I'm so ready to leave. I need to get out of Kuwait to get my head on straight again. Life here gives the transition chart a whole new meaning. When you move to a new culture, there is a typical pattern of emotional response to the new country. You first go through a honeymoon stage, where everything is interesting and fun and (good) different. Then it's the crisis phase, followed by recovery and adjustment. Basically, it's a u-curve. That being said, it's practically inevitable that you go through the down-side of the u-curve at some point in a cross-cultural transition. Unfortunately for those of us living in Kuwait, the bottom of the u tends to be lower and longer-lasting than many other countries. I know this has been true for me, and after lots of unofficial research (read: asking all my friends), my experience here is not unique. Living in Kuwait is hard...and it would take me far too long to list all the reasons. But reason #5378 is the driving. Now, many of you have lived in countries with crazy driving. That's nothing new to expats. However, Kuwait takes the cake. Kuwait has the highest motor-vehicle fatality rate in the world. There's a reason to be proud (sarcasm intended). One of my friends (who is a counselor with over 30 years experience) likes to say that the way a culture drives gives us insight into the culture itself. Her basic conclusion: driving in Kuwait is narcissistic, self-entitled, and reckless. You can read your own conclusions into that. Whereas many countries have no driving rules but are generally populated by slow moving half-broken down cars, Kuwait is a country of BMWs and Mercedes racing along the highways at 80mph, careening through traffic, and running right over hapless third country nationals whose only crime was to attempt to cross the road in front of a more wealthy driver. My own personal experience driving here only serves to validate my friend's idea that driving and culture are related. Last night I went to the airport to see a friend of mine who was passing through Kuwait on his way to Iraq. The drive there was surprisingly easy (my first time driving to the airport by myself!) and I was feeling pretty good about my mad-driving-skills as I started the trip back to my apartment. One of the amazing aspects of driving on the freeways here is the huge speed differences between cars. You can have one car creeping down the highway at 35mph, and another car whizzing by at 90mph. So you sort of have to weave through traffic, jumping into the fast lane and quickly jumping back to the slower lane after you pass the slow car. So I did just that last night...jumped into the fast lane for the 10 seconds it takes to pass the snail in the right-hand lane. Unfortunately, another car easily going 30mph over the speed limit suddenly raced up to my rear bumper. He started flashing his lights about 2 inches from my bumper. I was stuck since I was still passing aforementioned slow vehicle. It probably took about 5 seconds for me to pull past the other car and I immediately jumped back into the slower lane. I suddenly realized that the jerk behind me had merged with me, and was still 2 inches from me and flashing his lights. He then jerked around to the right of my car, almost hitting my bumper which would have thrown me into a spin at 60mph on a freeway. He then pulled up beside my car, leaning out of his window (in full dishdasha...yes, it was a Kuwaiti), screamed something at me, and threw something out his window (no clue what it was but it hit my car). I tried to stay calm and just let him speed past me. He almost hit 3 other cars as I watched him pull away. I don't know if it was the adrenaline and fear, or the fact that it was the last straw, but I went a bit hysterical. You know that sobbing can't breath mascara running down the face thing? Well, that was me...at 60mph just trying to get home. This guy just about caused a massive wreck because I slowed him down by 5 seconds. Really???!! Anyway, it was definitely the last straw for me. Luckily, I'm heading to Beirut this weekend, and then back to the states for my annual leave on July 22nd. So the end of this particular chunk of time is fast approaching. Honestly, I hate how I feel about the culture here. I'm the expat, the global nomad, the world traveler...I've been to 34 countries, have studied 7 languages...I know how to transition and I'm pretty good at adjusting. And yet here I sit, seven months into my time in Kuwait, and I'm stuck in the deep well of the U curve. There have been amazing moments here, fun stories, spiritual experiences...and for whatever reason I still feel like this is where God has me. But it is so incredible hard. All I can do is keep trudging along in faith, and pray that God would give me a supernatural ability to have compassion for the people here...because on my own strength, it's impossible. As Henri Nouwen writes, “to pray means to stop expecting from God the same small-mindedness which you discover in yourself. . . . Compassion grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you.” Lord, expand my small-mind and give me eyes to recognize the humanity in this place.
To illustrate my point about driving in Kuwait, here is an article from today's Arab Times (English-language Kuwait newspaper). Note not only the stories, but also the way people's nationalities are described. Can you imagine that in America?
18 Kuwaitis hurt in various accidents
KUWAIT CITY : Four Kuwaiti citizens sustained various degrees of injuries in a multiple car-collision involving seven cars, along the Fifth Ring Road opposite Riggae suburb Saturday. Rescue officers from the Sulaibikhat Rescue Center rushed the victims to Farwaniya Hospital for treatment and removed all the cars involved to facilitate traffic flow.
In a similar incident, five Kuwaiti citizens were seriously injured with other fractures when their jeep collided with another car, somersaulted and fell off from a bridge in Mishref. Firefighters and paramedics from the area carried the victims to Farwaniya Hospital in three ambulances to receive medical attention.
In another incident, a 23-year-old Kuwaiti citizen suffered injuries in a car crash along Fahaheel Road. Paramedics rushed him to Adan Hospital.
In a yet another incident, a Kuwaiti citizen in his 40s sustained minor injuries during a car crash which occurred in Hawally. Paramedics treated the victim on the spot.
In a similar story, a Kuwaiti, Pakistani, and a Bedoun (stateless person) suffered injuries and other fractures during a two-car impact in Jahra. An emergency medical team rushed the victims to Jahra Hospital for treatment.
Consequently, two Kuwaiti female motorists sustained injuries when their cars crashed in Sabah Al-Salem Area. Paramedics took the victims to Mubarak Hospital for medical attention.
Similarly, two Kuwaiti motorists were wounded in a two-car crash that occurred at Naim in Jahra. Medical emergency technicians rushed the victims to Jahra Hospital.
Along the Fifth Ring Road, an Iranian and a female Egyptian motorist sustained minor injuries when their cars collided. The victims received treatment on the spot, while the police registered the case for investigation.
A 26-year-old Kuwaiti sustained minor bruises when his car overturned along the Fifth Ring Road. Paramedics treated him on the spot.
A 64-year-old Kuwaiti citizen sustained serious injuries to his forehead and backbone when his car smashed into another in Salmiya. Rescuers rushed him to Mubarak Hospital for treatment.
In another incident, an Egyptian national in his 20s sustained injuries in a traffic accident involving two motorbikes in Hawally. Paramedics carried him to Mubarak Hospital for treatment.
Finally, two Iranians received various injuries in a crash between a speeding car and a motorbike along the Second Ring Road. Paramedics rushed the badly injured men to Amiri Hospital for treatment.