Sunday, December 30, 2012

We went to a fairy tale land

This vacation has not gone as planned.

At. all.

Thank goodness we rented an apartment through airbnb. If we had been sick and holed up in a hotel room this whole time, there probably wouldn't be a We anymore. Only one of us would have survived.*

*it would not have been this guy.

We've been following a pretty regular pattern of one day on, one day off. We'll go out and see some sights, and it'll take it all out of me and I'm in bed the whole next day. I should probably take it a little more easy and not go so hard when I am out of bed, I'm determined to see something while on this darn vacation!

So yesterday, the Mister and I met up with the tour guide who showed us around town on our first day in Prague and he drove us south to a medieval village called Cesky Krumlov.

Literally translated, the town name means "Crooked Czech" or "Crooked Bohemian." Kamil, our tour guide, told us that originally there was more to the name that made it mean "Crooked Czech Town" but that was too much to say so it got shortened. The original parts of the village were built as early as the 1200s and a post Communism boom in tourism has helped to bring the old buildings back to their wonderful historic luster. Here are a few photos.

Oh. We stopped by the Budweiser Budvar brewery on the way down. This is where the real Budweiser has been brewed for several hundred years.

The town is built along the southern banks of the Vlata River, which flows north to Prague.

The castle is on the left, the cathedral of St. Vitus is on the right. Two hotties in the middle. amirite? 

This is the lower castle, the oldest part of the castle that got a "facelift" during the Renaissance (ie around the mid 1500s)

All the detailed artwork on the facades of all the buildings was so amazing! The castle was handed down from one wealthy family to the next for hundreds of years. As each family ran out of money, another one would step in and...spend money on parties and entertaining guests till they went broke. It was very Downton Abbey. But in Bohemia.

Behind me is a plague column, built during one of the many plagues to try to ward off the evil spirits that were causing all the deaths. I'm standing in the town square down the hill from the castle.

The upper castle is on the hill behind the Mister. Tchotchkes and quaint buildings are  featured as well.

One of the families built this elaborate passageway to connect the lower castle to the new theater in the upper castle some time in the 1600s.
One of the perks of staying in a fully functional apartment? You get to burn cook your own dinner after a long, cold day of sightseeing! 

The Mister was down for the count today, complaining of the same ails I had at the beginning of our adventure (minus the pink eye), so we didn't go anywhere today. Tomorrow's goal: leave the apartment.

...If we can accomplish that we're going to try to see the Prague castle, visit a museum or two, and find me some shoes for New Year's Eve!

Here's hopin'!

Vicariously yours,

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chillin' and illin' in the Czech Republic

Yeah...that post title is pretty darn bad. My apologies.

So the Mister and I are finally on Christmas break! After two Christmases spent in Saudi--one working, one sitting around the house awkwardly until our families were awake enough to Skype us--we now work in a school that observes an American school calendar. It is SO nice!

We considered going home, especially since my aunt was diagnosed with cancer this fall, but decided to spend half the money and go to Prague instead. I have had my butt kicked this semester with learning the new curriculum, re-adjusting to teaching 6th grade again, and just transitioning into a new country and school. I needed this break like whoa.

So it only stands to reason that I get sick as a dog not 24 hours after we touch down in the Czech Republic. I think most of my ails are due to the onslaught of tree pollen and allergens that just don't exist in Kuwait. My sinuses are angry at me. The entire right side of my face is blocked up tighter than an LA highway at rush hour.

Adding insult to injury, I got something in my eye yesterday as the Mister and I was out for some sightseeing and as I swept it out of my eye, I must have introduced some sort of nasty pathogen which decided to fester itself in my eyeball overnight. I woke up to my left eye being crusted shut and all kindsa redness and inflammation.


My misery has been compounded by the fact that all pharmacies have been closed until today because of the Christmas holiday and there are no over the counter medications sold in grocery stores or mini-marts. So I haven't had any ibuprophen, no Claritin, NOTHIN' to try to ease my pain!

Fast forward to this afternoon. I decided that this eye nastiness wasn't going to work itself out pleasantly, so I found out where the nearest eye clinic was and decided to venture out.

Hard to tell, but that's one red eye on the right there.

I found the address, packed myself up with my passport and some money and hopped a cab.

Don't worry, Moms. The Mister came with me. He kicked some serious Angry Birds butt the whole way there.
We got dropped off at this unassuming building on a side street. No ambulance bay, no big blue signs with a bold H to indicate this was a hospital. I never would have imagined it was a medical facility. Thankfully there was a nice lady at the information desk as we entered the complex. I pointed to my red inflamed eye and she said, "Ah." followed by a string of Czech. She got a map of the hospital, circled what I assumed was the eye clinic and wrote down what I assumed was an office number.

Apparently we look Italian. She gave us the Italian map of the hospital instead of the English version.

We made our way to the "ocini klinika", only to find that the information desk in that wing was closed. We were greeted instead by tiled hallways and LOTS of Czech signs. This place looked unlike any hospital I had ever been to. First of all there were no people! We saw a few cleaning staff popping in and out of closets, but no nurses station, no "Dr. So-and-So, please report to room such-and-such" over the loud speakers. No other patients that we could see. It was odd.

The information desk for the eye clinic is on the right; that wooden inset past the double doors.
Eventually a kind man must have read the helplessness on my face and took mercy on me. I pointed to my eye, he said, "Ah. Come." and I followed him to a yellow room. A nurse happened to be coming out of a door, he explained something to her in Czech, pointed to me, I pointed to my eye, and she pointed to a chair.

...alright. We were getting somewhere.

At this point I had no idea that I was actually sitting in the waiting room do a doctor's office.

There he is again. Killing those pigs. That white door led to the doctor's office.
The nurse came out and asked for my passport and my insurance card. When she saw that I wasn't an EU citizen she shrugged and said, "Ah. Will pay cash." That wasn't a problem. She took me back and I met with a very nice doctor and his student. They inspected my eye and he wrote me a prescription. The doctor decided that I had an "infection from some garbage from the window."

Translation: something had gotten blown into my eye and it had caused an infection.

He wrote me "a recipe" for antibiotic drops. I paid the kind nurse CZK 516 ($27.21) and headed to the pharmacy near the hospital entrance. I hadn't realized that the 516 covered the doctor's visit AND the prescription! I picked up a box of ibuprophen with my eye drops and paid another CZK 198 ($10.44) and was on my way.

At the end of it all, I had spent just over double the taxi fare to visit a medical professional and pick up a prescription! Dang! There might be something to this whole socialized medicine thing after all!

We got back to our apartment a little while ago. I picked up some dinner..

washed down with a dessert of Oreos, obviously...
 ...and now the Mister and I are resting up before an early morning visiting a UNESCO world heritage site tomorrow. Many more pictures and stories to come, I'm sure.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Saudi, American, and Kuwaiti students: Similarities and Differences

One phrase you hear teachers say all the time: "Kids are the same everywhere." And to some extent, that phrase is true. I've found many similarities in the way my students learn. Certain teacher tricks have worked in all of my classrooms. Others are only suitable for a more Western-centered culture. Sorry, researchers. Your theories are not always applicable everywhere.

One common question I get from my teacher friends is what the main differences are between the cultures. It's hard to answer that question concisely. So here's how I'll explain my long answer: I'm going to give you a common school scenario and break it down for you. Please keep in mind that: 1. I've given a bit of a humorous twist to all of these descriptions, 2. I worked at a private, all Saudi, all-girls school in Saudi Arabia, and from what I've heard many things have changed at that school since I've left, and 3. my current school is a mix of Kuwaitis, other Arabs, and students of European descent (American or otherwise). I can only report what I've experienced, so these descriptions probably don't apply to ALL schools in these various cultures.

A school-wide assembly, American style
Step 1: A few days, possibly even a week before, the assembly schedule is emailed out or posted in a common area. This details the altered lengths of the class periods and reminds teachers that the assembly that was announced a month ago is coming up.
Step 2: On the day of the assembly, the kids will start first period with "When is the assembly?," even though the assembly schedule is always the same and you have it clearly posted on the class board. "When is the assembly" questions generally taper off by the middle of first period.
Step 3: Students generally walk in an orderly fashion to the gym or auditorium. Conversation between the students is kept to a dull roar. You're able to maintain a normal volume to be heard in conversation with your colleagues as you walk your classes down the hall.
Step 4: The gym/auditorium is relatively loud, but not unbearably so, as the entire school files into the room. You seat your class in the first available rows in the section of the bleachers assigned to your grade level. You allow your class to talk because...what else are they going to do? Might as well get it out of their systems now.
Step 5: Once the principal/guest speaker steps up, a hush comes over the crowd. It takes approximately 10 seconds (30 seconds on a bad day) for the entire auditorium to get quiet so the presenter can be heard.
Step 6: During the presentation you just have to scan your class every 30 seconds or so and give one or two knuckleheads The Look for whispering a conversation. Should technical difficulties arise, students generally snicker and say a few comments, but the attention of the audience never strays too far.
Step 7: When the assembly is over, students applaud for the appropriate length of time and generally wait their turns to file out of the bleachers/auditorium seats. The biggest concern you have is watching for the errant few who will walk ON the bleachers instead of in the aisles.

A school-wide assembly, Saudi style:
Step 1: The morning of, possibly even the afternoon before, the assembly is announced. There is no assembly schedule posted yet, administration is still figuring that out. You're not sure which classes you will or will not see, but be ready to stop everything and head to the auditorium at a moment's notice.
Step 2: At the beginning of every single class period, all 25 of your students will individually ask, "When are we going to the assembly?" Another popular one is, "We're supposed to go to the assembly now. Abla So-and-so said." The questions never stop, even as you are walking to the assembly.
Step 3: Students have two speed settings when going to the assembly: turtle or The Flash. Students also have two volumes: silent or Banshee. You have to check sometimes to make sure your ears aren't bleeding, the volume in the hall is so loud. You have to hold you head less than a centimeter away from your colleague's in order to hear some of what she said as you herd your (and everyone else's) students down the hall.
Step 4: The auditorium is deafeningly loud. Most of the school is filing into the room, but a few strays take advantage of the chaos and "get lost" on their way to the auditorium. Conversation between students are held by shouting across the room (in English and Arabic), by BBM, and by yelling at the person sitting in the adjacent seat/rows. Your students have scattered throughout the room, so you select a section of the auditorium and adopt them as your own. You try in vain to get them to bring their volume down to a human level and put away the handheld devices in preparation for the presentation.
Step 5: Once the principal steps up, conversation continues as it has been for the past 10 minutes (it takes a while to get everyone in. Not all the teachers got the memo that the assembly was starting, so their classes had to be rounded up individually. Others had a behavior situation on their hands and decided their classes weren't going to the assembly as a consequence and it took the students 8 minutes to wear them down and finally let them go). Eventually the audience gives the principal 10 seconds of silence to start her introduction before the whispered conversations begin again. Within 25 seconds the conversations in the audience have reached full volume and by the time the principal is done with her introduction she is having to yell to ask the audience to quiet back down. Silence is never really fully regained.
Step 6: During the presentation you are the only teacher scanning the crowd (sometimes you realize you are the only teacher IN THE ROOM) and trying in vain to get the students--any students--to follow your instructions. Eventually you take advantage of a luxury Sisyphus never had: give up and just let the boulder roll down the hill.
Step 7: Approximately 10 minutes before the 30 minute assembly is over, a flood of "emergency" bathroom requests are made. Once one teacher allows one girl to go, all bladders in the room are instantaneously filled and it's hard to contain the crowd. By the time the assembly is actually over, only 75% of the audience remains and they exit any way they like, scattering to all parts of campus except for the classrooms where they are supposed to go.

A school-wide assembly, Kuwaiti style:
Step 1: The assembly is announced at least 1 week in advance and the assembly schedule is emailed out and posted in a common area.
Step 2: You post the assembly schedule on your board and mention it during the bellringer at the beginning of first period. Students are still surprised when the class period is over early and you get the barrage of "When is the assembly?" questions as students are filing out your classroom door.
Step 3: Students generally walk to the auditorium. A few break off from your class to find their friends, but they return back to you once you get to the auditorium door. You don't get the chance to have much of a conversation with your colleagues because there's very little bottleneck until you reach the auditorium door.
Step 4: The volume in the auditorium is not loud at all. You're able to maintain a normal volume level as you round your students up and direct them to your assigned rows. All your strays find you and you don't have to hunt anyone down.
Step 5: Even before the principal/guest speaker steps up, most of your class has stopped talking. One or two of the boys are playing a game on their iPhone5, but they put it away as soon as you give them The Look. It takes approximately 10 seconds for the entire auditorium to get quiet so the presenter can begin.
Step 6: During the presentation you just have to listen for wayward whispers and quietly say the name of the offender for the conversations to stop. You only have to do this 3 or 4 times throughout the entire hour long assembly. You're sure the iPhones find their ways back out of pockets throughout the assembly, but the students are stealthy and you never actually catch any of them in the act.
Step 7: When the assembly is finished, your biggest concern is whether or not your colleagues will follow any sort of pattern when escorting their students out of the auditorium. No one runs, no chairs are stepped on, and all students find the appropriate classrooms within 2-3 minutes after the assembly.

I make it sound like my school in Saudi Arabia was a total circus, and on some days I definitely felt like a ringmaster (ok, a clown), but there are definitely aspects of that school that I miss. All of the schools where I've worked have their redeeming qualities that I will remember fondly.

Vicariously yours,

Uneventful Eid

**I apologize for the ridiculously long silence, readers (if we have any readers left!). I've started several posts and just haven't finished them. I just found this one that is rather boring, but completed. I'm going to post anyway; more for my benefit than anything else. Enjoy?**

This year marks the first time the Mister and I have stayed put for the Eid al Adha vacation. Our first year in Saudi we went to Dubai and last year we were in Spain with my family. I still don't have my residence visa for Kuwait yet, so we had ourselves a little staycation in Kuwait. I must say that sleeping in my own bed, lounging around all day without feeling guilty about not taking advantage of the touristy fun, and cooking in my own kitchen is a pretty good way to spend a long weekend!

Eid al Adha is the feast of the sacrifice. It celebrates the return of pilgrims from the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to Mecca) as well as the near sacrifice of Ismail by Abraham (that's the Islamic version of the story). There is a lot of slaughtering of sheep, goats, camels, and various other livestock. My dad tells stories of the streets in his childhood home being filled with the blood of the sacrificed animals. Because we have always travelled, I've never seen this kind of carnage, so I wasn't sure what to expect this year.

This is the closest we've gotten to seeing the sacrifice: families in Morocco bringing their sheep to the butcher to be prepared for the feast. So many sheep are slaughtered during Eid al Adha that this is the busiest time of the year for Australia and New Zealand!
Long story short: it was pretty uneventful! I didn't see any blood at all. There were a few sightings of sheep in the backs of trucks on their way to their doom...even one sheep stuffed in the way back of a Chevy Tahoe, but we didn't stumble upon any of our neighbors in the middle of their slaughter. The feral children (the neighborhood kids who are allowed to roam the streets unsupervised) had a great time with the firecrackers and I think we might have heard a few celebratory gun shots, but other than that, it was just a quiet weekend at home.

While America is dealing with a hurricane on the east coast, presidential elections, and cold snaps, we're enjoying temperatures in the low 90s, Halloween preparation, the first rain of the school year, and mall walking. Just a typical weekend in Kuwait.

Eid Mubarak, y'all!

Vicariously yours,

Monday, October 22, 2012

Seen on my morning commute, entry #2

My morning commute to work is very short, but often very entertaining. There are a few things I know I will see for sure: lots of stray cats, school children running to the buses that impatiently honk outside their apartment buildings, neighbors lighting up their morning smoke, and trash. Lots of trash.

But one of the more perplexing items of trash that I have consistently seen on my commutes to and from school here in Kuwait: the used syringe.

This was a particularly fresh specimen.
Here's the thing: all these syringes can't possibly come from the same least, that's what I hope. I have seen several types of syringes in more than one spot. And I'm not trying to suggest that these syringes are used for nefarious things like heroin or worse. Sure, diabetes is a problem in this region, but you would think a diabetic would have been educated on how to properly dispose of biohazardous materials such as least, that's what I hope...

When I shared almost this exact train of thought with someone, they politely let me finish my rant and simply replied, "Juicing." As in steroids.

It's true, Arabs love them some rippling biceps. But shooting up 'roids in the dusty lot across from your apartment building? Really?

I have no idea what the story is behind these syringes. I keep hoping I might stumble upon somebody in the act of using them so I can finally figure out the answer. While the source of these syringes remains a mystery, they continue to be a regular part of my morning commute to work so I knew I had to share this random part of my life in The Sandbox.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Alright. So this is totally a post dedicated to what the Mister calls complain bragging. It's a nasty habit of expats and jetsetters everywhere. We have a propensity for dropping braggy "complaints" into conversations or onto facebook that cause the rest of the world to collectively roll their eyes at how nauseatingly exotic our lives are. Tyler and I try our best to hold back these kinds of posts and tweets because we don't want to be THOSE people. So let's just say this is what your newsfeed COULD look like if we didn't have such stellar self control. This way we can get it all out at once and you don't have to unfriend us.


Don't you hate it when you try to brush your teeth in the airport bathroom after being on a plane for 8 hours, and the automatic sink makes it almost impossible to rinse all the toothpaste off? #expatproblems

Woo hoo! We'll get to watch the Super Bowl live this year! Boo! We won't get any of the fun Super Bowl commercials. #expatproblems

How annoying is it when you're trying to find a 50 fil piece in your entryway catch-all dish, but all you can find are coins from all the OTHER countries you've visited this year? #expatproblems

You know you've been away from American pop culture for a while when you don't recognize any of the stars, hosts, or musical guests on Saturday Night Live. #expatproblems

Know where I want to go for dinner tonight? That restaurant that had the really great--oh wait. That wasn't in this country. Nevermind. #expatproblems

I just found some money in my pocket! YESSS! But it's not for the country I'm currently in. Booo! #expatproblems

It's so awkward when you go to say "Thank you" to the waitress but 4 different languages come out before you finally come up with the right one. #expatproblems

Augh! The times on people's Skype profiles are all off! It's so annoying to count back the hours to figure out if we can call people or not. #expatproblems

Is it pathetic that I get facebook ads in 3 different languages whenever I sign in from a new country? #expatproblems

I'm getting really good at converting Celsius to Fahrenheit! #expatproblems

All these posts on facebook about the presidential debates are like my version of all the election commercials that everyone hates so much. ...but more entertaining. #expatproblems

I'm cooking blind tonight because I can't read any of the instructions on the packaging. There are at least 15 languages on the box and not a one of 'em is English. #expatproblems

I think I screwed up my math when converting the cost of this item into dollars...did I just spend 300 bucks on this toaster? #expatproblems

Sorry I'm so tired today. I had to get up at 3 am to watch the Titans lose to _(insert team name here)_. #expatproblems

I can't wait to get back overseas so I can finally get some good hummus. You just can't find good hummus in the States. #expatproblems

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kuwait vs. Saudi Arabia: what's the difference?

Over the course of the past few months the Mister and I have been asked several times if living in Kuwait is all that different from living in Saudi Arabia. The short answer is YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

There are the obvious differences like the fact that I can drive, don't have to wear the abaya or hijab at all, can go out with my male friends sans Tyler and without paranoia, don't have to deal with compound security offices any time I want to visit with friends, and LORD the availability of familiar products in the grocery stores is SOOO much better!

Here are a few of the more peculiar differences:

1. There is a LOT less Islam here. That sounds silly, and some of the more conservative Kuwaitis (and most of my colleagues) would probably disagree, but as an outside observer, this country just feels like a hotter, less architecturally attractive version of Arizona-- but with signs in Arabic.

Ok, that's a bit of an oversimplification. We still hear the call to prayer from time to time, but they usually do not broadcast the prayers or Friday "sermons" over the loudspeakers like they do in Saudi Arabia. None of the stores or businesses close for prayer time. There is a marked decrease in the use of "Inshallah" and all the other "Allah" phrases. We hardly see any mash'allah stickers here! Significantly less women wear the niqab or even cover at all. My students get confused whenever they hear me say "hamdilallah" ("thank God" or "praise God"), although that's probably because they're not used to their American teachers throwing Allah into the conversation so casually.

In Saudi Arabia, my students and colleagues would frantically tell me to say "mash'allah" if I ever forgot after I gave them a compliment or praise. The Mister and I were always hearing a pitch for why we should convert to Islam (I was already so comfortable in the hijab, why not adopt the rest of the lifestyle? ...someone literally said that to me once).

What I'm trying to say is that, while the majority of the Kuwaitis are Muslims, the presence of Islam is a lot less in-your-face in Kuwait. As expats, we're still restricted on the things we can do and eat (no pork or booze here, either), but we will be able to buy Thanksgiving turkeys and hang up Christmas lights without having to worry about offending our neighbors. The Kuwaitis seem to be more tolerant of other religions.

2. There are significantly less privacy walls here. On one of the first days of our orientation with our new school, a group of the new teachers were loaded up on the bus and as we circled around the back side of the building, one of the veteran teachers serving as our guide said, "There's the school!" A fellow newbie muttered quietly, "It looks like a maximum security prison!"

Yes, our school building--and all of the school buildings from what I've seen--have very tall walls topped by very tall fences. I think they're there more as a preventative measure to keep stray kickballs from being launched into the traffic outside as opposed to why we had the walls in Saudi Arabia: to prevent prying eyes. Some of the residences have privacy walls, but the grand majority of the ones I have seen allow you to see straight from the street up to the front door. There's actual curb appeal here!

3. The roads are SO much better and it's SO much cleaner here!! It's ironic, really, that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are in the top 55 of several lists of the highest national GDPs in the world, and yet many of our friends at home assume that they are third world countries. This assumption is mostly because of people's exposure to war-zone news footage from the Middle East; they usually think all of the Middle East must be just like this: bullet riddled and crumbling. But in Saudi Arabia, the Western-perceived association with the developing world would be hard to argue with based on how poorly the roads were maintained and the amount of trash and rubbish on the side of the road.

In Saudi, the garbage bins were large orange barrels that could hold about one house's worth of trash. In Kuwait, they're larger dumpster type bins that can hold...about half and apartment building's worth of trash. Still overflowing, as you can see, but slightly less so. They also seem to be emptied more frequently.
Now, Kuwait doesn't have miraculously better roads or cleaner streets. There are still overflowing dumpsters that serve as a 24 hour buffet to all the stray cats. The streets are often too narrow for two SUVs to pass each other going in opposite directions. They often surprise you with deceptively deep pot holes. They also don't use stop signs, choosing instead to install ridiculously tall speed humps to force people to slow down through small intersections.

Exhibit A: speed bump during the day. Notice the remnants of the white reflective striping and the last hold-outs of the reflectors designed to catch your attention and warn you that you're about to go airborne. 

Exhibit B: can you see the speed hump? Yeah, we usually can't either. 

But the frequency of the chassis-shattering dips in the road or pipes that are just haphazardly covered with lumpy asphalt is greatly decreased here. There are actual shoulders on the roads, the lanes are painted on the highways or there are reflectors to indicate where cars should and shouldn't be. There are overpasses and cloverleafs that allow for easy on and off of the major roadways. I didn't get to experience driving first hand in Saudi Arabia, but I must say the experience is not all that un-enjoyable here--as the passenger or driver.

There are, of course, lots of similarities between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I'll discuss those later. I figured it was appropriate to start with the more pressing question: They're like the same country, right?

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ain't nothin' like a Canadian Thanksgiving...except maybe American Thanksgiving...

Ironically, as Americans, the Mister and I seem to be in the minority at our school, even though it designed around the American curriculum. Luckily, Canadians are pretty awesome people, so the fact that most of our new friends hail from the Great White North does not bother us in the least. One perk of working at a school that is largely staffed by Canadians. TWO THANKSGIVINGS!

This Monday, the Mister and I joined up with some of our newest friends to celebrate Canada's Thanksgiving. Being that turkeys are hard to come by here, and that Monday was a school night, we opted to buy in to our friend Matt's tradition of eating pizza and playing games.

That's Matt. And the pizza. And France and Megan. The Canadian contingency for this feast.
Y'all know I love me some games, and I love my new friends...and while we're being honest I love pizza...So this was a winning combination!

I'm pretty sure there was turkey sausage on the pizza. So that makes it authentically Thanksgiving...right?
The nice part was the easy clean up after dinner. There might be something to this style of Thanksgiving.
The best part of the night was the shenanigans that came with our rousing round of charades and password. The boys really gave it their all when they came up with the charades topics for the girls to act out, but luckily the girls were able to stump the boys once or twice.

Read: every time the Mister was up.

"ARG! How am I supposed to act out 'Sanford and Son' to a pair of Canadians!?"

In the end, we had to admit defeat.
Luckily reinforcements arrived in the form of Austin, a fellow American who teamed up with me for password: the home version of that old school game show that is kind of like Taboo, but with slightly different rules. It was like Austin and I were sharing the same brain and we beat all the other teams without breaking a sweat!

We were makin' it rain the slips of paper with the passwords on seemed like a good idea at the time. The Mister was just the stagehand.
While this particular evening was just about as un-Kuwaiti as they come, it was one of the most fun nights we've had since arriving in our new home. We're thankful for new friends that understand our senses of humor and enjoy our company as much as we enjoy theirs.

Till November (when we celebrate the REAL Thanksgiving)!

Vicariously yours,

Seen on my morning commute, entry #1

One thing I've learned from living in Middle Eastern countries: aesthetics are not important! If there are city ordinances regulating what you can park outside your building or hang from your apartment balcony, they are not enforced. In my opinion, the trash strewn about and random items that can be found in varying states of disrepair all over the place makes it look like Arabs don't care about appearances. To an outsider, entire Arab countries can look kind of trashy. But that's not really the case. I'm not sure why it's ok to park a broken down Camry with 4 busted tires outside an apartment building and leave it untouched for years (I've seen it done), but that's just the way it is over here. But if you ever find yourself inside an Arab home, you find it to be very clean and orderly.

After the initial shock, it starts to get kind of entertaining. What random crap will I see today?! The neighborhood where our apartment is located is rife with piles of haphazardly discarded trash, vehicles, and furniture. Here's my first entry in the log of things that make me giggle on my morning commute to work.

A vintage Rolls Royce.
I like to think that this car is parked outside the home of the former driver for the Emir. In my imagination, he served his country well and was rewarded handsomely by being allowed to take one of the decommissioned cars as a personal vehicle. But the car was too precious to just parade around the streets. It needed to be preserved. So here it sits, under a dirty towel, missing a hubcap. Just waiting for its chance to shine again.

See! It even has the seal of Kuwait. ...I think.

In all seriousness, this Rolls is parked outside an apartment building, in a dust lot, surrounded by building scraps and trash. I have no idea what the story is here, but this random example of luxury in the middle of rubbish makes me chuckle every time I see. It is such a fantastic example of what you see all the time here in the Middle East.

There are lots of other random items that catch my eye on my morning commute. Check back frequently to see the next installation in this series.

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Featured Photo: don't you hate it when this happens?

So there I was, trying to eat my tomato poached eggs and read my email during my 20-minute lunch break. I had just done a frantic run up 3 floors to the middle school teachers' lounge to pop my lunch in the microwave, then down a flight to use the restroom, back up a flight to get my lunch out of the micro and run all the way back down to the ground floor to check my mailbox in the middle school office. I'd popped by the water fountain to fill up my water bottle and found myself back at my desk with just about 7 minutes to eat. Thankfully all that running around had given my lunch the time to cool from radioactive hot to perfectly warm. I was starving.

Then, with the first bite, my cheap plastic spoon broke.


Vicariously yours,

Friday, October 5, 2012

Our Social Life is VASTLY Different Here!

The Mister and I have had social engagements pretty much every single weekend since we arrived. Tonight is the first night I've spent at home by myself and it was of my own volition. Granted, most of the first few parties or gatherings were because the new hires were still somewhat in the honeymoon phase of settling in. It was like the first few weeks of freshman year of college: we have all these fun, new, exciting friends and we love them ALL! We've since started working and our social circles have become more defined. But unlike college, our social groups are largely governed by our crazy work schedules. For example, I spoke to a lot of the new elementary teachers during the first couple of weeks, but since school has started, I have literally not set eyes on 98% of them! We just don't cross paths!

But the nice part about this new school is that the staff and administrators facilitate social hang out time that allows the different departments to mingle. Tonight it was the dinner club.

The theme was "Grandma's recipes." I made my granny's hot chicken salad. 

It's nice to have a variety of choices for social things to do here. Life in Saudi got a little lonely and I often felt like that awkward kid sitting alone in the cafeteria at lunch when I heard about how much fun some of my colleagues had on the weekends while I had just been facebooking in my pajamas alone at home.

The one drawback to having a school and colleagues that are so concerned with the health of my social life is that I spend a lot of time with North Americans. I know that sounds silly considering that I just complained about not having enough friends at this time last year. But now instead of focusing on just having a life, I'm going to need to focus on having Arabic friends. I want to try to connect to the local culture, which can be hard to do when living in an American bubble.

Not complaining, just rambling on about how much my life has changed.

This was the dish after dinner. You could say Granny's recipe was a hit.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Featured Photo: This is something you don't see very often back home

You'd be surprised how many times we've seen this sign in bathrooms around the Middle East. I think the logic is that the plumbing can't handle the load (pun totally intended!) of all the paper waste. Here's hoping that everyone's visit is just to take care of number 1!

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Our apartment: a work in progress

One nice perk of being an international teacher is that many of the schools overseas provide housing for all their teachers. Our school provided us with an apartment that was furnished with the basics--VERY basics. We got a bed, a wardrobe and dresser, an oven and fridge in the kitchen, 2 couches and a dining room table. We are responsible for purchasing everything else. This is a blessing and a curse. It gives me the chance to decorate however I want and buy as nice or as crappy as I like. The nester in me is SO happy! The financial nerd in me, however, is kinda freaking out with how badly the exchange is not in our favor over here!

That said, I'm posting highlights of our apartment as it is at the moment. Hopefully I'll remember to post again once we've got everything purchased and in place...which might be next year BUT I digress.

This is our entry way. We selected the paint colors before we left for the summer and the school had the apartment painted while we were gone. It was really nice to walk in to a place that already felt a little bit like our own home. We also dropped off the framed items when we came up for a visit in May. The shop did a great job. The camel picture is a passage from the Quran written in calligraphy, but it fell off the wall because the Command strips couldn't take the weight. oops!
This is our scratch-off map that hangs in the entry way. I LOVE this map! I found it online before we moved to Saudi Arabia, but I couldn't find a framing shop while we were in the Magic Kingdom. I love the sense of accomplishment as I scratch off each country we visit together. The list of countries sounds pretty impressive when we count them off on our fingers, but now that I see the visual, I wanna hop a plane right now and add some more color to the map! We left Alaska and Hawaii covered, even though they are technically part of the USA, because I felt like it was cheating to say we'd been to the whole country when we haven't been to the most far reaching points. One day.

Oh, and that little bit of Greenland that shows through just got scratched off while it was waiting to be picked up from the frame shop. Just means that we're going to have to book a trip to Nuuk sometime soon!

These two might be some of my favorite art in the house! We found these while visiting friends in Portland, Oregon last summer. I just think it's so funny to have a print of a pig in a suit while living in a country where pork is illegal. And we couldn't buy Mr. Pig and not bring a long a friend for him! Don't they look so dapper?
Adding to the animal theme of our entry way is the iron deer head key holder. Isn't it funny!?
Turn the corner from the entry way and you've got the couch we bought from ikea. The 2 couches provided by the school were nice, but they didn't offer anywhere for guests to sleep, and we have friends visiting us from Saudi Arabia very soon. The bed we want for the guest room isn't in stock till October, so we went ahead and got a sofa bed. I LOVE it! Watch...
Instead of struggling with an annoying fold up bed under the cushions, there's a little trundle underneath that you pull out... 
And pop up! It's wonderful! I can't wait to jazz up this blah color with some fun pillows. In the mean time, Kitty loves all the room to stretch out and cover with fur.
This is the guest room. Clearly, it's serving as a catch-all for everything that has no where to go right now. We're going to buy some storage benches for the living room and the guest bed we want to buy has 4 big storage drawers under the mattress, so one day everything will have a place. 
The teeny kitchen is across the hall from the guest room. We need to do the dishes right now, so I didn't take a picture of the sink and 18 square inches of counter space that came with the apartment (that's a mature solution to the cleaning problem, right? Just don't photograph it!). To give us more storage and prep space, we bought this fantastic table from ikea. I was a little afraid it was going to be too much, but it fits perfectly in the kitchen and holds everything we need with room the spare. 
When standing with my right hip against the prep table, facing the door to the kitchen, I get a nice shot of our teeny fridge and the propane tank for the stove. For some reason the fridge doors have a lock on them. I have no idea for what purpose you would need something like this, but I'm tempted to use it to keep the doors closed! They're constantly swinging open!
Here is the stove. The glass door thing folds over the gas eyes...presumably so you can have more prep space? Lighting this sucker is quite the adventure!
First of all, please excuse the candied sweet potato drippings that have been cemented to the bottom of the stove...and all the dust that is a constant presence EVERYWHERE when living in the Middle East...
So you turn on the propane using the dial that has the temperatures in Celsius and wait for the hiss. After a few seconds you stick your lighter down that hole in the middle of the picture. The pilot light is somewhere underneath there just above where the sweet potato ickiness is. That's all well and good, but our lighter doesn't reach that far. So we have to take a lit kitchen match and throw it in the hole and hope it rolls close enough to the pilot light to catch! It's a grand adventure. Sometimes it takes us so long to get it lit that just putting the match close to the whole catches the light on fire! Woo hoo! I predict a few blog posts featuring photos of our singed eyebrows. Stay tuned. 
Here's the bathroom. Cause I know you were curious.
Here's our TV. The Mister is very happy to have something to play video games on again. Only problem is that the TV cost so much that we didn't have anything left over to pass as a sort of entertainment center. It should come as no surprise to our friends and family that the Mister is perfectly content using one of our dining room chairs as a resting place for the xbox in the meantime.

So that's our new home! I really do enjoy living here.  I cannot wait to slowly add furniture so it'll start to look more like the home of a couple of almost-30-year-olds and less like that of an apartment of the newly-graduated-from-college-and-broke!

Vicariously yours,