Sunday, November 4, 2007
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This weekend's project was to figure out the bus system. I had read that maps can be had at the main bus station downtown Kuwait. Sounded like a good destination to me! I also had my Aunt LuAnne's christmas present from a family member to mail to her, so I figured I could find a way to do that as well.
First a little background. When I mentioned at work my intention to hit the busses this weekend, the reaction was unexpected. At first I was told that I was "unauthorized" to do this thing. Then I was told that we weren't supposed to go anywhere except in pairs. Neither of these things were actually true, but then it got down to the fact that they thought it was icky and dangerous. These are co-workers by the way, not actual supervisors. Needless to say I dismissed their fears and prejudices, and I'm very glad I did.
I asked a guard how to get to Kuwait by bus and he told me to go out to the nearby roundabout and get on line 102. It would cost 250 fils (90c). I headed out and started walking up the road. Not seeing a bus stop on my side, I asked a gentleman who was waiting by the side of the road where it was. He said that it was coming along soon and he was waiting for it himself. I waited with him, and presently a bus came by. However, there were several other bus numbers that swung by first, some of which went to completely different places, and some zigzagged between towns on their way up north. After a while I started hiding behind a truck so that the taxis couldn't see me. They kept slowing down and honking at me trying to get me to ride with them.
We got on the 102 bus (a Citybus brand I believe), paid our 250 fils and proceeded north. It took about an hour, with stops fairly frequently. We quickly got on the Fahaheel expressway (basically a free way) and at every exit the bus took a special bus exit and picked up or dropped off more people. I saw that it was perfectly acceptable to pay with a 1 KD or 1/2 KD bill and the driver was adept at providing change. I'm sure he'd be a bit concerned with a 5 or 10 KD bill, so best not to try paying with one of those. I should mention that I left around 7:30 in the morning and there wasn't any traffic til we got downtown.
The bus itself was quite large, more of a long distance model than the short hop busses in use with Trimet. The seats were quite comfy and the air conditioning, when turned on, worked great. There was one woman seated in one of the front seats (front seats are reserved for women and children here) and no one seemed to bother here at all. She was filipina, and dressed normally for a filipina (i.e. no hijab or abaya). A guy did sit in the other pair of front seats but as there were no other women who got on til near the end, this was not a problem. The new woman just sat next to the other lady. The bus was clean and smelled fine.
I had bought a map of Kuwait with a detail of Kuwait city at the PX, so was able to follow along and orient myself quite well. I got a bit lost towards the end, but was pleased when the KPTC (different bus company) main station loomed and I was able to hop off. It appears that the two main bus companies keep the same route #s and roughly the same routes, so that is helpful.
I headed into the bus station and asked about maps. They directed around the back of the building and a sign that read "Head Station Season Passes." In here was where they sold the monthly bus passes that allow riding all of KPTC busses without having to pay everytime, quite useful if it is your main transportation. In Portland, our Trimet pass was costing around $70 I believe, here it is 15 KD ($54). Not bad at all. As with everything it seems, you need a civil ID to purchase one, so while I was tempted (bad idea, it would have drained my cash reserves) I couldn't buy one. They also told me there were no more maps. Bummer. One other person told me perhaps tomorrow. Well, my roommate expressed interest in doing the bus thing, so perhaps he will join me tomorrow and we'll see if there are bus route maps available. Another person told me they were online, but I checked the website and couldn't find them. I'll try again just now.
Anyway, now it was time to find a post office. As luck would have it, there was one in the same building as the KPTC main offices. In what may be my first interaction with an actual Kuwaiti, the lady (all women staffing the post office) there told me I needed to get a box, and put white material on it, and then bring it back to mail it. Ummm...ok. I asked where to buy a box. She said try the bookstore and pointed vaguely. Half an hour later, I found the bookstore, they sent me across the street. I walked in a random paper supply store and asked for a box. They scrounged one up, kindly helped me tape the box up, and tape a piece of white paper on the side, as I assumed white material must mean a white piece of paper for writing the address.
When I took it back, the first thing she did was pick it up and shake it. She said no good, it couldn't make any noise when it shook. And also, I had not followed directions and covered it in white material. In answer to my puzzled look, she pointed me towards to guys sitting in a corner and said that they would help me. I went over to them helplessly with my package and they jumped up to assist me. I asked about "white material" and one guy pulled out a bolt of white cloth. Ah...it starts to make sense...kind of. First we stuff the thing full of newspaper til it doesn't make anymore noise, then he proceeds to cut out squares of white fabric and sew it around the box. After I wrote the to and from address, and paid them 1KD for the service (certainly a rip off, but at this point I was too relieved to have someone to sew up my box that I didn't care), and it was back to the Kuwaiti postal worker. Finally all was as it should be and I shipped off the package to Saudi Arabia (let's hope it gets there!). I sent it registered mail, so I have a receipt.
After that entertaining time I decided to do some wandering. First order of business: climb that huge tower looming over me. Liberation Tower was completed around the time of the first Gulf War and was subsequently renamed "liberation" in honor of that time. I thought it was climbable, with a restaurant at the top. So I found my way into the adjacent building, a quasi-government building with other banks in it as well. When I attempted to go into the tunnel leading to the tower, I was shoed away and told it was closed, but I could ask security if I could go in. I asked security (a couple of bored young Kuwaiti's playing computer games on their laptops) and they said, no it was closed, but go ask the building manager. I went to the manager's office and he said, sadly that no, it was still closed. And it was unlikely to be open any time soon. Oh well...I tried.
On to the souks! My map indicated a plethora of souks nearby so I wandered from collection to collection, finding the shoe souks, the watch souks, the clothing souks, the bric-a-brac souks, vegetable, meat, etc, etc... Essentially I wandered souks all day. I was looking for Danska shoes for Kerri, but did not find any, nor did I find anyone who knew what they were. I did find a meat merchant who sold camel meat though. Didn't buy any. I did find a real local bathroom though! Picture is included.
Had lunch at a disappointing place...the lamb was very tough. They served me a salad first with no eating utensils. After a while I gingerly started using my fingers to eat what appeared to be a kind of spinachy leaf. Whoa! Must have been some sort of horseradish greenery or something, it had quite the powerful flavor. Another guy came in and started eating his with his fingers with gusto, so it appears I had the right idea. The best part of the meal was the freshly cooked flatbread...mmmmmmm.
I was a bit sleepy after lunch and it was getting hotter. I wandered a bit more, but decided to head back as it would likely take longer to get home. Plus I had another side project this weekend: cook stew in my new crock pot and freeze it for the future. I have to stop buying groceries that can go bad...there is no need to cook during the week, and on the weekends I'll mostly be eating out!
At the KPTC station, I got on a KPTC bus line 102 and waited about 5 minutes before it headed off. The KPTC bus was very much similar to the short hop busses that Trimet uses (covert picture included). Seats weren't as comfy for the long trip back, which took about 1 1/2 hours. Traffic was pretty bad leaving town, but cleared up after that. It too was clean and pleasant. An indian woman got on at one point, and was given a front seat and as far as I could tell left alone. She was dressed in typical indian garb (sari?) and did not wear a head covering. So far I've noticed that in Fahaheel many more women wear the full abaya including gloves and face covering then other places I've seen. In Kuwait proper, it was somewhat unusual to see, but in Fahaheel it's the opposite. I guess Fahaheel is something of a more "traditional" area. Nonetheless, everywhere you go you see filipinas, indians, pakistani, sri lankan, tibetan, etc... ladies and rarely are they covering up to that extent. A few of them may be wearing the hijab (veil) but usually that is if they are in a Kuwait's entourage.
Didn't see any kids on the busses today, but I did see a family waiting at a bus stop.
Well, I think that's it for today's adventures. Tomorrow I may visit someplace more interesting, like Saliwa or Marina Mall. Or maybe just up to the Magic Mall which is quite close.