The Girls of GUST

Kuwait City, Kuwait


I spent some time wandering around one of the many neighborhoods of fancy Kuwaiti homes. I was trying to catch women as they came out of their homes, as no one really lingers in the streets there. I managed to find and pounce on some young college aged ladies as they were making their get away from their gorgeous home. I was trying to get someone to let me photograph them in their home, which never ended up happening. Gulf people are very private about their homes and exposing their family lives. But I did meet some great gals who said that while they didn't want their own photo taken, that I should come with them to their college. No arm twisting needed on my part.

I met them at GUST, the Gulf University of Science and Technology in Kuwait City. This school is only ten years old and I couldn't decide whether it looked most like a mall, an airport, or an office building. It was brand new and very modern. It had its own Starbucks and Subway, among other things. The women here were dressed and made up as if there was a photo shoot going on, which worked out really well for me! I just kept commenting, over and over again, on how much effort everyone put into their appearance. I was thinking back to my days in college when I would see people literally strolling around in their pajamas.

In my gallery about the mall I talked about the enthusiastic (perhaps a bit too much so) use of make-up that I saw once I got to Kuwait. The college girls did not dissapoint on this front. One of the girls I photographed straight up admitted that it was because all the girls are in a competition with each other. Apparently Instagram is a bit of a marriage match-maker in Kuwait. Everyone uses it to post good photos of themselves, but also, a woman's instagram profile photo is often the one that families will look at when considering uniting their children in marriage. And because casual dating is taboo, places like University and the mall are the places that young people get to see each other. So it is a runway show everyday.

Like at the mall, some of the women who had the most impressive make-up special effects going declined having their photos taken. But you will still get the general idea. I have found that women in the Gulf tend to spend a few hours getting ready to go out, a commitment that this commitment-phobic woman could not even begin to imagine. Although it certainly made me feel a bit frumpy, it also made me appreciate the casual California culture that I come from and still subscribe too. But it did lend itself to nice photos of the girls. And it did quickly become a bit of a photo shoot, as more girls saw their friends being photographed and wanted in on it.

A few more cultural notes of interest. In university, things are still kept very separate between the men and the women. Classes are taught segregated by gender for the first few years of school. The library is always segregated. I popped my head in on a class and you will notice the lack of men, as well as the library turned hen house.

It was so interesting being escorted around by my Kuwaiti gal pals, I got the low down on the social groups, the hot gossip topics. They took my by they area of the main walking wing that they said was like the Kuwaiti "Upper East Side." One of my escorts, Sara, was apparently a part of the ruling family of Kuwait, and yet she was one of the most a-typical ladies I met at the school. Uncovered and unmade up, she spoke of a documentary that she wanted to make about the Kuwaiti experience in the Gulf War. She asked me if I thought it was worth it, if I thought it was feasible. I really appreciated her passion and interest and encouraged her in her endeavors. As an extra bonus she called up her driver, which most Kuwaiti girls have, and I was driven home in style in  a top of the line Escalade. Thanks, Ladies!