Monday, 5 December 2011

Judging Kuwait by its playgrounds

Since having children, I have learned about the importance of public playgrounds.  Playgrounds give children something to climb on, swing on, slide down, and run around.  But they're not just for children.  Playgrounds are a meeting place.  They are the place where you bump into other mommies and daddies and grandparents in the neighbourhood, where nannies can meet up to chat every day, and where your children get to meet other kids.  In our travels, I have met many people and made many friends in neighbourhood playgrounds and I have failed to meet people and been prevented from making friends in places where they were no playgrounds.

The number of play areas in a country as well as the state of a country's playgrounds says something about that country.  In Italy, for example, there aren't many public play areas at all (although this is changing) because Italians view the family unit as a pre-emptive force.  Children stay at home (or in the restaurant or wherever) with their parents and brothers and sisters (and maybe cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents).  The state has no role in entertaining children.  There is no room for a neighbourhood playground in this scenario.

In Madagascar, there are no public playgrounds, because the country is far too poor to think of spending public money on such luxuries. Children play on the street, in the dirt.  This might sound romantic but in reality it is not.  Their are no parks, so children play on the street where they breathe in noxious car fumes all day long.  Their clothes and bodies get filthy from the red earth, the children rarely bathe and their clothes don't get washed.  Disease spreads.  Asthma is common.

In France (or at least in Paris), the playgrounds are numerous and of good quality.  Practically every church or public square has some kind of a play area, and sometimes even a sand box.  There are also the major play areas in the Champs de Mars, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Jardin des Tuileries (including trampolines), to name a view, not to mention pony rides and merry-go-rounds (but you have to pay for those).  It is a convenience that I will never tire of boasting about.  Where is the first place we go when we hit the ground in Paris, once we check into our apartment-hotel?  The local playground!

In France, if any part of public playground equipment gets damaged, it gets fixed, promptly.  If the play equipment is starting to look worn out, the local city hall takes it all down and builds another play area.  All play equipment has a sticker on it indicating what age the equipment is appropriate for.  What do French playgrounds say about the French?  For the French, children have their own sphere of activity separate from their parents and extended families, and providing activities in that separate "children's sphere" is part of the job of the state.

Kuwait is interesting when it comes to playgrounds.  The country is stinking rich, and the weather is decent for playing outdoors at least six months of the year.  So you would think that this country would be the ideal place for lots of good playgrounds.  Unfortunately, this is not quite the case.  There are many playgrounds, especially on the Gulf Road, and many families frequent these playgrounds. However, all the equipment looks about 20+ years old and is badly in need of repair.  20+ years.  Hmmm.  That would take us back to before the first Gulf war.  So it would seem that before the Gulf war, the Kuwaitis were very keen to have lots of great space for kids and families.  Since then, they have left it all at a standstill.  None of it has been maintained and nothing new has been built.   Amazing how a war can affect the mindset of a people.

It's not only the run-down playgrounds that need a facelift.  The public hospitals are on shoestring budgets.  The beaches have been full of sewage for the past 10 years.  There is litter all over the desert....

What does the state of Kuwait's playgrounds tell me about Kuwait?  It tells me that while Kuwaitis, for whatever reason, no longer think that their country is worth investing in.  The war seems to have made them cynics.  After all, why build a playground when it risks getting bombed?  

4 comments:

lloyd_911 said...

Interesting observation. I guess no one else talks about the state of the playgrounds, simply because they have learnt to overlook it, just like the loads of other issues.
Earlier this year I was in Madrid. While visiting one of the local parks, I noticed a man, in uniform go to every swing, see-saw and other play thingys, and pull the chains, push down on the seats and basically check if everything is in order. Something I'm not used to, having lived most of my life in Kuwait.

LWDLIK said...

Sadly true :O(

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