Tag Archives: culture shock

Hit Me Again, Ditchdoctor!

We do a lot of rotating shift work here in the desert and sometimes I get so exhausted that my judgment suffers. Recently, in a flash of insanity that I can only blame on serious sleep deprivation I conceived the idea of boosting my energy with a series of vitamin B12 shots.  

I’ve taken these injections before – they make you feel like a different person. And you can buy syringes, needles and a really high grade of B12 over the counter here, so what’s not to love?

The problem, of course, is that I’ve taken these shots. As in, someone else has given them to me. Usually while I’m curled in the fetal position, making whimpering noises to myself. Still, somehow I got it into my head that I was going to be able to plunge a needle deep into the musculature of my own thigh and nonchalantly give myself a shot. Or rather, a lot of shots since, in my enthusiasm, I ran out to the nearest pharmacy and bought a 3-month supply. Go big or go home, is my motto.

In the midst of this streak of zealous medical independence a small detail slipped my mind: I’m so queasy about needles, flesh, and bodily functions that I’ve dropped out of nursing school not once, not twice, but three times in the last fifteen years. I always start out with lofty intentions: I’m going be a nurse! I’m going to save lives and wear cute scrubs and make a lot of money! (Not in that order.) I’m going to hold out hope to the dying and comfort to the suffering and, Florence Nightingale-like, single handedly reform any corner of the medical world that still needs reforming!

Then I’ll see a picture in a textbook of a bedsore, or an excised tumor, or I’ll read the words “seeping exudate” on a chart somewhere and before you know it I’m back on the streets begging McDonalds to let me flip burgers for them. I remember watching a woman give birth once, in real life. I’d already had four babies myself, so I was well acquainted with the process. And as the mother pushed her tender infant into the world, as a roomful of medical professionals around me sighed in raptures over the miracle of burgeoning new life, all I could think was – holy cow, that’s one disgusting, slimy mess

So it’s no surprise that I got cold feet at the last minute. I decided to get a paramedic (I work with several) to show me the ropes the first time around. 

“Easy peasy,” said Ditchdoctor Dan, the Sadistic Paramedic From Hell. “Look for your muscle landmarks first.” 

Landmarks? I thought he was trying to give me a geography lesson. 

“After you find your landmarks (???) just make a triangle with your fingers and slip the needle in. You won’t even feel it. Don’t go off too far to the side though, or you’ll hit a nerve and it’ll hurt so bad you’ll want to die.” 

nerve?? I could feel myself getting lightheaded. “I don’t think I want to take that chance,” I managed. 

“You could do it on your arm,” he mused, “though there’s always the chance the needle will bottom out and hit bone.” 

The room spun. I started to make weird, burbling noises in the back of my throat. 

Ditchdoctor Dan broke the ampoule of B12 and inserted the needle into the liquid. “Glass ampoules, huh? Wow, I hope these are filter-tipped needles. Don’t want to shoot any little slivers of glass into your veins.” He chortled as though this was the funniest idea he’d heard all week.

 “Can that really happen?” My voice sounded like a buzz saw in my own ears. 

Chortle, chortle. “Well, anything can happen. It doesn’t usually kill you the first time around though. You need quite a buildup of glass in your veins before –” But I didn’t hear the rest. Also, the next couple of hours are all a strange blur. 

I’m still committed to taking my B12 shots. Each week when I’m ready I get on the radio and order the nearest ambulance to report to Dispatch. Once the unwitting paramedics are inside my office I corner them. I thrust my bare arm under their noses, begging them to hit me up. I need a fix, man! C’mon, I need it bad! 

Today, for some reason, the whole office got into the spirit of the thing. People were lining up for B12 shots while I, desperate to get rid of my stash, handed ampoules and syringes around like candy. Ditchdoctor Dan looked a bit stunned at this sudden onslaught of clientele. Especially when one woman (let’s just call her Tillie Tourette) dropped her pants and demanded her shot in the hip. Of course in the spirit of medical discretion that particular procedure happened behind a closed door. But we all heard it. I don’t call her Tillie Tourette for nothing. 

And now I’m all amped up on vitamin B12. And so is the rest of the office. If anyone’s caught napping at their desk this week it won’t be my fault. 

Only one month’s supply left in my desk drawer. I might need something stronger than B12 to get through it.

Of Toasters and Triangle Butt

A/N: I had some great animated gifs for this post, but then the 1992 internet connection kicked in and I figured it was time to hit CTRL+V and get out while the lights were still on. So to speak.

A toaster fell on my head today and I’m embarrassed at how happy it made me. I’m not normally a toast eater, but I’d just bought some great artisan bread at the Sultan Center and I was thinking that it would be delicious toasted, if only I owned a toaster. Then I reached into a cupboard to put something away and the toaster fell out on top of me. A more metaphysical person might suspect that this was the Universe sending a message.

I didn’t know I had a toaster. When I moved into my apartment it was already occupied by my roommate, Invisible Kate. (Her name isn’t really Invisible Kate. That’s just my fond nickname for her.) Invisible Kate spends 99% of her non-working time in her bedroom with the door closed. This leaves me free to sprawl out, fling my belongings around, and just generally hog all of the common areas. Invisible Kate ventures forth only rarely to ride the elevator to the roof and smoke a cigarette. I do not join her in this activity for two reasons:

  1. Smoking is a filthy habit and
  2. My mother reads this blog.

When I moved into the apartment everything was coated in a layer of dust and some kind of waxy substance that I do not care to speculate about. This was not Invisible Kate’s fault, as (I’ve noted) she was busy being in her room. I spent my first week scrubbing the place down and rearranging cupboards. After that I hired a maid service to do the cleaning.

I’ve been waiting over forty years to be able to say that. Can you hear the angels sing?

Anyway, obviously at some point in my cleaning I must have seen the toaster, but until it beaned me this morning, I forgot about it.

So now I can have toast, which makes me happy. Except that it’s just one more thing I’m going to have to fight in my battle against Triangle Butt.

It’s a real battle to get enough exercise in Kuwait. I sit in an office chair for twelve hours a day, six days a week. I can feel my backside flattening and spreading like butter on a hot griddle. I’m paranoid that I’m going to get that grandma thing where your butt slowly droops into an inverted triangle, and everyone knows it but you.

There’s a gym in my apartment building, but—this is purely speculation on my part—the equipment appears to have been assembled as part of a Rube Goldberg competition in a junior-high shop class.

The treadmill in my gym, like a Porsche Boxster, accelerates from zero to a hundred in 5.8 seconds. No lie. I tried to run on it one day. One minute I was moving in ludicrous slow-motion like the Chariots of Fire guy at the finish line, and the next I was doing Wile E Coyote runs off a cliff, legs spinning in a blur while I scrambled to stay upright and not lose every “cool point” I’ve ever amassed.

 I avoid the gym.

My only line of defense against Triangle Butt is to slip out of the office two or three times a day and walk a really fast mile each time. I’m a fast walker anyway, but during Butt Maintenance sessions I really haul… well, butt.

Naturally, every helpful soul that sees me race-walking thinks I must be late for an appointment, so they stop to offer me a ride (this is a small military base. It’s not creepy like it would be if I was walking around town). Then I have to stop walking and explain to them about Triangle Butt. It gets complicated. Their eyes get all shifty and they start shrinking back from me. Sometimes I just give up and let them bring me back to the office like a runaway puppy. A fire engine brought me back one day last week which was really cool, except I didn’t get any exercise that day.

So now I can have my toast, but I’m going to have to redouble my battle against Triangle Butt. Maybe I’ll just make toast once or twice, and then hide the toaster from myself again. In Invisible Kate’s room.

Day Off Adventures

I just stepped in something and I don’t know what it was. It’s my own fault for walking behind a Dumpster. My coworker George saw a man squatting to relieve himself behind a Dumpster the other day. Why would I put myself anywhere near one?

My poor shoes; the things they’ve stepped in in Kuwait would curl your hair. I should kill them with fire, but they’re my favorite shoes in the world. I just know that the second I get rid of them the company will stop manufacturing them forever. Here they are: my beloved Rocket Dogs:

 Image

 

Sorry about the fuzzy picture. I was still shaking from the trauma of stepping in that unspeakable… whatever it was I stepped in.

Today I went to the bazaar, where I bought an overpriced charging cord that the salesman swore on his mother’s grave would fit my router. Of course it didn’t fit my router. It probably doesn’t fit anyone’s router. It’s probably a charging cord for a portable iron or something. His mother’s probably not even dead.

I saw this advertisement at the bazaar:

  Image

It’s just wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start.

Here is something else I saw there:

 They’re selling socks. There must be a hundred of these sock vendors in the bazaar. How many socks can one tiny nation need? Obviously someone buys them. It makes me suspect that perhaps all the Arab women are wearing Hello Kitty socks under their abayahs. The men may be wearing Spongebob Squarepants knee socks under their dishdashas. How would we know?

Image

After the bazaar I went to the salon. I had to go because last week at the office I took a pair of dull scissors and whacked off all my bangs. They were in my eyes and I couldn’t take it another minute. My friend Rob says that this was an awesome and manic thing to do. I don’t know. It took a grim-faced stylist named Sana and 12 KD (about $42) to fix it. I am cheap about my hair (which is probably evident to anyone who has seen me). I have difficult hair. Ever had a bad hair day? I’m having a bad hair life. I figure why throw money at the problem? So 12 KD kind of hurt, but I guess she did a good job. Now I’m probably going to have to style it and everything.

While I was there I had my eyebrows threaded. The tiny lady in charge of that enterprise was named Kamari. She clucked and scolded and ordered Stop plucking your eyebrows! No more! You come back to me many more times and slowly, slowly I fix what you have done.

I don’t know why women think the salon is relaxing. I slunk away feeling like the worst kind of grooming failure. How have I dared to appear in public all these years?

I ate lunch at a tiny Iranian restaurant in Maboulah. It was amazing. They brought me chicken soup that made my heart sing. They brought me a salad full of herbs that I’d never seen or tasted before. They brought me enough food for four people and every bit of it was divine. Here is what I had for lunch (I had already eaten most of the soup and half of the salad).

 Image

Well, I’ve had about all the fun I can take for one day. Tomorrow it’s back to work for me. I should have bought some socks at the bazaar though. Nothing says “Middle Eastern contractor” like a pair of Smurf socks under your tactical cargo pants.

 

 

 

Leo, the Syrian Cabdriver

Politicians and televangelists excepted, most of us have a conscience in one degree or another. My conscience—that little voice inside my head that tells me right from wrong—is a Syrian cabdriver named Leo. He speaks with a pithy, folksy sort of wisdom, and has truly terrible teeth. Sometimes he sounds like my mother, and sometimes he sounds like my husband, and sometimes he sounds like my 6th grade teacher, Mrs Lorna Brewer. He doesn’t let me slide on much.

You need to eat more vegetables, Leo tells me, before you die of scurvy. There’s some nice organic spinach in the fridge.

Ew, I say. I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought that. It has little white worms in the stems. I rummage through my purse, looking for the Butterfingers bar that I’m sure I saw in there earlier.

That’s why it’s called organic spinach, you twit. Leo is patient with me. It’s grown without pesticides. Chop off the stems and wash it. Make yourself a nice salad. A few worms never hurt anyone.

The vegetables here taste weird, I tell him. I’ll just have chocolate instead.

You’re going to get fat and lose all your teeth, Leo warns. Then he twists the knife: What would Alexandra do?

 Alexandra is my self-disciplined vegan writer friend back home in Texas. She just decides to do things, and then does them. Like going vegan. One day she just decided to do it and she never ate animal products again. She almost talked me into it too, but I had an emergency that required me to eat half a pound of bacon and I backed out at the last minute.

Another day Alexandra read a really awful novel and thought, “I could write something better than that.” So now she writes novels. Just… writes them. All the way through. She never has writer’s block either. She also goes to the gym and picks up her dogs’ poop in the back yard every day, and never leaves dirty dishes in the sink. I love her, but Leo is always throwing her in my face. Why can’t you be more like Alexandra? I’m sure she wouldn’t approve if she knew he was taking her name in vain this way.

Leo grins at me with teeth that are mostly blackened stumps. Alexandra is probably eating a big bowl of spinach right now. She’s probably down to a size 8 too, and has finished writing her latest novel. Why can’t you be more like Alexandra?

I eat the spinach, but just to show Leo that he’s not the boss of me I also eat the Butterfingers afterward.

Leo is not done.

Your twin sister Carre, he hisses at me when I am lying in bed later, drifting off to sleep.

I know what’s coming.

What about her, I say through clenched teeth. I am wide awake now, defensive and belligerent and grinning horribly into the darkness. Probably I look like a clown with a rictus.

Your sister’s novel was just accepted by one of the biggest publishing houses in the world. They signed her to a 3-book contract. Leo pokes me in the side and I swat at him. He is such a sanctimonious jerk.

I’m very happy for her, I say. And I mean it.

Leo pokes me again and I throw a pillow at him. Probably it’s a good thing no one can see me swatting the air and throwing things in my room. You should be finishing your own novel. Leo breathes his terrible, hot breath into my face. You should be more like Alexandra and Carre. What are you doing, lying here in bed like a lump?

I have to get up for work in a few hours, I say, sounding as pathetic as I feel.

Your novel, he whispers, is not going to finish writing itself.

I’ll pick it up again tomorrow, I say.

Tomorrow never comes.

Leo’s a nag, but this time I’m afraid he’s right.

It’s time to dust off my manuscript. Today.

 

 

Channeling Rachel Ray Just Isn’t the Same in the Desert

I’m a lot like Rachel Ray. In fact, people get us confused all the time. Sometimes, I’ll be out walking and I’ll hear someone yell “OMG, it’s Rachel Ray!” When that happens I just blow a kiss and keep on going. I enjoy having fans, even if they’re mistaken.

…OK, I lied. I don’t really have fans, and no one ever mistakes me for Rachel Ray. We are a little bit alike though, in that we’re both slightly chubby brunettes from the Adirondacks. Also, we’re almost the same age (though I’ll always be younger), and we both cook a lot.

“Rache” and I have only minor differences in the kitchen: she cooks for adoring millions, while I cook for 6 people who would unanimously prefer to order pizza. She has teams of minions to wash her dishes. I only have a handful of disgruntled teenagers. Also, when RR cooks she gets paid squillions of dollars per dish. I make considerably less.

But those things notwithstanding, when the cutting boards come out, and the EVOO is sizzling in the pan, when the glass of merlot is poured, and the aromas of fresh herbs and garlic fill the kitchen, Rachel and I are one in spirit.

At least that’s how it used to be. Then I moved to Kuwait and it ruined everything.

It’s hard to channel Rachel Ray here. It’s hard to make instant oatmeal here. For one thing, my stovetop has two settings: Glacial and Scorch. Also, once the stove comes on all the lights in the apartment start flickering in a manner suggestive of disco balls and death metal concerts.

My kitchen knives, too, leave a lot to be desired. My kitchen knives came with the apartment. Remember the Ginsu knives from the Home Shopping Network? They could cut through a steel can and still slice a tomato so thin you could read a newspaper through it. Well, my knives are like that… only different. My knives can cut through warm butter, and they’re superb for prying old nails out of the walls. Sometimes I use them to successfully remove hair from the shower drain. My knives, though, could not chop garlic if I was being set upon by vampires and my life depended on it.

Then there’s the counter space issue. There is none (that’s the issue), so I prep all my food on top of the washer and dryer. Which is more sanitary than it sounds. I mean, I have a cutting board; I’m not a total heathen.

Kuwait, as you may have heard me lament, is a dry nation. Not just in the lack of rainfall, either. I mean there’s no booze allowed in the country at all. None. Nada. There’s not a drop of alcohol to be had by legal means here and that, woe is me, means no wine for the kitchen.

Part of channeling my inner “Rache” has always been pouring a glass of wine (some for me… some for the sauce. And some for me again) while I cook. That, alas, is not possible now.

I did buy some alcohol-free wine recently. What a joke THAT was. It tasted like Dimetapp, and anyway, I had to drink it from a coffee cup.

It’s hard to access your inner foodie when you’re standing in the flickering semi-darkness hacking away at vegetables on the dryer-top, and knocking back grape-flavored swill from a ceramic mug.

Save me, Rachel.

You Might Be An Expatriate If…

October is winding to a close, Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the east coast of the United States, and back home in Texas my friends and family are huddled around their fireplaces blaming Mitt Romney for the unseasonably cold weather.

I just called my mother and father who were battening down the hatches in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. My mom and dad are like Ma and Pa Ingalls. They’re pioneer-type survivors. Nothing really rattles them; certainly not natural disasters. They’ve seen worse. I asked my dad how he was preparing for “Frankenstorm.”

“Well,” he answered, after a pause, “we brought in a little wood for the stove.”

I have friends all up and down the eastern seaboard who are hunkering down, stocking up, drawing in or pulling out in the face of the storm. They’re there, I’m here, and the thought started making me feel a little homesick. Especially when I heard someone, today, refer to me as an expatriate.

I had to look it up to make sure I’d heard right. Am I really an expatriate? Here’s what the World English Dictionary says:

expatriate

— adj
1. resident in a foreign country
2. exiled or banished from one’s native country: an expatriate American

— n
3. a person who lives in a foreign country
4. an exile; expatriate person

— vb
5. to exile (oneself) from one’s native country or cause (another) to go into exile
6. to deprive (oneself or another) of citizenship

[C18: from Medieval Latin expatriāre, from Latin ex- 1 + patria native land]

I don’t know how long you have to live away from home to technically fit the description. So I came up with a little test: a few signs that might indicate that you are, indeed a true expatriate in Kuwait.

You might be an expatriate in Kuwait if:

*You’ve ever bought eggs two at a time from a hot storage room in the back of a bakala.

A Bakala:

*Your washing machine has fifteen settings but since they’re all labeled in Arabic you only know how to use one of them.

*When the car next to you escapes a traffic jam by driving backward down the sidewalk, your only thought is “why didn’t I think of that?”

*When the electricity flickers off you know the exact spot on the wall to bang on, to bring it back on.

*You understand the three speeds on the highway: Standstill, Indy Car, and Warp 9, and you know which lane is for which.

*85 degrees and breezy means you bring a sweater.

85 and Breezy in Fahaheel.

*You’ve ever rearranged your social life to avoid Friday traffic.

*You’ve eaten a Haloumi McMuffin from Mcdonalds.

*You’re shocked if a cab driver actually understands where you want to go.

*You’ve ever lost your religion in a traffic circle.

*You understand the survival value of carrying your own toilet paper.

*You understand that the rule of the road is: she who blows her horn first, wins.

*You consider a campaign to bring the “hygiene hose” to America.

The Hygiene Hose!

*You never, ever, ever order the sausage.

Judging by this self-invented list I’m not quite there. I have a date with a Haloumi McMuffin next weekend though.

Everyone stay out of the storm, drive safe, don’t eat the sausage.

And call your mother.

Some Observations and A Medical Miracle

I’ve been observing Kuwait culture for a few weeks now, and I can’t help but notice that while there are some areas where the U.S. clearly shines, Kuwait is far superior in others. I’ve been keeping a kind of informal tally sheet in my head. Here are the winners in a few categories:

Road names: The road I travel to get to work in Kuwait is called The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahad Bin Abdul Aziz Highway. The name of the toll road that links my hometown with Austin, Texas? Pickle Parkway. Kuwait wins.

Fast food: I ordered a chicken sandwich from Naif Chicken the other day. Underneath the crispy “chik’n” filet I was a little horrified to find a perfectly round slice of gelatinous chicken bologna, nestled there like a gruesome prank. In America fast food sandwiches come stacked with bacon and cheese, not bologna. U.S. wins.

Taxicabs: A taxi from New York’s Laguardia airport to downtown Manhattan costs around $37 before tip. A taxi from my Fahaheel apartment to the local mall costs “whatever you weesh to pay, Madame” according to 3 different cabbies last Saturday. The understood rate is 500 fils, or about $1.75. No meter, no tip expected. Kuwait wins.

Number of Camels per 1000 people: The camel is possibly the coolest animal ever created. Sorry, USA, you can’t even compete on this one.

Today I had my visa physical. Obtaining a permanent residency visa in Kuwait requires a medical exam to rule out HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and a few other infectious nasties. The government is committed to keeping the cooties out (to use the proper medical terminology).

I’d heard a lot of hair-raising tales about the physical exam process. One coworker received 7 immunizations in the arse at her physical. Several women I spoke with had undergone comprehensive “female” exams for no apparent reason. Two men told me identical stories of being squeezed inside a filth-crusted X-ray machine while a room full of sweaty, shirtless Nepalese laborers looked on.

So I was a wee bit nervous.

We got our paperwork shuffled around in an office where a grim woman in a black abayah strode up and down the front of the room shaking her finger and berating the waiting crowd in Arabic. I’m not sure what her problem was, but I nearly suggested that she emigrate and come to work for the Drivers License Office in my hometown. She had just the right anger level for that job.

At one point I was forced to hunt down a bathroom. Which turned out to be a porcelain-lined hole in the floor, the kind you squat over and pray your balance is still dependable, now that you’re in your forties. I didn’t mind the hole in the floor – I’m flexible, and hey, it’s all part of the adventure, right? I was less upbeat about the swampy floor surrounding it. I was wearing rattan-soled hippie-dippy shoes, and whatever fluid I was standing in seeped through. I just tried not to think about it. What are you going to do?

The actual exam was anticlimactic. A nurse drew a single tube of blood. Another nurse took a chest X-ray with a perfectly clean machine. End of trip. The absence of a gynecologist and the complete lack of shots qualifies as a bona fide medical miracle, in my book.

I once knew a missionary to Russia whose visa physical went like this:

Doctor: “Do you have AIDS?”

Missionary: “No.”

Doctor: “Good. Spit in this paper cup and hand it to the man in the alley on your way out. Next!”

Russia wins.

Getting Lost Again… and Again… and Again

There’s a lot to like about Kuwait: cheap taxis, funky bazaars, great ethnic food. And every single restaurant promises to deliver to my doorstep (well, except McDonalds. But I didn’t travel 6,000 miles across the globe to eat McByproducts anyway).

 There’s one thing here that I’ve grown to hate though, and I hate it with a passion impossible to express in a 600 word blog post. It’s a phrase. A death knell, really. A mere four words spoken by nearly everyone of whom I’ve asked directions—and with the maze of unlabeled streets in this country, I ask directions a lot.

 It’s the phrase: you can’t miss it.

 As in, “take a left out of your apartment building and continue straight down the Mecca Road. You’ll run right into the bazaar. You can’t miss it.”

 Believe me, I can miss it.

 Or, on base, “leave the office, take the first right past the dining facility, then turn right again. The PX is on your left. You can’t miss it.”

 I missed that one for a good 20 minute drive that landed me in a motor pool in the middle of the desert.

 “The finance office is through the double doors on the long side of the building.”

 I said a lot of bad words before I found that one.

 My latest you-can’t-miss-it adventure happened this afternoon when I set out on foot from my apartment building to find a famous American breakfast place called “The Early Bird.” People on two continents have told me about this amazing little café that serves nothing but American-style breakfast from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. When people heard I was headed there, their eyes glazed over and they began stuffing dinars into my hand with orders to bring them back various menu items.

 I heard tales of the legendary banana bread French toast, breakfast Monte Cristo sandwiches, omelets that would make a European chef weep.

 Everyone promised I couldn’t miss it.

 I set out with clear directions in my head and a Google map in my hand. It was 105 degrees outside. I forgot to bring water. But I went where they told me to go.

 There was no restaurant.

 I backtracked. Cut through tenement parking lots populated by slit-eyed Pakistanis and skeletal cats. Stepped over puddles of sewage and around overflowing Dumpsters. Ignored catcalls from taxi drivers. Tried another street. And another. Asked directions. Asked directions again. No one had heard of it.

 It hit me then. Of course. It must be a magical restaurant, like the wardrobe that led from England to Narnia. Sometimes there, sometimes not. Obviously, today it wasn’t there.

 I gave up and came home and ate leftover Indian food instead. Sometimes you just have to know when to quit.

 I’m not a twit, honest. In fact, working with maps and locations and directions is a huge part of my job. I’m usually good at knowing where I am and where I’m going. But in Kuwait, where every building is brown and covered in Arabic writing, where every tenth structure seems to be a pharmacy, or a mosque, or a Naif Chicken, everything looks the same. At least to me; at least on this, my second week in country. I’m sure I’ll sort it all out eventually, but for now I just keep getting lost.

 This evening I’m heading to Starbucks to take advantage of their free wi-fi. I have directions. I have a map. Everyone has assured me that I can’t miss it.

 That’s what they think.

 

Driving Safety… A Kuwaiti Oxymoron

Welcome to Kuwait, the nation that boasts the highest traffic crash rate in the world. In a country the size of New Jersey there are 60,000 traffic accidents each year and 400 fatalities.

400 seems low for the way they drive here. People drive on the sidewalks, they drive the wrong way down the streets, they drive with unrestrained kids hopping back and forth over the seats, and they drive while reading the newspaper. It makes the texting-while-driving epidemic in the U.S. look tame.

Teens here like to “sandal surf,” a sport where the driver barrels down the highway at 100+ km per hour, while the passengers hang out the doors and skim their sandals along the surface of the highway. Talk about a way to ruin a pedicure.

Kuwait is an immensely wealthy nation, and I have yet to see anyone here driving a clunker. The parking garage across from my complex holds a Maserati, a Lamborghini, and several other sports cars that I can only identify as A) really expensive and B) really powerful. The contractors here mostly drive new Pajeros and similar SUVs.

All of that to say, when you put that kind of horsepower on the roads, human nature wants to test it.

Well, not my human nature. My human nature wants to hire a chauffeur and never, ever, ever get behind the wheel. But that’s not the way it works, and sooner or later I am going to have to drive on these highways.

The most memorable piece of advice to come out of my driver’s safety course yesterday was: Don’t hit a camel on the highway. Especially not a white one. You’ll be paying the family back for the rest of your life.

Not “don’t hit a camel because you might die, and the world would be a poorer place for your tragic loss.” But “you can’t afford to buy a white camel.” 

Values, values.

I also attended several safety briefings in the last two days in which nearly every male spoke darkly of the dangers to females here. They made it sound like abduction and rape happen daily, on every corner. Then the women came in to conduct their briefings and rolled their eyes and told me what I already knew, which was not to listen to them, to be smart, and to be your own best defender. 

Which shows an interesting dichotomy of thought. Many men believe women either are, or should be afraid of physical danger. Smart women, on the other hand, know that if you carry yourself with authority, project confidence and fearlessness, and stay alert, there’s no reason at all to be afraid.

Unless you hit a camel.

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!”