My trip from New York to Delhi on February 24th was the first time I’d ever flown on Kuwait Airlines. The name alone is enough to strike fear, or at the very least some aversion, in the average American’s heart: when I related the company I’d be flying with this time around, the responses were almost always a mixture of apprehension, concern, and humor. Of course, most people my age and a little bit younger can remember how Kuwait becamse a household name during the early 90s’ Gulf War, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and we came to the heroic aid of their oil (some say people).
When I asked the travel agent I’d booked the ticket with whether I had anything to worry about during my 5 1/2 layover in Kuwait, his response was somewhat reassuring; in the way that something can be reassuring because you intuit that it is probably mostly true but at the same time the person doing the reassuring is mainly doing so for business purposes. Echoes bouncing off echoes. At the nanosecond of this present writing moment, I am yet to land in Kuwait, and thus unable to verify Sonny the Indian New Jersyan travel agent’s words: ‘Oh really sir it’s no problem, people this totally wrong conception of it, it is actually quite a nice place, and after all it’s an international airport, and where you’ll be there is security everywhere…”
It’s not that I’m worried.
But apparently I’m one of the brave ones, judging by the sheer number of empty seats on the plane — at present I would estimate that less than 45% of the seats are full, and of those few appear to be Americans of the caucasian persuasion. Certainly the most empty international flight I’ve ever seen. I kind of like that, actually.
“Want to fly to India practically alone? Come join us at Kuwait Air!”
The service is alright — worse than Jet Air, the Indian airline I flew with last time, but better than most American airlines, which these days seems to not be saying much. The seat-screens are funky, looking like a cross between a Desert Storm video transmission and a Nintendo game. The map of the world that is shown in rotation with other flight information reminds me of the “this is what you must conquer” world maps from early ’90s war strategy video games. Most of the flight information is in Arabic, with the occasional English, which makes me wonder whether they just don’t do many international flights, or if the same renegade Japanese Nintendo programmer who designed the beauties has a thing for consistency or a preference for the swirling Arabic script.
Probably just convenient that way, I realize.
Quickly approaching Kuwait City, I look at one of the very few maps that has English translations, and see what I envision as a connect-the-dots map of all the cities that most of have heard of, but very few of us have ever visited: Abu Dhabi, Tehran, Baghdad, Medina. And then some: Makkah, Bahrain, Riyadh, Doha. Even sweet old Athens is there, hanging out in the northwest… A reminder that Western and Middle Eastern cultures are closer than most of us care to think — historically, geographically, and culturally.