Kuwait is not a place I’d pick to visit. There isn’t a huge tourist industry there and attractions-wise, there’s little to see. Plus, it’s hot. REALLY FUCKING HOT. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not always a dry heat. Kuwait is on the Persian Gulf and there are days when the temperatures rise to 120°F (48°C) with humidity.
In Kuwait, you master the skill of sweating through your t-shirt by 9 a.m.
Regardless of the heat and even if I didn’t pick Kuwait as a travel destination, the Army picked it for me. I arrived in Kuwait at the end of April 2016 and left in January 2017, after almost nine months.
[one_third padding=”0 1px 0 1px”][/one_third][one_third padding=”0 1px 0 1px”] [/one_third][one_third_last padding=”0 1px 0 1px”] [/one_third_last]Most of the time, I did Army things. I was part of a small team designed to conduct information exchanges with foreign military partners in the Middle East and South and Central Asia. Most of my meals were on base and most of my nights looked the same – a to-go salad from the chow hall and some Netflix.
But, I got real familiar with the pizza place at the airport in Kuwait City. It’s a PizzaExpress, and it’s legit delicious. Sure, there’s no pork so the pepperoni is beef and tastes a little off to my American palate, but the ingredients are fresh and the mixed juice drinks are delightful and exceptionally refreshing when it’s hotter than the surface of the sun outside.
In addition to trips to the airport, we did get out to explore Kuwait and to experience something different from the monotonous grind of Army life.
Kuwait is definitely different. It’s a Muslim nation, so women are usually covered in black from head to toe. The sixth largest oil reserves in the world are in Kuwait and the currency, the Kuwaiti dinar, is the highest valued currency in the world. The largest opera house in the Middle East is here and the country has the fourth highest per capita income in the world.
Expats make up about 70% of the population there, many of them workers from India and Egypt.
It’s a small country, just a little smaller than the state of New Jersey. Iraq lies to the north, Saudi Arabia to the south. To the east, is the Persian Gulf. Only about 1% of the land is used for agriculture and there are no permanent rivers or lakes, but they’ve got some highly advanced desalination operations.
Tourism is not big in Kuwait and there aren’t a lot of attractions, but it is culturally very, very different from the Western world and being out and about in Kuwait is a unique experience.
We visited the souqs, or markets, fairly often. Most of Kuwait is brown. Brown ground, brown sky, brown buildings on our Army base, all the fucking brown, all the fucking time. But the souqs – that’s where the color lives.
They’re also packed with anything and everything you could ever need and they’re mostly organized by what they sell. All the fruit dealers are together, as are the perfume dealers, and the hardware-type stalls, dress makers are together, too, as are toy stores and shoe stores. Some of the shops are oddly specific, like a row of stalls selling only rope. There are stalls selling dates, herbs, tea sets. Really. Anything and everything.
Deployments are strange things. This was my second and it was different and also similar to my first.
It’s almost like you’re living in an alternate universe. The internet has made us more connected than ever, so I can see what’s going on back home and I can share my life on social media, but still, when you’re deployed, you’re not really a part of real life. People at home are getting married and having babies, ordering food from a menu written entirely in English, painting rooms in their houses, taking their dogs for a walk, cooking in their kitchens, showering in a private bathroom, holding hands with their partner, and when you’re deployed, you’re not.
All those normal everyday things are absent. You don’t get to make your own dinner. Unless it’s a cup of noodles, and even then, you’re probably not supposed to have the ability to boil water in your room, which you probably share with another adult who is almost definitely not your spouse. There are no pets, except for maybe some stray cats you’re not supposed to pet. The showers, toilets and sinks are communal. And you have to walk outside to get to them.
It can be jarring, the way life keeps going in your absence when you’re deployed. You feel sort of like your life is on pause and then you come home and realize that while you were checked out of real life, everyone else kept living their lives.
In addition to people and pets, I always miss the little things when I’m deployed.
In Kuwait, I missed cloudy skies, because you don’t get a lot of clouds in Kuwait, especially in the summer. It’s blue or brown, no puffy magic to be seen. I missed trees and plates that weren’t plastic. I missed private bathrooms, and cooking dinner. I missed avocados and snuggling with my dogs, having a glass of wine with dinner and grocery shopping. I missed sleeping in an adult-sized bed and ordering something on Amazon and getting it two days later. I missed actual privacy, the ability to be alone for a sustained amount of time.[one_third padding=”0 1px 0 1px”][/one_third][one_third padding=”0 1px 0 1px”][/one_third][one_third_last padding=”0 1px 0 1px”][/one_third_last][one_half padding=”0 1px 0 1px”][/one_half][one_half_last padding=”0 1px 0 1px”][/one_half_last]While deployments have their challenges, there were also a handful of things I find myself occasionally missing, still, even though I’ve been home for more than six months now.
+ KIWI JUICE. It is exactly what it sounds like, juice made out of kiwi, and also magic. Kuwait is a dry country, so there’s no alcohol there, which I think makes people more creative. In lieu of booze, there is juice. Not quite the same, but the juices in Kuwait and SO DAMN GOOD. I tried kiwi juice from a vendor near a souq one time and could not shut up about how good it was. After that, I ordered it every chance I got.
++ See also: Lemon mint. The perfect blend of lemon and mint without a whole ton of sugar to ruin the flavor of the ingredients.
+ CAMELS. Before Kuwait, I had never seen camels out and about in the real world. Zoos, yes, but not wandering around the desert. In nine months, I never got tired of seeing them.
+ A SCHEDULE. In my real life, my job is all over the place. I might work from four different locations in a single week with early mornings, late nights, or both. Some weeks are busy, some are less so, which means making a schedule and developing a routine is nearly impossible. I’m a planner, so at the start of every week I’ll plan my workouts and my meals and any errands or household items I need to accomplish and by Tuesday, it’s usually all gone to shit. On deployment, that was not the case. Not every deployment is the same, but this one allowed me pretty predictable days, so I was able to establish a gym routine and eat meals at a normal time every day and sometimes I really, really miss that.
Ultimately, I’m glad I went to Kuwait. It afforded me a different look at the world and it took me out of my comfort zone. Plus, it’s always neat to visit a new country and this deployment sent me not just to Kuwait, but to Tajikistan, Jordan and England as well.
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