Post by Matthew Lodge
Around this time of year, red poppies (red flowers symbolising Remembrance) are worn with pride. They are also seen by some outside the UK as a particularly British tradition. Alongside red London buses, black taxis, Big Ben, the Tower of London and Fish and Chips, they are associated with Britain.
As a newcomer to Kuwait and the Gulf, I have asked myself what comes to mind when I think of the country which is now my home. I think of sand and the desert, of the searing summer heat, and of men in dishdashas. I think of the invasion by Saddam Hussein and more importantly Kuwait’s liberation, and last but not least, I think of oil. Those old, but still dreadful images of fires burning in the desert filling the sky with black smoke, contrasted against modern images of large, shiny and thirsty cars that drive up and down Kuwait’s Gulf road and cost less to fill with petrol than it does to buy my friends a round of cappuccinos.
These are all quick, lazy and superficial stereotypes, but the fact remains that Kuwait, with vast oil reserves that generate enormous sums of money for the country and its people, will continue for the foreseeable future to conjure up images of sand, deserts, oil and money.
In less than 3 months, I have already seen how much more there is here, just as I know the UK is about more than Beefeaters and the Union Jack, but stereotypes persist. On average Kuwaiti visitors to the UK last year spent more than any other nationality. Kuwaiti banks, investment funds and finance houses are amongst the richest in the world. The support that Kuwait gives to individual citizens, whether in free healthcare, educational scholarships, free utilities, subsidised services etc is a source of admiration (and some amazement) for those of us arriving from cash-strapped European economies where public debt remains stubbornly high and sustained economic growth frustratingly elusive.
But it’s not all about money, is it? Easy perhaps for me to say, living in an historic Residence and enjoying the privileges of being an Ambassador. However, as an individual, as a father, as a husband, I know very clearly how it is those things that can’t be bought that matter to me the most. The friendship and trust. That understanding which only develops after time spent together. The sense of a common purpose and shared interest. The desire to do the right thing, not always the easy thing. And the hope and belief that there’s something more we can achieve, something better we can build. I have seen all these things amongst the people I have met here. Young Kuwaitis excited to study abroad. Dedicated activists determined to stand up for the rights of those who might otherwise struggle to be heard. Visionary leaders with exciting and ambitious plans. None of these are easy, and certainly none are quick. All take hard work and investment – not simply of money (although that is often necessary and usually helps), but investment of energy, drive and belief. Personal commitment to get things done and make a difference, not just for you but for those around you. The close UK-Kuwait friendship, built on years of shared experience and understanding, means we can talk about the issues and challenges we all face. The business and economic partnerships are more important than ever, but it is our partnership on those things that money can’t buy that will really make the difference. In your opinion, what is the most important thing that money can’t buy?