Young Masouma starts schooling in Kuwait’s new era
At the time Dr Masouma was growing up, life in Kuwait was changing dramatically. The rhythm of change intensified in the fifties when the oil revenue began pouring in, this was the beginning of Kuwait phenomenal transformation from rags to riches. Indeed it was the radical restructuring of the nation beginning with the implementation of a vast urbanization scheme that changed the physical aspect of the country; this affected the Kuwaiti society through unprecedented opportunities that opened people’s mind.
Dr Masouma was six years old when the water and electricity plant in Shuwaikh began producing water and electricity (in 1953). Remembering the moment she tasted that water, it evoked in her a joyous, ecstatic feeling, because she knew it was going to last. Indeed it marked the end of an era in her country and the beginning of a brighter new one especially when electricity was introduced in the home!
With potable water available in abundance, gone was the time when the water brought from Shat Al Arab in wooden ship was hardly fit for human consumption. That water had all sorts of impurities in it including larvae and could only be drunk when filtered through layers of cloth and allowed to stand in earthen-ware to cool.
Many times people suffered from thirst when bad weather was preventing sailing ships coming to port or leaving, at other times for political reasons the Iraqi authorities were preventing the ship from refilling at the Shat Al Arab, this in the forties spurred a group of merchants to form a company of forty ships for a steady supply of water from the Shat Al Arab, four reservoirs were built in town to hold that water which was sold at a fixed price.
Another moment of great rejoicing Dr Masouma remembers was the first night of Ramadan in 1954, when downtown Kuwait was lavishly illuminated, that was indeed an exciting surprise!
Masouma was seven years old when she joined the crowd flooding to the area to see that enchanting display!
Before the Shuwaikh plant began production, only rich merchants could afford electricity in their home because of their business in India and in other countries of the Gulf and keeping in touch with their agents.
The first electrical company established in Kuwait in the late thirties could only produce a limited amount of electricity, hence the first lamp-posts that appeared in town were fitted with 30 watts bulbs that could hardly light the marketplace at night.
The situation changed dramatically when the Shuwaikh water and electricity plant began production in 1953 and the electricity was introduced in every house in town.
With electricity in her home everything looked brighter, life became more enticing, and Masouma could indulge in reading her favourite books till she fell asleep.
When her father bought a radio set it filled the house with a cheerful note, because besides news there was music, songs and cultural programs she loved to hear.
Mullah Saleh was particularly interest in what was going on in the Arab world. The Arab Nationalism was the talk on those days, especially when Jamal Abdul Naser rose to power and became the idol of the masses when with his colleagues, the “Committee of Twelve” he staged the July coup d’état in 1952, and deposed King Farouk.
Consequently the October war against Egypt in 1956, during which Anglo-French and Israeli forces seized the Suez Canal and the Sinai peninsula made Jamal Abdul Naser the martyr and the hero of the Arab cause!
Masouma hearing her father with his friends and neighbours discussing those events with heated passion rose questions in her mind, they were questions of things she could not understand and that flared her interest in knowing more about politics.
Sometime her father would talk to her trying to explain certain things and that made her yet more eager to know more on political issues.
In the fifties at the time the lovable Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem became Amir (1950-1965) the oil revenues were beginning to pour in, modern schools for boys and girls were built in town and all around it.
In 1951, the Scandinavia scientific method of teaching was implemented in those schools.
From the first grade to high school students were provided with two uniforms, hot meals twice a day, books, even stationery free of change!
The first kindergarten that opened in the country was 1954; in it children were provided with three hot meals a day.
A kitchen, the largest in the Middle East, built in 1954, was fully automated and the meals, packed and ready for distribution were taken around schools by a fleet of vans.
In this happy surrounding Masouma started her schooling, she was particularly fond of extra curriculum activities, which she practiced in full. She enthusiastically joined the music team and practiced sports, she was good in hand ball and squash; joining the Girl Scouts spurred her enthusiasm in team work and volunteer works.
In the winter of 1954, Kuwait was hit by a prolonged rainfall that soaked the material with which the houses were built, causing them to crumble.
Houses were then built of coral rocks scooped from the sea, a mixture of mud and straws was used for mortar; such building material kept those houses 10 degrees cooler in summer and 10 degrees warmer in winter, but could not withstanding a prolonged rainfall, which is rare in Kuwait.
During the first half of the twentieth century Kuwait town was hit by 3 unusual rainfalls – the first was at the turn of the century, the second in 1934 and the third in 1954; each event came down in history as “Sena Al Haddama” (The year of destruction ).
During the rainfall of 1954, the house of Masouma was not severely damaged, but many of her neighbours and other families in town were left homeless. Fortunately there were many schools into which they could be relocated till the first housing project in the Sharq area of town already underway was completed.
The disaster prompted the implementation of other housing projects within the city wall and outside the wall, each district included schools at all levels of education, mosques, a shopping and utility centre, a clinic and gardens for children to play in them.
At the same time a new city planning was beginning to take form, houses that stood on the way of the planning were bought from their owners at a handsome price; this spurred most people to engage their good fortune in commerce and industry. Within ten years Kuwait could rely on diversified economy besides the revenues from the oil.
In such a hectic surrounding Masouma was growing up absorbing all that was going on around her.
At school her favoured subjects were history and geography. The first provided some of the answers to her nagging questions, and geography opened new vista to her vivid imagination making her dream of places she would visit one day to become acquainted with the life and culture of their people.
The subjects that most attracted her during her schooling were religion, literature and poetry.
The humanities were helping her to understand the vitality or lack of vitality of nations, as well as the intricacy of human relations, whose complexity is proportioned to their amount of wealth.
Through anthropological studies Masouma realized that a perfect democracy is possible in communities in which property does not exist, everyone lives his or her day-by day life in complete harmony with nature, because there is no property there are no rank divisions among people, the “leader” is chosen by everyone’s consent.
Whenever wealth enters human relations, it causes divisions among the people in a community, those who have tend to keep apart from those who have not, and it is difficult to run an honest regime.
Corruption causes injustice and injustice causes discontent and violence, which eventually leads to bloody conflicts, revolutions and wars.
As her knowledge in human relation deepened Masouma became more intrigued with the power struggle in the world, especially with liberalism entering the human equation. “Liberalism” destroys a state; “Power” destroys liberalism and leads to tyranny.
To be continued
This is the second in a series of articles on Professor Masouma Saleh Al Mubarak, a dynamic lady and the first woman appointed minister in the history of Kuwait. – Editor
By Lidia Qattan
Special to the Arab Times