Sunday, February 15, 2009

Derrill of Arabia 1

Sorry I was keeping this so much under wraps, but I wanted it to be a surprise for my family when I told them at Disneyland in January. Some time early December, Per grabbed me to ask a favor. He had agreed to do a presentation at the Global Development Network in February and only recently realized that he also had to turn in a paper in connection with it. The problem was that the paper was due in a month. He didn't have time to do it by himself. Would I be willing to be coauthor?

So I spent December hurriedly writing a paper about something I knew very little about just before: natural resource management. Cleverly titled "The Food System and Natural Resource Management," it talks about how agriculture affects the environment and some of the policy implications, particularly in getting prices right and helping the poorest people reduce their dependency on natural resources.

The surprise was that Per agreed that I could come to the GDN also ... in KUWAIT! I left Feb 1 and got back late Friday the 6th. It's about a 12 hour flight and an 8 hour time difference. My internal clock quickly got seriously out of whack. I moved 8 hours the wrong direction: I was ready to fall asleep at 3/4pm (6am here), woke up at 10/11 pm and was up for the night.

Guide book info: Kuwait has about 3 mil people, 1 million Kuwaitis and 2 million guests. 90% live in Kuwait City, and about 80% are Arabs. Given the large number of foreigners, most people speak English and most of the signs are in Arabic and English. Kuwait City was an interesting mix of brand new skyscrapers with the curved walls all made of glass, sandy-colored buildings with those cool Arab windows,

and a number of gray-sand blahdo apartment buildings that scream urban renewal ... and they're all next door to each other! This apartment was next to the hotel above.

There's a lot of construction going on everywhere. Aside from the more pedestrian signs of Americanization (like McDonald's and the KFC right outside my window), they have imported other US businesses, like Johnny Rocket's. The hotel TV had a fairly wide mix of English and Arabic channels, with more English than Arabic, plus one German station.

This is the view from my hotel room. Looks like a standard big city. That's a KFC down at the bottom. It's also a major bus terminal.

Traveler's tip #1 - Don't insult the ruler. The newspaper had a story of an Australian woman who had a misunderstanding with an official at the airport back in early December, in the course of which she apparently said some things that were ill considered. The newspaper said that she would be in jail another two weeks.

Traveler's tip #2 - Kuwait does not require that men wear headscarves. Most of the men I saw on my walks near the hotel did not, though all the officials at the conference wore them. Most of the ladies I saw around town wore headscarves, the hotel staff did not. I saw a few contingents of burkas, but they seemed the minority. At the airport at the visa check gate, they had a separate line labeled "Veiled Ladies Identity Check" where a burkad lady sat to assist travelers in need.

The hotel is along the beach, but they were doing construction there and it was 10pm by the time I went on my walk, so nothing to see here. This was the moon. I thought it would have been more appropriate to be in the Middle East when there was a crescent moon and took this shot in remembrance of that idle thought.

This was the best Do Not Disturb sign I've ever read. Click the pic and enjoy the many reasons a person might not wish to be disturbed.

The skyline as seen from the Kuwaiti Scientific Center we toured our last day there. That's the Persian Gulf, which sticks its finger right into Kuwait City's eye.

The hotel had this cool system of glass leaves that formed a fountain. From the restaurant on the mezzanine level down to the ground, water pours to a small fountain and reflection pool. It's a lovely, soothing sound.

(to me) Random tall spires and intricate walls are juxtaposed with apartment buildings, malls, skyscrapers, office buildings, and restaurants.

The highway was well decorated, with cool red sandstone bricks along the way and many palm trees and other greenery. One of the surprising things to me was how many buildings had radio antennae on them. There was this one stretch where literally every building I saw had one or more.

I didn't see any mosques in my wanderings, but someone insisted there was one right next to the hotel. On my way out the door to the taxi home, I took a snapshot of this spire by the hotel. As the taxi pulled out, the rest of the building came in to view, I realized that THAT WAS A MOSQUE! Maybe that other random spire was one too....

The mall across the street was JAM PACKED with jewelers, money changers, dress sellers, and a few knick-knack shops you could walk through sideways. ... None of them had postcards. I asked several people for postcards and no one even knew where you could find them. I went back to the concierge who was certain they were in this mall. He led me to a knick-knack shop and asked for them. The owner went to the far back corner of the store and pulled out a shoebox with some postcards that were - get this - 25 years old. We went through a number of them and None were within the last 18 years (since the Gulf War). The economist in me thinks there must be an opportunity for an entrepreneur here somewhere....


Marcy said...

That is an AWESOME do not disturb sign...I need one!!!

luvbug said...

Wow, what an amazing trip! That's pretty exciting!