Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Kuwaitzy Streets

During orientation, evenings were spent exploring Salmiya. This included finding places to eat, and getting used to the area. The big mall in our area is Marina mall. It's okay if you like malls. It's an interesting place to go, we found. It seemed the later we were there, the busier it got. 11 PM and the mall was packed.

It makes sense though. It is so hot during the day that people hide out during the day and go out at night. A sister school for ACA was being built across the street from our building, and parts of it were literally going up over night despite no work being put into it during the day.

The cars in this country drive like maniacs. There don't seem to be any rules on the road. You can turn left from the far right lane, even if cars are going straight in the middle lanes. Try to figure how that one works out. Walking the street is no better. There isn't really a side walk, and when there is, cars are usually parked there as they park anywhere.

Crossing the street is an adventure.

Keeping that in mind, one thing I like to do is play frisbee or toss the baseball around on the beach. I should add that the beach is the Arabian Gulf, a 10 minute walk from my apartment. I do have to cross two pretty busy streets which is an adventure in itself. One of these roads is Gulf Road, location of the craziest driving I have ever seen.

Imagine a country where gas is 20 cents a litre, and there isn't alcohol to entertain you. What would you do? You might purchase a gas guzzling muscle car, or something that drives really fast. Don't forget the apparent lack of road rules. How fast can you go? What is the stupidest, most adrenaline inducing thing you could do? I feel like these are the questions people try to answer on a given night.

One night, after an exhilarating round of frisbee, Gulf Road held me up for longer than usual. Beyond cars driving super fast (part of the reason I was unable to cross), I saw an ATV or 4 wheeler driving down the road. Not a huge deal, except it was only on it's back wheels for the duration that I saw it. Possibly a half kilometer to a full kilometer. Not crazy enough for you? There was also a passenger riding on the back of it. After that, I also saw some car speeding down the road with some guys sitting on the window ledge with their feet dangling.

Unfortunately I had no camera on me to catch the ordeals, but that doesn't make it any less of a crazy site!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Orientation Part Two

I have been super slow with the updates on this blog, way slower than I want to be or anticipated. It hasn't been because of laziness (okay, not completely), I have been busy! Teaching full time is a lot of work, especially for a new teacher.

We just started week 3 of classes and things are almost feeling comfortable with my group. Hopefully it continues. Anyways, on to business...

I spent my birthday here barely telling anyone about it and those I did I made sure it wasn't a big deal. A big deal wasn't made of it, so success! On my birthday we did some mall in the morning and then went to an old Kuwait market in the evening. We had dinner there, hummus and chicken kebab for me. The market was probably cool, I was just grumpy and sick of shopping so I ddn't look around much. I also wasn't in the mood for bartering.

Other than the malls, the only place we went to other than the Mosque was the TIES centre, which is an international centre I believe dedicated to the teaching of Kuwait culture. We were fed there--buffet style--which was nice. I ate a ton of chicken which seems to be my food of choice here.

It was an interesting experience. I was super hungry but they decided to have a long presentation that seemed to drag on and on at first, where all I could think about was the food I saw waiting for us on the buffet tables. I had to fight to stay awake. It eventually caught my interest though. Once they finished telling us all that the centre does, they told us some cool things about Kuwait and gave us some prayer beads. They explained the colours of the beads, which were the same as the Kuwait flag. They also taught us a trick to do with the beads, wrapping them around their fingers using only their fingers from one hand. It takes a bit of concentration.

They also dressed people up in the traditional Kuwait dress. First three males--all from my building in Salmiya--were dressed up in completely white robes with a white towel like thing on their heads. The robes were called 'dishdasha' and the head towel thing was called a 'gutra.' Next up were the girls in their 'abayas' and 'hijabs.'

Other than that, a lot of the time by the end of it was spent in my classroom, preparing it for the first day of school. That has come and gone by now, but took a lot to get to the point it is now. Last year there were 4 grade 3 classrooms, this year there were 5. Who didn't get the supplies from the year before? Me. I had to make due with books and posters other teachers didn't want. I managed alright and am happy with the way it looks now. I wish my book selection was a little better however.

That's it for now, hopefully there isn't as much time in between now and my next post!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Grand Mosque

 The most interesting--as well as most culture gratifying--part of orientation was the trip to the Kuwait Grand Mosque. It was huge, and could apparently fit 10,000 people. The tour guide said that during Ramadan there were several more people, the excess just having to pray outside the building. I believe he said in the hundreds of thousands during the last Ramadan, but I may have been mistaken. I remember comparing the number to World Youth Day in Toronto though, and the hundreds of thousands number certainly fits.

 Not surprisingly there was a strict dress code to follow to enter the mosque. I wore what I would call my 'Sunday Best,' but being Male I didn't have it nearly as bad as some of my female counterparts. On top of being nicely and moderately dressed, they had to cover themselves with the head scarf and abaya. The abaya is a robe dress that covers basically the whole body.

 If we were there to pray the women would also have a separate smaller prayer room. We were told that women could not pray with men, not for oppressive reasons, but because when a women bends over to pray 2 in 5 men will look at her with lust. I am not sure how accurate that stat is, it wouldn't surprise me if it was higher!

It was interesting nonetheless to get the reason for why they wore the head scarves or hijab. Most women wear them in public, those that do not are not Muslim and are foreigners. My understanding is the hijab is a religious thing, probably along the same lines as the lust thing. If the hijab covers the whole face it is a cultural thing, not religious. It just basically means the female wishes to be left alone.

 I find it awkward when I encounter someone wearing the whole face cover. But I do tend to avoid them which I guess would be the desired effect.

The ceiling inside the mosque was really high. The dome was designed to help the acoustics. The guide explained how the eccoing worked, but I didn't really understand.
 The prayer carpet has rows upon rows of straight lines. When you pray, you stay on those lines. This is to prevent people from moving up and closer to the front to seem more important. Everyone is on the same line in god's eyes.
 This is the big dome which helps the acoustics of the place. The picture doesn't do it justice because it is a long way up.

 These also are acoustically designed. The preacher sits inside one of those booth like things. When they talk the sound travels straight so that only the people sitting in the group can hear them, that way several preaching conversations can go on at once.

 A different angle of the giant dome.

Just a glimpse at how big the prayer room is. Just a note on every mosque, they are always facing towards Mecca, no matter where they are in the world.

And a picture of a couple of Qur'ans, as a trip to any Mosque wouldn't be complete without seeing one of these.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Orientation Part One

After a night out where I grabbed dinner with 7 other American and Canadian males and watched them smoke sheesha (a very popular thing to do in Kuwait) we woke up and caught a bus to the American Creativity Academy, girls campus. There we were given name tags, met all the other new teachers (54 of us!) and were given our settlement money, along with other tasks we had to do.

Afterwards, they took us all out to this fantastic Lebanese restaurant where we filled up with Hummus and meat kebobs. The meat included lamb, beef and chicken. It had this terrific creamy garlic paste that we dipped the chicken into.

This was far more than the training I received in Korea, and this was only day one of the week long orientation. There was so much more to do!

The rest of the trip had us going to different shopping centres, like the Sultan Centre on the evening after the Lebanese food. It was a good idea, everyone was stuffed from the restaurant meal and were realistic in what they wanted to buy food wise. Have you ever grocery shopped hungry? Not a good idea. The Sultan Centre was a large grocery store where you could also buy other appliances. I bought some ketchup and a spatula for grilled cheese, and not much else. I was being realistic about my ambition to cook.

A lot of the other places we went were also places where we could buy food or things for our apartment. I managed the trips pretty frugally, not spending money unnecessarily. There are some basic things I probably should have picked up--a laundry hamper for example--but just didn't. I bought a pair of scissors at Ikea and nothing else at Avenues Mall. It also had a Care4 which I am familiar with from when I stayed in France last summer. Avenues Mall is huge, and it is expanding. When the expansion is finished it will be the largest mall in the world.

I have very little interest in malls, so a lot of the orientation stuff we did I was just grateful for the company and the opportunity to meet new people in the same situation as me. The most interesting trip was the Grand Mosque, which deserves a post dedicated to it. After the big mall, I was pretty content with just waiting for dinner and NOT shopping. The country does love their shopping though. We would always see people shopping late at night, and you can find a ton of places like this one.

At night I hung out with the people who live around me in Salmiya, either on my floor or below me. We went to another sheesha bar one night. I didn't smoke once again and am proud of my restraint. Sheesha is delicious and smooth, generally.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My New Apartment in Kuwait

Since I couldn't get the video I made to upload, I took several pictures of my apartment. It is a lot better than my apartment in Korea, which if you can remember was one giant room with my kitchen in one corner and my bed in the other.

 Here is the living room area, this is the view you get as soon as you open my door (606).
 This is a look from the previous area at the hall and the rest of the living room.
 The TV is a pretty decent size. I am hoping to get a sport package so I can use it to its full potential. World Series and NHL hockey here I come! I'll throw in the odd football game too.
 My tiny kitchen.
 The kitchen doorway, that is also my washer/dryer.
 The washroom. Don't call it that though, you may confuse people. Instead you should say bathroom.
 My sink, my mirror and me!
 My messy room. I took several pictures of it for some reason.
 Looking at the quality of these pictures makes me miss my camera. I better put that on the list of things to buy!
 My unmade bed.
And finally, the view of my room from the doorway.

I haven't even started on the orientation activities, which were plentiful. I have been here for about 10 days but it feels like it has been longer. I have done so much stuff to get settled into my new home. I am already starting to feel comfortable with the area I live and with moving around the city.

I have some errands I have to run when I finally get paid. Like, for example, get a cell phone. I am almost feeling left out because pretty much everyone else has one. That is okay though. The school owns 2 floors of this building and I have met some pretty cool people on the floors. They are all really inclusive as well.

Tomorrow is the first day of school. Last week was spent preparing the classroom for tomorrow. I spent a few hours yesterday and about 4 hours there today. Everything is ready. I have been getting a lot of advice from veteran teachers on how to start off the class and am actually looking forward to the challenge that classroom management will bring.

Hopefully I will make a couple of posts next week about orientation and walking around the area. I have made some interesting observations.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Salmiya, Kuwait

On Wednesday I woke up in Salmiya, Kuwait. I made myself some toast and decided to walk around my area a little. I left my apartment building and turned right, past a fish place that I made mental note of to use as a landmark. There was no side walk so I had to walk kind of on the side of the road. When I got to the end of the street I found a busier road with a mosque on it.

I turned right again but didn't walk too far down the street for 2 reasons. The first. I didn't want to get lost and the second, it was really hot and I did not bring a water bottle with me. I have found I don't drink anything but water here and I rarely leave my apartment without a bottle of water, especially if it is during the day. It is hot here! I knew that coming in, but that doesn't change how hot it is, day and night. It's so dry too.

I headed back to my apartment for some water and quality time in an air conditioned room. After that I met some of my neighbours--my floor and the floor below me are all occupied by teachers from ACA--a guy from the states and a guy from Canada. I ran an errand with the guy from Canada and ensured I brought a water bottle this time. When we returned we met another American as well as a girl from Canada. They also needed to run a couple errands so I joined them and went to the same area as before.

I made a video of my room but it isn't uploading, so I may just have to add some pictures of it later.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Kuwait is Over

So, I have finally arrived in Kuwait and have not only been too busy to post, but have also not had the means to post as of yet. My computer died pretty much the first time I started using it. I am in my new classroom now and am using that computer. (Since the start of writing I had to leave to catch my bus and have since bought a new computer. Cost more than I wanted to pay but my back was against the wall).

I don't want to get ahead of myself though, as a lot has happened up to this point. Starting with the Plane ride and the usual excitement that goes with that. While waiting in the airport I sat beside a lady and her daughter, an 18 year old with special needs. Her daughter had no verbal skills and required a wheel chair. I was reading and some young children from Syria started asking her questions. The questions were very innocent and the lady was very good with them. They were asking her if the daughter scared people and telling her how they thought she was scary. The woman just replied that her daughter was harmless and the noises she made were just her way of speaking. The children were very cute and had very big brown eyes. I wondered if that may be a taste of the children I will be teaching eventually.

I flew to Istanbul and had a 5 hour layover at the airport and that is when things started to set in. I am going to Kuwait for 2 years! I also got excited about the new people I would meet and the places I would get to travel. I saw a couple people during the layover that I thought may be also teaching (and was correct). I didn't talk to them much though.

After what seemed like forever I finally arrived in Kuwait. I had a small problem with the Visa as I didn't realize they wanted the paper one in addition to the one stamped in my passport, but luckily I had that with me on my carry on. Someone was holding a sign that said ACA so I had no problem figuring out where to go. From the airport the first stop was in Salmiya, my new apartment. I was left with instructions on how different appliances worked, a fridge with food and water in it and was told I would be picked up Thursday in the lobby at 9am for orientation. It was Wednesday at 3am, so I had about 30 hours to kill. The first order of business was to sleep.