The walking hours

By Jamie Etheridge

The breeze feels cool and lifts the branches of trees as we pass beneath them. The night is quiet, most people in their homes, cars parked, the end of the day. We’re out for our evening stroll, enjoying the new walking hours. Earlier this week the Cabinet adjusted the partial curfew to allow an extra hour at the end of the day for people to get home for work and added two hours – from 6 pm to 8 pm – for people to walk outside.

The walking hours might seem like a minor development in a yearlong pandemic but for my family, they are a gift. My children, safe at home, spend all day schooling, reading, doing chores and homework. By the time they’ve finished, it’s past the curfew. Even without a curfew, the heat will soon make it impossible to go outside during the daytime for even short amounts of time.

That is why the nighttime walking hours are such a blessing. The first day of the new walking hours, my husband and I took our daughters for a nighttime tromp around our neighborhood. The streets were mostly empty – with only a few cars here and there. A cool breeze blew in off the Gulf, making the walk outdoors pleasant and comfortable. We walked for nearly an hour, exploring side streets and waving to others as they walked past.

Last year during the full lockdown, Kuwait allowed people to walk outdoors for two hours daily from 4 pm to 6 pm. This was in May, when the weather had already turned to summer and we often came home drenched in sweat. Still it felt great to be outside our home, even if it meant bearing the sun for a bit while walking in the neighborhood.

One thing I realized as we walked was how little I knew of our neighborhood. We’ve lived in the same flat in Salwa for more than a decade, and yet I never knew there were so many water fountains on the streets or that a new mosque was being built just around the corner. When driving in a car, one is usually worried about getting to one’s destination and not really watching for the multitude of trees, plants and shrubs that line the streets.

But when out on foot, I was delighted to find magnolia trees, lemon-scented gum trees, azalea bushes, baby palm trees and many other small plants and flowers. It is also pleasant to pass neighbors on foot, to wave hello and perhaps stop for a quick – socially distanced and safe – chat. We were surprised to find that several acquaintances live in the same or neighboring blocks as us!

The walking hours are meant to give people an opportunity to exercise, to stretch, to move. But they are also beneficial for mental health. There are multitudes of studies and research that show walking improves physical and cognitive health. It can even help with eyesight and for older walkers, reducing cataracts and cloudy lenses, according to one Swedish research study. Walking can also improve sleep and ease feelings of depression and boredom.

Given that we are all caught in the current circumstances, an unending pandemic and limited options for travel or entertainment, walking at the least affords us a respite from the four solid walls of our stationary lives. And now with the ability to walk out in the evenings, we also have the chance to enjoy our neighborhoods in a new light.

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