In Transit: Kuwait City
I am in Marlboro Country…and not because of any smoke or duty free ads that line this airport’s massive and almost fascist imposing marble walls, but because of Midwesterners who out number the Kuwaitis, Arabs, Indians, and others who occupy this space. The Americans sit heavy and passively bellicose waiting in transit, munching on snacks that they packed from home. Most sit alone tired, baseball caps pulled down tight hiding the bags under their eyes, all wear white socks, t-shirts and jackets with prints of Project Iraqi Freedom or of some loose coalition. Most are male, divided in two age groups, the older mid century men seem to be contractors and construction staff; the heavily paid workers who are laying the roads, and digging for oil. They glean with wealth, but it is obvious that they are blue collar , proud, hard working and rural. The younger types seem to be military officers or soldiers. Their canvas green bags packed full on their backs, they stand in camel colored boots, and look blank, almost frizzled, I cannot make out their emotions. And others often in pairs in front of a laptop much like mine they watch American DVDs, sitting on the floor with backs to the prayer rooms that seem empty, they laugh nervously and falsely, trying I presume to forget the dust and sands that await their sweeping. They are all tired, it is obvious that they miss their families, and I wonder if technology and the ease of contact makes things easier or worse.
I am in Kuwait and realize that around me at work is the reconstruction of Iraq, the staff and logistical support, the soldiers and reserve. I sit and write, watch them enter the long corridors of duty free stores laughing with the Filipinos, chatting about perfume or buying lighters that say I love Kuwait; rubbing elbows with Indians frantic to purchase at a discount what is rare in their homes or gifts for their families. I have mixed feelings toward this initial vision of this reconstruction. They seem proud and loyal, yet I am disappointed and distraught. I am shocked that aside from noticing their exhaust, I can’t help but focus on their physical size, they are fat and large, but seem like young overfed pups, clumsy, yet loyal and good hearted.
On the plane from Amsterdam, I sat next to a project manager for Halliburton, he chewed dip and spat in a small plastic bottle. How Nevadan, I thought. He shared with me tremendously, his face wrinkled heavily by years of hard work. A grey beard defined his angled face, and we spoke honestly of why Bush was right to dispose of Saddam, “shit, we know they had weapons, ‘cause we sold them to them” he snarled with a southern twang. In between spits, and pauses he opened his life defending his company, damning the media, “shit we had the contract before Bush was even president, blame Clinton if you’re worried about contracts and competitive bidding…shit we can’t even buy a screwdriver without at least three bids.”
He spoke of money and pride, he believed in establishing sound government, getting the economy going, of his tex-mex wife in Oklahoma who was still his lover and his son in the reserves. He tipped me on how to buy Iraqi dinar, and of its coming growth. “buy 500 bucks worth, shit it can only go up in value…’ and we spoke about migrants and their servant status in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. His hands were large, those of an iron worker ,and he explained that he tried to go to college but cuts to the GI Bill made it impossible. “ever since I’ve been in construction, don’t get me wrong, its been a good life.” Of the locals, they’re all ragheads to me, some good, but most scoundrels and thieves. “the Egyptians were the best, they are a good people, poor, but a good people. The Kuwaitis are arrogant, but still good natured, the Saudis are to me the lowest form of life, arrogant, cheap, hypocritical, escaping to Bahrain for liquor and women, yet tough on me for wanting a beer after a day of work.” He spoke no Arabic, “nor did I ever have interest, the food is not like home” he explained, “they try to please us though.” And we ended chatting on currency, and being hated for being Americans. “its not new, the world has always hated us, though in Malaysia they liked us, but for the whole they will continue to hate us” as he spat leaning his head into the seat closing his eyes, showing the smoothness of his eyelids; for it was clear, his eyes had remained vigilant and open throughout his life, not wrinkling or turning a blind eye to the wonders nor horrors one can only imagine.