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A Day in Kuwait

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A Day in Kuwait

Post by Kitkat on Sat 23 Mar 2013, 22:47

Half a dozen mouldy copybook pages that survived Jakarta's termites and slugs: this was a working day at the training centre of Getty Oil Company, where I worked with five Irish teachers.

A Day in Kuwait, Springtime, 1982


6:20 am

I’m woken early by Redmond blustering into my apartment asking if I have any note for Chit. I get into my trousers and stumble out with the wholemeal loaf I’d baked and two cassettes to pass on to Chit. I say goodbye to Carol, (kiss her with foul breath – I’m giving up the fags before they get hold of me) and the pair head off to find a taxi. Carol starts work at 8:30 in Salmiya, 20 minutes away from Fahaheel. After a warm shower I feel good, though sleepy after only five or six hours sleep. I put on a couple of eggs and a Clapton blues tape.

I throw some green olives, brown bread, hazelnuts, a lump of cheese and a banana into a brown paper bag, and sit down to enjoy 15 minutes’ relaxation before the taxi comes.
My attempt to eat only wholesome foods is grossly compromised at this stage as I light up an after-breakfast Marlboro.

It’s bright and sunny with a cold wind. Time to hear some Joe Cocker before the taxi beep rushes me and my bags out the door to join Patrick down the stairs and into the back seat of the station wagon. Seated backwards, you get a good view of the faces of the commuters.

John, Michael and Gregory, who got in at Abu Khalifa, two miles up the road towards Kuwait City, are already reading the Arab News, chuckling at some absurdity. They’re probably earmarking pieces to cut out for The Alamo Times, our underground photocopied broadsheet compilation. This goes to press in the half hour between the time the Iraqi secretary goes home and our driver comes to collect us.
After dropping us, Ahmed, a Palestinian, will go to work in the Ministry of Health in Kuwait City. The rest of us read, or stare absently out the back window. I’m the only one with an 8 o’clock class.

We bob and zoom in and out of the bunch of Toyota mini-vans, Chevy pick-ups and trucks. Where the hell are they all going to? A three lane fast show, it’s like a camel race.
Another accident this morning; we pass one every week. Sometimes the road is blocked, and we drive off into the desert.

On the coast to our left, we pass the complex of Shuaiba, insignificant in daylight, but at night lit up by myriads of lights. Disneyland, Manhattan, Hell. The eternal burning flare.

Mina Abdullah, the port and refining centre, where a filthy sulphuric cloud two miles off the road makes you wince and turn your nose. After the turn-off for Wafra, where the Getty production fields are, the traffic thins. From here, we zoom at 70 mph to our little turn-off to the sea and Mina Al Zour.

To the right, apple crumble landscape to the horizon, to the left, two miles beyond more of the same, the thin blue line of the Arabian Gulf. Two tankers slide along the skyline in the haze. The large patches of green film on the apple crumble surface are three inch carpets of grass which grew after the recent rains. We had two weeks of it. Once it rained three days non-stop. I’m told it will disappear soon, and there’ll be none until next year.

Through the security gate where Forty Coats is sitting all wrapped up like a mummy at the slightest hint of cold weather. He salutes us as we slide in. He knows the cars. It doesn’t matter who’s inside them. Once, when Ahmed changed his car, he got all confused and stopped us. Menachem Begin could drive in here in our car.

The gates of The Alamo are open. We arrive at 8 o’clock on the dot; the radio is playing the national anthem. Thirty cars out front: the morning’s students. Hellos are said, greetings very important. Mohammed, the Bangladeshi janitor, will be there. Two 7:30 classes are in session, Mahmoud and Faathi teaching Basic Beginners and Level 1.

The Marine and Refinery class enjoy a bit of crack. All Saudi. They swap anecdotes about football, girls. No serious striving to improve speaking or writing skills, an unspoken agreement between trainee and teacher. Conditions do not permit.

There will be two students waiting for me. I hello my way to my seat, put on the right face, and shake the
guys into some reactions. I shake hands and welcome them (they’ve just had a week’s break - we haven’t), and say something funny (a habit by now). We wait five minutes, for stragglers to join us. Abdullah from the Refinery will usually roll in at 8:20.

Today it’s a doss.
I’m reviewing their monthly test paper, going through it with them, throwing questions and examples at them. I tell Saeed I saw a film on KTV 2 last week, “Nickleodeon”, where every five minutes a guy would exclaim “SONAVABITCH!” just like he does. He’s pleased. His choice English expression. Sumbitch! Saeed’s about 40, flashes wry humour. 9 o’clock break. I boil my kettle in the classroom to make coffee, and join the six seated around the large table in the courtyard sun. I amaze them when I light up (I had spoken against cigarettes). I tell them wait till I shave my beard off – that’ll kill ‘em.

9.10 am

Into class. I go leisurely through the second half of the paper. They tell me what’s likely to happen on Kuwaiti National Day next Thursday: military parade along the Gulf Coast Road, and fireworks. Good. I’ll bring the camera in to the city. Goodbye. See you tomorrow. No homework. No-one seems to want to do it, so that’s the way it is. We don’t push each other. I’ve learned to adapt to the situation. I don’t waste any more energy than I need to. High gear teaching is out of place here. They call the shots. They’re getting paid for this. They don’t mind too much how we pass the hour. They don’t like to be bored, yet they’re not prepared to make too much effort.

9:50 am

Khlass. Finish.

Coffee. I fill the attendance sheets. Hardly necessary now. I’ve only about 11 students, 5 this afternoon, and I’m free till 3 o’ clock when I have my very special class with the two dodos.

I chat with Pat in his room fiddling with a short wave radio trying to get news of the election.

Ali Bagshi, the Saudi Principal, comes round with more forms and folders. Asks how many students I have. Eleven? No. There will be twelve. He’s been reading Mark Twain’s autobiography.

What does a guy do with two hours? They just disappear. Shelved in the files of time.

Faathi and Mahmoud, West Bank exiles, pace the Alamo courtyard in slow, measured steps. Fourteen paces, turn, return.


Lunchtime bell.

The five Irishmen get on the Bluebird bus, driven by a 70 year old Saudi who shakes your hand as you climb in the door. Charon, we call him. Greased lightning dangerman stuff 20 kph to get us to the restaurant half a mile away on the Ras, a sandy headland with a fine view of the Gulf. Sometimes I join them there, for cake
and ice-cream. The guys I work with are great talkers. Michael’s quick witty. Gregory’s a philosopher and playwright saving up to write a book.

Today, rather than sit with the lads, I mope off with my brown paper bag to walk the South Beach. Past the tug boat jetty, the beached dredger, the decomposing cow that’s been there two months now and stinks.

I walk here to see something new.

Each day the sea is a different colour: emerald, azure, today a milky turquoise. In the past week, I have seen whelks poking their eyes around at the turn of tide. I have seen yellow/brown sand-snakes, crabs streaking for cover, seagulls flying low in a line where the sea meets the sand, a flamingo on one leg in a foot of water.

Three English kids walking three dogs, two white terriers and a black one. Blacky’s eyes stare up at a hundred skies. And you can make him freak just by holding his eyes and approaching. Last week, the three chased me in a yapping frenzy. I was encouraging them when I walked into a wooden beach shade which took a piece out of my scalp. Ha! Ha! Don’t listen to mad dogs.

Dead things too. A tiny swordfish. A shark the length of my forearm. A starfish. A cow. A myriad of brightly coloured shells. I’m making a collection. Each time I look for a new type. Johnny Walker bottles. Gilbey’s Gin.

Beaches are never static, never the same.

3.00 pm

Today, (whew!) no guides.

The “guides” is a coinage of Ali Bagshi, our Training Center Principal, his mistaken take on “guys”, i.e. fellows, lads. In Ali’s understanding, all our students are guides. Great stuff. That’s how language develops and grows.

The guides are our class of two special Intermediate students. Both Kuwaiti. They have some financial or accounting function, and Getty Oil is allocating generous resources (two teachers every afternoon) to their English skills. Arrogant, fawning, dopey, they ooze false camaraderie. Pat and I dread their arrival in the afternoon. We punch the air when the guides fail to show today.

Afternoon. I sit in my classroom, stretch comfortably, drugged into drowsiness by the hum from the refinery, sleep walking through the empty quarter of the day, though always in apprehension of having to force myself out of it, like out of mud. Too barren of thought to write a letter, capable of reading though.

4:15 pm

After Mohammed has locked up the Alamo, we hang about in front of the building waiting for Ahmed to take us home. Michael and John read today’s Alamo Times; Greg, Pat and I while away the minutes throwing stones at a tin can target.

    Current date/time is Wed 19 Dec 2018, 15:16