Imagine traveling 24 hours and leaving your family and friends for two months all for the love of horses.
Well, nine riders from Kuwait, ranging in age from 11 to 45, traveled to the United States this summer to do just that.
They came at the invitation of Leigh Fischer, head trainer at High Time Stables in East Aurora, who has traveled to Kuwait the past two winters. She taught riding at the Arabian Equestrian Center there and suggested that her pupils come to Buffalo for the summer because in Kuwait it gets too hot to ride. "We love Leigh, and her lessons are always fun and exciting," says Kuwaiti Eithar Alrushaid, 11.
Others visiting from Kuwait are trainer Khalid Al Ali; Sulaiman Al Qanai, 16; Hannan Sultan, 23, and her brother Mohammad, 17; Eithar's brother Fahed Alrushaid, 16; Yumna Alroumi and her children Sheikha Almarzook, 15, and Mohammed Almarzook, 14. (Alroumi does not have the same last name as her children, because Kuwaiti women keep their maiden names when they marry.)
Kuwait, an oil-rich country with more foreigners than native Kuwaitis, has a population of nearly 2.7 million and a fairly high standard of living. With Saudi Arabia and Iraq as its bordering countries, it takes only two hours to cross the country. "Everyone knows one another," says Mohammad Sultan.
Even with the turmoil in neighboring Iraq, the teens don't seem to worry about it affecting their daily lives. "It is close by, but it is safe in our country," says Hanan Sultan.
In modern-day Kuwait, families are more liberal, and despite what Americans may think, women have freedom. "Today, women are allowed to hold jobs, drive and are able to have lives outside of taking care of their family and children," Hanan Sultan says. In more conservative households, women and girls are not allowed to leave the house without the traditional "hijab," or head wrap.
Teenage girls in Kuwait don't date. "All that matters is (a girl's) reputation. Girls are not allowed to date," says Hanan Sultan. "It is a big deal when she comes home at night and what kind of clothes she wears. If she ruins her reputation, she will be looked down upon."
The predominant religion in Kuwait is Islam, and the school and work week are Saturday through Wednesday so prayer can be held on Fridays in a mosque. "We usually pray five times on Friday, for five minutes each," says Sultan. "We also hear a sermon for about half an hour." Islam has five pillars of faith, which include belief in one God, with Mohammad as the prophet, giving "zakat" (money) to the poor, making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, praying five times a day facing Mecca, and fasting for Ramadan, which this year is in October.
Sultan says that nearly 60 percent of Kuwaiti families are involved in the oil industry and Kuwaiti teens don't hold jobs as many American teens do.
Both girls and boys go to school. In the public school system, which is not co-ed, classes are taught in Arabic, but pupils study basic English like reading and grammar, Hanan Sultan says. "In private schools, which are co-ed, most of the classes are taught in English, except for religion and Arabic." She says Kuwaitis may attend college in Kuwait or come to the United States to study.
In Kuwait, summertime temperature can reach about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. "Every home has a pool and air-conditioning," says Mohammad. "You can boil an egg on the street!" If the temperature rises above 120, schools close. "We would either stay home in the air-conditioning or go to the mall," says Mohammad. But beware of a car that has been sitting outside in the sun all day. "You must turn on the air conditioning, then drive, otherwise you could burn your hands on the steering wheel," says Mohammad.
Even though there is no snow, temperatures in winter can drop as low as 40 degrees. "We build fires and roast marshmallows," says Mohammad.
On a typical weekend, Kuwaiti teenagers enjoy going to their beach houses and riding on jet skis. "We also like to go to the mall and the movies," says Sheikha Almarzook. She says "Spider-Man 2," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Troy" were all box office hits in Kuwait.
On television, Kuwaiti teens watch the ever-popular "The O.C," "The Simple Life," "Newlyweds" and "Celebrities Uncensored" on the E! network. (Sheikha says she thinks Jessica Simpson "plays dumb for the camera.") Television programs are broadcast in English with Arabic subtitles.
Kuwaitis can watch two different shows similar to "American Idol" featuring contestants from Arabic countries. Sheikha says the show "Superstar" has three judges ultimately choosing one winner, as in "American Idol." In "Star Academy," a camera is on the contestants 24 hours a day. Viewers can watch them rehearse and see who develops a crush on whom. Every Friday, the singers perform. While they perform, viewers vote, and at the end of the show, one of the contestants is voted off. "On the past season of 'Superstar Academy,' the contestant from Kuwait placed second, getting beat by the Egyptian performer," says Sheikha.
The Kuwaiti teenage boys found it odd that there weren't more male competitors at horse shows they attended here this summer. "In Kuwait, it is mostly men that compete and not women," says Mohammad.
When the Kuwaiti teens aren't out riding horses or relaxing at their beach homes, they enjoy many of the same things American teens do. "I love to eat at TGI Friday's and go shopping at Express or Banana Republic," says Sheikha.
Stephanie Hamm is a graduate of Orchard Park High School.