Saudi bound

Jeff and I were excited when we were asked to present at a GAFE Summit in Saudi Arabia…we’re only 1.5 hours from the border and not many people are able to actually set foot in the country.

It’s been a bit of a process to get visas since it is one of the most difficult countries to travel to. We ended up going with transit visas which means we are allowed to be in Saudi in transit to Bahrain. With Saud as our chauffeur, we’ll leave early morning and aim to be at the border by sunrise (we’ve been advised that the road from Kuwait to Dhahran is curvy not not well lit). We’ll present 1.5 days (we have to miss the 1st morning) with a trip to Bahrain for dinner & drinks before heading back to Kuwait (again early am to be back at school for the afternoon).

Besides obtaining visas (which are safely in our passports) and prepping our sessions, there are other things we’ve had to take into consideration for this trip: I need to be wearing an abaya & hijab when not at the school. As we approach the Kuwait – Saudi border I’ll have to don my cover. We saw this as an opportunity: Abby and I have wanted an excuse to go abaya shopping!

Yesterday after our monthly pedicures, we headed to the old souq with Jeff & Saud.

1st stop: tasty snacks.

This entire bag of goodies cost us 1.2KD (~$4). Our ‘snack’ ended up being dinner for 4.

2nd stop: when you find chips Oman in Kuwait, you must buy them up. 

Then it was time to start perusing the shops for our favorite abayas. If you think an abaya is just a simple black cloak, think again. There are as many varieties (if not more) of abayas as jeans.   

We wondered in & out of shops, trying on different abayas and deciding what features we were looking for. I fell in love in an abaya (not shown) that had a unique cinched waist & v-neck but between the price tag (20KD) and extra fabric, it wasn’t as flattering on me as the mannequin.
IMG_9130

Abby's face has been cropped because she wasn't posing.

Abby’s face has been cropped because she wasn’t posing.

After much deliberation, Abby and I both ended up with front opening abayas with lace details. Both hijabs are mine (because of course I needed a summer and winter one). My abaya was 12KD + 2KD summer hijab & 3KD winter hijab. Abby’s abaya was 10KD. [The exchange rate is currently 1KD = $3.30.] Not bad for gorgeous new clothes! I’m ready for Saudi & Abby has her textile from Kuwait. We’re open to ideas for where else we should wear our new outfits 😉

Just realized this is our 100th post. How fun 🙂

Siblings in Kuwait – Spring Break 2013

One of the deals we are giving our 5 siblings is a trip (once) to visit us. Abby is here for the semester subbing and Andrew came to visit for his Spring Break! Shannon was studying abroad in Barcelona so they met up in Kuwait. It was a memorable week for all! (see Shannon’s post for proof)

There was a little miscommunication ..Shannon arrived on Friday, March 22nd and Andrew arrived 24 hours later. Luckily we like Shannon so it worked out just fine 😉

Shannon made it!

It actually ended up being quite an interesting experience: Shannon met a guy from Portugal on the plane. He was visiting friends but they weren’t able to pick him up at the airport. Our friend, Dana, was driving so we all piled into her car and took him to Marina Mall. We invited him to have breakfast with us at Pain Quotidian…and ended up finding out he was visiting some Kuwaiti royalty that he had met on a road trip. Crazy! We ended up hanging out with him all day and had quite a bit of fun being hospitable. Bonus: he’s a great (self-taught) photographer!

girls & the gulf

jeff, shannon & city

The afternoon consisted of coffee and pedicures. Saturday was another early morning to pick Andrew up at the airport.

We had an amazing breakfast (as always) at the Cocoa Room before heading out to the desert!

Full and satisfied, Dana, Andrew, Shannon, Abby, Jeff and I headed out to do some desert hiking. We found some interesting things along the way!

We also managed to do some GeoCaching…

…and found lots and lots of bullets in the process.

It wasn’t the clearest day but we had a great (HOT) time! Check out the entire album for many more pictures 🙂

Before they came, we compiled a list of all the things we wanted to do with them. [As you can see, we take our food very seriously!] It was actually a pretty busy week! We gave them a taste of a lot of things and know we missed even more. Contrary to popular belief, there’s actually a lot to do in Kuwait (if you’re looking). Some of the blogs I use to find goings-on: 2:48AM, Life in Kuwait, The Grapevine Kuwait.

Shannon introduced me to Red Mango…how did I manage to get through the first 7 months here without ever stopping to try it?!

We ventured to Souq Sharq (a first for all of us!).

We made at stop at the Fish Market.

We (finally) tried a nearby bakery and enjoyed some Middle Eastern sweets.

Strolling through the Old Souq.

Dinner at the Old Souq

Our last night, we ventured to one of our favorite restaurants for some Turkish food and shisha.

Jeff getting fancy with shisha

Abby’s friend from high school (Lance) was in Kuwait for a couple months working on the oil fields and joined us…small world!

Andrew’s turn 🙂

It was a great week!!

Check out the rest of our pictures plus all of our iPhone photos 🙂

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!

Food Lately

**This post has taken me countless hours to write because of many technical difficulties (among other things). The pictures still look funny when published for some reason. Sorry..you’re going to have to deal with it! I’m going to bed 🙂 I really, truly hope you enjoy!!

For being such lovers of food, we haven’t posted a lot about what we’ve been eating…so today I’m here to make you jealous! There are lots of American restaurants in Kuwait (McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, Applebee’s, P.F. Chang, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway…I could go on). We’ve only patronized two Western places so far…Starbucks and Shake Shack, both at The Avenues. Instead of eating at places we’re familiar with, we’ve been making our own food (comme toujours) and going to small, local ‘restaurants.’ Jeff has two rules for you when you come visit…one of them is that you eat whatever we tell you to eat! Enjoy!

First, some of the meals we’ve bought…

Swedish meatballs from one of our early Ikea excursions.

Once a week we pay 1.5 KD for a rotisserie chicken (chicken machine) from a Lebanese place between the school & our apt. It lasts us 2 meals and the first night is usually pulled chicken over salad. Sometimes we splurge and get a schawarma too!

A true staple in our diet. This particular bread we bought fresh out of the oven for pennies! It was so hot Jeff needed more than the newspaper to carry it home 🙂

The (literal) hole in the wall where our bread was made!

When we went to the Friday Market (on a Thursday), we ate at an Indian place there. We paid 800 Fils for all this yumminess…two chicken wraps of some sort, fried veggies, & a sambosa!

We love the two Lebanese restaurants between our apt and school! Bread & hummus from one, falafel wrap from the other…all for less than 1KD!

The Shack Shake in The Avenues is amazing…expensive, but my caramel shake was totally worth it!

Some friends introduced us to the soup place. We ask for 4 containers of green soup with onions & lemon and hand over 1.5KD. These 4 containers (with bread as spoons) will last 4 meals for both of us!

Our green soup came in the one with the towel. There’s other soup too…we were advised against trying them though 😉

And here are some of the meals we’ve made…

We found a Madras curry paste that we’ve fallen in love with! So far, we’ve had a curry stir-fry about once a week. We vary up the veggies and have added Kuwaiti shrimp a few times too!

This is one of the ways that we used pulled chicken machine…with green beans over couscous. More delicious that we thought it would be!

Yet another meal using pulled chicken machine…this time pasta! It started off as a creamy sauce and ended as a cheesy sauce. Basically spicy mac n’ cheese w/ artichokes, tomatoes & mushrooms…again better than expected!

Another weekly staple – pizza using Iranian bread (we can get 5 pieces for 100-250 Fils). We’ve been using sun-dried tomato pesto, whatever veggies we have and sliced mozzarella. We also make garlic cheese bread with the ‘fluffy garlic’ sauce that we get with our chicken machine.

We love us some Iranian bread! For wraps, Jeff roasted chickpeas in cumin and we ate them with moutabel, cucumbers & lettuce.

Another concoction with Egyptian bread 🙂 We were recently introduced to labneh – a cheesy sour cream yogurt spread. Delish!

Jeff had the amazing idea to make a Niçoise Salad. It was simple, filling and healthy…yum. We also found a new bread – Egyptian bread sold at the Sultan Center. Kind of like a thick pita and it comes in white or brown.

I found a pumpkin pancake & waffle mix at the Sultan Center! If you didn’t know, I ❤ pancakes…seriously. We’ve made these the last two Saturdays. We put out tons of toppings (butter, PB, almond butter, cocoa, honey, pecans, banana…) and eat up! This morning I added oatmeal to the batter for the last couple…tasty and SO filling!

We hope you’ve enjoyed a peak into our culinary lives! Are you ready to come visit yet?! We are loving the food here so far and have had a lot of fun being adventurous. We’ve heard that there are a lot of great restaurants so we are eager to find & try them! Enjoy the rest of your weekend 🙂

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!