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.


  1. Hi Mik! My name's Pie. I came across your blog in last week of September since arriving here in Kuwait. You came 2 weeks earlier than I am. I was so hooked up reading all your entries from that time on coz they are so entertaining, very informative, and makes me feel I am not alone as a "newbie expat" (which I call myself) experiencing as well some of the incidents you mentioned. I am a Filipino and working as a physiotherapist. I am in the paramedical field but I feel what you feel when you were having your blood drawn with the 3 to 4-inch needle!!! I can imagine how horrified your face looks like.

    By the way, what took you so long to have your civil ID and residency permit? I arrived here September 22, my residency permit was released October 7, then my civil ID was released and given to me third week of October. But I still have one more paperwork and medical exam to take needed for the release of my license after I passed my Physiotherapy Licensure Test here in Kuwait.

    I envy you, as you have time to dine out and shop as often as you and your friends would want...with my work schedule, I cannot! So lucky you!

    And you being mistaken as a Filipino??? Sorry Mik, I'm a Filipina and you do not know how it feels being unsafe here going out alone anywhere. I don't understand why Filipino women are so "hot" in Arab men's eyes!!! I pity my fellow "Pinays" who fell under the hands of these pervert men and sooner or later become prostitutes. Many undergrad Pinays apply for work (as house maids/nannies/sales ladies) here in Kuwait or any other Middle east countries. But some of them are victims because at first they will be working as nannies, etc. then later on be sexually abused by their employers and make them prostitutes. So many unreported rape cases here against Pinays and Indonesian women. Good thing the Indonesia government at present banned their citizens especially the women in coming and working here. My country, no action from them. So we Pinays just have to be EXTRA careful and have to watch for our own selves when going out and dealing with Arab men.

    Gosh, my comment is really long...but I hope you still have the chance and time to read on it. I'm not a blogger but for sure I will be a huge fan of your blogsite and will enthusiastically always read your entries. Keep on blogging Mik and stay safe always!

    1. Dear Pie May,

      We're newbies! Kuwait is fascinating to me for many different reasons. I hope that you take care and that you STAY SAFE.

      I don't know why exactly it's taking so long for my Civil ID to be processed. I've heard rumours from my colleagues, but I don't know for sure.

      It's horrible what Filipino women endure here. The cleaning lady at the university told me she hasn't been able to afford to go home and see her husband and two kids for ten years. My heart broke. I would love to write about the exploitation of Filipino women here, but I'm too much of a chicken.

      Thank you so much for reading the blog. I'm glad that you like it! All the best to you on your new job in Kuwait. I hope you can get to enjoy it soon!!!

  2. I can't imagine someone going to work (in business attire most likely) and being mistaken for a prostitute! That's unbelievable! hahaha. Having said that, I have heard horror stories about the police in Kuwait. My friend used to live in Kuwait, and said the police would look for westerners to pick on. Scary stuff when you can't even trust the police!!

    Hope you're enjoying the nice weather, and happy December :-)

    1. Gabek, I'm sure every country has their dirty police, but here I don't even feel safe with them...ANY of them.

      The weather has been great here! I hope that the weather in Qatar has been lovely! Here it's been nice, but I miss the intensity of the sun :(