Thursday, December 18, 2014

But WHY ketchup!?

I've probably mentioned it before, but Little Caesar's is alive and well over here, y'all! The pizza chain has mostly closed up shop in America from what I can tell, and from my last experience in the States it was because their pizzas just weren't good.


My favorite one to order is the kebab one.

It has kebab chicken, onions, fatoush spices (I don't know how to describe them. Fatoush is a salad here), and french fries.

You heard right.

Each pizza place here seems to have a version of this same pizza. 

And every pizza place delivers the same thing, no matter what kind of pizza you order.

KETCHUP! Whaaa?  Why?! 

Well, I know why. Because people put ketchup on their pizza here.


That I don't know.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Strange Grocery Store Sights

One of my favorite parts of travelling is going to the local grocery stores. I've recorded my propensity for lingering in grocery aisles before. Grocery shopping in the Middle East has become pretty routine by now, so few things stop me in my tracks anymore, even though many of you would probably spend hours just gawking at some of the items. Every now and then, though, something pops up that makes me scramble for my phone to snap a photo. Here are a few such examples.

This one turned out a bit fuzzy because I was trying to be sneaky. These are labeled "basil seed drink" and I can only assume that those fuzzy looking blobs in the un-naturally red and green liquids are the seeds of basil plants. I have no idea why you would want that, but there were at least 4 flavors on offer. I did not buy one.

In a conservative country like Kuwait, where the covers of magazines are routinely colored in with a black Sharpie if there is even a hint of cleavage, this packaging caught my eye. That's an awfully suggestive lotion box. Wait, that's not lotion, that is Bust Firming Cream...

I'll just leave it at that. I did not buy one.

I apologize for this second super fuzzy photo, but just has I got my phone out it was my turn at the cash register, so I was super awkward all in the name of blogging glory. I took this photo while shopping for ingredients on Thanksgiving. November 27. Those are Hawaiian Tropic tanning oils. In November.

We're not in Kansas anymore.

I did not buy one.

The grocery store I go to often runs promotional specials for the countries from which they import goods. The store is already pretty flamboyant to begin with, as exhibited by the multi-colored curlicues that are permanently hanging from the sky lights in the photo above. A few weeks back, the store was having a special on items from Great Britain so they crafted a styrofoam and cardboard display of the parliament building and Big Ben. You know. Just because.

I probably did buy a few items from Great Britain, though probably not because of this display.

This was another display. Apparently the Silver Surfer's son has found a girlfriend and a fabulous sale on children's clothes at the Lulu grocery store. I can only imagine the meeting with the marketing director when putting this one together. "Copyright shmopyright. Those kids need to be surrounded by their favorite cartoon or game app characters! Head down to the local art center (that we call the project souq) with a USB loaded up with google image searched files and have them make intellectual-property-rights-infringing styrofoam cut outs!"

I did not buy any children's clothes. Or Disney/Hello Kitty/Dora the Explorer/Angry Birds/Spiderman rip-offs.

It makes me chuckle that sights like this have become so common in my life that I don't really notice them anymore. I love living overseas.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A lot has been going on lately

For about 8 weeks, until the beginning of last week, the Mister and I were pregnant. It was very much a surprise that I was terrified of at first, but we were both completely thrilled within a few days of taking the home pregnancy test.

It was our first pregnancy, we had only just decided to roll the dice a few months before, and we could not believe that it worked on our first try! We had just submitted our applications to the University of Melbourne! We were planning on resigning here in Kuwait and moving to Australia in July! A baby was going to change all of that, but we were so excited to let our principal know of our change in plans.

Then last Sunday, it was over. 

We had only known about the baby for a month, but we were devastated. We still are, really, though it's obviously getting easier to talk about. I had what is medically called a "missed abortion," according to the paperwork on my file. The fetus never became viable, meaning it never developed a heartbeat. I guess as miscarriages go, this is the easiest one to have? None of this has been easy, but I'm trying to cope by telling myself that it hadn't felt real yet because we hadn't had that magic moment where you see the flutter of a beating heart on the ultrasound screen.

What has not made it easy to cope with has been my experience with my doctor and the hospital we chose to go with. I spoke to a colleague who had recently had a baby and she, like pretty much everyone else I'd spoken to about maternal care in Kuwait, recommended a private hospital nearby. She also mentioned a doctor at that hospital that had delivered a couple other staff babies in the last school year and was currently taking care of a pregnant colleague. With those recommendations, we went ahead and made our first appointment. 

I'm sure this doctor probably has given excellent care to my colleagues that have carried their babies to term. I'm sure that the experience of delivering at this very posh facility is as comfortable and delightful as I've been told. I can confidently say, though, that miscarrying under this doctor's care and with the staff at this hospital has been emotionally horrible. 

To start off, none of my appointments with my doctor were longer than 20 minutes. I take a very active role in my medical care, asking a million questions and researching recommended medicine and procedures. I never felt like this doctor had any time for me or my concerns. In fact, after she told us we had miscarried and I had started to cry as I fired off lots of questions, she simply told me to "Relax" as she stood up to usher me out the door because our 15 minutes with her were up. I had to go schedule my next appointment for Thursday so we could have the "official ultrasound." What was an official ultrasound? I never got to ask, really. 

So there I stood in the hallway of this hospital, trying to pull myself together so I wasn't crying in front of a room full of strangers, trying to think of what was on my calendar for Thursday and trying to erase the idea of motherhood from my mind.

Thursday rolls around and it's time for the "official ultrasound." My doctor is not there and apparently there isn't any sort of centralized record system because we checked in for the appointment and were greeted with the question of "How far along are you?" 

That one stung a bit. It was still a little fresh.

We go back into the ultrasound room and the tech asks again, "How many months pregnant are you?" Seriously?! Can we please stop talking about it now!?

The ultrasound gets started with the tech first, who soon goes to get the OB/GYN on call. He enters the room, says absolutely nothing to us--no introduction, no inquiry into the purpose for the appointment, nothing--and resumes inspecting my pelvis. We sit in awkward silence and I finally force him to acknowledge my existence by asking him a question which he curtly answers and finishes the ultrasound in silence. He stands up, says, "Actually there are no pulsations," and walks out the door.

"Yep. That's what we came here to confirm..." I said as the tech politely cleaned off the ultrasound jelly. 

What if that had been the first time we'd heard that news?! What if we hadn't realized we'd miscarried?! What if we didn't understand what he meant with "there are no pulsations"!?! Where was the empathy? Where was the "I'm sorry to tell you, but..."!? Now I was devastated and outraged. 

As was to be expected, I had a thousand more questions after this "official ultrasound." Now what? I've never miscarried before, so am I just done now? I go home and never see the inside of this hospital again? Do I need any follow up procedures? Can I get the results of the blood work I did weeks ago? None of this could be answered because my doctor wasn't on duty.

So the most painful challenge in my married life still wasn't over. I had to go back on Saturday to meet with my doctor one more time and finish everything.

"How many months pregnant?" the nurse asked when I checked in for that appointment. The tears welled up again. I was alone for this appointment, Tyler had a soccer game so he couldn't come. I had to explain yet again that I was no longer pregnant and then I had to explain the meaning of the word "miscarriage" while choking back tears. 

"It's ok, Miss," said the nurse, clearly unsure what to do in this situation. Am I seriously the first woman this nurse has ever cared for that has had a miscarriage?! Am I the least fertile woman in Kuwait right now!? It certainly feels like it at this point.

I finally got the appointment over with, received the report of the "official ultrasound," which turns out to be this hospital's way to saying "getting a second opinion from an incredibly insensitive doctor." I am happy to now turn my focus on getting out of Kuwait where my husband and I can consider trying to start a family again without fear or apprehension.

I realize that, compared to the experiences of others, the Mister and I could have had it a lot worse. Thankfully my miscarriage has not been physically painful and we were spared having a late term loss like a few friends of ours have had to suffer through. We are ready to move on, focus on our future, and end our time here in Kuwait as happy and healthy as possible.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The $647 driver's license, part 3

So after the driving test is over, I get all my paperwork back and I ask my Guy if I had passed.

"Inshallah," he answered.

"So do I just wait and get my license now?" I asked.

"No, we have to go to another office and they with print your license."

Oh great!

"...but that office is closed now."


Because it was Thursday and the beginning of the weekend in Kuwait, my Guy had to wait until Sunday when the office would open again. He would take my gigantic stack of stamped and scribbled paperwork to the office and wait in line for me.

Have I mentioned how much I love my Guy?

Sunday rolls around and I haven't heard anything from my Guy until after school. Turns out he went to the office, but the machine that prints the licenses was broken.


"Inshallah I will go back tomorrow morning and just pick it up. I will come to your classroom by 9:30 and give you your license."

"So does that mean I passed?!"

He gave me the cutest look that said, "Come on! Who are you kidding?! Of course you passed!"

Woo hoo! I'm street legal, y'all! No more hiding from the police in the traffic checkpoints! No more adrenaline rushes and sweaty palms when I catch the red-and-blue lights in my rear view mirror! If I need groceries, IMMA GO OUT AND GET THEM, y'all! This peace of mind only cost me 2 and a half years of waiting and nearly $650.

Here's the breakdown of the cost:

Authentication of undergraduate diploma: $230. This is my own fault, though. I went with the WORST courier service in Washington DC (scroll down about 1/3 of the way on this entry to read about that drama) that charged an ungodly amount of money for a simple service.

Authentication of Tennessee driver's license: $111. Different courier this time. MUCH more pleasant to work with. Still a lot of money.

Translation fee: $102 (that's $30 KD for those in Kuwait)

Driving test fees: $68 (20 KD)

Eye test: $34 (10 KD)

License printing fee: $102 (30 KD)

We still need to buy thank you gifts for our wasta and my Guy. For all the trouble they went through, they're not going to be cheap gifts, but we are happy to give them.

I feel like all this back-and-forth and bureaucracy is just a convoluted bribe, really. There is no reason for me to have to show my university degree for my driving license, this is just a way to prevent less-wealthy expats (read: the sub-continentals without wasta) from getting licenses, thus forcing them to drive illegally so they can get deported when caught in the ever-more-frequent traffic checkpoints.

The translation has to be done with specific translation agencies, which will take their sweet time getting it all done and will charge a lot of money for it in the process. It's all one of those more-and-more frequent hassles expats have to put up with when living in Kuwait. The writing is on the wall: Kuwait is doing what it can to get rid of expatriates like us by making things more and more inconvenient and expensive for us.

The Mister and I can take a hint. Annoyances like this combined with some other life-changing situations have started the ball rolling for us to leave the Middle East.

More on that to come.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The $647 driver's license, the driving test

My adventure continued with taking my driving test and it was the closest I felt to Saudi Arabia since leaving the Kingdom.

We arrive at a random government office out on a dusty lot and everything is in Arabic. Not a single person but me spoke English in the joint, which was a first for me since moving to Kuwait. There is no way an expat like me could get a license without the help of an Arabic-fluent Guy like I had.

To further the Saudi-feel of the experience, there were even separate waiting rooms for men and women! Maybe it's because I haven't frequented a lot of government offices, but I haven't had to be segregated since arriving here three years ago. It was all very surreal.

So we check in, my Guy translates something to the ONE guy sitting behind the 4-person welcome desk, he stamps something and tell us to go down the hallway to an office.

We wait outside the office to visit with the man in there--I will call him Travis Jr. in honor of his Reno 911 doppelganger.

Imagine this guy, but more Arab looking. And in a black uniform. ...and no gun...or billy club.

Travis Jr. scribbled something and stamped some more and then told us to wait in the hallway FOR THE WRITTEN TEST that I hadn't realized I was going to be taking when I'd woken up that morning! We waited for an hour for the guy who was supposed to administer the written test to show up (typical) and it turns out I had nothing to worry about! The test was nothing but questions about the road signs in Kuwait. No questions about street laws, none of those "You and another car get to an intersection at the same time..." kind of questions that are on the written tests in the States. This explains SO much about the driving in Kuwait!

Twenty questions later, I have a 100% score (nailed it) and more scribbles and stamps on the paperwork that came with me that day. A second man, also in aviators, hands me my paperwork and tells me to go to line 3.

Only problem was: There was no line 3 that I could see. There were no teller windows, not even 3 doors in the hallway I'd been waiting in to take the test. This guy was not in the mood to explain what he meant by "line three," so I just walked out and hoped for the best.

Turns out line three was ACROSS THE STREET in a dust parking lot! And it wasn't a line after all. It was the third guy I found waiting next to one of those student-driver cars you see with the two steering wheels and lots of obnoxious decals. My Guy tells me to get into the car with the Car Guy and go.

..."Go where?"

"I don't know. He will tell you."

"Does he speak English?"

"Haha. I don't know."

This'll be interesting.

Thankfully I didn't have to go far with Car Guy. I drove us across the street next to the office where I took the written test and to the gate of a driving course.

"Ok, you go," says Car Guy as he reaches for the door handle.

"Go where?" I asked again.

He starts to indicate ahead of us, but he notices a woman who had entered the driving course ahead of me. They let all the ladies go first, so we were all getting tested at the same time.

"Oh. Uh oh. She do it wrong. You don't do that," Car Guy says.

Noted. BUT, from what I saw, the woman hadn't done anything wrong! From my vantage point, I saw a fake one way street straight ahead and a sea of Do Not Enter signs off to the left. The lady that had "Do it wrong" had gone up the one-way street. WHAT HAD SHE DONE WRONG!?

Car Guy had had me pull off to the side so he could get out and talk to the other Car Guys watching Little Miss Do It Wrong while I pondering what "do it right" should look like. While I was pulled over, two other ladies passed by me and my Car Guy popped his head in my passenger window and said, "Ok! You follow her."


So off I go, the blind following the blind. The lady in front of me goes left into what turns out to be a fake parking lot. Only problem is she "do it wrong" and doesn't follow the advice of the Do Not Enter signs I saw before and goes against the fake flow of fake parking lot traffic.

..."I'm being tested." I thought to myself. "But is the test to see whether I will follow Car Guy's instructions, or if I can follow the street sign instructions?" I decide to go with the latter and go the opposite direction of the lady I was supposed to be following. Sorry, Sista.

Somehow I curve around to a pavilion and Sista has somehow gotten in front of me. We have the choice between 3 lanes: Lane one curves off to the left and narrows a bit, lane two is straight ahead, and lane three is off to the right. A third guy, I'll call him Grumpy Guy, is standing at the end of lane 1 and indicating that we should go that way. Sista slowly creeps forward, taking out all the curbs as she goes. She hops up left, hops up right, and bounces her way to Grumpy Guy and comes to a stop.

He says something to her and sends her on her way and indicates for me to start down lane 1. I navigate it perfectly, not a curb hopped, and come to a stop in front of where Grumpy Guy had been standing...he had to chase after Sista to tell her something.

While I wait from Grumpy Guy to return to my car side, Travis Jr. appears from behind me and goes, "Have you been driving for long?"

"Uhmmm, about 17 years," I reply, my eyebrow cocked hoping he will realize how ridiculous it is for me to be taking this driving test, especially considering Sista's performance.

"Your driving is good," he says. Arms crossed.

Yep. I think to myself. "Does that mean that I passed?" I joked.

He didn't laugh.

Grumpy Guy returns and starts to give me a set of instructions when Travis Jr. stops him and goes "Khalass" with a shake of his head.

"Khalass?" Grumpy Guy says, his expression saying "What do you mean khalass?" behind his aviators.

Travis Jr. shakes his head again as if to suggest "She's legit. Let's move on."

Grumpy Guy isn't satisfied. "Ok, go to the stop sign and reverse."

...what?! I see the stop sign to which he is referring, it's at the end of lane 1...but where do I reverse to?

"Reverse back to you?" I say.

"No, just reverse."

"Just straight back>"


I kind of chuckled to myself as I shifted the car into drive. The Mister will attest to my Mack Daddy reversing abilities. I get to the stop sign, throw it in reverse and head backwards without hesitating about 5 feet before Grumpy yells out "Khalass khalass! Go to the gate."

But...did I pass?

Stay tuned for part three.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The $647 driver's license, part 1

Over a year ago I wrote about the ongoing saga of a wasta-less expat trying to get a driver's license in Kuwait. Well, folks, I am somewhat happy to say that my nearly three-year-long and extremely expensive struggle will finally come to an end tomorrow: I will FINALLY be legal to drive in Kuwait!

Here's the short version of how it went down.

Step 1: Found some wasta! That's all I will say about that. For those unfamiliar with the term, "wasta" is the Middle Eastern equivalent of having connections. Almost Mafia-like connections. Seriously, it sometimes feels like NOTHING happens here unless you have wasta. In the case of all the recent stories of expats getting their licenses in Kuwait, wasta has been the determining factor.

Step 2: Got the ball rolling. BACK IN SEPTEMBER I handed off my authenticated university degree, my authenticated Tennessee driver's licence, and 30 Kuwaiti Dinars to our Guy. The Guy that takes care of everything and knows how to work the wasta once you've found it. He started hoofing it around town getting everything translated into Arabic and stamped by a ridiculous amount of Ministries of Something Or Other. I'm not even sure what 98% of those stamps were for!

Step 3: The eye test. About a week and a half ago, our Guy came to me during school one day and said that at 4 o'clock we needed to go for me to take my eye test. I knew this was a good sign because everyone that has recently gotten licensed took their eye test as one of the final steps before becoming street legal. I wear a contact lens (yes, just one), and have an annual exam, so I wasn't too worried about passing this test. After taking the test, I feel like even without my lens I would have been just fine!

I walked into an under-construction 2-level office building behind our Guy who handed a small stack of papers to a very put-out looking nurse. She stamped each paper twice without saying anything or looking up and indicated we should leave the room with a nod of her head.

We followed her into the next room where the handed the stamped forms to a very cross-eyed man in a lab coat who told me to sit down in the chair across the room. Across from the chair was a mirror reflecting one of those old-school eye charts.

The angry nurse slapped a spoon-like eye-cover wandy-thingy over my right and left eyes and had me read 3 letters each eye rapid fire. It was hard for my eye to focus in time to recognize the letters!

And that was it! I'm not even sure the cross-eyed doctor even looked up to make sure I was getting the letters right! The whole experience took less than 5 minutes.

Step 4: The driving test. That's a blog post all its own, my friends! Stay tuned.

Vicariously yours,

Friday, September 5, 2014

What do we miss the most?

Well, folks, another summer is in the books. The Mister and I traveled to both American coasts, visited as much family as was possible, and ate entirely too much food (seriously. We both came back having gained double digits in pounds. Oops.). We are exhausted from all the travel and happy to be back in our own bed, snuggled up with our sweet Kitty.

She was hanging on for dear life for a couple days there.

Each summer we are home we get asked a round of roughly the same questions every where we go and this summer was no different. We have both developed a set of canned answers to the series of queries (see what I did there).

"No, we are in Kuwait now. Yes! We do enjoy it, especially living overseas and getting to travel. No, I don't have to wear the hijab in Kuwait. Yes, we feel completely safe. Not worrying about ISIS at this point. Most of our students are Arabic, but English is the language of instruction at our school. Yes, we've learned a little bit of Arabic, but not as much as we'd like."

One question this summer, though, had both of us stumped! A friend of ours asked, "What can't you get in Kuwait that you miss from America?"

It seemed like a simple question at first. Of course there are LOTS of things we miss about home! But our life in Kuwait is very comfortable, especially in comparison to the more adventurous expats living in remote countries without conveniences such as internet and even running water. There are the obvious things that we can't get in Kuwait: A cold beer or relaxing glass of wine after a long day at work. A bacon cheeseburger. A hug from our moms or a play date with my niece. But really, what non-obvious things do we miss? We kind of fumbled through a lame answer at the time, but we've had some time to consider it and have come up with a list.  Granted, this list is still pretty lame, but these are the little things that we miss from home.

#1: HGTV. Ok, ok. We do get the odd episode of Holmes on Homes, and one of the British satellite channels just picked up old episodes of Rehab Addict (which I LOVE), but my summertime habit of binge watching Property Brothers, Income Property, and Property Virgins remains a solely annual event for me.

#2: True high speed internet. You can clearly see that have the internet, and our internet speed is ok, but skyping is still a garbled challenge and we can forget streaming anything through our Apple TV. It was so nice to be able to watch both seasons of Orange is the New Black this summer without having to wait more than 15 hours for each episode to download.

And usually this happens for no reason. The struggle is real, folks. 

#3: Various ingredients. I've already mentioned the lack of alcohol and pork products in this country. We were prepared for that coming in to this gig. It is strange, however, some of the things that we can't get. Before you start assuming that I'm a big ugly American who expects the whole world to stock my brand of soup, let me remind you that there is a very large North American presence in Kuwait. The US has a large base at the Iraqi border and there are military contractors and educators crawling all over this place! Love it or hate it, we are a major purchasing force for the grocery stores here. So it is surprising to me that the stores don't stock their shelves with more of the types of things that are So Hot Right Now in American culinary pop culture (read: what's currently trending on Pinterest). For example, I can't find ground turkey. At all. Also, graham crackers are no where to be found. This one is really perplexing because even though we have a pretty solid selection of Jello pudding mixes and I can even nab some Nilla wafers-- two items that are decidedly not Arabic in origin-- there is nary a graham cracker to be found up in this joint. What gives?! Arabs tend to love American pop culture, as evidenced by the proliferation of mustachioed sweaters and tote bags in stores across the region. How is it that we missed the whole s'mores trend entirely over here!?

There are a few ingredients that are understandably hard to find here. Namely nutmeg and vanilla extract. See, the funny thing about banning alcohol is that people figure out real fast what kinds of things they can drink/eat to give them a buzz. I've learned more about abused substances and ways people find to get drunk/high since moving to the Middle East than in all my years in D.A.R.E. in American public schools. Did you know that you can grind up nutmeg and smoke it to get a marijuana-like high? ME NEITHER! Not until it came time for Christmas cookie season and all my baked goods were really REALLY disappointing. Good, non-imitation, vanilla extract is made by soaking a vanilla bean in alcohol. Apparently there were a lot of really strong vanilla martinis in the late '60s in Kuwait after the gin and vodka became so hard to some by, thus prompting the government to ban the flavoring, and its imitation form just for good measure.

#4: Football. On Monday nights, we do get the Sunday night NFL game through our satellite provider, but those games are usually random teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Detroit Lions. Who is lame enough to watch those teams, anyway!? (no offense, Lindsey...and Jeff) Being from Nashville, the Mister and I would like to watch the Titans lose a game or two every now and then! And don't even get Tyler started on the Super Bowl!

#5: Good live music. We were so spoiled in Nashville! I always say the streets sing in Nashville and it's true! You literally just have to stand on a street corner in downtown Nashville to get a quality show for free. The Mister is a glutton for punishment, so he continues to get the email updates on our favorite Nashville venues announcing all the amazing acts that are stopping through town.

There are some venues for the arts here. In fact, Kuwait just broke ground on a new opera house--now they just need to get an opera and/or a symphony to perform in it! Maybe one day big musical acts like Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake will stop by this little corner of the Middle East, but until then we have to save our pennies for a concert trip to Dubai or Abu Dhabi to get our fix.

The expat life is hard, y'all, and we do realize that we could have it a LOT harder if we had chosen to live in other parts of the world. I try to think of all this "hardship" as a reminder of why we love where we come from. It certainly helps us to make the most of our time when we are home in the summer.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, March 16, 2014

First World Problems: Amber's 12 steps to summer vacation survival

Again, in the spirit of vicariosity (the word is happening, people. Work it into your vocabulary), I write this post about the summer the Mister and I are very much looking forward to this year. I realize that not everyone is a teacher and has the convenience of having a summer break, but it's not as carefree and easy as those in the corporate world think it is.  Here are the steps to planning an international teacher's summer vacation:

Step 1: In October, after receiving first paycheck since June, start setting aside about $1,000 per month to help pay for fun times to be had the following summer.

Step 2: On the flight home from Christmas vacation, start to feel the longing for Granny's country ham and drivers that obey speed limit laws. Start the conversation about what to do when home this summer. Make a list of family members that must be visited and triangulate their locations with close friends in the area that could also be visited without paying for another flight.

Step 3: In January, start contacting friends and family, claiming dibs on a weekend here or a dinner date there. Start investigating airbnb properties, realize you're still a teacher, not Kanye, and increase amount of money set aside to about $1,800 per month. Yeesus, travel is expensive these days!

Throughout this process, confirm dates with all involved and map out the most amazing route of travel that will incorporate friends, family, affordability, and anniversary celebration. Each outing will be based around regions of the country so as to maximize on savings and prevent cross-country flights or road trips.

Step 4: In February, notify the school travel office about preferred dates of travel to and from your country of origin. Once dates are confirmed, make appointments with doctors and hairstylists.

At the same time, receive an email from friends or family. Life has happened and the previously-agreed-upon dates no longer work. Scrap the summer calendar and start over again.

Step 5: In March, increase amount and frequency of tutoring gigs and funnel all extra funds into summer savings. Pray that final exam season will be lucrative because those flights aren't getting any cheaper!

Step 6: After spring break (and likely a few dips into the summer savings fund because those culturally unique souvenirs ain't free!), renew your relationship with your college friends PB&J and Ramen in an effort to recoup losses to summer savings and make up for not buying summer air travel when the fares were still really cheap.

Step 7: Sign up for a new frequent flyer/traveler rewards program and justify all the costs of rental cars and regional air travel by telling yourself that you will use the miles/points towards a SWEET first class--ok, business class--ok, economy plus flight to a fabulous destination one day. And by "fabulous destination," you mean "a cheap flight to Bahrain for a weekend." You can practically feel the leg room now.

Step 8: Around May, when you're in the throes of agony that is the Last Four Weeks of School, binge book all remaining flights, lodging, and throw in a spontaneous trip to a theme park because AFTER A SEMESTER LIKE THIS YOU DESERVE IT, DAMMIT!

I mean...that's what some people do, I guess. 

Brag about it on facebook and enjoy the comments of "so jealous!" and "can't wait to see you!" from adoring friends and family.

Step 9: Immediately be crushed by the reality that you're still FOUR WEEKS AWAY from the freedom of summer and cry into your bowl of cold ramen leftovers.

Step 10: When summer finally arrives, gear yourself up for what will be a whirlwind 3 months of flying, rental cars,finding creative ways to "wash" your clothes after being in transit for 20 days straight, feeling guilty for not being able to afford to visit everyone, feeling guilty for only being in your home town for 29 of the 68 days you're on the continent, sleeping in strange beds, living out of suitcases, buying entirely too many teacher clothes, and ultimately going home with absolutely NOTHING in either of your bank accounts. Vow to stay in one place next summer, forcing everyone to come see you instead of schlepping yourself all over the country.

Step 11: Cry the entire way to your gate after being dropped off at the airport at the end of the summer. Question as to whether the tears are from homesickness, exhaustion, or from just being so dang tired of airports after the summer you've endured.

Step 12: On the flight home, remember how amazing it is to have the opportunity to go see all your loved ones during the summer AND get to travel to all the exotic locations during the school year that regular teachers just don't get to see. Repeat from step 1.

Budget busters to consider:

  • Budget for all the toothbrushes you'll have to buy throughout the summer because your husband inevitably forgets his EVERYWHERE you go.
  • Airline weight limits when tempted to stock up on curly hair products and haram cooking ingredients. Do you really need a 32 ounce bottle of vanilla extract?
  • Two words: Summer. Sales.
  • Two more words: Outlet. Malls.
  • "Meeting up for a coffee" SOUNDS cheap enough, but meeting up for Starbucks more than once a week was not designed for a teacher's salary. 
  • The cost of binge eating foods that cannot be enjoyed in your new home country will add up VERY quickly. Prioritize, and only hit the Chick-fil-a once...ok, once every road trip. Ok, alternate Chick-fil-a visits with Sonic happy hours and pat yourself on the back for the amount of restraint you have.

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The every day sights of Kuwait

In the spirit of vicariosity (it's a word. I just made it up.), I want to share photos with you of the world the Mister and I are surrounded by. These are not the romantic images of mosques bathed in the dramatic rays of the sunset, or the beautiful eyes of veiled women as they shop in a local market that looks like something out of Aladdin.

No. This is what the Middle East really looks like. These are the sights we experience every day and have become part of the background of our lives here.

Let's start with our walk to the grocery store:

As you can see, sidewalks aren't really a thing here. Well. There are sidewalks, but they're covered in cars. So this is how everyone has to walk from place to place in the countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia: down the middle of the road. I caught this side street at a rare moment without the packs of feral children that are usually roaming around on their bikes or playing a game of street soccer. 

On the rare occasion that there is a sidewalk, it is definitely not what most Westerners would expect. 

This is one of the main roads we walk along to get to the grocery store. This sidewalk is definitely not ADA compliant. You would think this would result in not many people walking here, but that's not really the case. There are always people out walking somewhere.

A constant sight in Kuwait: the orange dumpsters. And cats. I think it's kind of funny how the dumpsters are just hanging out, usually with their lids open and contents spilling out. At home, there are city ordinances about how to hide dumpsters so they don't become an eyesore. I wouldn't say that the dumpsters here are an eyesore...not after you get used to seeing them.

In the more residential neighborhoods, the houses have a normal size trash bin to use. I guess you could say we live in a residential area, though there don't appear to be zoning laws like we have in the States. The apartment building next door to us has a salon on the first floor occupying one of the apartments. Next door to that is a government office building that looks like it was originally built as an apartment building. But I digress...

Speaking of cats in abundance! 

This is the song I am frequently entertained by as I'm working in my classroom after school, especially in Kitten Season. They literally are all over this city. It's like a furry version of a jack-in-the-box as we walk around town and they are popping up out of the trash dumpsters. It's like Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Cats" out there. We actually do call one of the cats Mr. Mistoffelees. 

Then there's the construction. Kuwait is changing daily! As we look at the view out of our living room windows, we see a vast sea of high rises, houses, and construction cranes. It's nice to see all the progress and renewal. What's not nice to see is the extreme lack of safety precautions!!

This is the apartment building that is being built behind ours. Construction on it started at the end of November. It's almost finished. As you can see, they are working on the top floors, which means they need to haul a lot of cement up there. In the video is one of the construction workers riding a cement mixer up. No harness. That's not a hard hat on his head. Just him and the Lord taking a ride up in the sky. I'd be willing to bet he's wearing flip flops, too. That's not an uncommon sight with construction workers here.

I don't mean to try to take away the image that most people have of the Middle East, simply to show you some of our every day experiences. Please notice that there wasn't a single camel or bedouin tent in this entire post! While we do see those from time to time, we have to go searching for them. 

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What store are YOU going to?!

One of my students went to Nashville for the Christmas break! I told him I was so jealous he got to go to my hometown for Christmas. He sweetly broke the news to me as he was also informing me that he would be skipping the week of school before the break because "it takes a long time to fly to Nashville."

True story.

Anyway, he's back from his trip now, so today I was standing with him and a few other students as we were discussing our various vacations. He was telling me all about what he saw in Nashville and how much he loved it and how funny his family found it that there is a Lebanon, Tennessee (he is Lebanese). We were laughing at the funny way we pronounce Lebanon (it's said "Leb'nin" in Tennessee as opposed to "Leb-uh-non" in the Middle East) when another student said, "Nashville is in Tennessee, right?"

"Yep! That's right, " I answered.

"Tennessee... I always see that in the grocery store."

"You do?!"

"Yeah. It's on bottles with black labels."

He was talking about Jack Daniels!! I laughed and said, "Not at any grocery stores here, I hope!!"

He chuckled and said, "No. In Switzerland."

Switzerland. His family vacations there for the holidays...he's in sixth grade. This is my life, folks. Sometimes it overwhelms me how much I love it!

Vicariously yours,

Friday, January 10, 2014

Our trip to Paris: the most useful apps

This isn't a travel blog officially, but in the spirit of allowing you all to live vicariously through us and learn from our experiences, I want to let you know which of the many travel apps I downloaded turned out to be most useful for us on our Christmas trip to Paris.

Let's start with the most useful:

1. CityMaps2Go Pro  This was on AppsGoneFree a few weeks ago and I'm so glad I snagged it! They also have a free version. The pro version allows for unlimited map downloads, so it is necessary if you're planning to travel more than 3 or 4 times in the near future.

The best part of this app is that it is offline! You download the maps you'll need on your trip and it is all saved on your phone's memory.

You can zoom in almost to the street level and conduct searches for points of interest. When you find what you want, you can drop a pin on the map and take notes on it. I found our Paris apartment and marked it on the map before we arrived. It made things SO much easier. It also was handy when we were wandering around and saw something that made us go "Oh! We should remember to come here for dinner!"

You can use the location arrow in the bottom left to find your exact location in the city. Also clutch for when we came out of a Metro station and asked, "Where are we?" The guidebook, the icon second from the right, uses the Ulmon guidebooks to give you more information about what you're looking at. Very useful for those moments when you turn a corner and say, "Whoa! Wonder what that building is!"

2. Metro Paris Subway by Presselite   There are lots of Paris Metro apps out there, and this one isn't the most fancy looking, but it was the most useful. It uses your location services to tell you which stop you're currently at--though that's really best used when you're above ground, it became useful after we wandered for a while and said "Is there a metro stop nearby?".

It also tells you timetables (though those weren't always reliable. I think that's more the city of Paris's fault and not the app), and you can map out your route using the route feature on the far right.

Apps that were helpful, but not as great as I think the developers mean them to be, were the following:

1. TripAdvisor City Guides   I had troubles with this app before we left Kuwait, though I'm 100% sure  the problem was due to the slow internet/data speeds in this country. It took a few days for the Paris guide to download, and partly because the app pauses the download when your phone falls asleep. Not sure if that's something the developer can change or if it's just a side effect of living in a country with internet issues.

I love that this app is offline and the "Point Me There" feature was really great when we wanted to get to a recommended site. I found the map to not be as detailed as I needed it to be and the pop up "write a review" request every. time. you. open. the. app got really annoying really fast. I understand that the website runs on user reviews and you should give back to the website that is giving you this free app. I just wish that the reminder to leave a review only popped up every 5 times or something like that.

2. French-English translator by Sky Code   I even paid $.99 for this puppy thinking maybe it'll be more accurate than the free ones out there.


It sounded really cool because it has the option to take a photo of the text (for example, a menu) and get it translated, but the photo recognition was not great. It never could recognize the word "sur" and kept recognizing as "km" (for those playing the home game, "km" is not a word in French. I looked it up). This was not helpful for translating sentences from English to French. To test it out I wrote "We found the library" into the app and then we asked a French speaking friend to translate the same sentence. They came up with two completely different sentences.

The app was useful for one word at a time. When I was grocery shopping and couldn't remember the word for mushrooms or just straight up didn't know the word for other ingredients, my high school French got me through the first part of the sentence and the translator helped me fill in some of the blanks.

In the totally useless category goes this app:

HopStop  This app has rave reviews on the app store, including from people who traveled outside the US, but what the reviews don't tell you is that this app runs on data. And since I could not find anywhere that had SIM cards for an iPhone 5C (I know, #firstworldproblem), I didn't have data on this trip.

I'll pull this one back down from the cloud when I'm traveling in a major US city, but for Paris, the metro app already mentioned has a "from here to there" feature that made HopStop unnecessary.

Hopefully if any of you are heading to Paris any time soon, you'll download one or two of these apps and find them as helpful as I did!

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The things I do for these kids

I've got a reward system for my classroom that, in a round-about way, allows the kids to select from 4 different rewards: brownies, chew gum in class, eat snacks in class, or have a party during lunch. Being sixth-graders, the kids go for brownies as often as possible. I think it's mainly because they don't really understand what the other rewards entail, but whatever.

Anyway, I had a class that got the brownies reward right before the break, so the first day of the semester we started our morning with a healthy breakfast:

The kids are 1). blown away that I make my own food and 2). convinced that I make these brownies from scratch. One even said, "You have to give my nanny your recipe for brownies!" ...I got the recipe from my good friend Betty!
Since I cheat and use a brownie mix, you'd think this reward would be pretty straight forward and easy.


This is Kuwait. Nothing is ever straightforward and easy, it seems! Let me take you through my baking adventure.

It start with lighting the oven, which is an adventure in and of itself.

It's always a gamble whether the gas is going to light. Sometimes it takes two or three matches and then you just hope you don't blow up the whole kitchen!

So while the oven is preheating, I throw together the mixes. It takes 4 bags of mix to make enough for 1 class to have 1 brownie each student. The bags are about 1.5KD per bag, which translates to about $21 each time a class earns this reward. Being that this is Kuwait, I could get brownies delivered in less time it takes for me to make them at home, but that costs about 16KD (~$57).

Kitty supervises the whole operation. 
Once the batter is poured, everything is ready to go into the oven. What we've discovered over here is that the oven doesn't heat evenly, so everything always burns super fast on the bottom, but stays almost raw on the top. Golden brown doesn't translate with this oven. Thankfully, a bake-aholic colleague figured out a fix.

Ew. I'm just seeing the disgusting layer of dust in the broiler. I don't even know how to go about cleaning that.

See the can on the bottom of the oven? It's filled up with water that boils as the oven gets hotter. The steam somewhat evens out the temperature in the oven so things cook a little more thoroughly. It's not fail proof, the bottom still cooks faster than the top. But the steam helps things along.

So you'd think I could just throw things in the oven, set a timer and be done, right?!


Because of the drain in the floor of our kitchen, the stove is a little slanted, which means the batter slowly moves to one side of the pan.

It's Kitty's favorite toy in the kitchen. It makes mopping the kitchen floor so much easier....for our cleaning lady.
I probably could shove some shims up under there and call it a day. But that would be logical and would require shims. So I throw things in the oven, and set a timer for 10 minutes. I make sure to put things in the oven before it is fully preheated because it gives things the chance to bake a little more slowly. Keeps the bottom from burning as quickly. I rotate the pans every 10 minutes for two 10-minute cycles or until I see the bottom and the edges have cooked through but the middle is still pretty soupy.

Then I turn the oven down to about 200 degrees and let it bake for another 10 minutes. After that the bottom is juuust about burned but the middle is still not done. So I turn the oven off completely and leave the brownies in for another 10 minutes. THEN they are ready to come out of the oven.

They're still pretty chewy, but it does the trick! The kids love the brownies and work really hard to earn the class reward. Teacher friends will attest, having a class reward the kids deem worthy of their good behavior is worth all the KD and baking time in the world!

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

THATlou: the way for a non-Art History major to see the Louvre

At some point in our hunt for fun things to do in Paris, our friend Lindsey and I stumbled upon a company begun by a New York native called THATlou: treasure hunt at the Louvre. If you're the type of tourist that would feel like a fool going home from Paris having not seen the Louvre but you're just SO overwhelmed with the idea of trying to pick the best of the 35,000 pieces of art in that palatial museum, THATlou is perfect for you!

Basically you go on a scavenger hunt through the Louvre museum! Yes, you earn points, yes you compete against other teams, and YES there are prizes! This company was MADE for me!

We had an awesome time! Daisy, the owner of the company, has designed several hunts centered around various themes. You get about 2 hours to scour the Louvre to find and photograph the works of art. Don't worry, the big ones like the Mona Lisa are usually included or at least are along the search path. My only complaint is that 2 hours isn't long enough for competitive hunters like me who would want to stop and pretend to know something about art and observe some of the other pieces that you pass on the hunt.

Here are a few of the photographic highlights:

Our first conquest. It was also the one we heard the other teams saying they searched for the longest. Some of them couldn't find it! 

Strategizing. Tyler was our navigator and took the competition VERY seriously. 

One of the Big Pieces (ones that are highlighted by the Louvre as must sees): Psyche and Cupid.  I have no idea the artistic significance of this piece and I'm willing to bet 90% of the people surrounding the statue don't either. 

What I like about THATlou is it directs you to one of the Big Ones, and then you can choose to find a lesser-known piece of art in the same room as a Big One. See what Daisy's doing there? She's TRICKING you into looking at art! mwahaha!

Just like you can't go to Paris and not visit the Louvre, you can't visit the Louvre and not visit the Mona Lisa. ...She's there...behind the glass on the left. I was only able to get about 30 feet close to her. Sigh.

Another fun part of THATlou is the challenges that Daisy works in to the clues for bonus points. In this one we had to pose like the two dogs at the bottom of this massive painting. It was in the same room as the Mona Lisa, the most visited room in the Louvre. This photo is a little shaky because the Mister was horrified to be associated with these two crazies on the floor. 

We had to take a bathroom break and I think I accidentally caught one of the pieces of art on the hunt in the background! oops! haha!

The hunt led us to a little-visited room that overlooks the courtyard of the Louvre and gave us a view of the ridiculously long line to get in to one of the entrances! Another benefit of THATlou: you arrive early enough in the day and Daisy tells you about a lesser-known entrance that got us into the museum in less than 20 minutes.

This was the hardest-to-find piece of art that we chose to find. It took us almost 20 minutes, but we found it, darnit!

This guy wasn't on our scavenger hunt, but I just had to snap a picture of that dapper face and sessy thighs.
If a visit to Paris is on your radar, you have to book a scavenger hunt with Daisy at THATlou. It was extremely well organized, a ton of fun, and helped me mark a big item off my must-do-in-Paris list without feeling stressed out.

Vicariously yours,