Some of the mundane

I have been trying to think of all the little things that are different about life here, but are quickly grown used to. I’ve been trying to keep a sort of running list and this is what I’ve come up with so far. I hope it gives you a little flavor for things here.

The super of a building is called a “Harris.” Ours is named Hamdee. He lives in a miniscule apartment on the ground floor of our building. Our security guard, Abdulathy, also has an apartment on the ground floor. They are such kind and gentle men. Their apartments are also used for storage of such things as gas tanks for our stoves,


gas tank under kitchen drainboard for stove


orange cord is to gas tank under drainboard

mattresses, and extra furniture so they are relegated to basically living in one room.

Horn honking is a form of communication. I’m making a stab at understanding it, but when it’s outside my window all night long it is harder to decipher (after the first night it stopped keeping me awake).

Cars pass in emergency lane, which has pretty intense rumble strips about every 10 meters.

Speed governors beep or flash lights on the dashboard to indicate when speed is in excess of 120k/h. Many of the major roads have speed cameras as well. You never receive a ticket, but when you try to leave the country to travel they tell you of it and you have to pay before you are allowed to leave. People are not allowed a one-way ticket if they are in debt for anything in Kuwait.

Flash brights and tailgate to indicate you want a car to move over so you can pass, if you don’t move over fast enough (never mind that there is a bus in the next lane) then they begin weaving in and out too close to breathe. There are many accidents.

Lights fall out of the ceiling and routinely burn out, sometimes just days after the bulb has been changed.

Fans in walls open to outside in kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room.


fan in kitchen with unscreened opening to the outside

It is hard to fathom how this works insulation-wise. Walls are relatively thick and cement. Windows are single pane and poorly insulated, as I discovered when I awoke to a puddle of water in my living room after an intensely heavy rain.

Power automatically shuts off about once a month. I’ve given up on resetting the electronic clocks. I use my phone as my alarm.

Almost any chain restaurant in the US is also here: Starbucks, PF Changs, Caribou, Olive Garden, etc. and of course, all the fast food restaurants as well, except for Chik-fil-a.

Every outlet, every light bulb has a separate switch, even on many of the extension cable surge cords.


outlet with on/off switch

Maids mop and hose down bathrooms at least 2x per day (all bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms have drains in the floor


my bathroom floor drain

and they squeegee the water to the drain), sweep hall numerous times, monitor students in halls and bathrooms, general errand running within the school (copies, laminating, messages), heat water, move furniture, wash dishes. House maids do dishes, laundry, ironing as well as dusting, mopping, change bed sheets, etc.  School maids make 100KD/month (about $350) and house maids make 25KD/month (almost $90) per apartment.

“Harris” washes cars every single day, sometimes 2x a day for 5KD/month (+/-$18). He leaves the driver’s side windshield wiper up so you know it has been done.

Cabs usually cost between $10-$30, depending on how far you go. My cab driver often waits (napping, I think, though he is always awake and starts the car as soon as I am at the gate) outside the house I tutor at while I’m tutoring and then takes me home. A couple of times I have had to go to the bank afterwards, and he waited (sometimes over an hour) while I was there too. He is awesome.

Tutoring gives me a glimpse into private homes, usually quite ornate and expensively decorated. Not a lot of knick-knacks or bric-a-brac around. They seem staged almost. I’m pretty sure there are back rooms that are more cluttered and comfortable, I just haven’t seen them. The two I’ve been in also have an elevator!

Pedicures are done in a big bowl of water without jets, of course. They always paint with quick dry and then send you out the door. They will happily go into your bag and get money to pay if your nails are not dry enough. J They wax and thread faces, besides lips, eyebrows, chins, bikini, etc

Water is stored in large tanks on top of buildings or next to them.


water tanks on top of building across the street from me


water tank next to the same building that gets filled by the water trucks

A water truck delivers water many times a day and night. It seems they are always on the road and not particularly quiet.

No temperature gauge on hot water heater. It’s nearly boiling, or cold except when it’s hot outside and then it’s hot or hotter.

Internet cables are left to dangle down the outside of older buildings and in through the window. I hear the cables bumping against the window or the building when it is windy.


internet cables dangling in the breeze. Oh, and laundry too.

Destination Doha, Qatar for 3-day weekend!

Up early on Thursday, 16 January to catch a flight to Doha, Qatar (a difficult name to pronounce). We arrived by about 10:30 and had a car rented and were on the road by 11:30. We drove around and found a little hole in the wall place to eat lunch (Indian) and then headed off for the Islamic Museum of Art.


waterway at entrance to Museum of Islamic Art


Museum of Islamic Art

It is a beautiful building with the “largest collection of Islamic art.” The collection is spread over a maze of rooms on 3 floors: incredible tiles, glasswork, coins, and pottery. There were also coins, weavings, weapons, jewelry, and books.


a few of the daggers

The ones that intrigued me the most were the astrolabes. They had several cases of them in different sizes in a couple rooms. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of those. The building sat right on the water’s edge and there was a beautiful fountain and grounds outside of it.


dhows and skyline on water surrounding Museum of Islamic Art


After about an hour and a half there, we decided to head next door to a special exhibit of Damien Hirst’s stuff. I hesitate to call it art, and I am once again reminded of my general lack of enthusiasm for “modern art.” One of his signature things is paintings of dots (see photo of building covered by dots).


Building with Damien Hirst signature dots

Each dot is a different color and on different canvases they are different sizes, but there is a space equal to the size of the dots between each dot. Meticulous? The rest of it was quite gruesome. He bisected animals and suspends them in formaldehyde, or sets up scenes with actual animals (many sharks) also suspended in formaldehyde. Row upon row of pills evenly spaced along tiny shelves filled one room, in another a giant ashtray the bottom of which was covered in cigarette butts (ew, bad smell. Well, okay, the formaldehyde didn’t smell so good either, but it was encased), or row upon row of cigarette butts evenly spaced where they had been stubbed out on tiny shelves. A room full of larger cabinets filled with pharmaceuticals or surgery equipment, and finally a baby’s skull totally encrusted with rose-colored diamonds and an adult skull totally encrusted with white diamonds. Bizarre. It did inspire some discussion afterwards though. The labels on the walls seemed to indicate his fascination with death and how that impacts our lives. I dunno.

From there we headed to a Sheraton Hotel that Gabe remembered in Doha from 10 years ago when he was stationed there. We enjoyed dinner at an Irish Pub inside the hotel.


Doha, Qatar Sheraton Hotel


lobby of the Sheraton in Doha

Our hotel was not great. The beds were hard and water never reached more than lukewarm. However, it provided breakfast. The next day found us headed for the desert (yes, off-roading…in a car!) in search of the “Singing Sand Dunes” and a cave.


Singing Sand Dunes out in the middle of the desert

We found the dunes and climbed them, but apparently the humidity, temperature, and winds have to be just right for them to sing. It wasn’t just right, but it was beautifully warm and we could see some distance. We were unable to find the cave right away, but in the process came across a decaying old mosque.


abandoned mosque out in the desert

We all climbed up the minaret, again for some great views.


up in the minaret

As we returned to our car a man in a 4-wheel drive came along and asked what we were doing. In broken Arabic and English he told us to follow him and he would take us to the cave. About 30 minutes later we arrived. It’s hard for me to imagine someone going 30 minutes out of their way to guide a visitor to something in the States? He left and we climbed around and down inside this cave. It was about 40 meters deep and just randomly out in the middle of the desert.


inside the Musfer Sinkhole (Karst Cave)


entrance to the Musfer Sinkhole (Karst Cave)

We returned to the city and stopped at a mall with a Venetian theme – it had a canal complete with water taxis and the ceiling was painted with clouds and blue sky.


canal and water taxi in the mall

The Middle East seems to have a “thing” for malls. The purpose of the mall stop was to find a restaurant that was open. From there we drove to “Education City” and stopped to see Qatar Academy.


Qatar Academy in Education City

It is a beautiful new facility housing preschool through Grade 12 education and is linked with some American universities (including Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgetown). We stopped and looked around inside Qatar Academy secondary school and talked to a couple primary teachers. We were advised to stay where we were if we were happy.

Then we decided to drive out to The Pearl (The Pearl-Qatar in Doha, Qatar, is an artificial island spanning nearly four million square meters. It is the first land in Qatar to be available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals.) Opulent and largely populated by white people from what we saw. Beautiful houses and a gorgeous setting from which to watch the sunset.


sunset from The Pearl

Then we headed to a Belgian pub in another opulent hotel for happy hour. Back to the dump hotel for a quick freshen-up and then on to the Souq Waqif.


Souq Waqif


mosque and moon from the Souq Waqif

This is my favorite souq to-date. It was full of ambiance and so much to look at. We had dinner at one place (I think it was Iranian) and then walked down to another place for shisha. From there it was tumble into bed exhausted.

After breakfast at the hotel, we headed for the airport where we were told we were on standby. Apparently this happens with some frequency on Qatar Air. For some reason an earlier flight was delayed and in order to accommodate those passengers we were bumped. We were told we would receive $125 compensation and use of the “Silver Lounge” or take an even later flight and fly first class. We didn’t want to arrive so late, so opted for the Sliver Lounge and compensation. The lounge had a buffet of free food and drinks (nonalcoholic) and comfortable chairs. We chilled there for several hours and then boarded our flight, arriving in Mahboula at about 5:30 pm.

Great weekend get-away!

Travel diary

22 December
I ran into many fellow teachers in the Kuwait airport with me as I await the flight for Istanbul. Watched “Elysium” on the flight to Istanbul and enjoyed the sight of mountains and snow! Now debating whether or not to exchange some currency and have a beer while I’m waiting for my flight to Prague.


Goodbye Kuwait


This answers THAT question.

Parker should be headed toward Prague where his friend, Chris, will meet him and hang out with him until I arrive about 4 hours later. I think we’ll jump into activities tomorrow, after a bit of dinner and a sleep. Included in our hotel is a tour to 36 places in Prague. I’m not sure how comprehensive the tour will be, but it seems like it will be a good introduction at the very least. We will plan a couple of excursions out of the city as well. I suspect our time will fly by. I also anticipate that Parker will keep later hours than I with Chris, and he will see things I am apt to miss. Somehow clubbing with mom just doesn’t quite cut it.

23 December
We got up and went down for breakfast, which is excellent and included in the price here at the hotel. Then Chris arrived and we began walking around Prague. We were also looking for a place that I could exchange all the KWD I had brought with me. Sadly, no exchange place or bank would take the currency, so I’m stuck with charging at this point. Of course, not every place takes a credit card. I have this wad of cash from Kuwait that I will have to take back and redeposit.


one of many Christmas trees and cathedrals

We saw lots of little street stalls that were selling fish. It turns out that carp is a traditional Czech meal for Christmas and Easter, so Chris’ mom, Hana is going to fix it for us tomorrow. After we bought the fish we headed to Hana’s apartment for tea.


carp stand

We hung out there and chatted until dinnertime and went to a little place around the corner from Hana’s for dinner. She went home and Parker, Chris and I went back to the hotel. Chris and Parker then went to his apartment and on to clubbing.

24 December
Awoke early after a fairly fitful sleep. Parker was out all night with Chris. He finally came in at 10:30 am with a large gash in his eyebrow. He and the cobblestones had a disagreement about which direction to go, and with his hands in his pockets he fell without hands to brace his face. I tried to pull it together with a band aid after he had showered, but it looks kind of like it needs stitches to me. Anyway, he slept for a few hours after that and then we headed for Hana’s house for the traditional Christmas Eve meal. We have been trying to arrange a tour that is included with our hotel price, but it has not been possible for the last two days. We are told it should be available tomorrow, but we’ll see. Surely by the 26th at least!


Prague Castle Complex on Christmas Eve

25 December
Again no tour, but arranged it definitely for tomorrow. Then decided to head up to the castle and St. Vitus’ cathedral. It was an interesting climb to the top of the hill and enjoyable to wander around the grounds.


city of Prague from the Castle grounds



backside of St. Vitus’ Cathedral



the castle

We decided to pay to climb up 287 steps to the top of the bell tower, which you could walk around for a 360° view of Prague.


view from the bell tower with zoom


front facade of St. Vitus’

Then we returned to the hotel where we met up with Chris, grabbed some dinner and then headed to the movie theater to see “The Hobbit 2: Desolation of Smaug”. Good movie, but not a fan of the cliffhanger end. (Just make one movie, for heaven’s sake.) Chris and Parker were headed off to another club and I was supposed to take the subway back to the square by our hotel. The subway stopped running its regular route, so I ended up far away from The Charles Hotel or anything familiar. I walked to a hotel that I could see from the tram stop and asked if anyone spoke English. Fortunately someone did, they called me a taxi that would take a credit card and I made it home.

26 December
Breakfast and then the tour picked us up at 9:30 am. We rode by van to the castle where we met our guide Jana (“Yana”).


main entrance gate to the Castle Complex

We learned a lot about the castle complex and St. Vitus’ that we didn’t get from our earlier visit. We walked down again and into the Old Town Area of the city,


Lesser Town church


Lesser Town church

from there we went to the Lesser Town Area and saw John Lennon’s wall.


John Lennon wall

We climbed up to the Charles Bridge, and then went on a boat tour loop to see the city from the river.


boat for our river “cruise”

From there we went to Il Pavouk (which translates to spider) for lunch in an old medieval cave type place underground.


medieval restaurant underground

The final sights to see were the Jewish Quarter,


synagogue in Jewish Quarter


cemetery outside Jewish Museum synagogue

which included where Franz Kafka was born and a street that was modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris. Very posh shops. Return home to video chat with family and Parker and Chris go out again.

27 December
Up and get tickets for the train to Kutna Hora. We find Chris and arrive to Kutna Hora by around 1:00 and head to the Sedlec Ossuary (Church of All Saints), also known as the Bone Church.


cemetery outside the Ossuary


a small few of the bones inside the ossuary

So many human bones (40,000-70,000) are used to decorate the below ground chapel. It was a desirable place to be buried because a handful of earth from Golgotha had been sprinkled over the abbey cemetery. Many thousands were buried due to the Black Death and the Hussite Wars. The display was solemn and a little overwhelming.
After that we walked up to St. Barbara’s Church, a famous Gothic Cathedral high up on a hill.


St. Barbara’s Church


front entrance of St. Barbara’s Church

St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners, appropriate for a former silver mining town. Suddenly it was time to briskly walk down the hill to the train back to Prague. For dinner we met Chris B. and Hana, Hana’s boss, Chris P. and his husband, John. We had a delightful time getting to know one another and found out that Chris P. works with Parker’s step-dad, Dean. I walked home with Chris P. and John as Parker and Chris B. continued on elsewhere.

28 December
Relatively slow paced day for video chats and catching up. Chris B. showed up and hung out with us, then we went to meet Chris P., John, and Hana for a nighttime walking tour.


plethora of Christmas trees in Wenceslas Square

Powder Tower near the Municipal building

Powder Tower near the Municipal building

It was beautiful and again we received insight that only Hana could provide. We ended up at the Hemingway Bar to try absinthe. It was a ritual worthy of experiencing. I would love to get the paraphernalia for it, as it is beautiful!

ice water holder for absinthe

ice water holder for absinthe

After trying both green and white absinthe, we wandered home.

29 December
We meet Chris B. and Hana, and Chris P. and John to go to Letná Park, which overlooks the Vitava River.


Vitava River and bridges from Letna Park

It was atop this hill that a 50meter plinth was built to support a massive granite statue honoring Joseph Stalin that was unveiled on 1 May 1955 after more than 5½ years of work in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was the world’s largest representation of Stalin, and was destroyed with 800Kg of explosives in 1962.


Parker and Chris atop the plinth

Then we went to Chris B’s school and saw some of the architecture projects students were working on. Nearby we found a nice little pub in which to have lunch. The rest of the evening was low key. We went out to get beer and brats and then returned to the hotel.

30 December
We met up with Chris and John and walked to the funicular to go up to the “Prague Eiffel Tower”, known as The Petřín Lookout Tower or View Tower. It is a 63.5 metre high steel framework tower in Prague, which strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower.


Tower of Petrin

We paid to climb the 300+ steps to the top for some spectacular views.


view from on top of Petrin Tower


St. Vitus’ from on top of Petrin Tower

On the way to the funicular we stopped to view a Memorial to victims of Communism, which was sobering and rather disturbing.


memorial to the victims of Communism

After walking all those steps we had built up an appetite and walked back down the steep hill to get lunch in a pub. Parker returned to the hotel and I joined Chris P. and John to go to the Modern Art Gallery and see the Black Babies sculptures.


controversial and famous “Black Babies” sculpture

We met up again with Chris B. and Hana, as well as a few of Chris B’s school friends: Katrina (from Russia), Julia (from Kazakstan), and Elio (from Lebanon) for dinner. It was nearly midnight by the time I got back to the hotel!

31 December
I made a number of mistakes in planning this trip, and one was only reserving the hotel through the night of the 30th when we weren’t leaving until the 1st. So, where to stay? We ended up at Chris B’s one room apartment with a loft. Chris B., Parker and I grabbed lunch and hung out for in the apartment, then went to meet Chris P. and John at the Ice Bar.


Ice Bar

That was an fun experience, but it was timed and we had to leave shortly after finishing our drinks. So, we proceeded to another pub. Chris P. and John left after one drink, but Parker, Chris B. and I stayed for another round or two. It was New Year’s Eve after all. There were all sorts of fireworks exploding around the city, but it didn’t seem distinctly timed for the New Year. It just sort of kept happening all night long and even into the very wee hours of the morning.

Happy New Year! I’m up and out of Chris B’s and on my way to catch the metro to the airport by 8:20.


New Year’s Eve debris on New Year’s Day and goodbye to Prague

Everything went smoothly, and I said fond farewells to the boys before I left. Here is where my other mistakes come in to play. I mentioned earlier my inability to exchange KWD for any other money, well this was true even in Istanbul. I did not have a PIN for my credit card so I was also unable to get cash that way. Istanbul has two airports about 45km from each other and they have quite a racket set up. You have to pay for a visa into Turkey in order to collect your luggage and then pay for a bus to the center square (Taksim) and another bus from Taksim to the other airport. Of course, they mostly only accept cash in local Turkish currency. When I went to pay for my visa, my credit card didn’t work for the woman and she was not terribly helpful for what to do. This is when I went up to the cash exchange to find out that even in Turkey no one recognized the Kuwaiti dinar. I went back down and tried again, and a man had a machine that could read my card. I got my visa. Then came the problem of getting to the other airport. The only way I could find was to pay with my credit card for a taxi. It was out-of-this-world exorbitant, but I was near tears and decided I was willing to pay. I had planned to meet up with Kelly and Gabe in Taksim and take the bus with them to the other airport, but I couldn’t access the wifi in the airport so I was unable to let them know I wasn’t going to make it. It was a frantic feeling, but I made it to the other airport and found Kelly and Gabe there. Yay! The rest of the trip was uneventful and the 3 of us staggered up to our apartments by about 3:30 am. It is nice to be home.