The story behind Wizr, Kuwait’s Greatest Driver

Post by Mark

wizr

Back in October I wrote about Keith Wells, a British journalist who was living in Kuwait back in the 70s. Keith used to work for Arab Times and in his spare time he also used to write books about Kuwait, including a witty series on a character named Wizr who was Kuwait’s greatest driver. Between 1979 and 1984, Keith released three Wizr books which I’m lucky enough to own all three. A few days ago Keith got in touch with me and I asked him if he could tell me how it all started. This is what he shared with me:

I originally wrote the stories for the Arab Times which became very popular. Then I met Peter McMahon at a party, and he hadn’t read any of the stories and asked, “Who is this Wizr character?” “I said, he’s the young, trendy Kuwaiti guy with the scarlet Transam with the eagle decal on the bonnet.’ So Peter picked up a sheet of paper,scribbled away for a minute or two, then held it out and asked “Him?” It was perfect. Thereafter we became close friends. I’d write a story, take it to his flat every Friday, and he’d give me the cartoon from the week before’s story. He somehow drew exactly what I’d imagined. The combination became very popular indeed and after a month or two we were approached by Tony Jashanmal, who owned a department store on Fahed Salem St, and Bashir Khatib, who owned the Kuwait Bookshop to publish a book full of the stories. We had a 3 way partnership to print the book at The Arab Times and Launched it at the British Embassy Garden Fete in November 1979, a week or so before I married Suzi. We sold 428 copies in about two hours… amazing.

We carried on for just over a year, then Peter was murdered by Saddam Hussein’s goons, long sad, sad story… but the upshot was that I sort of lost the fun, we put out the second Wizr book with cartoons we hadn’t used in the first one. And the third book with odd scraps and recycled pics. By then it was getting a bit heavy with the Iran Iraq War getting very dangerous and I left the Arab Times and took a very low profile job teaching at the university of Kuwait. After 4 years there I went back to the paper and wrote more stories with an Indian cartoonist called Edgar, but they were never collected in book form. I left Kuwait in June ’87. We emigrated to Oz in Oct 1989, and the following March I had a massive heart attack in a small town in southern Queensland. After recovering, we spent the rest of our working lives doing PhDs in Communication Studies, and setting up Comm Depts in various universities and colleges in Macau, Singapore, Morocco, The Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

I’ve been a bit of a hermit since retiring in ’07, but am beginning to re-emerge and was very surprised and grateful for the interest in Wizr and Dozi and his pals. Someone told me a few years ago that the fabulous cartoon of Dozi with the two rubber stamps “PERHAPS” and “PERHAPS NOT” is to be found in many offices to this day. Peter would have loved that.

– Keith Wells


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The Kuwait Cat’s Meat Crisis

Post by Mark

catstory

The Qatar Digital Library have published an article about a scandal in Kuwait in the 1930s when one restaurant was accused of using cat meat instead of mutton. It’s an interesting read and it also sounds like an incident that could take place today. Kuwait really hasn’t changed much. [Link]


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Comedy in Kuwait back in the 50s

Post by Mark

comedy

The lovers of humor and comic stuff had the chance in Kuwait back in the fifties to enjoy it through the comic magazine “Al-Fukaha” which means humor in English.

“Al-Fukaha” magazine was released in October 1950, the chief editor was Farhan Rashed Alfarhan and the owner was Abdullah Al-Khaled Al-Hatem.

At first, it was printed in Kuwait. Then, they started printing it in the Syrian capital Damascus and the distribution of this comic magazine was in Kuwait.

“Al-Fukaha” that was released in 1950 continued until 7th February 1951 and then stopped. It was released again on July 20th 1954 but stopped one more time on 24th November 1958.

First time I’m hearing of this. [Link]

Thanks Farran


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Women of the Resistance

Post by Mark

This is a Sheila MacVicar ABC News report produced and edited from inside Kuwait City just after the Iraqi forces fled at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War. The segment was broadcast on World News Tonight March 7, 1991. It features many of the brave women that took on a major role of resisting the occupying Iraqi forces that had taken over the besieged city.

This short report was uploaded a few hours ago on Vimeo and sheds a bit of light on some of the Kuwaiti women resistance during the 1990 Iraqi invasion. [Vimeo]

1990


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The KOC Archive: Kuwait’s Old Police Force

Post by Mark

police

I’m going to start sharing some of the photos I got from my last trip to the KOC photography archive. This group of photos in this post are of the old Kuwaiti police force, I don’t have a specific date but I’d say the photos were probably taken in the 60s.

Photos courtesy of the KOC Information Team.


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British Troops Defend Kuwait (1961)

Post by Mark

British Pathé have been uploading their historic archive of news onto YouTube and awhile back they uploaded this short clip related to Kuwait which I had somehow missed. [YouTube]

Thanks Roberto

britshtroops


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Save The Kuwait Bookshops

Post by Mark

kuwaitbookshop1

As a kid growing up in Kuwait in the 80s I used to pass by Muthana Complex in Kuwait City all the time with my family. Back then Muthana Complex was what Avenues is to Kuwait today, it was a beautiful mall and it used to get pretty packed on weekends. We had friends who lived in the apartments in Muthana so we were there pretty often, probably once a week. Whenever we used to be done visiting our friends we would head into the mall and the first shop we would see was The Kuwait Bookshops. We’d always walk in and either me or my sister would always end up leaving with a book or a magazine. But the Kuwait Bookshops was around way before the 80s and way before I was born. Last night I sat down with the owner of the bookshop Bashir Alkhatib and this is the story of The Kuwait Bookshops.

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The History

Bashir moved to Kuwait in 1959 after studying in the US. He started working at the Ministry of Information and grew frustrated really quickly that he couldn’t buy any books in Kuwait. He used to love to read and there wasn’t any place that sold books so he thought to himself, this town needs a bookshop. In 1961 he opened The Kuwait Bookshops in the Thunayan AlGhanim building on Soor Street. It was one of the most advanced buildings in Kuwait at the time and one of the first to have an elevator. According to Bashir, the bedouins used to come in from the desert and stand in line to watch “the horse” that can go up and down. Back then the Thunayan AlGhanim building also housed the KOC offices as well as the British Consulate and they were his best customers. Bashir continued to work at the Ministry while also running the bookshop, he actually had to work at the Ministry overtime so he could afford to pay the expenses of the bookshop.

alghanimbuilding

One of the bookshops customers was a British guy who used to come in regularly to pick up the English paper The Times. One day he came in to pick up the paper but he couldn’t find any so he asked Bashir, why don’t you have The Times? Bashir replied telling him he hadn’t paid the bill so they stopped sending his bookshop the papers. He asked him how come you didn’t pay the bill? Bashir told him that he didn’t have the money so he couldn’t. Turns out the customer was a manager at Gulf Bank and told him to pass by him at the bank. So Bashir went to Gulf Bank and sat with the manager who asked him, whats your dream? Bashir told him his dream was to have a bookshop similar to the ones in England and the US. After around an hour of chatting the manager told him he would give him an overdraft of KD10,000 guaranteed by the manger himself. Bashir took the money and got on the plane and headed to London where he met with various publishers. He managed to strike deals on credit where he would be able to buy books and newspapers and pay them back 90 days later which helped him a lot financially. The Kuwait Bookshops became one of the first to import books and newspapers to the Gulf.

In 1964 he opened his second location in Ahmadi due to popular request since his KOC customers kept asking for a location closer to them. Bashir used to originally get his magazines and papers from England but there was a distribution company that used to get magazines and newspapers from the US so in 1970 he decided to purchase that distribution company. Due to the amount of books, magazines and newspapers they were getting they had to get a warehouse to store all the items since there wasn’t enough space in the Soor and Ahmadi locations to display everything. Then in the mid 80s Muthana Complex started being built down the street from their Soor location so he purchased a shop there. In 1986 Muthana opened and The Kuwait Bookshops was one of the first shops to open there.

bookshop1990

In 1990 the invasion happened and the shop got ransacked by the Iraqi soldiers. After the invasion Bashir went to his publishers one by one and asked them how much he had owed them but the publishers all told him that any debt he owed before the invasion would be wiped clean and they would start fresh from again. In 1992 The Kuwait Bookshops reopened and it’s been there ever since.

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The Present

Due to irreconcilable differences between the partners, The Kuwait Bookshops is currently at risk of getting liquidating. The only way to save the bookshop is to buy out the other partner. If by December 5th the bookshop isn’t saved, then the bookstore along with it’s history will vanish. It’s depressing because The bookshop is a part of Kuwait’s heritage and once it’s gone its gone. There is currently a hashtag being used #savekuwaitbookshops on Instagram and Twitter so if you do pass by the store please hashtag your photos. Maybe with enough awareness someone will come in and help save the shop. If anyone by any chance is interested in possibly buying out the other partner, please [Email Me]

Note: First photo on top taken by Fabio Sabatini. Second photo taken by Nadia Nader.


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Kuwait didn’t look like Kuwait

Post by Mark

koc1

While flipping through the photos I brought back home from KOC I found these three which I loved because of the fact they look nothing like Kuwait. The first one on top I’m guessing is from the Anglo American School, the second photo is of a house in Ahmadi while the last photo from the Gazelle Club.

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koc3

Photos courtesy of the KOC Information Team.


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The KOC Photography Archive

Post by Mark

koc2

Earlier today I visited the Kuwait Oil Company offices in Ahmadi since a friend of mine helped me get permission to access their full photography archive. So, I headed there with my portable hard drive expecting to find a few interesting images that I’d copy and then leave. That didn’t exactly happen and I’m not sure I have the words to explain what I saw.

They have two rooms, the main archive room and a smaller negatives room. The negatives room is covered with drawers that are filled with film negatives of every event thats ever occurred in Ahmadi from the late 30s up till now. By every event I literally mean every event, every party, every play, every school activity, every PR activity… EVERYTHING. They’ve literally been documenting Ahmadi since Ahmadi started. Not only that but they’ve also been documenting Kuwait so there are a tons of old photos from all around Kuwait like the old market, Entertainment City, Muthana Complex, etc… you name it and they most likely will have it (except for photos of Kids R’ Us which I looked for and didn’t find). The room is extremely organized with different drawers containing different kind of activities so for example the negatives for the Social Activities are all located in two columns of drawers (around 8 drawers high). The highest drawer contains the oldest photos while the lowest drawer the newest. Each envelope is dated and has a description of what’s inside and there are over 300,000 negatives of which only around 50,000 have been digitized so far. The reason they didn’t lose majority of the archive during the 1990 invasion is because employees took boxes filled with negatives and hid them in their homes until the war was over.

koc1

I spent a bit of time flipping through the drawers but the majority of the time I was sitting in the main room where a computer is connected to their server containing all the digitized copies of the images. Finding photos involves searching for something specific, so for example you search for the word “market” and the database will pull out a list of names of all the envelopes that have the word market in them. You then read the descriptions and if you find one that is related to what you’re looking for, you need to copy the number and then go to a certain folder on the hard drive and search for that number to pull up the images. It’s not a very quick task at all.

So anyway, this is whats going to happen. Right now I have a hard drive filled with images from today which I am going to start posting next week probably under the heading “The KOC Archive” or something like that. I also told them I would visit them at least once a month so I could continue to dig through their archive. If there is anything specific you guys want me to find let me know and I’ll write it down and look for it on my next visit.


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Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 2

Post by Mark

Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s is a series of posts on simple things from life back then that many people might have forgotten or not even have known about.
If you missed the first part click [Here].

This is
Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 2
by John Beresford

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rugby

Kuwait Rugby Football Club – the first ‘Oval Ball’
My father, Paul Beresford, is doing the crowning. Photo probably taken 1949-1952. As the club house was a large nissen hut, it was held elsewhere – probably in the guest house as the Hubara Club was not built at this time. The club colours were black and amber hoops with black shorts ( alternate strip was red and white hoops with white shorts, if you had them). Note the set of rugby goal posts framing the crowning.

divingboard

Old Diving Board, Fintas, 1953
Fintas was a few huts and really just an area rather than a settlement. It was north of Fahaheel. From google maps it is now completely built up. Later on KOC fenced off a Families Beach just south of the North Pier. There were also beaches at the SBOA – Small Boat Owners’ Association and the CYC – Cumberland Yacht Club, just south of the South Pier and north of the Shaiba complex, that always smelled of sulphur. These were within the perimeter of the Mina Al Ahmadi complex.

rolling

Ahmadi, 1959
Me rolling around some of the Swedish prefabricated houses. The caption on the back says ‘John rolling round the Swedish houses’. I might have been driving it slowly. After all, it is a small roller, it wouldn’t go very fast, and there is nothing round to be hit so I might have been driving it. I don’t remember.

There are no eucalyptus trees in the photo. These were planted along every road with a hollow around the base of the trunk and the earth scooped into a circular wall around it. A lot of houses had tamarisk trees planted along the perimeter to lessen the wind and to give some shade. A lot of the roads around Ahmadi had pavements – hardly anyone walked along them as it was too hot. I remember once where the temperature got to 178 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun – 81.2 degrees c. the swimming pool in the Hubara Club was measured at about 108 degrees f (42 degrees c). I got out at 105 – no-one was swimming, we were all floating around like jellyfish. The water was above blood temperature and just warmed you up and we all became so lethargic. Since then I have wondered why a hot bath does not seem to have the same effect.

Yet I also remember once at the KOC Anglo American School, which only took children up to the age of 13 – there was a very limited choice of schooling in Kuwait at the time and KOC gave parents a grant to send children to boarding school back in the UK – all of us kids were grouped in the playground around a tap that had been dripping, and a large icicle had formed – it was the first we had seen. I caught the bus at 07:10 to go to school and we came home for lunch at 11:30. Dad arrived, and went back to work at about 12:15, and would be back at home at 16:30. At about 12:15 I got the bus back to school and was back at home at 15:30. In the middle of the morning we had break, and there would be a metal container of hot cocoa for us to drink, every day, whether it was summer or winter. It was piping hot and we were given enamel cups to drink from. These got too hot to use so the first children used to take 2 cups and pour the cocoa from one cup to the other in order to cool it down, which meant that half of the children got no cocoa at all. It was so hot – if you drank it immediately it did burn your lips. Of course, whether you really want a cup of hot cocoa in summer in Kuwait is a moot point. It was probably something about being British.

pickup

Paul with old Ford V-8 pick up #899, 1954
The seat looks to be really low relative to the window as Dad was about 5’10”. Looks like it would have made a fun little hot-rod.

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End of part 2


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