Some Observations and a Medical Miracle

I’ve been observing Kuwait culture for a few weeks now, and I can’t help but notice that while there are some areas where the U.S. clearly shines, Kuwait is far superior in others. I’ve been keeping a kind of informal tally sheet in my head. Here are the winners in a few categories:

Road names: The road I travel to get to work in Kuwait is called The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahad Bin Abdul Aziz Highway. The name of the toll road that links my hometown with Austin, Texas? Pickle Parkway. Kuwait wins.

Fast food: I ordered a chicken sandwich from Naif Chicken the other day. Underneath the crispy “chik’n” filet I was a little horrified to find a perfectly round slice of gelatinous chicken bologna, nestled there like a gruesome prank. In America fast food sandwiches come stacked with bacon and cheese, not bologna. U.S. wins.

Taxicabs: A taxi from New York’s Laguardia airport to downtown Manhattan costs around $37 before tip. A taxi from my Fahaheel apartment to the local mall costs “whatever you weesh to pay, Madame” according to 3 different cabbies last Saturday. The understood rate is 500 fils, or about id=mce_marker.75. No meter, no tip expected. Kuwait wins.

Number of Camels per 1000 people: The camel is possibly the coolest animal ever created. Sorry, USA, you can’t even compete on this one.

Today I had my visa physical. Obtaining a permanent residency visa in Kuwait requires a medical exam to rule out HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and a few other infectious nasties. The government is committed to keeping the cooties out (to use the proper medical terminology).

I’d heard a lot of hair-raising tales about the physical exam process. One coworker received 7 immunizations in the arse at her physical. Several women I spoke with had undergone comprehensive “female” exams for no apparent reason. Two men told me identical stories of being squeezed inside a filth-crusted X-ray machine while a room full of sweaty, shirtless Nepalese laborers looked on.

So I was a wee bit nervous.

We got our paperwork shuffled around in an office where a grim woman in a black abayah strode up and down the front of the room shaking her finger and berating the waiting crowd in Arabic. I’m not sure what her problem was, but I nearly suggested that she emigrate and come to work for the Drivers License Office in my hometown. She had just the right anger level for that job.

At one point I was forced to hunt down a bathroom. Which turned out to be a porcelain-lined hole in the floor, the kind you squat over and pray your balance is still dependable, now that you’re in your forties. I didn’t mind the hole in the floor – I’m flexible, and hey, it’s all part of the adventure, right? I was less upbeat about the swampy floor surrounding it. I was wearing rattan-soled hippie-dippy shoes, and whatever fluid I was standing in seeped through. I just tried not to think about it. What are you going to do?

The actual exam was anticlimactic. A nurse drew a single tube of blood. Another nurse took a chest X-ray with a perfectly clean machine. End of trip. The absence of a gynecologist and the complete lack of shots qualifies as a bona fide medical miracle, in my book.

I once knew a missionary to Russia whose visa physical went like this:

Doctor: “Do you have AIDS?”

Missionary: “No.”

Doctor: “Good. Spit in this paper cup and hand it to the man in the alley on your way out. Next!”

Russia wins.


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