Two days before departure - so we went out to the local shopping mall to buy some presents. I have kind of given up trying to look for authentic old cafes. Now I go to shopping malls just to hang out, like all the other Kuwaitis and rich expats. There is Marks and Spencer, Zara, even a sports shop intriguingly called "The Athlete's Foot".
On the way back, the taxi driver waited patiently as I hauled bags of M&S confectionery into the front seat. It turned out he was from the Yemen. I eagerly told him that Sana’a was the city of 99 mosques, which I had heard a lot when I was there. He didn’t know what I was talking about. Probably it is just something that tourists say about the Yemeni capital.
The driver was about 25, and had been in Kuwait only one year. I had to direct him to our flat by on the Gulf Road. He was still finding his feet – didn't know where the destination was so didn’t know whether the offer of 500fils was reasonable or not. For once I wasn't on the back foot in the front seat of a taxi.
He said he didn’t like Kuwait – mainly because the weather was far too hot. He was from a town in Western Yemen called Ibb. I told him I had visited Ibb 11 years ago and had gone to a cinema expecting to see an Arabic film but it turned out to be Hindi. I said everyone in the audience was smoking and talking and throwing stuff at the screen especially when there was a fight scene. He laughed so much when I told him that, explaining the audience was “encouraging” the characters in the film.
He agreed with me that Yemen was good because it had culture and history. He added that it was nice because it had mountains. I said you can't see much of the culture or history in Kuwait because all you can see is the big buildings. He said “yes, it is an advanced place”.
He also said that Kuwait doesn’t have much history – just 300 years or so. I had in mind that modern Kuwait - the country you see and live in - started around 1970. Clearly, he has more of a historical sense of the region than me. He also has a different sense of history. For him, 300 years makes it young, for a Kuwaiti, it probably makes it sound ancient.