This is a fanciful narration of walking to work through the streets of Hawally. Although some facts have been changed to achieve fictional accuracy all off the hallucinations are real.
In my perpetual quest to become physically fit I make the 15 minute walk to school each day and walk back most days. Some days I cheat and take the school mini bus. On this morning I wear my bright yellow nylon jacket. I look like a street cleaner, as many wear brightly coloured jump suits, but the point is I feel safer, like wearing white at night, another safety concept that has not caught on here.
My thoughts are premature as a white Toyota van carrying school kids to the Pakistan Happy School merrily swerves towards me. I felt the three inches to spare between the vanâ€™s mirror and my chest was a near death experience. The driver probably felt three inches was a wide margin for error.
As I walked on I noticed that an older Egyptian man, warming himself by a fire in front of his parked front end loader, was laughing. He had obviously been a witness to my near miss. I gave a shrug indicating who can explain crazy drivers. He then pointed at his own chest as an indicator that he acknowledged my bright yellow jacket. I ran my hands along the length of the jacket and shrugged again. I felt like a third base umpire as I communicated with my hands. Without language we had shared a moment in Kuwaiti traffic history. Of course if I misinterpreted our little exchange he could have been saying that foreign infidels need bullet proof vests to survive.
My walk takes me passed many sights and sounds and tactile experiences enough to stimulate any learning style. On the side streets and in the absence of anything resembling sidewalks, dexterity is essential to maneuver around the garbage dumpsters, parked cars and the variety of urban flotsam and jetsam that abounds. I wear very sensible shoes, with good traction and thick soles. I have reflexes like the feral cats that inhabit the dumpsters along the route. I am sure footed and alert. Actually, thatâ€™s mainly a crock of shit. Itâ€™s 6:30 in the morning. Iâ€™m slow and semi comatose and in no mood to talk to another living person. I am walking a gauntlet and still fear for my life.
Along the way I must cross Tunis Street one of two main streets in Hawally, the ghetto suburb in which I live (editorial comment). Kuwait was never designed for the pedestrian. This is an automobile society. The traffic is thick, continuous, fast and evil. As I approach Tunis from a quieter side street I feel my adrenaline rise, or it might be bile. I begin to awake from my stupor knowing full well that I must soon be at the peak of my game in order to cross this busy road. Life, as I know it, is in the balance.
Moses had it easy with the Red Sea. Having the ability to part a sea is not actually a level playing field. Knowing full well I could not part the traffic and realizing the force is not with me, nor seldom is, I tentatively walked on the sidewalk (now there was one) parallel to the constant flow of TATA buses, scooters, trucks, taxies and foul smelling diesel engines.
I turned and scanned the horizon for a gap, even a subtle, tiny one, in the line of traffic. Looking for my window of opportunity. Horns blared. I controlled my panic. Knowing I must do this thing. I must get to class my students need me. They depend on me. They hang on my every word. The future of the free world depends on my crossing Tunis. Itâ€™s a bogus little pep talk I give myself before launching across the street. Sometimes it works. Today, I think not.
I was about to go for it, cross Tunis that is, when to my utter surprise, and partial satisfaction, my pants started to vibrate. It was Cheryl on the cell phone. I was then able to give her a real time narration of my crossing of Tunis at morning rush hour. I felt like my hero Jack Bauer.
â€œI want you to know that what ever happens I love you. I have to cross the street nowâ€
Dead Man Walking: A Pedestrian Story from Kuwait
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