The Kuwaiti Violin Maker

Post by Mark

A few years ago I posted about a Kuwaiti violin maker and since its a slow news week, I decided to repost that article. You can check the original post [Here] but I’ve also copy pasted it below. It’s a very interesting story if you haven’t read it before:

Article originally posted on July 24th, 2013

Last night I passed by and met Haitham Al-Ghareeb, a local violin maker. We met at his small cozy workshop in Rawda located right outside his home. When you walk into his dimly lit workshop you’ll see a small diwaniya on the left with around a dozen violins hanging on the wall, while on the right hand side is his workstation where he crafts all his violins. He filled a kettle with water and put it on a small electric stove next to him and we started talking.

Back in 2000, Haitham was a oud player but was interested in getting into violins. He started looking for a good violin to buy in Kuwait but he couldn’t find any. Most of the violins available in the market back then were of poor quality from low end brands. That’s why Haitham decided to make his own violin using documents and instructions he found online.

Haitham hadn’t crafted any musical instruments before, he had dabbled with some minor oud repair but nothing major. This got me even more curious, how can a 25 year old with no previous woodworking skills be able to craft such a delicate instrument as a violin? Well the answer I believe might be in his genes. Haitham’s father, grand father and great grand father were all dhow builders. Woodworking had existed in his family for generations and it was just natural for him to be good at it.

Haitham’s first violin wasn’t flawless, it had mistakes and was made using locally sourced wood but yet the sound it produced to his ears was beautiful. This encouraged him to build a second better violin with imported tonewood (wood cut specifically for musical instruments). He started frequenting forums and participating in online communities where other violin craftsmen from around the world would share their tips and techniques. His violins kept improving with every build and soon he had his own tips and tricks to share with the community. He loved crafting violins so much that he quickly forgot about wanting to play them. He became obsessed in building and perfecting his own creations.

When Haitham first started making violins he was spending 4 hours a day working on them and each violin would take around 2 months to complete. Nowadays he’s too busy with work and family so it takes him around 9 months to complete a single violin. But he’s fine with that. He never started making violins with the intention to turning it into a profitable business. Even his prices have remained the same over the years even though his violins kept getting better and demand for them kept increasing. He just loves making violins and isn’t interested in expanding. It’s a hobby he’s just really good at. He also does a lot of repair work on violins which to many musicians is a lifesaver. Musicians bond with their instruments and having a local violin maker means that a damaged violin no longer needs to be discarded but instead can be repaired. Only two of the violins hanging on the wall were his, the rest were either in for repair or were being sold by other musicians.

Once we were done with the interview, Haitham served us some tea. Throughout the whole interview which lasted around 40 minutes I had watched him make us the tea using two kettles, a can filled with what I assume is tea leaves and a box filled with I don’t know what. He then skillfully poured the tea from the large kettle into three glasses that were sitting amongst a dozen on the table in front of us. The tea was delicious and to me summarized the kind of person that Haitham is, a perfectionist.

If you’d like to contact Haitham for any reason you can do so by emailing him on

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Unique Hype Lifestyle Boutique

Post by Mark

Unique Hype is a lifestyle instagram account that sells and trades in deadstock sneakers and streetwear. The account belongs to Mohsen, a Kuwaiti student currently residing in LA who wants to remain anonymous which is why I’m only sharing his first name. I found out about him around a year ago when he first started, back then he had less than 2,000 followers and today its over 20,000. Mohsen is a sneakerhead who is in the business of deadstock sneakers and streetwear, which basically means sold out items that you can no longer find in retail (like Yeezys). I personally source my own sneakers but sometimes I get stuck and thats when I contact Mohsen who usually can source them for me, like I’m currently looking for size US11 SoleBox UltraBOOST and he’s trying to find me a pair.

I asked Mohsen how he started and turns out it was out of necessity. Growing up he was always into sneakers and when he moved to the States to study, he started lining up outside shops whenever there were any big releases. But with big releases and limited quantity, once its your turn and they don’t have your size, you end up picking up any size available. And thats what Mohsen ended up doing, he’d line up for hours and then end up with a pair that weren’t his size, so he set up @uniquehypekw to start selling those pairs. Overtime the more he lined up the more connections he made and the more he bought, sold or traded. He started meeting people in line, like other resellers or kids who just stood in line to make a quick $30 or $40 selling the pairs. So Mohsen started making deals with these kids, instead of standing in line himself, he’d get in touch with these kids, offer to give them their cut if they’d buy the sneakers for him. He also started dealing with the other resellers and every now and then one would call him up whenever they needed to unload on a large batch of items. So one guy would call him up and be like hey, I’ve got 10 pairs of Yeezy 350’s if you want them, and Mohsen would have to agree to buy all 10 at an agreed price. The more he did it, the more popular he became as a seller and the more connections he made.

I personally find all this really fascinating obviously since I’m into sneakers but Mohsen has also saved me a lot of headache. Friends and strangers contact me all the time asking me how they could get a pair Yeezys and instead of me trying to find a pair for them or show them how to go about finding stuff, I just send them over to him. I’m actually waiting on my pair of OG NMD’s which he’ll be delivering to me later tonight. So if you’re ever looking to grab a pair of difficult to find sneakers or even sold out clothing like Supreme, Anti Social Social Club or whatever, try him out. He’s also willing to buy or trade with you in case you’ve got something he wants. [@uniquehypekw]

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Living on the Edge

Post by Mark

Incase you missed it, last week I posted about a bunch of teens who were able to sneak onto the roof of Al Hamra Tower. While checking the instagram account of one of the teens called Abood, I realized that sliding around the roof of Hamra Tower was probably one of the safest things the guy has done.

Abood who’s instagram account is @pk_spark enjoys climbing on top of towers and recklessly sit or stand right on the edge. The photos definitely look cool on instagram, but damn its also so not worth the risk. You can check out his public instagram account @pk_spark for a ton of photos, but he also has a YouTube channel with a bunch of videos (mostly parkour stuff) [Here].

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Followup on MMA Manager, Mishal Abul

Post by Mark

Mishal Abul on the left with Lorenz Larkin, Audie Attar, & Ramsey Nijem

Back in 2012 I posted about a friend of mine on the blog, Mishal Abul since every now and then I like to highlight a local talent or achievement. Back then I posted about how he was a partner at Paradigm Sports Management, a US based company that manages Football, Baseball and MMA athletes. The most popular fighter they were managing when then was Michael Bisping, and I thought that was a pretty cool achievement, that a guy from Kuwait was part of the team managing Bisping. Bisping wasn’t even that big of a star in 2012 but this year that changed when Bisping caused one of the biggest upsets in the UFC title fight history to become the UFC Middleweight Champion. So the fact that a Kuwaiti is a partner in a company that manages Michael Bisping is already an amazing feat.. but that’s not even their biggest star anymore. Paradigm Sports now manage a ton of other high level fighters including arguably one of the most popular fighters on the planet right now… Conor McGregor.

Conor McGregor winning his second belt at UFC 205

Yup, a Kuwaiti is part of the team that manages Conor which is also how I got into Conor’s afterparty last year after UFC 189 (best wasta ever). It’s crazy! Their whole roaster of fighters is now insane, like no exaggeration here are just some of them:

Artem Lobov
Chris Weidman
Conor McGregor
Gunnar Nelson
Jimi Manuwa
Lorenz Larkin
Michael Bisping
Rick Story
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson
Tony Ferguson
Uriah Hall

Mishal Abul with Amir Aliakbari in Rizin

In 4 years they’ve managed to grow so much and these are just their MMA stars, they also manage other athletes but since I don’t follow any other sport (except for Formula1), I’m not really interested in the other athletes. Mishal is also now a partner in Tough Prints who do most of the printing for the UFC Reebok fight kits and he’s also now the point of contact for the Japanese Rizin Fighting Federation who are exploding because of their fight matchups involving the likes of Fedor, Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop and Shane Carwin.

Anyway, to most of you the above is going to sound gibberish, but for those of you who’re into MMA I thought you’d appreciate this random info. If you’d like to find out more about Paradigm Sports Management you can check out their website [Here]

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Mohammed Taher, Brave Wave and the Generation Series

Post by Patrick


I previously interviewed Mohammed Taher, the Kuwaiti creative director and founder of the Brave Wave record label. Since then he’s been busy helping in the releases of various projects like Keiji Yamagishi’s (Ninja Gaiden’s composer) first solo album, Shovel Knight’s soundtrack and an album by duo composers Saori Kobayashi (Panzer Dragoon) and Yumiko Takahashi (Suikoden) under the name of AKANE.

It doesn’t seem like he or Brave Wave take any breaks because they recently started a new label called the Generation Series. Under the Generation Series name they’ll be releasing definitive, remastered soundtracks of classic games. The first game they’re working on is Street Fighter II. The Verge recently interviewed him and sound engineer Marco Guardia about the challenges they faced working on such a huge project.

The project is interesting for various reasons. First of all, convenience. Video game soundtracks are hard to come by and when you do find them they usually cost more than they should because of rarity. The reason I personally think the Generation Series is interesting is the idea of preservation. Other forms of media (like film) have people restoring and preserving them. Preservation is a new concept when it comes to gaming, especially video game music, so I really appreciate Brave Wave taking the initiative.

It’s great to see Kuwait being represented by someone like Mohammed Taher, so be sure to visit Brave Wave’s releases page to support them.

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From Ghana to Kuwait, to Mahboula

Post by Mark


Early last month I posted an article about Abdulai Shani, a former teacher back home in Ghana who got an opportunity to come to Kuwait to work as a security guard and earn good money. On arrival it turned out all the promises were empty ones and he was taken instead into the middle of the desert to live in a tent surrounded by a barren landscape to take care of sheep. If you haven’t read that post then check it out [Here]

After posting that article I asked if anybody would be able to help Abdulai get a better job. I received a lot of responses (thank you everybody!) and after filtering through them I ended up connecting Abdulai with a reader named Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman visited Abdulai in the desert and after meeting him decided to contact his sponsor. To quickly summarize things, he managed to convince his sponsor to let Abdulai go, at first the sponsor agreed and then on the day Abdulai was supposed to leave, the sponsor backtracked and asked for money. Abdulrahman ended up paying the sponsor off and once he collected Abdulai’s passport and civil ID, he handed them to Abdulai and then they drove off towards the city and back to civilization.

Abdulai is now living in Mahboula in an apartment he is sharing with a couple of other guys from Ghana. His new sponsor Abdulrahman is a great guy, they called me last weekend from the Avenues where they were out having lunch. Abdulai’s paperwork is currently being finalized and he’ll be starting his new job soon. He’s clearly in a much better place and he’s thankful to everyone.

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From Ghana to Kuwait, One Man’s Story

Post by Mark


Last week a reader called Abdulai Shani left the following comment under the post “The rescue of a domestic worker in Kuwait”:

I’m happy I came across this page. To be frank I’m fascinated as to how most Kuwaitis respond positively.

This is my own story and how I got to Kuwait. It all started somewhere in February this year, I met a guy back in my country in Africa, that is Ghana to be specific who told me he have some “connection” as normally termed in Ghana here in Kuwait and that a reputable company needs security guards to employ. I showed interest because he said I will be paid $1000 per month. I was happy and more than willing, so he demanded I pay $1500 for the processing my my visa and tickets which I paid. When I arrived at the airport of Kuwait on the 1st of April it was a different scenario. I was taken to an agency in Jahra and was told I’m going to take care of sheep on the desert. That was a blow I haven’t recovered till now, because I’m trapped in the sense that I quitted my job which is 100 times better than what I’m doing right here in Kuwait. And the wages i was promised never manifested instead I receive 70kd a month. I can’t even call my mom to tell her what I’m going through because I fear I might break her heart. I Fasted 30 Days during the fasting and can tell you it was hell. I Iive in a tent and the weather is extremely hot. I Have been on the desert for five months now. It’s I’m not the only one over here, we are trapped. We work 24hours a day and no day off and this will continue for 2years. We don’t go any where ,we just work even at night because we have to stay awake and look after the sheep. I’m a muslim and what I have been taught is that a man should not be ashamed of his work if it brings you good deeds and avoid you from stealing, so I’m not ashamed of being a shepherd although I’m well educated but the thing is my freedom have shackled. And the funny thing is our employers call themselves Muslims but will not allow us to go to the mosque on Fridays. All they do is they want us to always work,t hey don’t care even if we don’t pray. Hmmm on the day of Judgement Allah will fight for what they are denying us. Maybe someone reading this will say why we don’t run away or protect, but I tell you if we try to run away they will file a false case against us. And another problem is abuse, they beat my co workers although non have tried that on me yet. We just hope one day our two years contracts will be over. So that we can go back peacefully to our various countries.

After reading that I had no idea what to think. It didn’t make sense, the person who left that comment speaks English fairly well, was able to find my blog and was also able to leave a comment. How is this guy a shepherd? At first I thought it might be a prank but I emailed the guy anyway asking for his number so I could contact him and confirm his story. He sent me his number and I proceeded to chat with him via Whatsapp. Again I was very suspicious, how does a shepherd know what Whatsapp is? In the end he sent me his location and I decided I would drive out to meet him. Friday, after brunch with some friends, I drove an hour and a half alone into the middle of the desert so I could meet a stranger called Abdulai. I honestly had no idea what to expect which is why I had passed the location to my friends… just in case.

It was around 1PM when I pulled up outside Abdulai’s tent. I had called him up minutes earlier trying to figure out where his tent was exactly and the first thing he asked me was if I had driven through the valley of dead sheep. I surprisingly knew what he was talking about since just before I called him I had driven on a strip of road with dead sheep on both sides. A horrific scene mind you. As I was getting out of my car Abdulai had a big smile on his face, I walked up to him and we shook hands before we headed inside his tent. Abdulai lives on a farm, no, I can’t call it a farm since it’s really not but not sure what else to call it. It’s just a 4×4 tent (his home) with a small sheep pen outside it and that’s about it. It was very hot and although I was sitting inside his tent in the shade I was sweating profusely. He doesn’t have electricity so there is no air conditioning. Before we started I asked him if I could post his full name and his photo and he said yes. I told him I didn’t want to get him in trouble and if he wanted to stay anonymous or not be in a photo that would be ok. He told me he didn’t care since this was his reality.


Abdulai Shani is a high school graduate but dropped out of university. He’s just 25 years old and before coming to Kuwait was teaching 7 year olds English and Mathematics at a school in Ghana. Like he stated in his comment on the blog, he was offered the opportunity to work in Kuwait as a security guard with a starting salary of $1,000 which was more than what he was making teaching in Ghana. So he took the chance, paid the agent $1,500 in fees and flew out of Ghana on March 31st of this year to come work in Kuwait. He didn’t have a copy of the contract before he left since his agent told him he would get one on arrival to Kuwait. When he arrived in Kuwait he was greeted by a man who he assumed was his boss. That man took his passport then drove him to a house in Jahra where he was locked up with three other people. He was told his sponsor would be coming to get him in a couple of days and was then asked if he was informed on what he would be doing. He replied saying he did, he would be a security guard. The person told him no, he was going to be a shepherd. Abdulai responded saying he was told he would be a security guard by the agent. The man then asked him if he knew how much he would be getting paid. Abdulai told him $1,000, the man told him he would be getting only KD70. Abdulai didn’t understand and at that time he had just arrived to Kuwait and so he was scared and didn’t know what to do. Three days later his sponsor came in the evening. His sponsor paid the people holding Abdulai and he was released into his custody. He felt like he was a slave being traded.


Since April Abdulai has been working at this sheep pen out in the middle of nowhere. His meals are bread for breakfast, rice for lunch and rice for dinner. He doesn’t have electricity except for a small solar panel that charges his phone and his flashlight. The sponsor gave him a smartphone with a phone line that has internet which is how he is able to get online. He found my blog while researching slavery in Kuwait trying to understand what rights he had and why things are the way they are. According to Abdulai he is getting paid although he ran into an issue recently. His first two salaries he had the sponsor send to Ghana since it wasn’t safe to keep his money in his tent. Then the other 3 salaries he told the sponsor to keep with him. But when he asked for them at the end of last month the sponsor wouldn’t give it to him. After an argument he was told to give back the mobile phone. Abdulai gave him the phone but told him part of the contract says I get a phone so if you’re taking it back then I want to go back to Ghana. So they took him to the agency who gave him two choices.

1) He leaves to Ghana but doesn’t get paid.
2) He stays and he would get paid. He chose to stay.

At this point I wanted to know what he wanted out of all of this so I asked him. He replied telling me he just wanted to get the word out that slavery still exists. He told me back in Ghana he didn’t live in a tent, he lived in a home, a decent one. He told me two months back when the weather was really hot he started to bleed from his nose. So he told his sponsor he wanted to go to the hospital to check and see why he was bleeding. His sponsor told him he wasn’t going to take him to the hospital but instead should just wrap his head with a shemagh. I asked Abdulai if he wanted to go back to Ghana or if he wanted to stay and get a better job. He told me he wanted to stay but get a better job since that’s why he originally came to Kuwait.

On my way back to the car he gave me a tour of the property. Right outside his tent door was a bench, that’s where he sleeps at night since it’s too hot to sleep inside the tent. He then showed me the sheep pen which he attends to all day long, seven days a week. He doesn’t understand what the sheep are for, in the five months he’s been there none were sold or taken or anything. We walked together back to my car and said our goodbyes.


In some ways Abdulai is lucky. He’s educated and speaks English which is how he was able to reach out to me and now I can shed light on him and hopefully with the help of the blog find him a better job. But this also got me thinking, what about all the other people who don’t speak any English and don’t know how to reach out for help? And what if this was the tipping point for change? With local telecoms phasing out regular phones and pushing out smartphones with internet access to all their customers, are more and more people like Abdulai going to come forward and share their story with the world?

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Bake and Educate

Post by Mark


A couple of nights ago I was over at a friends place when I was introduced to Noor AlObaid, the young Kuwaiti behind the nonprofit charity organization Bake and Educate. I was so fascinated with the story that I couldn’t wait to post about it on the blog.

Noor started Bake and Educate at the age of 14 years old. She grew up with a mixed background, her father is Kuwaiti while her mum is Syrian so she got to see life from both perspectives, the easy privileged life of a Kuwaiti and the struggle of a Shami in Kuwait. Ever since she was a kid her mother used to teach her that because God had given them a good life, they have to give back to people who aren’t as fortunate. So she started giving a few dinars from her allowance to less fortunate children and when she grew older it just became a habit.


Noor went to a private American school and her tuition at one point had reached around KD5,000 a year. On the other hand the tuition fees for some Arabic private schools in Kuwait were only around KD400 to KD500 per student per year and yet several families had difficulty affording that. In 2009, Noor’s mum received a list 21 pages long of students that were financially unable to cover their school fees. The overdue payments ranged anywhere from KD20 up to KD400 so they came up with the idea to create a baking exhibition where all proceeds would be used to cover the student fees. At first it was a difficult concept for people to understand, why would a 14 year old be running a non-profit? Why is it for education? People didn’t realize the significance of a diploma and how without one, many places wouldn’t be willing to employ a non-Kuwaiti.

At first Bake and Education started off as a yearly exhibition and then it became bi-annual until they started doing delivery. By 2012, Bake and Educate had started to gain a reputation after working closely with the Ministry of Youth and EQUAIT. In the 6 years since Noor started Bake and Educate the program has helped cover the tuition of 389 students while also helping refugee camps in Syria.

How does it work?
With each donation or order you will receive an official Bake and Educate receipt. When payment is received, Bake and Educate contact the schools and send the money over either on the same day or the morning after. Once the money is received by the accountant of the school, they deduct the amount from a students overdue payment and provide Bake and Educate with a receipt which they file. Bake and Educate is an officially registered non-profit organization. Some of the schools they work with are AlJamil School, AlRiqqa Elementary School and AlWataniya School, however, they try to work with any school that is willing to accept financial aid for students.

So if you’re interested in what they’re doing, follow them on instagram @bakeandeducate

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Meet Mr Kim

Post by Mark


There is a really old Korean guy called Mr Kim that has a shop in my building and I always found him fascinating. He’s got fairly long white hair, wears white bell bottoms with funky vintage shirts and drives a very well kept classic Chevrolet Caprice. I’ve actually posted about his shop before but never about him since I didn’t really know his story. But, recently he asked me to help him set up an Instagram account and we got to talking and it turns out he’s got such an interesting and random story.

Back in 1981 Mr Kim was the General Secretary of the Boxing Federation in Korea when Sheikh Fahad Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (the founder of the Kuwait Olympic Committee) was visiting Korea. Sheikh Fahad met with Mr Kim and offered him the position head coach of for the Kuwait National Boxing Team. Mr Kim accepted the position and came to Kuwait in 1982 and right away helped the Kuwaiti team win two bronze medals at the Asian Games that same year.


Mr Kim continued to train the Kuwait National Boxing Team before leaving a few years later to train the Kuwaiti police and later the army. Around 88-89 he left boxing behind and partnered up with Carlton Hotel to open a Korean restaurant (which is still there). In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, he was on vacation at the time but his two daughters and son were in Kuwait. His children stayed at the Carlton Hotel at first and later stayed at the home of an employee of the Korean embassy.

In 1991 Mr Kim came back to Kuwait after the invasion and got into a disagreement with the Carlton Hotel and so left the restaurant. In 1992 he opened his current shop which sells mostly hair bands and random little trinkets he brings in from Korea. His children and wife now live in Korea while he lives here alone. He’s 71 years old.


As I’ve mentioned before his shop is really worth checking out. I’ve actually taken a bunch of friends there and everyone was always surprised at how visually intense the interior is. So pass by him if you can, his shop is located on the mezzanine floor of Anjari Complex in Salmiya [Map]. You can also check out his Instagram account [Here]

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‘Shredded Diesel’ Makes the Daily Mail

Post by Mark


The Daily Mail have published an article on the popular Kuwaiti bodybuilder ‘Shredded Diesel’. I used to come across his photos on instagram often and thought he was just another musclehead, but turns out he’s actually a personal trainer and has worked with the likes of Timbaland, Madonna and Justin Timberlake. One interesting thing in the article is that he encourages taking candy after workouts. It sounds a bit iffy but I’m probably going to research it a bit more after this post and see if that means I can have my favorite chocolate after the gym. Anyway check out the article with loads of photos on the Daily Mail website [Here]

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