Save The Kuwait Bookshops

Posted 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.

kuwaitbookshop4

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.

kuwaitbookshop2

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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Meet People, Make Friends

Posted by Mark

meetpeople

A lot of people complain about how difficult it is to meet people in Kuwait and they’re generally right. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible and there are a number of ways you can go about making new friends and one way is with meetup.com. Although it sounds like a dating site, Meetup is actually a way for groups of people who share similar interests to get together and socialize. Just by visiting the main Meetup home page you will see there are quite a few different meetups taking place in Kuwait ranging from a Toastmasters club to an expats club. So if you’re looking to socialize more check out [Meetup]


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The Avenues Phase 4

Posted by Mark

phase4

Construction work on The Avenues Phase 4 has begun and the new extension will officially include the following:

– A five-star hotel
– Grand Avenue extension
– Prestige extension
– The Electra District, modeled after Times Square in New York
– The Plaza District, inspired by Piazza San Marco in Venice
– The Orchid District, an area with boutiques and hanging gardens with restaurants at the center
– More entertainment options

orchid

They are planning to have Phase 4 completed by late 2016. You can see a rendering of the Orchid District as well as the hotel in an old Avenues Mall animation [Here]. Not sure how accurate those two areas are but everything else in the video was already built and in reality looks similar to whats in the video.

Thanks ChaoticTranquility

Update: According to a contact of mine it seems I might have highlighted both Phase 4 and 5 in yellow on the first map on top. Also I was informed there is a plan for an underpass or bridge similar to Marina Mall that would cross over (or under) the Ghazali highway to the other side where more phases will be built in the future (check map below).

avenuesphase10


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Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 1

Posted by Mark

Back in May while doing some research about Kuwait in the old days I contacted a person by the name of John Beresford and asked him if he had any old photographs or videos of Kuwait from back in the old days. Turns out he didn’t have any videos but he did have some photos and more importantly, a treasure of information, mostly stories of simple things from life back then that many people might have forgotten or not even have known about. I’ve been trying to figure out how to share this trove of fascinating info for the past week and just decided I would share it in parts.

This is
Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 1
by John Beresford

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Ahmadi was built from scratch, power, drains, everything. My father arrived in April 1949 – he missed the last flying boat service by a week which always disappointed him – he fancied the flight from Beirut via the Iraqi Marshes to Shuwaik. One of the people he arrived with got up, walked to the door, looked out and went back to sit down – he did not get off the plane. Dad did and spent 2 weeks in a tent before graduating to a nissen hut, which was far too hot – with limited power there was no overhead fan. He shared with some fairly coarse drillers from Oklahoma who kept a pistol which was passed around in turn to everyone. It was the job of the person with the pistol to go outside at night and shoot any braying donkeys that were keeping people awake. The only thing he kept from the experience was a taste for iced tea and a distaste for drillers.

My parents got married in 1954. Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) gave them a married quarter and equipped it. Furniture, linen, plates, cutlery, aluminium saucepans, were supplied. I still use the cutlery – EPNS from Mappin and Webb, and some for the saucepans and chip pans. They are stamped with ‘KUOCO’. The crockery had a green band around the edge – I don’t remember who made it. You supplied your own curtains, carpets and bedding. There was nowhere to buy such things so KOC had a commissariat and issued such items. Later on, in the 1960’s, it decided to stop doing this and let everyone keep what they had already received. There was a laundry in the industrial area, North of the South tank farm, where items could be laundered, dry cleaned and starched if necessary. I threw away an old KOC laundry box this summer- it had been used to store tools in the garage. The system was pretty much the same as the army used, and most people employees had been in the forces. They had been posted overseas and had little desire to return to the UK as it was cold, depressed and depressing. Quite a few had been in the British Palestine Police and after 1948 moved elsewhere. There was quite a mix of people around; Dad liked playing rugby in Basrah because there were lots of nightclubs and shows populated by white Russian dancers who could not go back home.

house1

In the picture of the front room note:

– The gas fire – every KOC European/US house had a gas fire , and we used it!

– There is an electrical fan on the floor. I don’t know if this means there was no air-conditioning yet. Overhead fans did exist. The air-conditioning was not as nowadays, with individual units to each room. KOC had a central Ice Plant, that produced ice (obvious from the name) and a lot of cold water. This was piped around the European part of Ahmadi (the management/supervisory accommodation) because managers and supervisors tended to be European, and had higher spec accommodation. The Indians and Pakistanis (IPs) had their area and type of houses, and the Arabs had theirs. Arab managers had management houses. The original drains were made of cast iron and the manager in charge of the domestic infrastructure got bored and did a survey to see haw the drains stood up to use. His conclusion was that the drains in the IP areas corroded more quickly that in the Arab areas, and the Europeans’ drains corroded least of all. He attributed this to the diet.

However, reverting to the a/c, the insulated pipes carried the chilled water to the main a/c unit in every house, and from there cooled air was pumped around the houses. It was an efficient way of supplying a/c. The houses had large ducts made of asbestos sheet that cooled most rooms. I don’t know of anyone that has blamed any subsequent cancer on having had their a/c ducts made of it. Of course when my father had been doing some plumbing and had failed to complete it before the ice plant started to pump its cool water around town he had to phone up and tell them to stop the pump until he was all watertight again! As he was by this time in charge of Ahmadi’s services as well as the oil company’s electrics he could get away with a lot.

– The standard lamp is the one issued by KOC. The entire front room looks shockingly similar to the 1950s room in the Geffrye Museum – a small museum in London, North of Liverpool Street Station, that displays the British domestic front room throughout the centuries. So many people had rooms like the one in the museum. Especially the textiles.

oldhouse

The photo above shows the house after my parents had moved in. There is no garden. It was easier to get the fence and other bits from KOC and build your own. Dad bought concrete flagstones and brought them home 2-3 at a time. In the distance another house is being built. This is up in the Ridge area of Ahmadi. Our house backed onto desert (from the photo at this time it seems to have fronted onto desert as well) and at the back were well heads from the Ahmadi field. In 1956 someone took exception to the Suez Crisis and blew one of them up. This really annoyed my mother. I had 24 terry nappies that were reusable and most of them had been boiled and were hanging on the line when the explosion happed. The fire that resulted covered them all in oily soot and Mum never managed to get them white again. The clean up afterwards she never forgot. Things had to be cleaned. If she had thrown them away there were no more to be obtained. This ridge area was covered in houses when we left in 1972. Houses were every 30-40 yards or less. As it started to drop down the long incline to the sea the slope arrived at the Hubara Club, and the golf course, neither of which had been built when this photo was taken.

Some houses were called PMQs others were called Swedes because they were wooden houses, prefabricated and shipped in from Sweden. Ours was made of Basrah brick which is quite soft. Generally the Americans had bigger houses and earned more money because they were Americans. It was said that everything cost more in the USA. If it did then, it certainly does not nowadays. Everyone had their grade of housing – very much like the armed forces. Bachelors had their accommodation in the guest house where we sometime went on fridays to have a curry. Only rarely, but we enjoyed it greatly. Again, the ‘Bachelors’ Mess’ was modelled on the armed forces.

One way or another you could get most things from KOC. After prohibition came in he and one of his staff, who had worked in a distillery, had the fitters in the electrical division make a still, a proper one, with thermostats, electrical heating, a cooled column for fractionalisation with about 800 marbles in it to increase the surface area for condensation, and the distillate was filtered through charcoal. They then distilled it a 2nd time for purity and then converted it into whatever tipple they wanted, usually gin and brandy. A mail order shop in New York sold food colouring and ingredients especially designed for home-made hooch. The cook made the caramel for the brandy (Dad liked the treacly taste of the Cypriot Keo brandy) and to add flavour he threw a handful of white oak chips into each bottle to simulate aging in a cask. Once his shipment got stopped by Kuwaiti customs and he had to explain what it was for to get release; he said that the white oak chips were for smoking fish, and took along an article explain how kippers were made to help. After much scepticism the shipment was released.

I mentioned a cook. KOC gave managerial staff an allowance to be spent on a servant. The choice was an ayah or a cook. We had a cook. He was a fantastic cook. He was a Pakistani and before partition had been a demonstration chef at the Indian Army School of Cookery. He could cook anything well and knew all western culinary techniques, and if he had forgotten he said so, and asked for a Larousse or some such to refresh his memory. He must have been quite old as he remembered being caught in the great Quetta earthquake and that was in the 1920s.

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End of Part 1


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Auditions: Cinderella – A Family Pantomime

Posted by Mark

cinderella

Staged in Kuwait are having rehearsals for their first scripted show of the season. If you’re interested in auditioning, check out the info below:

Our family favourite, the Christmas panto is back at the fabulous 400 seater, Performing Arts Centre, TES, Salmiya this December. (Dec. 3rd – 6th)

We are looking for a host of characters to bring this glittering story to life. Are you an utterly Ugly Sister, a charming Prince, a sinfully sweet Cinderella, a bumbling Baron, or a beastly Baroness? Maybe a fluffy fairy or a dashing duke?

We have a wide array of parts on offer for men and women of all ages (18+) and just need you to come and show us what you’ve got! We also need an ensemble of singers/dancers so if you don’t feel ready to step into a speaking role don’t be shy – come and try out for the chorus.

Whether you have performed in a panto before or not, we guarantee that SIK pantos are always a huge amount of fun, both in rehearsal and in performance. Come and try out this week!

When: Wednesday October 1st: 7pm – 9pm
Location: The SIK Studio, Fintas (Details and map)

What should I prepare?
You don’t need to prepare anything but please come ready to learn a few simple dance steps (comfy clothes) and sing. Those wishing to audition for principal parts will be asked to read scenes from the script.

More details [Here]


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Excavator crashes through roof

Posted by Mark

excavator

A reader sent me a picture they took yesterday in Al Riggae in which an excavator that was demolishing a building from the roof down ended up falling through the building. No idea what happened to the operator of the excavator.

Demolishing buildings by placing an excavator on the roof is a common method in Kuwait and it obviously isn’t safe. But, there doesn’t seem to be a law against it and I’m sure the operators aren’t paid much to risk their lives. Below is a picture I had previously taken of an excavator demolishing a building from the roof just to give you a clearer idea of what I’m talking about.

excavatoronroof

Thanks Riba


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Escape to Oman

Posted by Mark

oman1

Ali Husain has been organizing trips to Oman for awhile now but I only recently found out about them through a friend of mine. Ali is a Kuwaiti who used to travel to Oman on a monthly basis to hike and discover new places but he ended up completely moving there back in 2012 because he loved the place so much.

According to Ali, the mountains in Oman are rugged yet majestic and unfortunately, not many people know about the real beauty of Oman. It always upsets him every time he asks a person about Oman and the only thing they know is the Shangri-La hotel which is not a representation of anything real in Oman. Oman has so many hidden jewels, unique mountains, caves and waterfalls to offer but no one is willing to put the effort to leave the comfort of a hotel room. So, Ali decided to start a new outdoor community in the Gulf.

oman2

Every few months Ali organizes trips to Oman from Kuwait. The trips are available usually on weekends and they are all about team work and creating a mini community in a magical setup. Everyone on these trips works together to set up camps, cut wood, cook meals, etc. It is a full on schedule usually for two days with hardly any sleep. There are no hotels or proper bathroom and everyone will have to go back to basics in everything.

oman3

Right now Ali has two upcoming trips this October. The first trip is from October 9th to 11th and its to the the largest caving system in the region. It is an amazing experience like no other places on this planet. The second trip takes place from October 16th to October 18th and is to the summit of the highest point in the Gulf, Jebal Shams at 10,000 ft. The cost is KD150 per person and that includes food, beverages, camping gear and transportation but does not include airfare to Oman or any hotel stays before or after the trip. Most of the trips require a high level of endurance and acceptance is usually based on that.

So if you’re interested in exploring Oman you can contact Ali on husaak@gmail.com or whatsapp +96599635414. You can also follow him on instagram where you can see many more amazing pictures @husaak


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Kuwait Towers could become a World Heritage Site

Posted by Mark

kuwaittowers

The Kuwait Towers are now on UNESCO’s tentative list to become a World Heritage site. The first report was submitted back in May and later accepted by UNESCO in July. It’s only the first step but if it does get approved, then the Kuwait Towers will become the first modernist building in the entire Gulf region to be designated a World Heritage Site.

There are a number of reasons UNESCO found the Kuwait Towers a suitable candidate including the fact that when the Kuwait Towers was designed and built it was a complex task to allocate a big volume of water at a high level, in an elegant object and in such a delicate location. The symbolism behind the Kuwait Tower also sparked their interest, Kuwait being a barren dry desert while the Kuwait Towers representing water, the symbol of life. It’s an interesting report which you can check out [Here]

kuwaittowers2

But, as many of you are aware, the Kuwait Towers are currently closed and although my investigation didn’t result in a conclusive reason to whats going on right now, I did manage to get some idea.

For a building to become a World Heritage Site it’s not an easy process involving a lot or requirements. If the Kuwait Towers does becomes a World Heritage Site then it will no longer just belong to Kuwait but it will belong to all of humanity (figuratively speaking). So if later someone in Kuwait decides they want to change the spheres from blue to gold and cover them in Swarovski crystals, they would have to get permission from UNESCO first. But, for the Kuwait Towers to become a World Heritage Site it also needs to be restored to the original state and this is where I understood the issue is.

kuwaittowers3

The Kuwait Towers were undergoing an internal makeover to make the interior look more Kuwaiti. To UNESCO that means destroying the integrity of the building and UNESCO requires the interior to keep its original elements. For the Kuwait Towers to gain the World Heritage status, they now need to flip through all the old documents and photos and try to restore the Kuwait Towers interior as close as possible to the original state from railings to the carpet.

On a similar note, the Kuwait National Assembly Building which was designed by the Opera Sydney House architect Jørn Utzon was also submitted to UNESCO to become a World Heritage Site. Sadly it was rejected with the main reason being the huge ugly extension that was built adjacent to it.

For a wealth of information on the Kuwait Towers and some construction related documents, check out my favorite source [Here]


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Staged in Kuwait is Back

Posted by Mark

sik

Staged in Kuwait Productions is back and ready to start a new season. They have bunch of try outs coming up so if you’re interested here’s some info:

comedy

Comedy Team Try Outs
Tonight, Wednesday 10th September, the SiK Comedy team meet for the first time at the SIK Studio in Fintas and start preparing for the first SiK Comedy Night of the season.

If you have always wanted to make the world laugh come along and try out in our informal audition/workshop first session.

The session meets from 7pm – 9pm. For full information check out this [Link]

madmusicals

Mad Musicals 10 – Join the Cast
What do you get when you take a song from each of the Top 25 longest running Broadway and West End Musicals and put them together into one massive Musical Theatre show? Mad Musicals of course! And this year it’s the tenth and final outing for this show series.

Come and join the ensemble for this fun show this Friday, September 12th, at 2pm for the first rehearsal. Location: Sik Studio, Fintas.

The show will hit the stage October 15/16/17 2014.

No Auditions – just turn up and get involved!

If you can sing a little, dance a little and want to meet new people and get involved in Kuwait’s most followed community theatre group this is the event for you. The first of five Friday rehearsals as we Put On A Show. For full information check out this [Link]

drama

Drama Classes for Kids and Adults
There is just one week left to sign up for the SiK Drama classes for this term. We want to help you or your children build a performance skill set, develop your confidence and learn the foundations of good stage craft. These fun sessions will help you do all that and more.

Classes start next week and there are still a few spots left. Mondays is Adult class (16+), Tuesdays is for Children age 7 – 10 and Wednesdays is for children aged 11 – 14.

For full details, and to sign up, for this exciting addition to our season check out our website [Here]


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Chowking Now Open in Kuwait

Posted by Mark

chowking

Chowking the Philippine-based fast food chain opened up their first branch in Kuwait over the weekend. I passed by on Saturday evening just to check the place out and it was insanely packed with long lines and nowhere to sit. The menu consists mainly of fried chicken, dimsums and noodles (you can check it out here).

They opened their first branch in Salmiya near Johnny Rockets and Shake Shack where Dunkin Donuts used to be. That specific location is considered cursed due to the amount of places that have opened up and shut down over the years but I think Chowking has the potential to break the curse. Here is a link to their [Facebook Page]


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