The Avenues Mall

Kuwait City, Kuwait


I feel like every Gulf country that I go to claims that they have the biggest mall. From what I can tell Dubai actually does win that title, but The Avenues Mall in Kuwait City definitely takes a close second. Wowza. I heard about this place from the first day that I was in the city, and was told it was a place to experience. Being the mildly mallaphobic person that I am, I thought I would get out of my comfort zone even more and take the Saturday night challenge. To be fair, the weekends in the Middle East are Friday and Saturday, so I actually went on a Friday night. But for the Western audience, I will stick to the Saturday night model so that the impact is maintained.

Middle Easterner's love their malls. LOVE. I think it might actually be a romantic relationship. And I have to admit that I have been in malls here way more than I have in the last decade at home. So much of life just happens in malls here. Grocery stores, banks, cafes with good internet. It is kind of unavoidable.

So I have shared with you the more traditional side of Kuwait that takes place at the Old Souk. The mall is a fascinating combo of conservative and flamboyant. This was the first place that I started to see the wild make-up. There are some women in Kuwait that paint their faces like perfect dolls. I mean, absolutely flawless. But also a bit over the top for this simple user of mascara and chap stick. I asked maybe 10 groups of women if I could photograph them and received polite giggles and no's. There is a very private family code here where people don't do things that might offend or dissapoint their families. As I have mentioned a lot, women stay at their family homes until they are married. So adult women may be free to do what they want in some ways, but there is a very intricate system of family honor and respect. Letting themselves be photographed and shown to the outside world is seen as potentially exposing and disrespecting the family.  I received a lot of gracious " I cannot's," which I gave respectful thank you's too because I think this sense of honoring the family is not something that we really do in American culture. Sorry to the viewer though, because this was something to behold. I did manage to get some portraits of women at the university that will give an idea of the intricate make-up of which I speak.

So "Saturday" night at the Mall is where it is all happening. Babies, kids, teenagers, grandparents, everyone is out. And they are out late. I finally hit my personal limit at about 11:30 and everyone else was still going hard. They stay up late here. And since alcohol is illegal in Kuwait (yep) this is what everyone comes out to do.

The Avenues Mall boasts many wings with different themes. Outdoor feeling indoor spaces, wings with bluelights, a replica of the Old Souk inside. There are these huge kid lands in all the malls too. A whole theme park for children indoors. You will also notice that where the children are you can see the presence of the Fillipino maids. The wealthy Kuwaiti families have these live-in nanny/maids and they actually tend to wear uniforms. I have photographed a few here.

I also found it really great to see the fashion that was going on. Ladies dressed in really creative, beautiful ways. Completely covered mothers with their completely uncovered daughters. I met one lady who said I was the first American she had ever spoken to (I was the only Westerner at the mall this night) and she was so excited. She let me photograph her, and her uncovered teen daughter was there but was embarrassed about the whole thing. Reminded me that mother daughter dynamics are the same everywhere, and also that you can't assume how people are. Though this lady was completely covered, and I had been warned by naysayers that the covered women would never let me photograph them, she gave an excited "of course!" when I brought up the topic of a photo.

This was a fun experience for me. I hope you enjoy it as well.