One month of school was rewarded with one week’s holiday. In honor of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, the Kuwaiti Government set aside three days to celebrate, and many business topped this by providing employees the entire week off, our school being one of them!
Many students and returning teachers are traveling during this week, while the newbies have a time to really settle in and get acclimated to our new environment as the processing of our residency cards keep us in-country.
Kuwait is a surprisingly small country, closest in US comparison to the state of Connecticut. Meaning Minnesota is twelve times the size, Colorado could stuff Kuwait inside its borders 13 times, and Texas brings to light its infamous bigger and better expressions by owning nearly 40 times more land than this country. Whether you ignore or appreciate the facts, it is a very small, very strong country. With a full month or more behind us, many teachers have actually managed to see a good deal of the country.
One place few newbies had traveled until this Eid holiday is an island about 20K kilometers from Kuwait city. Failaka Island was first inhabited around 2000 B.C by Mesopatamians. That’s some rich, deep history to be found on such a small island! Currently the archaeological sites aren’t accessible to the public – at least to my understanding – but a boat trip across Persian waters leads visitors to a small resort community and a different kind of history. In 1990 and 1991, Failaka Island was invaded by Iraq, leaving the community abandoned and in shambles. We ventured over there yesterday, and were able to enjoy the sea’s breeze as it cooled down the desert air.
A small museum of the island’s lengthy history was guided by an incredibly knowledgeable man. He was so excited to show us different photographs, guns, boat models, and old tools used in food preparation. With each room he entered, his eyes lit up and he grew more and more expressive, teaching us how to use a gun (it didn’t go off, don’t worry!) and explaining how astronomical compasses were used aboard ships.
As we were walking through the museum, two women approached us and asked to take a picture of all of us together. We were surprised, but someone pointed out that we were the only Westerners that had taken the boat over that morning, and maybe were more of a spectacle than we’d realized. These two were so sweet, and as we snapped the photo, the brothers popped in to join the shot, grinning from ear to ear.
After the museum, a bus tour led us across part of the island to an area of deserted army vehicles followed by a stop at the island’s camel farm. The farmers came out and let all the tourists get up close to their pets. The smiles remained, and the bus driver learned early on that the only way to get us back aboard was a ‘beep beep’ of the horn.
On the bus, we’d driven past some ruined buildings, looking like they’d been knocked over by cranes and left to denigrate into their own rubble piles as years pass. These buildings had gotten our attention, but it was the bank that really pulled us in.
The bank’s external shell was still standing, white tiles slapped with dirt and scattered with holes. So many bullet holes.
Here was reality, but a reality we were so separated from that it was difficult to take in. At first we walked very carefully, watching each step as we made our way into the central lobby. I imagined people going about their daily business, chatting with tellers and bankers and walking down the stairs with a cup of coffee in their hand. I imagined soldiers entering without warning and within hours, the bank turning from a palace of beauty and wealth to a cave of destruction. We all stood in disbelief at the plaster hanging from walls, the broken counters, and the explosions burnt into walls.
A ‘beep beep’ from the bus driver signaled our call to return, and as we turned to leave, I heard a noise as soft as a bell come from the sidewalk ahead of my feet.
A bullet left here by Iraq’s soldiers when I was just 3 years old.
The bus driver took us past the island’s old resort town and past the abandoned mosque as well as its new replacement. When we got back, I had my mind set on going to back to see some of the ruins on foot. We ate at an amazing lunch buffet, walked down to the beach, and found comfort under a the roof of a tea house. Aiming a portable air conditioner at the outdoor sofas, three of the ladies stayed to enjoy shisha, two girls soaked their feet in a cool pool’s waters for a little heat relief, and I ventured back to check out the old neighborhood.
My mind was quiet as I traveled from house to house. There were no thoughts to think. I don’t know the history very well, but the stagnate abandonment that lingered inside each house was strong enough to fill every cell with a powerful indescribable emotion. It was like walking through a movie set. Except this was real. The couch cushions were once sat upon, the muffin tin once pulled hot out of the oven.
The bathtub was once used to cleanse relaxing bodies, whereas now it sit tipped on its side with dirt and clothes spilling from its side. There was one house I sat at for several minutes. Outside was a little car once used by a toddler to shuffle his way through the yard. Inside, a baby’s bouncy chair.
It was so surreal to walk along these abandoned streets. Still, I can’t begin to believe what happened in this place. It wasn’t necessarily a sad or scared feeling, it was really just a weight of reality and devastation. And at the same time, a bit of disbelief.
There was a point that I’d decided I’d been there long enough, and I walked quickly back to the girls to enjoy the rest of the afternoon on Failaka. When I got back, I wanted to tell them about it, but it still seemed unreal. The energy of my stories can get a bit much too, so I figured saving it for later was a good idea. The photographs though, they speak so much to me and I hope you can sense some power in them too.
Pausing now, I realize this post took a significant turn. That’s the magic of this place. It’s love and beauty, history and inspiration all wrapped up in a tight space.
That night after the sun had set, four of us ventured down a cement pier dividing the harbor from the sea. We sat with our feet dangling from the edge and found ourselves reliving some of the day and of our time here so far, and planning some fun events for the upcoming months: Eid festivities, Canadian Thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Years. It is what you make it to be, so let’s aim to make it a good one!