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Tuesday
May172011

Content in Kuwait

From the plane I move confidently through the airport. Travelers either bustle about or wait sleepily, while I navigate silently between them. It is early morning and pale light cuts through dirty windows and the humid, recirculated air. Smoke. Perfume. Humanity. It is all there. Then the hall, the shops, the discordant rows of random chairs, are all quickly behind me.

I beat the rush to the visa desk, allowing a jump on the harried process—punch the button for my numbered ticket, then head across the growing crowd to the ATM where I take out some cash. The visa counter rarely has change, so I know to buy a water at a nearby coffee stand to refresh and to break a 20-dinar bill. This also gives me exact change for the taxi.

Returning to the visa desk, I cut in front of the impatient crowd and hand my passport to the attendant at the photocopy machine. (This is a necessary practice for some reason, but my navy blue passport is always handled with priority.) I fill out a brief form. By that time, the buzzer buzzes and my number is called.

A happy face greets my exact change and neat handwriting. My papers are approved and I move to retrieve my luggage, then hail a cab right out the door and offer directions to the driver who doesn’t know where my hotel is…but I do.

I’ve accused Kuwait of having no rhythm. I may have found mine here, at least during this trip so far. I know what to expect, and I know when to have no expectations. On one hand, the feeling is business-like, transactional—if not mechanical. This is fine. I can take delight in the mundane.

A hot shower. A random item I know to order on the menu. A quick work out. A quiet hour reading. These activities, which I do at home, I can savor here. They buffer the blocks of meetings and writing and calls and whatnot.

Unlike with other cities—New York, London, Paris—that I've let seep in during each visit, I've taken a disciplined route with Kuwait City. I have actively worked to build my understanding incrementally, patiently. Then I retreat to what I know of myself—which is all there is left here to deal with. 

In what I always deemed as foreign to me—the culture, the language, the habits, the place—was actually my being foreign to it. Ideal to my sensibilities this place is not. I have discovered, though, a rough contentment. I can now just blend in, another interested American in the Middle East. 

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