Monthly Archives: February 2012

February In Kuwait: Field Trips, Puppies, and Birthdays

In the window between winter break and spring break, the “slums” of the winter months is pretty much universal. (In the northern hemisphere at least!) Everyone in Kuwait described February as being the most difficult month to make it through; tests, reporting periods, no traveling, and rainy days are no fun in any country. However, I hope I don’t stand alone when I say that February was an *amazing* month! I thoroughly enjoyed this past month even if we didn’t travel anywhere outside of the country. I had the opportunity of accompanying my sixth-graders on a field trip, celebrating a friend’s birthday, and sharing the joy of a new addition of our friends Megan and Andrew, who recently adopted (they claim they are only ‘fostering’) a new puppy! (Puppy is not quite accurate; as you will see it is a one-year old German Shepard, but it’s demeanor and appearance still feel very ‘puppy-like’ to me.)

I also began attending Zumba classes, offered by a friend of mine, Sharon. What is Zumba? It’s a high-intensity workout to contemporary Latin and hip hop music. If I can’t dance in public in Kuwait, then I will join a dance class! I have been loving Zumba—it’s everything I want in a workout and is really motivating. I forgot how much I truly do love to dance 🙂 If you are unfamiliar with Zumba, look it up on Google. I think you will be fairly surprised!

Sean and I have also been attending game nights frequently with a few of our friends. We have found other cribbage aficionados here in Kuwait! I had quite the victory yesterday in a four-player game with friends; it helped make Kuwait feel even more like home.

My sixth graders went on a field trip in the beginning of the month to the National Museum, the planetarium, and the Sadu house. The Sadu house is a unique cultural display of the weaving of the Bedouin people. Sean and I were so focused on snapping cute pictures of our students that we didn’t make time to photograph any of the weaving! I’d like to show you a few pictures from the field trip, so you can get an idea of what our students are like, where we took our field trip, and what a day in the life of Mr. Miller and Mrs. Kriege is like! In the below photos I have specifically not shown any students’ faces for privacy reasons, but I hope you can still get the feel for how lucky Sean and I are!

Here I am, on the left, with my students as they are about to watch a video on weaving at the Sadu house. We have uniforms at our school, as you can see. Also, notice how WELL BEHAVED our students are! By the end of the field trip I might have said something different, but all things considered they are wonderful students and very well mannered. The Sadu house is free and open to the public. If you are interested in weaving and textiles, it is a wonderful place to visit. I think the main thing my students got out of it is that there was a cool video of camels, and a Diwaniya they could sit in. (A socializing room predominantly used by men in traditional culture, but open to everyone in the museum.) It was very educational nonetheless.

While we were waiting for the planetarium, we took a little bit of time exploring one of the dhows. If you have read my earlier posts then you will be familiar with the dhow, but to those of you who are new to Aloha Kuwait, a dhow is a traditional Arab sailing ship. They were used for many things from pearling, fishing, transporting fresh water, and transportation. You do still see dhows in the harbor along the gulf, which I find absolutely fascinating!

Here we are approaching the planetarium. It was a cute half-hour presentation on the solar system. The students really enjoyed it! The planetarium is also open to the public, but is not very well advertised. I wish more people knew about such resources in Kuwait!

After we toured the museum and planetarium, it was lunch time. We took the buses to a nearby park where the students relaxed for half an hour. I could have stayed there all day!

Yes, there is Valentine’s Day even in Kuwait! Although our Student Leadership Council (SLC) calls this project “Friendship Flowers”, which you can buy for 1 KD on Valentine’s Day to give to someone. This is Sean’s classroom where he placed the flowers on his eighth grade students’ desks before they came in. Notice how the desk in the foreground has FIVE flowers on it! Someone clearly has quite a fan base!

This is THE highlight of my month—Megan and Andrew’s new member of the family, ‘Bella’. They are fostering Bella until she finds a forever home, but they fear she will become too dear to give up. She was found on the streets of Kuwait, but has all of her shots. She is microchipped, but without an owner’s name on the microchip, which I don’t understand at all. She also is very clean and fit; no fleas. She is underfed, but is amazingly well behaved. She doesn’t jump up on people, doesn’t bark, doesn’t beg at the dinner table. She sleeps on the doggie bed, too. I have deduced that at one point she had pretty caring, disciplined owners, but no one will ever know. If only dogs could talk…

She is so precious! It makes me want a dog… but it is quite the commitment when you’re living internationally…

Lastly, we went to a birthday party this last weekend for our friend, France. She is French-Canadian and turned 25. I jumped at the opportunity to bake her a birthday cake, which turned out surprisingly well. Everyone loves cake on their birthday 🙂 A good time was had by all.

At this point I must bid you, dear reader, farewell until my next post. I hope you enjoyed learning about the not-so-frumpy-February 🙂 We are off to Sri Lanka in March, but who knows what adventures we may have before then! Stay tuned!

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Categories: Kuwait | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Oooh, Oman…

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make an announcement.

I have found my Middle East version of paradise, and it is Oman.

Oman is the most beautiful country I have seen yet in the Middle East. It has rough mountains, a pristine, clean and blue ocean, beautiful infrastructure, and a modest but open-minded culture. I almost felt like I was in a tropical paradise in comparison to Kuwait! How did we find ourselves in Oman, may you ask, so shortly after winter break in Jordan? Sean and I attended the 2012 NESA (Near East South Asia) Educator’s Conference. It was the last weekend in January and took place in Oman. We thought a midwinter pick-me-up was in order, especially after the deep emotional crash that I had shortly after my family left me. Oh the ups and downs of international life! (Or is this just adult life?)

Let’s get started with the photographs, shall we? I’ve got quite a stock in store for you—I thought I’d just combine all the photos in one blog. It was quite a busy weekend!

We arrived in Oman at around 1 in the morning because our plane left Kuwait at about 10pm. We then arrived at our hotel at 2am, passed out, woke up at 6:30am, and attend the first full day of the conference. Upon returning to our hotel, we were met with a beautiful sunset that we had to get outside to embrace and explore. We picked a perfect hotel, the “Naseem Hotel” on the corniche in Mutrah. Oman’s capital, Muscat, is not one big town, it’s actually made up of four or five smaller areas separated by hills and mountains. Mutrah is the “old souq” area that is nestled between cliffs in it’s own little bay. It was the perfect location for our type of vacationing; we don’t like seven-star retreats with Starbucks on every corner. We loved being in the thick of the Omani culture and close to the landscape, squished between the mountains, crumbling fortresses, and Indian Ocean!

A minaret in Mutrah around sunset.

We had heard lots of good things about the Mutrah souq, and we weren’t dissappointed. For those of you who do not know, a “souq” is similar to a “bazaar”, in the grand scheme of things. It’s a series of shops that sell everything you can possibly imagine. A souq is comprised of aisles and aisles of winding walkways. You may find one aisle selling only spices, another aisle selling gold jewelery, and another aisle selling knock off soccer jerseys. We normally head to the souq whenever we get hungry—it is a sure bet for delicious, cheap, authentic food, in whatever country you’re visiting!

The view of Mutrah from opposite the bay. We took a little stroll as the sun was setting after our marathon first day in Oman. Don’t you love the mountains in the background?!

After a bit of exploring (and Sean still in his collared shirt—can you imagine how we stood out!?) we decided on a definitely unique restaurant for dinner. The only thing I am starting to get tired of on our vacation to other Middle Eastern countries are the staples that we eat every day in Kuwait. Hummus, flat bread, kebabs, fattoush, and chai make up 1 out of my 7 weekly meals. This restaurant was no different, except for the fact that I felt like I was in a bad Disney film from the 70’s. Christmas lights were strung up everywhere, it was all open air, there were trees growing between the tables with bird houses in them, our table was a giant tree stump, there was a small dried up fountain in the center of the restaurant, and a cat kept sitting under my chair hoping for a handout. Regardless, our bill came to something like the equivalent of $4.00 …and yes, it was delicious!

In the souq, I got sucked in to yet another beautiful store of tapestries, rugs, scarves, and colorful odds and ends. I am so in love with the Arabesque style of carpets and fabrics, I could spend hundreds…

After the souq, we retired for the night. The next day we went to the conference which ran from 9-3. In terms of the conference, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Sean went to a conference on using methods of inquiry in the social studies classroom, and I went to a seminar on strategies for English Language Learners. It was at The American International School of Muscat (TAISM), and I fell completely in love. It was a beautiful campus, the people who worked there were amazing, and there was such positive feelings in the entire school.

After the second day we spent some time with a couple who worked at TAISM. We saw their apartments, played some bean bag toss, and enjoyed a few tasty beverages that are much more acceptable in Oman than Kuwait : ) Afterwards, we went to the “Muscat Festival”, which is a cultural event that happens once a year in Oman. I found out about it online, and thought it’d be worth visiting—what a surprise it was!

To begin, it took place in a rose garden with a large pond in the center, which had hourly fountain displays. This fountain display *almost* rivaled the one in Dubai—it was synchronized to music, had a light display, and was overall very, very awesome.

The cultural aspects of the festival, however, was much more interesting than the fountains. It was a living village! There was a huge traditional village (Think Old World Wisconsin) where real people reenacted aspects of traditional Omani culture. In the above picture you see a healing ceremony where a song was sung/chanted for the sick person (being supported in the center of the photo).

This was a traditional birthday party. I forget what age they do this for, but this event is done only once in a child’s life.

Again, the traditional birthday party. What an interesting experience…

This woman was spinning textiles like purses and other decorative items. What she wears on her face is called a “niqab” (at least in Kuwait that is what it is called), and this is one of the more traditional, old-fashioned styles that some women still wear to this day.

This was particularly interesting; this man was weaving rope! Talk about a laborious process!

These women were all selling assortments of things from homemade yogurt, to tassles, to lotions and blankets. I loved the color that was present in every aspect of their being, something that is VERY absent in Kuwait culture.

This was my favorite part of the cultural village. You could purchase (for pennies) authentic traditional Omani food!

I bought a fried donut-type thing, but they were making everything from sandwiches to desserts, all while sitting in the same place! It was quite amazing to me.

This man was building BY HAND, WITHOUT ANY POWER TOOLS WHATSOEVER, a model boat. It was amazing—he wasn’t even using nails! He was fitting everything together by the wood alone!

I was in complete awe at this point.

This was, well, something that I would prefer not to taste again. It is an Omani dessert called “halawi”, which means “sweet” in Arabic. It was a gooey, syrupy, pudding-like substance that tasted like a combination between maple syrup, marshmallows, and salt. No thank you!

On the other hand, the cotton candy we Americans guzzle down looks just as unsettling and unhealthy as the halawi… We loved this picture because of all the COLOR there is in Oman! Look at all the flowers! Also note how many men were in traditional dress; I think this is because it was the “cultural festival”, so it is only natural to wear the clothes of your heritage.

The next morning, we had the entire day to explore around Mutrah. Our plane left at 7pm, so we were itching to play in the sun! We saw this gorgeous door on an old building in need of renovation.

Breakfast in Oman…

A Middle Eastern breakfast burrito! Pita bread, egg, tomato, lettuce, and spicy mayo. For something like 45 cents… YUM!

A picture is worth a thousand words…

My ‘other’ favorite part about Oman—THE HIKING! This country has some of the best hiking, camping, snorkeling, and ocean kayaking in the Middle East. We took on a short hike that we heard had beautiful views overlooking the Mutrah coast and the mountain range of Muscat, and we weren’t disappointed!  I was in complete heaven, getting to scramble over rocks and clamber up for better views!

Here we are, a quarter of the way up. Can you see the “incense burner” in the background? This was quite the strange statue in Oman, but it’s apparently the signature image many people think of when they imagine Muscat… below us is a recreational park, Riyam Park, which is where the trail head began. Oh yeah, did I mention that Sean dislocated his knee two weeks prior to our trip? He was playing basketball and dislocated it pretty badly—we had quite the adventure figuring out which hospital to go to in Kuwait! (Note to self: The Royal Hayat Hospital is a maternity hospital… they WILL laugh at you if wheel a man in with a bum knee…)

The bay you see behind me is Mutrah, where our hotel was, and where our hike took us back to. If you are ever in Oman, google “Mutrah Hike”, and this is it!

I. Am. So. Not. Kidding. Oman. Is. My. Paradise.

Can you see me? Left of the incense burner? This was the highest point at our hike, the summit!

My husband is such a trooper! You can see the Mutrah bay allllllllll the way down below us.

As we descended, we found ourselves in a wadi (a dry riverbed) that ended up having beautifully green valley walls. What paradise!

Oh, and water! Green, murky water! It was an oasis compared to Kuwait ; )

It was a very cool experience to hike out through the wadi. Because their rainy season was ending there was lots of colorful pools to skip and hop around.

This was Sean’s favorite part of the hike—this lizard shot. Again, what beautiful color there is in Oman.

Can you spy the fort in the background? It was built by the Portuguese in the 1400’s during their occupation of Oman.

No matter where you are in the Middle East, your feline friends will follow. Which reminds me of a Robert Frost parody Sean and I invented in Oman…

Two paths diverged in a souq
I took the one with less cats
And that has made all the difference.


After our hike, we rested our tired bones, sore knees, and sunburnt skin with a meal of smoothies, french fries, and cribbage. Not to mention a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL view. Shortly after this we hopped in a taxi for the airport, to return to Kuwait refreshed, relaxed, and with a new love affair with Oman.

 

What’s next on the AlohaKuwait? We travel to Sri Lanka in March! Until then, who knows what adventures are around the corner in this rippling sand dune we call life…  Best wishes and love to you all!

Categories: Oman | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Petra, Kerak, Jerash,and Amman: Jordan, The Final Round.

I’d like to start today’s blog with good news! Last night Sean and I were over at a potluck dinner, and one of our friends said to me, “Hey, Kim, last night I Googled ‘Muttla Ridge’ and your blog was the first hit.” He said my post on Muttla Ridge was the first thing to show up. I was so excited to hear him say that; it’s really rewarding to know that my blog is read, and that hopefully, HOPEFULLY, people with questions about life in Kuwait find some sort of an answer here on my blog. I love blogging, but sometimes feel defeated with how arduous it can become. Did you know it takes approximately two and a half hours per post? (45 minutes to select the photos from my iPhoto album, 45 minutes to upload to the blog, and 45 minutes to caption and write.) It would be faster if we had better internet, but I don’t mind relaxing and taking the time to do it. It’s a very rewarding experience, and allows for me to reflect on our journeys as well. What is even MORE rewarding, however, is when our friend told me that my blog showed up as the first hit on Google! Cheers to that!

Moving on, this is the final post on Jordan, in which we finish up our trip to Petra, spend a day in a castle in Kerak, wander the Roman ruins of Jerash, and taste delicious food in Amman. Let’s get started, shall we?

(Additionally, this post will have interjections and additions by Sean. Kim is off to Zumba and I thought I’d edit some things. You will know me by the *)

Here I am with my mom and sister waking past a Bedouin trinket shop, ready to ascend the steps to the tomb above us. This was our third day in Petra, and once again we never saw the same thing twice! If you look at the steps above us, hopefully you can imagine how nerve-wracking it was to clamber around these ruins. There was absolutely nothing stopping the rocks from crumbling away and send you toppling over the edge. Regardless, the views and the adventure was too tempting to think twice, so clamber we did.

(*This is the start of what are called the “Royal Tombs”. The largest one you see at the top with the massive columns is called “urn tomb”. Archeologists think it was a Nabataean King in about AD 70. To put that into perspective, that is 9 years before Mt. Vesuvious erupts onto Pompeii.)

Dad and I at the tomb in the above picture. From this vantage point you can see many, many ruins in the far background, as well as little speckles of people just below us. My calves were aching by the end of the trip! Note how warm it was in comparison to the photos from Dana nature reserve; Petra, when the sun was out, reached a warm seventy degrees in the afternoon!

(*The white square tent in the bottom middle was the ruins of a Byzantine Church floor. The mosaics of the floor were still there with beautiful color depicting animals, important foods, and trades at the time).

They had a guard stationed at the tomb in traditional dress. I don’t know if this was more for affect or for legalities. Either way, I loved it. I think he spent more time texting on his cell phone than he did watching the tomb, though.

(*Most of the secrutiy is faux security. With the exception of the security at the Siq. Kim and I tried to go around them into a hike through the water drainage system and they were not having it. The standoff ended with them bringing us into their police hut and asking “Do we have a problem?” Really, there was no reason we couldn’t go on that hike, they just wanted us to pay for a guide that we probably did not need. Oh well 🙂

I loved the Bedouin children; they were so eager to interact with the tourists. They would approach you and ask things like, “Hello, what’s your name?” Or, “Where are you from?” The biggest conversational point was always, “Buy some postcards, one Dinar.” While I wasn’t buying any postcards in this picture, I WAS being enlightened by their explanation of the sign.

(*The local Bedul spoke English very well, as well as Italian, French, and German! These kids, in their broken English, are explaining to Kim what the sign says – despite their probable illiteracy. They were adorable.)

Ahhh, the hike has begun! On our third and final day, after we explored the tomb in the above photos, I convinced my family to get a “secret look” at the Treasury. There was a rumored hike that wound you up through the mountains to a viewpoint that overlooks the treasury from above. After climbing about a thousand steps, we took a break for lunch overlooking central Petra. You can see ruins far below us. I was so proud of my mom for completing this hike—it was a killer!

At the top of one of the peaks we climbed during this hike we found a Bedouin home. Close by was his donkey, where Sean was eager for his “Zorro shot”. The cool thing about Petra are the random donkeys you find stationed all over the hills, munching on dried grass and soaking up the sun. I think Emily wanted to take them all home with her : )

(*…almost did it)

Here we are. The secret view above the Treasury….

While the lighting wasn’t ideal, it was a beautiful experience. We had the lookout all to ourselves!

(*The reason this is called “The Treasury” is because of the large urn on the top of the tomb. You can see it on the very top of the tomb above the circular roof. The locals believed a legend that the urn contained the gold of an Egyptian Pharaoh. By the bullet holes in the urn you can tell that some of the Bedouin believed the legend…)

We loved this hike; it was a view that few people would ever experience on their trip to Petra. It was a difficult hike, and not without risk—it would be only too easy for one of us to tip off the edge of this cliff and make good use of the tomb below us! ; )

(*All of the buildings you see carved into the walls are tombs for the dead. They would cut a hole on the inside of the rock in the tomb and lay the body into it. They would often come back and exhume the body to have a ceremonial fest with it, like a party. This is very common in many cultures around the world. The Incans would be dragging their dead kings around in litters for centuries.)

After our hike, the sun was low in the sky and it was time for rest. Seeing as it was new year’s eve and our last day in Petra, my dad was in the mood for celebration. He asked me to haggle with the camel-man, and I obliged. Shortly thereafter, us three ladies took a bumpy ride on a camel all the way back to the edge of Petra! I love the above picture; the lighting is perfect, the camels (and their riders) look great, and you have a perfect view of the ruins behind us. *Sigh*.

I had never ridden a camel before—those things are REALLY high up! If you fell off, you’d have a long way to fall! The ride wasn’t uncomfortable, it was like riding a horse, kind of. The gait of the camel made the experience. It wasn’t a trot or walk or a horse, it was a longer, flowing gait. I loved it!

I think my mom could have ridden that camel around Jordan for the rest of the trip!

After we left Petra we made our way north, back to the town of Kerak. I love this picture because you can see how, in the hill country of Jordan, people have constructed their towns within the rolls and crevices of the hills. This picture was taken from the castle itself, and I just imagined what the guard of the castle saw looking over this land hundreds of years ago…

(*…He would have seen Saladin launching projectiles from his trebuchet at Kerak Castle! That little hill you see before you was one of the weaknesses in defending Kerak. A weakness that Saladin exploited in his conquering of the castle in 1189. At the time, the Castle leader was Raynald de Chatillon, a Frenchman known for his ruthlessness. Raynald was known for keeping control of his area through barbarous manners. From the picture above we are standing on the edge of the castle. That is the same edge that Raynald would hurl victims to their death, but not before encasing their head in a wooden box so they would maintain consciousness as they hit the bottom. More painful that way…   When Saladin finally did conquer the castle, he personally beheaded Raynald! Oh I love history…

Lastly, if you have ever seen the move “Kingdom of Heaven” with Orlando Bloom, that film depicts the exact events I described above and has a significant scene in Kerak Castle.)

The castle at Kerak. Note the figure standing on top of the ruins—of course, it is Sean!

After Kerak we drove my mother to the airport the next morning for our goodbyes. As a school teacher, she had to return a week earlier than my dad and sister. We left with heavy hearts, but happy souls for the time we spent together was precious, priceless, and unforgettable! Once we left the airport we headed north two hours to the ancient town of Jerash, home to the largest site of Roman ruins in the Middle East. Sean was chomping at the bit to arrive—he couldn’t wait! (Side fact: On the way to Jerash we passed the FIRST McDonald’s we’d seen in Jordan. After Jerash, we drove forty-five minutes out of our way to return for a McFlurry and fries…)

Here, Sean is posing on the stables of the hippodrome in Jerash. You can see Hadrian’s arch in the background.

(*This place was so cool! Roman Ruins! All my life I’d read about them, heard professors talk about them, seen pictures of them in books, watched countless videos depicting Rome…but now, I was finally seeing them for the first time with my own eyes. And not only seeing them, but climbing all over them!

I’m proud of my wife for getting all of the info above correct :).  The hippodrome in the right of the picture is one of the best preserved hippodromes in the world. It is also, if I remember correctly, the smallest remaining hippodrome in the world. The very unique thing about this hippodrome is that they still have chariot races in it! Unfortunately, because of the poor weather the day we were in Jerash, they were not performing. I’m standing between stables near an entryway to the hippodrome.)

This is my favorite view in all of Jerash. The weather was poor, but we had ample time to explore the ruins. Before we arrived, I had no idea that Jerash was an entire Roman CITY that had been unearthed!

(*Standing atop the Temple of Zeus).

The Roman theater in Jerash. Popular with the tour groups, you could stand in a special spot in the center of the theater, and the Romans had engineered such flawless acoustics, that the ENTIRE theater could hear you utter a single whispered word!

(*It was quite fantastic. While we were there a tour group from Spain arrived and a woman stood in the special spot and sang “Silent Night” in Spanish, which I imagined to be Latin as my eyes drifted around imagining a crowd of raucous Romans hundreds of years ago brought to a standstill by the amazing voice and amazing acoustics of the woman singing.)

Here we are walking on the original road in the old Roman town. This road was where they held the markets; you can just imagine chickens walked around, donkey’s braying, and vegetables being sold.

(*The blocks on the road are angled that way so that they would not develop groves from the carts that were constantly going through.)

This is the temple of Artemis. It was amazing to see temples for the Roman gods! As the patron god of the city, this was the highest point in Jerash.

At this point, the cloudy skies turned into a rough downpour, and as beautiful as the ancient city was to explore, they didn’t preserve many roofs to hide under! We headed back to Amman for our final days in Jordan.

Our final two days in Jordan consisted of eating delicious food, exploring the souqs, and enjoying a Turkish bath! I had my fill of olives in the above picture; he even let me take a bag of them away for free!

At last, we all hopped on a plane and returned to Kuwait. My dad and sister called our apartment “Sean & Kim’s Resort”. It was a big change from the cold, wet hostels of Jordan! We all had a hot shower (or three), washed all our clothes, and reclined on soft couches to the sound of Emily learning guitar with Sean.

I look forward to showing you pictures of their time in Kuwait with us, where they experienced the country with new eyes, just as Sean and I did only a few months ago. Afterward, anticipate a blog on the beautiful country of Oman, where Sean and I recently attend a conference.

I encountered a quote I’d like to close with. I wish you all the best and will write again soon.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. —Marcus Aurelius

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