Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Poetry Tasting: Advice for an American Going to England for the First Time

I'm so happy to share with you a long overdue poem for our poetry series with Kate! This poem captures the odd mix of happiness and sadness that make up nostalgia. Have you ever felt that after discovering and falling in love with a new place?

Advice for an American Going to England for the First Time
Words by Kate Lindblom

If you ever travel to England, 
don't forget to pack 
a pair of long, wooly socks 
and an overcoat 
for the July weather.

Bring a sturdy coin purse 
for all the pounds and the pence 
you'll constantly examine and trade.
Don't worry. They will have things 
like cats and postage stamps 
and small rocks and windows 
and drops of dew like you're used to. 
Your homesickness will be brief.

You won't need a translator 
to understand British words and phrases 
such as “bits and bobs” or “popping in.” 
But do understand that “party favors” 
can mean more 
than colorful streamers and paper hats.

If you see citizens enjoying picnics in a graveyard 
with their blue bicycles propped against headstones, 
Do not be alarmed. 
Also, try not to feel uneasy 
eating some grapes 
or buying a trinket 
or simply sitting down 
in a building older than your known family tree. 
Remember: it's not a museum, it's for living. 
And it doesn't need a power washing.

Try the leek soup, 
try the blood pudding, 
try the crumpets, 
try the grilled tomatoes. 
You'll find them 
delightful 
abhorrent 
underwhelming 
and strange, 
perhaps in that order.

Ponder over 
the British love affair with 
red and black currants 
and marmite 
and crisps that taste like prawns 
and not ketchup.

You should just start loving and expecting 
hot beverages like you might a pleasant breeze. 
Embrace coffee and tea and milk and cubes of sugar 
as you already do biscuits.

Enjoy hard cider, 
its sweetness and tartness and sparkle combined. 
Enjoy the Devonshire cream 
which you never knew existed 
and which will be hard to find 
back in the States.
Go ahead and take 42 rolls of film. 
You'll want to remember 
that amount of snails in one place 
and the way the sunlight shone on the grass 
that one afternoon. 
You'll need to show you were at King's Chapel, 
Cambridge 
and Windsor Castle too, 
whether the queen was or not. 
You'll try to capture the feelings you'll have: 
awe, confusion, delight, camaraderie, 
true and constant. 
You will not fully succeed 
but the images will help combat the sadness 
after you have left.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kuwait Resource Links



Whenever we move to a new place I'm always excited about all the newness. I can't wait to try new restaurants, find cute little shops to frequent, and I can't wait to see who it is that I don't know now, but will become my best friend.

But sometimes all that newness is hard to navigate, especially when - like here in Kuwait - many of the streets don't have names, and those delicious restaurants are hard to find. What if there is a language barrier? How am I going to find a stylist who speaks English well enough to understand how I want my haircut? It can be daunting. 

I've decided to keep a live running list with links and tips for each place I've lived so that if you happen to visit or move there, you might find the resources useful. A link to the list for Kuwait City (this blog post) will be on the right hand side of the blog for easy navigating.



Kuwait City, Kuwait

English is widely spoken here as it is the common language between the expats, immigrants, and locals. Most of the people you encounter working at restaurants, coffee shops, and stores will speak English and Arabic so as to service a wide range of customers. There are about 2 million Kuwaitis and just about the same number of Indian, Egyptian, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan immigrants working here. Plus the Western expats from the diplomatic and oil communities. 

The city is separated loosely by neighborhood, then by block, street, and house number. After a few months you remember the neighborhood names, but for general navigation I recommend getting a GPS and plugging in the coordinates to your favorite spots (once you find them). 

The best way to get around is by your own personal car. There is public transportation but it is not the safest or the most reliable. If you need the name of a reputable taxi while in town, email me, don't hail one on the side of the road.




Now on to the fun stuff!

From High Heeled Traveler:

Kuwait City (related posts)
Grand Mosque of Kuwait
Cornishe
Qout (farmer's) Market




Here are blogs, websites, and other fun places I find the best information on living in Kuwait. If you aren't already, I recommend getting on Instagram as it is widely used here for business and pleasure.

Foodie links:

Eating All the Day. An American expat writes about her local food adventures. I use this whenever I need inspiration for a new place to go (if I'm not already in the car with her ;)

Events/local news:

248am. and 248pm for local happenings, thoughts from a long time resident, and upcoming events for day and night.

Grapevine Kuwait. Best general resource for events and things to do. Follow their Instagram to get the latest.

AWARE Center. Great place for Westerns in Kuwait to become more familiar with the culture. Group tours to Liberation Tower, House of Mirrors, the Grand Mosque, and camel races are scheduled regularly. They also offer Arabic classes and Indi-film screenings.

Lifestyle blogs:

Expat and the City. Written by an Alabama girl living and working in Kuwait. Not only are her stories amusing but she frequently links to interesting local news and posts upcoming events. Follow her on Instagram for daily insights into her Kuwaiti life.

Desert Girl on Kuwait. Hilarious, frank, and sassy rantings of an American girl living in Kuwait. She does not filter anything, and that's why I love her. She also has great resource links on the side bar of her blog. Check it out.

Expat Women. Articles, links, resources for women living abroad. Good general information, not just for Kuwait.

Fashion:

Confashions from Kuwait. Follow her on Instagram for some serious Middle Eastern style. She was my gateway drug to how fashionable women dress in these parts.

Art:

Art Kuwait. Gallery and museum lists, opening details, and featured regional artists. 

Qout (Farmer's) Market





The brainchild of two local foodies, Noaf Hussein of Pretty Little Things and Budour Al-Qassar of The Oven Experiments, Qout Market was presented by Al-Qassar at the 2012 Middle East-North Africa Active Citizen Sum-mit, organized by the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), in partnership with the US State Department. At the end of the summit, Qout Market was selected as a grantee and organization be-gan. The first market was in November 2013.

Qout Market is an outdoor farmer’s market (‘qout’ meaning Arabic for ‘food’) that takes place on the first Saturday of every month until April 2014 (which is the end of the growing season). I was so excited to learn about this as I miss going to the Dupont farmer's market terribly. It wasn't exactly the same, still fresh produce is hard to come by. At least the little that can be produced locally is represented there (and at the grocery stores). Most of the booths feature street food (SO good), fresh flowers, artisanal products (there was a woman selling vintage sunglasses and I almost caved and bought all of them), baked goods, and local programming. There were also things to do with your kids, like purchase baby chickens (no joke) and craft stands.

The next market will be on February 1st - This Saturday! Go early and eat all of the foods - like we did!

Follow @Qoutmarket on Instagram for images and up-to-date information. Use hashtag #qoutmarket if you want to share your pictures from the market.

It’s located on the rooftop of Arraya parking lot and open from 10AM to 7PM. GPS Coordinates: 29.376306, 47.990408.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Destination: Grand Mosque of Kuwait


Until moving to Kuwait, I’d never been inside a mosque. I’ve only ever been to or toured Christian churches. With the Grand Mosque open for Westerns to explore, I was excited to see the similarities and differences between the worship spaces.

As with any place of worship, the architecture is seeped in historical significance. The Grand Mosque of Kuwait is designed with tradition in mind and takes heavily from the Persian style. Things like arcades of pillars forming breezy outdoor passageways, a central large dome, and pointed arches. The outside is humble and not at all assuming. One doesn’t expect the grandeur one is about to encounter on the inside.

Upon entering, you are struck by the grandness of saturated blues and gold leaf. Infinite geometric Andalusian style patterned tile work enlivens the space and hand-carved gypsum adds texture while decorative calligraphy draws your eye around the room. If you have a similar background as me, touring mostly cathedral style churches, you will notice a few differences.




First, the room is square with a large central dome and there are no pews. Worship always faces towards Mecca and the square design allows the building to be oriented as such. Praying is not only an emotional act in the Islamic faith, one also physically worships by praying out loud and bending down to bow at various points during the prayer. Here, the carpet indicates a space where worshipers may position themselves. Interestingly, our guide mentioned that this is a reason men and women pray separately. As worshipers come into the space to pray they begin in the front row and as it fills in then go to the next and so on. He said most women would prefer not to bend down numerous times in front of men. I can see how that would be distracting for both sexes.

Secondly, you will notice that the decorative elements in the space don’t include images of people, animals, plants, Mohammed, or Allah. This is because it is believed that attempting to represent God’s creations in art can never truly be as good as the real thing and it is sac-religious to try and depict what God might look like. How could we even comprehend such an image? However, this lack of scenic artwork isn’t lacking in visual interest. Star designs are preferred as they can be infinitely drawn out into as many different patterns as the artist would like. At the Grand Mosque, most of the mosaics are created in the Andalusian style. You might recognize this if you have ever been to the Moorish parts of Spain.

The most important design element in the mosque is the calligraphy. Great pride is taken in selecting the artists, fonts (some fonts are reserved for religious or royal purposes), and words. For instance, at the top of the dome it is common for the 99 Names of Allah (from the Qur’an) to be written out in a decorative manner. At the Grand Mosque you can see the words blending into geometric patterns as they circle around the dome. These were designed and written by Hamid Haddad who is one of the most important calligraphers in the region and whom I believe is now in his 90s. Everywhere I go here, I am captivated by the calligraphy.












The capstone of the Grand Mosque, and clearly their most prideful space, is a side room that is reserved for the Amir and his guests when he comes to worship. He worships in the same space as everyone else – but afterwards uses this space to entertain his guests. The most impressive part of the room is the hand-carved gypsum ceilings. I can’t get over the incredible amount of detail and almost got a sore neck from trying to study it.







As with all Grand Mosques, the Grand Mosque of Kuwait is situated at the conceptual center of Kuwaiti daily life and physically between the political and financial institutions of the city in downtown Kuwait. It opened in 1986 and the main prayer room was recently renovated in 2013 (the outdoor fa├žade and spaces and the ladies prayer room are scheduled to be renovated shortly). The main worship hall can house over 10,000 men and the women’s prayer room up to 950 on regular days of worship. During Ramadan, the surrounding gardens, patios, parking lots, and even the streets outside are transformed into suitable worship space that accommodates hundreds of thousands of people.

The people component is what was missing on our tour. Although the space is impressive and beautiful, clearly a gift from the worshippers to their God, it didn’t seem complete without people. I can’t imagine the chills you would get when you feel the presence of God amongst the worshipers while they pray in unison bringing life and energy to the space.

Tour information:

Daily tours are available through the Western Perception of Islam Center Sundays through Thursdays at 9:00am or 5:00pm. To schedule a tour fill out the form on their website and plan to arrive on time (not too early as you will disrupt prayer time). Ladies, although you will be given proper attire upon arrival – abayas and headscarves – wear conservative, loose fitting clothes. You can bring your own headscarf if you’d like. Also keep in mind that you will remove your shoes for most of the tour while indoors. 

When you arrive at the mosque, tell the gentlemen at the front security/information booth that you are here for an English speaking tour and they will direct you where to go or ask you to wait while they summon your guide. Pictures are permitted and encouraged. Tour usually last one and a half to two hours.

The AWARE Center also arranges a monthly group tour. Check out their calendar for upcoming events and tours.

GPS Coordinates: 29.379646, 47.975203

Friday, December 27, 2013

Shoe Love: New Year's

heelsflats

Thanks to pregnancy exhaustion, I won't be able to ring in the New Year this year at midnight. I go to bed every night between 9 and 10pm! It got me fantasizing about what fabulous parties I would be missing and what fabulous shoes I might wear to those parties. This year, I'm thinking something metallic would be fun. In my mind I would wear heels and bring my flats so no matter how long the party lasted, I wouldn't have to go barefoot or call it an early night. Will you be going to any New Year's parties? What shoes will you be wearing?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in Kuwait

photo via my Instagram

I wasn't sure what to expect this year, having Christmas in Kuwait. I moved to the Middle East with little knowledge of how an Islamic nation was actually run and how conservative or liberal it would be in practice. To my surprise, one day at the grocery store almost all the Christmas accouterments were being offered for sale - from Christmas trees to Santa hats to Advent calendars. It turns out that although  Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is celebrated by many (Christians and non-Christians alike) for one of its basic components: spending time with loved ones and giving oneself and gifts to those loved ones. This also makes it a rather profitable holiday worldwide. It got me thinking - what is the meaning of Christmas in Kuwait?

We started off by decorating our home, listening to carols, and drinking hot chocolate. There was a botched attempt at homemade eggnog and because we had a plastic tree this year, a pine tree smelling candle filled our apartment with Christmas cheer and tricked out noses into believing the tree was alive. The German Speaking Women of Kuwait had a festive party at the German Ambassador's residence complete with German holiday treats, coffee, Santa, and many in their favorite Christmas sweaters. There were holiday bazaars on the Cornishe and special events at the U.S. Embassy for homesick Americans.

Although we weren't without festive celebrations, something felt off for me. The holidays didn't seem to be the same so far from home. Yet people who were strangers to me just weeks ago reached out to Gman and I and brought us into their homes. The generosity of our new community to feed us, entertain us, and become our friends touched me more than the presents under the tree or ritual watching of Christmas Vacation. Christmas in Kuwait, it turns out, means what I already suspected: the generosity of new friends gathering around the holidays makes a foreign land feel more like home.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

And in case you're interested, past Christmas stories: Zoo Lights at the National Zoo, dealing with grief over the holidays, my favorite things to do in NYC during the holidays

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pinteresting

Images via: Garance Dore, NordstromNet-a-Porter, living room pic

I've noticed recently while browsing through my Life(style) Inspiration pins that if I'm on a pinning spree one day I'll pin groups of objects that have a similar vibe without realizing it. My choices must reflect whatever mood I'm in or life vibe I'm feeling. It makes me think about when I'm out shopping and everything I pick up goes with the outfit I'm wearing. It happens almost every time! Do you ever notice that? On certain days you're just in a mood and all your choices reflect your frame of mind?

For some reason it makes me think of this Kendrick Lamar song.
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