Saturday, September 6, 2008

Our first Ramadan

Hi all, I know it's been some time, but sometimes life just seems too mundane to warrant a post. But if enough mundane days go by, eventually it all adds up to something that just might be of interest to someone out there.

Casting back a bit, Kerri and I celebrated our 8th anniversary in August by going to the Kuwait Towers restaurant. We had seen that they had a restaurant inside one of the big balls during our last visit and decided that it would make a fine special outing when next we had an excuse. I don't know if we have mentioned it, but it has been unbelievably humid lately. Very hot, and very humid. This isn't usually a problem for me as I move from my air conditioned home, to air conditioned car, to air conditioned bus, to air conditioned office, etc... Now and then, however, I do venture forth into the real atmosphere, and before we went up the tower, since we had some time to kill, we thought we'd try and find a shisha spot for a little hubble bubble before dinner. We asked and were told there was one just around the back side of the towers. So we set off in the darkening evening, thinking a short walk would be fine. We weren't exactly dressed to the hilt, but we had on slightly better than our usual casual finery. Around the back side of the towers, there was no shisha...but we were told by enthusiastic informers that we had but to go down the road just a short way to locate what we were after. Since we'd come this far, we figured we'd give it a shot. About 15 minutes later, we finally decided that the phantom shisa did not exist, and we were victims of the local cultural phenomenon of "not wanting to disappoint" when being asked a question. By this time, we were dripping with sweat, soaked through and not looking forward to the walk back. Luckily, there was a new Trader Vic's restaurant (far to hoity toity for our taste) that was only too pleased to welcome us into their delicious air-conditioned interior so we could peruse their menu for about 5 minutes while we steeled ourselves for the journey back to the Towers. Handing the menus back to the jilted watiress, we ventured forth again and arrived at the base of the towers thoroughly soaked and miserable, and still way too early for dinner. However, we were pleased to be able to lounge about for half an hour or so and mostly dry off from our soaking.

The meal itself was enjoyable enough, mainly due to the location, though I think I enjoyed the salad bar most. Especially the cheese...and the mushroom dish. Fresh mushrooms are very unusual here, most mushrooms come from a can. Of the main dishes, the fish was excellent, very creamy. Other than that, the food wasn't all that great, particularly the "kebab" (hardly deserving of the name) and the "cordon bleu" (deep fried, dried out meat, processed cheese, and you know that wasn't ham!). We both felt that while it was worth doing it once for the experience and the view, we don't feel the need to go back. Compared with the Moroccan restaurant (which I can't stop think about going back to) it was way down the list of excellent places we have eaten at.

Speaking of food, it's Ramadan in Kuwait! Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam where observant muslims fast during the day and eat at night. All consumption of food and water is forbidden in public during the day here, though it is understood that foreigners can and will continue to eat in private. There are exceptions for young children and those with medical conditions, but still, this means that all restaurants are pretty much shut down during the day. The grocery stores, however, are open and crazy busy! Apparently, one of the things to do during the day is to buy all the groceries you'll be needing that night to have feast after feast, as the remedy for not eating all day, is to eat all night. I'm not sure that this exactly fulfills the intention of the fast, but culturally speaking the same could be said of the gluttony and greed displayed during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

One thing we thought odd at the grocery store the other day was the big griddle frying up tons of small pancakes during the middle of the day. As we inched our way through the packed grocery store, the smell of frying pancakes wafted about and certainly caused much salivating in all the adults nearby. Later, Kerri discovered the purpose of this special torture: it's for the kids! You can buy a big bag of little pancakes for about 750 fils and feed your little munchkin for several meals.

I happened to have a day off for Labor Day last weekend, so I combined it and got 4 straight days (during Ramadan) to figure out how this was all going to work. Our first night was no problem as typically we stay home anyway. The next night, Kerri and I went out around 6pm (the maid is coming later for Ramadan) to our favorite local restaurant Tanureen. We weren't sure exactly what time it is allowed to eat, as technically you are supposed to wait til Maghrib (the sunset call to prayer) before digging in to iftar (the new "break-fast"). We asked if it was ok to order food and they said sure, but it was about 5 more minutes til we could start eating. There was a plate of dates on the table, which is the traditional food to start with. They also asked if we wanted lentil soup, apparently another traditional starting dish. This sounded good to us...then we surreptitiously observed our neighbhors and began to eat once they did. We don't want to give the impression we are observing the fast ourselves, but then again we don't want to make it unnecessarily tough for those that are doing so.

Personally, coming from the Christian traditions of water only fasts for as long as 40 days (I have only ever made it about 1 1/2 weeks myself), Ramadan doesn't really seem all that tough, but it definitely has a celebratory feel to it and we are enjoying the cultural experience. It does make the weekend days a bit difficult as one of our primary sources of entertainment is finding new and interesting food to eat, but we can survive for a month. And it does make the evening meal more special. We are hoping that Mohammed (Abu Khaled) will be back in the country at some point during Ramadan as he had told us he hoped to invite us to Iftar at some point, but it looks like he may be in India for some time. We really would like to meet his extended family someday. He did drop by a week or so back and gave us some special Ramadan sweets (tahini based goupy non-Newtonian fluid and another similiar dish that was a bit harder and crumblier) to "fortify" us for the fast. He is always doing cool things like that...last time it was a batch of "very special fish" that he had charbroiled and showed us how to eat by crunching on the heads and sucking the juices out before carefully stripping the skin off and eating the meat without choking on the tiny tiny bones. Along with the sweets he droppped of what felt like a kilo of fresh shrimp which are a "little bit cheap now." He is very cool. Did I mention the trip to the downtown souks where he took me to the shisha area and plied me with 10 or so sweet lemon teas? Like I said, very fun guy.

Speaking of friends, Jeremy is here! Jeremy is a former co-worker of mine who had expressed interest in working over here a while back. When an opportunity came up, I let him know about it and forwarded his resume to the right guys. After what seemed like an eternity, he has finally made it and is gradually getting used to this craziness. He has a blog too which I will link to once I track it down. We've taken him down to Avenues and IKEA, showed him our place, and went to Friday Market. He's only been here a couple of weeks so far. It's good to have someone around who I have some history in common with, I hope he likes it enough to stay.

Well, aside from all that, and the baby bunny rabbit we are likely to acquire soon, not much else has been going on. Been playing World of Warcraft, trying to level my toons to 70 before the expansion comes out. I'll be going to nights in October, so that'll be more time to play.

Oh, we bought our tickets to Kenya this christmas! Whoohoo! We'll be leaving around Dec. 15 and return sometime first week of January. We'll be staying with Josh and Audra and having a fabulous time! It'll by my first time to Africa, and Kerri's third time to Kenya. Rowan will be turning 7 there!

Ok, that's it for now, laterz...


Anonymous said...

I was googling to find out whether Zain has started blocking torrents and came across your blog o_0
I am also an "outsider" in this country and totally agree with the fact that for most of those fasting during this holy month, it has just reduced to eat much heavier meals once the fasting hours are over. There are times when I am invited by friends for iftaar(I am not a muslim) and awkwardly I feel, many of them are totally unaware about the sacrifices one is supposed to make throughout the month by fasting...
Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims...for majority of the masses few things are just done because all others are doing it and I feel pretty disgusted about it. Anyway nice posting and I look forward to read more from you.

Barbara said...

Hi, I was browsing blogs and came across yours. I am an American and just moved to Kuwait. My hubby has worked here for about a yr and a half. I also homeschool my little ones (well my daughter who is 7) my other baby is 2. Hope to read more from you. Any ideas on family friendly things to do here? (other than shop?)