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,