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...a sweatshop of moxie

Friday, August 04, 2006

Kuwaiti Dreams

Yesterday, I was exceedingly busy running errands, which included ferretting my father around in the car.

This provides us good quality time together, and on top of that, I get to drive his monster German ride, which I love to do.

I had just dropped him off at a Ft. Lauderdale hospital, when I decided to revisit that Lebanese food mart where I had bought my Caffe Najjar that time.

I sidled up next to a black car, which didn't look like much from behind, until you got closer.

That's right...

...a shiny, spiffy, black Bentley.

The kind Puff Daddy rides around in, as well as any Brunei potentate worth his salt.

The Queen, of course, wouldn't be caught dead in one of these, since she favours the hearse-like Daimler -- but then she's a true aristocrat who sends her bedsheets to be darned, and recycles hundred year-old kilts, because thrift is how you show your breeding.

I peered into the Bentley, ever so discretely.

A woman, about 25 I would say, but already heavy-set and careworn, covered in a floral white headscarf -- you know, the kind which makes President Chirac plotz, a hijab.

In one motion, I took in the scene, wondering what a woman like that was doing inside a Bentley in the middle of Ft. Lauderdale, with a claustrophic heatwave reaching 100F, at the same time pretending I was opening my handbag for something or other.

I went into the shop.

A tall, ruddy-faced American man was seated on a chair, wearing a bluetooth headset. At the back, there was my old buddy, the shopowner, serving a little guy no more than 5'2 at the outside.

I waited, checking out the racks of Arabic-languaged newspapers and magazines (hmm, they have the same cheesy need for gossip about their stars, as the National Enquirer assures us we do about ours).

Near that, were the DVDs and CDs, showcasing the best of Arab talent, and let's face it, they need all the help they can get.

I finally chose one called "Arab DJ Tops Hits, Vol 5" (hard to imagine there could've been 4 before), which had yet another version of that famous famous pop song, Habibi by the Egyptian Ricky Martin, Amir Diab.

Just in case you're curious, here's the .ram version.

Starts out a bit Cuban salsa-ish, I thought, before descending into the interminable hook, Habibi...Habibi...Habibi.

Talk about milking one hit song forever, Captain and Tenille.

But back to the shop.

I waited by the till, when the little man came to pay for his items.

The American guy was still seated, but something then told me, he wasn't a customer. He had the air of a bodyguard -- a touch of brutality about him, combined with an all-business demeanour.

He certainly wasn't going to wrestle me for the last baklava, I thought.

As the shopowner rang up the little man's items, I gave the chap the once over.

Slight, about 40ish, thinning hair, swarthy complexion, bird-like features. I noticed he was wearing those rather loose shorts favoured by many in the so-called Third World -- like swimming trunks from the 1970s, and just as colourful.

His were orange.

He paid for his two calling cards (special rates to the Middle East, no doubt), his coffee, his sweets, and his magazines with a Platinum AmEx. Hmm, okay.

The little man was nondescript phyiscally, but something about him said he thought himself very important. He had the quiet expectation of someone who is used to being served.

I waited as the shopowner and he finished their business, with many "Inshallah"s being bandied about (but no "Allah" I noticed, which is not surprising since the shopowner is Christian Lebanese) as he left.

The tall American guy, I noticed, opened the door for the little man as he went out.

Hah. I know -- he must be an ambassador, or some such.

Of course, I was curious to know more, with a Bentley outside, with his big galoot of a bodyguard, his hijab-wearing wife and his Platinum American Express.

After selecting my pita, and babaganoush, and yes, taking a few baklava home with me (for my dog), I broached the topic.

"That gentleman looked important. He's an ambassador, perhaps."

"Who, that man?"


"An ambassador, heh. No, no, he's a regular guy. From Kuwait."

"Oh really. How jolly interesting."

"Yes. He and his wife are here in South Florida with their baby son, who is ill."

"Oh dear."

"Yes. The Kuwaiti government is paying for everything, you know."

"Wow. That's fantastic. But you said he's a regular guy -- surely he must do something important to warrant such treatment?"

"No. At least, he didn't say that.

He told me that the Kuwaiti government gives any citizen who has to have hospital treatment outside of the country, round-trip tickets, provides them accomodations, pays for the hospital bills in full, plus gives them a chauffeur-driven car, bodyguard/translator, and on top of that..."


"$15,000 per month for expenses."

"Good LORD."

"Yes. It must be good to be Kuwaiti."

I looked at him carefully. I smiled. He smiled back. And then I said,

"Listen, don't take this the wrong way, but we're talking about a man who has a baby in hospital, but who himself wears orange shorts, whilst his wife is wearing a carpet from head-to-toe in 100 degree weather, stuck inside a car almost like a prisoner.

All in all, I'd rather be a Lebanese shop owner, or a British expat woman, in these United States. Even without a Rolls and $15,000 per month."

He at first stepped back, taken off-guard by my frankness, and then said smilingly,

"You're right", chuckling at the crazy girl who dared to listen to Amir Diab long after his sell-by-date.

Sometimes, you know, all the money in the world cannot make up for the little freedoms we were born to expect.

Sure, some people have it good, and some people have it better.

You just have to know which one is a dream, and which one is a reality.


  • Incidents like that one (with all their details) do indeed serve to reorient you to reality.

    One item, though: why wouldn't a Lebanese Christian mention "Allah"? So far as I'm aware, Arabic-speaking Christians all agree that Jesus is Allah's only begotten son (note: I'm aware that's Christian theology, not Muslim -- but "Allah" is Allah is Allah).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 04, 07:55:00 pm GMT-4  

  • One item, though: why wouldn't a Lebanese Christian mention "Allah"? So far as I'm aware, Arabic-speaking Christians all agree that Jesus is Allah's only begotten son (note: I'm aware that's Christian theology, not Muslim -- but "Allah" is Allah is Allah).

    Yes, indeed, it's the general Arabic word for God, but I had taken it to understand that Lebanese Christians used "Yahweh", no?


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Aug 04, 10:16:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Heh, you call this 'light blogging'? ;-)

    How goes the new PC?

    All shipshape and Bristol fashion?

    By Blogger Kullrad, at Sat Aug 05, 07:08:00 am GMT-4  

  • Sweet Be-Jebus! $15K a month? Everyone I know isn't worth $15K, period! Oh, Sundries, will you be my T.E. Lawerence to my Omar Sharif? The bridge games alone! ;-)

    By Blogger Ron, at Sat Aug 05, 05:34:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Great post, link-worthy even (I'll get around to it, don't worry).

    Truly, for most women it is better to be free and poor here than the wife or daughter of a fanatic gynophobe from any of the oil rich gulf states.

    Traditions are one thing, insane disregard for half the human race's humanity is another.

    By Blogger XWL, at Sun Aug 06, 12:24:00 am GMT-4  

  • I'm with XWL! Still waiting for the American so-called Feminists to do something positive for Muslim women. But, as always, their silence is deafening. If they can't blame GW, then they are speechless.

    If he said "Inshallah" then he certainly mentioned Allah. Isn't that the arabic for 'Allah[God] willing'?

    By Blogger benning, at Wed Aug 09, 08:20:00 am GMT-4  

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