Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Workin' at the Car Wash

The old "office-in-the-car-wash" district idea went absurdly wrong along the way.

On the day we arrived, workers nailed down thresholds across each office door. We were opening and shutting doors to keep out the noise of drills. A mandoub had to take us to IKEA to buy trashcans, and to the supermarket to buy toilet paper for the bathrooms.

The Internet went off. Then it was on. Then it was off. And off. And off. We spent a lot of time and money at Starbucks. At one point there were no phones. The other people in the office told us to come in and out of the back door like squatters sneaking around (I refused and so far no one has confronted me about it).

Anyway, one day I spent about three hours fighting with a printer (the kind that my computer hooks up to, not the kind that supplies us with comic books but I know that is coming too), and there was still no Internet. Someone in the other office did something to the firewall. No one seemed to be in a rush to repair it. I had been trying to establish an FTP site for the art team for a week. I needed to get a bio off one of them for the website. I needed to e-mail the writer about the use of the term "terrorism" in the script. The water went off for a while. Then there were no toilets. I went to Mr. Fixit and demanded to know who I could yell at.

Fortunately, Sven was a step ahead of me and was far more reasonable than I would have been. He didn't yell, but I imagine he was not a pushover.

The end result was that the owner of our company let us rent a satellite office for a short time in the rental fully equipped offices of the Gulf Business Centre. They thought we were just coming to look but were taken aback when I moved in, along with Sven and the staff writer.

I was delighted. From here, I could walk to work. There were restaurants in the mall downstairs where we could buy food. There was a nice lady who fetches glasses of water and cappuccino for us. Another woman keeps the bathrooms spic-and-span (although she yelled at me today--I think it was over leaving tissue in the toilet, then later she either told me hair was dirty or that she was off-duty.) There are shops where I can buy things like shampoo (if this sounds like not-much of a luxury, bear in mind that you can't buy a lot in a car wash, aside from Turtle Wax, and I'm allergic to oil and I bet that's not oil-free).

I had a productive day today and was then walking home. sipping a smoothie from our office mall. Getting to the new office is difficult. To get there by bus would involve a transfer and still involve a 15-20 minutes walk at the end. The mandoubs pick up those of us who don't have cars and then take us home at the end of the day. I don't accept service any better than I take a compliment. It makes me feel oddly bourgeois, like I'm doing something horribly indulgent.

We've talked about getting me a car since I got here. I was game when it was 60 dinars a month to rent one… but that turned out to be wishful thinking. It's 100 Kuwaiti dinars, which is $342.

No thanks.

Plus, I'm afraid to drive here. They drive on the right and roads are well marked in both Arabic and English. There isn't an insane amount of traffic.

But people tailgate like mad, at dangerously high speeds. The results litter the roads—smashed-up or upside-down newish cars, now useless.

One day Sven and I went for steak along the Gulf Road. Afterwards, we saw a Suburban that looked like Godzilla had flattened it. A SUBURBAN! Do you know how big a Suburban is? To my knowledge, Godzilla has not visited Kuwait. How the hell do you nearly flatten a Suburban?

A week does not go by without spotting a crashed car by the side of the road. One sat in front of my apartment building for four days before someone took it away.

But then Sven started talking about buying a car. Or maybe leasing one. But he doesn't have his license yet (his US one had expired) and he can't get it without his residency permit, which is taking forever. So I would rent it off him and I'd cover the Bneid al-Gar/Sharq employees for the ride to-and-from Car Wash Land. Sven and I could then get to the camel races on Thursday, and we could check out the robot jockeys (it used to be indentured kids). I could buy groceries at the discount place. I could join a gym. I could go to souks, and the famous Friday Market. It would be nice to have a car.

This evening, after another blissful (well, as blissful as working gets) day of working at the satellite office in Sharq, I started my walk home. I'd been taking different routes daily, but today had worked late and just wanted to walk the most direct route. So I followed the highway.

I was lost in thought, trying to figure out what visual manifestation of her power the organizing hero could have, when I heard a loud crumple/smash.

There was an orange Bedouin taxi up on the curb. And a white minivan that was only askew across lanes.

And a medium-sized sedan was just skidding to a halt, driver's side down in the middle of the highway.

I know how a car turns on its side. It involves a ditch or an uneven road. This was a perfectly level paved highway.

How the hell does something like that happen?

Cars stopped and men got out. Male pedestrians ran over from all sides. Several were on cell phones, presumably calling for the police. Kuwait residents know how to react to a car crash.

They tried to climb up and open the passenger door. When that didn't work, with great rapidity and teamwork, ten men from the Asian Subcontinent--who were probably total strangers to each other--tipped the car back onto its wheels. They opened the driver's door, unfastened his seatbelt, and helped him from the car to the island in the middle of the highway.

The man looked dazed. He sat on a rock. He was a middle-aged man with a potbelly and a bald head, with a moustache. He didn't look like a speeding maniac.

How does a car do that?

Maybe there's a reason this is an alcohol-free country. And maybe I'm better off without a car in Kuwait.


Pville Peg said...

Yet another great story, chock-full of thought provoking questions ("How does a car do that?") Your blog is always entertaining, Marie.

From a previous blog entry, I know that you've been frustrated in your book editing by how many words it takes to paint the picture that a comic could display visually in a panel or two. But, it doesn't matter how many words it takes, Marie--what matters is how well you do at painting that picture in the reader's mind: how clearly, how amusingly, how lyrically, how insightfully, how entertainingly. Ultimately, if the writer is good (and you are very good), the image that forms in the reader's mind is going to be much better, and richer, and more interesting than looking at a couple of panels of drawings. This is for the same reason that we are always disappointed to view a movie made from a book we love--the pictures in our mind were better, and different, from what is frozen, in imaginationless detail, on the screen.

How about a cast of Kuwait City characters? Who is Sven, anyhow? For a long-time I thought that "Mr. Fixit" was a nickname based on the boss's functions (he makes things work), but now I'm thinking that really is his name, since I haven't noticed that you've called him anything else. Or, is it better, given the volatile anti-Western sentiments of the time and place you find yourself, to leave everyone more or less anonymous? Even so, you could give your co-workers pseudo-names/pseudonyms, but still tell us a little more about them.

--your nosy-as-always Auntie Peg

Anonymous said...

could the Q 8 E'ss be pulling off insurance scams with all the smashed cars!

or could they be closet alcoholics?

Ed Ward said...

I had a friend who worked in Saudi for the oil business (high school job: he was from Houston), and he claimed that the heat is what makes the drivers crazy. He'd be driving out into the countryside to visit a site, and see where a car had just gone off the highway: 45-degree turn to the right, straight line into the desert, car still there, corpse not. "I saw this all the time," he said.

Kuwait may not be as hot as Saudi, but I bet it's hot enough. And no, you probably don't want your own car.

Linda said...

Robot jockeys??? I hope you get to the camel races and get a photo of these robots.

Maybe what Kuwait needs is robot drivers.

Anonymous said...

Robot jockeys??? I hope you get to the camel races and get a photo of these robots.

Isn't this the one time "Camel Jockey" is not considered an offensive term?

Just wondering...

Jared said...

Get a car. Join the fun.

Di Mackey said...

By the time I had finished wandering through your site and Sven's, I could do nothing but smile ... it sounds like a wonderful life and reminds me of living in Turkey. Nice site, really nice!