Thursday, January 28, 2010

An Indicator of how far I've come in one year

A year ago, I would get very frustrated by my inability to speak and understand Arabic. Well, to be honest, I was frustrated at other's lack of ability to speak English. My frustration was most evident in conversations at restaurants and with taxi drivers.
I remember once stomping out of a restaurant because they couldn't understand what I wanted to order and I couldn't understand what they had to offer.
(see I didn't tell you everything about my first year!)
Well yesterday I hopped into a cab and told the driver to head to Shaab (a neighborhood nearby) He asked "arabi?",which means I don't speak English, I hope you speak Arabic.
and I said "no English"
and he sighed
But I cheerily replied, No problem I know where I'm going
(like this was going to help!)
BUT it did.
Through hand motions and head shaking and mouth sounds (don't you make a whirly sound when you go around a roundabout?) we made it to my destination. In plenty of time.
I asked how much the cab ride was and he replied
"it's okay, up to you"
Which is a cab driver "trick" for
"You're a white North American who makes more money in one week than I do all month, let's see how sorry you feel for me"
So I had 2 kd (about 8 dollars) and I said
"one and a half"
Now I can afford the 2 kd, but the ride was literally 5 minutes and I don't like it when they play that game.
The amount on the meter showed 400 fills (about $1.75) but no one ever goes by the meter, unless they are caught by the police.
I wasn't mad that he charged me almost four times the rate because it's a part of the game we all play here.
But I wasn't THAT sympathetic where I was going to pay him five times the fair.
Again I can afford it, but it's a matter of principle.

As I got out of the cab, I felt pretty darn smug that I was able to get to a destination and hold my ground in payment for something. It's a sign that either I'm turning into a cold callous person OR I'm figuring out how to survive here.

Let's vote for the second one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hello and thanks for checking

Haven't written in a while so here's a whole whack (a new word I learned from means "big group of something") of random thoughts from Kuwait...

Just got a facebook message from a former student (one of my favs from the class of 06) who wanted me to thank David because of his teaching, she was able to win a haiku contest at a bar and get all sorts of fabulous prizes! Who says an education doesn't get you ahead in life?

Recently Germo, the wonder cat, slipped out of the house again. It was David once again who was sabatoging the cat's chances for survival when he shut the kitchen window. (and yes, it's ME who opens the kitchen window for the cat to get outside!) This time the poor cat was outside until after 2 am. Silly kitty. All is well, although I think he's either going to have to get a companion (which means I would have to find a new husband) or he'll have to learn to curb his curiousity. The saying might be time, it COULD kill him!

Yes you read that right. Recently I went with friends to the Kuwait Ice Skating Rink. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it really exists. (FYI there's also quite an established hockey league here too!! Darn Canadians are everywhere). Anyway, I found myself to be too old and scared to last longer than 10 minutes on skates. What a whimp I've turned into. I used to skate for hours on the farm. However there's something about falling on a 50 year old bum that doesn't appeal to me. David wisely stayed home.

Tonight we have the World Premiere of a musical, "Gideon" at our school. There is a wonderful singing group in Kuwait with a fabulous conductor and amazing composer. These fascinating people are actually quite warm and lovely. I got a chance to play hero when the facility that was hosting the premiere third night performance cancelled on them. So I offered our school. It was a blast! Choir, jazz band, fabulous soloists...including DKJ, the US Ambassador to Kuwait. What a set of pipes on that gal! Best part of the evening however was when the conductor, RB, got so into his music that, in an inspired moment of directing, he accidently threw his baton into the choir. Gotta love someone who never takes himself too seriously.

As I mentioned, I was sick earlier this month and so spent a lot of time on the couch watching TV. (FYI Donald Trump doesnt' look any better at 4 am on reruns of The Apprentice than he does when it's in season rotation) Anyway, thanks for our local illegal dvd guy (hope the Ministry isn't reading this) I was able to catch up on most of the current movies. Some good stuff. My favorite was INVICTUS, the Nelson Mandela-South African Rugby World Cup story (based on fact).
For those who haven't seen it, this is a SPOILER ALERT
In the final scene, the South African Rugby team is the underdog team to the New Zealand team. It's filled with lots of suspense and great scenes, but in the end, the South Africans win (wouldn't be much a movie if they lost, right?)
I was telling my neighbor, a proud Kiwi, that the movie was quite good and she narrowed her eyes and said "Yeah but they never told the REAL story"
"Oh?" I asked innocently (I don't know nothin' about rugby to begin with, let alone the true story of a match 14 years ago)
"Yes THEY were you never knew that?" She nodded her head in determination.
"We all know that's why they lost".
??News to me??
And people wonder how wars are started...
That's just one example of the kind of REAL TRUTH I am finding out here in Kuwait.

Recently there's been a video circulating on facebook from the television show, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. In the show, the main character is from Pelican Rapids!! Honest, true story. So I asked my resident California Film Guru PC, if he knew the scoop behind the story.
His thoughts (and I don't doubt them) are that they (the writers) wanted to use St Cloud but wanted something that sounded better. So they drew a circle within a xx number radius and came up with PR. They did their homework though because they actually mention the real stuff like "Vikings" and Route 108 (they didn't say which direction..east or west). But as PC says, they can't be locals because (and I quote PC)
"Who ever calls is ROUTE 108?"

It's sorta like how I can tell if someone is REALLY from Minnesota by how they say Wisconsin (non 10,000 lakers will often say "WES-consin) or how they pronounce the nickname for Alexandria. Those of us who grew up there know it's "Alec" not "Alex". And don't even get me started on how you say ROOF if you're not from MN.

These are important fact when one is tousands and tousands of miles away from home (elimination of the "H" was intentional..but those who can speak Minnesotan will already know that)

I am really sorry that I missed the recent snow/ice storm that went through the Midwest. In a spirit of solidarity, I actually wore a turtleneck sweater tonight. It was all the way down in the 50s. Wish I hadn't left my coat in Ben's car as I left MN. Oh well, time to put on socks.

Take Care and thanks for spending your time reading my random thoughts. It's good to know someone's out there in cyberspace.

Monday, January 18, 2010

May we all look this good at 96 (or 56!)

This is my aunti Ethel who just celebrated her 96th birthday on Sunday!! She's my hero, my role model and a darn fine lady. I am so thankful she's in my life!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tales from Turkey

Guest Columnist
David O Brown
Note: While I returned to MN, David and Anna took an opportunity for some father-daughter bonding time and flew to Istanbul, Turkey for five days. Here is his report. Pictures coming soon.

One of the reasons why I took this job in Kuwait was the opportunity to travel, so this last Christmas I took that opportunity to go back to a country that was part of my growing up. I had been there many years ago and I did not remember any of it, but the smells and sounds were very familiar.
One of the reasons why I took this job in Kuwait was the opportunity to travel, so this last Christmas I took that opportunity to go back to a country that was part of my growing up. While Nadine went back to Minnesota, Anna and I visited Istanbul, Turkey.
I had been there many years ago and I did not remember any of it, but the smells and sounds were very familiar.
I really thought that at the end of December that there wouldn’t be that many tourists there – it was quite thin on tourists when we were in Europe last Christmas. But this trip was not that case. Istanbul was full.
Within Istanbul, many of the tourists sites are centrally located. Anna and I started by going to an underground cistern that was made by the Romans. Very neat place – Love to show you those pictures...alas I accidently deleted them.
Travelling in larger European cities offers all sorts of adventures and opportunities. One has to be on the look out for the Good ones-and the Bad ones. For example, following out trip to the underground cistern, we were going to visit the biggest church in the Byzantine Empire – Aya Sophia. It was a church until the Ottoman Empire when it was changed to a mosque – then a museum in 1924.
As we arrived, we were approached--okay, actually we were collared by a "tour guide" who was said he would show us the Blue Mosque. So, not being Turkish, and not having a guide book, we thought "Why not?" So we walked over there and he talked about the history etc etc and then suddenly he decided that it was in our best interest to let him "show us the best carpet shop in the area". So, we went to the shop. As soon as I got in the shop, I told the guy I did not have the money nor the inclination to buy a carpet but he could show me.
But did that stop the sale pitch? No! While the silk carpets were beautiful, they were expensive. Like 4000 dollars for a carpet 2 yards long by 1 yard wide. After 45 minutes I was able to get out of there. But then our guide had to show us "The Best Silver Shop". At least that had something I could afford (Nadine and Anna received lovely earrings for Christmas).
It certainly is an art of separating tourists from their money. After a while I got used to just ignoring sales people when they said something to us. Anna is good at it and at times it got a bit too aggressive. One guy said” Are you from America” we said nothing “Well you can’t be from America", he said. "They have manners when someone asks a question”. Well I wasn’t planning on buying from him and after that there was no way. But I imagine they get frustrated trying to sell all day.
One of the most unique experiences we had was a visit to a Turkish Bath. Quite an experience. For 60 dollars Anna and I got the deluxe treatment. Anna went off to the female side and I went into the male side. After changing to a towel, I went into a large room that had a large marble pedestal table where men were laying. The marble was heated from below and it was hot and steamy in the room. So, I lay on the marble and relaxed my body. After about 10 minutes a large Turkish man pointed at me and I slid to the edge of the marble and he had a scrub sponge. He doused me with soapy water and scrubbed me back to front. He poured warm water over me to rinse me off and then he then gave me a rough massage. He led me into another room and poured hot water on my head and proceeded to scrub my hair and head. After that I went into a massage room and got a ½ hour massage. It was a great experience – I’d do it once a month if I lived there. I only had one small problem there. As I was taking a final shower, my glasses fell from a shelf and one of the lenses popped out and I could not find it –after searching the massage room and marble area, I went back to the shower and crawled on my hands and knees and I found it – not much fun if I hadn’t.
The next days were a lot of walking and we discovered how to used the tram system. We saw a lot of mosques. Oh look another mosque. As in Kuwait, it seems like there's a mosque on almost every other block.
We got lost a couple of times and that is always fun. Istanbul is a very hilly city so we spent a lot of time walking up, up and up. Once we were trying to find an area called Taksem. We were following a map that made no sense or maybe we made no sense. Anyway we made it only to discover the church we wanted to see was closed and the monument in the area was surrounded by plywood as they were renovating it. But we did stop at a tiny restaurant where we enjoyed tasty food. We also didn’t see many other tourists, which was a plus.
We got lost one other time. After a tram ride to somewhere, we stopped for tea and played some cards and started walking to where we thought the Roman aqueduct was and we found it! Anna wanted to walk on it, but the only way on was to climb a 15-foot wall and I did not really want to get arrested so Dad nixed that plan. We next aimed for the Suleiman Mosque (Oh another mosque) but again we got lost but we did encounter a real out door bazaar where real Turks shop and that was fun. We eventually ended up at the New Mosque (It was built in 1565 so it was the new mosque)
We also took a boat/city tour. The tour bus pulled up and we were the only on the tour – nice to have a private tour. We went to the Spice Market and that was neat – lots of cool smells – Ah but the tour guide took us to a store where we could get great bargains! –Oh well I really did want some Turkish dried apricots and Anna was introduced to Turkish Delight candy which she liked. We then cruised the Bosporus and had a nice tour history guide.
Some of our other highlights were a dinner and show at a restaurant where they had Whirling Dervishes – the music and show was about an hour and that is enough of watching three guys go round and round. We saw the Topkapi Museum where the Sultans lived. We went to the Museum of Modern Art – quite dull for me but Anna liked it.
Overall we had a good time – good to spend time with Anna – Missed having Nadine with us. So, if anyone wants to meet us in Istanbul, I think I can show you a good time.

More on Hope

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this is the word that has been running through my head this past week in and around the mountains of snot (sorry), through the valleys of depression (from missing MN and loved ones) and scurrying past the avalanche of panic which is bound to head my way because I’ve got another large Festival to organize.
It’s what Obama talked about this past fall. He had hope for change in America. But it seems (at least according to the latest gallop poll) that his plan and his popularity have plummeted. When I was home over Christmas, I asked a good friend to give me the “25 words or less” explanation about what happened to America’s love affair with Obama. He gave me a good detailed analysis from someone who lives there. My spouse says simply that America expected too much from him.
It’s what I see in the eyes of my friends CH and ER who have become parents for the first time. They have such hope for their child. They don’t know about the awful parts of parenting yet (although they might think that lack of sleep in pretty darn awful right now). They don’t know about the highs of seeing your child succeed and the lows of wondering how in the hec a child of YOURS could do such a stupid (insert typical child behaviour here). thing They look at their newborn and see wonderful things in the simplest fact: she’s alive, she’s healthy, she’s eating and sleeping.
It’s what my friends L and R had when they captured the neighborhood stray dog and brought him to the Friends Center (a haven for stray animals). Dogs are a rare site here in Kuwait, so when one happens by in the neighborhood, people take notice. Everyone in the neighborhood (regardless of their ability to speak English) knew about this dog and were concerned about it. While this little dude had a tail wag for all and was quite willing to approach you, unfortunately, the little pooch had also had a bad former owner who left a rope tied his neck. The rope was so tight it was merged into the arteries of his neck. When L and R took it to the Friends Center, they were afraid it might not make it through surgery or the follow up fight for infection. And, they were right,he didn’t make it. When I heard the news, I broke down and sobbed. Silly dog. Silly friends for trying to help the dog. But I know they helped me by showing me they had hope enough TO try.
We had a student here who has CP. He walks to class, his friends carry his books and he’s got a smile for everyone. What would take you and I five minutes, takes him about 10 or more. And don’t even think about going up stairs easily. This is not a handicapped accessible country and every time he tries to get to a higher or lower level in a building, he takes a risk that he may fall down the stairs. Once I accompanied him for an afternoon at a conference, and he did fall down the stairs. But, he got up, dusted himself off and set about on his way. It’s amazing.
When I get on my pity party about being so far away from home, and think about how sad I am, I hope I will remember these people (and pets) and gain some perspective from them.
Ironically, Nadine (Nada) means “hope” in Russian. Here’s hoping I live up to my name.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Thought for the New Year

I'm Baaacck!! Sorry for the lack of writing, I had the horrible snotitius, coughing,achey-breaky cold/flu crud for the past week and it really knocked me out. But this morning, I awoke after the first full night's sleep in a week, with a smile on my face and a relatively clean nose, so it's going to be a better day!!

As I was showering, (too much detail I know) the word "HOPE" came to mind. It's going to be my mantra for 2010. There's lots of negativity happening in the world, maybe in your own world.

In addition to being sick (or maybe this was the cause of it...) I was in a funk after visiting "home" and seeing dear ones and experiencing the MN cold. It is definately something that I don't have here (Both the weather and seeing dear ones daily). And I'll admit there are times when I wish I hadn't gone back because it was too painful to leave and return here without them (ah, that would be the people, not the weather).
Also during this time, friends at AIS are finding new places to move, new horizons to conquer.It's part of the cycle in an International School. I am dealing with the fact that people I have grown to love and depended on for daily contact, humor and support will be leaving at the end of the school year, literally for parts all over the world. There is a very real possibility that I will never see some of these people again EVER in my life. It makes this farm girl with the deep roots very sad.
But I have hope that their moves will be better for them, I have hope that I will see them again and certainly their presence in my life here for these past two years has given me hope when I was experiencing my own dark days.

Inspiring me in my HOPE mindset is the fresh marriage of my oldest child. My son and his wife are starting their lives while still in college in a starter apartment with a sketchy future in front of them (due to the economic situation). But they have enough hope in themselves and each other to say "damn it all" and risk getting married. Their hope is inspiring.

What I'm trying to say is that we should all be thankful for HOPE. It's what gets people out of bed,it's what can make a bad situation brighter and it's the one thing that no one should be able to take from us.
I HOPE you have a great day. And I HOPE you will continue reading this blog and not give up on me even when I don't post news all the time or pictures. AND, i HOPE that your 2010 is a better one filled with Hope.Finally I can say it, "Happy New Year".

Soon to be on this post, Tales from Turkey (David and Anna's trip to Istanbul)