Sunday, June 12, 2011
Arriving in Kuwait
After an uneventful flight, sweetmeats and champagne, the Kuwait Airlines place touched down in Kuwait City a little after two in the afternoon. The captain, in an immaculate cut glass English accent, then apologized ("I'm awfully sorry...") for what he called an "disembarkational mess" at the terminal, and informed us that we would have to leave the aircraft via motorized steps that would meet us at the alloted spot. There were a few quite grunts and murmurs of disapproval, but I liked the idea thinking that's how they used to do it. I remembered posters of happy, white-teethed and well-dressed BOAC passengers looking out from then top of one of these airport ladders, feeling at the time a sense of adventure. Now I would get to do the same. Which I did.
The first assault on my senses was the heat. When I looked out from the top of that ladder all I could think about was the searing heat. That was natural enough as I had been in air-conditioning for four hours, but this was more than a change of environment. This was a broiler heat under a high afternoon sun. That light itself was piercing, not only directly but in its rebounding off the metal of the aircraft, the steel steps of the stairs - even the pale yellow concrete of the ground. And then there was the smell. A scent that defied a single word. It was hot. It was dry. It was also sterile, and yet carried with it a tinge of something that a person like me had never experienced before. It was the smell of the desert.
Oddly enough I thought the cool interior of the terminal disappointing. Perhaps I was still thinking of that desert, that wilderness that the explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger once described as "The place on earth that reminds us of our true vulnerability. Yet we flee such places in favor of what we dimly call 'civilization.'"
Those of us who are, or who have been regular travellers, know that in most airports there are two lines of arrival, citizens and non-citizens. Well in Kuwait City, that delightful hot day, and all days, there was one queue, quickly moving, each person flashing a passport or official identification at the poker-faced staff. All that is, except me. For when it came to my turn I handed over my passport, in which Her Britannic Majesty requests others to grant free passage to the bearer, and was told I was going no further. Where was my visa? I had none. I informed them I was entering the country on military business. What military business, he asked unemotionally? Joining a NATO warship was my reply, but the NATO Travel Order which I placed on his desk did not impress him. Come with me please, was his suddenly sharp request, and a young soldier stepped up and unshouldered his weapon. This was an unexpected turn of events. I was taken, politely yet firmly, to a room with two chairs yet no window, and asked to sit and wait. Did I have an option? Sit and wait was repeated. The door was left ajar, but judging by the doubling of the guard outside that door one thing was crystal clear. I was under arrest.
Posted by Tim Lewis at 8:27 PM