Sheikh Mubarak Kiosk, one of the most important historical places in Kuwait, founded in 1897 by the seventh ruler of Kuwait Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah (1840-1915).

By Mahmoud Zakaria

The sounds of crashing waves, chainsaws, hammers, porters, boats coming and going, carpenters, blacksmiths and workers was the daily soundtrack of the coast of Kuwait in the 1930s, which did not stop except when the call for noon prayer was made.

The coast of Kuwait was the lifeblood of a quiet city on the shores of the Gulf. In the thirties, there was no oil, no high-rise buildings and no luxury cars – nothing except the sea. The sea is the key word here; the economy of the country depended on the sea. The sight of boats and men coming and going brought the heart of the city to life. Divers, sailors, merchants and craftsmen were heroes.

The old gates stood as if they were challenging time. Everyone passed through them until their doors were closed in the evening at an appointed time. Wherever one looked, one could find large numbers of donkeys carrying water in goatskins on their backs in the narrow streets, announcing the arrival of water, for which everyone waited.

The three-walled city was always looking for water. Water meant life for Kuwait. Sometimes the water came by sea, other times by land. Water vendors entered the old gates with water from some nearby wells outside the walls, while large boats came by sea with water from Basra. Water sellers gathered near Sheikh Mubarak Kiosk with goatskins on donkeys, while others had carriages. Some donkeys remained standing for hours waiting for buyers. The load was heavy, so the municipality issued a decision that goatskins should be on the ground not on the donkeys’ backs.

Bedouins come from the desert loaded with ghee, honey and milk. After they sold their goods, one could see them in the market buying lanterns to light their way as they passed through the dark desert at night upon their return. Some of them also came for treatment. One could find them in front of the gate of the American Hospital with their tents and camels. They received treatment at the hospital for a week or two, then returned where they came from.

The scenes of old Kuwait are colored in black and white. We feel nostalgia for the days of the past and its memories, ancient Arab houses and wonderful traditional crafts. We lost all of this when modernity arrived.

An aerial view of Dasman Palace circa 1930. Kuwait’s wall can be seen in the background.