Saturday, 16 December 2006

Kuwait June 2005 (summing up the year)

The my class school reports are eventually all written and just a few days now to go before I leave Kuwait for the summer.

I meant to write a newsletter during the Easter holidays but I was so busy having a real holiday myself that I just didn’t fit it in.

The weather was just perfect then, so I spent most afternoons on the beach. I’m not one for stripping off and sunbathing but it was warm enough to do that. I prefer to sit in the shade with my clothes on and read, or listen to and watch the waves. This was the first time in many years that I have actually felt like I’d had a relaxing holiday. I wanted to take advantage of the good weather because I realised that soon it would be too hot for me to want to sit outside. And sure enough, it is now much too hot for me at around 112F every day. The beaches and pools at the Hilton though are crowded with people sunbathing! Today it was 114F according to Yahoo and they are always conservative I have noticed. The local temperature displayed on a building here always shows a much higher temp than Yahoo. Anyway, it was like being permanently in front of a fan heater today with a hot dry wind that dries the eyes. With the air being dry, it does not seem to be excessively hot. You expect it to be hot when the sun is out but it is a shock when you walk into the oven temperature at night. The other day, when it was only 100F we had 48% humidity and that was so sweaty! I had my washing hanging on my airer on my balcony and noticed it was due to come in soon but then the humidity struck and when I went to get it all in, it was wetter than before!

A few days in the spring, we had a severe sand storm. Visibility was very low and I had to wear a mask because I didn’t want to breathe it all into my lungs. I have my balcony door open a crack permanently so the cat can go to the toilet there and my whole apartment was covered in very fine dirty sand.

The Hilton
Most days the Gulf is like a pond with little waves lapping at the beach. It is so peaceful. I am a member of the Hilton Resort beach club. This was a big outlay in the autumn but well worth it. It is the best spot in Kuwait. Green and well looked after grounds, a lovely sea front walk with villas or grass and palm trees the whole length. Some of the villas have full time residents (at about £5000 a month) and they have got lovely pots of plants and interesting patio furniture to enhance the view. The beach has blue and white loungers under large beach umbrellas. These were straw ones up until a few weeks ago but have now been replaced with royal blue material. There are 3 beaches and 2 swimming pools with an inside spa pool too.

Most of the populated country is either a building site or rubbish dump with a few wonderful malls and hotels in between. My apartment building is in a place that is both a rubbish tip and a building site. The rubbish is put into open skips that are emptied most days but in the meantime the rubbish gets blown around or put in a corner somewhere and no one picks it up. There are street cleaners who are paid a pittance and do a good job, but they do the street and my building is surrounded by waste ground known here as patches of desert. Actually there are a few streets in some areas with trees and walled gardens and they look great. The public sea front areas are landscaped and paved nicely and are popular with everyone so they get crowded. There are places to have picnics there too but you either sit on concrete walls or bring your own chairs. Overall, the country looks better at night. There are lovely colourful lights everywhere and palm trees are lit making them more attractive than in the daytime. You don’t see the mess, rubble and rubbish at night.

The English School
School is about the same as anywhere, hard work and fun, except I’m working in a private school where all the parents are educated so that makes a great difference to the children. We have a high proportion of western children here, which makes us stand out from the rest of the private schools in Kuwait who have high populations of Kuwaitis. Kuwaiti children all have maids (whom they don’t respect) and not much parenting so their behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. This leads parents of difficult children to want to send them to us because they know that we do not pander to the Kuwaitis and the discipline is good here. The vast majority of the children in this school are really great, well disciplined and eager to learn, and the oldest children are 14. The teachers are all of a high calibre too and the school has a high reputation among those that know about it. There are so many schools in Kuwait with English in their title that many people get confused and as ‘The English School’ is not visible from any main road, some people do not know it exists.

The Kuwait Singers
My choir put on another concert in May, this time, some opera arias and a South American mass using folk tunes. We have some very high quality singers who are ex professionals so they all did a great job at the solos.

I don’t normaly wear black, which is unfortunate because the performing uniform for the choir is of course black. I had borrowed some clothes for the Christmas concert but looked frumpy in them when everyone else looked glam so I decided I would buy something nice for this one. I am planning on being part of 2 more concerts here so it made sense to spend some money, especially as I had lost some weight and changed my style along with my name. I knew what I wanted, a long tiered skirt, something not sexy or suggestive but feminine and floaty. Well of course when you know what you want isn’t it the case that you rarely find it? I spent hours and days looking through many of the many shops on the many malls we have here. Kuwaiti women like to shop. However black is not one of the colours this summer so each shop only has a limited amount of clothes in that colour, most of them being the ‘little black dress’ variety. Now I could not have bought anything strappy or sexy even if I’d wanted to because that was off limits for the choir dress code. We don’t want to offend anyone so the skirt had to be long, (anyway my legs demanded that), and the sleeves had to also be long. By the way, Arab girls still buy the short, sexy strappy clothes but wear them over a tight top and jeans. They still look sexy but they are sticking to the letter of the dress code by covering the top of their legs in a loose garment and not showing skin. I eventually found a skirt that was nearly right and was persuaded by the salesman (they have men as well as women in the dress shops) to take it and bring it back if I still didn’t like it when I got home. I’m glad I did because I eventually found a top to go with it in a mall a few miles away.

We only had one performance this time, which I nearly missed! I had got myself really tired due to not going to bed early enough the last few days, for the very early start everyday, so I went to bed after I got home from school because this would be yet another late night. On leaving school at 2:30, Jane, my assistant, laughed and said ‘You’d better put the alarm on so you don’t miss the performance.’ I told her that is just what I would do, and I did. I woke up from a deep sleep to the ringing of the phone. I was very disoriented, not realising that the sound was even the phone. Anyway, Odette a fellow teacher was on the line and was surprised to hear my groggy hello. She said ‘Patricia? Aren’t you coming?’
‘Coming where?’ I asked.
She said ‘We’re singing in 15 minutes!’
OhMyGosh! My alarm had not gone off because, although I had set it to wake me up an hour before the concert to give me time to eat and get ready, I hadn’t actually pulled the button up! What was going round my head was that all the expense and effort of getting those black clothes (and I had to get some strappy black heeled shoes to go with them too) would be wasted if I missed the concert! Then I thought of all the rehearsals I’d been to too! Anyway, I told Odette that I was coming and I threw on the clothes and some makeup, dashed to the car and raced to the venue. Fortunately, it was ‘just round the corner’ from me (but the Kuwaiti road system meant that I had to go all the way down the road to the traffic lights to do a U turn and come back!). The concert was in a hotel so I used the valet parking system that is everywhere here (even at the supermarket) and abandoned the car at the door and rushed to the line of choir members who were lining up to go into the hall. Fortunately, they were 5 minutes late going in. Phew! The funny thing was that I had planned on using the valet parking anyway because no way could I have walked from the car park in those shoes! I am very unaccustomed to wearing heals of any description. The skirt was so long that it covered my feet so I could do the entire concert with them bare.

Cultural Activity
There is a thriving and lively amateur dramatic/operatic society here. I went to see a performance the other day. They were good and all enjoyed themselves. I might audition in the autumn if they are doing something I like. There is no professional theatre/orchestra/choir/ballet so all entertainment has to be home grown. A little more fun and draws the ex pat community together. The Arabs don’t have the same interests it seems. The cultures are so different that only a few Arabs and westerners mix although there do seem to be quite a few western women married to Arabs.

My Conclusion
After a shaky start, (when I didn’t like it here during Ramadan) I have found that I have had a good year. The heat has not bothered me as it seems to bother some other people. That is because I stay out of it as much as I can going from one air-conditioned building to an air-conditioned car to another air-conditioned building and trying not to do that in the heat of the day. The car needs to cool down before it is entered usually because even with screen shie
lds the steering wheel hurts your hand and you can’t leave anything in there or it will melt. I have found I have got used to all the sights and sounds and don’t find them strange any more. This is weird because I was finding being in America strange into the second full year.

Summertime break
And I’m now going to start the longest summer holiday I have ever had and it is with pay! Wow!

I’m off to Cardiff on Wednesday night and will just have enough time to repack my case before I get the coach with Claire back down to London Gatwick to fly to Montana. I’m spending 3 weeks there and then back to Cardiff where Claire will already be. Helen is in Montana as I write and will be spending the whole time there with Orion. They have decided to postpone the wedding until 2008, which is when Helen finishes her degree because they would have had to spend the first few years of their marriage apart anyway. I’m going to spend a week in Chester on a residential course for school but the rest of the time will be in Cardiff with a few visits to my Mum who lives two and a half hours away by car in Taunton. One of my colleagues whose daughter is in my class will be living in mid Wales so I’m going to pay them a visit too.
Then I fly back to Kuwait on the 25th August in time to start a new school year. This time I will have a classroom with things in it!