Monday, May 31, 2010

Little Scenes from Kuwait

Courtesy of my friend DU's blog, here are some shots of our life:This is the big mosque near us at sunrise. It's a beautiful place, even if it is LOUD at 400 am
A real "Duster"--can anyone say "Mars"?
Two men bartering-or talking-or gossiping, can't really tell. I've wanted to get a shot like this since we moved here and was so excited when I saw it on DU's blog.
Three boys and a tree. This actually makes Kuwait look like a vacation spot!

9 days boys and girls...9 days until I am back to my own beaches, sunsets and gossip!!
Save a deck chair for me!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Through someone else's eyes

I stole this from my friend HL's blog. I like her take on Q8. It's all true...


Entry #39 Observations

Here are just a few random observations about our life here in Kuwait.

While not as bad as Japan for its wacky signage and labels there are a few good ones.
 On a box of pencils:
"Educational Healthy Pencil; Easy to Hold"
 A sign on a barber shop for kids: Virgin Kids
 On a barber shop for men:
Saloon for Men (Jamie thought he could get a drink here)
 Sign reads,
Ministry of Justice: Department of Experts (not sure what they are experts on but it sounds like they know what they are doing.)
 Sign on the side of the highway:
Speed leads to Death (unfortunately, no one really follows this advice)
 Sign on a laundry mat:
Future Hope Laundry
 Sign on car rental store: Rent: Top Secret Cars
 Sign on car rental store:
Exotic Rentals: Cars for Rent (I am glad they have the second part of the sign to clear up any confusion. I wonder what they include in the rental to make it exotic?)

Cost of living..
Going out for a coffee or tea

Tailors (to get a pair of dress pants lined it will cost me around $5.00!)
Nannies and Maids

As you can see this gas run cost us 4.75 KD for a 73 liter fill up. That equals roughly $16.00 to fill up our SUV. The workers at this gas station thought I was nuts taking this picture.
Sadly, the items in the inexpensive list are often services offered by the Pilipino, Indian or Bangladeshi workers. If we paid our nanny what some families pay their help, we could afford two live in maids.

Our Address
Our address here in Kuwait is a bit of a mystery. There are no street addresses as we know it. When we order food for delivery the conversation can go two ways...
Conversation 1
Resturant: Where do you live?
Jamie: Do you know the teacher buildings?
R: For AIS
J: Yes, we are in the blue building.
R: Okay sir.
Conversation 2
R: Where do you live?
J: Do you know the teacher buildings?
R: No
J: Okay, we are in Salmyia, in Madian Hawally near the police station and traffic place, across from the blind association in the blue building. There is construction across the street from our apartment.
R: Okay sir.
And no matter the conversation, the driver usually calls to say he can't find it. However, we always get our food.

Zoe’s Observations
Zoe is starting to notice that she is a minority in her class. She does not articulate it as such, but there are a few little things that she says that surprise us. She wants dark skin and dark hair and when I ask her why she says that it is beautiful. She is also noticing that some women cover their hair, or their hair and clothes, or everything all together. On night we went to Kim and Blair's house for dinner and she insisted on covering her hair. She has only been a minority for a year and a half and already she feels she is different and her skin and hair are not good enough. It makes me wonder how minorities feel in Nova Scotia who live there for their whole lives!!

For the record I felt cold on November 17, 2009. I think it was 23 degrees. It will start getting cold now in our apartment since we have no central heating. When we complain about the cold we always hear the comment "but you are from Canada!" Which we answer with, "yes but we have central heating!" We will soon get out the four little heaters we have to try and keep us warm.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The BEST Day in Q8 Ever!!

Yesterday was the BESTEST day I've had since living here.

It began when we were invited to have tea and "chipolles" at a nearby tea shop with school friends. I didn't even know this place existed but it was definately a treat. About as big as my living room, it served the best chai tea ever. And these chipolles can only be described as delightful. A round, deep fried pancake looking thing with just a hint of sugary taste. And of course as often happens with groups here, the conversation and company was fantastic.

After we made it to school (almost on time), and then I proceeded to have a productive day in my office. We're done with classes here, just working on getting things organized for next year. Our students spend a full week in exams so they're finally finished studying.

At the end of the day, I joined two fun and amazing women for coffee at Starbucks. We laughed and carried on for about two hours. One of the friends will be returning to Canada next year but we aren't thinking about that, we're just living in the moment.

In the evening we were invited to the parents of one of my piano students. It was a tremendous evening with conversations with people whose original homes were England, China, Turkey, Lebanon, and Kuwait. The hosts contracted with "the Best Lebanese Chef in Kuwait" to make these wonderful Ka-bobs. It was ground meat mixed with spices, then these were "molded" around a shish kabob stick and flame cooked on a smoker. Plus other goodies. Mr G is an engineer but he's really a musician at heart so there was lots of music and singing mixed in.

As I fell asleep, I almost felt "at home" here with our lifestyle. I didn't even bitch about the 110 temps. Maybe the farm girl really is adjusting to life in the desert....stay tuned for details.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Reason, A Season or a Lifetime

My friend T once told me this quote
"People come into your lives for a Reason, A Season or
a Lifetime.
Once you figured out what it is,
You know what to do."

It's farewell time here at AIS with teachers getting ready to leave. Some are leaving for exciting new international jobs, some are heading back home. My friend M and her fiance POD are moving to Canada where he will be THE US Representative to Quebec and Ninnuvet (all you americans look this up if you don't know where it is...).The L family (the author I told you about earlier) are moving back to Nova Scotia where he will be a full time author (already received a contract for book 2) and H will go back to teaching HS English and raising her two super children, I and Zoebird. Other friends are moving to Mongolia. Yes, Mongolia...and they choose to move there!! Beautiful TL is moving to Syria, after waiting and wondering (and praying and cursing God as to why she had to wait so long for an "answer). She is excited.

I gave farewell speeches for three friends last night at our Farewell Dinner hosted high above Kuwait City on the 19th floor of the Safir Hotel. Really Swanky Schmanky but a lovely time. I thought I would break down crying, but I didn't. Maybe I'm getting the hang of this love em and leave em sort of mentality. That's the mentality David grew up with having to move often in the Air Force. Actually he didn't move that much but people certainly moved in and out of his life a lot. Once of the main reasons why I wanted to take this job is that I could understand that part of him. I sure do "get it" now.

Some of these people I will see again. Others I know I will not. But that doesn't lessen my joy in knowing them or in recognizing that they were definately in my life for a season.

Last year when the BFFs left, (I talked about them often ) I was very very sad and didn't know
how I would survive without them. But I did survive with very little communication during the year. (still love ya Daddo and Big V!) Maybe I'm getting older and friends don't mean as much. No actually as I get older, friends MEAN MORE to me. Especially now where I have Summer Friends and School-Year Friends.

No, let me re-phrase that...I don't have summer friends. I Have Lifetime Friends. You are the ones I see in the summer. You're "stuck" with me. Two weeks and counting until coffeetime at My Favorite Coffee Shop in the World, Riverside Coffee located in beautiful Downtown Pelican Rapids.

HHmm..there's a bit of free advertising for them! Maybe they'll give me my first cup of Java free when I return. JC-would you work on that for me?! And throw in a Cranberry Muffin while you're at it. Meet you on the Deck, soon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bragging Rights

Picture taken of Anna while she works on our friends sheepfarm in PR in 2006. (the camera was off) It was her first display of the feisty independence that she is capable of.
I hate it when parents brag about their children. Really I do. Yet, I can't resist.
Anna Leigh has recently earned a couple honors that I want to share with you:
**She got 2200 score on her SAT. 2400 is perfect. She's applying to Stanford, Harvard, U of Chicago and a couple more places. David is trying not to have a coronary over the prices.
**Each year, AIS teachers nominate students to receive Award Letters (and medals in the fall) for outstanding students in each Subject area. Anna received two for Spanish and Math.
**Just so you don't think she's an Angel: she's still a teenager which means that she's arrogant, selfish, lacking in abilities to keep her room cleaned and she tests our patience with her growing need for independence.
But we're proud of her.

And Ben, who is currently learning about the reality of life through jobhunting 101.

Kids are such a blessing, yet I am struggling with learning to let go. So here's a public apology to all my friends who are Mothers who I gave the "now you raised them to be independent be proud that they want to leave home" speech when their children were the age of Ben and Anna. Humble pie never tasted so good.

As good as it was on the Website

Photos from my recent trip to Jordan. Ahhhh....
Word of explanation: At the Dead Sea, the big thing is to completely cover yourself with mud from the DS which is supposed to have Theraputic Powers. I couldn't resist the opportunity to photograph this gentlemen just to show the folks back home. View of one of the THREE pools at this place. Occupied Palestine (I*****) is in the background.

Lovely sunset shot

Tough Job Part 2

A couple weeks ago I told you about "having" to travel to Jordan again--this time for work. We stayed at this magnificent hotel on the Dead Sea. Enjoyed a lovely evening of facial and massage hot stone rubs (on my own dime, the school DIDN'T pay for that!). Had a great time laughing with colleagues.
What I probably shouldn't tell you, but I will, is that we almost didn't make it to the place. My travelling companions were our principal, BL and the Athletic Director, LR. We get along very well and it was the support of these two people which helped make my first year as Activities Director go as well as it did.

So, here we are...three very organized, intelligent, in-charge type people getting ready to take a flight, which is something we can do very well. LR and I plan trips for our teams and regularily send out students and teachers. BL being the principal of a school of over 500 HS students so you know he knows what he's doing.

We look at our tickets and head off to Gate 26C. It's a long way down the corridor but we've got plenty of time. LR and I stop off and leave BL to head into the waiting area. When we return a couple minutes later, he's already inside and waving us into the area. We try to enter and the guard stops us. "NO you cannot go in here Madam", he said with authority. "Yes," I say, "our friend is already there (pointing to BL) and we're heading to Amman". I am thinking to myself, Silly man we do this for a living, don't try and stop me. He then sternly tells me that the flight is going to CAIRO. "No, " I say again, this time with MORE authority, "it says right here GATE 26C." He looks at my ticket, looks at me with a smirk on his face and says, "Madam, 26C is your seat assignment. This plane is going to Cairo. You are departing from Gate 1." LR and I look at the tickets, look at BL who is getting ready to join the line to board the plane and yell, "B-get out of there, the plane is going to Cairo and we've got to be at Gate 1". Meanwhile, the guard is enjoying himself immensely and proceeds to tell his working partner that these stupid Americans have tried to board a plane based on the seat assignment (I can't understand Arabic but I can understand gestures and laughter!) BL hurriedly exits the area (never did figure out why they let him in!) and we hustle down the corridor, laughing so hard we can barely stand up. Fortunately Gate 1 isn't very far and we arrive at there with tears in our eyes, shrieking at our stupidity. "We do this for a living!" I keep repeating and then fall into hysterics again. Needless to say, it started off a weekend of "going to Cairo" jokes.

As I write this, I realize that this is probably one of those "you had to be there" stories and it won't be as funny to you as it was to us. But it definately is GREAT to work with people who you can laugh with and laugh at and still get along.

PS BL says that if I ever tell anyone this story that I "am dead". So if you don't hear from me again, you know that he kept his promise. JK

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Happy 500th

This is the 500th blog entry I've made since opening up Kuwait Kuwait Don't Tell Me. A lot of life has happened since then. Thankfully a lot of life is still happening.
When I wrote that first entry on my couch in PR in March 08, I don't think I could even fathom what life would be like 500 entries down the road. Now, as I sit on my coach in Q8, I'm reflecting back on what we've seen, what we've conquered, what we miss, etc. At the time I started that blog, I truly didn't think I could survive living in the desert. I was scared to death to move. I cried a lot. And David would tell you, I also drank alot. (I think I was trying to be like a camel to see if I could store beer in my system but he doesn't buy it)

PR Becca said after visiting my house "you don't have as many pictures up of Pelican Rapids as I thought you would." That's true, but I did confess to her that when we first arrived the house was filled with people and places from back home. I've managed to pare down the reminder shots to a manageable number including Pelican Pete, the Pelican by the side of the old creamery (one of my all time favorites), a shot of the Minnesota Welcomes You sign (on Highway 94 coming from the Fargo airport) , a couple precious cabin shots, and a smattering of families Christmas photos on the fridge. Well, I guess I should also tell you about the 75+ shots of family and friends in two large photos on the kitchen wall.

My mother used to have her entire kitchen wall filled with photos of every child, grandchild, great grandchild. It took up her entire kitchen wall above the table. We called in the Family Wall of Fame, because you knew you were loved when you walked in that house and looked at the wall. I probably made fun of it at the time, but now I understand why she did it. Mom spent most of her time in that kitchen and I bet it made her feel loved to have her family around her.

Every morning, I look at the two large picture frames filled with shots of family and friends and it gives me the courage to face the day in the desert. As I see each person smiling at me (I took the photos so I know they are smiling at me) it fills my heart. I can even look at it now without crying, which is a good thing.

Years ago I used to have a saying hanging in my bedroom. I haven't thought about the sign for years, but this morning, the saying popped into my year. I guess it's a fitting way to end this post.

"We all need to have people who mean something to us. People to whom we can turn knowing that being with them is coming home."

Thanks for reading #500 ...and all the others. As Billy Joel says, "You're My Home".

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How to Arrive at KWI

I love the Kuwait International Airport (KWI) It's got more "LIFE" than any other terminal I've ever entered. And a part of this life is to arrive in the proper style. So, when you visit us in Q* (surely you are planning to do so right?!) I want you to be ready for the experience. Just so you are warned, I will greet you with a proper Kuwaiti-style greeting. Here is what you can expect.

1) First you have to clear customs: a process which could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on how the paperwork is completed for group in front of you which could be the load of fresh looking Sri Lankan women who have arrived looking for a better life as a maid in this country.
2) Then you get to stand in another line where you have your passport and paperwork reviewed by a semi-bored Kuwaiti (man or woman) who will likely be engaged in conversation with another worker in the next booth and not really look at your passport. Unless you have a stamp from Occupied Palestine. (This is what we know in North America as Isreal) Then you won't even get into the country. Kuwait does not officially recognize I***** as even existing. No joke. If we ever plan to visit (which, to the censors reading this blog, we NEVER plan to do) onecannot have proof in your passport that you have visited. Next time you see me, ask me to tell you a story about that. That's all I can say right now.
3) After grabbing your luggage and fighting off the aggressive little Indonesian men in blue jumpers who desperately want to take you bag for tips...(that's not a racist comment, these men are working hard for a living..though sometimes too hard in my opinion), you will proceed for the last time through xray to make sure you haven't brought anything "harum" (bad,illegal, inappropriate) into the country. If you are caught, nothing happens to you. They just take it away (and probably sell it later, but I really don't know this for a fact) Remind me to tell you a story about that too. Not about me, I'm too chicken to try. Truly.
4) Then you finally you get to walk through the frosted glass doors which allow you access to the terminal. I will never forget the exhilaration (and fear) I felt as I entered through these doors for the first time in August 2008, with my little Indonesian man (I was new, I didn't know any better) and our 15 Bags in tow. Anna and David were up in the line getting visas--for almost 1.5 hours.
5) If you are really lucky, you will be greeted by 40 people (no exaggeration!) who will rush towards you as you pass through the gates. These people will likely be dressed in white dishtashas (men) and black abayas (women). There may be small children too, they will run at you the hardest.
6) With them, these people will have: a huge bag (or two) filled with candy and coins (think Halloween), two or three flower leis to place around your neck, possible "poppers" (torpedo-like things that shoot confetti and candy into the air), another big bag filled with real rose petals that they will throw at you. The women will send off a shrill tongue clicking sound.(The sound is very close to the one that Hispanic/Somali youths make at a soccer game. I can imitate this, ask me.)
7) You will receive kisses (men to men, women to women) in the proper greeting which is once on the left cheek, once on the right cheek and then once again on the left cheek (if you really love the person). If you are someone respected and an elder, you will get a kiss on the forehead. Children will be lifted high into the air.
8) All while this is happening, the people on the outside will be throwing the candy and rosepetals at you. And taking lots and lots of pictures and videos.
9) You must block all other traffic coming into the terminal. Nothing is as important as being greeting properly.
10) Also, you will stand in the middle of the exit (right smack in the middle is the best spot) for at least 10 minutes to make sure everyone has kissed you three times.
11) As you leave there will be another group of Indonesian men, (in different collor jump suits) who will be very busy cleaning up the candy, confetti and rosepetals. Occassionally children of other families waiting will rush out and grab the candy, but 95% of it just gets thrown away. Remember it's the thought that counts.
12) Then you will proceed as a group and stop at the end of the exit so that someone can take your group picture. Again, all other arriving passengers be damned. This is important.

I have witnessed this scene over and over again. It is delightful, emotional, sort of irrating (the arrogance and ignorance of other people trying to exit is a little much sometimes). But's it's definately Kuwait.

Actually, we did have a visitor yesterday, which is why I was at the airport. PRBecca came for the weekend. As I was waiting for her to come through, I saw the best example of a greeting I've ever witnessed, which I what inspired this blog. Halfway through the event, I wished I had arranged some students to do this for her.
FYI-Out of respect for the people who dress in full attire who really don't appreciate being photographed..and because I usually don't have my camera with me, I don't have any actual footage of the any of these greetings. However, when you visit, I'll pay someone to video the whole event. Can't wait to see YOU!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My New Hero

This morning I am reading about Jessica Watson, the 16 year old Australian girl who has just sailed solo around the world. Her blog,, is quite interesting. As I read it, I kept repeating the words "Amazing" to myself.
Here is this 16 year old, sailing, by herself, on a trip of thousands of miles with only herself as crew (and the occasional sea birds) and I am having trouble deciding if I can get into a taxi and go to IKEA by myself!
Then I compare this to my 96 year old aunti ethel, my all-time hero, and all that she has done in her life, and I think "uff girl, get off the chair and get in the taxi".

One of the challenges I've had in living so far from home (and this doesn't have to be international, it's anywhere I think) is finding out about yourself and what makes you happy. I struggle some days with lonliness and boredom not because there isn't anything to do, it's that I sometimes have to do it by myself. My friends are busy with their lives, David is grading papers, and Anna is, well, she's a teenager with her own life. I know there are lots and lots and lots of people who live their lives by themselves and who find the strength to make trips alone. But this wasn't my MO before moving here. I like having people around me. Or rather, more honestly, I am fearful of doing things alone.

I know there are those of you reading this who will say, "What? She's always doing things by herself". But I never said I was a fan of it. Living here with different lifestyles, different rhythms and "different" people (oh I could tell you stories) has certainly forced me to become more introverted. Maybe "forced" isn't the right word. It's more like given me an opportunity to explore my inner strength instead of being so outwardly motivated. I think in fancy psych speak it's called "intrinsic" instead of "extroverted". Or something like that...I'll have to ask my resident favorite Psych teacher KKO when I return to the Land of Lakes in less than 30 days. (who's counting)

Anyway, in conclusion, I am going to celebrate the strength of Jessica Watson and Aunti Ethel today by getting in the cab by myself and going to the local IKEA. It may not be sailing around the world or living alone in my 90s, but it's a triumph for me. Small steps.

Here's to all of you who have the courage to live alone and enjoy it! I'm learning...I'm learning.

PS and I know it doesn't count because I have Anna and David living with me, but just take the "spirit" in which I wrote this. I could also be unnecessarily whining. Anything is possible in the desert!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

It's All A Blur

Thirty days from now we will be boarding a plane for our return trip to MN. Doesn't seem possible that another year in the desert has almost passed.
I don't dare start the reflecting comments because 1) I might cry (we're losing some great friends this year) and 2) if I start thinking about the past, I won't concentrate on the present (I've got lots of work left) and the future planning I have to do.
As I am writing this, I am hearing Louie Armstrong's version of "Wonderful World" playing in our auditorium (we've got paper thin walls which is why I can hear it).
Even though I may complain about being away from MN, and yearn for the lakes and green and family and friends (okay, and beer) I never want to lose sight of the fact that this experience has been a WONDERFUL ONE for Anna, David and I. Our perspectives, our knowledge base, our reflections will forever to changed due to our connections with people, places and events in the Middle East.
As I have said before, I will forever be grateful for the rights and priveledges of being a North American.
I also try not to Count Down to things because I don't want to make today seem like it's irrelevant. Part of my "Trying to live in the Moment" life plan.
Oh I'm already sounding philosophical...and I don't even have a beer in my hand!!!
Stock your fridges folks, I'll be back soon.
Love from the Desert

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm Sorry

This is for my loved ones and friends in PR who recently had to endure the third loss of a referendum vote. I don't know if words can express healing but I want you to know that I'm thinking of you in the desert.

I'm sorry that the vote lost.

I'm sorry for all the students. There is no other way to say this: they are the ones getting screwed by lack of foresightedness of the people who voted "no". I'm really glad that there was someone who had the foresight to pay for the children of the people who voted "no" when they were going to school. At least they can say they got a quality education unhampered by budget cuts.

I'm sorry for my friends who worked SO HARD on getting the vote passed. Those people who keep saying great things about the PR district and who truly believe that this is the best answer for everyone. I'm sorry that it must seem right now that your hard work was for nothing.

I'm sorry for the teachers and staff who currently work in the district. It must be so incredibly gut-wrenching to return to school each day, smile, be positive and carry on as if things will be just fine for the PR students. I just wrapped up a big batch of Kuwaiti sunshine to send to you.

On a personal level, I'm very VERY sorry because it decreases the chances of us returning to PR with jobs at the school. This pains me significantly as I love my life in PR and was looking forward to returning. Now I'm not so sure what the future holds for us.

Having said the above, I know that the same people that I just apologized to are holding their heads up high, carrying on in the best way they can because, that's the kind of people they are. People who are optimistic, who realize that life is full of ups and downs and that it doesn't do any good to cry over "spilt milk/votes" because it can't change the outcome. These people believe that THINGS WILL WORK OUT...somehow. People who are probably already thinking of ways to gear up for the FOURTH VOTE.

So I'm trying to send you all energy, peace and wishes for healing from the desert. You're right-you've got to carry on for the kids. Because they ARE WHO REALLY MATTER right now.

Unfortunately, we didn't get ballots this time. We were waiting to vote Yes. We still pay taxes on our home and lake property. We did the math and were ready to pay the increase because we believe in the district and know that it was a necessary thing. I even called the school on the day of election to see if an email vote would have been allowed. Alas, it was not.

It's your right as an American to express your opinion by votes. At least you live in a country where you CAN do that. Through my experiences here, I've learned to be SO THANKFUL for the rights and freedoms that North Americans have.

As my momma taught me not to say anything bad about people, I will not say any more "bad" things about those who voted no. However, I will say what my mother said to me when I did something bad and irresponsible:

"Shame on you"

Nadine and David Brown
Tax Payers in the Pelican Rapids School District
who will be figuring out what we could have paid in taxes and donating to the school

Tough Job...but I love it!

Pictures taken from the Marriott Dead Sea Jordan Website. Here's hoping that it looks as good in real life as it does on the web!

My first year of Activities Director at AIS is winding down. Tomorrow, I'm off to the Dead Sea Marriott in Jordan (I know, I have to go back again!) with our Principal and Athletic Director. Having those two people as my support system has made this year go quite well. I have enjoyed the challenges of trying to figure out how to get people into this country, of finding homes for up to 80 kids, of making sense of rules in a country that often change, of trying to plan activities for teenages from 10 different countries. It's probably the best mix of my professional talents and personal interests that I've ever had in a job.

We have a "club" here at school informally called the "Next Year I am Going to be So Much Smarter" group. There are a group of us who are in our first year of Leadership Positions. We've all survived quite nicely and we're ever so much smarter now.

The good news is that we have final meetings at VERY nice places. In the fall, I got to go to Abu Dhabi and now I'm off to Jordan. See the enclosed pictures and then listen when I tell you how "hard I work" (well I do work's just nice to have these occassional perks at the End of the Tunnel!)

I'm write more after my Dead Sea Spa event this weekend.