Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Christmas Traditions continue

Here is a shortened version of our Annual Christmas letter, which many of you received via email. Writing this letter is something that has been a part of my post-Thanksgiving tradition for the past 27 years. I thought I should continue, no matter where we are located.

There are visible signs of Christmas here, in fact, I enjoyed purchasing a cute little tree and ornaments just the other day. The tree is more "ornaments" than tree (okay it was only a $2.50 tree, what do you expect?!) There are even tacky decorations here, which truly makes me smile. There isn't the overwhelming commercialization, but it's still evident. I'm still looking for the "it isn't our holiday but we still want the gifts" cards. I'm sure it's out there.

Abbreviated version of this year's Christmas "Sermon" below. Ignor if you've read it. I've taken out all the real personal "stuff"--just in case there are cyber stalkers ready to find my family!! (who's paranoid)

I know, I know--put pictures on this blog.
Soon, I will get camera plugged into computer to share. Inshallah

Greetings from the Great State of Kuwait, located strategically between Iraq and Iran on the Persian (oops, I mean ) Arabian gulf in the middle of the Middle East. I hope you accept the "electronic" version, to send letters would cost us DEARLY and who knows if you would actually receive it!!

The stress and anticipation of packing and organizing and leaving has been replaced by a calmer, almost stable life here centered around the school and our apartment and a small but growing circle of friends (“new family”). Teaching has proved to be exciting, frustrating, interesting, overwhelming, fun—all the same words that could be used to describe a new (and old?!) teaching job in the US. Our Multi-Cultural lives continue here with students from Kuwait, with a mixture of Lebanese, Syrian, Tunisian (and the occasional North American) thrown in for good measure.

Kuwait is—or was when we arrived--- extremely HOT. Like hotter than hec. I knew it would be, in fact I dreaded coming here mainly for the heat. And it was. Fortunately, when it’s that hot, you just learn to stay in air conditioning and not go very far on foot. It has cooled off now and I may actually wear a jacket for the next couple months. I will never, ever complain about a hot Minnesota summer day again, I promise.

The Kuwaiti people, for the most part, are very kind, appreciative and interesting. There is the occasional “jerk” who thinks they should be at the front of the line, or that should be louder than everyone else or who drives like a crazed lunatic, BUT these are things that can be found in North America too.

There is a tremendous amount of wealth in this country (which is probably why there are so many places to shop!) but there is also desperate poverty. Kuwait citizens make up less than 40% of the population—mainly there are people from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan (tho not many after the Invasion because they were backing the wrong guy, Saddam Hussein). These people are the service workers: maids, janitors, waiters, taxi drivers, etc. To live in Kuwait, they need a Kuwait sponsor, who charges them around 800 dollars a year. They then have the legal paperwork to work. Most make around 250 dollars per month, and most of that is sent “home” for families living there. Most work 6 days a week. Yet despite the hardship, they are thankful to be employed and for the most part are cheerful and helpful. The other expats here are Americans and lots and lots of Canadians. Suffice it to say that the Canadians keep up laughing.

The landscape is, yes brown and flat (we are in a desert) but there is occasional greenery. In fact, I have hardy respect for the plants that do make it here because they have to be really tough.

Living in a Muslim country has brought new perspective to our lives. The religion does rule the happenings in the country, which is a change for someone coming from America. We were expected to participate in Ramadan (the part where we don’t eat or drink in public from sunup to sundown, not the actual fasting itself), we wake every morning at 430 to the call to prayer broadcast loudly over the two mosque speakers in our neighborhood (we’re learning now to just go back to sleep). There is the occasional look of disgust when I pass by without my head or body covered but for the most part there is a live and let live attitude. (once we have accepted that the Muslims are in control). We’re learning that a true Muslim is a very peaceful and contemplative and part of me aches that, at least for the next generation, that the name of their religion will always be tied with the acts of a very few terrorists. I am glad that we have this opportunity to learn about the people more than just what appears on American television.

If you ever get to the Middle East, we’ve got a place for you to stay, a schwarma for you to eat and a cold glass of… water to share with you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Busting the Wishbone

Tonight at our Building 2 American Thanksgiving, we got into a discussion on when the appropriate time to split the wishbone was...does one wait until the next day? OR should one do it after dinner?
We had guests from America and Canada (and a wayward Canadian/Luxemborgian) but no one could come up with a real answer.
if you know the answer to this, please comment below.
I think you have to have an email address to comment.
If you are too embarrassed or feel quite strongly about it, then please post it to me via my email.
Anyway, we got our fill of turkey, sweet potatoes, pecan pie and lots and lots of other goodies. Including some first class homemade "beverages". Good stuff for all.

I read somewhere once (or maybe it came to me in a dream) that we all have psychological need to overeat during the holidays because it reminds us subconsciously of our mother's love through feeding us.
Works for me, I know my momma loved me and, if tonight was any indication, she's still at it!!

I haven't seen too much commercialization of Christmas here (saw a little bit in Dubai) but I haven't really been shopping.

Tomorrow my plan is to go purchase a small Christmas tree (something I thought I wouldn't need while planning for packing)

We'll see if Germo (the cat) can destroy all the ornaments.

Let me know your thoughts on the wishbone contraversy. It'll keep me up tonight, for sure (or maybe it was that third piece of pecan pie)

Happy Holidays to one and all from Kuwait

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The First of the Holiday Videos (as shared through email)

I wasn't sure I wanted to view this, being away from "home" and all, but it made me giggle. It's pretty darn cool. As my neice says, "watch to the end"

Hope you enjoy
PS Thanks Dinnah for making your old homesick aunti smile!

Things I've heard in Kuwait

"I love Christmas. It's such a good chance to get gifts"--from one Muslim girl to another

"Miss you're still not wearing a hijab. The boys here can see your hair"--from the persistent little Muslim girl who wants desperately for me to cover up my hair

"It's really cold today Miss, why are you wearing short sleeves?" (temperatures have dropped all the way down to ...70)

"Miss Nadine, you are wearing a long top and tight legged pants. You're becoming a Kuwaiti" (says my secretary on commenting on my new clothes purchased for a very cheap 5 KD (about 18$)

"Miss, we were good today. Where's that chocolate you promised us three weeks ago?"
(I made a bet with my students they couldn't learn a simple choreographed piece. They did it and I was out almost $40 in pocket to buy them chocolate bars. I still owe them another $40 worth of chocolate!)

"Miss, I have something important to tell you. (long pause) You have skinny legs"--young Muslim boy commenting on my long top and tight pants outfit.

Speaking Arabic

"okay, speaking english is like spreading peanut butter on the sandwich. Smooth. Speaking Arabic is like spreading chunky peanut butter-it's not smooth"

-quote from an AIS student while trying to teach me how to say "H" and "rr" and all those funky sounds we North Americans literally choke over.

Happy Thangygige

No I haven't truly lost my ability to's the greeting David and I give each other on Thanksgiving. Years ago (like 25) my neice Jennifer made a Thanksgiving greeting card for my parents and this is how she spelled Thanksgiving. We loved it and so it's been our greeting for years.

Today we celebrated by working (no rest for the wicked, and besides why would Kuwait celebrate an American holiday?) Tonight we had a wonderful Indian meal. We hopped in a cab and asked the driver where he would eat a great Indian meal. He took us to a place that was lovely and offered very good food. We will celebrate tomorrow night with American friends. And don't worry, I'm not cooking, rather bringing the paper goods.

Thanks for friend ME who sent me a recipe for chicken tortilla soup, I may be able to cook something for the three of us later in the weekend.

We have one more week of school left and then we're out for one month!

Sorry I haven't written much lately, we've been traveling and then recuperating from traveling and then getting ready for exams. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Eat a turkey drumstick for me, fall asleep on the couch while watching TV, have two pieces of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream of course) and Count Your Blessings!

And--know we are THANKFUL for you!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Postcard from Dubai

Greetings from Dubai, a beautiful emerate in the United Arab Emerates, about a 2 hour flight south of Kuwait. We are all here for a Speech tournament with schools from Cairo, Abu Dabi, Kuwait, and Dubai. I have since run into three people who are from Minnesota.

Our students are doing well, I don't know if they will make it into the finals but they are all growing and having a good time. Anna is participating in a Duet and also in a comedy solo piece.

David and I are learning a lot about speech, about Dubai (it's really pretty). And meeting some very nice teachers. Last night's dinner conversation mentioned countries that I've never even heard of (although that's not really saying much as Geography was never my strength!)

Tonight we're off to the Fabulous Mall of the Emerates where there is an INDOOR SKI HILL. David will be skiing for the family.

I'll write more later when we return...

OH THE POSTCRIPT to knowing the girl whose mother lived in Herman. The mom graduated from HHS with my sister in 1965. Too small world.Also, she used to teach on Quad Island where the Pelican Rapids Kollars used to teach. Her good friends visit the Kollars in PR this past summer.

Walt Disney really know what he was doing when he adapted that silly song, (it's a small world)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This one's for you Miquay (and our soccer sons and daughter)

The following is an exerpt from an email we received recently from our Soccer Son Miquay. He is interning in Mexico with a bank.

Work has been a good experience, for the most part. I am learning an incredible amount about financial analysis and what HSBC does and how it handles it´s financial sector. I am working with HSBC´s analyst. I have done multiple tasks such as upgrading the financial databases that are used to do analysis by the professionals. I am in charge of finding financial statements of Mexican stocks and update the databases that are used as models for our analysist. with these models, analysts do their technical analysis where they look at the graph and the stock price trends and using what they know about technical analysis they then call the clients or investors and give them an opinion as to what they should do with their stocks. Very interesting stuff... In fact, I am doing my own analysis for my Investments Class where I am applying what i have learned and the professor is impressed...let me tell you ..I AM IMPRESSED too!!!............I think working at HSBC has been the best part of coming to Mexico since it has really made me grow as a professional (even thought it hasn´t been too much ;) ).

Miquay is a 2005 graduate of PRHS. We first met him when he was 12 years old and a contributingm vital member of the 2001 U16 soccer team that took 2nd in State their first year as a team. Miguay was a shy, sensitive young man, very unaware of the world outside his family and Mexico. I have fond memories of physically dragging him out of a school van to go into a restaurant to eat.
"No Miss, I cannot go"
"Why Not?"
"No Miss, I don't know what to do or what to eat"
"We will help you. It's a buffet so you can pick what you want."
"No Miss, I can't"
" can"

Well, he could and did and hasn't stopped succeeding ever since. He was on the honor roll at PRHS and went on to the Big Cobber Ring School and is in his senior year. We are very proud of him and our other Soccer Sons and Daughter.

In case anyone ever wonders what kind of education and experience a student gets at PRHS, just talk with one of my "kids" Miguay,Rudy, Ivan, Mario,Leo,Yusuf, Katie,Brandon--they have all taken their early years training in Otter Tail County and are making something of their lives.

I probably don't need to tell you that most of the students mentioned are not native English speakers. If their parents hadn't taken a big risk in uprooting their families, then we wouldn't have had half the good memories we have from Soccer. And the kids wouldn't have had the opportunities they were allowed in MN. Katie and Brandon would be different people too.

In fact, there was just a letter from another "son" in a recent issue of the Pelican Rapids Press urging people to vote YES for the school referendum. He was just voting in his first election. What a way to celebrate his American citizenship.

On our living room wall here in Kuwait is a picture of my original soccer family. They are all dressed up at Prom, posed smiling, with a soccer ball in the middle of the picture. I'm not sure who exactly brought the soccer ball to prom but it didn't surprise me then. Just like nothing these kids do surprises me now.

If you ever wonder what happens when a kid is given just one chance, go back and read the first part of this post. Then, this next summer, if you live in Pelican Rapids, go cheer the current U12 soccer boys. The future IS there, if we allow it to happen.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Whole Dhow Load-edited for mistakes

**Ignorance is not bliss. If you read this post before, you'll note that I had the word Dhow spelled wrong. It's D-H-O-W. I stand corrected.
I mentioned in the post below that I've got a whole Dhow Load of work and wouldn't be able to post much this week. But no, here I am still writing (it's more fun than writing a rubric for an assignment next week!)
Okay Okay so I'll be brief...

Up to the 1960s, dhows made commercial journeys between the Persian Gulf and East Africa using sails as their only means of propulsion. Their cargo was mostly dates and fish to East Africa and mangrove timber to the lands in the Persian Gulf. They sailed south with the monsoon in winter or early spring and back again to Arabia in late spring or early summer. The term "dhow" is also applied to small, traditionally-constructed vessels used for trade in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf area and the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to the Gulf of Bengal. Such vessels typically weigh 300 to 500 tons, and have a long, thin hull design. Also, it is a family of early Arab ships that used the lateen sail, on which the Portuguese likely based their designs for the caravel known to Arabs as sambuk, booms, baggalas, ghanjas, and zaruqs.

A Dhow is pictured above. Please don't confuse this with Dow Jones(and we really don't want to talk about that now,do we?) I would guess that Pirates of the Caribbean featured many Dows in the water scenes.

The little blue area on picture one is, you guessed it, the outhouse. It hangs out over the front of the boat (the OUTHOUSE hangs out over the boat, not anything el..or never mind!)

We're From Herman, Couldn't be Prouder...

This weekend David, Anna and I are off to Dubai--a rich, fast growing Middle East country (part of the United Arab Emerates) for a Forensics (Speech) tournament. David and I are the AIS coaches and Anna is on the team.

So, I'm talking via email to this woman who is working at the school in Dubai, who will also be hosting us at her home, and one thing leads to another and she finds out I'm from Minnesota and so, of course, I say the Minnesota codewords "So then, whereya from?"

And, she says where she's lived (Mpls area) but that her parents are from West St Paul and...HERMAN!! My hometown, population 756 (when I lived there, I think it's about 450 now). I couldn't believe it!!

David was not surprised when I called him screaming on the phone because he says this kind of thing always happens to me.I keep telling my friends (who aren't from Herman) that all life revolves around Herman, but they never believe me. Wait til I get a picture for the Herman Review.

PS.Don't panic if you don't hear much from me this week and I've got a WHOLE DOW LOAD of work to be completed before we take off on Thursday afternoon. Ya know us Grant County girls have to get their work done before they can play. I promise lots of pictures SOON.

PPS Dubai has WINE and SWINE (red/white and pork) AND beer-- can you see me smilin' now?!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Soccer Mom (SM)-the Kuwait Version

Those who have witnessed me on the David Brown soccer field back home know that I am quite vocal for the team I am supporting. Those skills seem to have transferred to Q8 as we enjoy watching Anna play for the Lions. She's doing quite well and today assisted in scoring the 3 goals for one of her team's victory. We're quite proud of her skills (these she gets all from her father) and team.

The Lady Lions (NO we don't say Lionnesses here) are quite a fun team to watch. They only have one loss and it was in this tournament. They have three games tomorrow so I'll be spending my day watching, cheering, fretting, pacing...all the same things I did for the Tigers. I even found that the way I yell GO LIONS has the same cadence as the way I yell GO TIGERS (and yes JC I still yell get it out of there when the ball is at the team's goal).

I would have pictures of her playing but I have this weinie easy share camera that only is able to get her shoes running or her backside as she is running. Today there were some SMs with some REALLY BIG cameras. I would have been way intimidated. But I will ask our school photographer for some examples to share with you. I vowed a long ago not to spend my children's career watching from behind the lens of a camera (especially when I can get copies from another parent!)

Those of you reading this who remember the PR Tigers Olay Olay victory song after a win will smile when I tell you that the Lions sing the same song! To those who don't know the song, just picture a circle of teenagers jumping up and down celebrating teamwork, happy times and good soccer.

Life is Good!

Degrees of on-going saga

I am a true believer in the Kevin Bacon 7 degrees of Seperation theory. Today was just another example (this one's for you Bro...)

As I'm watching Anna's soccer game (a tournament from schools in Dubai, Doha, Cairo, Kuwait, Abu Dabi), I'm talking with another soccer mom from Doha who is also an American. We were talking about thing expats talk about (weather back home, prices, weather here, where ya from, the election) and she asks me if I voted and say yes. She says she did too.

And then I mentioned that the students and others here in Kuwait were really on fire about Obama's winning. She asks me if I voted for him and I said "Yes" and she said "I voted for McCain...I went to high school in Hawaii with Obama, he graduated 2 years before me." And I say, "well, isnt' that weird, my sister lives in Wasilla Alaska on the same lake as Sarah Palin"

Half a world away, there are still connections being made.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

If the Shoe Fits

This is sorta hard to explain and I'm not sure if you'll find it interesting, but I promised to share with you my view of Kuwait, so here's one for you to ponder.The photo shows a real "oddity" here in Kuwait (and there is more than one that's for sure)
We see these single shoes all over the place. It's the oddest thing. We don't know if there are lots of people walking around with only one shoe on, or the shoe falls out of the car as they are speeding down the highway or someone has a job to walk around and drop shoes randomly.
David says he remembers seeing this site in Turkey too. I can't say I've ever seen shoes laying on the ground. My daughter, when she was a toddler, had this habit of walking around with only one shoe on her foot but we usually knew where the other show was left.

Oh wait, I got it!! This is an example of
"Waiting for the other shoe to drop"
Okay it's a stretch?!

I've got the...

Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart.
Anyone know this song from Sunday School? When I saw this lil' one at the Harvest Festival, I couldn't resist asking her parents if I could take her picture. If only that kind of joy and energy could be sold. Well, actually if you follow the lyrics of the song, it doesn't need to be bought, it's inside you.
Down in my Heart
Down in My Heart to stay

This picture is for those who are experiencing cold, damp days. May it warm you up! I figured it was kinder to send this than the picture of palm trees and the Gulf in the sunset. (tee hee)

Church Choir Kuwait style

This is the 2008 Harvest Festival Choir of the National Church of Kuwait (one of the 22 congregations that share the compound facilities). I enjoyed playing piano for them and singing with them very much over the past 2 months. Their joy and energy was contagious. Besides, they think I can sing..ha!


We are proud parents of TWO children who have been inducted in the National Honor Soceity--Ben at PRHS in 2006 and now Anna here at AIS in 2008. That's pretty cool. Here are some pictures of the evening. She gets her brains from her father and her smarts from her mother. How's that for sharing the glory?

Germo-One Month Later

The picture on the top is Germo when we first found him. The second picture is one month later. I'm happy to report that he's doing very well and provides just the right amount of animal cuddliness. Although he bites harder than the dogs ever did. This morning I asked him if he's ever heard of the saying, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you". OMG, I just read that last sentence. Now I have lost it...I'm talking to cats. If he starts answering, then I've gone right off the pier...

Oh well, what fun is it to have an animal if you can't share pictures, right?!

Postcards from my new home

I thought it's been a while since I've added some pictures so here goes..

1) The wonderful liturgical dancers from the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait. This was one of the performances at the churches Harvest Festival last weekend. It was a good day

2) While on a walk last weekend, I spotted this beautiful "sign" in my neighborhood. I've also been fascinated my graffiti, and personally I think this one should be a postcard.

3) At the Friday market, I also try to be secretive about taking pictures. I'm sure I'll get used to the sight of women in full "cover", but there was something interestingly different about this woman, "haggling" with the man over the cost of a kitchen sink faucet. I don't know, maybe I just have a weird sense of humor.

4) This is one of the mosques in the neighborhood. I think I've shown a part of it before. While I was trying to discreetly take this picture, a man shouted at me. Oh no, I thought, I am going to Muslim hell for sure for taking a photo. Turns out he just wanted to show me a better angle. Thanks unknown Muslim man.


Monday, November 10, 2008

This is a picture of four of my great neices and nephews who live in Minnesota. Both of my neices are mothers to twins!! I like knowing that my family loves each other. Grandma Esther would be proud!!

These are grandchildren of my brother and his wife, who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Oh-did I mention that they were married when they were 15 and 17 years old!! Here's to Longevity, stubborness, and plain ol' fashioned love!

A conversation from my day

"Miss, you should really wear a hijab"
"Why do you think I should wear one?"
"Because Miss, (pause) well, you just should"
"Okay, you give me five good reasons why I should wear one and I'll consider it"
"Because you look good in one"
"thank you"
"But Miss, also because the book says you should"
"You mean the Q'ran?"
"Yes Miss the Book"
"well my dear, your book may tell you that, but MY book doesn't"
"oh but Miss..."
"No dear, your book is good for you and my book is good for me and let's leave it at that"
"oh but Miss, you really should wear a hijab"

(note: I wore a scarf covering my head to the Grand Mosque last week on a Grade 6 visit. Several students commented on how I looked and all the Islamic teachers were very appreciative. It wasn't out of kindness, we were "required to do so".)

Not your average quick run to Larry's (Supermarket)

When we want to go to the grocery store, we need to plan it because we either ride with the BFFs' or we take a taxi. Tonight, due to auditions and other fun things, we weren't able to go shopping until 830 pm. The Indian taxi driver, Robyn, told us "You people shouldn't be out past 600". I think he meant that we would encounter traffic, not that we weren't safe.

So we ended up stuck in traffic for a half an hour (and heard Robyn's life story about being a taxi driver for 30 years-it was interesting-and sad). Anyway, we got to the store and found it absolutely packed with people! People with little kids who should be in bed (that's my opinion) People buying stuff like it was a snowstorm in Georgia. When we got out of the store at 1015, I was amazed. It was like it was 430 on the day before Thanksgiving! I am still not used to the rhythms of people here.

We spend about 30 dinar a week on groceries ($100) which is about what we spent in PR. As I was pushing the cart through the (crowded) aisles, I was amazed at the selection and the variety of types of foods. We can get over a dozen types of olives. over 15 types of rice, 10 different types of milk, over 15 different brands of cornflakes (that's about all they have for cereal tho unless one likes the super hyped up choco balls of sugar) and the seafood selection is unbelieveable.

Also at the grocery store (called a Hypermarket!) we can get pictures developed, purchase jewelry, (diamonds and fake diamonds), buy a complete wardrobe (at the indian store or the Japanese "dollar" store). We could also buy shoes, pick up a cell phone or, if I was in the mood, buy a number of lovely hijabs (scarves covering the head).

When we get home, as we are putting away groceries, I look at the food we purchased and I still think "there's nothing in my refridgerator". I don't think THAT'S unique to Kuwait either.

You're a Good Man, David Brown!

Life continues on for the Browns. Instead of auditioning for students at PRHS, we've taken our talents (!>?) on the road to Kuwait where we've just finished auditioning for You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. We will be able to post a cast list soon. We have the talent here,which is very exciting for us. And, there were some little 6th graders who took it upon themselves to try out, which made the teacher in me very happy.

It will be different doing a play here, for many reasons. First, and foremost, we don't know the "ropes" of how this place works yet. Thankfully we've got our BFFs, the Roddicks, who will help us. Daddy-O will be musical director (I'm rehearsal accompaniest and David's right hand) MammaV will be producer which means she'll be doing the things I was used to doing for David (I like that!) We trust them and they have "WASHTA" which means they have "pull" and they know people who know people.

Secondly, the students (for the most part) have never heard of a quarter of the things in the play...Sopwith Camels, Sandlot Baseball Games, Security Blankets,etc. In addition to teaching the words and music, we will also be teaching slangs, giving background behind stories and expressions and in general, "Americanizing" the students. It was a big brain trip to hear the words to a well-known musical coming out of someone's mouth with a distinct Arabic accent (which means that they sometimes misprounounce the words). WAIT--they speak English a WHOLE LOT BETTER than my Arabic, so I am not making fun of or putting them down.

Thirdly, we have to be cautious of making sure that we do things that won't get censored, which could cause the play to be shut down. Sounds funny (yes this is based on the Charles M Schultz cartoon characters so it couldn't be censored right?!) However, we are definately in unchartered waters here. Any form of kissing, affection between boys and girls, etc would be offensive. (NOTE TO SELF: Never perform Romeo and Juliet or Any romance story here) We know the rules and we're trying very hard to not cross the lines. Although I did teach my kids that they should never show their butt on the stage...and they were quite shocked when I first said the word b-u-t-t.

David's up for the adventure and I'm right behind him. We're off and running...Break a leg!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sorry for the white stuff

the forecast for MY week is as follows
Saturday 75 F
Sunday 78 F
Monday 78 F
Tuesday 78 F

Oh come on, after all that heat we endured earlier in August and September, don't you think that I can gloat just a little? It has rained here more in one week than it did ALL last year. That's exciting...

A Funny Thing Happened on the way home today...

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
--Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)

Colorado Cuz sent this quote to me this summer while I was preparing to depart for the Middle East Adventure Series. I've saved it, thought of it often and today it seems to fit.

First a word about transportation in Kuwait. There is a bus service, but we aren't brave enough to figure out how it works. Now that we have our Civil IDs, we could purchase a car but again we aren't brave enough to figure out how this works either. So we either rely on friends with Cars (FWC) or we take a taxi.

Now there are two types of taxi drivers here (in my humble opinion). The kind that you can depend on and the kind that try to take advantage of you. (Just for the record, I don't think this is unique to Kuwait). We have our dependable drivers-Robin a kind, gentle Indian man who has lived here for 30 years driving taxi and Mohammed, an energetic, make things happen kind of dude. They are who we most often call if we have long distances or are going somewhere where we want to make sure we arrive safely.

Today David, CC (another newbie) and I were out shopping at the Friday Market picking up a few good deals and we decided that it was time for one more stop. Because taxis are generally cheap here and because we had packages from shopping, we hailed a taxi in line and had him take us literally around the big corner (maybe 3/4 mile) to the Iranian souk. The taxi driver (a scary looking man in the first place) tried to charge us 3 x the fee we should have paid. David (who is, as you all know a very calm person) ended up yelling at the man "Drive me back to the place where you picked me up and I will walk here for free instead of pay you that amount" (for the record, I leapt out of the cab right away so he couldn't hold me hostage!) The taxi driver ended up throwing the money back in our faces and leaving (well, excuse me!)

So we were a little leary when it was time to take a taxi home.And of course we had aquired more packages including a beautiful, inlaid, hand-carved set of stacking tables from India that cost me about a day's wages. We stood out on the road and David said, "Wouldn't it be our Karma if we got the same taxi driver again?" (no-we didn't) We held up our hands to hail a taxi and lo and behold this white little Toyota pickup pulls up along the road and asks "Would you like a ride?" We said sure (after double checking how much) We agreed on the price and hop in. As we were hopping into the pickup, a real taxi pulls up behind us. For a moment I was afraid there was going to be a fistfight but the taxi driver stayed in his car.

As we're cruisin' along the highway, I slowly realize that we are in this guy's pickup--he's not even a taxi cab driver! We don't know him from "Mohammed" yet we've trusted ourselves (and my new very nice inlaid, hand carved tables!) with this person. Thinking he could speak English well, I asked him where he was from and he didn't respond. Okay, I thought, now we're going to die because he's not speaking to us. So I asked David (who was in the front seat) to ask him where he was from.
Oh-an important part of this story is that as we are cruising down the 4th Ring Road (very very busy this time of day) I am telling our friend CC that Ben will be heading to Iraq in February and I hope he doesn't get hurt, etc. And so when our new Best Friend (as in the one whose driving skills were controlling my life's outcome at the moment) says "I am from Iraq"--I just froze. Surely I thought, we have seen the end of our lives.

Later on, David started a conversation and it turns out the driver thought we were German (so he probably didn't even hear the conversation--or else he was pretending). When he found out we were American he smiled and said "OBAMA!! Good Job!"
We smiled and our smiles grew even wider when he said "Bush-finish". We may be on opposite sides, but on this issue we are united.

Now I will tell you that Mohammed, my faithful Tuesday evening Taxi driver (he takes me to sailing lessons) is also from Iraq. His english is pretty good. We have many conversations about how our countries are fighting and how neither of us really understands what is going on. I told him that Ben would be going there in February and he said basically the same thing my Muslim aquaintances have said to me ("God will protect him").

Now, lest you think I've gone totally "PollyannaWacko" over here in the sun, I'm not naive enough to state that a taxi driver and a teacher should be solving world problems, but I think it would make a difference if those in charge could sit down together and talk things over without all the hubbub and fanfare and posturing and machismo and whatever else is involved. I don't understand War, I never will.

All I'm saying is that now that I've gotten out of my "own little corner of the world" (above quote), I have made connections with people who are supposed to be "the enemy". And they have been good encounters. Maybe we should stick world leaders in a taxi and let them drive around Kuwait for a while. They wouldn't need to go on a battle field to see their life flash before their eyes, that could be accomplished in one 20 minute taxi ride here!

BTW, the image at the top of this post is a "Bedouin Redneck mobile" (what our friends call the lil' pickups) with a couple camels in the back. I have yet to see a camel although I know they are here (someone recently told me it's too cold for them to be out in the desert so they are now in tents..THAT (to quote my friend HC) would be bloggable!
I thought the picture was cute. Although, it wouldn't surprise me if I do one day see a camel in the back of a pickup. Anything is possible in Kuwait!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Damn I Wish I'd taken that-Part 2

A while ago, I posted an entry with this title and also some fabulous pictures that, quite frankly, I "wish I'd taken".

Last night, I wish I'd had a CAMERA with me to TAKE THE PHOTO of what I witnessed. Sometimes life is too darn precious and funny. As I've said for years, "Fact is Stranger than anything you can make up".

So, as I tell my students, ""put on your imagination hats and picture this"...

I'm in my favorite taxi (the BFFs vehicle) and we're in "Old Kuwait City", a place that is, duh, older than the modern part. Construction is everywhere as they attempt to rebuild, or construct apartment/office buildings. As stated, the national bird of Q8 is the construction crane.

All of a sudden, we look to our left and we see a HUGE crane lifting a huge backhoe AND THERE IS A GUY UNDERNEATH IT guiding it with a rope. Seriously. There are four giganitnormous chains around this backhoe, it's lifted at least 10 feet in the air, hoisted up by this HUGER CRANE and it's being moved 90 degrees. I'm not sure why it wasn't just driven over there--literally it was ike picking up a toy in the sandbox with your right hand and placing it by your left hand. AND AGAIN THERE WAS SOMEONE WALKING UNDERNEATH IT guiding it. We watched in awe (and fear that we would see the too real site of a Squished Kuwaiti).

And me without a camera.

The construction "rules" here are amazing, or should I say the LACK of rules. Surely, OSHA has never made it across the OSH-EAN. Construction works stand on scaffolding or rather (and I've seen this a number of times) boards tied together with ropes. Stories and stories in the air and all they're standing on it something that looks like my 6th grade class put it together.
(and they ain't too careful, trust me!) There are no hard hats, no safety harnesses, no yellow vests, no steel toed boots. I think they must sell steel toed sandles--at least that's what these guys have on.

I'll start carrying my camera and see if I can capture the moment. At least I'll make sure there isn't a crane above my head before I take the photo.

While the hilarity of this scene stays with me, so does the reality. Just 20 minutes earlier, as we sat in the Outdoors in the Old Souk (Market) eating a lovely meal, we were approached by a young man from Palestine who showed us his injuries and was asking for money. He'd been injured in a construction accident, and, as there's no insurance or workman's comp (things we just take for granted in North America), he was reduced to begging. It was sad. This was no scam, he truly was injured and unable to work. He flashed through my head as I watched the crane swinging in the air.

So many times, in North America, I have bitched about regulations, rules, safety seminars etc. No longer, The ability to even have rules, guidelines and regulation is being added to my ever-growing list of "THINGS THAT ARE TAKEN FOR GRANTED BY NORTH AMERICANS list. Unfortunately, the list is quite long and I've only been here 3 months.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

No appropriate words

In every election there's a winner and a loser. People gather around the winner and applaud and cheer. People gather around the loser and give hugs of support and tell them they did their best.

While the candidate of my political choice won (unbelievable!), I am saddened by the news that the Pelican Rapids school referendum vote failed by 33 votes!!That means well over $1 million dollars will have to be cut from the PR school budget next year. This past year over $770,000 in cuts were made. We felt those cuts very deeply and personally. It's why we are in Kuwait.

When we agreed to move, I knew there would be times when I would give everything just to return for a death or the loss of something. It's one of those times when I wish I could be there for friends.

I know so many people worked so hard-the administration, the school board, the various committees in the district. People who care about the future of the students--even those whose own children have long since graduated worked very, very hard.

It's hard to stomach the outcome over here, I can't imagine the pain those in Vikingland are experiencing. When I found out this afternoon (thanks Marguerite for the email) I let out such a loud gasp that my students thought someone had died. Well, in way, it is a death of dreams, hopes, wishes and for some, employment.

When people vote with their pocketbook and not their heads, it's disappointing. I haven't heard the facts yet (hoping to soon) but I can imagine that there was a certain percent of the voting population who "killed" the vote. Granted,I don't know all the facts, I'm thousands of miles away. However, I can tell from here what the future will be. And it's not pretty.

Personal Soapbox time:

People who work in education don't do it for the money. Oh yeah, those of you not involved can make all the comments you want about "three months off, every holiday, no weekends, etc". And you'd be right, those are great perks. But everyone I know well who is in education has a great deal of passion and heart for their job and when it comes down to it, they are there because they love children and believe in their responsibility to help make the future better by working with children.
We were willing to pay additional tax $$ and we won't even be there for a couple years to see the direct benefits.

If you see an educator, thank them. If you see an educator from PR, offer to buy them a beer (or coffee) and listen to their story. And, give them the encouragement they need to face the students whose very lives will be affected by the decision to not support education.

Here's a hug from Kuwait. To those of you who voted YES, thanks for the support. And to those who voted NO...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad

Today would have been my parents 71st wedding anniversary if they were alive. I still remember the date and wish I could send them a card. For many years after they died, I could send a card to my friend DrBob's parents as they share the same anniversary. Alas, that's no longer possible either (hey CJ if you're reading-thinking of you)

It's funny how some dates stay in your mind. At least they stay in my mind. For example, I will always remember the date of my dad's death. Probably because it was the single most shocking event that has happened to me. On the first anniversary of his death, I drove to Herman to the cemetary. It rained all the way down (or was it my tears) and as I was driving I prayed for a "sign" from above that everything was alright. When I stepped out of my car at the cemetary, I saw the biggest rainbow I've ever seen. I took it as a sign.

Better ending to the above story: When I returned home to PElican RApids, I told the story to Ben (he was in 1st grade at the time). The next year, in second grade, the students were asked to make a calendar for their parents and draw a picture for each month. For the month of May, Ben drew a picture of a rainbow and a headstone. It brought tears to my eyes then and it still does now as I write about it.

I've started to commemorate the date by planting something in the ground. For those who don't know, my dad died while in his garden. With the hoe in his hand and the dog curled up by his side.It was a beautiful passing. Shocking at the time but peaceful now (at least for me). I also try to make a big deal out of a friend's birthday who is on that date. (here's to you--you know who you are!)

Part of my life motto is that BIRTHDAYS and ANNIVERSARIES should be a BIG DEAL. And just because someone isn't living--on this earth--doesn't mean that their special event can't be celebrated. SO, here's to anyone who is celebrating an anniversary or birthday this week (Like my Ugly and Lucy B) and anyone else. CELEBRATE BIG while you are here. And hopefully someone will remember your date when you are no longer dancin' on this earth.

Now I'm going to go find someone to take out to supper in honor of my parents.


Election Day 2008. When I woke up this morning, I thought "today IS THE DAY that will change many things.

Not only the future of the US. There is much interest here in the US election. I think I've spoken about it before. The one thing the Kuwaitis (and others) don't get is that our election choice is a secret. I've been asked a number of times who I voted for (it's a secret!)

Our Humanities10 teacher did a very interesting thing, and something that should maybe be done in the real elections. She ran a Mock Election here in school and, instead of the names, she put two paragraphs indirectly quoting each candidate. So, in essence, one voted for what the person believed in and supported, rather than the NAME of the candidate.

Now I've already voted (took a taxi to the Embassy to make sure our ballots made the courier pouch) but as I voted in this Mock Election, all of a sudden, I realized that I didn't know as much about the ISSUES and OPINIONS of the candidates. I had to carefully read the material and slowly choose one (instead of quickly seeing the name of the candidate I wanted and checking it off).

When I put my ballot into the box, I asked our school public relations person (she was running the ballot box) which person was behind each statement. Thankfully I voted correctly in the REAL election (at least I voted for the one whose opinions and beliefs I can support!)

Also, I've not tried to make a political statement about what is happening back "home" BUT IF YOU LIVE IN PELICAN RAPIDS, GET OUT AND VOTE YES!!! FOR THE SCHOOL REFERENDUM. YOUR COMMUNITY AND YOUR CHILDREN NEED THIS VOTE.

Enough said--thank you for listening

*This advertisement wasn't paid for by anyone and probably isn't supported by half of the people who read this. But it's my right to say so and I did. Amen!

Cruisin' on the Gulf

David and I have an opportunity for more time together while we're in Kuwait. At least until the spring play rehearsals start (which is next week). So we're trying to take advantage of some fun things.

Last Friday night we went on a "Moonlight and Roses" midnight cruise on the Gulf. There were about 45 of us, we knew about half of the other "Cruisers" from our school, plus there were members of the Australian/New Zealand Rugby team (a fun group)and some single women (maybe looking for Rugby players?!). We enjoyed a beautiful buffet (a challenge to eat while the boat is rockin') a beautiful evening (no moonlight but great view of the gulf) and dancing.

We know one song REALLY WELL (A swing dance) which we did a couple times (hey who cares?) Then we pretended like we were Disco King and Queen, and did a couple other moves. Mostly the DJ was into "himself" and played only music he liked. I say that because there was no one dancing for most of the evening after it became clear what his motive was. Oh well, we had a good time and enjoyed the opportunity to cruise on the gulf.

Here's a photo (with another newbie and embassy friend). Also pictured is what it looks like from the boat looking back on shore. The boat was pretty rocky so excuse the jittery look.

Cool huh?!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Can you guess what this picture is?

I could think of all kinds of inappropriate comments here, but I'll be a grownup and just tell you straight out that it's the sign outside the Women's Prayer room at a Mall.
Reminder of Muslim rules: Women and Men pray seperately because if they were in the same room praying (and kneeling and laying prostrate directly in front of someone) it could lead to "improper thoughts".

I didn't make up the rules, only reporting them folks.

"Ya Gotta Love Kuwait"

I have heard this phrase is uttered by several Americans when they are frustrated by the government bureaucracy, the Muslim rules and traditions, the lack of internet and telephone service and the driving.

Well I recently had occassion to hear myself uttering the phrase.

We've encountered what could be described as a HASSLE with getting Anna's Civil I.D. Securing this document, which is the only real document that states we are OKAY with the Big K, is becoming a huge pain in the backside. Our own ID's took 7 weeks to secure which didn't allow us to travel during our 5 days off. Oh, we could have travelled but then we would have had to start the process of bloodwork, paperwork, etc ALL OVER AGAIN. And we weren't going down that road.

Now that we have our Civil IDs--oops let me be more specific--now that DAVID has his civil ID (because the male is the sponsor for his wife and children), the process of securing one for Anna can begin. After a trip to the Department of immigration, he was told that our marriage license (which, btw, no one told him he had to bring with him) had to be "Authenticated". "Go to the Embassy" we were told.

So, off we went to the US Embassy (and of course I went with him because two sets of ears are, after all, better than one...and of course I am a nosy bitch and wanted to hear for myself what was happening), get an appointment, wait in line with other disgruntled Americans (the phrase I heard uttered more than once was "I feel more like a second class citizen at my own embassy than I do anywhere else in Kuwait"), then we get into see the person (after waiting in line and having our number called) only be told that we SHOULD HAVE HAD OUR license and Anna's birth certificate Authenticated in the states.

TIP: If you ever want to live overseas, do this before you leave the country. We weren't told to do so (yes I've already spoken-kindly-to our superintendent indicating he should include this for next year's newbies).

SO NOW we get to begin the process of getting a real, certified, notarized copy of our Anna's birth certificate AND our marriage certificate, then getting them sent to St Paul to be authenticated, then sent to Washington DC to be authenticated that they were authenticated and THEN they need to get sent here (carrier pigeon of course) so that we can begin the process of getting it authenticated (see the pattern here folks) so that we can get her Civil ID done.

Sounds like fun?!

After venting to you (thanks for listening) I do understand this process (when I use my intellectual side and not the emotional part)because after all, I've seen the movie "Catch me if you can" (even read the book!) and it could be easy to duplicate,forge, etc any document you want. So I'll suck it up and get it done. And probably bitch about it some more. And for sure owe Little Bro PSL mucho cervasa for doing all the leg work.

Alas, we ASKED for this opportunity, remember?!