Kuwait is a study in contrasts. Through stories, essays, poetry, and photographs, Make Fire in the Desert attempts to interpret that contrast through the eyes of a foreigner who had 1427 days to unredecipher Kuwait. Perched atop the Arabian Gulf and pinched between its stubborn siblings Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait often finds that it can't quite rise above family squabbles to make its voice heard. Recent history has brought Kuwait's fires to the edge of the world's consciousness, from sabotaged oil wells after the Gulf War to a war smoldering next door. Lines on modern maps give it political shape, although tribes and families truly define its spread across the desert. Its history as a country is brief, and its youth often finds itself at odds with the length and breadth of its Arabian history. Oil wealth, also a young reality, provides the opportunity to import all things new and shiny, allowing lifestyles and appearances which are embraced by some, yet derided by others. A common verb one hears translated from Arabic to English is "make," a concept which seems to encompass every action and intent; in addition to creating, making serves myriad purposes and meanings, from wanting to being to needing. In the souks, one hears, "I will make special price for you." On the dusty gaps between buildings which serve as playgrounds, the children "make soccer." In front of the government buildings, in times of unrest, the youth "make protest." Kuwait, ever proud, ever flawed, ever misunderstood, is quietly making fire in its desert for its citizens and the world to see.
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Brent van Staalduinen spent four years working and living in Kuwait. He taught high school English, Journalism, and Film at an international school, which provided many unique opportunities to engage with Kuwaiti youth who would inherit their country's wealth and status. He was a regular contributor to bazaar, a local lifestyle and comment magazine, and also wrote Op-Ed pieces for The Kuwait Times and the Al-Watan Daily. He now lives in Seoul, South Korea with his wife Rosalee.
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