Kuwait

Kuwait: Public Transportation, Graffiti, and Chinese Food

Happy October!The weather here in Kuwait is starting to cool down a bit, now only getting into the 90’s during the day, and not crossing the 100-degree threshold. Maybe I’ll put on a sweater 😉

Anyways, today’s blog post comes to you for three main reasons:

1. Sean’s cousin asked us to do a blog on transportation in Kuwait.

2. We found cool graffiti.

3. We went out for Chinese food.

Let’s begin…

Imagine it’s 6:30 in the morning, and you are on your daily walk to work. Now, you exit your beautiful apartment building, begin the four-minute walk to your classroom. You cross one street, a sandlot, a second street, and you’re there. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Every day becomes a philosophical conversation with death. We live directly across from the police station, and the sand lot we cross is where they store all of the totaled cars from collisions in the area. They generally accumulate cars for a month or so, then clear them out and start all over. Weaving your way in between the crushed BMWs and the crumpled Ferraris, I can’t help but realize how small my problems actually are in the grand scheme of life.

Here is a view of the sandlot walking from the other direction—leaving school heading back to our apartment. Strange, isn’t it? You can’t help but wonder how the passengers fared in the vehicles…

On a lighter note, Sean’s cousin Amanda asked us about the public transportation in Kuwait. Every weekend we generally end up taking the public bus for one reason or another, so I thought I’d document how the process works. To begin, you’ve got to find the bus stop. There are no signs, no “terminals”, no route maps. You normally look for a gathering of people on a busy road. This particular photo happens to be the bus stop under the overpass, , the bus we take into Kuwait City. We go into Kuwait City when we want to go to the Old Souq,walk around the busy streets looking for a hidden restaurant or cool shop, or visit one of the malls, ‘Souq Sharq’ which has a nice marina area and restaurant we like. The photo above is the entry from our neighborhood to the bus stop.

Every day in Kuwait is a new adventure. Apparently it wasn’t this buses’ day for the thrill ride. With no one inside, its flashers blinking, and the engine exposed, this bus sat abandoned on the side of one of the busiest highways in Kuwait.

Kyle, Abby, and Sean wait for the bus to come. As you can see, there is no place for the bus to “pull over”. The most they can do is slow down to a roll within the stream of traffic; it is your responsibility to grab the door, jump in, pay the man, and find your seat without the bus ever coming to a complete stop!

Our adventure last week took us to one of the most delicious falafel eateries I have found in Kuwait thus far. We ordered hummus, foul (pronounced “fool”, it’s the mashed brown beans in the left-hand corner), salad, roasted eggplant, shawarma, flatbread, and french fries—more than enough to feed four people! The bill? 3KD. That’s less than a dinar per person. One dinar is around $3.50. We stuffed our American faces for around three bucks a head. THAT’S fine dining!

While downtown Kuwait, I was handed this card by a shop owner. The only reason I post it on my blog is that it truly shows that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Looking for a new abaya? Give these guys a call! (Let’s hope you can find the shop… it’s apparently in the vegetable market?)

After our delicious meal of falafel, we went to the Old Souq for a look around. We found a fountain that was hopping with families. It makes Kuwait look so lush!

To board the bus back home, we have to walk to the McDonald’s. It’s the central hub for the buses in the Old Souq area. (Not to mention our guilty pleasure—getting a McFlurry before heading back to our apartment!)

Kyle and Abby in front of us on the bus. The only reason I post this picture is to show you how the seating works. All of those seats in the front of the bus are reserved for women. On a crowded bus, it is general consensus that the women sit in front and the men in back.

Another adventure we had which led us to delicious food was our trip to China Zone. This place is near our apartment in Medan Hawally. It’s only a few minute’s walk, but we’d never been here before. Our neighbors, David and Nadine, brought us for the first time. Could you guess they serve Chinese? …Did you notice Sean and the giant crustacean in the corner?

What a weird statue to have in front of a small Chinese place in the middle of a residential neighborhood… but it brought us in!

The inside was too cute! They really went all out with decorating.

We felt like such tourists, but who cares? The food was pretty good, too!

On our walk home from China Zone, we passed a small car dealership. Anyone interested in a Corvette? What about a Ferrari?

I can’t believe how rich this country is, and sometimes I tend to forget it. Here they have the most expensive cars just casually lined up on the side of the road. As if a passerby may all of a sudden think to themselves, “You know what? I DO feel like a new car today!”

Nadine showed us the best graffiti I’ve seen in Kuwait so far.

We couldn’t help but ham it up.

Thus concludes our easy weekend in Kuwait. We’ve been here a month and a half now, and we’re getting the travel itch again! We just booked tickets for a long weekend in Musandam—called the “fjords of Arabia”, we plan on camping, swimming, and climbing around the beautiful mountains! Stay tuned!

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Fast Food & Sand Lots

Welcome back! Happy fall to those of you living in a region with four seasons! I can only assume the color of the leaves, the crisp air, and the donning of sweaters must make you feel incredibly cozy. Here in Kuwait, it’s currently 91 degrees. Tomorrow it is supposed to reach 105. As you can imagine, this makes weekend walking excursions quite difficult. “Fall” here doesn’t begin until mid-October; the temperatures will drop to around 75 – 80, and as the months progress it will actually fall into the 50’s and 60’s! It is during that weather that I hope to get outside, snap more photos, and really show you all the ins and outs of Kuwait.

Regardless, we make due. We walk early in the mornings, and when we do go out during the day, we just walk a little bit slower. Sounds crazy, I know, but you begin to tolerate the heat. Tonight we are walking to a Chinese restaurant with our neighbors, which I hope to document for my blog. What awaits you today, though, are a series of pictures I took last weekend. As Sean and I ran errands, I looked at the little things, like the Western signs, the architecture of the buildings, and the places we visit on a daily basis. I hope you enjoy.

Our walk began with a trip past our school. We had to pick up the public bus on a street near the ocean, so we walked through our school’s parking lot. The picture above doesn’t do our school justice, but you can see how crazy the construction is here! Every time we arrive in school, someone is painting the walls, fixing the air-conditioning, or moving a pile of bricks. You can see construction debris on the right-hand side of the picture. That never leaves the front of the school.

This reminds me of an ideological shift that we’ve witnessed here in the Middle East. Sure, the outside of our school looks very bare, but the inside is absolutely beautiful. There are wall-sized murals, photographs of students, flags from every country, and an open courtyard. However, all of the buildings tend to be under-decorated on the outside. People don’t judge a building by the exterior. It is that way with EVERYTHING; malls, Kuwaiti homes, apartments, restaurants, you name it. Just look at all of my pictures on all my blogs  – have you EVER seen a series of opulent and showy buildings? But the interior is ALWAYS very well-done. You just can never see it from the outside. The connection I make – stay with me here – is to the Islam. People dress modestly, protecting their exterior from stranger’s views, and save the beauty for their family. I once spoke to a student about this, and she said, “I wear hijab because I am confident with who I am and what I look like. I am firm in my beliefs. People think I’m stuck up because I dress so modestly, but in reality, I don’t need to prove myself to anyone; I love how I look, and I control who gets to see that.” She was in eighth grade. I love her confidence. Interesting, huh?

Anyways, on our walk to the bus stop…

But you never expected to see a Taco Bell in Kuwait! It’s sadly the only good Mexican food I have found so far… there is no Mexican population here, believe it or not 😉

When my dad and sister were here, this place was their haven. Sean still tries to convince me to stop there whenever we pass by. It’s like a Krispie Kream, with all sorts of decorated delicacies. Kuwaitis love their donuts!

When we got off the bus stop, my first errand was to go to the store I buy my coffee from. I have blogged about this place before, King’s Coffee, and it is absolutely stellar. I snapped a picture of Sean in the parking lot because it is so crazy to see a city that has been built up so quickly. Did you notice the giant sand lot between the photographer and my subject? There are sand lots everywhere! It really reminds you we are living in the desert.

Okay, so this place has been here ever since we arrived in Kuwait. I always bike past it, and it is never open. I don’t know whether to be disappointed or thankful. I mean, what is an Italian Circus anyways? And why is it in Kuwait?!

The view of the Italian Circus from the other side of the parking lot/sand lot area. Remember what I said about the buildings? Also, the reason it is so deserted is because Sean and I were out on a Friday morning. Friday is the holy day in Islam, so it’s like our Sunday mornings; people sleep in, have brunch at home, and take a while to get out into the city. We love to go out on Friday mornings because it’s so quiet!

Ahhhh, the “bakala”. (Say it: buh-KAH-luh.”) This place is the Walgreen’s of the Middle East. I know it looks like Chuckie Cheese is having a garage sale, but really, this place has EVERYTHING. There is a bakala on every block, and sometimes there’s two or three. It’s where you go to buy you milk, eggs, paper, shampoo, canned vegetables, soda, lotion, rubber bands, and blow-up toys. I send Sean to the bakala for me when I’m cooking and I am missing a key ingredient like onions, tomatoes, or lettuce. Some bakalas are better than others, however. Some only carry packaged goods, and some, like my personal favorite, is like a mini-grocer. He’s got fresh cilantro, basil, and mint, he’s got arugula, lettuce, and chives, he’s got fresh olives and feta cheese. Sometimes I like just to stop in a balaka, stare at the walls stocked with goods, and see if there’s anything new I’ve never tried before.

 

This is one of my favorite things about the Middle East (as well as Sri Lanka, and I assume the rest of Asia). There are juice stands everywhere! In every country we’ve been to, you can walk anywhere and find a juice stand where they peel your avocados, mangos, melons, you name it, right in front of you, and pop it into a blender. It is one of my favorite snacks to get when I’m on the go. They make everything there completely from scratch! They also have soft-serve ice cream, and create the most amazing layered drinks of ice cream, fruit, smoothie, whipped cream, you name it.

As delicious as the smoothies and juices are, I have never understood the female names for them. In the mood for a “chocolama”? How about a “Britney”?

Sean standing next to the smoothie place, which is in Salmiya. We go to Salmiya frequently, which is only a 15-minute bus ride from our apartment in Maidan Hawally. This is the main street in Salmiya, and I love the trees that line the median. Marina Mall is in Salmiya, which has everything you could possibly imagine an American mall has.

While we were waiting for a friend of ours in the mall, Sean and I decided to split some ice cream. Pinkberry is the creme de la creme when it comes to sweets in Kuwait; it’s frozen yogurt with the most decadent flavors and toppings.

After Marina mall, and to conclude the day’s excursion, I swing by my friend’s apartment. On the way there, I found two scoundrels in the trash can. Like mother like daughter? Hehe!

Ahhhh, the Port Cafe. This place is our favorite outdoor restaurant in Souq Sharq. Souq Sharq is a mall in Kuwait City, right along the Gulf. You can go into the mall and shop, but there are also great port-side cafes like this one where you can smoke shisha, dine on hummus, or even get a burger and fries.

Exciting news! We have befriended a fabulous couple! This is Abby and Kyle, and they are new to Kuwait. They hail from Michigan, and are our age. This is their first year teaching. We absolutely love hanging out with them, and have so much fun. It’s also cool to show them Kuwait for the first time; it makes me realize I actually DO know some cool stuff about Kuwait!

This is our friend Eric, who was with us last year in Kuwait. We absolutely love spending time with him as well. He is from Chicago. (I know, our party consisted of Wisconsinites, Michiganites, and a Chicagoan. We need to diversify outside of the Midwest!) I love trying to capture pictures of Eric when he smokes shisha; we try to make them look as dragon-esque as possible 🙂

This is looking out over the marina at Souq Sharq. I love the old-fashioned boat in the foreground and the buildings in the back!

Similarly, looking inward from the marina onto Souq Sharq itself. We love to walk along the promenade of the marina. It’s one of the few places in Kuwait where cars aren’t allowed! We love the quiet, peaceful sound of the boats floating in the marina, and the absence of the smell of exhaust!

Kids love water. We have found fountains like this all over Kuwait. Kids just love to play with the jets of water, getting completely soaked. (We may have walked through ourselves, dodging the spray, just for fun!)

Well, this concludes today’s blog on a typical weekend in Kuwait. I wanted to add a picture of us, which we took for Back To School Night. We got all dressed up, and realized that we don’t have many nice portraits of ourselves. Therefore, we sat down, took a picture, and proudly display it for you to see. We’re the same-old Kim & Sean, even over here in the sandbox of Kuwait 🙂  Take care, see you next time!

(Sneak Peek: I got a request to do a blog on the transportation of Kuwait. I have been taking pictures of the good, the bad, and the ugly of Kuwait cars, streets, and everything in between. Stay tuned!)

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Kuwait: Round Two. Let The Feast Begin!

As a child, I have a vague memory of a scene from a movie where one of the main characters cries, “Let the feast, BEGIN!” This scene, recalled only in auditory recognition, somehow has always symbolized moments of pure, superfluous, excessive fun. Thus, when deciding what to title this blog, my first blog back in the desert, in the Middle East, in the land of hummus, Hummers, and humid clouds of dust, I thought to myself, “Well, I’m back in Kuwait. Let the feast, BEGIN!”
After toting my camera around for three weekends out and about in Kuwait, I finally felt ready to create a blog. It’s daunting, blogging. There’s a desire to produce work simply so that people can read it, but there must be a high caliber of quality within what I produce. I could just take pictures of everything I eat, or of every pair of shoes I wear. Of what other people wear as shoes. Or what other people eat. But I digress. My point is, that I try to capture a hodgepodge of what Sean and I really “do” over here in the Middle East. Sounds silly, I know, but if I were reading my blog, I would want to know where I go on the weekends, what I do for fun, and yes, occasionally what I eat and what other people wear as shoes.
Do you have a request for a blog topic? Post it below! Let me know what you want to read about! The possibilities are endless… kind of. There are pretty strict censorship laws here. All right. Onto the photographs and stories. Let the feast begin!

 

I snapped this picture the first weekend we were back in Kuwait. It was taken downtown in Kuwait City, on a particularly humid evening. Maybe you can see that in the amount of clouds in the sky. I loved the way the palm trees made everything look so lush! Not to mention the unique architecture that always seems to dot the Kuwait skyline…

 

The reason for this evening’s trip into Kuwait City was twofold. Since Kuwait City is about a fifteen minute drive from where we live, we normally either carpool there together, or take public transportation. This evening we went with our friends Dave, Lacie, and Eric. We made a pit stop at the fabric souk so that Lacie could get some clothing of her tailored. As you can see, ‘Silkland’ offers quite a variety for the savvy costumer…

 

As we waited outside the tailor’s shop in the fabric souk, I looked around in the shops. I was amazed to see the number of men working in a given fabric shop. They were all there, sewing, darning, repairing. All in a row. It made me feel a bit guilty for complaining about the length of time it takes the tailor to complete my requests… and not to mention the price I pay. (Obviously not enough!)

 

After completing our stop at the tailor’s, we exited the fabric souk. It was hopping on a Thursday night!

 

However, before we left, I caught a “wardrobe malfunction” on one of the mannequins. How scandalous!

 

As we drove from the fabric souk to the restaurant, I snapped a photo out of the car of the Liberation Tower. I loved how eerie it looked with the moon and clouds… This tower was constructed after Kuwait was liberated from the Iraq invasion in 1990. It is now open once a year for people to visit and remember.

 

The restaurant we ended up at was a place called “Slider Station,” and couldn’t have been more strangely American. After spending three months in the States, it was strange to encounter a gourmet burger place. Not to mention a non-politically correct burger place. Check out the “Obama Burger”…

 

Don’t worry, it wasn’t just ANY old burger place. Nothing in Kuwait is ever “any old” anything. Slider Station was fancy-pants, burgers on a conveyor belt, fancy. I snuck up onto the second floor, so you can see the conveyor belt that brings your burgers out for you. They were mini-burgers, so you would typically order between 3-5 burgers to make a meal. For the vegetarian, I had an “Italian Felafel” burger. I know, I know, I don’t get it either. Regardless, it was surprisingly delicious! The way the place looked, you’d expect everyone to be sipping cosmos and relaxing to lounge music. But don’t worry, those aren’t liquor bottles in the center of the belt. They’re bottles of hot sauce. Bottles of hot sauce on display that you could not use. I was a wee bit disappointed about the mystery of the “too chic to be eaten, only for display hot sauces”. Oh, Kuwait…

 

Here come the burgers! A magical, delicious, conga-line of consumerism…

 

Once again, I overestimated my blogging ability for tonight. I had originally uploaded 28 pictures, with the intent to make each and every pixel come alive with tales woven especially for you. Alas, all of those tales must be suspended for another night. What a thing to celebrate! There are hundreds of stories that await!

In our next episode, you will see what a “Britney” and a “Brook” shake is, our friend Eric will become a fire-breathing dragon, and the Italian Circus comes to Kuwait…

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Sean Does The Arab Taco

Well, here we are back in Kuwait, with nothing better to do than go out for dinner (and breakfast, and lunch), ride my bicycle, play cribbage, soak up the rays, and walk along the ocean contemplating our next chapter in life. (Don’t worry, what I mean by that is deciding our plans for summer vacation…)

We thought it was high time we shared with you the Arab taco.

ta·co/ˈtäkō/

Noun:
A Mexican dish consisting of a fried folded tortilla, filled with various mixtures, such as seasoned meat, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes.

 

The above definition asserts the notion that tacos are strictly Mexican in origin. To me, a taco is a bit like a vehicle. Everyone has their favorite mode of transportation, but how you choose to get there can make all the difference. Bicycles, SUVs,public transportation, rocket ship, mental journey, the possibilities are endless. To pull this nauseating metaphor to an end, I want to venture in saying that tacos do not have to fit into a specific genre. You can make a “taco” out of anything.

Intro the Arab taco.

Step 1: Go to your nearest souk. If you’re at all lost, look for alleyways filled with colorful fabric, skewered meat, and people calling you, “For you, special price!”. Sit down in an eating area—bonus points if you find a place with no menu.

Step 2: Order copious amounts of food on accident. (Try not to eat anything after 8am the morning of, if you can help it.) In your best “I know what I’m doing, I swear” accent, ask for the following:

– hummus (The soupy-looking dish on the left.)

– shish tawouk (The chicken in the center.)

– bread (Still haven’t figured out how to ask for this one. They bring it on the house anywhere you go.)

– salad (Again, on the house, the dish on the far right of the screen.)

– rumman khair o-salada (The pomegranate masterpiece to the right of the chicken.)

Step 3: The hummus. The Arabic version of guacamole. It’s everywhere. Made out of chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed oil), lemon juice, garlic, salt, and lots and LOTS of olive oil. I just may have more hummus coursing through my veins than I do blood cells. While you wait for the rest of your food to arrive, feel free to dip a few pieces of lettuce into your hummus. Or just eat it with your finger.

Step 4: The chicken. We always order only “one”, but end up with four skewers. Since I’m a vegetarian, the daunting task of demolishing all this chicken lies to my husband alone. He never fails to disappoint.

Step 5: My personal favorite. Pomegranate cucumber salad. Have you ever SEEN so much pomegranate? I am also fairly certain this dish costs around $2.00. There’s a reason why they stick spoons in it when they serve it to you…

Pomegranate is one of the most beautiful reasons to live in the Middle East. Did you know they symbolize fertility? They are in abundance everywhere you go. We are spoiled!

Step 6: Liberally slather your bread with hummus, and place some chicken in the center. Don’t worry about being cleanly about it—with bread this size, you just yank off a corner.

Step 7: Top the bread/chicken/hummus combo with the pomegranate salad and a bit of lettuce & lemon juice. Before you know it, you’re in heaven. Twenty minutes later, you’ve eaten your weight in bread, pomegranates, and hummus, and you’ve paid $12.00 for the two of you.

Now that’s a date night if I’ve ever seen one.



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March: In Which I repair my bicycle, see a saloon for children, and Andrew dons a tablecloth or three.

It is now the beginning of March, and I have become disappointed with my lack of touristy-Kuwait-photographs. It seems that I haven’t been taking pictures of things that amaze and amuse as I did when I first arrived in Kuwait. I have been storing my camera only for traveling outside of the country. Upon realizing this, I vowed to spend a week snapping photos of the strange, the silly, and the sunshine of Kuwait. After all, I still don’t think I have convinced *all* of you that you could live a pretty posh life here, too 😉

Below are yet another series of photos that portray my daily events in Kuwait. Keep your eyes peeled, there are a couple gems!

Last weekend my friend Sharon and I walked to a nearby Thai restaurant. On our way back, we stumbled upon the “Saloon Elite 4 Kids”. That’s right. Saloon. In Kuwait. For Kids. It’s actually not a typo—what we call a “salon” in English is written as “saloon” everywhere you go in arab-speaking countries. They know the place where you go to get your hair cut as a “saloon”. It makes it seem a little Wild West-esque… or a little predatory in the case of a “Saloon Elite 4 Kids”.

I don’t think I have explained what a “bakala” is to you yet. A balaka is where all good things can be found for cheap. It is like a 7/11 run by your favorite relative. They’re small shops on every street corner, selling everything from dish soap, salt and pepper, fresh fruits and vegetables, to hairspray and baby diapers. (Not to mention blow-up animals and soccer balls, as you can see in this picture.) Nothing has a price tag, it’s all determined by the old man sitting behind the counter watching television. They are all so friendly, and they even cater to you once they know your “usual” needs : )

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but when my dad and sister were visiting Kuwait, my bicycle broke when my dad took it for a test drive. (He swears it was already broken…) I finally took it to the repair shop this past weekend, where they fixed it right up for a mere 4 KD! That’s less than $15. It needed a new pedal and crank. I love the repair shop; again it’s run by an old man who just hangs out talking shop with his friends and rummaging through old parts. Imagine their amusement when a young white foreigner walks up with a broken bicycle! I never know who is more amused in Kuwait: me or the people I interact with. What a joy it is to be alive!

After getting my bicycle fixed I decided to head over to a place some teachers recommended I visit, “King’s Coffee”. They sell coffee by the kilo, and grind it fresh there for you. I bought a quarter kilo for 1.5 KD (around $5.50), and the man ground it there for me. I sipped a complimentary espresso while he prepared my beans. Upon getting home, I have to say that it is the best coffee I’ve bought in Kuwait! It is so much fresher than the Maxwell House I buy at the grocery store. You can really find anything in Kuwait, it just takes a bit of time to hunt for it. (That should really be the title of this post, “Kuwait – The Great Scavenger Hunt!”)

While riding my newly-repaired bicycle home from Salmiya, I found some interesting art outside of a floral shop. The sign in the background (the one in English) says “Kuwait Flowers”.

This is embarrassingly enough the view from our front window. The parking lot for our apartment has been plagued by this eyesore ever since we moved in. It was actually covered up completely last week, but then for SOME reason they dug it up again! Imagine not watching where you were going and stepping through the caution tape…

We went into the downtown area one night with our friends, Megan and Andrew. We went to the Old Souq. Sean liked this building, although I don’t know what the ’51’ symbolizes.

*Update: A friend of mine recently told me, “the “51” was for this being the 51st year of independence from G.B. I’ve seen lots of pictures from last year reading “20-50″ which was their big celebration year of 50 years as a sovereign nation as well as 20 years after kicking out the Iraqis.”

I post this picture purely for my sister and father. This is the place in the Old Souq where Emily kept finding bags with bird poop on them. The shopkeeper has hung up a curtain above his bags now so that the birds can’t poop on them! It was the most hilarious thing; Emily SWORE she needed a particular purse, which had bird poop on the side. I was determined to haggle the guy for 1 KD seeing as it was filthy. He would swear, “No! No! 3 KD only!” and throw the bag in the back of the shop, only to grab ANOTHER purse from the rack that ALSO had bird poop on it! We went through four or five purses and he would NOT lower his price. We were laughing so hard by this point that the purchase became irrelevant. Needless to say, he doesn’t have to worry about haggling over bird droppings any longer!

In the Old Souq. Look at the ceiling behind Sean… don’t you love their national pride?

Spices, spices, spices. I bought a half kilo of died sage for 500 fills!

We love this man, we call him the “Iranian Carpet Guy”, seeing as he is Iranian and he sells carpets. He sells the best tapestries, souvenirs, and gifts in all of the Old Souq.

Megan and Andrew were having quite the discussion as to which tablecloths to purchase. I think Andrew was trying to make the decision by osmosis…

And THEN we got a package in the mail from our lovely family in Washington state, Amanda and Aiden! (Sean is Aiden’s uncle, and Amanda is his cousin.)

My absolute favorite thing about this package is the custom’s form. How could you POSSIBLY deny a parcel that claims it contains a “paper heart” on the inside?

We love Aiden’s art – I have quite a collection proudly displayed over all of our apartment!

Which reminds me, I hope that Amanda and Aiden (and the rest of our family in Washington) received the card we sent you guys in the mail? Please let us know if you haven’t yet. We were impressed that this package from Amanda and Aiden only took about 5 weeks to get here! Kuwait has been impressing me with their postal service recently!

We love you and miss you all. I hope that the weather in North America begins to warm up and the sun starts to shine. Here it is a lovely seventy degrees and sunny during the day time. The only thing negative about March in Kuwait is that Sean can’t watch March Madness… but that’s a blog for another day.

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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!

Categories: Kuwait | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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!

Categories: Kuwait | 2 Comments

Desert Camping In Kuwait

When most people imagine Kuwait, they picture blowing sands, scorching sun, and camels. Well my friends, never will I fulfill this stereotype as well as I am about to in describing “desert camping”. I had the opportunity during Eid (remember, the festival of sacrifice) to go on a desert camping trip with around 30 other people from school. I jumped at the opportunity—when else in my life am I going to have such a rare experience?

However, those of you who envision camping as relaxing in a grove of trees on the side of a mountain and watching the sun rise of an alpine lake (*sigh*), this is a whole different ballgame.

To begin, we began driving South out of Kuwait City. Now, I don’t mean fifteen minutes South, we drove as far South as the Saudi Arabia border. I couldn’t believe we had driven so far out into the land of the Bedouin. For miles and miles there was nothing but sand, power lines, and hundreds of Bedouin camps. (The Bedouin people have lived in Kuwait as long as the “Kuwaitis” have, but they aren’t given the same citizenship rights. They live in the desert, in tents with generators, and drive pick up trucks around herding camels. It strangely reminded me of an Indian reservation back home…)

My friend Rachel and I at the Saudi Arabia border. It strangely resembled the Iraq border… and I just can’t figure out why…

Once we got to our desert camp, we found that it was literally a bunch of tents in the desert. Our sleeping quarters were surprisingly comfortable; I slept like a rock all night, lulled to sleep by the icy night air of the desert and the blowing winds…

Above is a very Arabic-style socializing area. This tent was for relaxing and hanging out. In Kuwait, these are called the “Diwaniya”. In the rest of the Gulf world, they are called the “Majlis”. It means the welcoming area to socialize. (When attached to a Kuwaiti home, it is traditionally male-dominated, but certainly not when a bunch of white people rent some tents out in the desert!)

I had to post this picture to give an element of scale to the experience, even though I think it paints the picture a tad on the depressing side… but you know, it’s not about seeking new experiences, but having new eyes.

Even in the desert, I find ways to have fun : )

Our ‘diwaniya’ around dinner time. Thank goodness people brought grills, otherwise I would have eaten soggy garlic bread and raw vegetables!

We passed our evening the way you pass any evening at camp; surrounded by friends, good food and drink, cards, and conversation  : )

And in the morning, AN AMERICAN REVIVAL! …just kidding. It’s actually incredibly popular to rent ATV’s out in the desert; all of my Kuwaiti students tell me how they fly around on these things all by themselves every weekend. (They’re 11, which makes me a little nervous for their safety.) The Arab hosts of the camp actually had an American flag for us to raise, even though half of us were Canadian, and one was Eastern European. I just love how this picture—complete with a shooting practice deer at the foot of the flag—screams America.

We could also rent horses, but Rachel and I preferred to just talk to them rather than ride them.

And then, we found camels! Free range camels in the desert! It’s a dream come true. This really made the whole trip worth it for me. They were just grazing on the horizon when we walked up to them. They were branded so I knew they belonged to someone. They were incredibly calm, and let me get really close to them!

A farmer-friend of ours on the trip said they were eating sheep poop, which is high in nutrients due to a sheep’s poor digestive system. Yum!

No, he did not spit on me! ( I love their noses! )

I was nervous by this point, but thought to myself, “If my sister can jump 4 foot jumps on a horse, I can pet a camel!” (hehehe!)

Lastly, the idyllic (sort of) view of one of nature’s wonders. The camels were a perfect end to our desert camping experience. When the sun was chapping my lips and I had sand in every crevice of my body, I envied these creatures who felt right at home.

Slowly but surely, Sean and I are on our way to making this our home, too.

 

Tune in next time to hear about Kim and Sean’s impromptu vacation to Qatar!

Categories: Kuwait | 2 Comments

Mutla Ridge & The Iraq Border

I never thought I would be so happy to feel an open breeze blow across my face. Or to hear the sound of complete and utter silence. Or to smell the wet scent of sand and dirt dance with the freshness of the wind. Welcome to the desert!

Over our 9 day break, Sean and I took a trip out to Mutla Ridge in Kuwait. It’s the highest point in the country, even though it’s only 475 feet in elevation. In order to get to Mutla Ridge, we had to drive on the “Highway of Death”. It’s the road the Iraqi’s took to high-tail it out of Kuwait when the American troops arrived. For a long period after the war you could still see abandoned Iraqi trucks and military vehicles alongside the famous highway. (Addendum: Courtesy of my father via email, “The reason it is called the highway of death is because of the US Air Force.  When the Iraqis fled Kuwait their tanks, trucks, cars, everything was stuck on the road in a hugh traffic jam as they knew they lost and had to escape.   Our planes bombed everything on that road all the way to Bagdad.   It was the biggest massacre of the war.   Many of them looted Kuwait and thought they could take it back with them.  They all died on the road.“) Mutla Ridge is about forty-five minutes outside of Kuwait City. Once we got off the Highway of Death, we followed a side road until we found the following view:

Here I am overlooking the Kuwait desert from Mutla Ridge. It felt SO good to be outside the city!

Our friends who enjoyed the afternoon with us. It was a great time playing around on the dunes and exploring!

This is the idea of a Kuwaiti picnic…

This is our favorite picture from the trip. I like to call it our “wedding pose”. You can see the Kuwait skyline on the right side, the Arabian gulf spreading out, and the happiest couple in Kuwait 🙂

I love this picture because it is so quintessentially Kuwaiti. They take there 2012 edition Range Rovers out into the desert for off-roading. They completely demolish them on the rocks. While walking we saw two separate cars smash their passenger doors in on the rocks. They have these cars torqued at 45 degree angles at times. But you know, they are probably watching us and thinking, “Poor, uncivilized, fools. Dragging themselves across the hot desert on foot, torturing themselves. They just don’t know any better.”

This is where your gasoline comes from! (Should I mail some home for Christmas?)

After Mutla Ridge, we decided to head North to the Iraq border, just to see how far we could get. (Well, I suppose that’s a dumb sentence; we obviously can’t go any farther than the Iraq border…) Anyways, on our way along the highway of death, we came upon a few of these government issued road signs. It made us feel good… in a strange way… kind of like a, “Well that’s good to know.” Kind of thing…

Again, an oil rig. How wild, to see with my own eyes to force that controls much of the world.

Here we are at the Iraq border. (Note the “No Photography” sign. It will come in to play in a moment.)

Here is Sean and our friends Eric (second from left) and Jeremiah (far right) with the guards at the Iraq border. They’re the ones who wanted me to take their picture! Despite the no photography sign…  They were SO welcoming. They smiled, asked us where we were from, and when they heard we were all Americans they said, “We love America! America very good! Welcome, welcome! You want arabic coffee? We have coffee.” And sure enough, there was a man with coffee. We made a few jokes with them, just standing around talking. It sure was different than the US-Canada border… every time I try to enter Canada I get pulled over and searched thoroughly. The border patrol always treats me like I’m smuggling something. This, on the contrary, was a pleasant experience! (Despite how nervous I was when we first got there!)

My friend Rachel and I at the border. All the land you see behind us is bona fide Iraq!

After we left the border we headed back into the city. When Sean and I got home, we collapsed on the couch and ordered “6alabat”. It’s an online delivery website that acts as a hub for basically every restaurant in Kuwait. McDonald’s, Cinnabon, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, you name it. You order online and they deliver the food to your doorstep in 45 minutes.

All I’ve got to say is that it’s a rough life 🙂

Categories: Kuwait | 4 Comments

Eid Al Adha! (9 Day Vacation!)

It’s currently November 10, and a breezy 75 degrees outside. The sun is shining, my bicycle justs coasts along the gulf as if I were carried by the clouds. This time of year in Kuwait has proven to be exceptional.

Speaking of exceptional, Sean and I just got back from Dubai, worked for 2 weeks, and were greeted with a 9 day vacation. The vacation is called ‘Eid Al Adha’, which—according to my Kuwaiti students—is the equivalent to Thanksgiving in terms of importance. It’s known as the ‘festival of sacrifice’ and commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead. (Wikipedia)

I bet you Christian readers out there didn’t know there were such close similarities between Islam and Christianity!

There is normally 2 or 3 days off of school, depending on when the holiday falls; Islam follows a lunar calendar remember. THIS year, the holiday fell so that we would have only had 2 days of school this work week (Wednesday & Thursday). The ministry of Kuwait called a national holiday those two days, so we had this entire week off of school.

Since Sean and I don’t have our passports (recall the Dubai adventure to get our paperwork filed?), we were lucky to spend this entire break in Kuwait. At first, I’ll admit, I sulked the first few hours of Eid, complaining that we’d having NOTHING to do…. boy, was I wrong! This Eid has been absolutely amazing. I look forward to sharing it with you over the next week or so through photographs and stories.

Hahaha, don’t worry, this isn’t how Sean and I normally dress. (Unfortunately.) Eid fell right before Halloween this year, so I decided to stick two Halloween photos in here with the rest of our vacation.

Can you guess who we are? Lancelot and Guinevere. It was surprisingly easy to create the costumes; we went to the Friday Market (open-air bazaar) and there was no shortage of tunics, dresses, and odds and ends. I love making costumes, and these were a hit! It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was easy to find conservative floor-length dresses here…

The primary reason I chose to share this photo with you is because I’m proud of how our apartment looks in the background! We’ve really been able to call our house a home… it’s a beautiful apartment building and we’ve been lucky to have great neighbors who helped us furnish it 🙂 We even have a buiding ‘harris’ who lives on the first floor. His responsibility is to fix leaky sinks, take out garbage, change lightbulbs, the works. Looks like we’ll never need to call an electrician or a plumber… aren’t we lucky!

The first night of Eid we visited the Old Souq (Souq Mubarakiya). I just love their displays of fruits and vegetables. I actually started a HUGE argument this evening between two vendors… I pointed to Vendor A’s pomegranate and asked Vendor B how much is cost. Vendor A stormed over to tell me the price, while Vendor B was trying to get me to buy HIS pomegranate instead. They complete forgot about me and got into an intense screaming match that I quietly escaped.

The ladies I went to the Souq with found this amazing semi-precious stone shop. They specialized in prayer beads (in the above photo), but also had lapis lazuli, amber, and other beautiful pieces for very cheap. Whenever you see a Muslim man in a dishdasha, chances are he’ll be carrying a string of prayer beads with him. (Side note: On our flight to Dubai, Sean and I got to talking with the man sitting next to us on the plane, a young Kuwaiti man, and at the end of the flight he gave Sean his prayer beads as a gift. It was a magical moment! I hope he’s not reading this, because I am currently using said prayer beads as a decoration around one of my candles….)

My good friend, Heidi, inside the scarf & abaya shop at the old souq. Look at all those beautiful scarves! They all sell for around 1KD, or approximately $3.50 USD each. Can I also mention that Heidi is from Minnesota? 🙂

Heidi and Rachel inside the Iranian carpet shop. There are SUCH beautiful carpets here, I can see how a hobby could turn into an addiction. Many of the carpets you can see in this photo would cost around $400 USD; many are made with real silk!

After our adventure at the Old Souq, we headed back to our neighborhood where we found a great place for some ‘hubbly bubbly’, or shisha. It’s an open-air hookah bar, where you sit on deck chairs under the trees. We sat around and smoked shisha until late in the evening. It’s such a relaxing, social activity, in a country where there’s no alcohol. I think it’s a pleasant alternative; you can sip on homemade chai tea, smoke a little shisha, and enjoy hours of un-inebriated conversation. (It’s also a lot cheaper!)

 

WARNING. THE NEXT PHOTOGRAPH IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

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I gave you a warning, didn’t it? I also said that Eid Al Adha is known as the ‘festival of sacrifice’. Put the two together, and you have the Islamic tradition of sacrificing a sheep during Eid. While walking home the night prior, I saw a group of men on the side of our apartment building huddled around a live sheep! Sean and I kept watch all night, and thought the sheep was going to survive. Little did we know, the next morning we woke up to a soft hacking sound, kind of a chop-chop-chop. Looking out the window, only 25 feet away, we witnessed the above photo. The bucket of blood is unfortunately still there… 7 days later… Our whole apartment did smell like a delicious lamb stew for a few days afterward!

To brighten the mood, here’s another photo of a lovely hookah restaurant in Kuwait. It’s a Lebanese restaurant in Marina Mall. I had a lovely time sharing conversation and delicious food with my coworkers and friends.

Another night of Eid, Sean and  I went to 360 Mall. Sean had his first Italian restaurant experience in Kuwait! He ordered—you guessed it—fettuccine Alfredo with chicken. I ordered a delicious spinach and mushroom pasta dish. Our meal came with freshly-baked bread, and in the true Italian style, I ordered a single espresso to top off the night 🙂

Here I am in front of 360 Mall. How beautiful! While the mall was insanely crowded with families for the holiday, we really loved seeing the architecture and landscaping. (Don’t forget… we’re STILL in the desert…)

Speaking of families out for the holidays, these next few photos are from “InFUNity” in 360 mall. It’s a kid’s paradise… complete with hanging obstacle courses, roller coasters, and indoor rock climbing walls. (Yes, Emily, we can come here to play when you visit.)

I was so tempted to join the kids on the rock wall!

Sean and I just couldn’t refuse documenting this bastardization of Western culture. The Native American totem next to the cowboy’s horse… *sigh*

Lastly, in 360 mall, they have Dale Chihuly pieces!!!

Can you believe it? Dale Chihuly is a famous Seattle glass artist, who is world-renowned. He’s the one who did the glass sculptures in the entrance of the Kohl Center. I never in all my life thought I’d see a Chihuly sculpture in Kuwait. Click on the link of his name above to read more about the installations. He was apparently commissioned to create two works; one of the sun and one of the moon.

 

There you have it, the first few days of our Eid break. It’s been really lovely and relaxing. We’ve seen parts of Kuwait we never knew existed, and spent time with people we’ll never forget.

Stay tuned, for later this week you will be treated with the following tales…

– Our visit to the Iraq border

– Desert Camping!

– The Saudi Arabia border

– The tallest point in Kuwait, Mutla Ridge

Categories: Kuwait | 1 Comment

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