Tag Archives: Kuwait

In Which I Fake It Really Hard

**there will be profanity. It’s been that kind of week. Sorry, Mom. **

I have a new job, and (confession) I’m really terrible at it. OK, maybe not really terrible. Maybe it just feels that way sometimes.

I love my job. I work with a lot of smart people, and I cannot even begin to tell you how great my Supervisors are. But as far as the actual job goes, I often feel like A Righteous Fraud. I’m half-convinced that any day now someone is going to out me to my Manager, and I will end up on the first plane back to Texas, sleeping under a bridge and hustling strangers at intersections for beer money. The upside is that I won’t have to worry any more about how terrible my hair always is, or whether I remembered to turn my shirt right side out when I got dressed in the morning. Also, I will not have to format any more documents, ever. So there’s that.

At the end of last year I was hired as a Quality Auditor for the Big Kahuna Contractor here in Kuwait. I had no experience, but they took a chance on me. I closed my eyes and made the career leap. Now I am a corporate rat with a clipboard (pink suede) and a hard hat (sassy white), which hangs on my office wall right next to my Mardi Gras beads.

I’ve never actually been to Mardi Gras.

I love my hard hat. I think I look cute in it, plus it covers my… well, do we really have to keep talking about my bad hair? Probably not. I also have an orange safety vest which nicely disguises my muffin top, and I get an embarrassing amount of mileage from tossing around the line “Orange is the new black!” People should not laugh as much as they do at that line. They should get out more. Maybe they’re just being polite.


Basically, my job involves slapping a checklist on my pink clipboard and crawling around shipping yards making sure people are doing their jobs. I audit the Transportation Department, which on a military base encompasses anything with an engine that moves things and people from Point A to Point B. Planes, trains, automobiles.


There. I just told you everything I know about the Transportation Department.


In a perfect world an Auditor studies hard for every audit. They read the Government’s requirements for the department. They memorize SOPs and Work Instructions, and Army Regs and Everydamnthing Ever Written on the Subject (Defense Transportation Regulations!#partyhat). They become a SME, short for Subject Matter Expert, which is pronounced “smee,” and which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. Go ahead; say it aloud, like you’re proud of it: “Hi! I’m the smee!” and see how you feel about yourself afterward. It reminds me of Peter Pan and it makes it hard for me to take seriously any conversation about the necessity of being a SME. I keep imagining myself in a striped shirt and granny glasses trying to talk Captain Hook down from his latest homicidal shenanigans. I mean, I understand the importance of being a SME (still trying not to get fired, here), but it is just such a silly-sounding acronym.

The Subject Matter Expert on Piracy.


Anyhoo. The one thing standing between me and SMEdom is the fact that approximately twelve minutes after I was hired the person in charge of the Documents department selfishly decided to have a baby. I told her to knock that shit off, but of course no one listens to me, I’m just the new girl. And guess who is doing her job now? (Ten points if you guessed me.) So as a neophyte I am doing the job of two whole people, and—let me be clear, because somewhere along the line someone is going to read this and report to my boss that I’m complaining—I am NOT complaining. Not here, for god’s sake. Not in cyberspace. I’m not a total idiot. But in Documents there is Big Stuff to report to the Government in a lot of really exact, never-the-same-twice formats, and it takes a lot of time, and I am not good at it. I am not detail-oriented; I’m much more of a slap-some-paint-on-it-and-let’s-all-go-have-coffee kind of person. Out of necessity I am learning to spot the details, which is both humbling (because I’m so bad at it) and tedious. My brain rebels. My brain is a lazy cow, and if I give it an inch it will take a mile. Spell check, you slacker!


The point is, thanks to Documents I don’t have any time to study for my audits right now. I just have to show up and fake it. But I have learned a few coping tricks that sometimes see me through. I will pass these on to you now, gratis:


  • Carry a clipboard everywhere. Everywhere. To the bathroom, dammit. It makes you look official. If you decide to go shoe shopping on your lunch hour, carry a clipboard. People will think you know what you’re doing. Mad props if you wear the orange safety vest at the same time. In the Taco Bell line! You got game, Girl. Orange is the new Black!
  • If you have to talk to people, perch on their desks and tap the clipboard distractedly against your thigh. They will understand that you are An Important Person with Places To Be and Things To Do. You will get a lot of mileage from this. “Mileage” is what makes people be nice to you when you utterly fuck up a document carrying their signature that the unforgiving United States Government is about to sign off on.
  • At meetings (there are a LOT of meetings) frown and nod knowledgeably. Take copious notes. Usually these are grocery lists: Toilet paper. Sharp cheddar. Ramen? So fattening. Hairspray!
  • If forced to sit through a Power Point presentation, at some time raise your hand and say “wait, can we go back a slide?” Ask the presenter to clarify. Try to use the word “metrics.” If that’s not appropriate, shuffle some papers (you did bring your clipboard, right?), make an impressed kind of face as though you just learned something new, jot down medium shrimp, shelled and distractedly motion the presenter onward.
  • Rock that hard hat.



Today I had to audit the Customs office. I finished plowing through an elbow-deep pile of government documents, hurtled out to Customs, and proceeded to make an unadulterated ass of myself. I was just completely unprepared. Stop having babies, goddammit!


There is nothing that makes you want to crawl under a rock and die like charging in, all “I’m the Auditor! I’m here to Audit!” as the guy you’re auditing smirks at you and explains that you are completely wrong about everydamnthing that their office actually does. Then you happen to turn around and the guy behind you is smirking too, and you realize with that gut-sunk feeling that they’ve been exchanging smirks this whole time because you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! You can’t even get mad because they’re right! What are you going to do, apologize for wasting their time because Yo, guys, I couldn’t study because there was this one document I was processing, that has nothing to do with you, but it had an assload of really bad formatting errors, in fact it looked like it was written by a crustacean, and the Army kept calling and telling me to hurry the hell up with it, but that’s not even your  business of course, even though it took me hours to fix, plus, guys, suddenly someone asked me to send them a Tracker on XX documents, and Jesus, what the actual hell IS  a Tracker anyway, and how was I supposed to know I needed one in the first place…


Anyhow. It was a disaster. And I still have to audit the Transportation Motor Pool (TMP) this afternoon. If you don’t know what a TMP is, that’s OK. Go have some Chardonnay and rejoice in your soccer mom life path. No judgement! If you do know what a TMP is you probably have PTSD in some form, or have taken college courses on the GI Bill.


For the next few hours I have to pretend that I know everything ever written about Forklifts and Hysters and pallet jack test loads.


There’s a grocery list in there somewhere.


I’m the Auditor! I’m here to Audit!


Random Thoughts From My Random Head

Grouchy people are the worst. They’re responsible for a lot of the suckage in this world and I think they should be quarantined until they can learn to be awesome like the rest of us. We could rope off one of the lesser-used states and just send all the grouchy people there to live. I’m thinking North Dakota, maybe. I mean, are we really using North Dakota? We could rename it Get Over Yourselfville, or Get Off Of My Grasstown, and the grouchy residents could snarl and harrumph at each other to their hearts’ content, leaving the rest of us to the business of making the world a better place.

You know who else should be quarantined? Slow movers. People who amble leisurely across the road while traffic sits at a standstill waiting for them to make the far curb. People who take up the whole grocery aisle or the entire sidewalk and just inch along like glaciers, taking in all of the sights as though they’ve never seen anything as wondrous and all-engrossing as a box of prunes or a dress in a shop window. I’m not talking about the handicapped or the elderly; I have endless patience for them. I’m talking about people with too much time and too little purpose, and the whole aisle for Pete’s sake. Put a nickel in it, Toots. The rest of us have things to do.

Slow drivers make me borderline homicidal. I tend to think of speed limits as just polite suggestions anyway. I’m not an “enjoy the journey” kind of person. I hate to drive. I want to get in the car and just teleport to where I’m going. Could somebody please make this a thing? On my way home yesterday, while still on base, I got stuck behind an SUV that was creeping along at 5 KM an hour. The speed limit was 40, and this guy was doing 5. Five. What kind of passive-aggressive douchecanoe drives 5 in a 40? What was he afraid of? Tearing a hole in the space-time continuum? Falling off the edge of the planet? I was nearly weeping with frustration by the time I got to a place where I could pass him. I am not nearly Zen enough for this kind of crap. I want to get home.

Random thoughts:

I spend way too much time on Pinterest and Foodgawker. In case you don’t have time for such things, here are the latest food bandwagons, food I see everywhere online, but just don’t get:

Smoothies. Very trendy, and a complete mystery to me. I love to chew. I love to chew things that fill up the pizza-shaped cavern in my soul. And I don’t believe in drinking my calories unless there’s alcohol involved. I guess technically you could call a Bloody Mary a smoothie, in which case I take it all back and you can count me directly in on the smoothie craze.

Kale. Kale is the new black. It’s big in smoothies, and soups and salads and actually everywhere. You can’t escape kale. It’s in every nook and cranny of the internet, infiltrating recipes like a bitter, burlap-textured virus. Superfood. Superawesome. Woot. **jazzhands** So tired of the subject of kale. Handy Protip: kale is also a sandblaster for your colon. Just in case, yanno, you ever need that kind of information.

Paleo. The Paleo Diet is where you only eat what the cavemen ate (never mind that the cavemen went—hello—extinct). So you can eat, for instance, a mastodon and a bushel of crab apples, but you can’t eat any grains because those wacky cavehumans didn’t farm. People on the Paleo bandwagon expend enormous effort adapting recipes to comply with the Paleo guidelines. Paleo Chocolate Cherry Muffins. No idea how they make those without grains or eggs or sugar. Sorcery, probably. Paleo Blueberry-Cheesecake Ice Cream, surely a favorite of our cavecesters. Paleo Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon. Just like Australopithecus ate.

I also don’t get the craze for:

Salted caramel everything. Sure, it tastes divine, like the tears of angels or the innocence of small children, but you can’t turn a corner in the Internet these days without someone flinging caramel sauce and sea salt on you. Enough already.

Cupcakes. I don’t want a palm-sized piece of cake. Don’t fence me in like that, bro. I want the whole cake and a fork and the freedom to go at it until I hate myself.

Poached eggs on top of salads. What is that even about? Poached eggs go on toast, duh. With a small lake of butter. And hot sauce, if you’re from Texas.

Quinoa. Quinoa in everydamnthing. Go away, quinoa, I’m sick of reading about how wonderful you are. If you were in grade school you’d be the tattletale hall monitor and I would never speak to you, even if the school was on fire.

Here’s a fun drinking game you can play alone at home (or at work. I don’t judge): Sit down at the computer with the adult beverage of your choice and pull up www.foodgawker.com . Scroll through the food thumbnails. Every time you see one of the things I just listed, do a shot. Double shot if any of the foods are hailed as “vegan,” “dairy-free,” or “gluten-free.”

You’ll be trashed in fifteen minutes.

You probably shouldn’t really try that, just like you shouldn’t be grouchy, or take up the whole aisle, or drive like you died last Thursday. Be awesome. Don’t drink at work. Move like you’ve got a purpose.

That’s it, kids. That’s all I got.

I Was a DoD Beauty Queen


A few weeks ago I went home to the US for leave. Months in the desert had left me looking pretty rough and I decided I needed some work. This was a mistake, folks. A terrible, terrible mistake. The Department of Defense doubtless does many things well, but beauty is not one of them.

There’s background, of course. There always is.

When I turned forty my older friend Kim took me out to lunch. Over oyster po’boys she leaned forward, cut her eyes around the restaurant like she was about to slip me an 8-ball of cocaine, and hissed “have you gotten the… you know… hair on your face problem yet?”

I was seriously freaked out. Because, I mean, hair on my face? What was she talking about? Was this what I had to look forward to in the second half of life? Why had no one ever warned me? Because believe me, I did not sign up for that, and if I suddenly started sprouting whiskers then someone at Universe Headquarters was going to get an earful until the problem was resolved.

In the three years since then I’ve definitely developed some peach fuzz on my cheeks. It’s not a lot, but I’m starting to look like a thirteen year-old boy. A thirteen year-old boy with crows’ feet. I decided to have my face waxed. You can’t be too careful: today’s peach fuzz is tomorrows’s mutton chops.

I’d been assigned to tiny Camp Buehring for a month before I flew home. I had no access to civilization during that time. There’s nothing around Camp Buehring but sand. Sand and camels as far as the eye can see. It looks like Mars only with camels.

Camp Buehring has a PX the size of a convenience store, a Taco Bell, a KFC and a Panda (because nothing says “Army Strong” like a diet of sodium, fat, and highly processed chemicals). There’s not much else on the base but there is, surprisingly, a spa. I made an appointment for a wax, a haircut, and a pedicure.

At the spa I was assigned a “personal attendant” who was going to take care of all my beauty needs. She was a Pacific Islander, and spoke almost no English. She was also over six feet tall and looked and talked a lot like Andre the Giant. In my mind I christened her “Igor.”

Image this person wants to rip burning wax from your soft flesh

Igor led me to a cubicle and pushed me onto a table for my facial wax. Igor liked to talk to herself. She began spreading hot wax all over my face while crooning to herself “HOT paste… HOT paste… HOTTTT paaaaaste…” She dripped some wax on my shirt, and she dripped some wax in my hair, and then she laid cloth strips over my face, yelled ”Cruciatus!” and ripped it all off. It hurt about as badly as you’d expect it to hurt when someone rips all your facial hair out by the roots.

Next, Igor led me to the hair portion of the salon. She didn’t wash my hair, which is understandable because this is the desert and water is at a premium. But she also didn’t comb my hair, which was windblown and tangled and now full of hardened facial wax.

What she did do was to plaster my bangs down with water, take a pair of scissors, and whack them all off in one swift movement, about an inch above my eyebrows.

I stared at myself in the mirror, transfixed with horror. “My bangs!”

Igor nodded, clearly pleased with herself. “I make purty.” And throughout the rest of the ordeal she crooned to herself “I make purty. I make purrrrty! I make PURRRTY!”

She shuffled around me, wheezing and making random scissors-stabs at my dry, tangled head. Halfway through it I threw up my figurative hands and started to laugh. I mean why not? You can’t make this stuff up. The damage was already done. And, as my sister pointed out to me later, a bad haircut lasts six weeks. A bad haircut story lasts forever.

When Igor was done hacking and sawing at my head she took a round brush and a blowdryer and did this with it:

Image the librarian glasses come free with every haircut

I’m not kidding, that is really how my hair looked when she was done. And when I looked in the mirror I saw that my face was reacting to the wax job by doing this:

Image I’m not really blond but if I were I’d look happier about it

I looked like Captain Kangaroo with cystic acne.

Igor walked me back to the lobby. And when I made my entrance every jaw in the place dropped. Silence descended. Magazines fell from hands. There were a few audible gasps. Someone muttered “dear God.” Proudly, Igor marched me to the pedicure station.

You know how a regular spa pedicure involves a massaging chair and calf-deep tubs of bubbling, scented water? Well, a desert pedicure is different. A desert pedicure is a folding chair, a broken Homemedics foot bath containing a liter of tepid water, and a bottle of Betadine solution.

Image in the desert we call this “beauty juice”

I can’t even talk about it. My toes were still stained brown when I got off the plane 3 days later. I’m just glad I didn’t opt for the Brazilian wax.

I’m back in the desert now, and nearly back to normal. I have peach fuzz on my cheeks and bangs in my eyes.

Feel free to share your own bad beauty sessions in the comment section. I’d like to know I’m not alone out here.

Kulinary Kuwait

I have a confession to make. It’s not pretty, and I hope you will find it in your hearts not to judge me too harshly.

I love hummus.

Wait, that’s not the confession. That’s just background.

I really do love hummus. I love it so much that I think everyone else on the planet should love it too. I’m practically evangelistic about it. Occasionally I’ll run across some provincial soul who actually still does not know what hummus is. I confess that I’m tempted to sneer at that person. I am. I’m sorry, but hummus is important. Also, if you’re trying to describe hummus to a friend? Don’t call it “Middle Eastern bean dip.” Have some respect, man.

Anyway, my confession: Yesterday I bought hummus in a can. With a pop-top lid. And today I ate it. It was, as you may have guessed, pretty awful. It smelled like Spam and tasted like—well, like bean dip. In my defense, I only did it because the supermarket deli stopped making the fresh stuff and by the time I found this out I’d been daydreaming about it all day until it was practically a medical emergency.

Let me state for the record that eating canned hummus felt like the culinary equivalent of a high-school dropout huffing canned air in the handicapped stall of the Wal-Mart bathroom. It was definitely a low point for me, and one I hope never to repeat.

Why would a supermarket deli stop making hummus? In the Middle East? Doesn’t that sound illegal or something? Well if it’s not, it should be.

You know what else should be illegal? The prepared foods this supermarket sells. The population of Kuwait has been bitten by the “American food” bug. Every corner of every street has a cluster of American restaurants sprouting from it like cholesterol-saturated fungi on a trans-fat log: Mcdonalds. Smashburger. Chili’s. Applebees. But they don’t do from-scratch American food very well here at all. Oh no. Not. At. All.

The prepared “American” foods in the Sultan Center look like the pictures from a 1975 edition of a Junior League cookbook. Stroganoffs with canned peas. Tuna salad in hollowed-out “tomah-toe” halves. Macaroni and pimientos swimming in runny white dressing. And something mysteriously called “Mayonnaise Salad” in which there is a single, identifiable ingredient: Corn. (There are other things in it, but I have no idea what they might be. I’m certainly not going to taste it and find out.)

Food is just different here. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just a new experience. I like new experiences as long as, you know, organ meats are not involved. In Kuwait you can buy an entire, raw goat (with or without the head) from a display in a shop window. I don’t know many Americans who would even know what to do with a whole goat. There are entire supermarket display cases full of different mammals’ milks. Black cheeses, gray cheeses. Camel-milk ice cream. Unpronounceable vegetables with tentacles. And don’t get me started on the lunch meats.

I ate a kebab in an Iranian restaurant here that was clearly A) not beef and B) not any other kind of meat I’ve ever eaten in my life. It felt like chewy Styrofoam packing peanuts in my mouth. No matter how much I chewed it, it just kept springing back to its original shape between my teeth. I finally gave up and spit it out. It’s not that I have a weak stomach. I just know when I’m beaten.

I mostly love ethnic food, but I’m not as brave as one woman I know who tells me she’s picked things out of curries in her travels that are unrecognizable. She just shrugs, licks off the sauce, and eats them anyway. I want to be that free-spirited, but there’s no denying that I’d enjoy the culinary adventure more if I were twenty years younger.

Kuwaitis eat camel meat at weddings. It’s very expensive, and I’m dying to try it. It probably tastes like chicken because… well, doesn’t everything?

Right now, though, I’d settle for a good tub of hummus.

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:



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:


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?


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).


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:


— 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.