Tuesday, June 14, 2011
OF COFFEE, CAKE AND COPTIC COURTESY
I was not left alone in that grim room for more than five minutes, before the Captain entered, profusely apologizing, and inviting me (again in cultured English) to join him in his office while “this unfortunate matter is cleared up.” A minute later we two sat at an elegant low oak table as lower ranks poured coffee and brought a tray of small cakes and pastries. Expecting some form of interrogation I mentally conceded. If this is what it takes then I will tell all! The coffee was freshly brewed, aromatic, strong, and unlike any other form of café that I have ever drunk. In a word, it was heavenly. And the small bites? Each one differently flavored. Vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, various herbs (especially tarragon. A tarragon cake? Oh yes!)
The two of us savored this small and sweet feast in silence for at least a minute or two. He was the first to speak. You are my guest. This is most regrettable, and not of our doing. The rules changed only yesterday and others gave the orders. Others? I was curious. He said nothing but gave a fleeting glance at the window that gave a view of the outer office desks where half a dozen personnel were at work. Standing out beyond them were the white robes of the two men clearly taking an interest in the running of the airport security. Wahhabi religious police. Mutaween. Saudis. Now all began to make sense, if anything does make sense in this part of the world.
The news that an attaché was on the way with the necessary paperwork to get me into Kuwait was encouraging, but strangely enough didn’t please me as it ought to have done. You see I was enjoying my little adventure, and was having a great conversation with the Police Captain. Trust now established he let me know that although he was born and bred in Kuwait his family had roots in Egypt, and were all Coptic Christians. I commented on his excellent English and he said that his father had worked for the British administration in the 1950s, Kuwait then being an independent principality under British treaty. He was educated in English. His Home Counties accent? He laughed. It has come from a lifetime of listening to the BBC World Service!
A knock on the door announced the arrival of the naval attaché. A blue ink visa was ceremoniously stamped in my passport, and shaking the hand of the Captain I left – blinking in the daylight, still bright in the late afternoon. Again the smell of the desert. I wanted to explore, but (sigh) had a ship to join. (To be continued)
Posted by Tim Lewis at 6:41 PM