I am no goddess. I never thought I was beautiful until I came to Kuwait. Actually, I still don’t think I’m beautiful, I continue to have very objective ideas about my appearance. The attentions bestowed upon me in the Middle East, however, were extremely different than what I was used to; I discovered the men here are similar and yet different in many ways to those in Western countries. After much reflection (and dating or fending off), I have come to the following conclusions about men in the Middle East:
In my opinion, Middle Eastern men can be divided into four categories:
- The hopeless: Men of low socioeconomic status. Usually expats from Pakistan, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka and various African nations. Because the population of Kuwait is more than 50% expats, this comprises around 40% of the population. These men may or may not have wives at home, but they are not earning enough money or living in conditions that allow them to bring their wives here. They may also have a bevy of kids, which renders bringing their wives even more difficult.
- The ruthless: Men who believe they are sex gods. May or may not be Kuwaiti. Some are from Palestine, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These men may, or may not be married. They may have more than one wife along with possibly a temporary wife (known as mut’ah among Shi’a) or a secret wife (known as misyar among Sunni). Women are disposable commodities.
- The touchless: Mullah of any nation, may be just hyper-religious. These are men who refuse to shake hands with a woman. They will also not make eye contact with a woman who is not their wife or an immediate family member.
- The peerless: The good guys. Can be from any country.
When I first came to Kuwait, what I noticed first was how much men stared! It was like they hadn’t eaten for a week and I was a big turkey dinner with stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. They positively salivated when they saw women. The worst mistake a woman could make was to look back.
I’m Canadian; we’re nice people. Somebody asks a question, we answer. We act friendly and nice. My first week in Kuwait I get into a taxi. The driver’s a young Egyptian guy who speaks some English.
“Where you from?” He asks.
“Nice place. How long you here?”
“Just arrived last week.”
Conversation continues. The car pulls up at my destination, I get out, he asks for my mobile number. I was naive, but protected because I didn’t have one yet and told him so. I just thought he was friendly and nice. I never got hit on in Canada by a taxi driver. I didn’t realize that was what he was doing until he asked. I wouldn’t have given it to him, but I was so naive I was surprised and just thought he was being friendly. I now know he was a hopeless aspiring to be a ruthless.
Going into Carrefour in the Avenues mall in my first week in Kuwait, I’m pushing my cart through the dairy products aisle. A scruffy-looking guy in a dishdasha accosts me.
“You give mobile number?” His teeth were filthy and snaggly, his smile smarmy and ingratiating.
I look at him in astonishment. “Why would I give you my mobile number? I don’t know you.”
“I want friend.”
I walk away, not feeling nice and Canadian for the moment. This clearly was another hopeless aspiring to be ruthless.
I was living in a building with other co-workers. We would get together in one apartment or another most Fridays (weekends were Friday and Saturday) and swap tales of our experiences. Some of the other girls had some tales to tell about being hit on. I couldn’t believe I was one of them with as many – or more – tales to tell. It was rapidly becoming apparent to me the Middle Eastern men love well-endowed women of my generous proportions that had white skin and blue eyes – as I do. I had never experienced this before! Within the first month of my sojourn in Kuwait, I had been hit on by random men in random places, the HR manager (Jordanian and married), and my boss (Kuwaiti – marital status unknown).
I had to speak with the HR manager on several occasions about my residency because I urgently wanted to get it finished in order to be able to purchase a car. Every time I went into his office, he’d invite me to sit down and offer me coffee. He repeatedly averred that I was very beautiful, told me tales of woe about being separated from his wife and kids, and asked me out for dinner. I chose to not take offense at his advances and merely fended them off by talking about his wife and kids and focusing on getting him to get my paperwork processed more quickly. In this case, having a man make advances served my purpose and I milked it to the full. Remember, I’m NOT beautiful, by merely possess attributes which Middle Eastern men covet. So, having someone hit on me who could do something for me was in my favour – I’d not often had the opportunity to enjoy such an ability. Obviously, however, this man was in the ruthless category.
My boss’ advances were NOT easy to handle. He frequently told me I was beautiful, would look me over in THAT way and tell me he wanted me to be his friend. Friend by now I knew was a euphemism for sexual partner. I became a master at changing the subject and keeping things business-like. Weird, I never had to do that before… But, he still managed to slip in a slimy insinuation one way or another in our frequent meetings – I was his deputy, after all, so I couldn’t avoid him. I knew it was in my best interest not to get involved with him, especially once I heard about all the other women in the workplace he had seduced. He was, after all, a handsome man… He was clearly a ruthless.
I was not always so wise.
My co-workers in the same building started to talk to me about a very important man, a Kuwaiti doctor, that lived in our building. He had invited some of them over to his apartment and cooked them a meal. They were so impressed. They kept talking about how interesting he was, how he told some fascinating stories about work he had done in the Ministry of the Interior, catching criminals by following clues. They talked about how handsome and helpful he was. They told me stories of how he helped them obtain items that they didn’t know where to find. Soon it was my turn to meet him. The first time was a chance meeting in the elevator. I had learned not to look at men in the elevator when I got on (I still hadn’t learned that I wasn’t supposed get on an elevator with a man). I got in on the second floor one evening after visiting with a friend. A tallish man with intense dark eyes and dressed in a dishdasha was already there with an Indian man. After we had gone up a couple of slow floors he said, “Good evening”. I was startled and looked at him for the first time. “Good evening”, I responded and escaped onto my floor when the elevator doors opened. The next day, a co-worker named Bonnie came and knocked on my door.
“Guess what! Dr. Hamad wants to meet you!”
“Really? How does he know me?”
“He saw you on the elevator. Come with me now, I’ll take you to his apartment.”
I thought, why not? I followed her out the door and we went to his apartment. He had prepared dinner, a succulent meal of rice and meat with a side dish of a tomato sauce with baby okra. Two other of the girls in the building were there. We all sat down together to eat. Dr. Hamad had been very casual about greeting me, but I felt his scrutiny. After we had eaten, he began to ask me questions about myself. His English skills were remarkable. He told me that he had studied in the States and gotten his Bachelor’s in engineering there. He’d gotten his Master’s and PhD in Germany. He began to weave tales of many things, he was truly an engrossing storyteller. Some time during the evening, while his maid was cleaning up, he asked me for my mobile number and I gave it to him.
The following days I spent many evenings there; sometimes he called, other times his maid summoned me to his presence. I was enthralled and flattered that he wanted to see so much of me and always went. There were other people present all the time. We’d sit around and talk. He’d continue with his interesting stories or ask us many questions. We learned a lot about Kuwait from him, and also a lot about Islam. It was very enjoyable, being part of his circle of friends. He really knew how to make people feel at ease and trust him. I met many other of my co-workers that I hadn’t met before in his living room, both women and men. A couple of women, one of them being Bonnie, confided that he liked THEM particularly. I had a sneaking suspicion that it was me he liked, but I didn’t say anything.
I soon was left in no doubt. About three weeks after I first met him, I went to his apartment for dinner at his summons and found that he was alone. We ate together. His demeanor had changed. He was looking into my eyes and saying sweet things about my beauty. There were candles burning in sconces on the walls and on the table. He told me he had a gift for me and gave me some Nina Ricci perfume. Then he played a song for me that I had never heard before:
Lady, for so many years I thought I’d never find you
You have come into my life and made me whole
Forever let me wake to see you each and every morning
Let me hear you whisper softly in my ear
Lady, your love’s the only love I need
And beside me is where I want you to be
‘Cause, my love, there’s somethin’ I want you to know
You’re the love of my life, you’re my lady!
When he sang those verses to me, I melted. All my long-held prudishness vanished and when he kissed me I was sure that this was the reason I had come to Kuwait: to meet this man who would cook for me, who would burn rose-scented candles for me,give me perfume and sing me love songs.
I lorded it over his sitting room after that passionate night. He chose me! Suck it up, sisters! People still came and went, but I was the one he had chosen! He helped me buy a car. When he came to my apartment and saw that I didn’t have a TV or stereo yet, he insisted on taking me shopping and getting some for me. He fed me and showered me with gifts, a few nice pieces of clothing, scented candles, fresh flowers, perfume and lotion. I was loved! I loved him! I was a queen!
He continued to provide help to other people in the building, facilitating the purchase of cars, of SIM cards, of other items. I didn’t mind – I was queen!
Then it ended. He stopped calling me. He stopped taking my calls. I was too proud to go and knock on his door. I was too proud to call more than three times the first day, only two times the second, then I stopped, too. I was wretched. I learned that people still visited him, but not as much as before our affair started. I was even more wretched. Through the windows, I saw him go to his car or come back to the apartment building a few times and I was so sad.
I began to hear rumours here and there from people in the building. He took money from some for a purchase anddidn’t make the purchase and wouldn’t return the money. Another rumour was that he charged extra for things and took a generous commission for the help. Gradually the enchantment he had held over the expats in the building began to fade. My only comfort was that he had not cheated me! I had a TV and a stereo from him along with other nice gifts. He had even paid 1000 Kuwaiti dinars toward my car.
We did meet a couple of times over the next three months. He was always smiling and nice like I was just an acquaintance. I smiled and was nice in return, because I am a proud Canadian. The following year I accepted a new job elsewhere and moved away from the building. I had escaped with my pride intact…
…or had I?
About 3 years after that, when Dr. Hamad was very far behind me, I discovered how he had cheated me. During our ‘association’ he had taken a SIM card using my civil id. He stopped paying for the phone line and ran up a bill of over 500 Kuwaiti dinars. When the Zain phone company started chasing me for the money, I called him from an unfamiliar number and told him I would tell the police on him. He pretended it was all a mistake. I let him save face and go pay. He did. The following year, I went to buy a new car and discovered that I was barred from getting credit because I owed the Al Ghanim company nearly 1000 Kuwaiti dinars! With some investigation I discovered that it was for the TV and stereo which he had promised to pay for after taking it on credit with my civil id. They had been worth only a little over 300 Kuwaiti dinars, but had accrued interest in the four years that had passed. I paid the money.
Clearly Dr. Hamad was a ruthless.
Later, there was a mullah who was the General Manager of my company. His name was Abu Mohammed. His skin was dark, his face was thin and grooved and bearded as all mullah ought to be. I had to deal with him on several occasions because of staffing issues. I didn’t like him because I knew he was not treating some people fairly and would cut salaries for no reason. He never shook my hand, nor did I offer it. Mullah don’t touch women. When we spoke, he would avert his eyes. He was an untouchable with a raging libido. Rumor were rife within the company about an affair he was having with an Arab woman in the company. Other women spoke of his approaches. He never hit on me. When I left the company, he tried to avoid paying me my indemnity, but I fought him for it. I went to him to pick up my cheque, and my last words to him were snarled through gritted teeth. “You say you know God, but you don’t know anything about him. You’re not even Muslem!” I know I was risking a lot, he was Kuwaiti and close friends – possibly connected even – to one of the biggest families in Kuwait. I was so disgusted by him, I really didn’t care!
Then there was the Jordanian psychologist with a doctorate that was young, really nice and completely vapid. His name was Dr. Ali. I liked him because he had a funny sense of humour in spite of his difficulty communicating in English. He offered me $10,000 to marry him so he could get his Canadian citizenship. He was so honest and up-front about what he wanted, that I just laughed and laughed. He would come to my office and say he needed to talk to me in a hushed portentous voice. Then when we got together for coffee, he’d have something extremely minor to discuss. Often it was about a girl he liked – by then I’d turned his marriage offer down and we were just friends – and he would ask my advice about her. I liked him as a friend and we remained friends even after we stopped working together. He was a hopeless and a peerless.
One true peerless I met was a young Christian Egyptian musician. His name was John. What a nice man he was! We became fast friends. He did not spare the compliments, telling me repeatedly that I was beautiful. I thought for the longest time that he was interested in me, but he was looking for a girl with the same strong Christian beliefs and practices he espoused. By then I had abandoned a lot of my fundamental Christian practices, though remaining true to the essence of Christianity, I just wasn’t what he was looking for. We are friends to this day; he married the girl he was looking for and was very happy as a result.
I must confess that more than 70% of the men I dated before I met my peerless and subsequently married him, were ruthless. I could tell you stories about the two men that asked me to marry them by misyar. One was a lawyer and swore that he would take care of me and love me forever if I would become his secret wife. Another was an older man that wanted a secret wife to live in his secret apartment. I could tell you about Ahmed who drove a beautiful new BMW and wanted to marry me. The condition of the marriage was that I would convert to Islam, wear abiyah and hijab and also nirqab (long black gown, head scarf and face veil). When the conditions were spoken, the relationship ended because I didn’t want that. I’m not sure if I can put him the the ruthless category, but I did because he wouldn’t compromise. Then there were the two Adels. The first Adel was young, loved to laugh, watch Indian movies and take photos of me. We had many good times together, but he just wasn’t serious about the relationship. The second Adel was closer to my age, smoked heavily and brought me to all these fantastic Kuwaiti parties where the alcohol flowed freely. Kuwaiti girls would come to the parties in abiyah and hijab, remove them revealing scantily clothed
bodies and dance and make out with the men and drink as much or more than the men. Adel was handsome, sexy and had the husky sexy voice of the long-time smoker. But he wasn’t serious, either. All the above were Kuwaiti. There was also the Palestinian Faisal who had a really good job, drove a lovely car, swore he loved me and would always love me, but didn’t ever want to get married to anyone other than a girl his parents chose for him. By the time I met him, I was tired of the players, so he didn’t get very far with me once I had extracted this information. He was definitely a ruthless. The Egyptian diplomat, Jassem, wooed me with white wine and flowers and repeatedly averred his love for me but got nowhere once I learned that there was a wife back in Egypt. He called so many times after I turned him away, begging me to give him a chance. I will never forget Nagi, the Kuwaiti I chose to date over his brother Fahad who had accosted me in the parking lot of the Avenues after following me down the highway. Fahad asked me for my number and I gave it to him on a whim (I do crazy things like that, sometimes). We went out on a date, but I discovered that he was married and so, after he introduced me to his brother, I stopped taking his calls. Fahad still sent me text romantic text messages for the longest times after that. I started to date Nagi, but discovered that he was totally boring. He would bring me enormous flower arrangements, we’d go for dinner at a fancy restaurant and I would discover that he had nothing to say other than that I was beautiful. I really tried with him, but he never had anything interesting to say. He also refused to introduce me to his family, so I concluded that he must be a ruthless and dropped him.
As I’m writing this, I keep thinking of other men I could mention, but I won’t. I went through men so quickly. Dates were interviews I used to determine if I would stick with this one or that one. This seems so calloused, so cold. Really, I wanted a good man and I was having no luck finding MY peerless. Most of them just wanted sex. They were not what I was looking for. I learned that a man who wouldn’t introduce me to his family wasn’t serious and just wanted sex or misyar. I discovered that a non-Kuwaiti was often just looking for sex or for a Canadian passport or for a wealthy wife (I was not and am not wealthy, but to men who take a small salary because they are Arab, I was wealthy). I didn’t write this to offend anyone, just as a catharsis and also with a feeling of humble gratitude that I did finally find my peerless and marry him.