selling textiles in the old souk

A single voice rings out over the city — its quickly joined by a second and a third. All overlapping, echoing and ringing out from the hundreds of minarets that dot the Kuwaiti landscape. Each voice, tone and melody is different — but they’re all saying the same thing.

Five times a day, the call to prayer is announced from every mosque. Some of you who have travelled to parts of the Middle East or Turkey (even England!) may be familiar with the sound of this chanted song that invites people to come to prayer. It’s part and parcel of being in a predominantly Muslim country.

It’s not hard to see how the religion has meshed with the Kuwaiti culture. You can’t escape the constant reminders in the city’s art and architecture, the shops, the people — making it easy to be constantly reminded to be an observant muslim. Seriously, there’s a prayer room in the McDonalds! But there you have it… you hear the call to prayer, and the latest pop music still plays in Starbucks, H&M, Marks and Spencer, while neon flashing lights flash over the city.

The posh souk is a collection of high-end stores. Some of the best names in the business are housed in ultra-modern malls with elaborate fountains, decorations, marble floors, and architectural feats. During the fast, shops are only open from 10am to 3pm. They reopen right after break-fast and stay open all night long. Thousands flood the streets just after sunset to shop, eat, party and partake in the festive atmosphere.

After moving through the crowds eyeing gorgeous clothes and cars (did I mention that the streets are filled with the latest in Lexus, Mercedes, and Porsche?) we stopped at a street juice bar. And it’s not just juice — we’re talking thick, separate layers of fresh juice and pulp… mango, strawberry and banana.. all blended together, but only after you’ve stirred.

The big highlight over the past two days was seeing the Grand Mosque — the outside of it anyway. These days anywhere from 20,000 to 35,000 people are attending for the evening program. It will rise up to 80,000 over the next three nights as Ramadan comes to an end. So we’ll have to go early to catch a spot on the inside.

Last night I was overwhelmed with the numbers of people. A sea of black and white moved over the pale marble floor and brightly designed floor carpets. (women tend to wear a light black overcoat called an ‘Abaya, while men wear dishdasha, a bright white pant suit that looks like a robe) When we exited the car we were immediately hit with a wave of cardamon-spiced coffee. Coffee and tea vendors dispense free refreshments nightly. They push around these beautifully carved wooden carts, that are decorated with embossed gold sun bursts, stars and arabic calligraphy.

Next was entering one of the main courtyards. Row after row of marble pillars, massive carved archways, and hanging chandeliers accent the natural beauty of this open-air space. Each wall is decorated with either a mosaic of geometric blue and white tiles, or with five foot tall calligraphy carvings. Because of the heat, they’ve temporally installed a water spray system that intermittently doused us with a fine mist. The water droplets floating in the air just added to the ethereal mood. I’m sure for some, the art and decorations are beautiful and familiar. For me, they were exotic and intricate displays of humanity’s creative potential.

Dwarfed by this massive structure, we sat and watched thousands of people prepare themselves for the evening program. Verses of the Qur’an were recited (by my favourite reciter!) — they echoed and reverberated around us. Each wall, pillar and arch amplified the sound and it made our insides shake. It was simply amazing.