Hello everyone / ciao a tutti / as salaam alaikum (I don’t know how you say ‘everyone’ in Arabic)
I thought I’d write a wee post to give an update on Kuwait and other stuff.
So, yeah, Kuwait. It’s pretty hot, but that’s understandable considering it’s July and I’m basically in a desert that’s temporarily made way for a country. As I mentioned last time round, it’s not really what I expected. I had about two weeks before coming here to muse over what it’d be like and staunchly didn’t bother to do any research in that time, so the few preconceptions I had have generally proved to be false.
I’ve been surprised to notice that it’s not actually too disimilar to Italy for three reasons:
Just as there are churches everywhere in Italy, here there are more mosques than I’ve had hot dinners. (Subjectively) interestingly, when they build a new area here, after putting in the infrastructure like roads and electricity and water sub stations, next on the list of things to do it seems, is to build a mosque. Only after all that do they get around to building actual houses. Replacing the hourly peel of church bells I hear back ‘home’ in Genoa, here there’s a frequent call to prayer.
In contrast, while religion has slipped into being part of the cultural background a little in Italy, and certainly in Scotland, here’s it’s still very much at the forefront of daily life. While gasping down a cigarette in a blanket of heat last night with one of my colleagues, we spoke about this briefly (only briefly, mind, my insights on the subject were so profound and indisputably right that further conversation on the topic was rendered moot, and like I say, it was hot). British culture’s connection to religion is now largely only in our language. Sure, there are God fearers in the UK, but the hold it had over life has now been relegated to our vernacular and to politicians who think that being religious will help them appeal to the masses, just as they proclaim to support a football team, eat bacon sandwiches or feel ‘bloody lively’ about things.
When I stub my toe and mutter “Christ”, it’s not because I’m in communion with Him. When politicians (ok, the Tories) go to church it’s because there’s a photo opportunity. Any pretence they have for being religious would seem contradicted by their actions. There’s no amount of praying that’ll save them if there is a heaven unless there’s a tiered layer of the afterlife where they can smoke cigars, look after their Eton chums and hound the not-born-into-wealth lot there too.
Sorry, even thinking about them get’s me bloody lively too. Not like David Cameron though. I actually feel something.
Religion is in our language. If you sneeze and I say “bless you”, I’m not intentionally referencing God. I’m just programmed to say that. It’s as automatic as me listening to sad music after a few sherries, or spuriously spending money when I get paid (I bought a new iPhone the other day).
In Kuwait, while there are almost certainly people whose grip on religion has loosened somewhat, as a culture as a whole it still seems to have a huge value. In Genoa, it doesn’t take long to spy a prostitute in the vicoli on a Sunday morning, if that’s your bag. Men (principally of the old type) can go and get their rocks off and then go and confess immediately after, thus saving their eternal soul for another week. Religion increasingly strikes me as something that people do nowadays in the West. Here, while there are of course those who have a skewed idea of Islam (the suicide bomb here a few weeks ago as an obvious and jarring example), religion is something which is lived. Ramadan’s finished now (Eid mubarak!) but during it my students would extol the virtues of fasting even while they were suffering through another day of not eating, drinking, smoking or having impure thoughts.
If I put down the ‘big baton of what I think about stuff’, and pick up the ‘big baton of stuff I’ve done’ one for a moment, then I can tell you that last week I tried fasting for a lark. Last Friday, from the moment I woke up (about 10am) till 6.50 in the evening, I didn’t eat, drink or smoke. I can’t say that it put me in touch with a higher power, although the head rush I got with my first cigarette was divine. Most of my colleagues looked at me like I was a lunatic when I told them my intention, and while the jury may still be out on that score, I liked the challenge. Occasionally depriving ourselves of things we like or take for granted is a positive test for all of us in my opinion, and so I was quite chuffed that I managed to do it for a day without cheating. The word hero has been bandied about, but I gracefully and demurely bat it away. It was only for one day after all, and I probably won’t be doing it again.
Dragging us back to the original theme of this post, the second way that Kuwait reminds me a bit about Italy is the driving style of the locals. I’ve yet to be in a car ride here that hasn’t seen a sudden contraction of my sphincter. The way people drive could be described as being free-form and expressionistic, but it could also be described as recklessly bloody awful. Cars zoom past you, cut across you and suddenly jam on the brakes when the Mario Kart driver in front of them does the same thing. They all drive so close to each other on the motorway that if I stretched my neck up a bit I’d be able to see the speedometer of the car in front for confirmation that they were going too fast too. Cue further tensing down below. Thankfully there are almost no motorbikes or scooters, otherwise there’d be a daily massacre on the motorway. I’m not a big fan of sitting in the front passenger seat in Genoa, and that discomfort is multiplied enormously here as my feet instinctively press for where I think the brake pedal might be, had I ever learned how to drive.
The final similarity I’ve noticed is the language. Obviously Arabic looks nothing like Italian, due to it having a different alphabet and sentences starting on the right and working their way to the left. However, once you get past that, a lot of the constructions are reminiscent of Italian, and presumably other Latin-influenced languages. My Kuwaiti students, while being lovely, mangle sentences and concepts just like my Italian students do. They higgledy-piggledyly parachute the same words into sentences as Italians do because they’re thinking in their own language and translating across, while before regaling me with a tale they start by saying ‘it happened that…’, just like Italians do. Who’d have thunk it, eh? I generally get really bored when reading about the etymology and development of languages, but this similarity has piqued my interest a little.
While I wouldn’t like to read a whole entire book about that, it did plant a small seed of an idea in my head last week. Could I live here and learn some Arabic? I have to say, the latter is quite appealing as that’d be a real challenge for me, but after a fair bit of consideration, I don’t think I can leave Genoa. There are too many things that I’d miss. Apart from friends and seven years of memories, it’s not like I have anything tying me to the place. As I’ve said in the past though, Genoa’s where I became a man, which as result means there’s a lot of emotional baggage attached to it. I have considered leaving before, have done so while I’ve been in Kuwait, and will probably do so again in the future, but I just don’t feel like my time there has drawn to a close.
Getting away from Genoa has been good for me so far this summer and I needed that, but I’m not ready to give up on it just yet. I reserve the right to flip flop on that like Fabien Delph in a pair of Havaianas, but for now, forza Genoa, in both senses.