Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Brand New Me

I don't know how I heard this song (, but it was enough to make me think about what I would have to face once I returned to Canada. I always struggle when I return home after being gone for an extended period of time. It's not negative, but just...Challenging. Life has been moving forward while you're away from home and you're not part of it. It's hard to re-insert yourself into the spot that you left and to re-enter relationships (familial, friendships and so on). As if that wasn't enough, you've changed as a person; your experiences and new friends have an impact on you and, inevitably, re-shape you. In my case, my surroundings had a positive impact on my life which made leaving horribly tough. However, they also helped me see some of the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing that they're still close (thank you, Whatsapp and fb!), has helped make the transition easier.

After remaining in my apartment for almost a full week, I decided to take my father out for dinner to celebrate his birthday which had passed the weekend I went to Dubai. We went to a place that Habibi introduced me to (honestly, that's how I was introduced to most of the great restaurants in my hometown), called Blackfriars. Blackfriars is a small, boutique restaurant that has a small, but flavourful menu! I love the cozy ambiance and consistently amazing food! A tad pricey, but well worth it once you taste the delicious food! The restaurant has been open for a loooong time, so it's crazy to think I've only known about this place for the last few years ( I love taking my dad out for nice dinners. We called this tradition father-daughter dates. However, when I do this (or my sister does this), my father takes it upon himself to enjoy being treated to dinner. There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with that except that he stuffs himself silly! The first time I could afford to treat him to dinner I took him to a great place called Garlics. Now, my father loves garlic, so it's no surprise that he ate a lot. When we were driving home, I stopped to quickly grab my mom some food. While I was going through the drive-through and placing my order, I choked on the most horrible smell. My poor father was lying down in the back of the car and...Well, I'm sure you can guess what the smell was. My sister finally figured out why my eyes were popping out of my head and we couldn't stop laughing and gagging! In the middle of winter in Southwestern Ontario, we had all the windows rolled down and SLOWLY drove up to the pick-up window. By this point my sister and I were laughing so hard that we were crying. As if being exposed to such a stench wasn't bad enough, later that evening I felt a shooting pain up my left arm, numbness and throbbing in my chest and shoulder. My mother, panicking, called an ambulance and off I went to the hospital. Countless tests and hours later, a very handsome doctor came in to check my vitals (I was so shy I couldn't look him the eye after that!). He told me that I had likely pulled a muscle, but, thank God, didn't experience a heart attack. All I could think was, "When would I have pulled a muscle???" I asked him if I could have pulled a muscle trying not to laugh or from laughing too hard and he said I could have. I couldn't bear telling him what had happened earlier in the evening, but it WAS a very, very long time before I took my father out for another father-daughter date!

 Drinks! Alcoholic ones!!! My father ordered red wine, my sister a long island iced tea and I ordered a mai tai...which that green drink is NOT (I don't know what happened there, lol!)
 Sorry for the mess! I forgot to take pictures until we'd already dug into our food :(  I ordered the 'Pine Nut & Almond Crusted Chicken Breast'. It was AMAZING and I'm not even a fan of chicken
 This was my sister's pork tenderloin. We're not a family that likes pork, but listen to the description on the menu: "Black and white sesame crusted with ginger sauce on an Asian inspired risotto with baby bok choy, shiitake and brown beech mushrooms, sake and sesame oil"
 As soon as I saw the menu, I knew my dad would choose the 'Trio of Seafood,' which consisted of lobster tail, jumbo shrimp (oxymoron!), and salmon-MMMMMM!!!!
 Dad's dessert: peach and berry cobbler.
 My sister got chocolate cake (not what I thought she'd choose)
My crème brûlée

Sunday, 17 February 2013

What Went Wrong?!?

I used to be one of those people who couldn't keep a secret. I think I inherited that quality from my mother, hahaha! However, that has changed. I open up about bits and pieces to only a few people-a few family members and only my most trusted friends. Sometimes I worry though that I've gone too far to the other side by not opening up enough. For example, I couldn't bear telling my father and my extended family that I'd left my "prestigious," high-paying job in Kuwait, but I've come to terms with the fact that I was working in such a toxic environment that I probably would've gotten very ill-more ill than I'd already gotten.

I won't slander the company I used to work for because I'm not that kind of person. Besides, regardless of what kind of place it is, they gave me an opportunity that I've only dreamed about my whole life. Since I was a young girl I've been fascinated with the Middle East and I always dreamed that one day I would get to visit. I did better than that though and I lived there. I will always be grateful to the company for that. I loved my colleagues and my kiddles (my pet name for my students), but that's it. The school is extremely unprofessional and it only takes a quick search on Google to see that I was not the only one who had problems with the establishment. I hoped (rather than believed) that the school's affiliation with, a very well respected post-secondary institution in the U.S., meant that it would uphold the same principles and values. It does not and I now do give any credit to the American university.

On New Year's Eve I was teaching until 8pm. I felt a bit out of sorts, but continued teaching. My girls kept asking me if I was okay and said I looked white (their word for pale?). I dismissed it and once class was over I realized how hot I was. I was sweating like crazy and thought that my blood sugar level must be low (I have hypoglycaemia). I went to leave the class and fell. My legs went from right under me. I picked myself up and somehow walked back to my office. That afternoon people had brought in food, so I grabbed a sweet on my way out of the school and hoped it would do the trick. However, by the time I got home I was worse. I was completely disoriented and dizzy. I don't know what happened after that except that I blacked out and woke up on my bed hours later. I apparently texted the Irish chef some kind of New Year's greeting (I did what???). I woke up scared and feeling disgusting. That moment was when I realized that working the long hours that I did, teaching the long hours that I did, non-stop for the past four months in the conditions that I did, was negatively affecting me. I drafted my resignation letter (something I had wanted to do for a very long time but couldn't bring myself to do for many reasons), submitted it and didn't look back.

I'm still torn about my decision and melancholy is a characteristic I would use to describe myself right now. I know that leaving was necessary, but I fell in love with Kuwait and absolutely LOVE my colleagues and my kiddles! In fact, I'm going to plan a trip to see the Turks in Turkey this summer!!! Some of my students may even visit me in Canada; my kiddles and I, and my colleagues and I chat using Whatsapp all the time! I am so glad that I went to Kuwait, and as I embark on searching for a new job, which should really be called "Hell on Earth," I will absolutely be looking for a new job in Kuwait (I'll be looking for a position in Canada, too!). Feeling unhappy about leaving Kuwait was why I took a short hiatus from blogging; I'm sorry. I didn't want to talk about it. So, until further notice, I am in Canada and will continue to blog because between the food and my awesome friends here, I won't be short of adventures-although they may only be itty bitty ones!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Kuwait: The Final Chapter...For Now

I tried my hardest to spend as much time as I could with my students and my friends these past few weeks. I saw the other halfie, the Irish chef, the Lebanese lady, the Turks and Georgians as much as I could on social outings. I can barely distinguish the past few days from each other…I hate jetlag; it makes my mind fuzzy and I can’t focus. Let me begin with the last two and a half weeks since I have avoided blogging (on purpose), and haven’t kept everyone up-to-date.

Over a week ago, I was invited to my student’s aunt’s home. I spent an evening with my student and her female family members. It was an amazing experience as I got to see what Kuwaiti life is like! I had barely sat down for two minutes altogether when I noticed that a small table with tea, water and food was placed in front of me. I was being treated so well and was so enamoured with the food in front of me (of course I was) that I almost didn’t hear the first question that someone asked me: “Are you married?” Well, let’s not beat around the bush, and let’s face it, we’re in a country that is very clearly focused on marriage (it truly does hang in the air there). “No,” I replied. My response came with mixed results, but the general reaction was one that lacked amusement. The conversation completely died after that and it was as if no one knew what else to talk to me about. Eventually, people started asking me other questions about family (always a tough topic), Canada and my feelings about Kuwait. I started talking and while some family members translated what I said I could see that it was clearly a new experience for them, too. It was awesome as kids were running in and out of the room and food was being brought in and everyone seemed so content. It was a whole family coming together and I couldn’t believe so many extended family members were in attendance. I couldn’t tell you the last time my ENTIRE family on either side was together. If I had to try and recount the time it would definitely be centred on something like a funeral or wedding. It made me miss my family terribly.

They kept feeding me, and even though I only picked at the food, I was very full. I was planning my exit when someone said to me, “Come! Come! Dinner is ready.” I looked at her like I clearly didn’t believe her and asked my student, “Is she joking?” My student laughed at me and pointed to the room next door. “No. Go, Miss” I exited the family room and entered the main room to see a large table covered with food. I felt my stomach turn. I had no idea how I’d be able to eat anything else. I managed to pick at a few things (it was mostly Lebanese food), and I hoped no one would notice, but they did. They remarked that I was too thin and needed to eat more. I wanted to say, “My jeans beg to differ,” but I didn’t want to be rude, so I ate a bit more. After an invite to my student’s brother’s wedding the following Saturday I left with presents and a warm feeling inside.

Two days later, I found myself at one of the Turk’s apartment with both Turks, my Hungarian co-worker and her friend (a new colleague). We took pictures, had coffee, snacks and chatted for a few hours. I adore the Turks! They are always laughing and smiling and they are so warm and welcoming that they make me want to try living in Turkey! I love simply sitting and chatting with them! The time came when I had to leave and prepare for the wedding, so I left and headed to the China Queen Salon in Jabriya. I only had threading done and then did henna. The black henna design wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it did look beautiful. I waited for my student to finish her hair and nails (her make-up was already finished). The taxi driver had some difficulty finding the salon, and when I walked in I got a lot of confused and curious looks as most of the employees were Southeast Asian, Indian or Sri Lankan. I know that people assume I’m the help rather than a professional and that I’m an oddity in Kuwait, but people never say anything outright to confirm this; it’s just written all over their faces, hahaha! No one could speak English in the part of the salon where threading and henna are done, so just trying to explain what I wanted was an adventure all on its own! I had black henna done, but I wouldn't do it again, nor would I recommend it as I was told that chemicals are added to black henna to make it last longer. After we were done at the salon we went next door for frozen yogurt and then back to my student’s aunt’s house to get dressed.

As I mentioned before, I didn’t bring any formal wear to Kuwait. My student’s family told me not to worry, and with the amount of women in her family, I knew there was likely someone who was close to my size. As everyone was hustling and bustling around I sat and spoke with the families’ newest addition: a Nepalese nanny. She was so sweet and gave me tips about how to maintain the henna. Somehow we managed to communicate and she was so sweet. She smiled so happily and I envied her innocence. Our conversation ended as I was given a dress, shoes and jewellery to change into. I looked at the dress that had been picked out for me and almost died. The tiny, and I mean TINY, black tube top dress barely left anything to the imagination. I slipped on a pair of lace stilettos that had an additional platform that, even for an experienced shoe-aholic like me, were going to be difficult to walk in. I couldn’t fathom wearing the large jewellery, so I skipped it. I thought they were going to make me cover up, but instead they offered me a tiny (100%) rabbit fur stole and I silently cringed, but when I put it on it felt warm and heavenly. I came out of the changing room to approving eyes, but was advised to wear flashy jewellery and heavier make-up (I added darker lipstick). I tried to make polite excuses and told them that if my dad could see me, he’d kill me. “He’s not here! Don’t worry!” were the most common replies, lol! Sensing my discomfort someone said, “Don’t you wear things like this in Canada?” I wanted to reply, well perhaps if you’re confident and 19 or a prostitute, but I didn’t. If I tried to pull the dress lower I would expose my non-existent chest. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

The fresh henna (black)

The wedding itself was beautiful. The bride and groom looked happy and I hoped that they would defy the statistics about marriage in Kuwait (the divorce rate is extremely high). I refrained from dancing (it was an all-female wedding with the exception of the groom making a brief appearance) as I already stuck out like a sore thumb. There were a group of ladies in front of me who I didn’t know and we began speaking a bit. They seemed kind and they encouraged me to dance, but I was already feeling so self-conscious that I declined. We left the wedding before I could eat (it’s a long story). Perhaps that was a good thing. I barely had any room to spare in the tiny dress as it was.

At this point, I'd already moved in with my Lebanese friend, but she was in Lebanon for the weekend and I returned to a quiet and empty apartment. I don't often feel lonely even if I am alone, but for some reason, I felt lonely. I don't mind feeling lonely because it reminds me how precious those around me are, but it was as if my departure from Kuwait was already weighing heavy on my heart. It still weighs heavy on my heart. I left Kuwait on February 6th (for who knows how long) because I left my job. I left amazing people and a country that was very easy to live in. I left sunny, 20 degree weather for -10 snowy, gloomy Canada (London, Ontario). I love my family and friends in Canada, but I did not want to leave Kuwait. As I begin yet another job search, I hope that I will return to Kuwait very soon because it treated me very well and brought the most amazing people into my life. A far cry from the place Habibi said I wouldn't be able to survive.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Destinations: Dubai and 31

As you know, I’ve tried very hard to keep my private life private, to the point where I think I’ve actually alienated some of my colleagues/friends. I should apologize, but the truth is that it’s a defense mechanism and I think my instinct to keep people at arms length has helped me discover what gems they really are. After months of reminders to add my colleagues/friends on Facebook (something I didn’t want to do because of the personal information that’s posted), I finally began adding them...Mostly out of fear that they’d either take offense, or think something was fishy. I guess the cat’s out of the bag. No one knows about my mother, my ex-fiancé or Habibi. They don’t know how much this experience has meant to me because of them. I guess it’s time to open up-again, lol!

Prophet Mohammed’s birthday was last week, thus Thursday was declared a national holiday making a long weekend-perfect for a trip to Dubai! I went with my Lebanese colleague/new roomie (yes, I've moved yet again!). We arrived at the airport to a very long check-in line, but we weren’t bothered because we were well prepared and ahead of schedule. What we didn’t know at the time was that our flight had been cancelled and that we had been emailed this information. However, the airline personnel at the counter never gave us straight answers, wouldn’t clearly answer our questions and outright lied to us, so we weren’t sure if we were going to fly out that night or the next day. It was one of the worst experiences flying I have ever had.

Dear Fly Dubai,

I don’t care what positive feedback I receive from anyone regarding your airline. Personally, I will do everything in my power to avoid flying with you ever again.

Fog caused the cancellation of almost all of the flights to Dubai that night. After a massive amount of confusion from the masses of people waiting at the Fly Dubai counter and hoards of people frantically scurrying around the airport to find other flights to Dubai (which were either ridiculously overpriced or full), we were confused, annoyed and exhausted. We gave it six hours, but after six loooong hours our spirits were low and we called it a day: at 12:30am my friend and I returned home.

When I got back to my apartment I passed out and awoke hours later to knocking on my door. I groggily looked through the 
peep-hole and there was my Lebanese friend with a pleasant look on her face, “Come upstairs. I think I found us a flight out of here.” We ended up booking two one-way tickets to Dubai just mere hours before taking off. We landed in Dubai to looooooong lines at immigration. Before I go on though, I would like to say “Thank you” to Kuwait for providing me with residency, without which I would have had to pay a ridiculous amount of money for an entry visa (Canadian citizens who are residents of Canada have to pay A LOT to enter Dubai). Why do Canadians have to pay so much to enter Dubai?!? “Extra! Extra! Read all about it: They gave us a bit of a hard time at immigration, although I don’t know why. No worries! We eventually we got through! Hello, Dubai!!!

The weekend was bright and sunny and it even got hot and humid! Oh, happy day!!! The air was fresh and clean and there was TONS of greenery! It was amazing! I loved it!! We ate, of course, and saw Burj Al Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel. We walked through the maze of Souk Madinat Jumeirah and enjoyed the sunset there. We strolled down Jumeirah Beach Road at night just people watching and enjoying the warm weather. We met my colleague’s old friends; we made new friends. We also went out dancing at a club called 360 (not to be confused with 360° Mall in Kuwait). It’s literally a plastic and glass ball that is situated on the water. It was beautiful! I think it's safe to say that no matter where you are in the world all bars are the same. However, our drinks definitely had a Dubai price tag (over $30.00 for two alcoholic beverages), and I repeated to myself that I’m on vacation and that I haven’t enjoyed a drink since August of last year, so a steep price tag wouldn’t ruin my enjoyment. I sipped appreciatively on my liquor (on the rocks, because how can you appreciate it otherwise? I wanted to drink it straight but was worried that with my low tolerance it wouldn’t be a good idea), and drank slowly so as not to become an immediate tomasian (tomato-asian because I get red when I drink. My sister made it up about Japanese people in general). We danced a lot and when people started to get out of hand (as inebriated people usually do at bars), we left. 
 In front of Burj Al Khalifa
Burj Al Arab & Jumeirah Beach Hotel
Souk Madinat Jumeirah (Burj Al Arab in the background) 

 We celebrated my birthday with cake…Twice! I had chocolate cake and carrot cake-mmmm! We shopped at Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates (we didn't actually buy anything since the stores are all also in Kuwait). We walked along the waterfront and chatted about politics, culture and education in the gulf and the Middle East amongst other topics. We laughed and smiled and I saw my friend transform into a different person. We stayed with her twin sister and my friend became extremely giddy and playful. She was glowing! I couldn’t help but feel that Kuwait has sucked some life out of her. Leaving Dubai wasn’t a nightmare, although I have to say that after flying with Fly Dubai on our way back to Kuwait, I don’t mind the airline service on board the aircraft, but other than that, I still don’t recommend Fly Dubai. As we waited in the immigration line coming back into Kuwait I felt happy to be returning home. My friend was not as quick to call Kuwait home, hahaha! I can understand how Kuwait can be unattractive to people. I felt happy to be back here to see our friends. I deduced that I love Dubai, but I don’t want to live there. Truth be told, I rather prefer Kuwait and only my friends here know why.

In Dubai Mall
I don’t want to compare Dubai to Kuwait in the sense that one is better than the other, but if you are someone who is wondering about living in Dubai and/or/vs Kuwait, there are a few differences that I would like to share. Please note that this information is only meant to be helpful, it is not meant to criticize or negatively portray either place. In addition, I’m not an expert on either country by any means, and most of this information is coming from my own experience(s) or those of others who I have spoken with about the countries.

1.) If you want a lifestyle that is healthier (in terms of climate, air quality, cleanliness and an environment that is conducive to outdoor activities), then Dubai (UAE) might be more appealing. I barely saw any sand in Dubai and when people saw sand, they avoided it, while my friend and I were the only people who walked through it! Talk about standing out, hahaha!

2.) My friend’s sister said that she doesn’t think that Dubai has a lot of great places to eat. I thought that Mom’s Food (a traditional Lebanese restaurant) was great! Baker&Spice (we were at the Dubai Marina location) was great, too. If you’re Canadian and love Tim Horton’s, you’ll be very happy to know that there are Tim Horton’s located all over Dubai. Apparently, the coffee is even pretty good (clearly NOT the same coffee that is served in Canada). I think Kuwait also has amazing eatery for the small country that it is. Eating out is a lot cheaper in Kuwait than in Dubai.
 @Mom's Food

Breakfast @ Baker&Spice

3.) I can’t discuss jobs, job opportunities, salaries or professionalism in Dubai because I just don’t know enough about it. However, after speaking with my colleague’s family and friends, the general impression I got was that the salaries that they receive are just enough to cover the cost of living (not a lot is left over as disposable income). I guess if you’re just interested in the experience and not saving or travelling, then that’s fine. If you’re more interested in saving money, then Kuwait might allow you more opportunities to save as long as you’re smart and have a budget that you stick to. Rent is high in both countries. Food is more expensive in Dubai-especially eating out! The cost of clothing, shoes and accessories is a bit higher in Dubai-unless you’re there during the annual Dubai shopping festival which runs from January to February. Taxis in Dubai are also waaaay more expensive. However, the public transportation system in Dubai is waaaaaay better than in Kuwait.

4.) You don’t see many, if any, Emiratis in Dubai, whereas in Kuwait you see a lot of Kuwaitis. Dubai has A LOT of expats and most were Caucasian. I heard a lot of English and European languages. I think in Kuwait you’re more likely to find a higher percentage of Americans, people from India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Nepal. Although I don’t think this would be a factor, I admit that for me, I LOVE the idea of meeting people from distant places who I would likely never encounter-even in Canada! I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is the first time in my life that I’ve had friends from Georgia, Turkey and Hungary and met people from Nepal!

5.) You can have alcohol in Dubai and cannot (legally) in Kuwait. In Kuwait, it’s illegal for women to dance in public, hence why we took advantage of going out dancing and enjoying a drink while we were in Dubai.

6.) People are more open and relaxed in Dubai, but I personally don’t find Kuwait restrictive in the sense that I am or my lifestyle is being restricted in any way. I don’t feel any inconveniences to my everyday life in Kuwait. I’m very thankful for that. I don’t think expats feel restricted in Dubai either.

Yada, yada, yada. That’s all I really have to say on that matter. I won't even try to hide the fact that I'm biased; 
my friends are in Kuwait, so Kuwait will always hold a special place in my heart.

When I arrived home from the airport, I called my father for his birthday (the day before mine) and felt regretful and sad that I wasn’t able to celebrate my father’s birthday with my family. I know it’ll only be a short time before I get to enjoy a nice dinner out with them in Canada though. My friends in Kuwait made up for my lack of family as I celebrated out at Paul with the other halfie and Strawberry shortcake (It was amazing!), with a home-cooked meal made by the Irish chef, and then out with a large group of lovely ladies from work (the Georgians, the Turks and my Lebanese friend) to Solidere, a Lebanese restaurant close to my place (it was VERY yummy!!!). My birthday celebrations were sooo wonderful and I’ll ever be thankful that I’m surrounded by such amazing people here!