Thursday, July 22, 2004

Thoughts from the edge of limbo

I continue to have the privilege, or misfortune, to receive continuing instruction in the lost art of patience. It seems that being a mere number in a database precludes one from any degree of personal consideration.  As I have pointed out before I am an individual on this deployment.  I am without a unit and the accompanying support one gains from that experience. 
It seems all of the delays I experienced getting to this point were just preparatory training for further delays. I am but a mere captain awaiting space on a flight that will take me from Kuwait to Iraq.  I am part of a queue of “patiently” waiting souls that include all manner of ranks, job specialties and military services.  Unfortunately for me, as I scan the room filled with others in my predicament I painfully realize that in this particular circumstance being a mere captain holds little weight.  There are many folks much more senior than I awaiting flights.  I am certain in the battle of whose situation is more urgent I will continue to lose my battle to secure a seat on a north bound plane. Ah yes, being a number is trying indeed.
I am disconnected with much of the ordinary events of the world.  I read the Stars and Stripes, I watch the news during chow, but otherwise I know very little of what is occurring in the world outside of my little slice of it.  I get a few fleeting moments of access time to the Net each day.  Otherwise it is just me sitting atop my bags with a couple books and my laptop.
I have been to Kuwait several times in the past.  Most were under much happier times.  Kuwait is a fascinating land.  It is unlike any other place on earth.  For sure it is a Muslim nation but it is not nearly as repressive or radical as that concept might engender in the mind of the uninitiated.
Kuwait is one of the few truly modern aristocracies existing and functioning today.  The population is neatly divided into five castes; the royal family, native Kuwaitis, Western military, Bedouins, and third country nationals.
The royal family and those descended from families that claim the land from the time of the first Emir comprise Kuwaiti citizens.  They alone have franchise to vote; they are given special protection under the law.  In reality, Kuwaiti citizens comprise much less than half the population of Kuwait.  Kuwaitis perform no real work.  Some few hold professional positions in the military, law or medicine.  All of the Kuwaiti officer corps is comprised of Kuwaiti citizens. Others hold positions in government; often these are no more than titular positions.  Kuwaiti businessmen seldom take a very active role in the day-to-day operation of their enterprises. All true Kuwaiti citizens receive a stipend from the government; a form of oil profit sharing for the aristocracy.
Bedouins occupy a unique and odd position in Kuwaiti society and culture.  According to their own traditions and Kuwaiti law they are forbidden from establishing permanent residence. The realities of the modern nation-state and controlled borders combined with the amenities available to a people that establish some roots to the land have effected a change in the lifestyle of the Bedouin.  Today all across Kuwait Bedouins pitch their tents in what have become basically permanent arrangements.  Their tents are equipped with satellites dishes, swamp coolers, utility connections, driveways, landscaping of a sort and several vehicles parked out front.
Third country nationals, known as TCN’s, comprise the majority of the population of Kuwait. They pick up the garbage, cook and serve food at restaurants, mange the shops, drive the buses and taxis. Without this labor force Kuwait would not function.  Stated more accurately, without TCN’s Kuwaitis would actually have to perform these functions. TCN’s live a precarious life.  They fall under a different set of laws; they are subject to arrest for things Kuwaitis are immune to.  They can be and are deported with ease for minor violations.  In the mind of egalitarians in the West this might be viewed as atrocious.  When one considers that work in Kuwait presents a real opportunity for these guest workers and when the happiness that these workers go about their daily existence is considered it appears that this is a system that works.
This leaves of course Western military inside Kuwait.  In all honesty we are treated far better here than any treatment I have ever received anywhere in the United States.  The first time I visited the country after the war in 1991 a Kuwaiti that I had conversed with aboard the plane invited me to his home for tea.  In the Arab world this is a great honor.  Each and every time I have flown into the Kuwait City airport I have enjoyed a speedy transition through customs.  Never once have I stood in the lines that the majority of visitors endure; never once have my bags been searched; never once has the customs officials said anything more to me than “thank you, enjoy your visit to Kuwait”.
Imagine that treatment compared to the hypersensitive Nazi’s that work airports in the United States under the careful supervision of the Transportation Agency and the insidious Homeland Security goons. As a commissioned officer, sworn to defend the Constitution and cleared by other hypersensitive intelligence Nazis in other government agencies to access classified material, I have been subjected to searches and detailed questioning on more occasions than I can count.  There have been occasions when, because I purchased my ticket late or my arrangements were one way, I have been pulled out of the security line for in-depth questioning. This while folks remain that look much more threatening than me to me; this in the country I am sworn to defend.  Not so in Kuwait; in this land we are treated as the benefactors of freedom.
In Kuwait it is not uncommon for citizens to come up to you and personally thank you.  It is not uncommon for people in line at McDonald’s to offer to allow you to move to the front of the line.  The one time that I was pulled over for speeding here in 1997 we were allowed to go immediately when the police realized that we were US military.  In Kuwait, Kuwaitis understand full well that their aristocracy and well being rest squarely on the soldiers of other nations that fought for and stood in the desert for a decade defending the continued right of the Kuwaiti system to exist. 
Right or wrong, Kuwait is a nice place to visit because of the genuine love and affection demonstrated by Kuwaitis. 
All the same….I will be very happy to board the “next thing smoking” in a northern direction.  My ability to remain positive in the midst of nothing constructive to do is lapsing. 

Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem
El Cid 

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