11 July 2009

teaching and tourism….a three week recapitulation

A trip to Kuwait City's Souq al-Jum'a (aka Friday Market) on 26 June proved to be an intimate exploration of contemporary Arabian culture. Wandering through this enormous open-air maze of tea vendors, wheelbarrow toting porters, rugs (not the renowned handmade Persian type, but something akin to what you might find at Target), used sink fixtures, prayer beads, tables (kitchen, coffee, end, and otherwise), turquoise jewelry, and myriad of other knickknacks, is reminiscent of brief pauses at flea markets, but markedly different than time spent perusing El Rasto, or searching for spices in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. If ever one were simultaneously in need of the most common of household items as well as the oddest of oddities, Souq al-Jum'a should be near (if not at the pinnacle) of your list of shopping destinations. Although we certainly did not explore the entirety of this bonanza of bargains, the plethora of products was more than evident (fresh produce and spices being notably absent).


Weaving through stacks of used blenders, a melee of one-off baby products, cacophonous array patterned textiles from India, and heaping mounds of bicycles in various states of disrepair, we eventually navigated our way to the periphery of market. For the sake of clarity, allow me to offer a few words regarding the market structure. Set behind a non-too-foreboding wall, entering the main market area requires passage through large metal gates. The interior courtyard-esque area of this merchandisers Mecca consists of a series of roofed strucuturesthat provide much needed shade for vendors and bargainers alike. Surrounding the main market are a variety of smaller, more specific markets.

The overwhelming majority of these satellite markets seemed to focus on the sale of animals. From a health perspective, it makes great sense to separate incompatible uses (very Euclidean). Placing drapes, dressers, and duvets inside the wall and snakes, sheep, and swans beyond the inner keep seems logical (given my other experiences with Kuwaiti infrastructure and planning endeavors, this simple division of [potentially conflicting] uses is remarkable). Beyond the naturally sand blasted and sun faded walls of the main market area was a veritable Noah's Ark.

Monkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, snakes, fishes, sheep, goats, water fowl, poultry....the list goes on and on. Despite this diversity, all of the animals were united by the common bond of suffering. All types of birds (e.g. chickens, ducks, geese, quail, guinea fowl, etc. [house/cage birds were down the road in another, similarly atrocious, building]) under one roof and their neighbors (i.e. dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys, and [possibly] a chinchilla) experienced universal health risks and displayed widespread depression no matter the species nor the location within the concrete islands of animal atrocities.

Malnourished and knocking on Death's door, the dogs exhibited particularly visible signs of suffering. Expressive in their sorrow, each canine was enthusiastically panting in the absence of food or water while chained (or caged) within the not-too-friendly confines. Even in the shade, the temperatures reached well over 110 Fahrenheit. A few vendors were kind enough to occasional spritz their products with some water from a spray bottle. Lacking veterinarian training, my hypothesis may lack expertise, but I am rather confident that most (if not all) of the animals in the market do not hydrate themselves via osmosis. Still though, some water, no matter the form, is better than none.

Earlier in the week a number of my students asked if I had any exciting touristy activities on the weekend schedule. Informing them of our (i.e. the VT gang) slated exploration of the Friday Market, I was forewarned of the "terrible" and "bring tears to your eye" animal market. Perhaps I should have better prepared myself mentally and emotionally for the animal market, but I did not expect such blatant disregard for animal welfare.

On one level, the animal market should not have come as such as surprise. During my travels, I have had the displeasure of seeing some rather poorly treated (or simply un-treated/un-loved) animals (usually dogs and cats) rummaging for food, scooting through patternless traffic, and searching for some form of affection. However, on another (perhaps deeper) level, I am still struggling with the apparent lack of compassion. In simple terms, it is bad business to display less than stellar products. Simply put, the animals at the market were there to be sold. The wise business move would, of course, be to keep them healthy. Despite this Maximizing Your Selling Potential dictum, nearly every animal was suffering from one, if not many, ailments. A doberman lying in the heat of the shade while chained to a fence was particularly heart wrenching. While watching this poor pup, it was hard not to think of my childhood doberman Zelda (yes, I had a dog named after the Nintendo game).
...to be concluded and populated with additional photos ASAP...