On the evening of November 8th at the AWARE CENTER in Surrah, Kuwait, author Claudia Farkas Al-Rashoud gave a presentation on “Dame Violet Dickson’s Fascinating Life in Kuwait from 1929 to 1990”.
Concerning Dame Dickson and her husband, Col. H.P.R. Dickson, possibly no other pair of foreign born figures—including Saddam Hussain and George Herbert Walker Bush—have had a greater influence on Kuwaitis.
In terms of fondness towards westerners, almost no one competes with the Dickson family in Kuwaiti memory of the 20th Century.
The only possible exception to this general statement are the recognized influences of (1) some of the early British Oil Company settlers, who built the town of Ahmady, and (2) various pre-oil boom-era Christian missionary nurses and doctors, who founded Kuwait’s first hospitals.
Col. Dickson was sent as the British Agent for the Crown to the Gulf region in the late 1920s. Later he worked more directly with the Kuwait and British oil companies until his death in 1959.
Claudia Farkas Al-Rashoud, who has published a variety of books on Dame Violet and other heroes in 20th century Kuwait history, has noted of Violet Dickson’s arrival:
“When she and her family came here in 1929, Kuwait’s desert was a wild and mysterious place, and Bedouins and townspeople alike suffered from famine, disease, plagues of locust, and other disasters. She experienced not only the age of ancient Bedouin traditions but also the transition into an era of affluence, and ultimately, with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, a period of horror.”
The Dicksons gave both their children Arabic names, Saud and Zahra, enabling their family to further integrate themselves more fully into the Kuwaiti society as years went by. This is because in traditional Arab circles, the mothers and fathers are recognized publicly by the name of their eldest son. For this reason, early on Violet Dickson was known in Kuwait by Bedouins and city dwellers alike as: “Umm Saud”—Mother of Saud.
Al-Rashoud, as author of the pictorial biography DAME VIOLET DICKSON, shared numerous important vignettes on the lives of the Dickson family in Kuwait.
For example, as a life-long botanist, Violet produced a book on the Kuwaiti desert plants and flowers. In doing a lifetime of research, Dickson spent a great amount of time with bedouins and other Kuwaitis in the desert collecting with her children (and with the help of locals) all kinds of plants and creatures native to the region—hedgehogs, lizards, jerboas, and grasshoppers.
Violet Dickson appeared to love animals so much that Bedouins and other Arabs often donated animals of all sizes and shapes to her and the other Dickson family members. For example, the Saudi Arabian King Abdul al-Aziz donated an Arabian Oryx to have as a pet. Occasionally, on long journeys back to England, Violet Dickson would take some of these animals, reptiles and samples of plants to donate to zoos or museums.
At least one of plant discovered in the desert was eventually named after Dame Violet Dickson herself.
Most importantly, Al-Rashoud shared how life was for Mrs. Dickson in the earliest days of her 60-plus year stay in Kuwait.
When the Dicksons arrived at their first residence in Kuwait, they found it infested with vermin.
However, in reminiscence of Oakly Annie and the women who actually helped their husbands conquer the American West and prairies in the 19th century, Dame Dickson simply approached the chore of eradicating the creatures using both wits and skill.
Violet waited till there was a full-moon lit night. On that bright night, she lay a white sheet on the ground outside of the home. In the sheet, Dame Dickson placed barley corn.