I taught at a school in Kuwait for the academic year 2003/4. This was an “interesting” experience culturally. I had not lived in a Muslim country before. I taught mathematics up to A-level at Kuwait English School. This is one of the better international schools in the country. Some of my classes were difficult and it was hard work. We started the day at 7 am which was the time we had to be on site. Lessons started at 7.30 and finished by the early afternoon. This had its advantages as we could then have the afternoon free. To be honest I was often so tired that I just went home and slept.
We had an alcoholic maths teacher in the department. She had the classic red nose of an alcoholic and was very bad-tempered. The principle, Janet Carew, had a large house with a basement and invited us around for drinks – all strictly illegal of course. The alcoholic maths teacher got very angry because I was talking shop to another teacher and insisted that we stop. She was scary.
I lived in a block about ten miles from the school which was where the school rented or owned some basic apartments for staff. I hired a car each term, which worked out surprisingly cheap. I think petrol worked out at about 10 US cents per litre. Driving in Kuwait is an experience to be missed. The standard of driving is amongst the worst I have seen anywhere in the world. The main technique could be called “point and push”. It was very scary. There were horrendous accidents every day on the highway which ran south from Kuwait City. There was even a website (no longer in existence) called Car Crashes of Kuwait which was grisly and horrific viewing. One particular photo I saw on this website I can never unsee. It was of the face of a motorcyclist who had crashed his bike sans helmet. I’m not normally squeamish but this was just too much.
A famous landmark in Kuwait City
The weekends were on Thursdays and Fridays. We called this the virtual weekend. Saturdays and Sundays were normal days. One weekend, we went out for a drive in the desert to see if we could find the so-called tank graveyard which was where the US military had dumped all the Iraqi tanks and trucks that it had attacked during the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait in the first Gulf war. There were hundreds of tanks in row upon row as well as armoured vehicles, unexploded ordnance and so on. It was blisteringly hot in the desert and I only had a rough idea of the location as we were following directions given to us by other teachers. But we found the site in the end.
This huge amount of scrap metal rusting (figure 29) in the desert is worthless. The reason is that depleted uranium, a by-product of uranium enrichment, is used in the armour-piercing shells that the Americans used. What better way to get rid of your radioactive waste than firing it at your enemies. The result is a lot of contaminated metal. It will lie there for many years to come. Unbeknown to us, there was a military base nearby, and we were soon spotted by some soldiers who came over and arrested us. We were questioned in broken English and our cameras were confiscated but not before I had removed my camera’s memory card. One of the soldiers seemed to think that my friend’s garage remote was a secret device. I had to mime opening and closing a garage door with sound effects to try to get this idiot to see sense. We had to report the next day to the army headquarters to collect these items. We were politely questioned by a well-spoken Kuwaiti officer and given tea. He asked if we worked for CNN. A subservient Pakistani officer brought the tea and his Kuwaiti superior made derogatory comments about him after he’d left.
I didn’t enjoy living in Kuwait at all. The culture is extremely misogynistic and racist. If you have not lived or worked in a Muslim country before, especially in the Middle East, you have no idea. The whole region has a mindset from the Middle Ages with the added danger that they have modern technology. I heard horror stories of how Indian workers were treated. An English colleague told of how, when he was at a ministry building renewing his work permit, he was ushered to the front of the queue and saw lines of Indian and Pakistani workers being shouted at and hit by Kuwaiti officials. I did some private tuition on the side and saw one of my students, a seventeen-year-old Kuwaiti youth, being extremely rude to his adult servant because he had not made his birthday cake the way he wanted it. Another colleague spoke of how he knew of two Sri Lankan maids who had been abducted and raped in the desert and left there bruised and traumatised. When they made a complaint to the police, they were charged with adultery. Their abductors were Kuwaitis.
Around every Valentine’s Day, there was a competition amongst the students to vote in the most good-looking male and female sixth formers. It was always Kuwaitis who were chosen. Roses were sold by sixth formers to raise money for the school, but it was alleged that much of the money went astray. A school geography trip was organised, and parents charged. The geography teacher, the wife of the maths head, said that the school was grossly overcharging the students. The school was a great earner for the owners.
In the one year I spent living in the country, I never did get my work permit. There was no good reason for this, but it meant that every time I left the country, I could not be sure of being allowed to board a flight back. It did not help that a friend of mine went down to see the person in charge of visas at the school and called him a lazy Jordanian bastard.
I did some private tuition during my time there and tutored four students together at one of their villas on the coast. I saw a row of luxury cars parked as I drove through the entrance. The father was very wealthy, and he used to own a Learjet. I asked why he no longer owned it and if it was because it was too expensive. He said no, they got rid of it because they did not use it.