The Kiln of Kuwait

The first thing you notice about Kuwait most of the time, the only thing you notice is the heat. This is a kiln of a country. And it blasts a relentless, sand-dry wind that evaporates and withers everything inside. You squeeze your eyelids into slits, just to keep the balls underneath from losing their moisture, and turning into cracked marbles. Plans for walks or jogs quickly devolve into sluggish strolls. And with every breath, your throat feels more and more like a scroll of brittle parchment, unfolding.I arrived in the country earlier today, on a nearly day-long flight from New York. And when I walked out of Kuwait International Airport, the billboard thermometer above the taxi stand read 39 degrees Celsius, or 102 Fahrenheit. This was at six oclock in the morning.After a mix-up with my bags theyre still somewhere over Europe, apparently a taxi took me to my hotel. It's an isolated, heavily-guarded Hilton resort, hugging the coast of the Persian Gulf. Oil tankers sit in the distance. Hundreds of beach-chairs and thatched umbrellas and neo-Arab tents line the beaches, which are kept immaculate by Indians and Thais in purple jumpsuits and bright blue overalls. Kayaks are stacked neatly against stucco chalets. But the fuss is mostly make-work. There are no footprints on the shore. And nobodys using the boats. The heat forces almost everyone indoors. Outdoors entertainments for hundreds, maybe thousands, go untouched. Its a Bellagio filled with a bed-and-breakfast-sized clientele. A ghost town.The only exception is the pool, where about fifteen guests have gathered. Bikini-clad, modern women swim in make-up and designer do-rags. The religious ladies get wet, too -- in chadors and neon pink baseball hats, playing in the shallow end with their children. Burning Spear pumps from the bars sound system.By now, its nearly six in the evening. The sun is sinking beneath the hotels mirrored walls. But whoevers stoking Kuwaits hundred-foot furnace hasnt let up at all. If anything, its feels even hotter than it was at the airport this morning. To me, that's an awful omen. Because, very soon, Im going to have to face this heat wrapped in Kevlar and ceramic plates, with bullets ringing in my ears and the fires from roadside bombs burning nearby. Tomorrow, I leave for Iraq.

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