Saturday, March 19, 2011

why i wish i knew more about the middle east

Well, I'm in the middle of it. Living in Kuwait, disappointed that the pyramids will have to wait until after Egypt's election (and hoping said election is peaceful and resolved after the votes are counted, not marred by corruption). Living in Kuwait, sad for the people in Bahrain. Living in Kuwait, wondering who else might head for Saudi when their masses congregate to protest. Living in Kuwait, looking at Yemen and Libya and Lebanon and praying peace for a region that has had little rest for centuries.

And living in Kuwait, a little surprised - aren't we all? - by a fruit vendor in Tunisia.

When the protests in Egypt began building, we called Justin's parents and told them not to worry about us. They weren't. Kuwait is oil money. There isn't a big reason to want change as long as oil keep producing cash. This February, Kuwait celebrated fifty years as a the State of Kuwait, twenty years since liberation from Iraqi invaders, and five years of the current sheik. In a spirit of celebration, the government gave one thousand Kuwaiti dinars to each citizen. That would be like the US government giving every citizen about thirty-five hundred dollars for the Fourth of July. Go buy some fireworks.

Kuwaitis are very private. Kuwaitis are only a third (just over a third, I think) of their country's population and are careful to keep their business theirs. This means some expats have loud opinions about Kuwaitis, because there is a bit of mystery and because it's easier to assume than to know. This year I really wanted to get to know a Kuwaiti family, learn their culture from the inside. Not inside inside, but maybe sitting in the front room inside. Last year when I was in the classroom, I felt comfortable enough to ask some of my students questions about Kuwait; at other times, they volunteered opinions or information that added to what I knew about the country and its people.

But anytime I think I have an opinion about the country or its culture, I hesitate. Because I have heard a lot of loud opinions from expats, and because I've heard some loud opinions bounce around in my own head, and because I don't want loud opinions to escape my mouth. Totally. Unfounded. Or. Stereotyped. Still, there's talk. And sometimes I add to it.

For example, I've heard it said that the one thousand dinar amounts to a bribe: don't protest us. Or a reminder: the government provides you with all this. Fast cars. Big houses. Cheap labor. Education and marriage and child stipends or bonuses.

I would like to ask a few Kuwaitis if they felt bribed by their government's gift.

More though, I'd like to ask a few Kuwaitis if change needs to come to their country. It's easy to have an opinion from the outside. I want to know what people think on the inside. Kuwait has had a few protests in the past weeks - residents who would like to be citizens and so be granted all the rights (and money) of citizenship. And I have heard that there is a movement among some Kuwaitis to press for a more Islamist government, but that was last year - I'm assuming that the desire for an Islamist government still exists, just as the desire for a more liberal or more conservative goverment always exists among Americans.

I'd like to know though: how would Kuwaitis like to see their country change?

Meantime, Justin and I feel safe. We are where we belong.

1 comment:

Angela and David said...

Thanks! Very interesting. The region and politics are so confusing and baffling to me over there. So cool that you are in the middle of it all.