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Sunday
Feb202011

Kuwait City in a Hop, Skip and Jump

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 A man should never run while wearing a suit, I am told. It is ungentlemanly. It is also prudently practical given the dangers of leather-soled shoes and how uncomfortable it is to break a sweat in a starched shirt. In Kuwait, however, I have found it almost impossible to walk at all. Running is necessary. No, not from protesters or riot police—but from the daily hazards of city life.

As a pedestrian environment, Kuwait City sucks. There is no elegant way to put it. There are few sidewalks, even downtown, and those that do exist are covered in sandy dirt and trash or upended by construction.

Between my hotel and my office are two city blocks, along which I skirt a narrow strip of bricks and cobbles, dashing across side streets, from which or into which cars and bikes fly. You must keep your wits about you because they don’t stop. Those that slow only do so to see if they can give you a ride—cabbies. They beep endlessly, pulling up to shout: “What you walking, man. You crazy. No walk. I give ride.” I wave them on.

Having dashed the two blocks, I then cross two triple-lane streets with a median strip to get to my building. The crosswalk is marked and there are blinking yellow lights, but the pole to which they’re attached is bent sideways, having been slammed at some point by a truck, rendering the set up useless. Fun, fun.

I’m rarely alone in this game of Frogger. There are usually young men lined up on the other side, as if at a track meet. They’re not wearing suits. These are not Arabs, of course. They are Indians or others. The Arabs, for the most part, wear thobes—the long traditional gowns. Running in a suit is not simple. Running in a dress is not possible. You’d have to hike that thing up, a truly ungentlemanly move.  And so they drive or are driven—at least that I’ve seen.

The crossing tests not just your speed but your depth perception. The locals have it down. I’m still learning.

There is a slight bend to the road, distorting the fact that it serves as a straightaway, along which cars, trucks and buses accelerate to get to the next stoplight. When you think you’ve rightly judged the oncoming traffic, a car will break away forcing a dive back to the median. At dusk it is even more difficult. Half the cars stealthily speed along, dirty like the darkness and absent headlights in the fading light.

Zip, and I’m off. Cross the first lane, stop. Let the bus pass. Then dash to the curb, ahead of the cab and the car I didn’t see.

Safe on the sidewalk, I usually feel as if I’ve outrun bullets behind me. For a stretch I mosey, catching my breath. Screech—from above an old metal window scrapes open and down pours garbage and related liquids, right onto the street. In a shot, I am off—preferring cleanliness to manliness. Perhaps I’ll just be a gentleman at home. 

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