strivetoengage

Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving

Summer in Kuwait

Part of the reason for my expat assignment to Norway from Australia is to bring me closer to clients in the Middle East. This has a few significant and positive impacts on our lifestyle. One is that I’m now living in a similar timezone to my clients so that means that I can leave work at a respectable time and not have to work into the evening every day to have enough overlap with them. So evenings are now family time which is exactly how it should be! The second big improvement is that my travel time is about 8 hours less than from Canberra, Australia to visit my clients. The other big advantage is that I no longer suffer from jetlag when visiting.

My flight to Kuwait stopped in Dammam, Saudi Arabia on the way from Amsterdam to Kuwait. On the way to Dammam, I chatted with the man sitting next to me. He was very overweight, wore a baseball cap and a long sleeve t-shirt and had tattoos down his neck, over his forearms, hands and fingers. He was friendly and happy to chat about his teenage daughter who is starting college in the USA and make some money with modelling and teaching yoga, his childhood in an Inuit trading station in Alaska, his young family in South Dakota, and his job as a mechanic on a drill-rig in Saudi Arabia. I wonder how he will support his family when his body is less able to cope with the rigours of his physical job.

This patch of sandy desert hasn't yet been developed

This patch of sandy desert hasn’t yet been developed

I chatted with the Canadian/Iraqi woman sitting next to me on my flight to Kuwait. She teaches English at the American University and was returning to work after spending the summer in Canada. We swapped stories about working in the Middle East. She wears the hijab with conservative western-style clothes and is sometimes criticised in the street in Kuwait for the way that she dresses. She taught English by Video Conference to Saudi students and one student rudely questioned her about her religion and insulted her for not covering herself with the traditional abaya and niqab. I have never been treated in that way and I suspect that it’s sometimes easier to be an outsider than someone bridging two different worlds.

She studied psychology and enjoyed chatting with a Norwegian professor of IT at Amsterdam airport. He focusses on Alzheimer’s disease in his research and mentioned a couple of studies that he has recently run:

  1. Knowing that mental agility diminishes the chances of Alzheimer’s disease he designed an interactive tv system, whereby when a tv show finishes, a quiz appears on the screen and the viewer answers the questions. This encourages the viewer to think about what (s)he has just watched. He tried to get funding for the concept but has failed so far. It’s a shame because it sound like a really clever way to get people engaged from their lounge chairs.
  2. He introduced a group of retirees to a range of computer games. The idea was to see if computer games can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. He recorded what are the 2 most popular games and interestingly they were Bingo (no surprises there) and … Grand Theft Auto!

It was interesting talking to her and she gave me some tips on where to spend a nice evening in Kuwait, away from the oil refineries where I normally spend my time.

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View from my hotel window towards Fahaheel seaside markets

In the photo above you can see a construction site with work underway. I thanked my lucky stars that I am privileged to work with my mind and don’t have to work on a construction site in Kuwait at a blistering 49C. It’s cooling down already in Norway so I’ve greatly enjoyed spending time outdoors here in Kuwait. I dearly miss being able to swim for free every week in Canberra. I’ve enjoyed swimming laps since I learnt as a child and here in Norway it is prohibitively expensive to visit a heated pool so I haven’t been swimming at all. I was excited to use the roof-top pool in Kuwait and twice in the 3 days I was there I swam over 750m. On my first swim this trip there was a man in the pool that is so obese that every time that he moved he displaced so much water that it was noticeably harder to swim. It’s great that he was getting some gentle exercise in the pool because it must be extremely difficult to exercise at that size.

Fahaheel markets

Fahaheel markets

A colleague from Norway was here with me and we went to Marina Mall for dinner next to the marina. It was a perfect temperature to sit next to the water, about 36C, so we asked the restaurant manager if we could sit outside. He was aghast and tried to tempt us into the air conditioned comfort of the popular restaurant but when we told him that we’d come from Norway and needed to defrost he nodded in understanding and promptly had a table prepared for us. One friendly diner stopped to chat with us and tease us for sitting outside. He’s Syrian but born and raised in Kuwait and was there celebrating a birthday with a group of Syrians, Palestinians and Australians who gathered around us and chatted with us. He said that he’d swap 5 of his Syrian passports for 1 Norwegian passport. His homeland is being torn apart.

It’s an Indian restaurant and the food was prepared with care and attention with good quality ingredients. It was delicious! I chatted with the manager about the quality of the food and he was delighted and said that the chef takes great care with her recipes and insists that the kitchen staff follow the recipes carefully and use good quality ingredients. He went on to say that the restaurant owners belong to an organisation that is focussed on quality and the restaurant is regularly audited on quality!

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The hardware market opposite the hotel

On our second evening we wandered through the souk opposite our hotel. We passed lots of hardware stalls, abaya stalls, faux fancy bag stalls, cheap Chinese toy stalls etc etc.

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It was bustling inside the souk and although it’s a shame that it’s so modern and doesn’t have the spices, food, and incense that are thrilling in traditional souks (like Muscat), it was still interesting to wander around and look at the people and goods. As we walked past an Omani man I was chatting animatedly with my colleague and laughing. He caught my eye and I think that he thought I was smiling at him. Soon afterwards I noticed to my discomfort that he was following us. When my colleague entered a shop he caught up to me and spoke to me. I muttered something then scurried into the shop. He continued to follow us but eventually gave up and went away.

Super size me mannequins

Super size me mannequins

I like Kuwaiti people. I like their manners, hospitality and dignity. There are definitely problems with obesity but on the other hand there are skinny young men to be seen wandering in small groups through shopping centres and working as Police in the airport. I have discussed obesity with my Arab staff member and he said that it’s very difficult to exercise in that climate. I can definitely understand that but I’ve also seen air conditioned gyms and when I mentioned that he said that he finishes work and then has to drive his family around and run errands so I can understand that he doesn’t have time to exercise, which is a hidden cost to not allowing women to drive and function with equality in society.

My business presentations went well and I enjoyed seeing my clients again and meeting some new ones. Another advantage of living in Norway instead of Australia is taking short trips instead of long ones and before I knew it my trip was over and I was back at home with my lovely family.

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This entry was posted on September 7, 2015 by in middle east and tagged , , , , , , , .
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