Might as well be walking on the sun - Kuwait
Day 1,702 since October 10th 2013: 147 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Some things you need to experience for yourself
I remember a time when I visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. I was in awe while looking across the wide, deep scar cutting through the surface of our planet. Being Danish I naturally also quickly thought about if it would be possible to build a bridge across it? But mostly I just thought that the sheer size cannot be understood. If you want to understand how large it is then you must experience it. You may never have been there and you have probably seen photos. You may now be thinking: “yeah, yeah...how large can it be?” And as you do that you should probably multiply whatever image you have in your head by at least three.
Much in the same way it’s hard to explain how hot it is in Kuwait. You’ve probably felt heat before. Most people have. However this is so much more extreme than what most have experienced. Everything appears to be air conditioned. So you are constantly going from comfortable cool temperatures and straight out on the surface of the sun. I remember flushing the toilet a few nights ago and observing steam rising from the bowl! By best guess would be that the water comes from a storage tank on the roof which had been under the sun all day. Two nights ago I went up on the roof around 10pm. The sun sets at 6:40pm so it had been dark for hours. And yet the heat was burning on my skin as if I was directly exposed to the sun! It’s hot! That's what I'm trying to say. Since I arrived to Kuwait the outdoor temperature has not dropped below the core temperature of the human body. There is no use for clothes here :)
Hot doesn't even begin to describe it. But I went running...again.
The heat changes everything for me. Especially during the Ramadan. Normally I would venture out to explore. I don’t mind walking long distances as I save money while I observe how life is for the local population. However walking here for just 20 minutes might quickly have you wandering how long a human could survive in this heat? I cannot drink water publically because it is strictly forbidden in Kuwait during the Ramadan. Two relatively short trips with a taxi will eat up most of my daily budget so I live at night. Just like many others. I’m still staying with Mohammed and Ahlam who are taking very good care of me. In fact I would challenge you to find more considerate hosts anywhere. Mohammed leaves for work around 09:30am in his air conditioned car. Then he returns early afternoon and goes back to sleep. Ahlam prepares Iftar (the first meal to break the fast) so that it is ready for 6:40pm. The flat screen TV runs in the background as the daily Kuwaiti ritual repeats itself: a canon is for unexplained reasons fired at sunset every evening during the Ramadan to mark the end of the fast. Then we all eat a date (or three) and feast on the meal. Islam normally joins us. He’s a long term friend of Mohammed and one of the first people I met in Kuwait.
Some of the most caring and wonderful people!! Iftar with Islam, Mohammen and Ahlam :)
After Iftar we usually have coffee or tea and people talk or play with their phones. On and off people will join us for Iftar as it is a very social event. You may have your ideas about religion and traditions. I have my ideas too. I don’t think that religion is neither good nor bad. I think religion is what the practitioner brings to it. So if a person is good then the best possible outcome will be the result. And if a person already has ill-fated intentions then that person may simply read the passages that in one way or the other can be used to justify cruel actions. I’d argue that you are welcome to believe whatever you want in life as long as you don’t harm anyone. Mohammed, Islam and Ahlam are very good people. And as a result you see the best possible results in their approach to Islam. And you know what I say: people are just people.
The Ramadan is a full month of reflection, self-discipline and charity. The Ramadan is in fact much more than that but bear with me...I’m just an observer. I look up at the moon every night to see how far we still have to go. We passed the halfway marker a few days ago and we are now in the last ten day stretch before the Eid (feast at the end of the Ramadan). Cinemas in Kuwait have closed down for the last ten days. People tell me that during the last ten days many become slightly more pious than what is otherwise the case. In the middle of the Ramadan we had the Ghabga here in Kuwait. These ‘ghabgas’, meaning ‘gatherings’, are more social events and many hotels host large buffets and traditional activities until the small hours of the morning. Suhoor is then the last meal taken just before sunrise and the fast starts all over again. I was explained that there are no more ‘ghabgas’ now during the more pious final days of the Ramadan. But I managed to join Mohammed and Ahlam at one a few days ago at Radisson Blue. It was the Kuwaiti Multiple Sclerosis Association Ghabga and I wasn’t supposed to do anything other than just be there. But Ahlam thought it would be great if I gave a speech?!? I didn’t agree and just wanted to be neutral but Ahlam was adamant about it, me being a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross and all. Before I knew of it I was up on the stage thanking Kuwait for its initiative in relation to MS and saying a few worlds about how proud Kuwaiti’s should be about the Kuwaiti Red Crescent. And afterwards I received a small present before I was asked to do a few selfies with some truly lovely people.
Well, Ahlam won that round. But she didn't turn out to be the only winner. These people were wonderful.
Ahlam is funny like that. She has this special spark in her eyes and I have no doubt she is used to getting her way. Like when I’m done eating she will always try to force feed me some more. And after saying NO several times I usually end up giving in and just eating or drinking whatever she brings me. Both Mohammed and Ahlam laugh a lot which is great. And as amazing as Ahlam is I am glad to have her on my side! She’s somewhat like a shark that is constantly swimming forward. That worked well for me yesterday when she suggested that we should visit the Saudi Embassy together! I haven’t been able to get through the door so far. That only took Ahlam a few minutes and Mohammed and I followed her into the building. We followed her around as she charmed different officials until we ended up in front of a man who said he would help. He said he would issue me a “sportsman visa” if I can supply them with an official statement from the Danish embassy in Riyadh, which declares that I am a “traveler”. So that was a quick change of events?!? At one point the man who was helping us also required a signed health certificate from me. Ahlam shot that down in a second by saying that the Kuwaiti authorities wouldn’t let me into the country if I wasn’t healthy :) How can you not love a woman like that! :)
Basket courts are free during the heat of the day...
The month of the Ramadan is indeed a month of charity. Tents are set up to provide low income families with food and water. Lines will queue up and it’s a common site. Here in Kuwait City there are even refrigerators on some streets where people can deliver food and others can collect it. It’s truly a great time to visit a predominantly Muslim country and invitations flow left and right. I’m absolutely sticking with what I said last week regarding Kuwait: the gold is its people. That be both Kuwaitis and expats. Many expats are actually born here so you could wonder: “what is a Kuwaiti?” But you woudn’t need to wonder too much about it because the government has already sorted that for you. If your father is a Kuwaiti citizen then you are too. And basically no one else gets a citizenship. So in effect you can live your entire life in Kuwait and even be born in the country…but if you are of a different nationality (which 2/3 are) then you better have a backup plan for what comes when you are no longer on the job market. That may sound cruel but everybody knows the game. Expats are here for financial gain.
Cafe life with Islam, Abdurrahman and Ahmed.
Dinner with Silas (middle) and Shrikant (left).
Silas who works at Maersk Line invited me out one night. He is an expat of Indian decent. So obviously we chose an Indian restaurant. It didn’t take long before Silas’ colleague Shrikant showed up and the three of us had a good time. Then we decided to stretch our legs and head to the Marina Mall, which used to be “the mall” before they built the Avenues Mall I wrote about last week. At the mall we met up with Vikas who also works at Maersk. A regular reunion after I made my presentation there. Vikas came up with the idea that we should knock on the door at Marina FM, which is a radio station based inside the mall. That then led to an exchange of contact detail between Marina FM and I.
The four of us then continued to the beach where life was thriving although the sun had long ago set. I’ve been back to the beach since then and there are far less people there under the scorching sun. Also I wouldn’t go swimming if I couldn’t come back on shore and have a sip of fresh water. So it makes perfect sense. A few days later I was being interviewed by Talal Malik who’s a great guy. I was told that the interview was going to take about five minutes but we smashed that into pieces by speaking for about half an hour. Talal has 17 years of experience so needless to say everything went smooth. It was a really fun and relaxed interview and I managed to upload it to YouTube so you can see it! Yup! The times change and now you can see radio as well as hear it. The studio was full of cameras. Good thing I had a haircut the day before :)
You can see/hear the interview by clicking HERE or directly on the picture.
Visas suck the fun out of traveling. Anyone who has traveled proficiently knows that. I work hard to deliver this project and I sometimes wonder why? I can’t imagine how anyone with social media larger than mine is capable of managing it on their own? If I look away for a few minutes then I risk someone posting commercials (links) to 15 of my posts. So I need to be on guard and delete plus ban the user when it happens. However most of my time on social media is spent creating post and captions. The rest is spent managing the high activity with now 38,000 accounts following. Most are dormant while others have now reached the status of being “TOP FANS” on Facebook. Apparently there’s a new feature where those who interact the most are now “Top Fans”. That’s kind of nice :) However if the social media keeps growing like this then I can’t see myself finding enough time to manage it. Networking, meeting people, learning about the country I’m in and certainly hunting for visas is another thief of my time. Some of it is enjoyable. Especially the encounters with people. Albeit this far into the Saga so many tasks have become routine such as going to an embassy, being at an embassy, returning from an embassy etc. Emails and WhatsApp messages also steal a lot of time. I still need to eat, sleep and find time for myself, the latter being increasingly difficult. I cheer myself up by reminding myself that most of the tough visas are behind us and that there are only a few to go.
I just received this video from Hakaya Storytelling in Lebanon. Do you remember? I spoke about "Goldteeth" the gangsta in the Caribbean and a near fatal car crash in Cameroon. You can see my short talk by clicking HERE or directly on the picture.
What most people do not seem to realize is how huge the difference is between traveling by flying and traveling overland. I fully understand the lack of understanding as I had no idea prior to this project. There are so many visas which are available on arrival at the airport but not if you wish to cross a land border. And you would think that if you are eligible to receiving a visa on arrival at an airport then you should be able to obtain it almost instantly at an embassy. But you would be wrong. Kuwait made it easy for me though. Kuwait offers visa on arrival at the airport but the option to apply online if you cross a land border (which I did). The e-visa was approved within ten minutes after applying and I simply presented a printed version at the border when I came from Iraq. Easy! I can also apply for the Iranian visa online. However the approval takes much longer. So I showed up last week at the Iranian embassy (having waited three weeks) to hear if there was anything that could be done at the embassy? There was much confusion about why I didn’t just fly? Iran offers visa on arrival to not only one airport but four different international airports. So they have actually made it easy for their visitors…so why did I not fly? Well, if my answer to everything was that I’m aiming at becoming the first person in history to visit every single country in the world completely without flying then I would be stuck more often. I know that from experience.
A small conversation with someone I know.
If you tell authorities that you are on your way to every country then suddenly they are on guard for if you have social media and what you might write about their country. I have a pretty clean record and I can’t remember ever saying anything bad about a country? Certainly not in comparison to the good things I mention. But how can the authorities know? So I understand the suspicion and simply try to get a tourist visa or a business visa. Another card I have up my sleeve is that I’m a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. I’m not going to say that has never been useful because it has. However it usually massively complicates the visa procedures to mention any affiliation with the Red Cross / Red Crescent. The moment I mention it I’m likely to be prompted for mission orders, Red Cross invitation letters, Red Cross identification cards etc. The communication department at the Danish Red Cross have several times stressed that they want nothing to do with the logistics of this project. I do however travel with a Letter of Intent which specifically invites the Red Cross or Red Crescent around the world to assist in any way the can. It’s confusing – I know. So needless to say I rarely mention anything about the movement in relation to authorities. I just try to keep it simple.
I was fortunate to receive another BBQ invitation and had yet another good time with Massimo, his family and his neighbors. Massimo's oldest son Luca, asked if he could design a banner for Once Upon A Saga. Luca is 12 and a really clever kid! His first version was the one here above. I love it!! However it would be complicated to profile the Red Cross emblem so much in connection to the Saga, So he made the second version which you see here below. What do you think? :)
At the Iranian embassy last week I was basically told to wait a little longer for my e-visa to come through. But how much longer could I wait? Honestly I thought I would only be in Kuwait for 3-4 days and then onward to Iran while looking for a way to reach Saudi. However now I’m on my third week in Kuwait with no visas to go in any directions. What to do? Tell the man at the embassy about the Saga or wait a little longer? It’s always a gamble and I went with it. The man at the counter looked at me and paused: “why didn’t you say that to begin with?” Well, I wasn’t going to explain – but you know ;) He asked me to write up a handwritten letter and hand it to him along with a copy of my passport and my preprinted project description. So I did and he promised that he would try to see what he could do. Two hours later the embassy called to say that I was approved and that I should go and make the payment. 19 KD for a regular visa and 29 KD for an express visa. The regular one would take a week and the express would take a day. So a difference of 10 KD (Kuwaiti Dinar) for the express service. I’m sorry to say that no rich Kuwaiti has stepped in to sponsor the Saga so far. And 1 KD is 3.30 USD so with my budget and all I opted for waiting a week. In hindsight I’m not sure about that decision but I am four years and eight months into flipping every coin so I guess it was just my default setting which kicked in. Anyway…now you are a lot wiser but all you really needed to know is that I’m almost guaranteed to take my visa for Iran next week.
It rained for about 10 minutes! Yes! It really did. Unfortunate though for Abdurrahman who just washed his car 5 minuttes earlier. The rain binds with the dusty air and you see the result.
Where are we going to and this entry? With people of course! I have hardly had a minute alone since I reached Kuwait which is both wonderful and draining all at once. I didn’t mention meeting up with Greek Thanos. Now if you have been following the latest Hollywood productions of the Avengers then you’ll catch the reference. If not then I’ll quickly explain. Thor is one of the original Avengers fighting on the good side. Thanos is the bad guy and we met up in Kuwait City. This Thanos is a spectacular guy with a rich background within logistics, Borders Without Doctors and physics…AND he is also trying to reach every country in the world. Trying? Heck! He is achieving! He has been to 152 so far.
To be frank I could reference several pages of people I have met and I hope they won’t get disappointed as I now finish with Hind. Hind is yet another amazing woman but I didn’t know that until last night. She is Kuwaiti although with a mother from Libya and an international background. She only caught on to the Saga a few weeks ago and began following on Instagram. Kuwait is by the way an Instagram country and my account has been growing while here. Anyway, Hind reached out and last night we met up over a cup of tea and talked for hours!! If a woman in Kuwait is wearing a scarf and doesn’t socialize with men then it’s most likely because of family and culture. There are no such rules in Kuwaiti legislation and as in most countries, the family decides how the family behaves publically. Now, not everyone likes the idea of a woman meeting up with a man and I was actually warned about meeting up with a Kuwaiti woman!!! Uhhh! How terrifying! ;) The reasoning behind the warning was something regarding "how she would be after something" and how it could get me into a lot of trouble. Now I’ve been around the block a few times and I wasn’t worried at all. And as a result I had a nice evening in company with a lovely beautiful and very competent woman. She is well educated, well-traveled and proved to be great company. She even gave me a ride home afterwards.
How can anyone say anything but: a stranger is a friend you've never met before :)
That ride home was just four hours ago. My nights and days are turned upside down here. I’ve had a few nights where I was up until 7-8am in the morning. And I’ve had days where I slept until 4pm. My rhythm has been turned upside down, I eat and sleep irregularly and I still need to get up early for meetings every once in a while. Doing this in this incredible heat isn’t making it easier but thankfully everything is air conditioned. Just imagine that. It was 50°C (122°F) degrees outside today and somehow the electrical power never fails. Just imagine that? An entire city of millions in a baking hot desert (which looks like a city) running on air condition – and no power cuts? Well played Kuwait, well played…
Kuwait is hiding just inbetween those two giants.
So all of that and still in a long distance relationship with a wonderful woman in the high north of Europe. "How does he do it?" Sometimes I don’t know…I miss her and she misses me. We communicate daily and are planning for the next time we will meet. I guess she is just special.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - feeling hot, hot, hot!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga