Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City (5)

One last quote from this wonderful book by Saleh Abdulghani Al-Muttawa, because it summarizes his ideas on what makes house practical for the weather and customs of this region:

Cultural Response

. . .the major critical cultural and customs problems which concern housing are;

1. Privacy for female inhabitants

2. Separation between female and male guests, and separation between guests, in general, and house members.

3. Future family expansion

. . . The approach to solving those critical problems are as follows:

1. To assure privacy for family members, and especially female members. The family part of the house has been pushed all the way to the back; in other words, it is on the north side far away from the street. It is difficult, or impossible, for anyone passing by the house to be able to look through and see the inside, especially with all those trees and plants placed in front of the house. Another conservative step has been taken by separating the family entrance from the guest’s entrance, and placing the family entrance close to the driveway and the garage for easy and private access. All that gave the female members of the family more free and secured mobility inside the house.

2. The prototype design provides a separate quarter for the guests, “Dewania.” The “Dewania” is placed on the southern side of the house away from the family entrance, to provide privacy for both family members and guests. The “dewania” is actually divided into two “dewanias,” female “dewania” and male “dewania.” For more seclusion and privacy of both sexes, the entrance of the female “dewania” is placed on the west side and the entrance of the male “dewania” is placed on the east side. Both entrances are close to the main road to make it more convenient and easy for the guests to come in and out. Each “dewania” has its own bath. There is only one dining room, because most of the time only men stay for dining. (Women have to go home to cook for their families.) If it happens that both sexes stay for dining, women can be accomodated in their “dewania.” A collapsible partition is placed in between the two “dewanias.” In big events like wedding parties or feasts, the partition can be collapsed, so the space would be large enough for a sizable number of people.

In a post last week, How decisions are made in Kuwait we had a long discussion about diwaniyas in the comments section. What I like about al-Muttawa’s concept is that collapsible wall in between the female and male diwaniyya. It could allow the females to listen in on major political discussions – what? You think we aren’t interested? You are wrong! – and participate.

“How can they participate while separated?” my western friends will be asking.

There are emmisaries. When sitting with the women, in Saudi Arabia, I wondered at first how my husband and I would both know when it is time to go. In western society, we have a meeting of the eyes and my husband will give an almost imperceptible nod and I know it is time to begin to make our farewells. As the hour got later and later, and still later, I finally asked one of the women how I would know when my husband wanted to leave.

“You want to leave?” she gasped in horror!

“No, No!” I assured her, “I just don’t know how I will know when my husband wants to leave!”

“Your husband will send for you! The children will tell you!” she laughed, and I stopped worrying. The children were running back and forth from room to room, reporting on the happenings in the men’s diwayya, where a holy man was discussing morality and requirements of morality.

This was one of my favorite places in Saudi Arabia, the house of friends. In the women’s majlis, there was only a TV, and seating around all the walls. There was nothing on the walls, nothing, not a picture, not a calligraphy, nothing, but the furniture was strong and comfortable, and the hospitality never-ending. When dinner time came, we went to an adjacent entirely bare room, bare except for the lavish dinner laid on the floor, where we all sat and ate, and one huge cupboard, full of mattresses. The dining room became one of the sleeping rooms when all the guests departed.

I didn’t get a tour of the house; I only know what I saw from my entrance through the family entrance into the female part of the house, my brief glimpse of the kitchen area – large and utilitarian. What I remember most clearly was the love and joy in the family, and that all the walls were totally devoid of anything decorative.

+ + + + + +

When I came to live in Kuwait, the real estate people showed me 20 villas and one apartment. The villas, each and every one, were HUGE! Most of them were three or four floors, more than one had an elevator, and several had their own swimming pools.

Most of the houses had a large kitchen – separate from the house, outside! Alongside it were the quarters for the maids, the drivers, the guard, etc. Most of the houses had at least five bedrooms, at least two diwaniyyas.

In the newer areas, there was barely two feet between houses, so windows on the sides of the houses were non-existent, or heavily curtained over, making those rooms very dark. In the older houses, the bathrooms were small and the spaces were divided strangely, by western ways of thinking.

Mostly, though, the villas were lovely, full of luxurious materials and beautiful touches. As I would walk though, sounds bounced off the thick cinderblock walls and the marble floors.

AdventureMan works long hours. I would think of me and the Qatteri Cat bouncing around in the huge house like two little peas in a big bowl, and where would I find him if he hid out for a while? The villas were just too much space for our little family, and we opted for the apartment, although the apartment is bigger than many homes in the United States. AdventureMan and the Qatteri Cat still look at me accusingly from time to time; they always enjoyed an hour or two together in the garden on Friday mornings, and now we have no garden. . . all we have (I can’t even keep a straight face as I write this) is that glorious 24-hour-a-day 180° view of the Arabian Gulf. 😉

+ + + + + + +

If I ever see this book for sale, I will come back here and update. If YOU see it for sale, please come back here and let us know!

February 28, 2008 - Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Books, Building, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Privacy, Saudi Arabia, Women's Issues | ,


  1. I need 2 days to read all this 😀

    Comment by Amu | February 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. but it all so informative that I dont want to miss it either!!

    Comment by Amu | February 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. i truly respect u for taking an interest in traditional customs and old (and sometimes forgotten) kuwaiti culture… i think you will be able to find that book, or similar books, in the Kuwaiti bookshop in Almuthanna center. goodluck

    Comment by Mrm | February 28, 2008 | Reply

  4. Amu – You’re a slow reader? Or you don’t have the attention span? I know you can do it!

    I’ve always wanted to go there, Mrm, and now I think I am motivated. See you there. 😉

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 28, 2008 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: