Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wonderful Weekend

I keep forgetting to post about what an incredible long weekend we recently had.

On Friday, my Kuwaiti friend Muhammed (abu Khaled), who I met in Fahaheel by chance a couple of months back, invited our family out to dinner in Salmiya. Salmiya is the pointy bit of Kuwait City on the map.

He gave us directions to the "3 palms casino" (really the Palm Palace...must be an arabic thing), which we were able to locate finally near Marina Mall. He showed up in his dishdash (first time I've seen him out of a jogging suit) and with 3 nephews in tow. His sister has been living in the US for some years and his nephews all speak English and were eager to see someone from the States after a year or so of being back in Kuwait. The restaurant was a lovely Lebanese place serving the usual assortment of food we tend to classify here as "arabic" but is apparently derivative of Lebanese. Only this stuff was the best to be had around here. After a (typically apparently) confusing little extended seating ritual involving making sure all the brothers were seated in an age appropriate order, Abu Khaled began ordering stuff right and left, quickly filling the table with little dishes of hummous, moutabel (baba ghanouj), salads, tabbouleh, dolmas, etc, etc.... Piping hot fresh pitas were brought out, puffed up into little round balls, which he then used to serve us various samplings of the dishes. It is fairly expected here that you should serve your guests up with various dishes and I tried to pick up on those cues and do my share of serving too. The brothers were all expected to serve the younger brother, and to keep Rowan's plate full. The brothers were between 8 and 14 I believe. Abu Khaled ordered a couple of shisha pipes with saloum (he calls them 'hubbly bubbly') and we puffed on those through out the evening. Of course we talked a lot about various things, and he again insists he must take us all over the place, starting with some spots here in Kuwait, such as the northern areas, and arranging a trip out to Failaka Island (which his family used to own at one time apparently), and eventually the Emirates, Egypt, and lots of other spots he feels we simply must see. He is really incredibly kind and friendly, and we are very grateful to have met him.

Later on, the real dinner arrived...plates of mixed roasted meats with incredible flavour (chicken, lamb, beef, kebab), which we gorged upon until feeling quite full. The meal lasted several hours and it was almost 11 when we decided to leave. Of course, he insisted on paying for the meal, which we anticipated, but still...I believe the total was over 50KD! At any rate we had a fabulous time and plan on hooking up with Mohammed again when we can. He is currently our only (but an exellent!) contact with actual Kuwaiti's and we hope to meet more of his family if we can.

And that was just Friday night!

We had heard from somewhere that Liberation Tower was going to be open to the public on Saturday...part of the local festivities (National Day, Liberation Day and Hala February). So we had planned on taking the bus (first time as a family) downtown to see if we could go in. The last time we tried to park our car in that area we spent about an hour just trying to find a parking spot. We ended up waiting in a line for a full parking garage for about 30 minutes before we were able to park. So we figured that taking the bus, even if it takes a little longer to get there, was well worth it for not having to park. As I've blogged before, the bus fares are very reasonable at 250 fils per person to ride all the way downtown from Fahaheel, and Rowan was free. We were able to catch a bus right outside on our street and it took about an hour to get to our destination, the KPTC bus station right next to Liberation Tower. We were hungry by that time so walked across the street and found a lovely arabic food restaurant, much much cheaper than the Palm Palace, and had way too much to eat of shawarma meat, hummous and moutabel, plus freshly baked flat-bread of two varieties. Heading over to the Tower it was clear that our information was incorrect and it was not open to the public. In fact even the lower sections were closed for the holiday. Ah well, no trouble, we decided to walk around the area and I showed Kerri some of the other malls/souks I had found in my wanderings. Eventually we made our way back to the bus station and headed back for Fahaheel. The only hiccup in our bus outing was that on the return journey, for some reason the same bus line does not go back along our road, but takes a slightly different route that necessitated walking home some distance. Nothing compared to how much we had already walked...but still...we had already walked a lot. We'll have to figure out how to get dropped off closer to home. Aside from that it was a huge success and Kerri's already talking about how nice it is to feel that sense of freedom of having one's transportation options increase. The taxis are nice enough, but very expensive when going long distances, and unfortunately I have to have the car to get to work as there are no other people we know at our compound that I can carpool with. We experienced no strange looks or uncomfortable situations on the bus and she is feeling very confident about being able to use the bus system to get around.

That evening was Saturday and the maid we have employed comes in later on Saturday at 4pm and stays til 8pm. This is so that Kerri and I can go out once a week by ourselves and leave Rowan at home (woot!). After living downtown Portland for several years and not having any regular babysitting options it is really nice to be able to have that one evening a week where we can just get away for a while. So that Saturday we decided to walk directly into Mangaf instead of down to Fahaheel where we have been going, and do some good old fashioned exploring. First I had to show Kerri the Bebo juice place that is so close to us and have some yummy juice. Then we went further afield through the strangely run-down building blocks, past some small butcheries, and eventually stumbled across one of the greatest finds so far! In one small shop was a counter filled with inset large pots with lids on them. Eventually the proprieter appeared, speaking very little English, and he began to lift pot lids revealing various stew-like mixtures made from who knows what, except that they smelled delicious. Also he had fool beans and garbanzo (chickpeas) beans all cooked and ready to buy. A generous container of each item costing only 300 fils. We were very pleased with this find and started back down the road, only to find next door a hot kiln-like oven and men baking fresh large flatbread, somewhat Iranian style, but with a little more thickness. 200 fils buys you a huge stack (10-15) which you then wrap up in a newspaper and take away with you. We immediately resolved to eat from these places as soon as possible. We continued our walk, which was pleasant, all the way to Mekka road and back down to Fahaheel, through the souks there, stopping only to smoke some shisha at a (literally) back alley shisha spot. From there back to the Coast road, and then to our place. We arrived right at 8pm (for the first time staying out the entire time!) knowing our calf muscles would be sore the next few days from all the walking we'd done, but still had a great time. We didn't need dinner due to the huge lunch previously.

Sunday was our jaunt downtown to Wataniya headquarters, and from there to Marina Mall where I needed to buy some new shoes (my old ones being in such a state of disrepair that they are literally coming apart at the seams). I ended up buying some casual Ecco shoes which are a bit tight, but I'm assured they will loosen up eventually. I had been looking around at the cheap stores, but was unable to find the style I like, and when it comes to shoes, I literally wear them til they fall apart, so this is one area where hunting for a bargain is not the best way to do things. Luckily the shoes I got were of last year's set so I got them on a Hala Feb sale for 29KD.

We drove home for lunch as we wanted to try the bread/stew combination from that nearby spot in Mangaf. Rowan and I walked over there this time and I got 3 different stews to try them all, and 200 fils worth of bread. We ate the delicious food for lunch, dinner, and some more the next day.

Monday (which was a holiday for me) we continued our quest to locate a place to buy the benches we want for our porch. Our porch is *huge* and gets lots of shade during the day, so we want to put the type of benches usually found outside the shisha places. These are long, tall benches with wide seats and cushions in a particular red, black and white pattern that appears to be common here. We'd like to get 3 of them and arrange them in a horseshoe on our porch so we have a comfy spot to sit outside that is easy to maintain.

Unfortunately, we have been having a hard time finding out where to buy these benches that appear to be everywhere. We looked a little bit at Friday Market once (not much, we were there for the first time and quite overwhelmed) and have asked a few people in Fahaheel. Most are quite puzzled by the question, but we did get the tip to look at the Fahaheel metalworks area. There are several shops near the auto/mechanics area that make various metal things such as bannisters and tables. We stopped over there and asked around, having to describe what we were looking for. One quite was 40KD per bench, and a carpenter quoted us 50KD per bench. This is a little steeper than we were hoping for. But a guy here at work (Pakistani born, but raised in Kuwait) has told me that if we go back to Friday Market and look around more, we may find some there, perhaps also in the used furniture area. He has told me that the term for these chairs is "outside diwaniya" bench (directly translated), and he wrote the description down for me as well as drew a little picture of the chair for my use in talking to people, which should come in handy when we go back this coming weekend.

Otherwise Monday was pretty uneventful and restful. Nice to veg out a bit in preparation for returning to work. Although it was a 3 day weekend it, it was so much fun it felt more like I got a whole week off!

I'll try to be better about posting more regularly so my posts aren't so freaking long.


Anonymous said...

Hello again,

On apartment leases in Kuwait, are you able to rent month-to-month there?

My allowance for an apartment and car rental is $1,100 a month. How much will it cost me additonally you think for just an average 1 bedroom furnished apartment?

Thanks again,


Miriam said...

You got my mouth watering! I am SO craving Lebanese food now!

Sounds like a great weekend. You make me want to come visit!

Love you guys!

JC said...

Meer: You should come and visit!

Jeff: Yes, you can find month to month (we are month to month), and also the occasional pay ahead deals. Our place is 500KD (unfurnished) but it is spendy due to the location. You can easily find places between 200KD and 400KD that run the gamut from unfurnished to fully furnished. The Al Manshare apartments we lived in at first were 450KD unfurnished. Now that I know more about how things work here, I would advise just finding a place you like and walking right in and asking for the harris. That's how I'd do it if I had to look again. Luckily I found the place we are in early on and didn't have to look much. If you plan to rent a car, that's gonna eat into your allowance quite a bit. Our allowance is $700 for housing and $200 for car. Of course, we bought our car, so we don't have to make payments (just keep fixing it when it dies!). So we pay about $900 out of pocket (as it were) for our rent. My company just lumps the monthly allowance in with the first paycheck which unbalances it a bit, but we've figured out how to set aside $450 to even things out. Our place allows us to pay via K-net, a kind of local debit card system. So we deposit a large chunk of each paycheck directly into an account at NBK and then pay rent from there each month. The extra we use for other things like Internet bill, maid's salary, dining, grocery, auto, etc... Also, don't forget you may need to withhold your own taxes if you claim exempt on your W-4. I'll post soon about our tax experience as we just got those done.

AnaQ8yAna said...

Try the new Abdallah juice mix ( with fresh beetroot) next time you visit. They have 2 juices under my name, the old Abdallah and the new Abdallah which comes in a different mix including beetroot. I love going there everytime and chosing my own mixes. The new Abdallah is the healthiest tastiest juice ive ever had. Green apple ginger lemon celery cucumber and beetroot! You wont regret trying it i assure you :)