Saturday, January 3, 2015

Destination: Jerusalem






Noah and I in front of the Western Wall

We arrived at Ben Gurion Airport at midnight on a Thursday. Noah was awake in the sling as we made our way through the terminal with two suitcases, a backpack, purse, stroller, and car seat. We were tired. No, tired doesn’t describe it. We were surviving in a state between awake and asleep. Merely walking and talking at the same time exerted what was left of our energy reserves.

There is a policy in place in much of the Middle Eastern countries, all Arab, which says you are unwelcome if your passport bears a stamp from Israel. This is similar to the US not allowing Cuban stamps for American citizens. To get around this, one must fly first to Istanbul then to Tel Aviv. Once in Israel you are given a visa card instead of having a stamp in your passport. To begin our trip, our flight to Istanbul was canceled. We did not know this until we got up at four in the morning, had a friend drive us to the airport, and got in line to check in. We had to go back home and then return to the airport later that day. It was one of those days that make you question why you wanted to travel to begin with. What could be more important than snuggled up at home with a hot cup of coffee?

Noah, however, was having a great time. On our flight to Istanbul he refused to sleep but was entertained by a beautiful young Turkish flight attendant. (Upon happily bouncing into her arms, he stuck all of his fingers in her mouth. I was horrified. She laughed and took them out. Her lipstick never moved and I now regret not asking her what she was wearing.) She took him to serve drinks, tend to passengers, prepare meals, and even up to the cockpit to help fly the plane. He was up there with the pilots for at least 20 minutes. I think I starred at the wall while he was gone but I was so grateful for it.

We found the taxi line and started making our way to the cab indicated by a young female dispatcher. The taxi driver was an older gentleman, perhaps in his 70s, wearing a beanie just above his ears. He had reading glasses resting on his nose and a warm sweater buttoned up his chest. He reminded me of the main character in Up and I thought, should he be driving a car at night? He started grabbing our bags as he and the dispatcher exchanged heated words that turned out to be just a conversation. It reminded me of New York where people talk with animated hands and in a tone that sounds like they are yelling at you for offending them, but really they are saying, “Good morning. How are you?”

“Where you going?” asked the taxi driver in a thick Israeli accent. His tongue was used to speaking Hebrew. Gman showed him our friend’s address in Jerusalem. As we pulled out of the airport we realized our driver did not really speak English. He didn’t understand where we were going. “No problem, I call my wife. She e’speak English, and German, and Japanesé.” He offered. “I call her.” She and he discussed (again sounding a bit heated, though just talking) and Google searched our destination as we drove along the highway generally towards the Holy City.

As we pulled into our friend’s neighborhood the driver commented as to what a nice neighborhood it was and our friend came out to meet us. We quietly made our way into his home and were passed out in the guest room within 10 minutes. And thus our journey in the Holy Land begins.

Street in Jerusalem


Street in Jerusalem

Our trip consisted of seven days in Israel (two days for travel). We visited friends in Jerusalem and stayed with them for three nights. Then we ventured up to the Sea of Galilee area, staying in Nazareth for two nights, and lastly to Caesarea for the day and Tel Aviv for one night. (*I’ll post our full itinerary in a separate posting with travel notes, in case you are interested. Each day of our trip will be a separate blog post as well.)

Western Wall, detail

The next morning we woke up somewhat refreshed. This was surprising because it was 6am and we only had four hours of sleep. It was uninterrupted sleep though and I have learned to accept this sort of blessing as it happens. Still, a strong cup of coffee and a shower were in order. I gathered my toiletries bag, clothes, and towel, and opened the door to walk down the hall. But before I could leave the room, I stopped in my tracks. Our two and a half year old hostess, who had been listening at our door, was caught off guard by my exit. My plans were temporarily changed as we greeted our friends, and their small children – a five-year-old, two and a half year old, and a four month old. Although Noah was four months old only what seems like yesterday, I was surprised at how tiny and precious our friends’ baby was. It’s hard for me to remember Noah that small and I tear up at that thought.

After breakfast we headed out for a day of touring the holy sites in the Old City. I was very excited to experience this part of our trip as soon as possible because it is the one I had been looking forward to for a long time – almost my whole life actually.

For me -and many before me - this wasn’t just a vacation, it was a religious pilgrimage. Since I was in high school studying the Bible I imagined events from long ago. I imagined Romans and Jews walking their cobbled stone streets and going into their beautifully painted houses, eating olives, drinking wine, and talking the latest gossip. I imagined Jesus hanging out with his friends and followers, walking on water, teaching on a hillside. Our pastor at the time took a few people on a Holy Land pilgrimage. He brought back many stories and an oil lamp for my mother. It became one of her most prized possessions and an object that spurred my curiosity. In college, my art history classes only fueled my fire (I feel this way about Greece and surrounding Islands as well).

It is difficult to verbalize why it felt important to travel to the Holy Land and why so many others felt compelled as well. Mark Twain described it in Innocents Abroad something like this: All our lives we are taught of God as something abstract. God is in the heavens and that is an abstract place up in the sky. God exists among us, again invisible and conceptual. We pray to something we cannot see. But the Holy Land is different. God walked there. God touched the land there. He touched people there (in the form of Jesus Christ for Christians). He was as real and physical as I am as I type this. To be in the presence of that realism, if only through yet another abstraction - the collective memory of our past – is what compels people to make the pilgrimage. The thought that God walked this street and now I walk this street somehow connects me with God in a physical way no matter if thousands of years of time are between the footsteps. I think Twain was making fun of his fellow travelers by saying this, but there is a lot of truth in his comments. We are all trying to grasp something that touches us spiritually and makes us feel alive. I’ve done it before in Sedona, Arizona remember?

Jerusalem was described in our tour book as homely looking. It said not to expect great architecture and beauty from a city with such a loaded spiritual significance. One does not equal the other. Additionally, Jerusalem has a famous history of being looked upon as hostile both from a tourist perspective and a political one. I found all of this to be true. But despite being able to cut the tension in the air with a knife, there was room for good times spent with friends and a few holy experiences thrown in.


Street in Jerusalem

Western Wall

Western Wall, view of the men's side

paper prayers in the Western Wall

Rain was forecasted that day, but instead we got partly cloudy and the prefect temperature for taking a walk – chilly in the shade, warm in the sun. We began our tour at Jaffa Gate walking into the Christian Quarter and down David Street. David Street is the main thoroughfare with shops crammed into every opening in the limestone buildings. Shop after shop after shop housed piles of Middle Eastern looking textiles, baskets of trinkets, oil lamps, and olive wood crucifixes. The walls were lined with souvenir t-shirts, tote bags, and jewelry. There were shops of blue and yellow Armenian pottery and ones with local paintings, prints, and photography. Even a shop with American college sports team shirts! The store was called Alabama and we regret not buying a souvenir there.

The roughly hewn limestone path beneath our feet was trodden smooth with time. Steps followed the curvature of the hill upon which they were laid. There were some stones arranged to create a ramp down the stairs. I imagined donkeys pulling carts up and down them hundreds or thousands of years ago.

When we turned a corner, the street became less dense and pristinely cleaned. We were in the Jewish Quarter now. The path opened up as we entered Hurva Square. Purple bougainvillea decorated the side of a building. Wooden tables and chairs filled the courtyard inviting us to stop here for a warm midmorning treat. The smell of challah baking and frankincense lingering filled my nostrils. The whole city smelled like frankincense. The clock ticked towards the babies’ need for nursing and naps. So we continued our journey.

Noah was taking it on all in from the sling on my hip. As usual, almost everyone who passed by smiled and cooed at him; he bounced with each greeting. The sinuous path we followed led us around and around, through narrow streets and wide ones. If I didn’t know we were covering such small square footage and accompanied by our local guide, I would have been concerned about getting lost.

Western Wall, women's side
view of Western Wall and Dome of the Rock

Finally we reached our first destination: The Western Wall. Behind it the Dome of the Rock glistened in the cloud filtered sun making the limestone-covered city beneath it dull and its gold more striking. In the distance we saw the rolling hills of Mount of Olives. We approached the Western Wall slowly but with purpose. It was our first holy site in our pilgrimage. Gman and I split up, as visiting the wall is segregated by gender (Noah was tended to by our generous friends).
washing station at the Western Wall, used by both sexes
Standing 20 feet in front, Ha-Kotel was overwhelming. The giant sized Herodian stones forming the base of the wall stack towards the heavens and provide a neutral canvas for reflection and prayer. Plastic chairs line up facing the wall, somewhat in rows. A woman in front of me sat in a chair rocking as she reads from her prayer book. Several others touched the wall with such reverence and power that I felt what could only be described as spiritual ecstasy emanating from the space. More women to my right came and went as they began and finished their daily prayers. It was obvious who came regularly and who was a tourist.

I hesitated moving closer as if the thick air prevented me from doing so. My body felt heavy, my feet like bricks. Sleep deprived and thoughtless I decided to give it a go and pray. Why not? As I prayed my cheeks became wet with tears. I wiped my eyes and looked around. The cracks in the wall were stuffed with paper. I remembered reading that people came here with their prayers written on bits of paper and stuff them in the wall. My eyes glanced up as I let my mind wander. I noticed a bush growing out of the side of the wall and a common house sparrow busily going about its business. It occurred to me that people of many religions have been bringing prayers to this hallowed place, Temple Mount, for thousands of years and the paper prayers are literally the mortar holding the wall together. I cried again.

Within arms length of the wall, one could see every crevice stuffed to maximum capacity with prayers. The women around me rocked in their chairs with one hand on their prayer book and another on the wall. Some touched their books to their forehead, others their forehead to the wall. The wall was worn and discolored from centuries of oily hands reaching for deliverance. I touch it and shiver. Tears are pouring from my eyes and I continue to shake. Perhaps it’s true that one can feel the presence of something divine in a place where so many pray and God is said to have walked.

It wasn’t until I walked away from the wall that I noticed that the Islamic Friday khutba being blasted in Arabic from loud speakers perched on the top of the wall and through the barbed wire.

I also notice I’m starving and Noah starts flapping his arms and legs as he sees me approaching. We take one look back and venture on to the next holy site on our list: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre interior

Unction Stone at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Christ's tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

One enters the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the side at the top of the nave. Immediately upon entering crowds stop and gather at the Stone of Unction, which is where, since Medieval times, Jesus Christ’s body is thought to have been prepared for burial after his crucifixion. A marble slab about six feet long is elevated about a foot off the ground and surrounded by a matching marble base. Opaque white glass jars hang above it, burning incense. They highly decorated with gold crosses. Behind this on the wall facing the entrance is a grand mosaic depicting the significance of the church – a crucified Christ being removed from the cross, placed on the Unction Stone, and then moved to the tomb.

I stopped here with Noah, still in his favorite spot on him hip, and let him touch everything. Babies love touching things. Despite my hopes for a spiritual experience, I am rather cynical and don’t truly believe that most of these sites are authentic. How could we possibly know Jesus was crucified just right over there in that exact spot? But I figure why not let him touch these supposed sacred places, maybe God will look favorably upon us and Noah will be overcome with sleep from 7pm – 7am until his 18th birthday. Kidding! Kind of…

Pilgrims prayed upon the stone slab. They fell on it and kissed it. They rubbed their clothes on it. One man brought bags of pashminas that he took out and one by one wiped over the stone. It looked worn away with time. Though not that much time. As I later read in the tour book, this stone dates from 1810.

After a few minutes we walked from the Unction Stone to the tomb. The church was dimly lit and filled with sooty sculptures, reliefs, and paintings. I could barely see them to determine dating or even subject matter (though that was easy enough to guess). Apparently the line to see the tomb in the church’s rotunda gets long quickly. We saw it was short and pounced at our good fortune. Everyone in line with us had American accents. We discussed where we were from and the weather in each location, commenting on how nice we have it here in Jerusalem during our pilgrimage. I got a strange notion that we were in line for a ride at Disney World. A more quiet eagerness filled my fellow visitors’ faces than it would at Disney, but too similar to not laugh to myself.

It was our turn to go inside. I was forced to crouch because of all the religious accouterment surrounding me. Inside the tomb, I barely began praying “Dear God,” when a monk yelled, “No stopping inside! NEXT.”

We decided to leave the church after this, feeling slighted and too hungry to see the many more sites and relics inside. Our friend/tour guide tried to reassure us by saying, “Don’t worry, after lunch we’ll go to the Garden Tomb where it is said Jesus was crucified and buried. The tomb is still a tomb, not turned into a church, and the garden has been re-created so you have a more peaceful feeling. It’s easier to imagine the events that occurred there. It’s my favorite place!” Didn’t we just go see where Christ was buried? A second site may indeed offer a more spiritual experience.
Garden Tomb grounds

Garden Tomb grounds

inside the Garden Tomb

wine press at the Garden Tomb

view at the Garden Tomb towards Golgotha

Lunch was too delicious not to mention. In the New City, just outside the Citadel, there is a promenade of newly built shops and restaurants. Its where locals would go more regularly than in the Old City to meet with friends for drinks, dinner or shopping. We had fresh carrot juice, smoked eggplant with fried halloumi cheese, and crunchy salads with pomegranates and feta. We had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables our whole time in Israel. We felt so healthy!

The Garden Tomb was as our friend promised. It felt like a much-needed break being separated from the hustle and bustle of the city. You could spend as much time as you wanted milling around, following a self-guided tour and asking questions to volunteers. It was created around an archaeological site that dates to the time of Jesus and could possibly be the garden of Joseph of Arimathea (who is said to have taken the body of Christ for burial). The garden being as it was, in a sense, allows visitors to imagine it 2,000 years ago. As the guiding pamphlet suggests, "We cannot be sure where the crucifixion took place, but the actual site is of less importance than the spiritual significance of what really happened."

Seeing these sites took up the greater part of our day and we retired just before sundown with our tired little traveler. This was Noah’s favorite part of the day. Our friends’ had a wireless keyboard that he went to town on. Our entire time there he wouldn’t take his eye off it. Their children entertained him while we enjoyed some well-earned homemade pizza and local wine. We all slept well that night, excited to see what another day in the Holy Land would bring. Next stop, Bethlehem.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Halloween: A DIY Journey


This year was Noah’s first Halloween and I really wanted to get into it. I found the cutest shark costume for him online and decided make it a family theme costume – something I vowed never to do but was suddenly excited about. Instead of three sharks I thought it would be fun to do a shark, mermaid, and pirate. This is my mermaid costume DIY journey. Nothing ever goes as smoothly as it seems like it should on Pinterest.

I’ll start by saying my most favorite costume that I ever wore growing up was the mermaid costume I donned in kindergarten. I only remember a few things from that year; making donuts in class, pretending to sleep during naptime, and my mermaid costume. It was modeled after The Little Mermaid, as most mermaid costumes are. My mother sewed it for me. It was a dress; the top, a nude tank top with purple sparkling shells sewn on, and a shiny green skirt with fins on the bottom. The fins stuck out to the sides and would have been pretty convincing if not for my feet peeking out. On my feet I wore my favorite purple peep-toe jellies, which I wore everyday and still think of.

As a 30 year old adult with a small infant to take care of, I didn’t think I’d have time for a full on sewing project. Especially since I’d never sewn on a sewing machine and didn’t own one (you’ve seen my Instagram and know where this is going). I started by scouring the internet for inspiration and a no sew tutorial. There was quite a variety of costumes based on mermaids, from hipster Ariel to sexy mermaid (just Google search "mermaid costume" under images. Kim K was a hot mess as a mermaid and this one girl totally nailed Ariel including the dinglehopper). I found a tutorial on Martha Stewart online by Christian Siriano, a fashion designer and former Project Runway winner (in case you didn’t know). Throughout the tutorial he used encouraging words and phrases like, “simply” “your local craft store” “easily” “just like that” and “hot glue”. This was it! I made a shopping list based on this simple and easy no sew project as promised to me by Martha and Christian.



My local craft store. Funny I never considered whether or not there was a craft store in Kuwait City. There isn’t. We have a fabric souk, stationary supply store, and True Value. The fabric souk seemed the most promising of the three and I enlisted the help of an expert sewer and crafty friend who knows the souk well. It took several visits, but eventually I got some fabric. It was not what Mr. Siriano recommended. They didn’t have organza or stretchy teal fabric anywhere at the souk. I did find one that was made of gold tinsel and red thread, which looked like salmon scales and got totally side tracked. I ended up buying this thinking I’d hot glue it together to make a skirt (wrong). I also bought chiffon thinking it was see-through like organza. this was also a fail, too heavy and not enough body for fins. Tulle would have been a better substitute in case you are thinking of going in the same direction.

Things got more complicated. Having no craft store to simply buy shells from I had to order something online. There wasn’t much and it was hard to determine what exactly I was getting in a 5 pound bag of seashells for $20 on Amazon. In addition, I realized that with a frequently nursing baby who needs to be held at all times, shells on my chest might not be the right choice. Thwarted again. This is where my kindergarten costume became the inspiration. And I bought a sewing machine.

For a first sewing project usually people go with a pillow or a set of napkins. Me on the other hand, I like a challenge, especially when I’m sleep deprived. What started as something I could just hot glue turned into a full on sewing venture. A friend of mine recommended taking classes on Craftsy.com to start my journey. I decided to make a pencil skirt with my fabric and let the costume go from there.

I ventured back to the fabric souk to collection notions with a new project checklist. Once my sewing machine arrived, I panicked upon reading the instructions. Well, trying to read the instructions. Noah was bouncing in my lap, trying to grab and eat them. It all seemed too much. I let the machine sit on the counter for several days before diving in.

Then after taking my measurements, I nearly fainted and it took several more days for me to get the courage to continue. “Don’t let the numbers upset you,” the Craftsy instructor said. How could they not?!

During this time my mother came to town for a visit. As an expert sewer herself she offered to watch Noah for me and encouraged me to continue my efforts despite having to make our own pattern when we realized the one that came with the class was too small (I just about laid on the floor and cried).
 


Keeping in mind the original Christian Siriano tutorial, I bought the recommended shape wear top to hot glue the shells on (before deciding to go in another direction). Besides not having shells to glue onto it, they don’t make those suckers in DDD. My breasts were spilling out. This is not as sexy as you are imagining - my nursing pads were spilling out too. Luckily my mom remembered how she made the shells on my costume 25 years ago and we improvised the rest of the outfit from there.

In theory, sewing isn’t really complicated. Once I got into it, I understood what I was doing and actually enjoyed using the machine. However, sewing tinsel proved rather challenging. So did removing erroneous seams when I did such a good job matching the thread color to the one in the skirt. My thoughts went from “I’m amazing! Once I finish this project, I’ll design my whole wardrobe and I will look fantastic and stylish!” to “WTF is going on? WHY why did I choose to sew TINSEL for my first sewing project? If the needle pulls the fabric one more time I’m going to light this on fire and take a nap.”

A lot of discussion, heartache, and sewing trial and error brought us to a pencil skirt with a short peplum and a nude body shaper with ruched fabric sewn as shells. This was not at all what the original was supposed to be. Nor did it scream mermaid (looking at the pictures now, I think it did but not at the time). No matter how I styled it, I looked like a 1950s housewife going to a Halloween party. I looked like my grandmother going to a Halloween party. My figure, already considered “womanly” now post-baby is overwhelmingly so. It is not the slight boyish figure of the girls modeling their mermaid costumes on Pinterest. I tried to embrace it, after all you’ve to go work with what you have, but in the end left the house wearing a blue t-shirt with my fishtail skirt.

Even so, my costume miraculously proved successful. When we finally arrived at the family Halloween Party, everyone got the picture that I was a mermaid accompanying my little shark - who stole the show anyways! I even got several compliments on the skirt. Although nothing went as smoothly as promised, it was definitely a learning experience and I am grateful for it. I won’t burn the skirt after all.

Have you ever tried a DIY project after seeing a tutorial online? How did it go?




Friday, September 19, 2014

A New Chapter


On April 1st at 6:08pm my son Noah was born. This was the single most difficult and most rewarding experience in my entire life. I had no idea what my body was capable of. I feel proud to be a woman and to become a mother. This moment began a new chapter in my life. This chapter is not like the others. It is never ending. It is grueling. It is constant. It is satisfying. It is fulfilling. I’m the most tired and most frustrated I’ve ever been, and when I think I just can’t possibly go another second, I do. And then, in the same moment, my heart is overcome with love and passion.

This new experience in my life brings new perspective and refreshed thoughtfulness. I stopped writing at the beginning of last year. Suddenly I was at a loss for words. I was at a loss as to where I wanted this blog to go. Almost 4 years since I started it, I wondered how much it had grown, or hadn’t, and where to take it next. I felt bored with everything. Then I had Noah. Then I was completely consumed with taking care of him, adjusting to my new life as a mother, and moving with my new bundle of love across the world back to Kuwait from Tampa, on vacation to Scotland, then back to Kuwait.

Over the past (almost) six months I have had a lot of time to quietly think as I watch Noah play, nurse, or sleep. I’ve been able to consider where I want this to go and further where I want my life to go. What does High Heeled Traveler mean?

This is my journey. This is my story. It’s personal. I want to write about my life experience to add to the online collective. I want to share stories with words and images. I’ll talk about my favorite things. I’ll talk about that frustrating experience or that funny, embarrassing moment. Sometimes I’ll travel and share that story. Sometimes I’ll drink wine and let you know if it’s something good (or bad). Sometimes I’ll share a moment about my son and my family. Sometimes I’ll just talk about life. Sometimes I'll talk about lipstick and heels and pretty things. There will be no schedule, no editorial calendar, no sponsored content.

So, who’s with me? Are you ready for a new chapter?

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 façade 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
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