April 13: Kuwait and See

I have occasionally been accused of not telling people things, sometimes things which these people feel are of great import, and are the sorts of things that I really should have shared without extensive prompting. This is, on the whole, an entirely fair accusation. I routinely fail to tell people things. If something is certain to happen, I’ll happily tell folks about it—but if it’s still up in the air, I tend to wait for it to gather more reality before I start disseminating information. I hate having the unconversations that result when things change after I’ve already told people about them.

An unconversation is any exchange where the main purpose is to retract information. It may not be the most accurate term, but it is fun to say. This balances the fact that unconversations are always somewhat awkward. People begin with what they feel is a safe conversation opener, like “So, I hear you’re coming back in June!”, and I have to shoot them down. A lot of the time, I can’t even relate something more reliable to replace the erroneous information, so I know I’m just prepping for more unconversations in my future.

I have a story about a secretary and a pen, which I like to tell to explain my reluctance to discuss future plans. In its short form, it goes like this: I came to work one day shortly after my company had hired a new secretary, and saw her writing on her desktop day planner. I asked what she was doing, and she told me that she was writing in the boss’s travel plans.

“In pen?” I asked, incredulous.

She told me that they’d already bought the tickets, and it was absolutely certain. I shook my head and walked on. A couple of days later, entering work, I saw her writing on the planner again, and noted some large scratched-out areas. Again, I asked what she was writing. In response, she simply waved her pencil at me.

The long form looks about the same, actually, only with more dialogue. It’s not a lot longer by word count, but when you write it out, it takes up an annoying amount of space. There is a shorter version of the story, too, but it relies on people already being familiar with the longer version. When those who’ve already heard this tale ask me about upcoming plans, I simply say “In PEN?”, and they get the message. They then tend to ignore the message and press me for information anyway, which I assume is because they like to force me into future unconversations.

You may have noticed the example earlier where I mentioned coming back in June. This is because the current plan is, indeed, to kick us out when the contract expires on June eighth, due to a lack of funding for renewal. The plan seemed to be fairly solid, so I told a few people—and within hours, received notification that this was being “re-examined.” It’s been several weeks of ongoing re-examination, and there has been no further word. Yesterday, I made the executive decision to believe in the June eighth date, under the theory that, like Schroëdinger and his cat, the waveform would not collapse without the imposition of an outside force. I believe I may have focused too hard, though, as I learned this morning that we’re now slated to return on May thirty-first. I don’t know what they plan to do with the money for the last eight days of the contract. Perhaps they intend to throw us a really big party! I won’t be holding my breath for that one, though.

I’m not overly distressed by this potential change in plans, as I think I’ve done a good job of getting what there is to get out of Kuwait. I’ve been to see the water towers, and been jet-skiing in the Gulf. I’ve learned enough Arabic to manage to communicate when buying food in the corner stores, and although I could probably have gotten by on English and pointing, this way is more satisfying. I’ve been in the citywide traffic jam of National Day, and driven around a fair portion of the country by virtue of having no idea where I was. I’ve woken up to calls to worship broadcast from the mosques’ megaphones, distorted into weirdly Lovecraftian chants by echoes and the wind. I wouldn’t say I fit in here, but I would say that I get by, which isn’t bad for only a few months in.

Kuwait’s an interesting place, but I just can’t find anything Kuwaiti here. It took me months to find tchotchke shops, and the only ones I’ve discovered are Indian. They sell neat trinkets, but they’re not local. The closest thing I’ve been able to find to Kuwaiti cuisine is a Lebanese restaurant. Everything’s a mash of the cultures that meet here, and almost nothing seems to be original to the area. I’m all right with this, as it allows me to kick back and read a book without feeling like I should be out there doing things that I won’t have a chance to do anywhere else—but on the other hand, I feel like I should feel like I should be out there, which gives me an odd sort of meta-angst. It’s too ephemeral a sensation to really affect me overmuch, but it has spurred some of my longer, fruitless drives seeking kitsch and tourist attractions.

I don’t mean to imply that I haven’t been having a good time here. It’s undeniably different, in ways which are largely good and nearly always entertaining. There’s some fantastically interesting architecture, both new and old, and the cultural differences are really neat to observe. It’s just hard to put that in a box to send back to someone to say, “I’m in Kuwait and thinking of you.”

So, for what it’s worth: I’m in Kuwait, and thinking of you.

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