Monthly Archives: December 2011

December In Kuwait & A Slice of Daily Life

Here I am, munching on an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, relaxing after a busy day in Kuwait.  The sound of Dr. Who (and the heinous cries of the Daleks) echoes in the background as Sean unwinds from the day. It is 7pm in Kuwait, and I’m ready for bed!

No, really, Christmas is only six days away, and I see my family in less than 5. To fill my idle, nervous, anxious time in limbo, I figured why not post a catch-up blog? The following pictures are from this past month in Kuwait. It’s quite a hodgepodge, and I hope you’ll enjoy.

Once a year our school holds a “Sports Day”. All classes are canceled, and friendly competitions take place in rented spaces throughout the city. The middle school went to the Salmiya Club Sports Complex, where all sorts of fun ensued. Each house (group of about 100 students) competed against each other in handball, soccer, penalty kicks, and volleyball. I got to be a lucky team leader and supervisor : ) It was a perfect day; the weather was a perfect sixty-five degrees and the sun was shining!

Sean and I at the end of Sports Day. I used to have a mean set of tiger whiskers painted on my cheeks, and maybe you can make out that Sean’s forehead says, “Leopards”. My house color was yellow, and his was blue. I actually got a sun burn from this day! In the middle of December!

That same weekend, I believe, we explored another city in Kuwait, called Fahaheel. A good twenty miles away from Kuwait City, I heard it had a beautiful coast line and interesting sights. We never thought we’d make it down there until I found out that the city BUS could take you there for 200 fills! (That’s the equivalent of 75 CENTS!) So, one Saturday morning, we hopped on the 102 bus, and started cruising down the coast.

The city buses, while unpredictable, are actually a good resource once you learn how to use them. The same cab ride would have cost around 10 KD, or the equivalent of $36. We try and take the bus to as many places as we can. It’s fairly clean, and while sometimes crowded, the men are ALWAYS hospitable and accommodating to the women. Unless it’s basically empty, the women sit in the front and the men sit in back. If a female boards the bus and there are no open seats, a man will stand up to give her his seat. There are special seats reserved for women. I don’t know, I just think it’s kind of cool. That’s probably because I am a woman.

Anyways, once we got to Fahaheel, we saw tons of traditional fishing ships! It’s a large marina city. We had fun exploring the coast line.

Here is the “Al Kout” mall in Fahaheel. I bet this is never what you picture when you think of Kuwait!

Another shot of the water fountains at Al Kout mall. It’s the perfect place to have a cup of coffee.

A “dhow” fishing ship. We actually saw men cleaning their days catch! The building on the left is the fish market, where they would sell the fish they caught that day. I always love to walk through the fish markets, but once I’m inside, I find myself scurrying through as fast as I can to get away from the smell!

We climbed a watch tower near the mall. Kuwait has the ninth highest GDP per capita in the world. Can you spy why? (Hint: The back left of the photo… black gold… Texas tea…)

Here we are on the watch tower, overlooking the Arabian Gulf.

We then decided to see, “Black Gold”, an amazing, amazing, AMAZING film that was filmed in Qatar (where we were in my last blog post!). Here is the summary from IMDB:

Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centers on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father and modern, liberal father-in-law.

It has Antonio Banderas, if you need any more convincing.

Sean liked this ship; he says it’s a naval ship of some sort. *Cue laughter at my ignorance.*

The next day, I was in the mood for brunch and shopping with two of my girlfriends, Rachel and Megan. We went to The Early Bird, which is the BEST brunch place I’ve found in Kuwait. They serve American-style breakfasts, complete with the best coffee and hashbrowns I’ve had here so far. The best part? They’re only a hole-in-the-wall place, just like back home in Madison. Not another mall chain. Not to mention that they had a poster on their wall stating, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” What audacity for Kuwait! I plan on going back in the near future. Above is their chalkboard with the weather (temperature is in celcius). 22 is approximately 70 degrees. Are you jealous yet?

This is a shout out to Amanda and Aiden, who sent us a LOVELY Christmas card! (We loved the pictures of Aiden in his Halloween costume, by the way!) However, note how hilarious the “customs screening” here is. We can’t tell if that was Aiden ripping at the envelope, or the people at the customs office here in Kuwait? It’s definitely been resealed twice.

Regardless, thank you for the WONDERFUL card! We have a lovely collection on display!

This past weekend was our school’s staff Christmas party. Here is Sean with our good friend, Andrew. Don’t you love the Christmas tree in the background?

Here we are, our first Christmas away from home. BUT, our first Christmas as a married couple!

Our good friends, Megan and Andrew. (From Newfoundland, remember?)

These are our friends Joe and Nicole. Joe was Santa for all the teacher’s kids, and it was the cutest thing ever! A good time was had by all. Again, I bet this isn’t what you pictured when you thought of  “Christmas in the Middle East”?

I’m glad I can continue surprising you!

Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone! This cues a break in blogging for me; the next time you’ll hear from me, it will be 2012! Look for photographs of the infamous Kriege family in the ruins of Petra! Stay tuned!

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Qatar: Part 3 & Anticipation!

Welcome back, and it’s less than a week away from Christmas here in Kuwait! I hope all of you are surrounded by holiday cheer, whether it comes in the form of snow-blanketed landscapes, the melody of familiar carols on the radio, or simply the glow in your heart that you will be reunited with loved ones soon enough. As I have titled this post, “Qatar: Part 3 & Anticipation”, one would be led to believe that I do have some anticipation in my Christmas-spirit; Sean and I are lucky to welcome my family (Dave, Betty, and Emily) to the middle east in a mere six days! I have been doing my research, packing my suitcase, and wrapping my presents for the reunion of the century.

When we took the position for Kuwait, we were sitting across from the high school principal over bacon and eggs in Iowa. From Saskatchewan, he spends his summers in Idaho and his winters, well, wherever the wind takes him. He has raised two children abroad, and his family now works in Indonesia. He told me, “It’s a tough pull between having roots and wings.”

Roots: My family. In Wisconsin. Our dogs. Fall leaves. Sledding. Hiking. Swimming. Eating. Lots of eating.

Wings: Kuwait. The World. Sean by my side and our eyes open wide. So much to see, to learn, to love. A rich life.

I will never choose between my roots and my wings, because without one or the other, I would either be buried in the dirt, or lost within the clouds.

Around Christmas time, there is something in the air, something that buries itself deep in the tissue of my heart. I am nervous, I am excited. My roots and my wings are joining one another. Few people can be so lucky. What a kaleidoscopic life we lead.

My above musings bring me to Sean’s favorite piece in the Qatar museum of Islamic art. It says, “Some among the sensitive and cultured people come to live where they find their heart’s desire. To some, strange places will become home, and sometimes some will stay home but find it strange.” Not difficult to understand why he loves it so much.

 

Another photo from the Qatar museum of Islamic art. What a beautiful facility. We spend upwards of four hours there.

Outside the museum, Sean and I found the perfect photograph. I love the skyscrapers in the background, the fountains in the foreground, and the surreal architecture.

Not to mention the strange weather that day; the overcast sky really provided for an interesting backdrop. It reminds me of a commercial for life insurance.

 

In front of the museum, there was a huge landscaped garden. The weather was terrible, so we didn’t stay outdoors for long.

 

 

The above two photos are outside the museum. (Recall that it was designed by I.M. Pei.) Certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when someone says, “Middle East”!

 

 

We walked along the corniche for a little bit, deciding what to do. We found this strange fountain of vessels. Qatar has a thing for making themselves look pretty in a very modest way : ) Kuwait could learn a thing or two from Qatar.

In case you were wondering what a Qatari police officer looked like, fret no longer. (Can you tell I wanted to keep walking?)

 

The Grand Mosque of Qatar. We ended up getting a private tour by a man who volunteered there; I picked his brain on all sorts of curiosities I had of the Muslim world! I learned so much, it was incredibly interesting. (Again, don’t you love Qatar’s architecture?!)

Again, another Qatar statue/fountain. Like Kuwait, Qatar is famous for their pearling history. They used to have pearl diving as a major revenue (before oil). Men would plug their nose, put leather caps on their fingers, slip into a protective knit sleeve, tie a weight around their ankle, and drop to the bottom of the ocean—holding their breath—and fill their bag up with oysters! Talk about a truly labor intensive luxury.

We decided it was time for coffee. This was at the old souq (again). We probably played a game or two of cribbage here… and I’m pretty sure I won…

Due to the poor weather, we decided to visit the mall, just to check it out. Like Dubai, there was an indoor ice skating rink in the middle of the mall! We walked around, had a cookie, and decided to move on. I’ve never been one for malls. Yes, the Middle East still has every brand name you have back home, it’s not that exciting. (Although it is convenient when I walk into Gap and know exactly which pair of jeans to buy!)

At the end of our trip, we had seen everything we wanted to see, ate all we could eat, and thought we were ready to write the next big travel guide to Qatar. Little did we know, there was this place called the “Qatar Cultural Village” (also known as “Katara”). We stumbled upon it when we asked a cab driver what his favorite place in Doha was. After debating whether or not it was worth the drive, we decided to spring for it, and spend the last two hours of our vacation seeing yet another new place.

In the photo above is the beach of the cultural village. Across the ocean is “The Pearl”, which is much like Dubai’s, “The Palm”. It’s a series of man-made islands. How many cranes can you count?!

A great statue at the cultural village. We swear this place is destined for great things. How can you not be with a statue like this? Perhaps I should clarify: The Qatar cultural village is partially a musical/performance venue, partially owned by private business, including a variety of restaurants, galleries, and one beaaaauuuutiful beach.

The view towards Doha. We enjoyed a cocktail at the hotel along the coast (during happy hour, of course. Otherwise it was waaaay out of our price range…) called the Intercontinental. I love the old fashioned boat in the foreground.

The ampitheater in the Cultural Village. (That’s me way down there!) I would LOVE to see a live show take place here! Apparently they have a philharmonic orchestra perform regularly, and there was an amazing light show over the last Eid.

As the sun went down, the colors got very vivid. This view is from the top of the amphitheater.  (It’s the biggest amphitheater in all of the Middle East!)

As we were on our way out of the Cultural Village, we kept encountering all sorts of surprises. What an epic door, huh? You would never see something like this back in Wisconsin. The place was eerily empty, it was perfect for wandering around and exploring.

 

There you have it. Shortly after we left the Cultural Village, we boarded the plane back to Kuwait. Our impromptu trip to Qatar was fun; it had laughter, excitement, surprises, and the relaxation of having NO itinerary for three days. Would I go back to Qatar? Perhaps. Would I like to work there? I think so. It was a beautiful snippet of yet another facet of the Middle East.

Next up, we fly to Jordan in SIX days! I can barely contain myself. The blogs will keep on rolling, and time will keep passing. I hope you are living and loving life. During this holiday season, I miss and love all of you. I wish you all the best.

Please post me your address if you want a postcard from lovely Kuwait!

Love,

Kim & Sean

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A Weekend In Qatar: Part 2

It seems like so long ago that we took a long weekend in Qatar, but the days slip away so quickly I embarassingly just haven’t posted on the blog enough. Let’s resume a brief overview of our lovely weekend:

A woman feeding pigeons outside the Old Souq. You can see a fully covered woman in the background as well.

The Islamic Museum of Art. One of the largest collections of Islamic art in the world. I love the juxtaposition; the old dhow fishing boats, the skyscrapers on the left, and the museum on the right.

A close up of the Islamic Museum of Art. We were working our way to the museum, as the weather grew more ominous… Upon arriving at the museum, we found out they didn’t open for another half an hour. No big deal, we thought, let’s just lay on the grass and play a game of cards or something. And then it started to rain. Not just a sprinkle, but a heavy rain that lasted for eight hours. In Qatar—an Arab Gulf country! I never would have imagined us to vacation in Qatar the ONE day of the year that it rained. (Which is also what everyone said…)

To kill time and stay out of the rain, we headed to a cafe. We loved their juice menu. Sean was very close to ordering the ‘Computer’ shake, until he found out that it was banana and grape. Bleh.

In a largely Muslim country where alcohol is widely looked down upon, there is quite the variety of drink choices instead of a boring pint of beer or glass of wine!

The cafeteria, which was attached to a gas station. It felt like a truck stop from back home. We played cards, had a snack, and felt like we were back in Wisconsin waiting for the rain to stop.

Look at all that rain!!! Note how green, clean, and manicured Doha is…

We finally made it inside the Museum of Islamic Art. It was beautiful! It was built out on the water, by I.M. Pei, a famous architect. The museum was funded by the sister of the Emir, who is apparently very interested in creating Doha into the capital of arts and education in the middle east.

The view looking up into the museum roof. Feels like an M.C. Esher painting…

Sean loved seeing all of the ancient version of the Koran, but I do have to admit we got tired of seeing over one hundred ancient bowls. There was just SO much art!

I am currently reading the book, Drinking Arak Off an Ayatollah’s Beard, which tells an amazing story of one man living in Iran and Afghanistan and comparing  current lifestyles and unrest to the 11th century epic, the “Shanahmeh“, by Ferdowsi. I saw actual pages from the Shanahmeh in the museum, which completely blew my mind.

We saw sooooo many astrolabes. I will never forget that the Arabs were revolutionary in their space exploration in ancient times.

For those of you who are familiar with Obsession Telescopes, you may be surprised to see such a focal aspect of my father’s telescopes—the arc—in the Islamic Museum of Art. When I saw this, I jokingly said to Sean, “I can’t wait to tell me Dad somebody beat him to the idea!” Dad, if you’re reading this, please explain to me the purpose of this invention! See the name plate in the photograph below:

So does this gadget deal with the equinox? I’m confused. And, Dad, did you know this existed?

All right, so I digress. I will leave you with one more photograph….

I still have a hard time fathoming that an actual human being wore this at one point in time. Let alone the horse wearing the armor! The museum was an amazing experience that I will never forget. But it is ten o’clock at night here, and I must put myself to bed. I look forward to finishing up my posts on Doha next time, and I even have some more lovely pictures and stories in queue!

Keep reading for concluding thoughts and pictures of Doha, as well as our trip to Fahaheel! (Don’t worry, it’s just a city in Kuwait. We have to wait two more weeks to go to Jordan before traveling anywhere else…)

 

 

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A Weekend in Qatar: Part One

After working long and hard at the first professional teaching job of our lives, we decided it was time for a vacation. Yes, we DID just get back from a long weekend in Dubai, and, yes, we like to consider our time in Kuwait a vacation in itself, but when the opportunity arises to see yet another corner of the world and gain yet another perspective on life, how can one refuse?

We booked last minute tickets to the country of Qatar, only an hour’s flight from Kuwait, when we found out that school on Sunday was cancelled due to the Islamic New Year. School was called off the Wednesday before, leaving us little time to purchase tickets, find a hotel, or plan anything that we could hastily craft into a three-day vacation. Regardless, my adventurous husband encouraged that we seize the day and head to Qatar.

In hindsight, I’m really glad we went. Qatar is essentially a cleaner, greener version of Kuwait, and so much more. We laughed, we cried, we walked fifteen miles in one day, and we ate too much food and had too much fun.

(To clarify: The crying occurred when we entered our hotel that we hastily booked online. I had a breakdown after finding a hole in the bathroom floor bubbling with sewage, a hole in the bedsheet,  dirty pillows, food encrusted onto the comforter [I’m not even kidding], a leaky refrigerator, a broken air conditioner, someone else’s flip flops in the bathroom, and a window that piped in air from the exhaust of the restaurant next door). I took no pictures of the place due to being in a state of shock the entire duration of our trip. We spent as LITTLE time as possible at the place… instead hiding out in the Phillipino restaurant/hotel next door watching the employees sing karaoke next to a christmas tree, tasting delicious stir fries and coffees. But I digress. The hotel truly was the low point of a very, very wonderful vacation. Onto the photographs!

The view of Kuwait from the flight out. I have often been told that this is some people’s favorite part of Kuwait: the view from the plane as you’re leaving it. I have to disagree; I really do enjoy living in Kuwait and Sean and I have made quite a lovely home for ourselves 🙂

The waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Upon arriving in Qatar, we went to the Old Souq for dinner and a look around. Whatever qualms I had about the hotel instantly vanished; we were greeted by a thirteen-piece authentic Arabic musical group! Each man had a different instrument, and they played the most beautiful and compelling melodies I have heard in a long time. We sat on the rooftop of a nearby restaurant for hours, just basking in the wonder of it all.

Here is the view again. Notice how they renovated the buildings to look like the old-style Arabic architecture. Qatar really has done a lot to market their culture and businesses to tourists as well as locals. Look at all of the men and families in the seats!

Another shot from the rooftop where we had dinner and listened to the music. The large, tan building in the background is the Grand Mosque of Qatar, which we also toured on the weekend.

The entryway to a Persian restaurant. It was incredibly expensive and we had already eaten, we just went to goggle the shiny walls, Persian murals, and live music.

The next day, after getting out of the hotel as quickly as possible, we stumbled upon a mosque that was still in the early stages of construction. I wonder if this door was created specifically for this mosque, or if it was transplanted from somewhere else? There is a mystical, olden quality to it that fascinated me.

The empty mosque. We had fun exploring the caverns and winding staircases!

We snuck up into the minaret for a view of the area. (Click on the word “minaret” for photographs and an explanation. The minaret is where the man performs the call to prayer for the city. Did you know that ANYWHERE you are in Kuwait, as it is with other Muslim countries, you can hear the call to prayer? I have to make sure all of our windows are closed when I go to bed, otherwise we wake up to the 4am call…)

More of the mosque. I just love how they build much of Qatar in the old-style of architecture.

The souq in the day time. There was a man giving donkey rides! I loved this souq because of all the outdoor dining opportunities. We had dinner here every night!

Breakfast and a game of cribbage. Paradise.

Even in Qatar, you cannot escape the feral cats.

The Grand Mosque is again in the background.

After leaving the souq, we stumbled across these camels in the middle of the city! I’m still note quite sure why they’re here, but they seemed quite content with themselves.

We then found a large horse stable! I spent a long time looking at all the pretty horses… I think it was partially owned by the Amir (president) or something, because he had a huge palace right next door.

I forgot to mention that we are in Doha, the capital of Qatar. This photo marks the beginning of what would become a 10 mile walk along the ocean front. Notice the buildings in the background, and the traditional dhows (ships) in the foreground.

Still don’t know why these were here, but they were pretty cool. Qatar is hosting the Arab Games in a couple weeks, which is like a regional Olympics, so perhaps they are an installation for the games.

The weather on this day was just idyllic. I actually got a little sunburn!

You NEVER see living creatures besides cats along the ocean in Kuwait. This little guy swam up to the shore before taking flight! It was so cute; the water quality in Doha seemed higher than in Kuwait.

At the end of the corniche (ocean walk) was a wonderful park. I had an avocado smoothie and we relaxed in the shade. Even though the Sheraton hotel in the background had a purportedly good happy hour, we weren’t tempted to imbibe in the least. The park was fantastic—I fell in love with Doha’s infrastructure. Did I mention many public parks in Doha have FREE WIRELESS INTERNET? I was sending pictures to my family at the same time I was taking them!

Some interesting architecture on our walk home.

We found this place, which was in the middle of a park. It was a series of shops along a water way. While many of the shops were closed, it was a neat experience and very picturesque.

The Amir’s palace on the left, and A HUGE OPEN GREEN FIELD ON THE RIGHT! We were amazed at the amount of open green space they had in Qatar. We definitely played around in the field for some time, while drivers looked at us funny.

Once we got back to the souq area, we found a falconry section of the souq. Falconry is a large tradition in the Arab world, which I unfortunately do not know enough about. Regardless, we have seen many cultural interpretive centers displaying Bedouin men holding falcons, and we even saw a man walking around the souq with a falcon while in Qatar.

The shop owner was incredibly nice and even let us hold one of his falcons! (Note the camel saddles behind Sean on the wall…)

Here I am, really nervous the bird was going to scratch me with it’s talons. He was very tame, though, and I had no reason to be concerned. What a neat experience!

We went to a five-star hotel for happy hour and a game of cards in the evening, which ended up being a nice experience. Sean is going to kill me for saying this, but I won all of the cribbage games on this vacation!

Did you know that Qatar is hosting the World Cup in 2022? They certainly have the infrastructure to do it, and I am looking forward to saying, “I was there!”

Sean sure was excited to hold a replica of the World Cup. They are gearing up on all their tourism souvenirs and soccer paraphernalia ALREADY.

These are Qatari knives. Did you know in Yemen many men still carry these knives around with them? The Yemeni knives are “L” shaped, while these Qatari knives are more “hook” shaped.

Sean loved this chain-mail replica. Can you imagine people riding horses around in the desert wearing this? I still have a hard time fathoming it.

This guy also sold swords, too.

To end our night, we relaxed and smoked a little shisha overlooking the bustling souq. What a lovely day!

 

Stay tuned for Qatar: Part Two coming soon!

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