Some cultural experiences

One of the things that we’ve learned teaching, traveling and living outside our comfort zone is that life is what you make of it. When we came to Kuwait, we did not want to be seen as transplanted Americans. Our goal was (and is) to be open-minded and immerse ourselves in a new culture. We think this mind-set has helped a lot with our “culture shock” (or lack thereof). Recently, we’ve had some time to take advantage of some of the many opportunities offered to us. Here are just a few!

One of the first things we had the opportunity to do once we got settled was to go on a tour of the Grand Mosque in Kuwait City. The AWARE center hosts a tour on the second Saturday of each month (plan your visits accordingly!). It was a great experience that we will post more about in the near future.

One of our favorite experiences here so far was hanging out at the Hussain & Ali’s after going to the Old Souq and getting to hear about everything carpet. Fascinating!

Three weeks ago, we attended an orientation to Kuwait hosted by the AWARE Center. It was great information and great food. After hearing about their values, we signed up for memberships on the spot!

AWARE is guided by Arab and Islamic humanitarian values which advocate peaceful co-existence between cultures and civilizations.  Among key values AWARE promotes are tolerance, better understanding and mutual respect between the westerners and Arab/Islamic world. source

Last Monday, I attended the world premier of a documentary made by United Productions Foundation at the DAR in our neighborhood.

The  mission of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) is to create peace through the media. A nonprofit organization founded in 1999, UPF produces documentary films for both television broadcast, online viewing, and theatrical release, and implements long-term educational campaigns aimed at increasing understanding between people of different faiths and cultures, especially between Muslims and other faiths. We are convinced of the power of media to empower citizens with greater understanding and to nourish pluralism in America. source

Daniel Tutt was on hand to introduce the film. He discussed the education piece of the organization – many Americans have never had contact with a Muslim, yet judge Arabs and Islam based on what they hear in the media. One of the goals of the organization is to get people talking. I love the idea!

The video they were showing was called “Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World.” It was narrated by Susan Sarandon and was originally shown on PBS in the US in June. The premier that I attended was the first time the film had been shown outside the US…pretty cool huh?! It was an eye-opening film, beautiful in every way. You can see the trailer below, “like” their page on Facebook, and see more of their videos.

The next night Jeff and I went back to the AWARE center for a diwaniya hosted by our our neighbor at school, Bryn Barnard. I read his book earlier this year and was excited to hear him talk about it! He both wrote and illustrated it – the artwork is gorgeous and I learned a ton. His talk was just as interesting and was a GREAT compliment to the movie the night before. If you’re interested in the history of Islam and don’t want heavy reading, it’s a must buy! My iPod Touch died during his presentation and I wasn’t able to get any pictures 😦

Our most recent foray into Arabic culture is taking Arabic classes at the AWARE center! We’ve been eagerly awaiting this learning experience and had our first class on Monday. For the Introductory class, we will go every Monday & Wednesday for 6 weeks (a total of 12 hours of class). After two classes, we’ve learned to read, write & pronounce 16 letters of the Arabic abjad. Most have 3 different ways to pronounce them and 2 different ways to write them (depending on where they are in the word). Yesterday we took a quiz where we had to match words written using the English alphabet to words written with the abjad. Jeff and I both got them all right and were awarded stars! You know they will be going on the fridge for sure 🙂

We both got stars!!

We’ve heard that Arabic is incredibly hard to learn and many people here don’t find it necessary to know the language. We’re eager to be able to exchange pleasantries with Arabic speakers and expand our world view through learning a new language!

Hussain and Ali’s

No pics on this one I’m afraid, just a short story.

[EDIT-J: I lied. We have pictures.]

Thursday night (our “Friday”) we went with 5 of our friends to the Old Souq. It’s a pretty standard thing to do if you’re ever in Kuwait, and we’re glad we went. We wandered around a bit and eventually sat down to eat dinner at one of the common food places there. Fun fact about eating in Kuwait: restaurants fight over you, so guys armed with menus try to recruit you to sit at their tables if you even pause anywhere near the food area. It makes you feel special.

Anyway we ended up ordering some saffron rice, hummus, some sort of small shrimp dish, some sort of small chicken dish and, because there were seven of us splitting it all, we ordered 1.5 skewer plates. What they brought out to us was a delicious mountain of food. We ate for an HOUR STRAIGHT. They served us fresh Iranian bread in giant baskets and brought us new baskets whenever ours got cold whether we had finished it or not. Iranian bread is amazing. Someone remind me to post a picture and blurb about our Iranian bakery that’s close by. We left with bags of food and plan on having a reunion feast on Saturday.

After dinner we rolled walked around a bit more and our friend brought us to a carpet place called Hussain and Ali’s. Hussain happens to be an Afghani carpet salesmen educated in Iranian literature and one hell of a storyteller. He brought us into the second floor of his shop and proceeded to tell us everything there is to know about carpets. For two hours. It was amazing. He taught us how to count threads, identify & define Muslim symbols within the carpet, and determine whether the weaver was left or right handed. How cool is that?

By the way, should any of you ever be in need of a carpet consultant, we may be of some  service.

As for the week ahead – we’ve got some blog posts simmering. Until then you can amuse yourself by price-checking authentic Qum (city in Iran) silk rugs of 1.5 million threads or more. Do it. It’s nuts.

An artsy shot of the store. Carpet for dayyyyys. Thanks to Lindsay for the picture!