Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Visit To Dickson House

I had a friend visiting Kuwait last weekend, and while Ramadan is not exactly the best time for non-Muslims to visit (the "no food served outside of room service" policy is a tad annoying), nevertheless I gave him the grand tour of the city, forgetting how abundant sunshine and sparkling waters are in rare supply where he comes from so that was enough to lift his spirits.

We stopped at Dickson House for a glimpse of Kuwait's semi-colonial history, and it was actually my first time there too. All these years I always thought it was spelled "Dixon", as in Nixon (though I doubt they authorized any burglaries or midnight break-ins). Dickson House is of course the house of the first British political agent in Kuwait, built in 1870. Colonel Dickson was the British Political Agent to Kuwait from 1929-1936, who then worked for the Kuwait Oil Company after he retired from the British government. Col. Dickson passed away in 1959 but his wife, Dame Violet, also known as Umm Saud أم سعود, remained in Kuwait in their family home on the Gulf Road until she passed away in 1991 at the age of 92. Most people in Kuwait still remember Umm Saud, as she was a fixture in Kuwait up until the invasion.

At the entrance we were greeted by a lone security guard who was reading a large Qur'an. I felt bad interrupting him, but what choice did I have? He asked us to wait while he summoned the "museum guide". I expected an animated man or woman, you know the types - very enthusiastic and utterly in love with their subject - but instead we got a stern, poker-faced man from India who was clearly annoyed at our presence. I don't mean any disrespect to any of our Indian friends, but his accent was so thick and unsuitable for a tour guide, I had no idea what he was saying half the time. Fortunately, being well-versed in the history on display I found myself stepping up to explain to my friend what he was looking at... which just added to the guide's annoyance!

The ground floor/foyer is dedicated to historical photography and a few artifacts from the early 20th century like currency notes and so on. It was fascinating to see aerial views of Kuwait City in 1962 and earlier and reflect on how far the city has come. It's also very easy to make out some of the landmarks that are still around. I explained to my friend where everything was, while the guide just stewed in the background, frustrated that some stranger had completely upstaged him.

After that, we went upstairs to the Dicksons' living quarters, and that was the part I enjoyed the most because it is carefully restored to reflect how this elderly English couple lived among Kuwaitis, in such a genteel existence. "Art Nouveau" furniture in the living room and bedroom.. or was it Art Deco? I can't remember what the guide said and I had to look up the difference for the links! Plus many photographs of the late Dame Violet Dickson at various pivotal events in Kuwait's modern history.

You would think that a historical center commemorating the lives of important British figures would escape the plague of spelling errors blighting this country... but you would be wrong. So ridiculously wrong, as evidenced on this plaque above a doorway leading into the "Dining Room" (WTF?!)

Outside in the back was a large courtyard with stables for 2 horses. The Dicksons were apparently avid equestrians; another thing I didn't know.

My favorite part of the house is the large balcony facing the sea. I could easily spend afternoons there watching the sun go down. But first I'd make sure that the surly guide is nowhere around!

As we departed, we were asked - ordered actually - by the guide to sign the guestbook. He wouldn't let us leave without signing it so we each scribbled something and bolted out of there, laughing our heads off at the bizarre experience.


  1. يأبى الجهل إلا أن يطل برأسه.

    I was about to suggest a dictionary, but that will not help.

    Next time you drive around, see how many phonetic errors you find in the street signs. Example: Sour street, as in lemon?

    Oh my God, did we run out of arrogant Kuwaitis to do the job of museum guides?

  2. Kuwait needs a countrywide spell-checker, and not just in English. Mind you, the blogs aren't much better.. ;-)

    One dreams of young enthusiastic Kuwaiti students in love with their country's history and volunteering as guides... but alas I got this mumbling guy who sounded like he was talking to himself

  3. Ive never been :/ should go sometime

  4. Great post, and thanks for a great idea of a place to tour.

    "Oh my God, did we run out of arrogant Kuwaitis to do the job of museum guides?"

    Comment totally cracks me up.

  5. I take it Dickson house is one of a few prized buildings in this country that makes the cut for a heritage property??

    On filling up of suitable museum guides, I think you will find there's no dearth of a local talent pool from which to cherry-pick holders of mostly, mickey mouse degrees & diplomas from lesser colleges and universities in the US.

  6. upstairs

    Anyone or anything is better than the miserable guide we got. Maybe the good ones had the day off

  7. شكرا زيدون انا من المهتمين بالتاريخ الخليجي..في الامارات لم يقوم احد بعمل من هذا القبيل مع بيوت البريجادير بركس في دبي او الجنرال كودري في ابوظبي مثلا..مع ان الاخير كان هاوي تصوير و اصدر كتب مصوره كثيره عن الحياه في الامارات في الخمسينيات

    ياليت بس حطيت صور اكثر

    بن كريشان

  8. strange , i once had some gusts taken to the dickson house and the guide was great ( also indian )

    why we have indian i don't know

  9. ودهم المتحف العلمي خل يشوفون الحوت هاهاها

  10. بن كريشان

    للأسف أنا من النوع الكسلان وفت التصوير، ما كان معي إلا كاميرا جهاز النقال

  11. I visited this house before it was renovated and converted into a museum. There was an original water well in the rear courtyard that still had water and it was full of snakes!
    BTW, in Jabriah, there's a Dickson Barbershop. I wonder if there's any relation?

  12. Dickson actually wrote a book on his experience in Kuwait, and [fortunately I got to see a copy]. There are excellent pictures of Kuwait and Kuwaitis and just normal day-to-day life during that time.

    The book is huge and its very detailed. He lists i dont know if its all -but most- of the tribes in Kuwait and he has family trees for them too. It's extremely fascinating. His book mostly documented bedioun life.

    I strongly believe that it should be taught in schools, or at least be widely promoted as a good book to read in Kuwait because it gives us a chance to look at our history through the eyes of a British man, who was a keen observer, who documented even minute details about Kuwait, the people, the traditions, and the general way of life.

    Unfortunately, the book is now out of print - and a friend of mine who ordered the book - had to go to great lengths to get it. But, its definately a prized possession. They should reprint it. Did they have a copy of it at the mueseum?

  13. Cixocian panic,

    The book you are refering to is "The Arab of The Deseret". It has the original version, and a condensed version.

    Dickson's main assignment, when he first came to Kuwait, was to observe the movement of the tribes crossing the Kuwaiti borders. If we rememeber, the years 1929 - 1934 were of the wars of the Ikhwan.

    Their soldiers used to cross from Saudi Arabia to raid Iraqi settlments, through Kuwait. And the British wanted to put an end to these raids.

    These raids ended with the surrender of Faisal Al Diweesh, of Mutair, to Dickson, where he was taken prisoner and lifted by a British airplane to Ibn Saud, where he spent his life in prison.

    The book was a collection of the non-political reports he used to send to India.

  14. panic..

    No they didn't have the book, but I bet it's a fascinating read

  15. ومنكم الى المجلس الوطني للثقافة والفنون وقلة الادب

    اللي علشان تصير عضو لازم ما تكون مثقف ولا فنان
    بس .... قليل ادب

  16. I don't think I've ever been to the Dickson House. I probably went once for an event in the courtyard but I didn't make the tour of the house.

    Do you happen to know their hours?

  17. ليتك زيدون مصور اكثر
    لأني ما شفت البيت وودي من زمان اشوفه
    وانصحك تشوف المدرسة الشرقية اللي سووها الآن متحف الفن الحديث بعد التجديد
    قمة الشراحية

  18. Zaydoun,

    If you want to purchase a copy, amazon offers some copies.

    But I am sure many private libraries have copies. Which reminds me, I should return the copy I borrowed from a friend three months ago. :)

  19. Zaydoun nice write up, mate.

    Next time you want to hit a traditional or cultural spot send me an email and we'll do the rounds.

  20. A Brazilian friend came to visit last xmas and I made sure to take her to the Dickson House..

    As stated on my profile, the only history I know of Kuwait and my heritage is from "The Arab of The Desert"...
    Growing up in "the Dickson's land" my father took me to a lovely old book store and asked for this book, first edition.. I fell in love with it at the age of 5, the thick old yellow pages.. The additional maps and illustrations it was a treasure to me.. Something old and antique..
    I had been given the honor to take care of it since I was 14.. Which was the year I got to read it.. Amazing documentation and information about our ancestors and their life... even naming a few you may know of..

    and what an annoying guide btw... but at least you got a laugh out of it..

  21. موضوع جميل و اللي قبله احلى

    صج صج غبي اللي يبي يكمم الأفواه بهالعصر, من وين اييبون هالأفكار المحمضة؟

  22. Again apologies for not taking enough pictures. The visit was unplanned as we were driving by and just decided to drop in and see it. And I didn't realize my phone's camera was this good!

    Amer, that would be fun. And I just realized that I know your whole family but never had the pleasure of meeting you.

    مو أحلى من مواضيعك الأخيرة

  23. I always wanted to go and visit the Dickson house :) shawagtni eni arooo7 I will ask the indian guide not to join me :P

  24. Z:
    Bait Dickson has one administrator who doesn't get along with her co-worker. Apparently he's never there. And she's too busy writing up her various books.
    Anyways, enough with the in-house gossip ;p un-announced visitors literally get whoever feels like walking through the compound with the visitors.
    I got the security gaurd once. Not fun.
    As with anything in Kuwait, please ask for the person in charge, and demand the service you expect.
    If anyone wants to visit the Kuwait National Museum, let me know. I'll personally walk about with you guys.

  25. Good moning. You site is realy cool!
    Don't delete. Help homeless children, thanks

  26. Hello,
    May I ask you something regarding your post about Dickson house? ASAP?

  27. hanya di kamu dapatkan


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