Sunday, March 05, 2006

Save Pinocchio

Is it true that they are going to be shutting down baqalas in Kuwait? I heard that they will only be closing down the ones that are on inner residential streets and will keep the ones on the more main roads running through neighbourhoods, but others say that they are closing them all down. Either way, if it's true, I think it's an absolutely useless and downright stupid law. As 'red' said in the comments to Raine's Lunchbox Nut post, "Baquallas, the guys with the ice cream carts, street side benek stands — these are the vestiges of a Kuwait that is too quickly disappearing." She's right. It breaks my heart to see the Kuwait that I grew up with, that I love and know so well, gradually disappearing and being replaced with all-too-many Starbucks'. As red said, I don't mind change at all, but does change always have to come at the expense of our past? It's bad enough all our old buildings have been, and continue to be, torn down. The ultimate irony is that the government has finally regretted what was done in the 50s and 60s and are building 'historic villages' meant to replicate what the old Kuwait town looked like before it was bulldozed to the ground, and yet while they do this they are simultaneously tearing down buildings in Kuwait City that were built in the 50s and 60s, which have by now earned their own historic value as part of Kuwait's heritage, in order to make room for even newer buildings. Umm, can anyone else see a pattern of stupidity forming?

Anyway, going back to the baqalas, what could possibly be the argument for closing any baqala down? They are convenient, don't take up much room, and for such small places they are jam-packed full of everything good in this world: Kitco cocktail chips, Kinder eggs, Shani, lollies ('muthalith' ice cream), banak, and packs of Uno. I loved going to the baqala when I was a kid - for me and my sisters, it was a proper outing. We called our neighborhood baqala "Pinocchio" - I'm not sure why. Whenever my dad would say "Yalla guys, wanna go to Pinocchio's?" it was like everything else in the world ceased to exist and we were on our way to a 3mx5m paradise! And right next door to Pinocchio's was Rifaei's bookshop, also baqala-sized but with a worn-out green rug on the floor and chock-full of old school kashakeel (the notebooks that were either red or black or green or blue with a different colour bind and corners, or the ones that had the Amir's picture on the front), erasable pens, magic markers, and those half-blue half-brown erasers (the blue side supposedly meant to erase ink but it never worked). Whenever Dad would take Raine and I to the baqala on the weekend, we would insist on having a "midnight feast" that night - inspired by the endless stream of Enid Blyton books we were constantly reading - but we barely ever made it up that late. But it was fun - happy, simple, innocent fun. Why would the government want to take that away?

If anyone has any information on this supposed new law, can you please fill me and the rest of us in by leaving a comment?

And finally, on the topic of growing up in Kuwait in the 80s, do you guys remember the huge store in Khaleejiya that sold all the fun stationery stuff? And "My Toy" that used to be in Salmiya in that same little complex where the restaurant Fresh is now, close to Berdawny. And Kids'R'Us on the old Salmiya High Street, and the one out in Shuwaikh, next to where there used to be a Safeway. What were some of the other stores we used to go to in those days (back when there used to be so few!)?


  • Most residential Baqalas are already closed!

    By Blogger The Stallion, at 3/05/2006 7:28 am  

  • :( Leish! It's a staple Kuwaiti experience. Where else in the world can you drive up, honk, and have a case of water and a kit-kat delivered to your car? :)

    UGH... I hope it's a rumor. The ones in my area are, thankfully, still running full force.

    By Blogger U.E., at 3/05/2006 7:40 am  

  • It's not a rumor!

    I've driven through all of Jabriya, Surra, Qurtoba, 3dayliya, and other residential neighborhoods and all the baqalas are close with either Baladiya stickers making sure that the door doesn't open (kinda like a police sticker saying "Crime Scene Do Not Enter") or closed for good by the owner's choice so he doesn't have to pay the baladiya fines!

    Apparently, the reason for closing down the baqalas is to let the jam3iya benefit from more income! Another way of putting more money in the pockets of the thiefs that are known as the jam3iya management group!

    As for the other old stores don't forget A&W, and Dunkin Donuts!

    When it comes to heritage villages they have one in Failaka and they are building one smack dab next to the Al-Mulla Diwaniya in Sharq!

    By Blogger The Stallion, at 3/05/2006 7:58 am  

  • Stallion: AAARRRRGGGHHHH!! Is that really the justification?? So that the jam3iya's can make more money? Aren't the jam3iya's technically government sector? DO THEY NEED MORE MONEY?? They put these small little shops out of business for THAT? This is not good - my blood pressure is going off the charts and I was just about to go to sleep.

    Unknown entity: I guess it's not a rumour after all! :( You're right, baqalas are (were?) such uniquely Kuwaiti experiences. It breaks my heart to think that, once again, the small businessman bites the dust.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 3/05/2006 8:04 am  

  • What next? Are they gonna start to run the ice-cream men off the road with armoured tanks?

    By Blogger Kleio, at 3/05/2006 8:05 am  

  • Stallion: The heritage village in Sharq is the main one they're building - between Dickson House and diwaniyat Saif Al-Shamlan. I just hope they don't make it look like a fake Disneyland-type reconstructed village.

    As for old shops: A&W definitely, but did we ever have a Dunkin Donuts? I've discussed this with people before and I think we came to the conclusion that it was some sort of Dunkin Donuts knock-off.

    And of course...Hungry Bunny!!

    By Blogger Kleio, at 3/05/2006 8:11 am  

  • Kleio - We do not need to mention here why we called it Pinocchio!!!


    (LOL - See my blog for this reference!)

    Sorry, did not mean to make light of this situation with that last quote, but it just slipped out! Seriously, though, we have to do something about this... Please!

    By Blogger Raine, at 3/05/2006 9:55 am  

  • All I could think after reading this post is "Someone other than me read Enid Blyton books!!!"

    I loved them but my teacher (Mrs.Gilmore, bless her heart) would always complain to my mom that I wasn't going to build up an extensive vocabulary from reading them and would give me a list of alternate books to read.

    Another thought, it's sad when I find out things that are happening in Kuwait from your blog.

    By Blogger Tooomz, at 3/05/2006 7:52 pm  

  • Raine: Apparently, according to Stallion, it's too late - they have already started closing baqalas. Is the one that has taken over from Pinocchio still there? If it is, I say you guys picket around it - have a sit in - "Hell no, we won't go!" kinda thing. I swear if I was in Kuwait I would do something about it.

    Tooomz: Enid Blyton books were amazing! We used to read them on the weekends...they were the best leisure reading! There are books that help build your vocabulary, but books like these that stimuate the senses and ignite the imagination are equally important for children! To be honest, I still read my Famous Five books every now and then. :) Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Roald Dhal...that's what childhood was all about! Remember book fairs when we were kids? The days when kids in Kuwait actually got EXCITED about reading? I'm sure Raine will have tons to say on this topic, because children's literature is her specialty!

    By Blogger Kleio, at 3/05/2006 8:08 pm  

  • Kleio and tooomz - Enid Blyton is a genius! I mean, think about her Magic Faraway Tree stories... so imaginitive and rich in description and excitement. The Harry Potter books are no more imaginitive than these! As for vocabulary - where else would we learn phrases like "sent to coventry"?!!

    And remember how controversial Judy Blume was thought to be?? By today's standards she was so G rated!

    I still read those books ALL THE TIME! They bring me such joy! Along with Beverly Cleary and her Ramona books! And so many more!


    As for the tragedy that is this baqalla situation... it is things like this that make me want to leave this country. How could it have gotten this far without any of us doing anything? We are all to blame... though I have to say the structure of our country does not lend itself to people being heard somehow. I just hate that this stuff can happen.

    By Blogger Raine, at 3/05/2006 9:05 pm  

  • We had an official DD here in Kuwait and it was right next to A&W! It was the real thing!

    As for the jam3iyat they started off as government run but now they are run by elected officals who are elected by the people who have "boxes" (9anadeeg) at the jam3iyas!

    By Blogger The Stallion, at 3/06/2006 9:41 am  

  • stallion: Wasn't the one next to A&W called "Mr. Donut"? I'm pretty sure it wasn't Dunkin' Donuts because I remember that the logo was orange rather than pink. The fake pink DD logo surfaced in Kuwait later—it was called Donut Donut, I think. Speaking of Dunkin' Donuts, we've all seen the construction signs for over six months now. Does anyone know when they will finally be open?

    As for the baqala situation, I really don't know what to do about it. I am so completely anti-jamiyya anyway. Whenever I go to any jamiyya, I end up feeling completely depressed. It's so chaotic and unorganized—even the ones that are supposedly good like Shamiyya. I am convinced the jamiyyas are just a front for something more sinister. With all it's problems, at least with Sultan Center you feel like you are in a real supermarket. I don't understand why someone with money doesn't open a competitor. We need a real American chain like Safeways or Ralphs. I will do my bit by boycotting the jamiyyas! But given that I don't really go there anyway, it's a rather futile gesture. I'm surprised that the baqala owners didn't get together to fight this. Anyone know more about the response from baqala owners?

    By Anonymous red, at 3/06/2006 10:27 am  

  • CARREFOUR!! 2007! :) P and I are very excited. No more having to gamble on Sultan's mood as to whether or not we're gonna find some decent brie and baguette and salami! :)

    Stallion: But who funds the jam3iyyas? Are they self-sufficient, or are they subsidized by the government?

    Red: I know what you mean. I always feel very depressed at the jam3iyas. They are so dreary, with too many ninjas walking around and too many screaming children that you feel like kicking as you walk past. Whereas baqalas were always colourful and fun and happy places!


    By Blogger Kleio, at 3/06/2006 3:21 pm  

  • Kleio, it's with sadness that I report that your friendly neighbourhood baqala in Surra has indeed bitten the dust.

    The Iranians have packed up their 150KD a day business and have relocated to Khaitan, where I'm told, they'll be lucky to make 10KD a day.

    The official reason for this crime against baqalas relates to a government decree that no commercial establishment should operate in a residential area without a proper licence. And these licences are not being renewed anyway. To which, we must expect barber shops, flower shops, tailors and anything situated in a residential area to pack up and move to a commercial area - ie: where the banks, bakeries and CO-OPs (with their hoardes of festering ninjas) are to be found.

    Can anybody confirm that it is not just baqalas that are shutting up shop like enemies of the state and that it is indeed not a conspiracy?

    I find it hard to believe that neighbourhood baqalas represent a threat to the profits of the coops??!!

    Please join me in paying tribute to the wonderful free market economy we have here that encourages private enterprise and supports the rights of individuals (yeah right).

    By Anonymous guzman el bueno, at 3/06/2006 11:08 pm  

  • guzman :) Well said! (I like your tongue-in-cheek reference to conspiracy theories!!)

    The small business has no place in Kuwait, the franchise HELL.

    To expect baqalla owners to put up shop in the co-op complex - who exactly is going to help them fund that??

    And the whole point of a baqalla is the convenience.

    I am so angry about this. It is just disgusting.

    They only ever pick on the small businesses... They only ever fine the small businesses... It is so blatant and so gag-worthy.

    The rich get richer... Only the rich can afford the (illegal) money for restuarant and shop spaces (khilew)... Only the rich can afford to pay millions for a foreign franchise which these places want (ironically for our region, the region who usually think all foreigners are evil! - They are rarely interested in new, creative business.

    Another sad day in this country of "ours."

    This is a boycott I can get on board with. I will boycott the jamiyahs because a part of my culture is being usurped.


    This is a worthy cause. This is not just a propaganda, conspiracy-theory, typical reactionary driven boycott. This is part of our culture and heritage. These baqalla owners do not deserve to have their lives turned upside down because someone decided to make a few extra dinars at their expense.


    As red and kleio pointed out - they are messy, unorganized, miserable, unfriendly, and extremely conservative places anyway. *shudder*


    By Blogger Raine, at 3/07/2006 8:39 am  

  • This sucks! This means that every time we need to pick up a few cans of Diet Coke we need to go to the chaotic jam3iyya, fight over a parking space with some ninja b*tch, try to FIND stuff in the unorganized disarray, wait in line, etc. Ugh! Wait, if as you say Guzman, its all businesses in residential areas that are being shut down, what will happen to Caesars in Surra?? Will that go too? This might be a stupid question, but if they are planning on moving all busineses to the "commercial" haven that is the jam3iyya, are they planning on putting more parking in the co-ops? Gggrrrrrrr. Bastards. I hate jam3iyyas, I never go to them, and after this I never will.

    And all this time I thought things were starting to go on the right track. It seemed as though people were finally starting to support the concept of small, independent, homegrown businesses. But then again, maybe it's just us. Maybe it's just us and our friends and people like us in Kuwait (who are a minority now) who prefer the small, cozy, non-franchise café to Starbucks, who prefer independent restaurants with good food to big-ass chains with greasy food. While we might go to Edo, the majority of people are still going to TGI Fridays.

    The one thing I WILL support, in an attack against the money-grubbing jam3iyyas and thus in solidarity with our lost baqalas, are the larger supermarkets - Sultan for now (although it's not without its problems) and Carrefour when it opens. Now THERE'S a franchise I can jump on board with!! ;)

    By Blogger Kleio, at 3/07/2006 3:50 pm  

  • bakalas in my areas are still open...
    i miss the ice cream men... i have some good pics of them... but ya it sad to see them diminish

    By Blogger Rampurple, at 3/12/2006 7:58 pm  

  • rampurple, I think the ice cream men are still around. PLEASE don't tell me they're gonna get rid of them too!! By the way, what do the ice cream men do in the winter? Just a thought...

    By Blogger Kleio, at 3/13/2006 2:57 am  

  • ice cream men are around.. but rare... as soon as these ones retire no one will replace them.. its now a law but i think they way they figured it is that they dont have as many consumers.. hence just a couple of them on bikes in strategic locations

    By Blogger Rampurple, at 3/14/2006 12:34 am  

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