20 05, 2019

Ice Skating Rink to be Demolished

2019-05-20T09:01:04+03:00May 20, 2019|52 Comments

As a kid growing up in Kuwait in the 80s there weren’t that many things to do, so my mum enrolled me in skating classes at the ice skating rink (that’s me with the instructor in the picture above). I took classes until one day I fell and cut my hand on skates and didn’t really go back to the rink until the early 90s. The ice skating rink in the early 90s was the place to be, with the latest hits blasting on the ice skating rink speakers while we either ice skated or hung out in the ice skating rink’s arcade. Now the ice skating rink is the next national landmark in line to be demolished.

Laila Al-Hamad is the founder of Zeri Crafts, a brand that casts light on Kuwait’s crafts heritage. Recently she published the article below in the Arab Times and with her permission, I’m publishing it here along with some great photos she took.

Tearing Down our Memories

A skating rink in the desert is about to celebrate its 40th year of life. Forty years of an architectural masterpiece that has withstood the Iraqi invasion, the harsh summers, the wear and tear of time is truly an event to be celebrated. But just as Sawaber and countless other landmarks that have marked our architectural landscape have been mindlessly demolished without a purpose or a plan, the Kuwait Ice Skating Rink too is on death row.

A tent-like structure with wooden pillars reminiscent of Bait al-Shaar, the Kuwait Ice Skating Rink is a magnificent piece of architecture that was built in close collaboration with France in the late 1970s. And just as its unique architecture stands out in the midst of the many soulless glass towers that adorn the Kuwait City skyline, its place in Kuwait’s memory landscape is even more extraordinary. Beyond any commercial value, the Ice Skating Rink is – par excellence – a pillar of our national heritage; it has shaped the childhood memories of hundreds of thousands of the country’s inhabitants. Ask anyone who grew up in Kuwait in the 1980s what the Ice Skating Rink means to them, and expect a barrage of ecstatic responses.

Against all odds, a skating rink in the desert became the perfect oasis for those seeking a cool sanctuary away from the scorching sun. Upon entering this haven of tranquility, we were welcomed by the smell of cold, a smell so rare in Kuwait that we stored it in our olfactory memory. Take a left and find yourself in the ice-skates rental room, lined with dozens of benches awaiting eager skaters. A few meters beyond that lay the space we were all here for: the big rink. Grand and majestic, the big rink is a marvel, its walls bedecked with striking geometric patterns in warm reddish and ochre hues reminiscent of Sadu weaving patterns. Here would begin our journey on the ice, energizing us with a feeling of freedom and joy that few sports can equal.

Despite a hiatus associated with the Iraqi invasion, the rink has been operational for almost 4 decades, welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. In my case, what was part of my childhood became part of my adulthood: I would take my children there to learn to skate as would many of my friends. This generational link gives the ice skating rink a special status; whereas many of the landmarks of our youth – including cinemas and theaters – have been abandoned or demolished, the rink has stood firm in its resilience. One of the few non-consumeristic enterprises in the country, it continues to be a refuge for those seeking family fun in a non-commercial setting. The unique modernist design fills us with a sense of pride linked to Kuwait’s golden age of architecture, where function met aesthetics. The place leaves few of us unmoved.

Inaugurated in 1980, the rink was not only the first such structure in Kuwait, but also the first ice skating complex in the whole of the Middle East. March 2020 marks its 40th anniversary. But instead of celebrating this milestone, we are getting ready for its imminent demolition. It is being sacrificed for the Shaheed Park phase 3 extension, making way for a concert hall and – ironically enough – a new skating rink. The rink is facing demolition not because of a lack of demand from the public (it welcomes 150,000 visitors a year), nor because of any maintenance or structural issues, but because someone has decided to build something new. Why demolish a perfectly functioning architectural masterpiece? Why not renovate and revitalize the existing structure and integrate it into the park? We can only gain from bridging rather than eliminating the various layers of Kuwait’s built landscape.

Two weeks ago, the JACC opened its doors to a Kuwaiti musical called “Memoirs of a Sailor.” By word of mouth, news of the musical spread like wildfire. Almost every person I know, Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis alike, attended, some even twice. What drove thousands of people to the show was a thirst for memories, roots, a past that is now completely out of reach to us. Isn’t it paradoxical that we are looking for identity inside theaters while we destroy it outside? Many Kuwaitis are upset about the neglect and erasure of their culture in its many forms; the architecture, the crafts and even the natural environment through the pollution of the sea.

The senseless destruction of our architectural heritage for the extraction of commercial value for the few is a violation of our national heritage. The Kuwait Ice Skating Rink should not be the next victim on the list of public executions that awaits our many landmarks. In a spirit of sustainability, and historical and architectural preservation, the structure should become a listed architectural landmark integrated into the new extension. May our development be respectful of our memories and our environment. And may wisdom and the public good prevail.

By Laila Al-Hamad

19 03, 2018

Guest Post: My First Step Towards Independence

2018-03-19T12:47:36+03:00Mar 19, 2018|31 Comments

sidewalk accessible to the blind

Last month a blind reader sent me an email, I had changed one of the settings on my blog and it was affecting his ability to read my blog and he was wondering if I could change the settings back. I told him I definitely would but that I also had sooooo many questions! Firstly I was curious to how I could improve the accessibility of my blog even further for my blind readers, and secondly what he was using to read my blog. Turns out he was reading my blog using the iPhone app Newsify, and when on his computer the software called NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access). For images, he was using this really fascinating application by Microsoft called Seeing AI. The app tries to describe the contents of a picture to a blind person which I think is such a feat I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it before. We got to talking about accessibility in Kuwait vs accessibility in the US where he studied for a short period of time and I thought that might be an interesting subject to post about on the blog. So I asked him if he’d be interested in writing an article about it which he was and he did. It’s a great read so check it out below:

——————————-

Hi all,

When Mark told me to write an article on here, I was unsure about how I was going to start it. The beginning of most important things is always a challenge, and the beginning of my life was no different. I was born prematurely, and as a result, I was put in an incubator. The oxygen that was provided to me was more than the required amount and, subsequently, I lost my sight. Of course, it was hard on my family in the beginning to raise a blind child. They had to research and improvise new ways to teach me things that they already knew how to teach a sighted individual. I went into school, graduated from high school in 2013, joined university in the same year, and I graduated last semester. I won’t be talking about my life in this article. Instead, I’ll be talking about an experience that I had when I was in university.

Last summer, I had the chance to study a summer course in the US at the University of Missouri in St. Louis (UMSL), on scholarship. Of course, I was afraid in the beginning because I thought that my blindness would be an issue and that it would be an obstacle to my experience in the US. The Dean of Student Affairs at GUST here in Kuwait assured me that everything would be ok. Before going to UMSL, I was contacted by the International Liaison Specialist at UMSL to figure out what they can do for me in order for them to meet my needs as a blind person. I went to the US and my stay there was perfect. Learning how to depend on myself was hard in the beginning yet, it got easier as time went on. Moreover, the group that I traveled with was very helpful as well as the team that was working with us from UMSL.

Doing simple things such as learning how to use the microwave for the first time as well as making instant coffee felt amazing. You could say that for the first time in my life, I felt completely free. I felt like I could depend on myself completely. Thanks to the International Liaison Specialist, I was able to achieve one of my dreams while in the States, which was learning how to use the white cane. She got in contact with the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired and they put me in contact with a guy there who used to come to me twice a week to train me. The professors there were also very helpful, as well as my note taker in class who became a close friend of mine by the end of the trip. I felt like my blindness didn’t matter there. I did things that I didn’t expect myself to do, such as zip lining and fishing. If we compare this experience to my experience in Kuwait, I’d say that in my opinion, GUST compares to UMSL when it comes to providing assistance for people with disabilities. The professors and students that I’ve worked with at GUST were extremely helpful. However, when it comes to other amenities such as navigation, transportation, housing, entertainment, and others, unfortunately, Kuwait is very far behind.

First of all, there are no sidewalks that can assist the blind when walking from one place to another. Moreover, we don’t have people who can teach us orientation and mobility skills. I haven’t even heard of any houses that are accessible for wheelchair users. The education in Alnoor School for the Blind needs improving and we don’t have audio descriptions in cinemas. The list goes on and on. However, I have hope. There are organizations who are trying to advocate for our needs such as Training Gate International and KISR.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank Mark for giving me the opportunity to express myself on here, and I’ll leave you with a question. I believe that in order for us to contribute to the society, the society should change. Instead of viewing us as people with disabilities, why don’t they view us as a normal person like everyone else?

– Ahmad Albahar

9 03, 2015

Kuwait Law: The Cannabis Post

2015-03-09T10:32:08+03:00Mar 9, 2015|45 Comments

joint

From a legal stand point, cannabis and its legalities is very interesting to look at. The decisions towards cannabis seem to be changing rapidly in the west, now whether it should or shouldn’t be legal (I will leave that for the internet people to argue) I am just going to discuss the legalities of cannabis here in Kuwait.

Kuwait has very strict laws when it comes to drug abuse, but what does it say in regards to “smoking up?”

Kuwait’s Penal Law which speaks about crimes in general (and btw has been there since 1960!) states the following:

Article 208:
– Penalized for a period not exceeding 2 years in jail and/or a fine not exceeding KD2,000 for personal use (in a private place)

Article 207
– Penalized for a period not exceeding 7 years in jail and/or a fine not exceeding KD7,000 for drug dealing, or made it easier for another person to use drugs

This means that even if a person does not smoke up but facilitates for another person an environment to smoke up, they can get more years in jail. Let me re-explain this, if I let Mark smoke up in my living room but I don’t smoke up, I can get more years!

There are a lot of other things that come into account when the court looks at weed cases, there are also more detailed charts of each drug and its consequences, so please stay legal people.

Feel free to email me ask@fajerthelawyer.com with any legal questions. I do not have the capacity to answer everyone for free (but I try), and I am happy to annanounce that I am currently working with a great team and therefore we are able to reply back to all emails with a reasonable time frame.

Post by Fajer Ahmed – Legal Counsel
The legal opinions expressed in this post are those of the author Fajer. Opinions expressed by Mark or any other writer on 248am.com are those of the individual’s and in no way reflect Fajer’s opinion.

Photo by Prensa 420

15 12, 2014

Mondays with Matthew: Open for questions – Ask Me Anything

2014-12-15T18:15:36+03:00Dec 15, 2014|49 Comments

AMA

Today I thought we’d try something different – and throw conversation open for all of you to Ask Me Anything. For those of you familiar with reddit, you may recognize the idea.

I’m happy to take questions on any subject you want. If I can’t answer openly (which I will always try to do) I shall say so.

Please ask away – it’s good to talk!

Post by Matthew Lodge
British Ambassador to Kuwait
Instagram: @HMAMatthewLodge Twitter: @HMAMatthewLodge

Update: AMA session is now closed

9 12, 2014

Mondays with Matthew: A level playing field and an honest game

2014-12-09T11:20:50+03:00Dec 9, 2014|27 Comments

corruption

Today – 9 December – is United Nations’ World Anti-Corruption Day. Is this just another “World Day”, or is it something that really matters and that we should take an interest in?

Before you answer that, let me note a few things about Kuwait that I have learned or have been reminded of since arriving in the summer:

Kuwait is an open society, with a rich history built on trade and commerce. Kuwait’s political system is more open and genuinely democratic than almost all of its neighbours in the region. This is a society with an independent judiciary, where Kuwaitis believe in the rule of law, value their rights and cherish their ability to express their views openly and freely. Kuwait is also a rich country – with abundant wealth which the Government uses to provide extensive, high quality services for Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwaiti assets are invested across the world and in international markets. But not all Kuwaitis are rich. Kuwait, like all societies in the modern world, needs to think about how best it can maintain social harmony and address the legitimate expectations of all its people.

True? I believe so. You may argue some points of detail, but the key elements are accurate.

So let’s now turn to corruption, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said:

“Corruption…undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish…corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice”

Undermining democracy? Distorting markets? Undermining a government’s ability to provide services? Feeding inequality and injustice?

Left unchecked, those strike me as pretty serious risks for any society. I would argue that tackling corruption is something that should matter to us all – British, Kuwaiti or whatever our home or nationality. No country is immune. Corruption is present in every society.

Some may argue that it is part of every-day life, necessary to get things done. Even if it is, sadly, true to say that a favour here, a back-hander there can help to get things done, that doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t change the fact that corruption erodes trust between people, within societies, between businesses and amongst nations. Corruption diverts resources from where they are most needed, fuelling inequality and holding back development. Corruption also stifles economic growth and investment, and it increases the cost of doing business.

So what are we going to do about it?

Kuwait signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption in December 2003, and today the Kuwaiti Government is taking concrete steps with the establishment of Kuwait’s Anti-Corruption Public Authority. This body – and the wider fight against corruption – deserves our full support.

What are you going to do? Do you think corruption is a problem? Do you even have a clear view on what is and isn’t corruption? How do you think we can help combat it? It’s down to each of us individually to take a stand, and try to make a difference.

Post by Matthew Lodge
British Ambassador to Kuwait
Instagram: @HMAMatthewLodge Twitter: @HMAMatthewLodge

8 12, 2014

Kuwait Law: Contractors

2014-12-08T11:19:08+03:00Dec 8, 2014|14 Comments

uscontractors

I decided to be a lawyer because I strongly believe that if more people have their rights and get justice, kuwait would be a better place. Even though I am not really helping much, I am still humble and grateful that I get a chance to post here and create some sort of awareness (thank you kindly Mark). I know my topics might be negative lately, but remember I get inspired to write by the cases I have and the emails I receive.

Some of the companies out there are MONSTERS (not the cute ones like monster inc but more like I don’t know I am not really into sci-fi) but seriously some companies are evil.

I have noticed in the past few years an increase in cases dealing with contractors. Contractors are brought to Kuwait from their home country and put to work doing various jobs for companies or entities that are from their home country. These contractors are told that because they work for their countries Army or Navy or whatever, then Kuwaiti Labor Law doesn’t apply to them but their countries law does. NOT TRUE YOU EVIL ******!

If you are working as a contractor for I don’t care who in Kuwait, it doesn’t matter if it’s for the King of Utopia or Queen Elizabeth. If you have a working permit and you are registered under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour then Kuwait Labour Law applies to you. So what does that mean?
You get paid overtime! I have noticed that some contractors have signed a contract that says they are willing to work 12 hours a day. Fortunately though, the law clearly states that the employee can not agree on something different than what the law states unless it’s beneficial for the employee (contractor). The law states maximum 8 hours, so unless you think working 12 hours a day without overtime is beneficial for you, you can ask for compensation for all your hard work. Also:

– The law also requires the sponsors to open a Kuwaiti bank account for contractors and transfer the contractors salary to the bank account. These sneaky companies pay the contractors in their bank accounts back home and deposit small amounts of money in a Kuwaiti bank account, making the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor believe that the contractor’s salary is a lot less than what they really make. Since compensation is based on salary, these contractors won’t be getting compensated fairly.

– Termination indemnity, yes you heard it right, contractors deserve termination indemnity in accordance to Kuwaiti Labor Law.

– Days off in accordance to Kuwaiti Labor Law.

– All other rights in accordance to Kuwaiti Labor Law (please read my labor law post for more information).

If you are a contractor and you are being mistreated and you want your rights, please let me know ask@fajerthelawyer (or any other legal questions). I do not have the capacity to answer everyone for free (but I try), and I am happy to announce that I am currently working with a great team and therefore we are able to reply back to all emails with a reasonable time frame.

Post by Fajer Ahmed – Legal Counsel
The legal opinions expressed in this post are those of the author Fajer. Opinions expressed by Mark or any other writer on 248am.com are those of the individual’s and in no way reflect Fajer’s opinion.

2 12, 2014

Kuwait Law: We are all equal

2014-12-02T11:29:42+03:00Dec 2, 2014|187 Comments

rainbow

The fact I have to write this post is a disgrace! It’s embarrassing that as a lawyer I have to be preaching about essential human behavior instead of doing plain old legal work. People need to be more tolerant towards each other in Kuwait. I have hope that this attitude will change.

I always knew that being a lawyer wouldn’t be easy, the job requires you most of the time to deal with negative explosives. You know what they say, when the tough gets going, the tough gets a lawyer. I wasn’t expecting people to come to me with celebrations but everyday emails and emails flow into my inbox (and sometimes into my junk folder, I apologize) filled with words describing emotions, most of which is anger. Why? One word; inequality.

The Kuwaiti Constitution clearly states in Article 29 that we are all EQUAL
Article 29 [Equality, Human Dignity, Personal Liberty]
(1) All people are equal63 in human dignity and in public rights and duties before the law, without distinction to race, origin, language, or religion.
(2) Personal liberty is guaranteed.

None of us, none of you, no matter how rich or poor, fat or thin, tall or short, smart or dumb, want to be treated unfairly. Yet, in the emails, the employer isn’t respecting his employee, the parent isn’t tolerant of his gay child, house help are being tortured and turned into slaves, religious debates are nothing but aggressive personal attacks and expats are being told to f*** off.

Recently though I got an email from a homosexual young man. The way he is being treated by his environment is not acceptable so I decided to write about it in this post, not just for intolerant people in general in the hopes they will be more tolerant, but for all the homosexuals in Kuwait to understand that it is their choice.

Being homosexual is not illegal. Your thoughts are yours, no one can punish you for your identity. Who you prefer to be with is up to you. Now some acts, might be illegal, please check my two previous posts:

Kuwait Law: Sexual Crimes
Kuwait Law: Indecent Acts

And please before you go on to “accuse” me of being gay myself, if I was I would let you know, but I am into straight non-blonde tall men, from western (in it’s broad meaning) or/and south East Asian descent, preferably with a good sense of humor and an Irish accent! And yes I am a female (so please, I beg you please, stop emailing me with Dear Mr. Fajer)

Just remember, if it wasn’t for your employees your company wouldn’t function, if it wasn’t for your house help you wouldn’t have a clean home and a hot meal. Just remember, your son did not chose to be gay. Your religion doesn’t make you a good or bad person, your actions do and all religions are lovely in one way or another.

So be tolerant and be patient with each other, for your sake and for your communities’ sake. You never know when you will be sick and you will need that Jewish doctor, you will get into legal trouble and need that homosexual lawyer, or your child will need that atheist teacher.

Feel free to email me ask@fajerthelawyer.com with any legal questions. I do not have the capacity to answer everyone for free (but I try), and I am happy to annanounce that I am currently working with a great team and therefore we are able to reply back to all emails with a reasonable time frame.

Post by Fajer Ahmed – Legal Counsel
The legal opinions expressed in this post are those of the author Fajer. Opinions expressed by Mark or any other writer on 248am.com are those of the individual’s and in no way reflect Fajer’s opinion.

1 12, 2014

Mondays with Matthew: Flowers of Scotland

2014-12-01T12:41:34+03:00Dec 1, 2014|13 Comments

scottishflag

If you were passing by the British Embassy yesterday you may have noticed that we were flying a different flag. 30 November is St Andrew’s Day – the national day of Scotland. We were proud to raise the Saltire – the flag of Scotland – and delighted to see it flying in the beautiful Kuwaiti sunshine. As well as being a part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is part of our identity, part of my identity. Here at the British Embassy in Kuwait we have a number of staff who enjoy Scottish heritage, family connections or both. I am one of them. I am proud to be British. I am also proud to represent Scotland, alongside England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
So how much do you know about Scotland?

St Andrew’s Day is a good moment to remind ourselves of the impact Scots and Scotland have had on the world. Did you know that James Bond is a Scot? Or that penicillin was discovered by a Scot, and that television and the steam engine were invented in Scotland too?

Scotland today has a huge amount to offer whether you are a tourist, a student or looking to do business. Take a look at www.VisitBritain.org for an idea of what Scotland has to offer for visitors. This year looks like being a record year for tourism, but in a usual year, 20 million people can be expected to visit Scotland, four times more than the entire Scottish population!

Visitors come for Scotland’s mix of vibrant, cosmopolitan cities; the biggest arts festival in the world; the beautiful, clean and unspoilt scenery, with thousands of historic castles, houses, battlegrounds, ruins and museums, and don’t forget Scotland’s contribution to global fashion. You can also enjoy Scotland’s food and drink, famed around the world, and the great outdoors. So, if you want a change from Kuwaiti heat, sunshine and sand, Scotland can offer something different!

And 40,000 overseas students (including quite a few Kuwaitis!) travel to Scotland every year to seek an education fit for a King. It was, after all, at one of Scotland’s world-class universities, St. Andrews, that HRH Prince William studied and where he and the Duchess of Cambridge met.

2014 has been Scotland’s year. The Commonwealth Games brought 6,500 athletes to Glasgow. They came from 71 nations and territories, representing a third of the world’s population, to compete in 17 sports over 11 glorious days. Over a million people filled Glasgow’s sporting arenas, and over a billion more were willing on the athletes from their homes. A short while later, the eyes of more than half a billion viewers in 183 countries turned to Gleneagles as Europe’s and America’s best golfers battled it out for the glory of winning the Ryder Cup.

2014 was also the year that the United Kingdom demonstrated that values aren’t just something we talk about abroad – we live by them at home. In a defining moment in British history, and by a decisive majority, the people of Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, one of the most durable and successful political unions ever seen.

In a world where separatism all too often leads to conflict, the Scottish referendum demonstrated Britain’s confidence in her own democratic institutions and processes.
A free and open debate electrified the nation; a peaceful, lawful and democratic vote drew admiration from around the world; and, with a record turnout, the settled will of the Scottish people was determined.

So when you think of Scotland, I hope you think of all the above and more. Scotland has an enormous amount to be proud of, and we have an enormous amount to celebrate with Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.

Post by Matthew Lodge
British Ambassador to Kuwait
Instagram: @HMAMatthewLodge Twitter: @HMAMatthewLodge