Bryn Barnard, with Camel
A hundred miles northwest of Seattle lies a pebble throw of unexpectedly sunny islands. These San Juan islands are home to killer whales and seas, and the artist Bryn Barnard, who is the illustrator of our Dragon Mountain puzzle.
Well, until a few months ago. Bryn left the quiet of Friday Harbor and journeyed to Kuwait City, to teach art. Here's a recent missive from Bryn about the cultural differences (and similarities?) he's discovering in Kuwait:
To those of us who ride the bus here, it's self-evident that transportation in Kuwait City would be easier and more efficient with a bus map, either on paper or online or both, indicating, at minimum, routes and a timetable.
Kuwait has neither.
The buses are cheap, clean, quiet, air-conditioned and efficient. They are the primary means of moving immigrant workers from their homes to their jobs and back again.
But unless one is in the know, figuring out how to get from point a to b this way is a mystery.
So we rely on hear-say. “To get to the Old Souk, take the 666 and get off at the McDonald's. “To get to Marina Mall, take the 99, and don't worry when it makes the hard right away from the Gulf Road. Get off at the empty lot by the minaret.” Which is a boon for taxi drivers who charge ten times the price, even when they are actually moonlighting lab workers and have no idea how to get you where you want to go.
Kuwaitis bother neither with buses nor taxis. Even ten year olds have personal drivers. Some fifteen year olds have their own cars (one of my grade 9 students got an Escalade as a birthday present).
For them, any inefficiencies in the world of bus commuting is an issue on par in unimportance with, say, spotted owls, melting ice caps, or the European debt crisis.
So I guess I should not have been surprised at this reaction when I put it to my eleventh grade advisory students, nearly all of whom are Kuwaiti, who are required by the International Baccalaureate program to do a community service project as a graduation requirement. Why not, I suggested, a bus map?
It was as if I'd released a particularly bad smell in the room.
In fact, instantly, noses wrinkled, and one student even waved her hand in front of her face.
“But sir, she protested, “they smell!”
“But sir,” said another, “We don't ride the buses.”
“I ride the bus.” I said.
“You're not Kuwaiti.”