heart, allowing it to make all presumptions about what we might find up ahead? How will I know when I finally have taken root?

Is this how it ends?

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Still dark but now it is morning, inner-city Kuwait, and the muezzin cranks up the volume to ten.

He's calling Muslims to come to the mosque to perform their dawn supplications. The man can sing, no doubt about it. He bends notes that are pushed from his gut through his throat that even Marvin Gaye or Patsy Cline could envy. It's just that I am not in the mood to appreciate his ability to climb an octave--slipping and sliding between half tones, quarter tones at 4 in the morning.

He manages to round up a few Muslims. Those Muslims would be the building guards--the harises--we call them building superintendents back home. They earn about a hundred dollars a month to mop the stairwells and collect the trash, to show flats for rent and basically watch the comings and goings of all. They are awake early to hose off the sand from the tenants' cars, earning an extra twenty bucks per month. The harisses of the 'hood have harris time to themselves while the night before drips through cracks of dawn.

The muezzin is a haris himself--that is, he lives in the mosque. he probably earns a bit more because of his gift for waking up the entire neigborhood and beyond where the other muezzins in the distance join in like the Ikettes, backing his vocals with harmony.

And with that out of the way, I know my pre-set alarm clock will go off in less than an hour.

There are two ways to combat the full volume routine call if you don't or can't move from your flat: ear plugs or Valium.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Home--There IS No Place Like It--Literally

Home is more than hallways of photographs recording the changes in photographic tones over the years (as well as morphing faces from smiling babies in ribbons to high school half smiles which have hardly been kissed or had the innocence choked out of them).

Home is a place to remember the years which connect us to one another. A glow of the familiar brightened by a glass of wine.

Home is a place where children seem to always be within earshot of adult conversations, underfoot asking questions which are none of their fucking business--but they do need to learn the art of meddling and it begins by having those proverbial children's big ears.

Home isn't a place so much as a collection of sympathetic ears and imagined camaraderie. Home is a kind word.

Home is mutual admiration. Home is a pack mentality. Home is also a place where mothers eat their young.

Stay away from home long enough and when you return, don't be surprised if you've been slowly roasted on a spit.

Don't be surprised if the exotic silks and Middle Eastern throw rugs, the alabaster figurines, the Tibetan artifacts you bought especially with someone in mind are not oohed and ahhed over but given a cursory, envious, not-to-deep beneath the surface of a facade of welcome home--"oh, thanks."

Take your ex-pat Humphrey Bogart wet dreams, your wanderlust fantasies of being an ex-pat rum runner and remember to play at being an ex-pat rum runner if you wish to keep family relations relevant--stay gone a year, maybe two, no more than three--then you can return home and maybe family and friends will want to hear of the places you've been, maybe they'll want a narrative to go along with the photographs again. But beyond that--remember--the friends you leave behind, the family you keep close to your heart while you take the bus to the train to the tuk-tuk to the trails do not keep you close to their hearts--and remember don't be bitter. You made the choice.

You are not well remembered because you got away from the routine of hallways. You have chosen to be an ex-pat. Your father will die and maybe you'll rush home. Your mother will die and maybe you'll rush home. But don't be surprised when family members have a graveyard full of bones to pick with you--a well rehearsed diatribe about how in some small way, your absence caused their deaths--they'll be waiting for you. Like cats waiting for prey: stock still, barely breathing. Home is a family that preys together. Do not be surprised when you return to your home town, after an absence of more than five maybe ten years and you are greeted by the force of outrage and hatred. You are not the intrepid explorer of your day dreams.

You are a coward and you ran from familial endurance. What does it matter to hear that there are no waves in the Mediterranean such as exist in other oceans because the tides are timid when your audience makes it to Pensacola twice a year to get very drunk and giggle at fat asses. You are not someone who thought that out there you might be able to do a little good for those who don't have hallways and wine glows of jibber jabber, you are selfish, self-centered--outcast--and the greater the love you may still feel for those you left behind, the greater the joy those left behind take in withholding a kind word. Return with money.

They'll gladly take a non-refundable loan; perhaps they'll feel it is recompense. Return with dreams. Expect that they may more aggressively than passively do what they can to wake you from the fantasy. Family and friends resent their own ignorance and feel that their lives have been wasted when they hear of the places you have been, the people you have met--events they can only see in movies, on NOVA, on the Discovery channel or read about in a Reader's Digest, maybe glimpse in a two-year old National Geographic in an HMO. It will be their fury that will drive you from your home if you have it in mind to return to this place. Play ex-pat. Stay gone a year, maybe two, no more than five. Beyond that your home is where you are, not where you came from. Dream about the past. But do not be so foolish as to believe that it will ever be something you can hold in your hand again.

Thomas Wolfe famously said you can't go home again and that is not just a message for expatriates but a warning they should embrace or at the very least heed. Be mindful of the reputed horrors of reverse culture shock and dissatisfied with the lifestyle and job prospects at home, many expatriates eventually find out that they have to stay abroad, even if it means leaving a life time of memories and dubiously sincere embraces behind--forever. Home is not a place where you will receive civility and the occasional ’Have a great day.’ Home is where you may be attacked or intimidated to the point of mutual abject fear and loathing. Where you once thought of yourself as a guest or visitor may now be your home--but you will also be nothing more than a guest or visitor there. Where can you live? You can return to that place you thought of as home but remember that you are now a tourist, an ugly non-national in a hostile zone--imagine that your drunken brothers-in-law carry machetes; in your mind put your sisters and brothers in sarongs. Never suggest taking a city bus.

Cultural Awareness:

Participate in their rituals but don't go bush--don't offer to help marinade the steaks, drive to Blockbuster to see if they have a copy of Nepalese film that had at one time been up for an academy award for best foreign film. Billions of people watch our movies with subtitles. First language English speakers are intimidated by subtitles. Fags watch movies with subtitles.

Don't toss a football with a nephew. You could be a child molester. Someone has seen something similar on Oprah.

Caution--don't greet opposite sex in-laws with a peck on each cheek.

Don't cross your sevens. Take ice with each glass of water. Do not offer up the second side of the political story; i.e., play deaf and dumb if the subject turns to war. Going against conventional wisdom is a transgression on par with taking that last slice of Domino's Pizza in the fridge your brother-law had been saving for breakfast.

Make up your bed or couch quickly. Wash the dishes frequently. Endure the latest HBO "most original show of the year". Remember that the third meal of the day is the big meal of the day and it is not necessary to sit at a table with the family to eat it. Any semblance of tranquility can be shattered if you try to intervene in a going- on-now twenty-five year family squabble (which can explode into screaming, door-slamming, neighbors peering through curtains barrage) if you suggest that both parties JUST let it go. It is none of your business and besides, you may have forgotten that you played a part in this ancient familial history. Perhaps you even started it.

Don't be led by the delusion that you are truly international; you are a wet back; you don't pay taxes now do you?? You may be tolerated briefly but surely someone once close to you has you, this loathsome, irresponsible, run-away sibling cum stranger fixed in their crosshairs.

Friday, May 06, 2005


It is not the amount of stars which have always amazed me, but the distances between them.