Monday, February 20, 2006

Lunch with Zahra

I spent the day in Essex today, having lunch at the home of Zahra (Dickson) Freeth and her daughter. Zahra is the daughter of Lt.-Col. H.R.P. and Dame Violet Dickson. As a quick history lesson: Col. Dickson was the British Political Agent to Kuwait from 1929-1936, who then worked for the Kuwait Oil Company after he retired from the British government. Col. Dickson passed away in 1959 but his wife, Dame Violet, also known as Umm Saud, remained in Kuwait in their family home on the Gulf Road until she passed away in 1991 at the age of 92. Most people in Kuwait still remember Umm Saud, as she was a fixture in Kuwait up until the invasion. Zahra spent her childhood years with her parents in Kuwat in the 1930s before going away to boarding school. She is an absolutely lovely lady, and a magnificent source of information on Kuwaiti history. I became friends with the family a few years ago, and it was nice to be able to spend the day with them again. Unfortunately, I found out that her brother Saud, who also spent a few years in Kuwait as a child with their parents, passed away this past May.

It was wonderful to get out of the city and into the English countryside. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and it was great sitting there and talking for hours with someone who knows so much about Kuwaiti history, first hand. She has so many stories, knows so many different sides to Kuwait's history that you never really hear. Although she has written books on Kuwait, she still has so much more knowledge that she hasn't shared. So we decided that in a couple of months, once my coursework settles down, I will go back down to Essex with a tape recorder and record an oral history of her life and experiences and memories of Kuwait.

I also found out that a well known English historian on Kuwait acknowledged me in one of his recent books, which I didn't know about. I had been in touch with him years ago and I vaguely remember assisting him with something via E-mail (I now know what that something is but to disclose it here would be to give out too much info!). Anyway, apparently he thanked me in his book, which I have actually seen and looked through before without noticing it (who reads the acknowledgements when flipping through a book?). So I can't wait to buy a copy for myself now!

And finally, I love traveling by train. Not the tube, but the actual rail. I hadn't been on a train for about a year now, not since last year in Italy, and so it felt nice for a change. I absolutely adore trains - somehow the world seems right when you're staring out at it from the window of a train - you feel like everything in life is OK. I don't know what it is...but it's the right way to travel.

Anyway, going back, as many of you may know the Dickson House still exists in Kuwait and is located across the street from the Souq Sharq Fish Market. It is open for visitors during regular working hours, and I would advise you to go and check it out if you've never been there. It's a beautiful home and so many historical events in Kuwait took place within those walls (like the signing of Kuwait's first oil concession, although the table it was signed on was stolen during the invasion).


  • I enjoyed the little history lesson. I barely know anything about our country's history, it's shameful!

    Trains are heaven. Unless you ride them in 3rd world countries and then it's a really awful experience. So I'll amend that to trains in Europe are heaven to me.

    Is Dickson House the first on the 'What to Do in Kuwait' list? ;P I've been meaning to go there for a long time but never find anyone to go with. Okay, I have found people, we just never manage to make our way there.

    By Blogger Tooomz, at 2/20/2006 10:42 pm  

  • I read her books, they are excellent, but now you got me captivated. What did she tell you that was not in her books?

    By Blogger don_veto, at 2/21/2006 1:11 am  

  • Tooomz: Shame on you! :) Kuwait actually has a more interesting history than most people think. A great book for you to get that is kind of like an encyclopedic history of Kuwait is Anne Al-Bassam's "Footsteps in the Sand: Kuwait and Her Neighbours, 1700-2003". They sell it at the Kuwait Bookstore in Muthana. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to learn more about Kuwaiti history. It's an easy read and has lots of fantastic pictures of Kuwait over the years.

    Don Veto: What I find most interesting are her daily life stories, but I'm honestly not sure what I can share here, seeing as many of them are personal family stories, through which you get real glimpses of life in Kuwait in the 1930s. I'll ask her permission if I can recount some of her stories here. Sorry I can't say anything more at this point! Have you read her parent's books? They are wonderful and also very important histories of Kuwait. You can find them at the library in the Centre for Research and Studies on Kuwait in Mansouriya (next door to British Council) if you'd like to read them. But unfortunately you can't remove them from the library!

    By Blogger Kleio, at 2/21/2006 1:58 am  

  • Did the Dickson House get their facts right regarding the people in thier pictures yet?!?! :oP

    By Blogger The Stallion, at 2/21/2006 7:59 am  

  • I am pretty sure I read her father's book, "The Arab of the Desert", but it was more dry than Zahra's books but still a good read.
    My father has it in his library, together with Zahras' books.

    By Blogger don_veto, at 2/21/2006 9:22 am  

  • I loved it! What an experience for you to sint have a reminiscing session about the history of Kuwait from someone who has actually lived through it as a westerner. Big stuff. Seems it was a blast and hope there are more to come for you, especially thats its your specialty.

    That train ride sounded like heaven. I've never been on a train. Always wanted to....of course with the rain as well!

    Now , I am gonna go to the Dickson house and see it for myself now :)

    Thanks :)

    By Blogger Jazz Central, at 2/21/2006 9:22 am  

  • will she (Zahra) visit Kuwait?

    If yes, I suggest arranging something special for her... a lecutre, seminar, meetup, 'historical salon' or a meeting with historians & people interested in the history of Kuwait.

    By Blogger iDip, at 2/21/2006 9:55 am  

  • Kleio - It is so great that you are so immersed in all things historical! It is also great that you take time in your day to appreciate the (not so) little things: train rides, walking in the rain, music...

    And MAJOR kudos on the acknowledgement in the book... Can't wait to see it :)

    By Blogger Raine, at 2/21/2006 1:19 pm  

  • Stallion: Please don't mention that to me, it's a sensitive topic! :) Well supposedly DH is changing hands and is being transfered under the Museum Department at the National Council for Culture, Arts, and Letters, and since the museum folks are very cool and active hopefully things will change.

    DV: Yes, Zahra's books are more lively and fun to read, but at the same time her father's books hold so much information! I'm still trying to find perfect copies of his books, with all plates and maps in place. FYI copies in good condition usually go for anywhere up to £400!!

    JC: You haven't been there yet?? I didn't know that! Wait for me to come and give you a historical tour! :)

    idip: The last time Zahra came to Kuwait was in 2002, to see the refurbishment of her family's house, and we did some things like you suggested back then. While she would love to come again, unfortunately she broke her hip a couple of years ago and no longer feels that she is up for the journey. She is 81 years old.

    Raine: Thank you for the words of encouragement! :) And yeah, I can't wait to see the book! You know this is the second time I make it into the acknowledgements of a book on Kuwaiti history (actually the latest one is not on Kuwait directly but it's a biography of a British official who served in the region). And my own work was footnoted in an academic paper once. Tee hee, I'm on my way! ;) (Red was supposed to footnote me too on *something* I had shared with her but I'm not sure if she ever did, but if so that's TWO footnotes!).

    By Blogger Kleio, at 2/21/2006 2:17 pm  

  • Kleio, that article is not done yet. You will be in a footnote once it is! And the train ride just sounds amazing!

    By Anonymous red, at 2/22/2006 8:53 am  

  • Very interesting.
    You just brought back memories, I remember on Zahra's last visit to q8 she actually had dinner at our house. She wanted to visit the area we live in, which she had some memories as a child.
    I must say she's a very interesting and warm person, and I was so fascinated to meet her it was a big deal for me. She told us some of her wonderful stories as a child living in q8. My mom was impressed with her arabic.

    I'm glad you had the chance to spend time with her and hopefully you'll spend more time with her to hear more of her stories and bring them back to q8 :)

    By Anonymous mela rosso, at 2/23/2006 5:11 am  

  • Mobrrrrooooookkk on the book aknowledgement :- )

    By Blogger Caffeinated, at 2/24/2006 4:22 pm  

  • That's really awesome ... and the historical information you give is great to read. It's amazing how much there is in this country that's just waiting to be revealed to those who live in it ... maybe that's a task that you should take on :) Congrats on the acknowledgement!!

    By Blogger PlumPetals, at 2/26/2006 2:36 pm  

  • how would i be able to get in touch with zahra freeth?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/27/2006 5:18 pm  

  • Obviously I can't give out Zahra's personal contact information to a stranger - so please Email me at q8kleio@gmail.com with your name, contact info, and reason you want to get in touch with her, and I'll forward it along to her.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 9/27/2006 5:56 pm  

  • Kleio, thanks for the posting, have you received my e-mails (I was the one trying to get in touch with Zahra)? I have not heard back. Very interested in the book.

    Thanks, Jamie

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/06/2006 4:09 pm  

  • There's an excellent article at

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/27/2007 10:11 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home