Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I was thinking about passion yesterday. Passion is defined as a powerful emotion (such as love, joy, hatred, or anger). It is also of course associated with love and the physical relationship. I've grown up around a lot of passionate people- firebrands if you will. Passionate people have causes...they are the kind of people who go from 0 to 60 when a certain subject is brought up. Passionate people feel deeply; they have a visceral response to the things that they see, hear and experience. As Kuwait prepares to celebrate their National and Liberation days (Liberation from the Iraqis after the Gulf War), I've been thinking a lot about life here- my experiences, the people, the culture. There are so many things here that make me sad. This past weekend I was car stalked again (followed for a long distance in my car). The stalker really freaked me out this time. Usually they are young punks. I can deal with young punks. This time it was a middle-aged bearded man with aviator sunglasses driving an old S-class Mercedes. He was like something out of a cheesy spy movie where the bad guys are Arabs...a caricature. He followed me until I finally pulled into a residential parking area (where one of my American contractor friends lives). I called me friend to come downstairs...and the man parked beside me and just sat in his car staring. When I saw my friend come around the corner, I got out of the car to approach the man (I wanted my friend in the area, but not directly involved since that can cause him problems if the man turned out to be Kuwaiti). I walked around my car and glared at the man through his open window. I then proceeded to yell at him (no need to go into details). I'm assuming that A) the man hadn't realized I'm American and B) the man had not anticipated a former Marine American contractor being on the scene. He peeled out of that parking lot in lightening speed.

So what does all this have to do with passion? What I have noticed in this place is that people live with the goal of instantaneous gratification. I want a woman? I will chase her down the street in my car, thinking on some delusional level that she will just pull over and let me do whatever I want to her. I want a new purse? I will go out and bribe my way to the top of the wait list for whatever the hottest purse is on the market. I'm stuck in traffic due to road construction? I will pull onto the shoulder and drive by all the people sitting on the road...and run straight over a Bangladeshi worker in the process. I will live my life for myself, disregarding the human dignity of all others. What I want, I will get. I will proudly wear my blinders, willingly ignoring the human suffering that surrounds me. On the celebration of my Liberation Day, I will send my children out to the street with dozens of bottles of foam. They will spend their day foaming all of the cars that drive by. If it happens to be a taxi (driven by one of the "lesser" ethnicities...someone who has no power to stop my child), my child will stand in front of the taxi to block them from moving. My child will then peel off the windshield wipers and spray foam over the entire car. If the cabbie forgot to lock his door, my child might even open the door and spray him in the face. After the can of foam is finished, my child will throw it into the street, confident that the Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi trash man will promptly pick it up to throw it in the trash. I stand and say that I deserve whatever I want. But if you peel back the layers, I am desperate inside. I live in a country that has one of the highest vehicular death and diabetes rates in the world. I am wealthy, but I have lost my passion. At my core, I am a frothing mix of anger and tears. I am lost.

So we come back to passion. I sat with a student yesterday and told her that she has no passion. She moves from interest to interest, from designer brand to designer brand, from hobby to hobby. And she discards each as easily as most people discard the latest fad. When your world is focused only on yourself and your own gratification, you will eventually become desperate. You will become depressed and anxious and sad. You will have tear-filled eyes that you hide behind a fragile mask of self-gratification. As an outsider, I navigate this culture carefully. It is like walking on eggshells...only it's more like walking on broken glass. As I think about passion, my desire is to see the people of this country become passionate...I want them to take off their blinders and see the people that stand subserviently in the corner. I want them to shake off lives of quiet wealthy desperation. I don't know if they will change...I don't know if even a single one of my students will change. But passionate people cannot help but hope. So I hope in change. And I wait. And I try to keep my anger at this place from consuming me.


Anonymous said...

Hi, no offence, but I think you're overthinking it. The peeling off the windshield wipers to spray foam - it's not targeted at Indian and Bangladeshi cab drivers. It happens to Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis in expensive and inexpensive cars. The following girls in cars thing - true, that's lame. I think however, from the posts I've been reading about your impressions of Kuwait - it's culture shock. True, some things cannot be excused i.e. treatment of domestic servants. Other things, such as your perspective on a lack of passion within the country; I think you haven't met enough people in this country who are passionate - and there are plenty. This generation of youth studying in Kuwait and abroad who hope for change is one clear example. In a country that until just recently inspired a culture and society of people who thought that success in life meant being a doctor, engineer, lawyer, or banker, I think the slow, but steady growth of entrepeneurs, artists, chefs, architects etc is a sign of change and, if you will, 'passion'. Your other post about how you walked into a shawarma restaurant and received stares because you were a woman - well again, this is part of the kuwaiti/islamic/arab culture. There are certain places in this country, that women don't go to - and this isn't about sexism or male superiority because there are equally enough places where men do not go either. I remember reading that post and your reaction to it - feeling for the women who live veiled in this country and how that inspired you or made you feel for them (i read it awhile ago)...again I think you had an over-emotional experience to something so simple. The point of this rant is basically that this culture can seem really complicated and strange to an 'outsider' but really Kuwait isn't as 'evil' as you make it out to be (and I feel, and hope, that you don't think it is...there is a lot that needs to be fixed/changed though).

miakush said...

Anonymous...I agree with you that there are certainly elements of culture shock (even after 13 months here and a lifetime living and traveling overseas...Kuwait is unique in that way). And there are sometimes signs of hope. I do interact with quite a few Kuwaitis on a daily basis...mostly the younger educated generation. I have had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and have heard many of these same things from Kuwaitis themselves. I have some good friends who are Kuwaiti, and I love them. But these are simply observations from one person's point of view. They are my experience...for better or for worse. And I know there are some Kuwaitis who would agree with me. The reality is that every culture has its pros and cons. There are PLENTY of things that I don't agree with in America. But for this time in my life, I am in Kuwait...so I write about my experiences here. I try to live with the idea that "different is different, not better or worse." But there are some things that are truly just wrong. I write about the good moments here, and the bad. I write my own thoughts and impressions. I write from first hand experience, and from the many stories that I hear. Thanks for your thoughts, and whoever you are...I hope that you're part of the change!

donna kushner said...

Amy, I love your writing, thanks for sharing your heart and experiences that give a window into your world.
ilumttct, mom