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Life in the Persian Gulf

January 31, 2008 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

The Persian Gulf is the absolute last place I ever imagined myself visiting, let alone living. The first time I even heard about this region was when I was a Senior in high school. Saddam Hussein had invaded the State of Kuwait in 1991 and President George Bush Sr. had decided to send U.S. Troops to fend off the Iraqis. I remember my History teacher, on the very day the news of the commencement of the Persian Gulf War broke, offered all the students 10 bonus points on their next test if they could simply spell the word ‘Kuwait’. No one could.

Things have changed drastically since then. First, I now live in Kuwait and I know how to spell it! I moved here almost 12 years ago and can barter with the best of the Kuwaitis even though I don’t know a shred of Arabic. This tiny patch of windswept desert has captured my heart and become my new home. Life, however, in Kuwait is a lot different than it is in my own homeland of the USA. There are both positive and negative aspects about living in this region.

One of the most peculiar things I have experienced is the cost of living. It’s pretty much a financial roller coaster ride. Things like health care and utilities are very affordable. Expatriates in Kuwait pay around $100, per family member, a year for unlimited health care at the government clinics and hospitals although they must pay about $4 per visit. Utilities are also dirt cheap, with unlimited electricity, water and local phone service running under $100 per year. Kuwait is also an affordable place for families. For example, parents in the US pay upwards of $20 per pack of diapers or per canister of baby formula. In Kuwait, diapers can be purchased for less than $5 a pack and formula runs under $4. And let’s not forget about gas. Filling up an SUV with Premium Unleaded runs less than $20 in Kuwait whereas it is almost $90 in the US.

However, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, life in Kuwait has gotten a whole lot more expensive. The construction market has exploded. Kuwaiti landlords have literally added floors to their existing buildings and then redone the whole face of the structure. Rental prices have gone up by 50% over the past few years. Newly constructed buildings are so miniaturized that most of the bedrooms can hold a bed and nothing more. The landlords are trying to save space so that they can make a couple of extra apartments. Meanwhile, tenants are squeezed into these little monstrosities like sardines.

The most expensive items on the family budget, in addition to rent, are the prices of private school tuition and IT services. There are no public schools in Kuwait. Kuwaiti students attend government schools for free, whereas expatriate students have a veritable smorgasbord of private schools to choose from–with just about every nationality being represented. Private school fees range between $100 – $1000 a month. Most schools in Kuwait are substandard in education. Parents often pay an additional $60 a month to have their children’s studies supplemented by a private tutor.

As for IT services, the most cutting-edge IT technology is available in Kuwait. Dial-Up is the cheapest and runs under $20 a month. However, IT services like Broadband and DSL often run into a few hundred dollars per month depending on what your requirements are.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of living in the Persian Gulf is the fear factor. We have all the same crimes that exist in the US and the rest of the World. The scary part for expatriates, however, is not knowing the local language in case of an emergency. And betting that an emergency service operator will know English could be a fatal gamble. Without ignoring the obvious, the Persian Gulf, and the rest of the Middle East, is an explosive place to live in. There are already two wars going on simultaneously and everyone in the Gulf is holding their breath to see if the US will attack Iran. You can never feel confident about the safety of your family when living in the Persian Gulf. Bombs can drop from the sky without a moments notice and any evacuation by the US Embassy can take days to even initiate.

Overall I do feel blessed to be a part of the social fabric of the Persian Gulf. I could not imagine living anywhere else regardless of the drawbacks, which clearly do not outweigh the positives. Moving to a new country and finding both success and happiness is the best way to test a human’s mettle.

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