Visiting Kuwait within a people's project
Day 1,709 since October 10th 2013: 147 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Am I a broken record?
Sure, I’m going to every country in the world. However this is not a country project per se. It was a country project per design before I left home and only a few weeks “out the gate” it transformed into a people project. It has therefore been a people project nearly since the beginning and it still continues today. This has got nothing to do with socialist politics. It’s a mere fact that the world we live in is full of people and by visiting every country you will interact with many of them.
Repetition is a large part of life for all of us. Imagine if you needed to reinvent yourself every day. You can after all only leave your bed in so many directions. I have the same conversations with different people and I face the same difficulties with different visas all around the world. And if you’ve been following my blog long enough then you will also have heard a fair amount of repetition. So first things first: I’m healthy and doing well where it counts. I no longer feel that I’m flirting with depression although it could easily return as it has done several times before. I’m still in Kuwait. I’m staying on Mohammed and Ahlam’s couch in their little studio apartment for the third consecutive week. They are absolutely amazing! I’m continuously force-fed by Ahlam who puts on a theatrical sad face if I don’t eat at least enough to feed a small village!! Mohammed wants to taxi me every time I go out and I’ve lost more than one discussion debating that they should rest and that I could easily take a taxi. Have you ever tried debating with an Arab? You will need some serious negotiation skills to accomplish anything. Hospitality is grand and a guest is a guest…and guests do not pay! As such my greatest expense here was the laptop I bought and I figure that even with that I’ll leave Kuwait coming out on top.
Iftar at the TIES center with Mohammed and Ahlam (seen on the right).
Although I’m still waiting for a sheik to step forward and fund the Saga, I’m also still pretending that I’m on a USD 20/day budget (while really I should just save every penny I can). Three weeks of USD 20/day would amount to USD 420 and the laptop cost me less than 300. Really I can’t remember the last time I was permitted to pay for anything? Maybe apart from the odd taxi once in a while. And it’s not for the lack of trying! It’s such a contrast to where I’m from. Denmark is a fairly friendly country but nobody is expected to cover anybody’s costs constantly. If I invite you over for dinner then you would probably bring a bottle of wine and that’s it. You wouldn’t need to bring that bottle but that’s just a common thing to do. Now if four guys are at a bar then one of them might pay for the first round but then he is not expected to pay for the next three. Generally we share costs in Denmark. A guest wouldn’t commonly stay over for three weeks but if he or she did then the guest would be expected to chip in somehow. I’ve tried a lot and I feel that it is generally not accepted for me to break the role of being a guests. Arabic hospitality is something truly special.
Evening out with Kinan and his beautiful wife Ghada. We had a wonderful evening with philosophical discussions and good food!
Evening out with Mohammed, Mohammed, Zainab and Jassem from The Divan. They showed me a good time at Kuwait Cities cafe district and then we headed out for Kuwait's best sharwarma! "I'll have the Mexican please!!" ;)
“So Thor, what’s going on with that Saudi visa??”
Sometimes I feel really far from home. Denmark is not the kind of country that would massively embrace a project like this. The culture we have doesn’t support it. When a journalist asked me: “your country must be so proud of you?” I nearly didn’t know what to say. Maersk Line is however a Danish company and they have been overwhelming supportive. In relation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) Maersk has already done much to help me and issued me an letter of invitation, but according to KSA’s directions I must apply in my resident country and I’m not a resident anywhere since the project began. Furthermore an invitation from a company is equal to a business visa which would require that I fly. There’s no need to ask why that would be a requirement – it just is and so far that has not been negotiable. The holy month of the Ramadan is coming to an end now and the Eid will commence. That also means that everything stops for a while as Muslims all around the world celebrate. I have a few leads in regards to the The KSA visa and in particularly the one I mentioned last week. The KSA embassy in Kuwait said they would give me a multi entry “sportsman visa” if the Danish embassy in Riyadh would confirm that I’m a traveler. So far the Danish embassy has sadly not been forthcoming...but let’s see... It weighs heavily upon me to have come all this way as a Danish national and then not receiving the assistance needed from my own authorities. But that is my country for you. And I love Denmark in spite of it! Another possibility I have is a friend of mine who knows someone at the foreign ministry of Kuwait. And this could also lead to a development regarding the KSA visa. So those two leads currently weigh in for staying in Kuwait a little longer. If you are not aware then you will learn it now: the KSA visa is among the hardest in the world to get and even accomplished CEO’s struggle from time to time. So if I have the slightest sliver of a chance to obtain the visa then I should follow it up while I can.
Everyone in this world seems to have a smartphone these days.
Hanging with the crew at Alrai TV. A mix of nationalities with Jordanians, Palestinians and Kuwaitis. Mohammed and Ahlam joined in so that adds Egypt and Tunisia to the blend and I get to represent Denmark :) I'll share the interview when I get the link.
I also spoke to an Australian with regional knowledge of the Gulf, who was very sure that if I continued to visit the KSA border from Bahrain then the immigration would eventually stamp me into KSA. The theory is that it would also work from the UAE. So that’s interesting although so far both a gamble and a longshot. Finally there’s that tourism visa for KSA which still does not exists. It was first announced to take effect on April 1st but didn’t. Now we have reached the end of June and I sort of feel like it may take effect after the Eid. But that’s anyone’s guess? So I’m leaning towards a few more days (weeks) in Kuwait although I have the visa for Iran now. That should hopefully make sense for you now.
Did it again! And made a video for you. See it by clicking HERE or directly on the photo :)
It's good progress. We have reached the orange ones and the grey are yet to come. An average stay per country of 11.6 days.
If you look at the map showing which countries I have visited so far then you may assume that I’m autistic. And maybe I am but that’s not why the map looks like that. As a natural consequence of visiting countries without flying you need to visit a country that borders the one you’re in or one which you can reach by boat. At this point I’m not stuck like we have been several times before: reaching Greenland, leaving Greenland, entering Equatorial Guinea, entering Eritrea, entering Syria…oh the joy… The world we live in is not designed for anyone to reach every country without flying. Where there are island nations there are not always ferries. Countries that offer visas on arrival at airports do not always grant visas or easy passage at land borders. But the Saga is not stuck now and we can continue to Iran by catching a ferry twice a week. The political relations between several countries in this region doesn’t make my work any easier. KSA and Iran are not best friends and visiting either country could cause friction regarding entering the other. The same is true for KSA and Qatar. Qatar is a small peninsula which “grows’ out of KSA and I’ve heard that KSA is considering to dig a trench or canal along the border between the two countries so that Qatar becomes an island. Just think about that for a second? Israel is another topic and a number of countries flat out do not recognize Israel’s existence and claim that the entire area is Palestine. I’ve even seen modern maps with no Israel and a large Palestine. If I go to Israel then my chances of ever visiting KSA immediately become slim. The same is true for entering Iran after Israel. The same does not necessarily apply if I visit Iran and KSA first and then wish to visit Israel as their foreign policies are more open – but I would probably be interrogated for a while.
Every night during the Ramadan Mohammed, Ahlam and I watched this canon mark the sunset with a blast on TV.
This is a top ten list over which nationalities read the blog. Surprising?
I do on and off wonder who reads along when I post these blogs? I know a few of you but the blog is getting more and more hits and in most cases I’m sure I don’t know. I’ve always assumed that a number of intelligence agencies account for at least a few of the hits. The NSA must be scanning my blog once in a while – don’t you think? After all I’ve been to a number of countries which would alarm certain agencies. Definitely here in the Middle East I imagine that the intelligence agencies are all aware that I’m here with an intention to visit. From day one the thought of who might read my blog has always kept me a little on guard. I wouldn’t flat out criticize a government simply because it may result in me not getting a visa at a later point. But that is also entirely not what the Saga is about. I aim to promote the normal and often good side of life. It is sometimes boring but it is in any case not something which makes it into the media a lot. And trust me…most of the world is fairly ordinary. We talk about the same things, we watch the same series, we share the same videos, we buy the same shoes, we eat the same food, we listen to the same music and we want the same things. We want to be loved. We want to be safe. We want to have meaning. What I just wrote is absolutely true…but then it is also true that different countries have different cultures and different values. So while you can have sushi, pizza or a T-bone steak in Nigeria you will also find suya. While you will find Nike in Ethiopia you will also find sandals and bare feet. While every country listens to Beyoncé and Rihanna they also have their own music and while everyone talks about Trump, there are fortunately also other topics to be discussed. We are all the same and we are all different. Please embrace it.
Mohammedreza from Iran helped me out with the Iran visa. He's a good friend and we regularly meet up.
Kuwait Dinar (locally known as KD) is the highest world currency against US Dollar. The value of 1 KWD = 3.31 USD. Kuwait may be a small country but it has enormous wealth. The high value of its currency is explained by significant oil goods exports into the global market. Well done Kuwait...well done.
Do you believe it when somebody says: “If I can do it then you can do it too”? I guess sometimes it’s true but often it is not. I do not have high hopes of becoming the next Jimi Hendrix. I will never become prime minister. I’m unlikely to win a Nobel Prize. I will not become a professional football player. I will not be an A-list movie star. But people are and people have. The following will sound arrogant to many of you but I sincerely doubt that many people would be capable of visiting every country without flying. And mind you that I haven’t done it yet and still have a long way to go. It’s not just about passports although it does weigh in. It’s not just about money although cash helps. It’s not just about being stubborn although persistence is vital. It takes a lot I can assure you. I was quite confident when I left home and I’m still confident now…just a lot wiser too. If I had known that it would be like this prior to leaving home then I would never have left. Although I must admit that much good has come out of the Saga. I hear from people who have overcome great challenges in life inspired by my unwillingness to give up. I hear from people who have altered their view of certain countries because of the Saga. I hear from people who tell me they feel reconfirmed in humanity because of what I describe. I even know people who have moved to foreign countries and taken new challenges upon themselves solely because of this initiative. So something good has come out of all of this. I wrote all of that as the Danish Embassy in Riyadh (KSA) appears to believe that this is a personal journey. That makes me wonder what it takes to be classified as official. What do you think?
“They all have pins” she said. A woman at the IFRC thought it would be a great idea if I collected RC pins from all around the world. I met her in Switzerland back in 2013 and haven’t hear from her since. As it turns out, not all National Societies have pins. Some frankly don’t have the budget while others don’t see the usage for them.Here’s a tiny part of my “collection” so far. I’ve visited the movement in 144 countries out of the 147 we have reached so far. Here you see the 11 most recent pins. The rest have been sent home.
Wow! That sure wasn’t a lot about Kuwait? Well…I tried to write something else than that Kuwaitis are super kind and generous…although that is still true. And so are the expats I have met here. And it is still hot and it is still getting warmer. I may just say something about heat. A lot of Kuwaitis and expats here seem to believe that the temperatures here break world records every year. And while it is true that the summers are hot (and the winters are cold) we are not breaking any records. The highest temperature recorded dates back to 1913 in Death Valley (USA) and measures 56.7°C (134°F). Yet many people here claim that the temperature goes above 60°C (140°F) each year. So how is that possible? Are the Kuwaitis living in a secret pocket of abnormal temperatures which the World Meteorological Organization has not yet discovered? Or are people wrong? People are just people and I would wager that people are wrong. So how come the temperature gauges in the vehicles are all reading a wrong result? Well one explanation I can think of is that a car that is in the sun all day heats up. All the metal and plastic heats up. The sun shines on the road and while the world’s highest air temperature is 56.7°C (134°F) the highest surface temperature ever measured was 93.9 °C (201 °F), which is considerably more. So imagine a vehicle racing across a hot surface. Wouldn’t some of the hot air nearest to the surface make it towards the bottom of the car? I don’t know. I’m no expert…but it sounds reasonable to me. Far more reasonable than beating the world record each year and not being recognized for it. I guess people in general don’t mind exaggerating a bit. I mean…have you seen the fish I caught? It was THIIIIS BIG! ;)
28 days into the Ramadan we went to see the canon be fired at the Naif Palace.
And then Mohammed, Ahlam and I enjoyed yet another Iftar together...and a few cool cars too ;)
And that brings me to the end of this entry. Have you ever heard about Anthony Bourdain? I hardly knew anything about him until last week. I mean…I knew his name, that he was interested in food and that he made some travel programs. But he wasn’t someone I knew well or drew inspiration from. I’ve done some research and I discovered that he is from New York, USA. Anthony also had some French roots and spent time in France where he discovered his passion for food. In his early life he developed an addiction to heroin and cocaine but was able to leave that behind and move on. He eventually gained some fame as a chef and had a “kitchen TV show”. He was passionate about travel, food, people and martial arts (Jiu Jitsu). Then last week, as a father, husband, American celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian, and television personality – he took his life at 61, by hanging himself in a hotel room in France. I have now spent several hours researching him through videos, interviews and articles. He was definitely someone I would have liked to meet. So I will end this entry inspired by one of his quotes which I feel resonates with me and hopefully honors him amongst those of you who love him:
"Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often though, they hurt."
- Anthony Bourdain (1956 - 2018)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - not ready to give up!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga