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,