Monday, 8 July 2013

The Ice Capades, A La Kuwaiti Style

Oh my gosh, I did the coolest thing last night: I went ice skating...In Kuwait...ICE SKATING!!! Now, of course ice skating is quite common in Canada. As a child, in the winter time, ice skating was a weekly field trip. My classmates and I would don our snowsuits (hats, mitts, scarves, boots, etc...), and lug our bags for a whole whomping 15 minutes to the community (indoor) ice rink. In our bags we carried extra socks, mittens, small towels to dry our skate blades with and maybe a snack/drink. Sometimes we took sports equipment, but for most kids, hauling skates, our bags AND sports gear was a bit much. The boys, (ice) hockey enthusiasts, were more committed to bringing sporting equipment. My love for ice skating continued over the years to the point where my sister and I would ask for new skates for Christmas when our old ones were too small or damaged. Up until recently, every year my sister and I would set our alarms to blare in the wee hours of the morning, hop out of bed, get dressed, grab our stuff (by now we'd substituted food/drinks for portable music players), and drive to the (outdoor) ice rink downtown. We'd skate until the Zamboni machine arrived (around 7am), and then we'd run across the street for coffee/hot chocolate and go home. We haven't done it in the past few years and I miss it. Maybe that can be what we ask my dad to get us for Christmas: new skates!

A picture of the rink downtown lit up around Christmas at night.

Skating in Kuwait was an altogether different experience. Located in Kuwait City, the skating rink is open every day and is relatively cheap to visit (3kd/2 people). How did I even learn of this place, you ask? One of my students offered to take me (along with his friends) after I showed my students pictures of Canada and told them what I loved doing in Canada that is quintessentially Canadian. Ice skating came up in the conversation, and so came about an invitation to go to skating.

My student picked me up (which had me panicking because police tend to pick on Asians and Arabs driving around together, but all was fine). We took the scenic route to get there (we got quite lost!). Thankfully, my student wasn't afraid to ask for directions-yes, that's a dig at Canadian men who usually won't ask for directions because of their male pride. Anyhooo, most people had no idea what we were enquiring about and one guy flat out laughed at us. EVENTUALLY someone was able to help us and we managed to meet my student's friends AND get in a few laps around the rink before it closed. My poor student had only skated a few times, so he clung to the Plexiglas most of the time. The ice was quite cut up so it took me a looong time to even get my balance, but by the end I was whizzing around and weaving in and out of the crowd the same way that people navigate their cars here.

I was stupid enough to believe that the rink would be dead and we'd have the whole place to ourselves. How ignorant I am. Imagine my surprise when we entered the rink and saw it was PACKED! No joke. What was awesome was that there were AMAZING skaters there! Men and women JUMPING, twirling, spinning, doing fancy footwork and even being brave enough to try a move, fall (painful-looking falls), and get back up and try it all over again. Girls dressed to the max were still able to skate beautifully; girls wearing MEN'S skates were still able to skate beautifully! What was even more awesome was that people of all ages were skating around together. Yeah, this is no different from Canada (you Canadians/westerners are thinking, I know), but the difference was girls were skating with girls, boys were skating with boys, girls were skating with boys-and in each of those categories many were holding hands-being supportive and lending a helping hand! I thought it was the sweetest thing when I saw my student's friends (both male) holding hands and skating together as one could skate better than the other who could barely stand without losing his balance. I couldn't stop smiling. I actually stopped skating a few times to just sit and watch because, well, because it was amazing. I've never felt so at home in a country so different from my own (Japan doesn't count because I'm half Japanese and I do consider it a second home).

Unfortunately, taking photographs inside the premises is NOT permitted, hence the lack of photos in this post. I know that tons of people WERE taking pictures, but I didn't think my student would appreciate me posting pictures of him on my blog. He was a good sport and he only fell once! I really want to go back! I had a blast and highly recommend a visit there (I only saw two expats, a father and son, there). We finished off the evening grabbing a bite at Chili's (not my choice), and I had corn on the cob (ohhh, yeah!), and I couldn't help getting mint lemonade which is definitely NOT what I'm used to after ice skating, but whatever. When in Rome...I loved my student's friends. The better skater can't speak any English and the novice skater is quite good and lived in Calgary for six months. An honorary Canuck ;)

You can find information about Touristic Enterprises Company Ice Skating Rink at the following link: http://www.kuwaittourism.com/IceSkatingRink.htm

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Family Affair

At the beginning of the week:

The “cleansing” of Kuwait’s expats has proven…Interesting.

Earlier in the week I decided to brave shopping at Al Kout in the evening and buy gifts for my family and friends. As I entered Nine West (yes, it’s clearly a spot I frequent), I began bbm’ing my sister in order to get her approval of the purse I would pick up for her. I asked for permission to use my cell phone to take pictures of the purses in the store and the employees there were amazing! They helped me get purses down from the top shelves (because I’m short and have short arms…Sad, but true), held purses up while I took pictures, quoted prices, checked to see if there were brand new purses in the styles I wanted and were patient with me. I strolled around the store for over an hour and ended up buying four purses instead of one. My sister decided she wanted two purses instead of one, and then my aunt (who was visiting my sister and father) also asked me to pick one up for her, and then, of course, I had to get one for my cousin (my aunt’s daughter), because I couldn’t buy for everyone EXCEPT my cousin. Luckily there was a HUGE sale going on at Nine West! SWEEEEEEEET! I left the store with an obscene amount of bags containing purses. I hope I don’t have problems at the Canadian border. Border patrol will probably think I’m smuggling them into Canada to re-sell.

After shopping I ended up waiting for over 10 minutes for an empty cab. The driver was very kind, but the last few drivers I've had have been so incredibly rude. Usually it's common to get one rude driver out of 8 or 10, but the amount of rude drivers these days is terrible. I think twice now before even going out because the thought of dealing with another rude taxi driver is so unappealing. I had two drivers to take me to and from Al Kout where I catch a bus to go to work. My morning driver, although very kind, has a tendency to randomly not show up and not notify me about it, so I sit around waiting and end up rushing (I hate having to rush in the morning!). My afternoon driver will cancel on me right when I get dropped off from the bus, so I end up standing in the sun waiting until I realize that my driver probably isn't coming. Then a message finally comes through explaining that he won't be coming to get me. Fantastic. Thanks for telling me AFTER the fact. He has randomly stopped showing up. Period. Without an explanation. Thanks, dude. Is it perhaps because I refused to accept his invitations to go out for dinner with him? Who knows. As an aside, I refused because I am not interested in dating him, not because of the explicit and undisguised caste system or the ethnic/racial ranking here. Dear taxi drivers, you throw out your business cards and drone on that you want people to call you any time for a ride, but you make it very difficult to be loyal. Even another one of my regular drivers won't show up on time, or will try to overcharge me.

Apologies. I digress! Even after my excursion at Al Kout, I didn't finish all of my shopping-ugh. I'm not looking forward to continuing my shopping expedition, but I'm going to try and finish shopping this weekend because next week is jam-packed with...Wait for it...CLEANING! LAUNDRY! PACKING!

Here are he purses I picked up:

 The purse on the left is orange and my aunt's (her favourite colour is orange). The purse on the right is actually a pastel pink and is my sister's, but I'm sure she'll share with me (I LOVE this purse and want to steal it from her, lol!).
My sister's black silk clutch on the left (I can't tell if the design is a hummingbird or a bird of paradise flower). I also LOVE this purse and will "borrow" it ;)   The clutch on the right is gorgeous and my picture doesn't do it justice :(  It's a grey/purple/brown colour and it's very classy (a specific request from my cousin related to whatever it is that I picked out for her. She's 17 and growing up waaaay too quickly. At least she wants to be classy and not trashy! :P)

At the end of the week:

Last night I went out with the Georgian lady to finish getting gifts. My very soft-spoken coffee runner/cleaner at work asked me if I could help him. My curiosity, always close by, was piqued. He asked me if I could help him by picking out some gifts for his wife and daughter. He gave me a budget and requested that I obtain certain items. After he told me his budget, I was shocked when he told me the reason for his price limits: he makes less than 100kd a month (less than 350CAD). WHAT?!? I sat stunned. Every month my co-workers and I collect money to give to him (he is married and has two children and while his family is in India, he is working in Kuwait). I gladly went shopping for him and ended up enjoying the shopping! I picked up some extra goodies and can't wait to give the gifts to him on Sunday. I only wish I could see his family's faces when he gives them their presents!!! *I will not ask for or accept reimbursement.

The whole thing reminded me of the years when my family decided to do Operation Christmas Child for my church in Canada. We collected/purchased toys, stationary, sweets/snacks, shoes, clothing, toiletries, books, etc..., for less poverty-stricken children in Africa. One year my mother and I went a bit overboard and contacted our close family friends and told them we would drop-off and pick-up the boxes (roughly about the size of a shoe box), if they would fill them. No one was asked to break the bank, just fill the box as much as they could and we would top it up if they couldn't. We drove around like mad, but we had about 20-30 boxes (including ours), and I remember being so proud of my family for taking time out of their ridiculously busy schedules to call friends, make arrangements for drop-off and pick-up dates and times, and being really excited about it! I remember bringing the boxes to church and being so excited! I wish I could have seen the kids faces (we eventually did as my church would ask the transporters to record the children opening their gifts. My favourite clip was of a child who received a pair of shoes and had never owned shoes in their life. It was incredible watching the wonder on the child's face and then the excitement, running around in them, jumping up and down, showing them to everyone. Despite what I've accomplished and achieved in life, which isn't much, hehehehe, nothing has made me feel pride (in myself) like that moment.

The cleansing of expats has proven...Interesting. It's made me remember why I came to Kuwait the first place: to help my family financially. It made me realize that in the future I want to give back to the general public. Figuring out how to do this is something that I have to revisit (again) when I return to Canada. This time I have to figure out how to NOT allow the Canadian government to kill my dream of helping people (soul-crushing, capitalist, passive, anti-Canadians) I'm not living for myself alone because what a sad life that would be. Speaking of Canada, July 1st was Canada day (and my Canadian grandmother's birthday)! I am VERY proud to be a mixed Canadian (but I am not proud of my government)!!! Vive le Canada!!! Let's work harder at figuring how anglophones, francophones, First Nations people and those who have come to Canada from other countries can contentedly unite and build a great nation where we are all actually equal!