Ink & Paper

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Daily Show

Hello to all the faithful blog devotees. No doubt you have been reading about my many odd experiences in Kuwait city. This blog, however, is dedicated to telling you about what my day to day life is like here in the Arabian Peninsula.

I am handling the heat well, better than I thought I would. Right now the daytime highs still get to the mid 40s, and it is pretty humid, although the humidity should be gone in a week or two, I am told. Thankfully everything in Kuwait has air conditioning, so I basically scurry from apartment to bus to school. Still on the environment, Kuwait is a pretty ugly place from an aesthetic point of view. Flat, there is sand everywhere, the pollution is quite bad, and there are no parks to speak of. Vast swaths of land are undeveloped, instead appearing like mini deserts, surrounded by unattractive blocky buildings. This is not a country that would ever pride itself on its looks. It is basically all highways, freeways, and sand. Occasional palm trees seem more pathetic than attractive.

My apartment building is tolerable. Not great, but not terrible either. I will be posting some pictures on the blog sooner or later. I am about a 5 minute walk from the beach, but it is not a beach one would frequent for recreation. I can see the ocean from my apartment, although the view is better from the roof. We have a pool in our apartment building, on the roof, but I hesitate to swim in it as I wonder when it was last cleaned. Perhaps I should ask the security guard.

My roommate, Marc (I seemed to be doomed to hang out with like minded monikers) is from Windsor, via China. He’s a little older than me, about 35, but seems to be a good guy all around.

Nearby my apartment, I have a pretty good range of North American fast food joints. Burger King, McDonalds, Dominos, DQ, Applebees, and Little Caesars. Odd that I move half way around the world to live close to a Little Caesars, when I grew up not 10 minutes from one. Lots of little independent restaurants too, but I have yet to try them out. One foot in front of the other for now.

The school is good, not traditional in the North American sense, but good anyway. It does suffer from some lack of organization, but most schools do in the early weeks of the year. My classroom is basic, although the tile floor and cement walls make for terrible echoes, so I will have to get on the kids about using their indoor voices. But overall, no complaints with the school and I suspect things will begin to hum smoothly in a week or two.

I am teaching high school English, with ridiculously small class sizes. My grade 12 class has 10 kids, and my grades 10 and 9 classes each have 15, respectively. So my marking time will be cut way down, a blessing for an English teacher. I will keep you posted on what types of kids they turn out to be.

The staff seems really good, if a little odd. Good people who are here either because they could not get a job in Canada (i.e – me) or people who have had enough of Canada and decided to take some time to see the world. By far the majority are Canadian, with a drop of England, New Zealand, Australia, and the US in for good measure.

I am bussed to school everyday for the first two months, which is a relief in the pocketbook and the stress level. We have a group scheduled shopping trip every Thursday, which is our Saturday. We teach Saturday to Wednesday, 730am to 230pm, 85 minute blocks.

I am doing okay with homesickness, it really depends on how busy I am. I talk with Meg twice a week, and my parents once a week, via Yahoo Messenger. I do this from a super smoky (everyone and their dog smokes here) internet café down from my apartment. It is tough to say goodbye to them at the end of our chats, but while chatting I feel like I am able to relax just for a little while. The post chat walk home is the worst, and I usually dream of home those nights, which makes the following mornings suck.

But, and this is great news, Megan is coming to London in January to meet me on my break. I am super excited about it, only 138 more sleeps. So I have been poring through my Lonely Planet guide, trying to figure out a good itinerary. But whatever we end up doing, it will be worth gold just to see her.

I am only gonna be here until June, and I do not think that is the homesickness talking. Originally I said that I would wait and see, but now that I am over here, I realize that perhaps I am a little more of a homebody that I cared to think. I am still gonna get around and experience the culture, as well as traveling throughout the UK in January, but I have no doubt that I will be on Canadian soil by June 25 of next year. Hell, if our still-in-the-planning school trip comes through I may even get to Malaysia in December. Time will tell. I am coping by breaking the year into segments, little mini goals to look forward to.

So that is pretty much my existence right now. A bunch of teachers also have memberships at the Hilton resort here, and I will hopefully have one as well by the end of the week. It is not cheap, but it gives me a regular westernization break, something I think I may need. Pool, hot tub, weight room, huge, huge Jacuzzi, private beach, wireless internet and available scuba and kayak lessons. I think it is a good deal, so I am looking forward to that. It may be the only time I get inside a Hilton.

I do want to thank all the people who have either emailed me or commented on the blog, I do need to hear from you, it makes life a little easier. If it takes me a few days to respond to your email, I apologize. But thanks for the support, if you could keep it coming, I would appreciate it. Hope you are all well and safe and thanks for reading. I miss you all.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 11:33 PM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Review of the Kuwaiti Public Health Care System

Dear God, I will never complain about the Canadian system ever again. I was at school on Wednesday when I heard, with about 10 minutes notice, that the new teachers were to be on the bus to go get bloodwork and xrays done. Now I had gotten all of this done back in Canada, so I was surprised and a little pissed that I had to go do it again. But the Kuwaiti bureaucracy is insane, so away we went.

I had heard from the returning teachers that this was a rather big waste of time. No shit. We were bussed north for about 45 minutes, and disembarked at what looked like a prison. We had no idea what was going on, but soon enough a billingual member of our staff showed up to hold our hands.

So I walk into this building, which is nothing more than a long room, kinda looks like a bus terminal, with some booths on one side and a whole bunch of people on the other. For the most part, since I have been in Kuwait, I haven't been nervous being the minority, but I got really nervous here. All the people, except for our small white group, are immigrant labourers from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, and Iran, as well as a few other nations. And they are all men, which made the ladies a little nervous. I'm guessing at least a thousand, maybe more.

So we are led down to the far end of the room, where we are promptly moved to the head of the line. Racism is working to my advantage here. I can't help but think that I have a thousand eyes of knives on my back, as most of these immigrants have probably been here for hours, if not days. And yet, here come the westerners, who blow to the top of the ladder in a matter of minutes.

So we stand in line, clutching our passports, only to be told to sit down again. So we sit. Wait for 20 minutes, then are told to get back in line. So we do, this time moving towards the two nurses that are drawing blood. I had heard that they tend to be a little 'stabby', and although it wasn't the best needle I ever got, it was tolerable. I also made damn sure to check that it was a fresh needle. I figured they wouldn't use old needles, but I'm a little paranoid, so I double checked. No problems there.

So we finish our needles, get back on the bus and are driven another 20 minutes to get our xrays. Wait in line for 40 minutes just to get a signature. No line jumping here, again we are a stunning minority. Then we get this signature, and go to stand in another line for the actual xray. This line is long, lasts an hour and a half, as they only have one machine in the building (that we have access to anyway). By now I am getting tired, and the stench of humanity is rather strong. Wait. Wait. Wait some more. Finally it is my turn and I go in and get xrayed.

Back on the bus, going home. I'm tired, Jameel (another teacher from TO, who seems to never shut up) is talking. I seriously consider killing him. I get home at 530pm, after having left the school at 100pm. Four and a half hours for two little things. I have better things to do with my time. But then a bunch of us went out for dinner, so at least the end of my day was better than the middle of it.

So no more bitching about Canadian health care. It is damn good when compared to the hospital I was at yesterday. Okay. Again, sorry for the inconsistent blogs, hopefully settle out in a week or two. Love you all.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 12:29 AM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A Small Dissertation on the Driving Habits of the Kuwaiti populace....

Well I have been in Kuwait for about 10 days now, and adjusting to the culture is still a learning curve I am figuring out. Some things are learned more quickly that others, and this holds true for ones ability to survive the somewhat chaotic streets of Kuwait. Frankly, one learns rather quickly the rules, or lack thereof, that determine how disorder is maintained on a daily commuting basis. And so, after only a few brief hours in Kuwait, I offer you my assessment of the driving situation here.

Firstly, and perhaps most comic of all, is the rather large number of mid 1980s Chevrolet Caprice Classics that roam the streets. Everyone remembers Al's first car, "The Beast?" Exactly the same. For some reason that has yet to be explained to me, these cars are almost a nickel a dozen, or as I should say here, KD 0.250 fils per dinar. The other day I emerged from my apartment block to see a Chevy Caprice, blue in color, with at least 20 inch mags and racing tires on it. Rather mock-able in Canada, apparently this passes as a status symbol here in the middle east.

Secondly, the speed limits are suggestions only. And most drivers tend to ignore the suggestions completely. It is not unusual to be passed by a car going well over 160km/hr. It does not matter if you are on a freeway or the 4 lane road that runs in front of my apartment. I have read somewhere that traffic accidents account for the deaths of 1/3 of Kuwaiti citizens. That does not include, I suspect, the stats for the 1.5 million (out of 2.2 million people total) immigrants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, or India. So suffice to say that speed is a factor in many deaths.

Thirdly, accidents are a regular part of the day. In the10 days I have been here, I have driven past the scene of at least two recent accidents. One occurred probably no more than 15 minutes before I left the restaurant to walk home. I passed by a group of rubber neckers, each gawking at was once a car. I have no idea if anyone survived, it seems rather doubtful, as ambulances are as rare as booze in this country. Seatbelts are never worn (I wear mine, Mom, relax) and motorcyclists never wear helmets, so I suspect that death is just a part of driving in this crazy country. It is also the norm to see cars, mangled beyond recognition, parked on the shoulders for days before being moved. In fact, there is one car that serves as a bit of a landmark for me. I hope it does not get moved or I am screwed.

Fourth on the list is the rather remarkable fact that the car horn seems to be attached to the hands of the drivers. If that light turned green and you waited a millisecond too long, you will know right away. Some drivers lean on their horns most of the time, usually as they blow by slower moving vehicles. If you are walking, which is rare I guess, seeing as how everyone and their dog has a car, taxi drivers will honk at you. It kinda feels like you are being picked up, but not in a romantic way. It also does not matter if a taxi is going the opposite way as you are, he will honk anyway.

Fifth is the lack of patience. The general rule here is that if you are driving and your car is moving, you have right of way. So people who have double-parked often emerge from a store to find their car has traded paint with a now-gone guilty party. The guilty party was driving and no doubt decided that waiting for an adequate opening simply was not going to happen.

Number Six. Despite the abundance of Caprice Classics, many Kuwaitis drive nice, expensive cars. Mercedes, Jags, Audi, BMW, etc. This causes a plethora of squealing tires and burnouts, as every light becomes a drag strip, including the intersection in front of my building. Thankful to be a heavy sleeper. As well, U-turns in intersections are common, perhaps 5 to 6 per green light, as almost all roads are separated by a meridian.

And lastly, the miscellaneous pile. Downtown Kuwait City is a madhouse and while down there I experienced my first roundabout which is like a traffic circle with four lanes. Someone joked that there was four lanes on the pavement and five lanes of cars, and it is true. Yielding is not an option, so people basically barge their way wherever they need to go. It is kind of like a blender full of cars, one only hopes to emerge unscathed.

It may thus come as little surprise to you that a group of us are considering hiring a permanent driver, a taxi of sorts, to get us around once our provided transportation disappears. Not only is this cheaper per person than renting or leasing, I suspect that it may reduce our stress levels just a bit. As well, to my girlfriend and my mother, who are no doubt on the phone by now trying to get me home, relax, I will be fine. Theory of Invincibility, remember? So relax, have a beer (or a double shot of Jack Daniels for Megan) and do not worry about me. Thanks for reading, sorry the blog has been a little sporadic as of late, but you understand. Right?

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 2:19 AM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


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