Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ku8 City - a different view of an Islamic state

My first trip to Ku8 was this past July, an oddly cocooned experience at a time when the wise evacuate the 55 degree + (131 F) mid-day temperatures. In this type of heat the silence engulfs you. The random noise of the city is absorbed into a percussive wind that throbs against my ears. Wandering along the shore amidst the surreal plaza fountains (first photo), the strum of a Kuwaiti man's flapping dishdasha echoes across the warm wind. That day it reached 138F. I forced myself out into it - just to know what it would be like if I had to go outside, to live like many in Ku8 do, in unheated metal sheds by the sea with only a stifling hot breeze to wick the perspiration from their faces, throats, and chests. Long flowing fabrics make the most sense in this climate and support a thriving business in cotton shops, tiny glass-fronted stores with shelf upon shelf of white fabric. Are they all the same, I wonder? I am curious to wander inside and feel each piece, look closely at its weave, but this is clearly a man's world. I've yet to see a woman inside. I am surprised how long I manage my walk rather comfortably in silk pants and caftan - until I'm overcome by a wave of nausea, and rush behind a shop to submit to the bile up from my gut. Dehydration - subtle, yet powerful, it overtook me in a mere 20 minutes.

This first trip was rather lonely, the streets of Farwaniya empty until the sun slid out of site and could impose less ill. I did meet several wonderful shopkeepers, including two wonderful pastry bakers. They made real Lebanese beklawa! Their English was as limited as my Arabic, so we made much of swapping hand gestures and gifts - they, fruit drinks and sweets, I Homer-roasted coffee and smoked salmon. I also wandered into a wonderful spice shop, owned by an Iranian father and son (2nd photo).
Again, the Arab - er, Persian - tradition of hospitality lived on in the souq. Shopkeeper and son pumped me full of "cooka-coola laay-eet" (Coke light, the equivalent of Diet Coke), exotic fruit candies, and a wonderful deep roast coffee perfumed with ground cardamom.

A Canadian acquaintance took me out to the coast to meet a boat builder, a master of the Arab Dhou in life size and miniature. He lives and works in the grinding heat of summer (3rd photo)
, and welcomes the chance to run indoors to show me his small hand-made ships. A testament to his craft, each piece is hand cut and secured with tiny dowels. His full-scale work has been in progress for 8 months.

I return to Ku8 in November, and am hopeful this time that I will meet the Kuwaitis who came to Lebanon to help collect environmental samples from the oil spill last year. I look forward to visiting these places again with kinder temperatures. Best of all, I will return to Lebanon - far too briefly - at the end of November, to revisit good friends and a hopefully healing coast.

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