Thursday, September 3, 2009


In many ways, life in Kuwait is about luxury for those of us lucky enough to be here as international hires. Our (aka university hires) lives aren't quite as luxurious as those of the Kuwaitis or the really well-paid private business folks...but we do live in nice apartments, have instant access to all kinds of service, and get to travel to places far and near. Although I choose not to avail myself of many of the personal services (cleaning/maids, food delivery, cooks etc), many of us live here in comfort. I certainly have a nicer apartment than I would ever be able to afford in the states. This is not to say that life here isn't difficult (if you've followed my blog over the past 8 months you know that life can be very difficult)...but spend a day or a week here and you'll probably think that we have it pretty good. And that's where Kuwait always catches me off guard. Kuwait loves to flaunt it's wealth (if you have the good fortune of being on top of the food chain/hierarchy). When you maneuver the crowded streets, it's BMWs and Mercedes that are cutting you off and making you fear for your life. When (as an American) you run over to pick up something at the store in your tshirt and tennis shoes, it's Gucci and Armani-clad kids that shove their way in front of you in line...nearly knocking you over with their designer bags. It is a land of exquisite (and often vulgar) wealth built on the broken backs of the servant class...but it's modern and flashy and sleek...even when it's covered with a not-so-fine layer of dust. We drive on paved roads and shop at GAP and eat at Applebees or Ruby Tuesdays or TGIFridays. We do not live in huts, use outhouses, or ride dusty buses over dirt roads. And so you are lulled into a sense of complacency. You get so used to Subway and Burger King that you forget about Shwarma and Hummus. Your vacations are all about high-priced resorts and no longer about the dusty trails meandering through Jordan's famous Petra ruins. Instead of feeling compassion for the poor workers here, you just roll your eyes when they don't fall all over themselves thanking you for your generous tip. You stop buying 5 bottles of water everyday, and you start drinking water from the tap. And today, that's where everything comes to a screeching halt. If you've ever drank water from the tap in Kuwait, it's time to reconsider. Because really, the trappings of modernism and wealth here are often a mirage. And so last week, the news broke that one of the large sewage plants in Kuwait has been dumping raw sewage into the Persian Gulf for the past week. So far, about 180,000 cubic meters of "untreated drainage water" have been dumped into the Gulf. Why, you ask? Well because the processing machines broke. No matter that several weren't working when the plant got up and running a couple years ago. NO matter that several of the "working" machines have received no maintenance since they were purchased. NO MATTER that nothing was done to prevent this ecological disaster when the remaining machines malfunctioned last week. If your sewage treatment machines stop working, apparently the solution is to just dump it into the gulf. As of this week, it is prohibited for anyone to wade or swim in the water...since pollution levels are TEN times the allowable amount. And this leaves me with a question...where else is that water going? Why, when I turned on my tap water to wash dishes yesterday, did it run murky yellow for ten minutes?? And what is seeping into my shower water? And what about when I brush my teeth in the tap water? Am I eating off plates that have sewage water on them? Am I showering in sewage water? Am I gargling with sewage water? Disgusting. They say it will take several weeks until the sewage facility is fixed. Until then, they will continue to dump sewage into the gulf. The long-term affects of this will be devastating to marine life and probably to the beach industry here. But this is Kuwait and this is life. And it's sad and it's sometimes disturbing (who wants to shower in possibly-sewer-tainted water every day???). But it's also a reminder that underneath the glittering exterior lies another story that isn't quite as shiny or expensive or new.

ps: apparently they have found cholera in the water. another lovely addition to what is already an unpleasant situation.

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