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,