Monthly Archives: September 2012

Day 3 Discoveries: Turkish Coffee, Dead Goats, and the Kitchen Light Switch

I spent yesterday morning exploring. I found a Starbucks, combed the beach for sea glass, and took a taxi to the market, where I bought some beautiful fruits and veggies, flat bread and hummus, coffee and tea.

I didn’t get lost, which is a feat since yesterday I didn’t even know the name of the city I was in. I’ve since learned that I’m in Mangaf, and my street address is Block 4 Street 28.

There. Now I can never get lost.

Today, after I counted up my remaining KD and did the dollar conversion math in my head (borrow from the 0… carry the 1…) I took a taxi to the Al-Kout Mall and the markets surrounding it.

 

The Al-Kout Mall and Sultan Center has a separate market for everything: dates, nuts, vegetables, spices; fish, crabs, and shrimp piled high in plastic laundry buckets, live chickens in cages, pecking grain, butchered goats hanging in bloody rows in halal shops. I had my picture taken with a butcher in front of a row of butchered goats hanging head down in his shop window, but my camera cord is (of course) back in Texas, so I can’t download it.

I bought smoked pecans from a nut shop where the saleswoman thrust samples on me faster than I could eat them. There are shops which only sell dates, in every variety. Other shops sell baklava and similar pastries. In a waterside cafe I drank tiny cups of Turkish coffee, thick and sweet and pungent with cardamom.

I need to find a safe brand of bottled water. The tap water here is undrinkable, and some of the bottled brands are so mineralized they can give you kidney stones within a few months (so says my husband Tony, who was here last year). I’ve already bought 18 liters of a strange brand and drunk half of it, so now I’m obsessively checking myself for twinges in my back.

Not really, but since I drink a gallon of water a day I probably need to find some Aquafina.

I’m still not working, and still at the Taj-maSheika for the foreseeable future. Until the Holy Grail of my access badge is processed there’s no moving forward. I got word that it might–might–be done tomorrow.

I experienced the tiniest moment of panic at the thought that I might be left sitting where I am indefinitely. Wandering the city only takes up a few hours a day. And the 100+ degree heat means no one who can help it stays outside in the afternoon. Long hours alone inevitably mean the real threat of boredom, homesickness, and loneliness. Also, until the badge comes through, I’m not earning any money.

Fortunately, two accidental discoveries brightened my afternoon. First, I found the kitchen light switch. It’s behind the refrigerator. Of course. Where else would it be? No more cooking in the dark! Second, I figured out how to reset the satellite TV, which had, until now, just stared blankly at me. Now I have a friendly voice in the background of my apartment while I read, write, or nap.

I’m sleeping a lot, but my body seems to need it. I’m also taking a lot of Airborne and Cold-Eze to boost my immune system, since half the people on the plane were sneezing in my direction.

Speaking of which, it’s bed time here.

And that’s the state of things in Kuwait. Hopefully my next post will be titled “Access Badge Granted!”

Landing On My Feet (and other Middle Eastern sports)

It sounds cliched, but it really is a whole different world here.

Living in a military town, I’ve known hundreds of people who’ve done tours in the Middle East, including my own husband. But none of them ever told me how amazing it smells as soon as you step into the airport. The whole airport smells like sandalwood.

And pardon me if I sound like a bumpkin, but it’s so exotic here (I’m a gushing bumpkin… that’s even worse). Western dress is everywhere of course, but so are women in black abayas or peacock-bright hijabs, and men elegant in their dishdashas, gutras, and bishts. And the people really DO drive like maniacs. I was pretty sure I was going to die on the way out of the airport, but my Indian driver was a great storyteller so I didn’t mind as much as you’d think. If you have to die in a flaming car wreck in a foreign country you might as well be listening to a good unfaithful-girlfriend tale while it happens.

I didn’t die. I made it to my temporary housing, a block of apartments called Sheika Towers. Sheika Towers, where I have an apartment for just a night or two, has a kind of ambiance best described as “Motel-6-meets-Section-8.” It’s got plenty of space, a 30-foot long ethernet cord to run my Internet, and two bathrooms which may not actually have hot water. Also, strangely, there is no light in the kitchen. I mean, there’s a light, but no switch for it. Maybe it’s in the attic?

I walked to a corner convenience store and bought six liters of water, two packages of Ramen noodles, an orange and a couple of bananas. I paid 4.50 KD (Kuwaiti Dinar) for this, which I am pretty sure is about $15, American. I wasn’t hungry, but when I got back I cooked and ate a package of Ramen, because a new place always feels homier after you’ve had a meal in it.

And that’s where I am! I miss my family, but I’m really too tired to be homesick. I’ve been up for about 30 hours, and I’m no longer even sure what day or time it is. I’m not sure of anything except that I really need a shower–hot water or not.

Tomorrow I’m going to explore, and try to find some groceries. I’ve just realized to my horror that there is not a single ounce of coffee in the apartment. None.

And obviously, you can’t have an adventure without coffee. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Preparing to Launch

A week ago I quit my nice, safe, nearly-vested-for-retirement career to move to the Middle East for a year. Here is why:

My job was killing me. I mean, quite literally, my mental and physical health was on a fast downhill slide. I gained a ton of weight. Took up smoking. Started having minor panic attacks at the thought of clocking in for duty. Felt depressed most of the time. Couldn’t remember what any of my hopes and dreams had ever been.

Life is too short to spend that way.

When people ask, I tell them I took this step for the money. But that’s not the real reason, not at all. It’s just easier to explain money than despair.

(For the record, my wonderful husband and children are 100% behind it. They’re already spending my paychecks.)

Anyway, I just got the email: tomorrow I step on a plane in Texas and step off in Kuwait.

(Technically there are a few stateside stops in between, but I was going for dramatic effect.)

I have so much to do in the next 26 hours that I barely have time to dwell on the fact that I. Hate. Flying. I mean I really, really hate flying. I’d even be tempted to say that I fear flying, except that, well, that’s the “F” word, and you know how I feel about the “F” word.

I’m that passenger on the plane who doesn’t breathe during takeoff because I’m pretty sure that despite all the tens of thousands of successful flights each year, this is going to be the one where the wings fall off at 500 feet and we crash in an inferno of jet fuel, body parts, and tiny airline peanut packages. I go through the same thing every time we land, too.

When I was eighteen I loved to fly. I thought it was an adventure. Heck, I was a writer, everything was an adventure!

Then terrorists blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988, just days before I was to fly across the country for Army training school. It sort of ruined flying for me. (I had to look that up on Wikipedia because I couldn’t remember the flight number. Now I have graphic Wikipedia images of the crashed plane seared into my brain.)

My mom is terrified of flying. And she doesn’t drink, so she can’t even lay her fears to rest with an in-flight glass of wine or three, the way I intend to do tomorrow. But a few years ago Mom boarded a plane and flew around the world to visit my sister, who was a missionary in Russia at the time. That pretty much makes my mom one of the bravest people I know.

True courage means doing the thing you’re afraid of, regardless of how you feel.

Pass the wine.

Living Fearlessly

*******This blog is still under construction. Thanks for your patience while I work to get the wallpaper and knick-knacks put into place*********

OK, here’s the truth. I never intended to blog about the art of living fearlessly. I INTENDED to blog about living and working in the Middle East, which I’m about to start doing any day. I thought that a nice little blog about my nice little upcoming job for a government contractor would be a good way to keep in touch with friends and family while I’m away. You know: food, sand, culture shock, camel spiders, things like that.

But.

I was amazed to encounter a nearly universal reaction when I told people about my intended move from Texas to Kuwait. That reaction was: aren’t you scared? 

No, no, you have to say it right. Try it again. Gasp. Lower your voice as if you’re about to tell a dirty joke in church. Lean in just a little. Widen your eyes. Now say it again. Aren’t you scared?

That’s it. That’s the reaction I got, about 94.4 percent of the time. (I just made that statistic up, but it feels right.) The other *does the math* 3.6 percent of the time I got a horrified Claire, no! WHY?? 

Which adds up to a 98% fear reaction from the people I know and love. And it really bothered me that so many peoples’ gut responses came from a place of fear.

People mean well, I know. Believe me, I’m not offended, huffy, or otherwise upset with anyone. I’m actually touched that so many people care about my safety and my family’s well-being. It would have been depressing if everyone had just shrugged and said “whatever.”

I suppose I understand the consternation. I have a wonderful husband and four (mostly) adult children whom I’ll be temporarily leaving behind. To take this new, unknown job I had to quit a secure career with benefits. I worked for the County in a specialized field in which I’d performed very well since I started 9 years ago, and in which I made decent money for our area. I could retire in 13 years if I wanted to, and not even be on the downhill side of my 50s.

All I would have to do is to endure 13 more years of soul-deadening work in a bureaucratic machine that rewards passivity and compliance and punishes any attempt at innovative thinking. A bureaucracy that requires me to work every night, weekend, and holiday, and where the few at the top of the leadership ladder often make decisions that benefit them, but are terrible for those further down. A bureaucracy that gives undue attention to the punishment process, and neglects almost entirely any system of reward or recognition.

In short, a job that sucks out your soul with a straw in exchange for twice-monthly paychecks, and ten hours of sick time per month (doctor’s note required, if used).

Raise your hand if you’ve been there.

It’s worth noting that with 2 exceptions, every coworker whom I told I was leaving said a wistful version of the words: I wish I could leave, too.

But this is not a blog about my last job, or even the sheer joy of leaving my last job. This is a blog about taking a leap and committing to a fearless life. This is nothing new to me. I actually made that commitment long ago, when I was 16 years old and launched myself into the world on my own with no money, no support, no plan, and no common sense.

I survived that leap and went on to thrive, though not according to any kind of textbook pattern. Along the way I learned the value of money, support, having a plan, and common sense — not in that order. But that’s a story for another day.

All of which brings me to this. I want you to ask yourself this question: What change would I make in my life if I knew I could not fail?

And then ask yourself this: If I fail… so what?

There are no right or wrong answers, but your own answers may give you an insight into your deepest fears.