Ready or not, here they come

Sorry for not writing more; this week we took charge of our classrooms and today was open house for new students.  ACA has 3,500 students divided into three campuses.  It’s the largest school in Kuwait and unconfirmed rumor has it the largest school in the Middle East.  Homeroom teachers have twenty-five 1st graders apiece, and I as 1st grade ESL have 125 students divided up into twenty-five periods a week.

That’s entirely too much math for me to confirm if it makes sense or not, but in the meantime, I have pictures of my first classroom!  I’ll try writing more over the weekend, but now I’m establishing the first of what will likely become a weekly Thursday nap.WP_20130827_007My theme is bugs.  Because what six year old girl doesn’t like bugs?  Besides, I like drawing them.  (As a precautionary measure, I threw out all the Hello Kitty paraphenalia.)

WP_20130829_002Giant books!

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WP_20130829_001 WP_20130829_004 (1)I have no idea if I’m ready… I just know I have the biggest bug in the room, so they can’t squish me.  Sunday morning, bring it on!  Just let me have a nap, first.  Please.

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The Souk and the Arabian Gulf

Two days ago we went to the souk, a traditional Kuwaiti marketplace like a bazaar.  It’s similar to how I imagined the Middle East experience in the first place.  There are a few main streets with winding offshoots and thousands of tiny shops selling souvenirs, candy, dates, clothing, currency exchange, incense, perfume, rugs, silver, copper, fabrics, spices.  Besides food, the first ring of shops sells mostly western trinkets and clothes made en masse in factories, but the farther back you wend, the more there is to see.

My camera was out of battery for the trip, which turns out to be good luck for you: a fellow teacher, Cory Hurst, takes exceptional photos and gave me permission to use them here.  For the benefit of everyone, my camera may stay uncharged for a while.

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I have to step back for a second, though.  I’m being a unfair for the sake of being flippant: palm trees and pool chairs may have reminded me of California, but floating in the Arabian Gulf, looking at an achingly expansive blue sky… it was nothing less than spectacular.  Near the end of the day shoals of little silver fish swam around us and jumped twelve, thirty, sixty at a time out of the water.  The water was warm and salty, but it didn’t taste like the ocean.  The whole day was overwhelmingly peaceful.  I don’t care about pools or squash courts; this is why I went abroad: for the rest of my life, I can say I swam in the Arabian Gulf.  That makes me so happy!

The Grand Mosque

Today we had a tour of the Grand Mosque of Kuwait.  It’s beautiful and impressive.  Our guide was a delightful British woman who’d been an expat for the past twenty-four years.  She was Muslim and besides facts about the architecture and history, explained a lot about Islamic culture and tradition.

When I knew I had the job over here, many people asked me if I had to wear a burqa in Kuwait.  Short answer: no.  Long answer: In public you are legally allowed to wear most western clothes, but I’ve seen people stare at girls when you can see their knees or shoulders.  Out of respect for the mosque we were given abayas and jibabs to wear while inside, a thought process similar to having a dress code at the Vatican.  I’ve been told it’s not acceptable to wear the burqa (face veil) if I am not a Muslim; it’s perceived as a mockery

The whole mosque spans 480,000 square feet, and the guide told us that for Ramadan they have had up to 180,000 people praying at one time.  This is the main prayer hall; the women’s prayer hall is in a balcony to the back, and there are other daily prayer halls off to the side.DSCN0070

The ceiling

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Since Islam doesn’t provide for depictions or images of God, mosques have no statues or paintings.  They are usually decorated with symmetrical geometric patterns for two reasons: first because symmetry has a center point to remind man that Allah is the center of his life; second, because geometric patterns can be repeated over any sized area, reminding man that Allah is infinite.

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It’s hard to see, but each pie-shaped segment of the dome has three names of God written on it.  Sixty-six pieces of pie cover all ninety-nine names of God.  The dome also creates excellent acoustics.

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There was so much detail in everything; it was beautiful!

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Words of the Koran were written above nearly every doorway:

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It was beautiful, and I would love to go back and talk more with our guide.

Tomorrow we go to the traditional markets.  In the meantime, I hope this picture amuses you as much as me:

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So where am I, anyway?

I am here.

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More particularly, I am here.

Map of Kuwait City

My school and building are in the Hawally Governance of Kuwait City.  As far as I can tell, governances seem to be equivalent to neighborhoods, like Brooklyn, Harlem, or Adams Morgan.  We’re about a ten minute drive from the gulf, and it’s pretty 2nd world urban.  There’s a good layer of dust everywhere, with litter and glass in it; lots of small shops are on the highway, and they clump (interesting note: I’ve never seen more trophy stores in my life than in Kuwait; actually, I’ve never seen a trophy store in my life before).  We went driving during orientation and a group of us ventured out after dark; I didn’t get as many shots as I’d have liked, but here’s a taste of Hawally.  You can see the Freedom Tower in the lefthand side of the first picture:

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Not all Kuwait is like this.  Samaliya (I have just as good an idea as you whether or not I spelled that correctly) is prettier than Hawally.  It’s greener, nearer to the Gulf, the buildings are newer, and there are fewer low-end cheap shops and less garbage.  We got a taxi there this afternoon.

The building itself is very nice, and my apartment is huge.

View from the front door (no I’ve not overcome OCD; the curtains are stuck that way):

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A very odd little table in the corner; Kuwait architecture seems to love twisty spirals:

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My kitchen!  Replete with propane stove and matches.  Yes, I still have my eyebrows.  Barely.

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My bedroom.  There was a misunderstanding when I moved in: the Arabic word for “bed” translates literally as “rock.”  Three inches of IKEA mattress padding rectified the error:

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View from my bedroom at 5ish am (we’ve been getting very familiar, that time and I)  The tower off-center to the left is the minaret from where prayers are sung:

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I went swimming in one of our pools today.  We have two pools in the apartment building, an indoor and an outdoor.  I’m told if girls swim in the outdoor pool, men from surrounding buildings will watch from their windows.  On the other hand, the last time someone swam in the indoor pool they picked up flesh-eating bacteria since there’s no chlorine or water circulation and the sun isn’t there to kill anything.  I took my chances outdoors in a t-shirt.

Most food is pretty much the same as you can get in the US, with some exceptions.  All produce is imported, so it’s more expensive and you have to look carefully.  There are more spices and fresh spices that I can’t wait to try.  The main difference in Kuwaiti cuisine?  Chocolate!  Kuwait is the country of chocolate.  I’ve never seen so many varieties, and with so many carriers: dried oranges, pistachios, nuts, dates, figs, kiwis, sesame seeds….  We went to a chocolate shop and they gave us as much in samples as we bought.  A box of sixteen handmade chocolates was 2.5KD (roughly $7.50 USD).  They also think it’s exotic to have corn flakes in truffles.  I’m not gonna lie, it tastes pretty good.

And for the past two days, that’s mostly what I’ve discovered.  We went to the Kuwait mall, but that will take its own post to describe the whole experience.  In the meantime, it’s been paperwork and orientation and apartment cleaning.

Let me know if there’s anything you want to know or hear about!  Everything is so new and different, half the things don’t even make an impression.

Oh yeah, and I work here now!

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not dead yet

I’m here!  It was a long, long journey, but I made it.

I’ve had five-ish hours of sleep in the past fifty and done an amount of paperwork that should’ve been banned by the Geneva Convention.  This has led to some emotional fluctuation lately.  This afternoon, I was nearly convinced I’d thrown my whole life away to live in a country that makes Texas look like an oasis and the IRS seem efficient.  My computer- in what I can only assume was a panicked attempt to keep me from getting weepy- spontaneously started playing “Sweet Dreams are Made of These.”  Few things make one feel more at home than impromptu Eurythmics karaoke.

Over the past couple of days I wrote bits and pieces about the trip, and they should be relatively chronological below.  Hopefully I’ll get around to writing about Kuwait itself soon, but in the meantime, more sleep.

Friday night, IAD Airport

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100+ SPF is a thing.  Which is great because I was seriously concerned I would stop glowing in the dark, and that would throw a monkey wrench in midnight snacking.

I wear a rosary on my wrist.  Rosaries, being Catholic, have crosses on them.  I am not allowed to wear crosses in Kuwait while I teach.  Rather than forgoing the rosary or cutting off the cross, my friend Maura created the solution: a tiny, removable pocket around the cross.  Meet Penguin Jesus.

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Forget getting a job; having a beer at the airport bar truly drives home growing into my adulthood.

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Saturday, sometime between 9am and 7pm depending on where you are in the world, Istanbul Airport

I want to write something descriptive or witty, but really the only thing in my mind right now is, “Oh my god, I’m in Istanbul,” and, “I need water.”  It’s pretty easy to buy Turkish delight or Victoria Secret or especially duty-free Chanel, but thus far only one place sells a bottle of water.  It seems like a fairly normal airport, but Uncle Tom says one of the most interesting places in a country is in its bathrooms.  True enough, apparently in Turkey it is considered completely acceptable to wash your feet in the sink.  It actually looked pretty refreshing.

While I wait for my flight, I can see the Mediterranean Sea.  I’m sorry, bear with me while I repeat that: I can see the Mediterranean Sea.

Sunday morning, Kuwait City

The calling of the adhan is hauntingly beautiful.  Last night when I landed, it was a marathon of practicality- navigating visa desks, carrying suitcases, finding apartment light switches- and I got in bed just before the first prayer before sunrise.  That man’s voice seeped into me and brought a whole country with it.

Sunday afternoon

Hot isn’t the right word.  Searing, scorching, sweltering… any word that could be an onamonapia for boiling oil.  Kuwait weather is like standing in perpetual bus exhaust without the carbon monoxide poisoning.  We were told at orientation we wouldn’t sweat because moisture is absorbed directly out of your pores; I feel like physics and biology are teaming up to violate my personal space.

On a happy note, grocery shopping makes a kitchen feel like home.  I am now responsible not only for the minds, bodies, and souls of little children, but also for potted herbs.  I feel I may rise to the challenge.

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Also, they didn’t lie: the Nutella is better here.