Hello and welcome to Kuwait!

Hi! Are you moving to Kuwait soon? Fasten your seat-belts and join me for a virtual tour of a place you are soon to explore – probably on your first two days here. If you’re Kuwaiti and you have lived here all your life, you should join us on this trip . Chances are, you haven’t seen this before.

First things first! All expats, regardless of nationality and potential job position, have to establish residency when they first move to Kuwait. This means that one of their first adventures will be a trip to the “Ports and Borders Health Division; Expatriates Investigation Center” to ensure that they have the proper vaccinations and are not carrying any contagious diseases. Once expats pass this test, their civil ID is issued and they are welcomed aboard.

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting this “hospital” for the first time to get my Hepatitis B shots for my trip to Costa Rica. The sign outside did confuse me as it seemed to indicate that this is a place for expatriates only. But several nurses and doctors shoved pointed me to this place. This is the only public hospital that actually carries the Hep B vaccine and can almost “document it”. If you think I’m speaking in riddles, I do apologize, but I’m just as confused as you are by the absurd process in my own country. I went to several clinics that are authorized to give vaccinations and I heard the same response each time, “we don’t have the Hep A/B shots. We can give you the meningitis vaccination. But we can’t document it!” A nurse went so far as to say, “you’re going to Costa Rica? I only have the list of required vaccinations for Egypt. Will that do?” One of the doctors was more reassuring, “oh don’t worry about Hepatitis A. Even if you get sick, it won’t be too bad.”

Huh?

Anyway! This hospital is not far from Kuwait City but is in an area that is constantly under construction. Have no fear though, if you are new to Kuwait you will certainly be accompanied by a mandoob (an over-worked, under-paid representative from your employer who thinks he’s king of the world) who knows the ins and outs of Kuwait. He may or may not try to sell you a car on the way, give his insight on the political scene in Kuwait and the region, and provide you with horror tales about Kuwait. His tales may or may not be true. Your mandoob will lead you through the first gate and into purgatory where the low-skilled laborers will be milling around despite the scorching heat or the biting winds. If you’re an educator or a skilled professional, worry not. You will be ushered right in. If you’re American, European, or white enough to look like you are, an imaginary red carpet will be rolled out for you and the crowd will part to let you through.

Once inside the two storey building, you will face a hallway with no signs at all. Just mysterious, numbered doors; some wide open and others firmly shut. I imagine that’s how Alice must have felt with no idea which key opened what door or where it would take her. Trust your mandoob who has the right key (I’ll stop with the extended metaphor, now). Those of us without a personal assistant by our side find ourselves staring timidly at the doors.

I eventually tried to make my way into a crowded room. Big mistake. This one’s for low paid expats, I was told. Well, words to that effect. I was pointed upstairs to a room where a kind doctor in a white hijab sat. She asked me which vaccinations I wanted and scribbled them down on a white piece of paper. No signature or stamp required – I guess I could have brought my own note and no one would have known. Armed with the magical white paper, I headed downstairs and outside to a little shed where I was supposed to get my civil ID photocopied.I almost cried when I saw this. How is this acceptable in a country that makes over $11 billion in oil revenue every six months? WHERE is that money going? The sorry state of this “building” was only a reflection of what was going on inside. Over fifty men pushed each other to have their papers done first: photographs, photocopies, printing and only two men behind the counter to serve them all! I stood for over thirty minutes being pushed around. Every mandoob with a Westerner in tow would somehow make their way to the front of the crowd and be out in minutes. I eventually left because I figured it would be easier to photocopy my papers at home. I finally did get my shots (I had to go back another day) but I was really scarred and angered by the whole ordeal. I have no doubt that a person who just arrived to Kuwait would have a more jarring experience. Why wouldn’t they write home about it? Who wouldn’t mock Kuwait after visiting this hospital? The whole experience had the surreal feeling of being trapped in a parallel universe where nothing makes sense.

For my Hepatitis A shot, I just went to a private clinic to speed up the process. But I was very bitter. Why is money being poured into invisible buildings and not used to restructure the public sector or rebuild the hospitals? Why doesn’t Kuwait hire people who want to work and fire those who don’t? When will development projects be more than just newspaper headlines? I want to see and feel this development plan we’ve heard so much about. I am getting sick of seeing this side of Kuwait.

4 thoughts

  1. Hi F, when I was in Kuwait (and you know that was the 90′s) it seemed to me that Kuwaitis got the preferential treatment in government offices, then Europeans and Americans, then the rest. But you’re absolutely right. The country you would think would have really nice facilities in the government and smooth processes to get things done. It sounds like a lot of other countries actually, even here in the U.S. in the immigration offices or a lot of other government offices. I try to avoid them!

    I did have an interesting day in Kuwait getting my visitor visa renewed. It was all you described, the pecking order, the facilities (I nearly fainted from the heat in some areas – big shot guys had air conditioned offices). I didn’t have a mandoob, but I think I got a self appointed mandoob, a Lebanese-American/Kuwaiti young man helped me finally get the stamps I needed on my passport after I had been in the building on every floor jumping through hoops to get my visa only to be told to go somewhere else! I think the whole process took me most of the day and I visited various offices, argued with a soldier over whether or not I should be there in the first place, had tea with some big shot guy just because he felt like it and he wanted to hear me say a few things in Arabic, gave a U.S. geography lesson and had some ice cream in another guy’s office. It was really confusing and funny. Probably wouldn’t have been funny if I had other important things to do, but I didn’t. :-D

  2. The money is going into somebody’s pocket, because not only is there no excuse for this stuff, there is also no excuse for the state of public hospitals, public schools, and telecommunication in Kuwait. None whatsoever. What does worry me is the fact that they can’t document your shot. It makes me wonder if they are licensed to give it, and if the actual shot is legit in the first place. For a country that is so concerned with infectious illnesses, they sure as hell don’t go to any measure to protect their people or visitors to the country. It saddens me that I can no longer trust my own country to provide health care, for fear that a careless doctor (and there’s a lot of them) will make me ill instead of help me get better. It’s unacceptable. I hope for mankind’s sake things change.

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