Sunday, 30 December 2012

All By Myself

On Saturday last week, my Polish flatmate, the Irish chef and I all ventured back to the old Souq in Kuwait City. I LOVE the SOUQ!!! I think I love it so much because it’s not packed with expats (no offense, expats!), and that I feel like it’s the closest thing to authentic, traditional culture in Kuwait. We headed back to the Souq because my flatmate was preparing to leave and she wanted to pick-up a few gifts. As before, we gravitated towards the fruit and veggie stand. I bought green apples, grapefruits and kuri (Japanese for chestnuts). I always think it’s hilarious when I don’t know certain words in English because I learned them in Japanese first, or never learned them in English at all-yes, that’s happened with quite a few words! “Kuri,” meaning chestnut(s), is one of those words. I didn’t even know that kuri meant chestnut(s) until my father told me when I was in my 20s-please don’t judge! Hahaha! Anyhow, I thought it would be cool to buy (raw) chestnuts it being the Christmas season and all, and 2.5kd later (almost $10CAD), I HAD chestnuts. For someone who does NOT know how to roast/cook chestnuts, I was taking a big food risk. We ate a LARGE lunch consisting of waraq inab (stuffed grape leaves, similar to Greek dolmathes, which I think I’ve already mentioned), fatoush, kebab, tabouleh, chicken and YUMMY bread! My flatmate and I bought some dates (of course), and the Irish chef bought some nuts (of course), and my flatmate and I bought some gifts for family-‘tis the season!

 Lunch: Sorry for the pistachio shells :S
Lots of food to go around!

From the market to the mall, we arrived at Marina Mall and went straight to Decathalon, a sports goods store that we don’t have in my hometown and that I’d never heard of before moving to Kuwait. I’d been in Decathalon at Marina Mall a few weeks back in hopes of finding an arm band to put my ipod (mini) in while I walk/jog (I was unsuccessful). The Irish chef went off to look at the bikes and my flatmate went to the bathing suit section (she needs a suit for her trip to Budapest). We left Decathalon sans a bathing suit and plus one foldable bike. After Decathalon we met two other co-workers: the other halfie and a Georgian who I’d never hung out with socially. Sitting with my Polish flatmate, the other halfie and the Georgian-all fiery women (as in passionate)-and the subdued Irish chef was interesting. I tried to sit back and observe as much as I could instead of getting into the conversation(s). Here’s what I concluded: the Irish chef doesn’t like to talk about “girly” topics (no surprise there, lol!), the ladies, all intelligent and highly educated, are so impressive. Every moment I’m here I’m reminded how incredibly blessed I am to have the chance to be here with such amazing people. I’m able to work in Kuwait with people who I likely never would have encountered at any other point in my life. I’ve never even met people from Georgia until this autumn! My halfie co-worker has admitted things about her identity and feelings about being a halfie that I haven’t ever heard another halfie talk about and it was refreshing! I’m not alone in my sentiments, frustrations and struggles!!! I had such a good time just listening and chatting that I didn’t want to go home, but I’d promised the Irish chef some Japanese curry, so off we went.

At the coffee shop, PAUL in Marina Mall: My first macaroon ever!!! I was a bit disappointed because it was filled with jam, not cream :(

We ate Japanese curry for dinner, but prior to eating, I’d washed the chestnuts, tried a few raw (they’re tasty raw!!!) and threw them in the oven (which my flatmate started for me because it’s gas and I don’t know how to use a gas oven *sigh*). I had NO idea how long to leave them in the oven, but once the sound of exploding chestnuts resonated in our apartment I thought I’d better take them out. I was too scared to simply take the chestnuts out of the oven, so the Irish chef stepped up to the manly call of duty and did the honours and did he ever get a blasting! A huge chestnut jumped off the baking sheet and hit him in the chest! It was unexpected and hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing and squealing like a delighted child. Geeeeeez. Like over-excited kids, we hovered around the chestnuts, too impatient to wait for them to cool, and hurriedly attempted to peel the tiny morsels and try them roasted! They were delicious! We laughed so much and so hard I almost momentarily forgot that Christmas was almost upon us and that we would be at work and I wouldn’t be with my family.

 Pre-washed and pre-cooked chestnuts
After washing, cooking and exploding!

Christmas was quiet at the office since a lot of people took the day off. The whole week was off due to a New Year’s exhibition on campus which consisted of loud music, acting, food stalls and restless students itching to be socializing instead of learning English grammar. Thursday night was my flatmate’s last (partial) night in Kuwait. She flew out of Kuwait at 4am for Budapest where she’ll meet her partner who is driving to meet her there. She hasn’t seen him since the summer and I feel for them; long-distance is the worst. We had dinner with our Lebanese co-worker who lives upstairs and the other halfie. We picked up some Indian food and pop (I haven’t had pop in this country). As we gathered around the table and chatted, I was delighted to hear that things are headed in positive directions for all of my friends. Everyone left around 12:30am and I couldn’t hide my exhaustion. I decided to take a nap until my flatmate had to leave. I couldn’t fall asleep (because of the caffeine in the pop?). I did finally manage to doze off, but I was soon awakened by my flatmate whose taxi driver was waiting. We said good-bye, although I admit I was so out of it that I didn’t feel the full effects of what was actually happening. Only when I looked out the window and saw her leave did it hit me: she was gone and I wasn’t sad at being alone again (naturally), but rather that I’d lost someone more like a friend than a co-worker, more like a sister than a friend…You don’t meet people like her everyday and now I was losing her. She’d only come into my life a few short months ago. It isn’t fair. As I sat in bed Friday morning, I felt off. I wanted to run, but didn’t have the enthusiasm for it. My flatmate was the one who inspired and motivated me to run. I thought I should bake, but decided against it. Who would have been my taste tester?

Yesterday I woke up, decided not to be lazy and went for a walk/jog. For some reason it was incredibly difficult to exercise (it’s not normally, surprisingly). I finished up my run and came upstairs, showered and did some work. I got so involved in it that I forgot about my plans to meet up with the other halfie. I looked for her phone number and couldn’t find it for the life of me. We finally somehow managed to meet up and we went the Souq Sharq. What is the Souq Sharq, you ask? Why it’s a mall, of course! I shopped quite a bit, but I only bought things I actually needed: sweaters, socks, dental floss, lip balm, the last present for my secret Santa, and some groceries. I picked up a gift for my sister, too! My friend was very talkative and confided a lot about her personal life. I learned that she and I have had similar experiences. I didn’t talk about mine, but listened to hers and I felt for her. She’s smart, hilarious and gorgeous! We were driving around (she parked in front of the Kuwait Towers so I could take a picture because I don’t want to actually go IN them, lol!). She told me all about this famous road in Kuwait that’s well-known here for either picking-up or dating. She related that because dating (for Kuwaiti especially), is illegal, people will drive on this road and in the surrounding area instead of sitting somewhere in the open where they can get caught. This (fairly long) road also serves as a place for men to pick-up women and vice versa. I didn’t believe her until we actually drove on the infamous street (al-hubb, the love street), and were stopped at a light where a male motorcyclist picked up a woman in an SUV. Once she started to drive he began following her and if I didn’t know any better I’d assume they were a happy couple, in love and driving off into the sunset. No, no, Mik, you sill, na├»ve, girl!

Other halfie: They’ll probably go and park somewhere and have se…
                                                                                                                                                              Mik: WHAT?? NO WAY! Really?!?

I was shocked. She laughed at me. If you don't know, there's a deep-seeded obsession with s-e-....Well, you know what I'm talking about. It's honestly as simple as cars pulling up to each other, the passengers exchanging numbers and...Well, you know. My friend even explained that driving patterns, signalling, etc., all have different meanings! Kuwaiti culture 101 here, seriously! I don't know why I was so surprised, but it's a completely different world to me. I'd read recently that "re-virginizing surgery is actually one of the most popular surgeries in the Middle East and was shocked, but then put two and two together. At Souq Sharq Mall I needed to go into Boots (a British pharmacy/drugstore here) for dental floss and lip balm. While we were there, my friend pulled me over to the, uh, "dirty" section (excuse the 13-year old-esqe lingo, but, uh, yeah, my dad reads this. Gotta keep it PG, y'all!). She showed me this "virginizing" cream, or gel, or whatever (that stuff is 65kwd, roughly $235CAD!!!). I couldn't stop laughing! Honestly? We were trying to figure out exactly what the stuff does. When we got to the counter my friend whispered, "LOOK!" Sure enough the Kuwaiti female next to us was buying a cheaper version of the "virginizing" product. HA! Although we were driving, we weren't looking for love, or a one-night stand. We WERE on the hunt for the infamous "juice" (awar gelb), which is sold at a run-down, strip mall in the suburbs where, before, during and/or after the chase, men and women may chat, swap numbers, decide on a meeting place, etc. If I showed my 18-year old students the "juice" cup, they'd know what I'd done on my Saturday night, lol! If I'd said I'd gone out "gizing" they'd know I'd gone driving on al-hubb, perhaps I'd believed I'd gotten some numbers and maybe their opinion of me might change a little, hahaha! My friend wasn't sure about physically getting out of her car to buy awar gelb because of all of the guys around. Oddly (or not?), there were no women out and about. Sensing how uncomfortable she was I told her I'd go alone and get the awar gelb. She wouldn't let me go alone though, so we BOTH ended up getting it. It was a tasty (but very sweet), smoothie that is SOOO popular they have a ton pre-made! Conclusion? I'm obviously not into gizing, but I can understand why it happens, and now I can say I've done things that the locals do, but not the dirty stuff-just clarifying for my dad!

Awar gelb

Friday, 21 December 2012

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Misdiagnosed...Again

I was informed by the school that there was a problem with the x-ray I took for my medical. Translation=I have to re-take my x-ray. Great. Off I went with a different driver to the x-ray facility. We spoke with a technician who opened with the following: “You have a lung disease?” Excuse me. What??? “You have a lung disease?” Seriously? I TOLD the previous technician that I’d had complications as a child and subsequently underwent an obscene amount of surgeries, so nothing would look “normal,” but did she write ANY of what I’d said down? Nope. “You need to take tests, Miss. You need to do urine, stool, x-ray, blood and,” and that’s where I stopped him: “NO. I’m not going to take more tests. I do NOT have a lung disease.” The driver wasn’t able to keep up with our conversation, so he was no help. I looked back at the technician and repeated, “I do NOT have a lung disease and I am NOT going to take any more tests.” Maybe it was my agitation, but he wasn’t going to argue with me; he led us down a corridor to see a doctor. Once I got into the doctor’s office she shooed the men out and asked me what had happened and to show her my battle scars. Once she’d seen them, she signed off on and stamped my papers. She dismissed the idea that I had a lung disease, obviously. This is not meant to be arrogant, or as if I know better than an MD; it’s a keen awareness and knowledge of my body, VERY recent x-rays and knowing my medical history: don’t challenge me. I’m not stupid and I REFUSE to allow myself to be misdiagnosed…Again. Three days later I received a message from the admin department: I’m officially a resident of Kuwait, and I have the sticker in my passport to prove it.

There was big dinner party last night that consisted of the Turks, my Hungarian and Serbian co-workers (not the Irish chef’s roommate), the Irish chef and his former co-worker (who is from Texas), as well as a different Lebanese co-worker (who used to live in Montreal. She’s a free spirit). We all gathered to bid farewell to my flatmate (who is flying out next Friday morning). We were supposed to meet at Organica Fish & Chips, but to our shock and sadness, the restaurant was gone. We went next door to an American joint call the Steak & Waffle. Yeah…There are no words. Anyhow, the company made the evening! For some odd reason the Irish chef has been trying to sell his Texan friend to me. I’m not a fan of set-ups, nor am I in any mood to humour this kind of activity. The Texan boy is very nice, intelligent and worldly. I enjoyed chatting with him, but I wasn’t chatting him up. The Texan is trying to find a job in Kuwait (he just finished working in Saudi Arabia). The conversations were flowing and the smiles were abundant and the breeze off the water was refreshing (we sat outside all night-yes, it’s still a bit warm here!). I was enjoying the evening immensely when I heard the Lebanese free spirit ask the Irish chef, “Did you tell Miki what I asked you the other day?” Oh geez. He did, and believe me, it wasn’t something I wanted to discuss in front of the other nine people at the table. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:
Irish chef: Yes.
Lebanese free spirit: So Miki, why aren’t you two dating?
*Silence*  Insert Miki getting aggravated.
Lebanese free spirit: Because I can sense that there’s attraction there.
Irish chef: I’ve tried, but...
Are we honestly having this conversation in front of his friend, a stranger, at the dinner table in front of EVERYONE?
Lebanese free spirit: You know, my partner and I met at the office and we tried to hide our attraction. You two…
Mik: I’m sorry, but the Irish chef and I have already talked about this (alright, so I’ve left some things out. I’m sorry, but some things are private)…
Serbian guy: We all know you’re dating, so you don’t have to hide it. We don’t care.
Hungarian lady: Yeah, Miki. We see you guys together all the time.
*Insert Mik getting angry as all eyes at the table are on her.
Mik: …We’re not dating.

Suddenly I wasn’t angry; I was frustrated. I wanted to yell at them, “Do you KNOW what Habibi put me through??? Do you KNOW how horrible the past two years have been???” Of course they didn’t, and of course I kept my mouth shut.

Lebanese free spirit: Oh, Miki, you’re embarrassed!
Serbian guy: I’ve only seen you blush once before, Miki and that was when you spoke Japanese.

They didn’t know who they were talking to. I rarely get embarrassed. I definitely blush, but actually feel embarrassed? Not likely. If you knew my family you’d understand. I’ve been mercilessly teased and even tortured, hahaha! I definitely am shy and embarrassed when I speak Japanese, but the conversation about the non-existent office romance wasn’t embarrassing me. So why was I so bothered? I was bothered that I couldn’t enunciate what was weighing heavy on me.

Mik: I’m not embarrassed.
Lebanese free spirit: It’s okay, Miki! You two are so cute together! You’d make a great couple. Office romances can work you know.
Serbian guy: We all get embarrassed, Miki. It’s all right.

Since when was this kind of invasive, patronizing conversation considered OKAY? I simply stopped listening and communicating.

We didn’t get home until almost midnight and by the time I was done chatting online with a long-time friend (who lives in Oman), it was well past 2am. The night ended on a high note: my friend will be visiting Kuwait on business at the beginning of January-seeing another Canadian (-Palestinian) friend in Kuwait! I can’t wait!!!

Chatting (online) until 2am makes for a sleepy Miki. I had to remind myself how happy I feel after a run to inspire me to get out of bed at 7:45am to exercise. The clouds were menacing and threatened to storm (which they did, complete with thunder AND lightning. Yep. It was the real deal). I’ve increased my jogging/running time to 2 minutes…Yes, that’s TWO WHOLE MINUTES straight, ladies and gentlemen. As a result of this program, my lungs have become so much stronger! However, I’ve also noticed that my bottom has…Changed. I don’t mean it just feels different. I mean it’s noticeably different. My flatmate commented on it, my pants aren’t as saggy in the buttocks region and even another co-worker said something to me (sexual harassment! Lol!). I can’t even believe I’m typing this, but it’s SHOCKING! *Written to the tempo of Sir Mix A Lot's "Baby Got Back" ( I’ve got a big butt and I cannot lie. You other runners can’t deny, when you run 4k, almost every other day and you walk on your days off, you get buns. Oh, no you di-n’t! Oh, yes, I did. THIS is exactly why I wasn’t one of the cool kids in school, that and a clear indication that I have way too much time on my hands.

Thursday and Friday were such good days that I almost forgot that someone stole my credit card information and maxed my card. I know I should be furious, but I’m not. I don’t know who I’ve turned into because normally this kind of thing would set me off. I have insurance so I won’t have to pay the charges that were incurred. It’s going to be a HUGE pain (in my new and improved booty), to get another credit card, but what are you going to do? Maybe all this running is making me happy. I know I’m going to miss Christmas with my family and friends and it makes me sad, but I can’t be miserable or I’ll never be able to pull myself out of it. Like I wrote in my previous post, I need to figure out how to live my life purposefully. First, survive the last nine days of teaching for the term. Baby steps, preferably to music.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Wanted: A Purpose-Driven Life

I always thought that being a teacher meant that I was giving back to society in a modest, yet meaningful way. Teaching in Kuwait has taught be me that being an instructor here means nothing to anyone, including some co-workers (perhaps this is just at my corporation). I know that as a teacher I walk around in a stupidly optimistic bubble pretending that I actually do something worthwhile. Ironically, as I walk around in my idiotic bubble, I simultaneously doubt my ability to teach effectively. As I’m sure you can guess simply from the country I’m in, I’m not simply teaching teenage girls English. Sometimes I feel like a mama duck with her little ducklings following her around. Somehow I still feel like my work is menial. Perhaps this is a discussion better left for another time? Yes.

On a somewhat related note, my flatmate has quit our company and will be leaving next Thursday to return to Poland before moving with her partner to Switzerland. Onto bigger and better things is she! I will have the flat to myself for a full month before I move in with one of my Lebanese co-workers who lives a few floors above us. I love living on my own, but I’ve really enjoyed having a flatmate (she’s my first), and I can already tell that “good-bye” is going to break my heart. My goal was to keep everyone at a distance and I have honestly succeeded…Except with my flatmate. We share a lot of the same morals, values and beliefs about what is truly important in life. She’s taught me so much! We have shared certain secrets that no one else here knows about and we have done some crazy things here that have bonded us forever.

One of my co-workers who has worked at the school longer than we have (she’s a halfie, too!!! She’s half Kuwaiti and half Libyan), suggested that we go out for a farewell-ish dinner. So, off we went to the Avenues to try out BENIHANA on Saturday evening! OHHH, YEAH! After my disappointment at Sakura, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should allow myself to get psyched about Benihaha. This weekend was a weird one for me. Friday I ran like mad and upped my jogging time (for a few intervals at the end), and also increased the length of time I ran for (from 30 minutes to 40). Because of the intense run I was exhausted and spent the afternoon working and the evening chatting with my friend in Oman. I awoke the Saturday to a dead iPod (NO WAY AM I RUNNING WITHOUT MUSIC), and a version of iTunes that doesn’t let me simply drag and drop music onto my iPod (what?!? How the heck do I get music onto my iPod with the 11.0 version of iTunes??? Curse you, Apple!). I was NOT a happy camper. As soon as my iPod finally recharged I gave up on figuring out how to put music onto it and went for a walk outside since there were people in the gym and I’m too intimidated to work out in front of others.

I hadn’t planned on walking outside, but it was nice to be outside and enjoy some, er, “fresh” air. I love being outside and I know people here think I’m crazy for spending time outdoors, but like Emi says: “I make no pretense of being normal. I’m not.” After my walk-jog, I quickly jumped into the shower; I had a dinner party to get myself ready for! As I was getting myself all dolled up, my flatmate asked, “Miki, would you do my make-up for me tonight?” Had my excitement at having an excuse to get all dressed up rubbed off on her? Pershmaps. I did her make-up and we chatted so much that we lost track of time-oooops! I rushed to finish my own make-up and get dressed up, new, fancy boots and all. That’s right. I bought myself some new boots. TWO pairs to be exact. Awesome. If you’re in Kuwait, Nine West has already put a lot of their stock on sale. I’ve been told that sales before Christmas in Kuwait are huge and items can be up to 80% off! Warning: Mikiko should avoid malls at all cost. I’m not a big shopper, but shoes are DEFINITELY a weakness.

Boots at Nine West: both pairs were 12kd each (less than $45CAD!!!!!)!!!!
Running behind, we went to pick up the Georgians (also co-workers) from their apartment and to meet our Kuwaiti/Libyan co-worker at the restaurant. We arrived to quite a quiet Benihana. No matter. We quickly ordered dishes (reasonably priced) and were soon entertained by our chef who cooked our non-sushi dishes on the grill in front of us. He was incredibly sweet and funny. My co-worker noticed that although our chef was going above and beyond to entertain us (she watched other chefs throughout the night and none of the other chefs were joking around and doing crazy tricks), we were entertaining the few other patrons in the restaurant. We must have looked like a sight: five women, two Georgian, one Polish, one Kuwaiti/Libyan and a Japanese Canadian all laughing loudly, chatting, oooo-ing and ahhhh-ing! Sushi, yakisoba, green tea ice cream and tempura ice cream later, I thought I was going to explode. The food was substantially better than Sakura and I love the atmosphere at Benihana!!! Is it the real deal? Well, it’s pretty darn close. *Insert Mik smiling* Maybe it was the company. Maybe it was the food. Maybe it was both, but for the first time in a long time I felt like I wasn’t away from home. It was scary and exciting at the same time because I realized that I could really live here. No, not the forever kind of live here, but the kind that I could do for awhile. No, it’s not Japan. But Canada isn’t Japan either. However, Japan isn’t Canada. I sound like an idiot. Kuwait is not Canada, nor is Canada Kuwait…Obviously. What I’m trying to get across (and doing quite terribly), is that it’s incredible for me to realize that this foreign place can feel like home.

The table setting

The restaurant's creation/solution for the other halfie who can't use chopsticks, lol!

Mmmmm! Maki sushi!!! Sakeno to ebi tempurano!

The sliced onion/erupting volcano concoction!

Watashino ebi yakisoba! My shrimp yakisoba!

Dessert: tempura ice cream

My dessert: green tea ice cream (nihoncha ice creamwa daiskuiiiiiiiii!!!!)

Getting involved with doing secret Santa has also given my mood a boost. My flatmate decided not to take part in the whole thing since she’s decided to leave. Where did that leave me? With HER secret Santa: My Lebanese friend whose husband is from London (Ontario, Canada-my hometown). I ended up giving La Lune (her nickname), the homemade hot chocolate mix: forgot to take a picture of it, but it is definitely tasty. OKAY, I HAD to be QC (quality control), as well as baker extraordinaire because my chocolate-loving flatmate wasn’t around to help me (not that I’m blaming her; she had to go to work, lol!). I dumped the mix into a nice container and topped it off with mini marshmallows. I was able to drop it off while La Lune was teaching. My flatmate saw La Lune notice the present after class, and La Lune broke out a big smile! Priceless. Next up? A funny gift. Check. I’m super duper excited to give it to her!!!

I love my co-workers. Yes, of course there are people who I don’t jive with. Overall though, I genuinely LIKE everyone, and I love 95% of them! I was bonding with one of the Turks who offered to make me some Turkish coffee (which, of course, the Arabs claim is theirs and the Greeks claim is theirs. LOL). So off we went to the kitchenette to make me some Turkish coffee. I just thought she was going to make me some coffee and that was it. Turkish coffee is boiled with water and sugar in a small pot and brought to a boil and then cooled before being boiled and cooled a few more times. My co-worker instructed me to drink it and then flip the cup over (with all the grounds in the bottom of it). The coffee was soooo tasty!!! It was strong, flavourful and aromatic. I LOVED it!!! Afterwards, my co-worker came back and told me she’d read the grounds for me. She’d read what?!? She shook the cup so that all the excess grounds came out of the cup. She inspected the cup and opened with asking if I knew if someone close to me, like my sister, is pregnant. I was thinking, “Dear God, I hope not!” Negative Miki: hold your tongue! I answered that although I had a few friends who’d recently given birth and who are pregnant now, no one in my family (to the best of my knowledge) is pregnant. She sat quiet and pensive for awhile. I waited anxiously because even though I’m not really into this stuff it’s still fun to have someone who knows what they’re doing predict your future. She finally started talking about my life and future, and boy did she ever read into it! She hit the nail on the head as I sat pretending not to be stunned. After going on for about fifteen minutes she looked up at me and I was speechless. I didn’t want to confirm what she’d said was accurate because then I would have admitted things about myself that I wasn’t comfortable sharing, but I thought, “I hope that what she said comes true.” Change is in the air and much sooner than I’d anticipated. Let us hope it’s for the best because I’m sick and tired of feeling melancholy because I’m living a life without purpose. There has to be more to life than loss and disappointment. I feel like living in Kuwait has rejuvenated my spirit in some ways. Surprised? Me, too! It’s time to start moving forward and taking risks. No, not of the heart, of course. Never. Again.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Bake Me a Cake, or 6 Dozen Cookies, as Fast as You Can

I ventured into new territory in Kuwait on Saturday…No, it wasn’t the towers, nor was it the museum or even the aquarium. I FINALLY managed to see…The INSIDE of my oven!!! It was dusty which isn’t a surprise, hahaha! Neither my flatmate nor I have used it since we moved in to our apartment at the beginning of October. In Canada, December is a time I’m busy baking in preparation for Christmas. For the past few years, my sister and I took over most of the Christmas baking duties as my mother’s health continued to deteriorate. My sister now makes the genettis (Italian cookies that my mom learned to make from her mom who learned of the recipe from Italian families in their neighbourhood), and fruit jumbles (another one of my grandmother’s traditional Christmas cookies. They’re like mini Christmas cake-yeah, the Christmas cake that no one ever eats). What else does my sister usually bake??? Ohhh, I remember! She usually makes the skittles which are homemade nuts and bolts. I THINK we got this recipe from a long-time family friend, Lorrie.

A few years before she passed away, my mother began a new tradition of baking something new every year. The new treat never stays in our traditional Christmas baking repertoire, but it’s fun to do! This would be the time of year when I would normally be baking ginger molasses cookies, my Uncle Jeff’s shortbread cookies (even though he IS of Scottish descent, he got the recipe from a co-worker), and kaka cookies. I believe “kaka” cookies are better known as porcupine cookies. Emi called them kaka cookies because they look like…Well, they look like…Poop. I’m sorry, there is no nice way of putting it without either sounding crass, like a 3-year old, or like a scientist. Since I’m NOT in Canada, and I don’t have a hand mixer/blender, I made drop cookies. In my quest for anything pumpkin flavoured, my flatmate found canned pumpkin and today I finally got the courage to try baking with it. What took me so long, you ask? Well, let me tell you: We have a gas oven. Yes, you can laugh at me. Unlike my Polish flatmate who grew up in a rural area in Communist Poland, I grew up in an ever-growing city in not-Communist Canada. I never even knew how to use a gas stove until I moved into this flat-watch that you don’t burn yourself, Mik! I’ve been so sheltered. I can’t even make rice in a pot! I have a high-tech rice cooker from Japan. My flatmate had to help me light the oven and then figure out what heat level would bake, but not burn, the cookies. Honestly? I still burned the first darn batch, as I do EVERY year.

My sister sent me some pictures of the baking she’s already done. She told me that the icing sugar  that she used on the genettis was so clumpy…It does look thin, but I know they taste awesome! She also sent me a picture of a truffle she made and it looks so tasty! Apparently, my father keeps eating them. At this rate, there won’t be any left for Christmas! That’s my dad though: Mik’s dad + chocolate = the inhalation of the chocolate. My father’s sweet tooth is equivalent to mine and my sister’s (and my mother’s when she was alive). He’s a big fan of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. We always buy him a large box of them at Christmas and he’ll hide them from us! Sometimes he’s such a kid. We all open our chocolates, pass them around (Emi gets Toffifee, and I usually get Turtles or Almond Roca. My mom loved the Laura Secord French & frosted mint chocolates), and then we can put them away, but the rule is that if we open them then we have to share them. Not dad though. He opens his, eats five in the time it takes me to eat one of mine, then he runs off to hide his chocolates. Uh, dad? You hide your Ferrero Rocher in your closet EVERY year. Maybe it’s time to find a new hiding spot? P.S. I can control myself. I usually only steal one or two of his chocolates, hahaha!

 Genettis that Emi baked (made in Canada)
Emi's chocolate truffle with a looong name that I can't remember (made in Canada)

The holidays are upon us here in Kuwait, too! I baked two batches of pumpkin cookies with caramel frosting (pictured below). I gave some to our hares (building manager) and he really liked them. My flatmate, who also has a sweet tooth, has eaten quite a few today. I love seeing people smile and I love making people happy with food that I make! For secret Santa, I’m going to make my flatmate a homemade hot chocolate mix complete with chunks of chocolate bars and marshmallows!!! I’m VERY excited and hope she likes it!!!

The pumpkin cookies with caramel frosting that I baked (made in Kuwait)

Keeping on the topic of hot chocolate, when I was in Salmiya with the Irish chef yesterday, I replenished my mint hot chocolate stash. I also found something I didn’t expect to find: JAPANESE CURRY!!! I had to buy some! I’m not sure how other expats feel when they live abroad, but I find that there are some things from home that I really miss and crave and other things I can gladly forget about (like Nutella. People here are OBSESSED with Nutella. Sure, it's tasty, and although I like Nutella, I'm not nuts about it, ha!). I've always wondered what it means when, as an expat, I return to the familiar of home as opposed to embracing the challenge of trying to assimilate into the culture I'm living in by either finding a substitute or just living without whatever it is that I need/want/miss/etc....However, that's a question for a whole other blog post, lol! 

Mint hot chocolate (I love ANYTHING with mint AND chocolate!) & Japanese curry!

*Addendum: The recipe for the pumpkin spice cookies with caramel frosting is posted below in the comment section. WARNING: You cannot purchase nutmeg in Kuwait...Apparently it can be used as a narcotic. I probably should have known that. Please reply and include pictures if you try making the cookies!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Write On!

I’ve always wondered how writers begin the writing process. Is it ideas scribbled in a notebook, a mind map of post-its all over a wall? Is it staring at a computer screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard? Perhaps it’s something else entirely? I’m a writer of a different sort. Literary essays were my forte. Now, my strength is writing brilliant lesson plans and helpful comments in margins of exams that feel more like mini rants: “Simple sentences do not consist of a dependent and independent clause joined together by a subordinating conjunction” *sigh* Not poetry or great literature by any means. Then again, this blog isn’t anything to write home about either, hahaha! Get it??? No, Mik. No one gets it. No one gets why you refer to yourself in the third person, or why you write home about this stuff. I guess I just always thought I might have an inner writing goddess…No, not an inner blogger goddess, but an actual novelist. Of course, not all dreams are meant to come true. That’s the thing about being thirty (years old), you realize that you CAN’T actually be whatever you want to be.

What role does Kuwait play in all this nonsense? Well, I thought that I might have time while I’m here to jot some notes down and try to turn them into something brilliant. However, I haven’t even scribbled anything of my own down-just terrible. Perhaps I need to be in a country where literature is valued. Let’s face it, it’s not like there are publishing houses here that would be willing to give me a big fat book advancement. People aren’t avid readers here. Maybe I could write something brilliant here and sent it out once I return to Canada...

The Irish chef, my Polish flatmate and I are all avid readers. I admit that I haven’t been able to get into Hullaballo and actually returned it to the Irish chef. I need a page-turner! This morning my Polish flatmate, the Irish chef and I went to The Breakfast Club for brunch. I tried the risotto and the Irish chef had the American breakfast. My Polish flatmate opted for the sweet crepe. I had to take pictures because it was ALL delicious; unfortunately, the Irish chef's food came out before ours and I forgot to take a picture of his food.

 This place really is a gem! My mushroom risotto. YUMMY!!!
My Polish flatmate's sweet crepe complete with maple syrup AND nutella. Nutella is EVERYWHERE in Kuwait.

After eating we hopped in a taxi and headed on over to Salmiya. One of our co-workers was selling her jewellery at an annual bazaar at a theatre. While the Irish chef went to scope out a second-hand bookstore, my Polish flatmate and I stood in a looooooooooooong line waiting to enter the bazaar. I was absolutely shocked to see a loooooooooooooooong line of expats. There were some Middle Eastern families there as well, but the group consisted of mostly expats. I stood in line while my flatmate quickly took a peak inside. As she approached me she shook her head "no" and that was enough for us to get out of line and head over to Marina Mall for coffee and some shopping. First, however, we soaked up as much glorious sun as we could! I went out in a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and flip-flops and I felt warm!!! While we walked along the coast with our coffee, I snapped a few shots of the water and the greenery so you can see that there is SOME green here, lol! We saw people jogging, cycling, rollerblading, couples (Middle Eastern) holding hands and strolling leisurely, kids actually being very active, and for the first time in two weeks I realized how I much I miss being in a culture that recognizes the importance of being active and getting fresh air. You don’t get the sense that Kuwaitis prioritize being active or getting fresh air, so it was nice to see expats and Kuwaitis (as well as other Arabs), all out and about outside today!

After we finished our coffees (my third of the day), we made our way to Marina Mall. I am never eager to go to malls here because the men so openly and obviously stare at women. As we entered the mall we passed several coffee shops full of Arab men who openly and obviously stared at us. At least I thought it was both of us. Getting stared at is common. No, I'm not drop-dead gorgeous. I'm half Asian and I LOOK Asian. I have learned to focus on the point I am walking towards and ignore any man in my peripheral vision. If I don't do this, I will actually get flustered. My flatmate, on the other hand, isn’t a fan of pretending that nothing’s wrong and heatedly asked me, “What is it with the men here?!? Why are they so interested in Asians???” I looked blankly at her. What was I supposed to say? I got uncomfortable and shook my head. People who know my history with Arab men would likely assume that I know the answer to my flatmate’s question, but I have absolutely NO IDEA why Middle Eastern men like Asian women. Instead of asking the Arab men (wouldn't that have been hilarious???), we kept walking in search of Christmas presents. Although we tried to find presents, instead we picked up face cream for the Irish chef, who was too embarrassed to get some himself. I couldn’t buy anything because my flatmate IS my secret Santa. My flatmate decided to return home after searching, and not finding, the perfect gift for her secret Santa. I saw her off and then went to meet the Irish chef who’d finished up at the bookstore. He and I went to the grocery store and stared at all the goodies. I LOVE shopping for food in Salmiya! I found Japanese curry!!! I was sooo excited! I also found some baking ingredients that I needed to make cookies! Let the baking begin!!!

 The shoreline. I don't know what that glass pyramid is, but the building behind it is the Hard Rock Cafe.
 Another building...I don't know what it houses...Uh, yeah.
 The coastline: Kuwait city. If you look close enough, on the right-hand side you can see the Kuwait towers.
 Some greenery and and a kid rollerblading. The little girl and her brothers were so cute trying to skate everywhere! A few falls didn't curb their enthusiasm and determination either! 
The view from the restaurants overlooking the marina. All of the restaurants were PACKED! It was crazy to see so many different nationalities all squished into one building. It made me feel happy. Yes, that's ALL it takes...Well, FOOD and feeling close to people are all it takes.

I know this has NOTHING to do with Kuwait, but it's my Uncle Jeff's birthday today (December 7th)! I love my Uncle Jeff so much. He's an intelligent and hilarious guy who got me hooked on red wine! I always wanted to find a guy just like my dad and my Uncle Jeff...I still do. Happy birthday, Uncle Jeff!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Survival of the Fittest

I have enjoyed my time here in Kuwait thus far, and this whole experience, despite some road bumps (which I anticipated), has been great! I have not, for one moment, ever felt worried or scared living in Kuwait. Shocked? A few days ago that completely changed and I was thrown out of my comfort zone. It all began one morning this past week…

My flatmate inspired me to do a running challenge. It’s a 6-week program that I know I’ll have to expand to at least 8-10 weeks, lol! My lungs are terrible (because of having asthma as a child and then not exercising them enough as an adult), so it’s been quite hilarious. I walk at a quick pace for four minutes and then jog/run for one minute. I repeat this sequence 6 times for a total of thirty minutes. Sounds easy, right? It probably IS easy for people who are in shape. I have been working out a lot here, but we all know cardio is NOT my strong suit and I was huffing and puffing enough to blow down the third little pig’s house made of bricks! I was okay until I hit 20 minutes. Recovering enough for the last two rounds just didn’t happen though. That being said, I felt amazing! Now, my legs are getting muscular (as if my thighs need to be any bigger than they already are!), and I feel a lot healthier and stronger. I will continue this program until I can jog/run at a comfortable pace for a FULL THIRTY MINUTES NON-STOP. I’ll likely die first, but it’s worth a try! Every morning in the wee hours I wake up and walk/jog/run for 30-35 minutes and it really boosts my mood (and I don’t even drink my morning coffee until AFTER I run!). The key? Keep breathing: breathe in. Breathe out. 

The first morning I did this program I was in a great mood and was headed off to work with my co-worker, just like every other morning, jumping into a cab and going to the university. The police stopped us before we’d even started to drive and the cab driver was getting his papers all out and my co-worker was getting her papers out and I told them that I had a feeling it was my passport they wanted. They both ignored me. To make a long story short, the officer kept pressing my co-worker (who speaks Arabic) about what nationality I am, what I’m doing in Kuwait and where I work. I was fuming. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I really should: Filipino prostitution is extremely common here. It’s a very sad and disgusting business as most Filipino prostitutes are forced into the business by men…I don’t know enough to say whether it’s Filipino men or Kuwaiti men, but either way, it’s despicable, and I feel terrible for those women. Now, I have been mistaken for being Filipino here. I guess it’s understandable…I am an Asian halfie. Once the officer saw my Canadian passport and that I work for the university he quickly left. I was angry for three reasons: first of all, the street police officers are not the immigration police and actually have no right to stop citizens and ask such questions (or so I was informed by my Kuwaiti co-worker). Secondly, there was no reason to stop us (we weren’t doing anything suspicious or illegal). Thirdly, I have no rights here. I'm a female, foreign immigrant worker in a country where foreign women are powerless.

I might not have been so upset if that same morning I hadn't noticed red marks all down my shoulders and back. I was panicking a bit because they hurt and I couldn’t see them well. I had to ask my flatmate to check them out which was mortifying since I’m like a modern-day version of Frankenstein with all of my battle scars. My flatmate is amazing: she didn’t freak out at the scar on my back and remarked that the red marks looked like burns. Lovely. To calm down I decided to do some yoga…Yes, me doing yoga, to relax. I’ll give you a few minutes to finish laughing before I go on . . . Another Lebanese co-worker of mine, who lived in Canada (Montreal), is a brilliant, kind woman who is also a yoga instructor. She has been teaching me yoga poses that will help me strengthen my back and abdomen muscles so that I can improve my bad back. I calmed myself down, but I couldn’t help but admit that I actually felt fear when we were stopped by the police. The fear didn't dissipate until I got reassurance that my visa would be extended. Mik, do the Niralambasana pose. Now, breathe in. Breathe out.

Question: What could make the day worse? Answer: The medical exam I had to take. Apparently this is standard here in the Gulf when you’re in the process of obtaining a civil ID/residency. I probably wouldn’t have minded doing this exam had I not ALREADY DONE IT CANADA after I was misinformed about what I needed to do before leaving Canada for Kuwait.

Everyone: Mik, come on, it’s just an x-ray and some blood work. No big deal.                      

Mik: Rubbish. I have a ridiculous paranoia of needles. Yes, I KNOW it’s ridiculous, but I can’t help it. An x-ray is not JUST an x-ray. An x-ray (to check if I have TB…Um, SERIOUSLY??? I’m from CANADA! You think I’d be allowed to just walk around with TB, unchecked?!? Please.) is unnecessary exposure to radiation that I, of all people, do not need. I have had MORE THAN ENOUGH x-rays. Sorry, but it IS a big deal. What if I had planned on having children? The radiation from even one x-ray is harmful and can cause fertility problems. 

I thought about my father and sister and plucked up what little courage I have, packed some pure pineapple juice, chocolate cookies, rubbing alcohol wipes, bandaids, purell sanitizer and cotton pads and went on my way. After hearing the horror stories about the medical facilities I was really worried. I'm sorry to report back that the stories weren’t exaggerations. I was with three of my colleagues and Ali, an administrative employee who tends to get stuck driving me all over the place to get my papers/ID/visa/residency/etc. in order. We had an appointment at the blood clinic, so everything moved quickly and smoothly. Ali, noticing that I was pale and not talking (Mik NOT talking???), kept assuring me that everything would be okay. If he compared the medical facilities in Canada to the ones in Kuwait he would have understood my mental state. I didn’t touch ANYTHING. As my paperwork was processed so I could give blood, I began to feel a cold sweat creep up on me. The nurse wore a mask and plastic gloves that she did NOT change between patients…I started to panic. As I rolled up my sleeve she was already ready to stick me with the dang needle and I yelled at her to stop. I mean, I really yelled at her. She didn’t look impressed. The needle was a friggin’ 5 gauge needle a few inches long (quite a bit longer than most needles I’ve seen in Canada). Breathe in. Breathe out. I grabbed my hand sanitizer, wiped my hands, grabbed the rubbing alcohol wipes, silently THANKED my friend from Canada who had visited earlier in the month and brought me the wipes, and disinfected my arm. Breathe in. Breathe out. I closed my eyes and turned my head away. To the nurse’s credit she was darn good. She got my elusive vein on the first shot. One massive vial of blood later I was finished. I immediately got my bandaid, apologized, and left. My co-workers watched on either amused or shocked at my behaviour. I gave them each their own alcohol wipe and hand sanitizer on my way out. Let me make this absolutely clear: There was NO rubbing alcohol ANYWHERE and the nurse was not going to sanitize my skin before taking my blood. Breathe in. Breathe out, Mik. (*Reciting to myself: You never have to go there again*). My Turkish colleague had to give blood from her finger as well. Um, guess what they were checking for? Malaria. Ummm, she’s from TURKEY. Something isn’t right. Who’s kidding who here???

The x-ray, although less terrifying, was just as annoying. However, with four women and three change rooms it was also entertaining. The x-ray facility was just as grimy as the first one. Thanksgiving is in November in the U.S. so I should really recite the things I'm thankful for: I'm thankful I'm blessed with dual citizenship from two first world countries. I'm thankful for Canada's clean(er) air, TREES, grass and health & safety standards. By the way, there were no women in either of the locations...Think that's indicative of something? I digress! My Turkish co-worker said we should share a change room. As my tall, thin and gorgeous co-worker changed I hid in the corner. All of the sudden I wasn't in Kuwait, but in the girls’ change room at Oakridge (my high school), self-consciously hiding in the corner to change into my gym uniform, lol! At the x-ray facility we got to wear the most gorgeous orange gowns that made us look like we were convicts in a U.S. penitentiary as opposed to x-ray patients. I was second in line and had a conversation that took everything that was left in me out of me (Added bonus: my colleagues were in earshot).                                                                                                  

X-ray technician: Miss, you married?                                                                                  

Mik: *thinking about lying to get out of taking an x-ray* ….No. (You can get out of having the x-ray if you’re pregnant or think you’re pregnant. Apparently, they’ll make you take a pregnancy test if they don’t believe you though).                                                                                                                                                  

X-ray technician: Okay. Stand against the machine here. Take a deep breath in and hold…Okay. You can breathe now. *Looking at the x-ray then at me, and again at the x-ray, perplexed* Miss, you have surgery?                                                                                                              

Mikiko: *Feeling defeated, exposed and vulnerable* (So much for privacy). Yes...I've had surgery....I've had a lot of surgeries. *Sighing*

Leaving the x-ray area, sans hideous orang frock, I almost bumped into Ali who had been pacing up and down the hallway. Worried, Ali?

Ali: *Coming towards me* Miss, you okay? You sick?? Okay???                                                                                            

Mik: *Really trying NOT to hug Ali* Yes, Ali. Thank you. I'm okay. 
I later found out from my Turkish co-worker that Ali had been hovering around me the whole time I was giving blood and at the x-ray clinic. He told her he needed to take care of me because he was worried about me. What a sweet guy. I'd been so out of it I hadn't even noticed (Ooops!). I shared my cookies with Ali as he droves us back to the university. That night, I fell asleep at 8:30pm. 

This week will be better. It's December 1st, everyone. 24 days until Christmas. Go get your advent calendar!!! Secret Santa will begin soon (over half of my colleagues are taking part in it), and my flatmate doesn’t know it, but I drew her name! It’s four weeks of different types of small gifts. Week one is something home made/handmade. EASY! I have a few ideas already! I’ll post pictures once I finish making her first gift. I have to make sure that she doesn’t know that I’m her secret Santa! First things first: Survive the elections tonight. As tension mounts, troops from Jordan have been called into the country and peaceful demonstrations continue.