Sunday, 16 December 2012

Hearbreak, Haikus and Humor

Journaling is a big part of my life here in Kuwait. There are new experiences that I just don’t feel ready to share online yet, as they are very personal. As such, The American and I head to Starbucks multiple times a week to gossip about work, men and life. These sessions always have me in stitches within minutes, and provide excellent stress relief from busy days.

The ultimate purpose of these frequent trips to our favorite Starbucks is to put pen to paper about daily life in Kuwait. The gossip session help to remind us about what we want to write about.

My journal has become an amalgamated scrap book, memory pad, sketch book and a place to explore some different writing techniques. I collect things from dates, outings, parties – wherever I go to paste or clip into my journal.  Our table at is always spread with different colored pens, scissors, bits of paper, glue and paper clips.  [The American and I are constantly debating the use of paper clips or glue for attaching memories into our journals.]. We must look like an art project gone wrong every night.

I have been using my beloved Louvre Museum Pen that I picked up this summer to write in my journal from day 1. The American really does make fun of me for that, perhaps deservedly.  The other night I was on page 154 of my tales of adventure when out of NO WHERE the pen went dry. I was devastated. I tried everything I could to make it start writing again.

I took the pen apart and blew on the ink tube, scribbled furiously – hoping that the ink would start running again, and even hit it against my leg, the table and my palm before admitting defeat. There was nothing to be done. The ink had run out, Khallas, finished, no more.

This pen and I have traveled many places together. We have created shopping lists, packing lists, and life to-do lists. We have shed tears and ink over big life changes, boys and moments. It wrote my feelings, my secrets and desires faithfully for three and a half months and 153 and a half pages. Of course I was a little upset about it.

I immediately stopped writing about whatever I was writing about to create a eulogy for my pen. I know this was all a little bit ridiculous, okay – maybe a lot ridiculous. But I was feeling sentimental, and what else can be done but give into these feelings? I may or may not have also written a Haiku in tribute…yes, I am blushing. Please do not mock me openly.

Feeling a little better, The American and I headed off to the local ‘Teacher Store’ in search of a new pen for me. It would have to be ball point, and it would have to be black ink. I wanted to continue the tradition that I had started and make my Journal look as uniform as possible.

The man that owns the store has seen The American and I on many separate occasions. He is brisk, does not speak much English and has never once cracked a smile. The last couple of times we have sauntered into his shop we have received a curt nod of recognition.  I was convinced that he had ZERO sense of humor and for whatever reason did not particularly like us.

In one last vain attempt to revive my pen, I asked the men if they supplied refills for pens. He said in a gruff voive “What kind?” I pulled my pencil case out of my bad and searched for a couple of seconds for the pen, finally finding it I handed it over.

He took it apart, with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye. I wondered what possibly could have amused him. Thinking to myself that I must have had something on my face, or in my teeth I was like oh great.
Looking at the ink tube he replied, in that same gruff voice he said “Not this one. Bic – cheap pen” There was a crinkle of amusement growing in his eyes. Dejectedly I asked to see what nice pens he had. Yes, I thought to myself, I was going to buy my first BIG GIRL pen.

After holding a couple of different pens and testing their ink, and writing capability – I settled on a beautiful metal purple pen, there was just one thing wrong with it.

 “The Ink is Blue!” I whined to the sales man. “No problem, we can change to black.” He replied with a quizzical stare. [I could just imagine him thinking that this girl is nuts! Why does she care so much about black ink.] After a quick exchange of the ink, a few words by my hand I was happy – I had a pen!

The salesman’s assistant rang up my order and asked if I needed a bag. Before I could even open my mouth to reply the Salesman said with a laugh “What does she need a bag for? She has a whole pencil case!” His eyes were twinkling with humor and his voice was softened with a chuckle. I couldn’t help but laugh, even if it was at my expense.

My Big Girl Pen

Sometimes interacting with Arab men is very intimidating, perhaps it had been my purposeful manner when I entered the shop before that had created the business like relationship between us. Really, though – can you blame a Canadian girl? I am sure the next time I see him things will be back to normal, but it was nice to know that you can in fact joke around with the people here. Maybe it is time to loosen up a little with those whom I interacting with.

Friday, 16 November 2012

On Going for Medicals

In order to obtain residency you have to under go some medical testing to ensure that you are healthy and capable of doing your work in Kuwait.

I have been anxiously awaiting my trip to visit the medical center for expats as I heard that it was quite the experience!

I was picked up by HR promptly at 10 AM to head to the Expat medical center.  The two men I was with were chatting in Arabic the whole time we were driving – a grand total of 3 minutes; seriously…I could have walked. I was not told where we were going and each stop I was not told what was happening.

There was a lot of snapping fingers  directed towards me, followed by curt, direct orders – stand here, Don’t move, Go, picture needs to taken by the HR department. My picture was taken so quickly I hardly knew what was going on…needless to say it’s not particularly pretty. 

I was rushed out of the photo store and told : “Come, this way.” The two men from HR kept jabbering on in Arabic, so while we were walking, I made up a conversation in my head for what they were saying; a highly entertaining way to pass the time!

As we approached the clinic I was nervous as to what to expect.  I had heard some pretty terrifying stories about what awaits inside.

When you walk up the entrance, you would not be able to tell that this is a medical facility, but for a slightly discernible sign telling you that it is. Your first steps into the center is down dimply lit concrete hill, with flickering lights no less.

Can anyone say horror story waiting to happen? Where are the vampires and werewolves? I was guided into the building, being told: ‘stand here, don’t move. Wait. Come. *snaps fingers* lets go. Don'y look at anyone, look at me.” This was especially hard, because as I was the only white woman in the clinic I was being stared at - by everyone.

When you enter the building there is an overwhelming stench of body odor and antiseptic, I almost retched as soon as we entered. Looking around you get the feeling of a dilapidated insane asylum from the 1950’s that has been just satisfactorily restored to be fit for use. On second thought…maybe not fit for use. 

There is a lot of waiting involved to get your medical done. We had to talk to multiple people to figure out where I was meant to go. Then when I was finally sent for a blood test, The Man I was with pushed me to the front of the line - in front of many eastern women who had been waiting for quite some time - and said "You, go. More important."  I felt so rude budding the line, I was ashamed to have done so. 

The next step is getting a chest X-ray. You have to exit the cave-like insane asylum to walk across a parking lot that is littered with bloody cotton balls from having blood taken, towards a structure that looks like a bomb shelter that has been abandoned for 20 years. 

Why is this so frightening? 

Again, I was told what to do, where to go. This I am thankful for, because I would have had no idea. I was pushed into a changing room, that reeked of body odor and, again had bloody cotton balls taped to the walls and littered all over the floor. Seriously, have you not heard of a garbage can?! I was pushed to the front of the line, rushed through - and that was that. Thankfully it was quite a short and painless experience - minus the smells and cleanliness.

I should mention, that where the medical procedures are completed are clean - its just the building around those rooms that aren't. 

With the company of three Arab men bossing me around, it truly wasn't so bad -  not an experience I would like to repeat anytime soon though!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Friday Market

New Experience Weekend! 

A long week at work was to be rewarded with exploring a traditional aspect of Kuwaiti society; the Friday Market. I was disappointed to find out that you can actually go to the 'Friday market" any day of the week - apparently they just stock up on goods and jack up the prices for Fridays.

Off we set on Friday afternoon, 2:15 pm. Why we chose the hottest point of the day to explore an outdoor market - I will never know. Not a good idea. As soon as we set foot out of the cab we felt like we were MMMMMMMMelting.
Copper Goods!

Walking through the gates was was awestruck. Hundreds of vendors, selling ANYTHING that you could ever want and THOUSANDS of people milling through the market. My eyes could not move fast enough to take it all in, I was like a kid in a candy store that wanted one of EVERYTHING.

The first stall we happened across - after randomly selecting a direction to go was a copper vendor. Anything you wanted you wanted, made of copper, you could get. There was also a random stuffed snake attacking some sort of wolverine-like-thing, it was creepy. I could have spend hours just at his stall going through his amazing collection. He was one of many selling similar goods. It was all very beautiful. Alas, mes compadres: The American, Flower Water (Explanation in The American's blog here: The Garden Restaurant: A Flowery Experience), and The Yankee wanted to move on and see as much as possible, so onward we went to discover the many offerings of the market.
The Entrance

 As we slowly meandered through the market, as much due to the heat as to avoid swiveling-head-syndrome,  we started to realize the magnitude of the place.

Anything you want: sunglasses, perfume, clothing, bedroom furniture, shampoo, soap, electronics, fabrics, rugs - SO MANY - literally anything and everything.
Daily Business

The craftsmanship on the wood furniture is a sight in itself to see. It is beautifully crafted and absolutely stunning. I could have lost another couple hours just staring at one vanity in particular.  It had beautiful flowers etched on the surface and carved much more elaborately along the top - stunning.

Not all the furniture is so beautiful. There are some hideous examples of velour couches, brightly colored animal print rugs, and glitter encrusted curtains that belong in a brothel not a family friendly facility. I only wish I would have snapped a photo so you could share in my amusement.

It was a LONG day in the heat; sweat trickling down our backs, jeans sticking to our legs, and gulping water like there was nothing better in the world.

" I want to see the animals!" I exclaimed to the American and Flower Water, I had been told that you could see all sorts of different kinds of creatures and I wanted to explore. I was not in the best of tempers, and I really wanted to see them. We had been there for a couple of hours and I was getting impatient.

Live Chickens freak me out.
"Okay, okay, they must be that direction." Replied Flower Water, as it was one of the few directions that we had yet to explore. Off we trekked through the heat.

"Aha! That must be it, I can see chickens!" The American and I had been waiting ALL day for this, so we were pretty excited.

If only they stayed this small
and colorful forever!
The description we had received of the animal enclosures what NOT accurate. All these little critters were bunched together and did not look like they had enough space. It made me profoundly sad to see. Knowing that I could not do anything to change the conditions that these animals live in did not help how I was feeling.

There were chickens - which I stayed well away from, yes I am paranoid - baby bunnies, brightly colored chicks, and every kind of bird on the planet.

Moving furthur into the Animal Market, we hear barking. So many beautiful puppies. Again, I could have stayed and played with them all day. From Huskeys to Pitbulls and Labs to mutts, they were all beautiful. My only hope is that they are adopted quickly and brought to a more loving home than the market.

The last stop of the day was to see the kitties. As it was the end of the day, we were told that most of them had gone. There was one baby kitten left, and nothing would do for me, but to hold him. I had to hold him didn't I? He was the CUTEST thing on the planet - giving me kisses and meowing playfully at me. I held him for a good 10 minutes, giving him some TLC, thinking of what I would name him if I could take him home. I was feeling lonely, and maybe it was that I wanted to rescue one animal from that place, but I was seriously considering taking him home. Knowing full well that it is incredibly impractical for me to think about having a cat.
I am barely home, I have a small apartment and not enough time to give the beastling the love it needed. I eventually talked myself out of buying him, with great regret I placed him back in his cage and walked away. I shed a couple of tears because I desperately wanted him. Like I said...a kid in a candy store.

The American managed to snap a picture of me with him, and I am much appreciative.

I choose to believe that the little girl that was looking at the older cats persuaded her dad to take the little guy home, much preferring a kitten to a full grown cat and that he is in a happy home being loved by that girl and her family.

Ya, ya, ya it's a bit sappy and life isn't like a Disney movie, but there is no way that that kitten isn't a happy little monster right now, he was too cute to pass up!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Missing those SAB Sunsets.

This week was a LONG week. There are all sorts of preparations being done at school for upcoming events, tons of grading, and more planning that I thought possible.

It has also been a week of wistfully thinking about those Southern Alberta sunsets. They are stunning this time of year! The harvest is being brought in, and the colours in the sky are amazing!

 I had yet to see a truly amazing sunset, I had been complaining to The American about the lack of lustrous colours as the sun makes it's nightly descent.

It seemed that this was to be the week for amazing sunsets in AB. Friends from back home had been posting photo after photo of the beautiful sky. I was so jealous, I wanted to cry. It really is amazing WHAT you end up missing about home.

The American and I were exiting the mall. BAM, stunning sunset! They do exsist. I was SO happy to finally see one!

The picture does not do it justice, but it was beautiful. In the few minutes that we stood and watched the sun completely disappeared from view.  Just as in Greece the summer, the sun stays high up in the sky for a long time, and the suddenly falls into the horizon. So maybe it wasn't that there hadn't been amazing sunsets; perhaps it was a case of me missing them in the blink of an eye.

The Yankee and I were walking down by the beach the following day, and saw one of the MOST beautiful sunsets of my life. It rendered me speechless, and he did not have much to say either.

If there is one thing that will never cease to amaze me, it is the sun.

It wakes you up in the morning with its gentle rays saying 'good morning, sunshine.'

It warms you all day, a constant even when behind clouds because you know it is there. The very thought of the sun has a warming effect. In the winter, on the coldest, darkest days we crave the sun, wishing for it's warmth. We know it is there waiting behind a cloud for the perfect moment to shine. We know it will always come back to us.

It falls from the sky on a beautiful journey to bid us adieu, a demain, each and every day. If ever the is an unchanging, and yet everchanging, constant in our lives, it is the sun.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Fruit & Veggies

So, aside from my last washing experience things have been pretty quiet around here. There are somethings that just aren't that different about living in a foreign country, and there are some that are! Today I am going to talk about groceries.

For all immediate needs I just run to the local ' Bacala' - there are about 5 within a 2 minute walking distance.

Bacala's have all your basic necessities: laundry detergent, peanut butter, milk, eggs, nutella, eggs, some fruit and veggies, olive oil, pepper, other spices, and ice cream.

You have to imagine the size.
These stores are TINY they are so small that it is uncomfortable for two people to be in them at once. They usually have two aisles with a center rack stuffed with goods separating them. they are absolutely STUFFED with goods to buy. They utilize ALL the space up the walls, any bit of floor that isn't necessary for walking on is dedicated to stuff. It is amazing the amount of things that you can find in them. Almost anything you need!

I go to a place called Sultan Center for my groceries, similar to any Safeway back home. There are most of the same products...but they randomly also sell runners, and home goods, and actually almost anything you need. Maybe it is more like a Superstore or Walmart, without the benefit of cheap prices. It is a very nice grocery store, but alas they only have International delight coffee cream, not my favorite Coffee Mate!

For fruits and veggies it is best to go to the local market because they have cheaper prices. You are then also buying local produce (though how they grow it in the desert is beyond me...), making me feel like a better person - despite the fact that I guzzle bottled water like it is going out of style.

The market is a large hall with lots of stands. They all sell pretty much the same selection- pre-wrapped portions of fruit and veggies in Styrofoam and saran wrap, for the same price. It is the quality you have to hunt around for. The men (yes, ALL men) shout at you to come over to their stand

"Miss please, fruit! I have some nice pomegranates!" 
                      "Tomato! Cucumber! Avacado!"                           
                                                "Grapes! Apples! Come miss!"

The sounds of their voices all overlap and it is very overwhelming, you just have to tune them out, select your stand and try to ignore the grumbles when you pick one that isn't theirs. I don't like how I am unable to touch the fruit I want to buy, it makes it harder to ensure that you are getting good ones.

The experience of going into the market alone, it enough to make you want to turn away. But once you taste their oh man is being shouted at by 50 men ever worth it!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Drowning in My Bathroom

So, being a lifeguard back home has given me some useful information regarding water safety. Not much of which is applicable to daily life...However, some of these tidbits do come in handy. Such as "it only takes two inches of stagnant water to drown."

After being here a week, with limited amounts of clothing, and a necessity to look good every day the time came to do laundry.

Now, laundry is the same everywhere right? Put in clothes, turn machine on, wait, buzzer sounds, take clothes out, hang up. Simple process.

Well, apparently not.  I mean, why would it be!? Everything has a learning curve.

Clothes in. Soap in [this took some figuring out as I had never used powdered laundry detergent before, and the label was mostly in Arabic.] Turn washer to "Normal Soiled" and turn on.....

Nothing Happens...repeatedly push button. Still doesn't work. Ugh, Okay. 

Is it plugged in? Yes. Hmmmm....Oh yea..electricity. 

The electricity to certain outlets is controlled by the light swtich...I only know this because once I accidentally unplugged my fridge [ooooooops].

Electricity on. Washing Machine ON! Hooray for laundry...Walk away. Usually Laundry takes about an hour, so as an hour passed and I still heard the machine chugging away I went to check on it. Little to my knowledge....SPLAT! There is water ALL over the floor, causing me to slip and fall right on my bum. Ouch.

Turns out that the washing machins in Kuwait are NOT attached to the pipe system. No, they just drain out a hose in the back!

Now I understand WHY there is a drain in the middle of my bathroom floor! [Light Bulb]!

Lesson learned for next time; affix the host to the slot in the drain BEFORE starting laundry - otherwise it is a very real possibility for me to drown in the bathroom!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Good Tips, Funnier Stories.

A few good tips have been passed onto since I have arrived. Some of it has sparked some interesting events,and funny stories. I will keep this post ongoing as more and more tips come my way, so that when you come to Kuwait, you are prepared!

1. "You will get honked at and cat called. You're white, cute and female. Don't turn your head or give any indication that you've heard. It only encourages them, they can be persistent."

This is very true. I did not believe it at first but it is! It is unnerving. Just remember when walking outside keep your eye ahead of you, don't look at anyone, and most important of all - don't make eye contact.

2. You will get used to the heat, but you will not get used to the smell.

A myriad of smells have given my nasal passages a workout since I have arrived in Kuwait. There is the stench of garbage baking in the sun on my way to school in the morning when I walk past the dumpster. There is the stench of sewage when you walk by certain areas of the sea (they dump raw sewage into parts of it), and finally the smell of food cooking throughout the apartment building. These cooking smells are not always pleasant or unpleasant, they are simply always there. A vanilla scented candle and a wallflower unit pumping out "Aloha Vanilla" have made my apartment smell lovely and remind me of home.

The worst smell to reach my olfactory sense so far happened to cross my path on Tuesday. The American and I headed to Al Kout Pier for some sightseeing, shopping and to grab some grub.  We were admiring the water feature outside of the mall when a strange smell started to creep towards us. Now, seeing as how these unpleasant odors often come from outside we gradually started making our way to the side of the pier that we hadn't explored yet. As the smell started to intensify and our gag reflexes started to kick in we scurried, holding our breath, right along.

Just ten more feet...five more feet...two more...IN! Finally, deep breath in! Oh my goodness.

What IS that?!!?

It was awful...taking a look at our surroundings we saw that we had entered a meat market.

Fish to the left, beef to the right, live chickens (LIVE CHICKENS?!?) at the end of the hall.

Now, a sight to see it may be...but it smells awful. Like meat that has been left to bake in the sun, mixed with the smell of blood. Not good my friends. It was a smell to linger in my nostrils for hours. No matter what I did I could not get rid of it!

My tip to you: Always ensure that you have a spot of perfume just under your nose when you leave your apartment!

3. Always have a light sweater or Cardigan with you; Otherwise you will freeze when you enter a building. The A/C is THAT good!

Fact. My apartment is freezing, my classroom is freezing and any public building you enter will be col. It may be 40 degrees outside, but it is quite chilly inside. Yes, it is enjoyable for that initial relief from the heat, but after a while I start to shiver.

For a while, the temperature regulator in my apartment wasn't working. No matter what I did, the fan kept blowing cold air all day, every day. Needless to say, I went from school professional attire to comfy sweats and a hoodie, and dove under the blankets as quickly as possible. Still shiverring; and unpleasant.

After a few attempts, multiple stare downs and hitting the regulator a few times I managed to get it off the fan and onto automatic. Thank goody-gumdrops. I now can sit in my apartment without my hoodie and sweats on!

Here are some pictures of Al Kout Pier for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Arrived Alive!

Well, I' m here! Finally in Kuwait! My home for the next 10 months. It took a while for everything to be sorted and to actually get here...but such is the way with international jobs, I suppose. I wont bore you with details of my nervousness about whether I would actually make it here, how confusing the whole visa process was, and how desperately I waited to receive my airline ticket...Let's just say August was intense. 

My amigos back home are wanting to know all the details of my travels, so a handy dandy blog should do the trick for informing them =).  

First things first: My Entrance.  

"Excuse me passengers, we have now arrived in Kuwait. Will all those passengers who are disembarking the plane here please do so now, for those of you continuing on please remain seated."

I thought to myself, FINALLY. Longest plane ride ever. Never again do I want to repeat THAT experience.Well not until June anyway.  I stumbled off the plane mumbling my thanks to the lovely flight attendants and the Captain, so exhausted, eyes drooping. Then it hit me. I am HERE. What a wake up call that was. Suddenly alive with adrenaline, I nervously followed the herd of people. I was sincerely hoping that they were heading to customs/baggage claim because I had no idea where I was going.  After waiting inline for 35 minutes passport/work visa in hand, 

"Miss your visa is not Valid go see number 17." Heart sinks. Pressure drops. Colour runs out of my face. 

Number 17....Number 17...Number 17...Ah there it is. At least there is no line?

I hand my documents over, gulping. Maybe the other one had it wrong? 

"Miss you needed to get this stamped by the embassy."

"No, it doesn't say that anywhere. My employer told me I didn't have to." 

"Miss yes."

"I have everything else on the list stamped!!" Tears are now running down my face, and I am thinking to myself: I don't even have a phone number to call her, how am I supposed to get back...what do I do?!?!?!

Wipe face. Deep breath. "What do I need to do?"
"You have your criminal record check stamped?" 

"Yes, here!"

"Okay, this once, for you *Stamp - Stamp* Go."

Stammering my thanks, at my unbelievable luck, I rush out to baggage claim. 

Two words: Gong Show

My bags were already off the belt in a heap in the corner. Find one, find the other, head out to the meeting point. I have never seen so many people in my life. The one person I am looking for, is the one person I cannot find. So I head over to a post and wait...10 mins...getting nervous...15 minutes...where is shee??? Ah there she is! A sim card set up and a brisk jaunt in the blazing heat and we are in the SUV on the way to my new home!