It is the delivery person from the electronic store. He has a handheld PowerPoint presenter I ordered three days earlier.
The delivery person is in Block 3 in Salmiya but cannot find Building 80, where I live. I tell him it is near two landmarks, Naif Chicken and Al Seef Hospital. But my feeble attempts at location are not matching his English skills.
The first bit of good news to resolve the situation is timing. The call comes just as I am arriving at my flat from Gulf University for Science and Technology. I was told mid-day to be available for delivery between 4 and 10 p.m. It is 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. I am lucky the call did not come sooner.
The second is my driver.
"Thomas" recognizes the delivery man's accent and starts speaking Hindi into my watch. I hold my wrist near him as he drives. I recognize only "Naif" and "Kuwait American," the private school across the street.
After a minute, the geolocation is complete. The delivery man arrives outside my building just as I do. The package is exchanged for my National Bank of Kuwait debit card using his wireless payment device, and a tip is offered.
But here's the remarkable thing:
Hindi is a language of India.
Thomas is not Indian. He is from Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has two languages: Sinhalese and Tamil. Thomas writes and speaks both.
He also speaks enough Arabic to negotiate and resolve problems with various Kuwait ministries. And he speaks good English for his GUST clients.
One driver. Five languages.
Unpacking this anecdote reveals several things about Kuwait.
Kuwait does not have street addresses, in part because it does not have a postal system. Well, it has one. But no one uses it. It can take months to get a letter or package in this city-state of 4 million.
Instead, Kuwait relies on a vast array of delivery people. They are often from the Indian Subcontinent: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. (They also staff hotels, shops, and restaurants.)
The connection with the subcontinent goes back centuries, to when trading ships would sail out of Kuwait, through the Arabian Gulf, and into the Arabian Sea to India.
When I ordered my PowerPoint presenter, the electronic store offered free delivery. The grocery store charges just 1.500 KD ($5 U.S.) for delivering a minimum order of 10 KD. That is cheaper than taking a taxi both ways. That economic asymmetry means delivery people are not well paid.
Thomas is in Kuwait with his wife to give their daughter a better education in a private school. When she is through the primary school system, they will return to Sri Lanka. Driving is how he feeds the family.
His linguistic abilities are indicative of an active mind. He loves to talk about Sri Lanka (where a political surprise was unleashed last weekend) as well as countries all over the world. His radio is tuned to BBC English.
I am calling him "Thomas" because, technically, he is a taxi driver who is supposed to use the meter (he turns it on if the police are near) but prefers to work by a monthly retainer.
He gets a colleague and me at 6:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and drives us the roughly 25-minute trip to GUST. That early hour avoids doubling the commute time. He takes me back in the evening, which has been as late as 10:00 p.m. if I have a Skype call back to the states or a campus event.
In addition to being a pleasant conversationalist, Thomas is an excellent driver. Kuwait has a bus system that is so limited it is impractical for most people. So everyone drives, all the time. The roads are choked.
Less-than-optimal road engineering requires aggressive driving. Twelve lanes of traffic are funneled into two-lane roundabouts. Long, raised medians restrict turns. Drivers speed on the shoulders and jump on what passes as sidewalks. The only way to get anywhere is to be pushy.
Thomas can sense a vehicle's "body" language to negotiate tight spaces and how to extend courtesy so others can maneuver. Relying on Thomas to handle the close calls allows me to commute in a bubble, stress-free.
By expertly reading the language of Kuwait traffic, he serves as my bodyguard.
That's his sixth language.