Saturday, 16 December 2006

A year in Kuwait (2004)

The year in a nutshell

Reading other people’s Christmas newsletters I see they tend to inform on holidays taken. I thought I had taken no holiday this year but on reflection Claire and I had a day out in York, England (viewing the medieval city and going round Yorvik, the Viking reconstruction,) and a day in New York, USA (We only went to central park as we had just finished a greyhound trip from Montana. The apartment where we were staying was just at a southern gate and we were really tired). We also spent a day in Felixstowe, England with old friends, and time with my Mother in Taunton, England, and an evening in a hot spring spa under the stars in winter in Montana with Helen. Oh and I went to London for my job interview and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening having a great time being a tourist on the Embankment. During half term, here in Kuwait I was in bed with the flu!

This time last year I was in Montana, USA, shovelling snow most days before work. I worked in a private day care teaching kindergarten children (4-5 year olds). Because it wasn’t a conventional school I did not have any time off except Christmas day and the usual weekends. Claire was living with me in the attic above our church in Bozeman and also working in the same day care. By February both of us needed a change and so we came back to England.
Claire lived with her Dad for a time and I stayed in yet another attic in a shared house. I tired to do supply teaching (substitute teaching) but with no car it proved impractical so I took a job in another private day care with 3-4 year olds. (I was actually an assistant to the nursery nurse who was in charge of the room! This was a change of role for me, but a great learning situation). Claire moved in with me in the attic when it didn’t work out with her dad, (we are very close and don’t fight at all. – we did all that when she was a preteen!) She also took a job at the same day care as me again!

Obviously being an assistant to a nursery nurse is not that rewarding either professionally or financially so I applied for teaching jobs, which were being advertised after Easter to start in September. I wanted to teach nursery (3-4) or reception (4-5) and took ages over some very good applications. Gosh I didn’t realise I was so good until I wrote those! I ended up not getting any of the UK jobs I applied for but one in Kuwait, which was just an extra one I did because the financial package looked good.

So here I am teaching abroad again. I got a job teaching Kindergarten (3-4 year olds) along side 2 other teachers. There are also 3 Reception teachers. In between accepting the post and arriving out here I got promoted to Foundation Stage Co-ordinator because the existing teachers did not want the post and I was more experienced than the other new ones.

Change of name
About a month after I arrived here I decided I wanted to change my name. I feel I am a totally different person now than the person who married Adrian. I have done a lot of personal development work and by the grace of God have changed a lot that was not so good. This is not a rejection of anything, more a moving on. If I was still married I would still be keeping the same name but there is no reason to keep it now, especially as my girls are no longer living with me. Because of the reason for changing, a moving on rather than a rejection, it did not feel right to take back my maiden name as I am even more of a different person now than when I was 20. When I was baptised as an adult I took another middle name, one of the angels, Hope. So my name was Patricia Margaret Hope Battersby. Helen suggested that I just leave off the Battersby and adopt Hope as my last name. This felt right especially when I realised my Godmother’s surname was Hope. So this is what I’ve done. Unfortunately I will have to just ‘be known as’ for the moment until I get back to England to change everything officially. So now I am in the confusing state of having to sign Battersby on any financial transaction and official stuff, whilst telling people my name is Patricia Hope. I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet. Some children in my class who had trouble saying Mrs Battersby now find it much easier to say Mrs Hope. I kept the Mrs because I have children and I don’t want to be a Ms.

The girls
Before I came out here I rented a flat in Cardiff for both girls live in this year. Helen came back form the States just a few days before I went. She is studying for a joint degree in French and Japanese at Cardiff University and Claire is doing a Nursery nurse course, equivalent to three A levels at a Further Education college there. It was a relief that they accepted her end of year grades for grade 10 as the equivalent to British GCSEs. It was very useful, as I knew it would be, that Claire got an Individual Education Plan in the US (Educational Statement) because she just flashed that and was immediately taken seriously and given special provision, like testing, counselling, extra dyslexic lessons and a lap top. In England before we went it had always been a struggle for anyone to accept she needed testing and proper support. The college told her that she was also dispraxic and that the two conditions often go together.

Claire is doing really well with her studies. She is in a reception class placement for two days a week and college the rest. She organises herself well, works hard and is respected by the other students, who are mostly straight from school and 16, because of her experience in doing the job they are all training to do. Claire has grown in confidence and having just turned 18 is handling herself very well away from mum. Of course she has her big sis with her and she talks to her mum twice a week.

Helen is 19, but has always been more mature than me! She got engaged to a great young man in Montana, called Orion. They are planning on getting married in July 2006. That will be the start of her 3rd year at university when she will be required to live in France and Japan for 6 months each. Orion is going with her (he works with computers) and they have not decided what they will do for the last year of her course. Helen’s course is very time demanding, learning Japanese almost from scratch up to degree level, but she has managed to have a part time job too.

Journey to Kuwait
This was quite eventful. When I arrived at Cardiff airport early morning I was informed that the flight had been cancelled (technical reasons). Met up with another new teacher for my school. Waited for a bus to take us to Heathrow. Got there mid afternoon for a flight leaving at 9pm. Whilst waiting, noticed that that plane was cancelled too! This was due to a mouse on board! The wiring had to be checked and the place fumigated in case it had a friend with it. We were put up in the 5star Radisson Edwardian Hotel, who looked after a full planeload of mostly Arabs wonderfully. The only drawback was the very early start to get the plane next day. The Kuwaitis had all been on a shopping holiday in London and everyone had excess baggage. This all took such a long time for everyone to check in that I, at the back of the queue, was checking in after the plane was due to take off! I was therefore very speedy arriving at the plane foregoing buying any food even though I was hungry by this time as breakfast was hours before, only to have to wait on the plane another 30 minutes for the other passengers to complete their purchases in duty free! It really was a full plane with summer over and back to school for Kuwaitis and returning teachers alike. Full of kids all playing the radio and TV headphones very loudly on different stations for hours!

In Kuwait we were met and taken to our flats (apartments) and found new mattress, bedding, kitchen equipment and basic foodstuffs etc. This school really look after it’s staff and I learned that I had picked the best school in Kuwait to work for. People from other schools move to The English School, but they don’t go the other way.

Contacting problems
Post does not get delivered in Kuwait so my address for correspondence needs to be via the school that has a Post Office box. Someone collects post twice a week.

Post sometimes goes astray or can take a long time to arrive. The state of Saffat post office does not instil confidence. Post can be lying on the floor getting kicked around for a while. I received my October and November bank statement in the same delivery but the Saffat PO had stamped the October envelope three weeks previously. Jane, my LSA (Learning Support Assistant) said that her family has given up sending parcels for her children as most times they never arrive, so they transfer money via the bank and Jane buys them.

I realise now why the roads are so congested. Companies have to have drivers to deliver everything, as there is no post. There are also no bank cheques for individuals (checks if you are a reader in the US) because it is a serious offence to write a cheque if you have no money to cover it so the banks don’t even issue them. Some teachers hire their car long term and the hirer physically comes to the school to collect the cash each month.

Kuwait, the place
Kuwait at the end of August was very hot – about 112 degrees F. People would park as close as they could to any shop doorway they were going into so they would not have to walk in the heat. Those that had to walk outside carried umbrellas. A Kuwaiti lady at the airport was commenting on the beauty of Britain and I asked her if Kuwait was nice. She said no, apart for the beach. I was amazed, but she was right. It is a dusty, scrubby, sandy, litter strewn building site with a few stunted palm trees dotted about. This is what it is like around my apartment. There are men earning a pittance hauling a wheelie bin around the streets picking up litter with a garden leaf rake and long handled shovel. But they don’t venture off the roads and there is loads of derelict land that once was a building, been pulled down and not replaced yet.

Actually after I’d been here a while I found there actually are some nice places to be – the areas where there are villas and gardens. The place looks great at night though with buildings lit up and foliage lit in gardens and high colourful-lighted structures, such as palm trees, fountains and exploding chrysanthemums on poles. It gets dark here at 6pm each summer evening gradually moving to 5pm in the winter. The clocks don’t change here. The highways have been planted with vegetation and are watered so they look good and yes the beach does look good ‘cos that is maintained too.

The new buildings are great to look at but everything deteriorates here fast. We have some impressive tessellated tile pavement over the road outside the fire station but someone put up metal sticks along the curb to stop people parking there and just left a mess afterwards. This is typical. There are holes in the road with barricades and no one working on them for the last 4 months. There are ‘temporary’ fat blue collapsible pipes all over the place coming out of one sewage drain, going over the pavement to the next drain and disappearing into that. Of course the covers have to be open and the smell is, as you would expect, with large cockroaches at the edge. If you want to walk anywhere along the road it is most comfortable to walk in the middle along the wide medians, stepping over the blue pipes holding your nose, because the edges of the roads only have the occasional burst of pavement, most of which have been covered by sand due to being in front of a building site. Someone told me they have been saying for years that Kuwait will be nice when it is finished. This is a place where a very posh shiny building stands next to a very rundown block of flats occupied by many poor people.

The country is run, in practical terms, by expatriates from the Arab world, the Indian sub-continent, the Philippines, Europe (east and west), and America. The Kuwaitis on the whole work in the many ministries, police and fire departments. These professions are exclusively for the Kuwaitis but there are of course Kuwaitis doing lots of other things. There is definitely a class structure here which is race related. The Kuwaitis are at the top, followed by educated Arabs, Westerners and the others are definitely at the bottom of the heap, not respected and little money. The Kuwaitis do not respect even educated Indians on the whole. However this country could not run without all the ex pats.

The ministries are an experience. There are people whose job it is to look over and then stamp a piece of paper which is then transferred to another person who does exactly the same thing! You then have to go to another desk/widow and get another person to do exactly the same thing! They will do this whilst talking on their mobile using a signal of a crooked arm moving back and forth with thumb touching all fingers. This I think means wait a minute or two.

Women are greatly respected in this country (unless you are Philippine, Indian or Sri Lankan) and it is expected that they will go to the front of the queue! Western women are above others too. I was in a queue for an x-ray (for residency application) along with lots of Indian women and I was called to the front and had mine without waiting! I felt bad and apologised to the ladies.

Some of my friends were concerned about me coming here due to terrorism, but the roads are the real danger! There are no rules on the roads here, or if there are people either don’t know or ignore them. I have my tape of Archangel Michael decrees going the whole time, even with passengers. I turn it down low and one lady said, whilst waiting at lights, what’s that? To which I replied those are prayers keeping us safe. She was pleased to have it. There is a real feeling of ‘fate’ here. They call it ‘in shalla’ which means ‘if God wills’. This philosophy encourages them to have children wearing no seatbelt because if it God’s will for them to die then that is OK. Drivers perform reckless manoeuvres like cutting though three lanes of traffic to come off at an exit at the last minute whilst exceeding the speed limit. Their headdresses hinder looking over the shoulder whilst driving so they don’t, they just move onto the highway without looking to see if it is clear! The impatience of drivers here is amazing. If you are not off like a rocket when the lights turn green you get honked. The danger with going off so fast is that it is unusual to see a car stop when the lights turn red. The line usually stops about 4 cars after the fact. It is not unusual to have gridlocks at junctions because the drivers are only thinking about their own needs and then would you believe they honk as if everyone is sitting for ages for the fun of it! The impatience on the roads is catching and Britishers who have been here a while are just as bad as the rest. Everyone thinks the other driver is an imbecile.

This as you know is a desert land but we do have some rain at this time of year. The other morning, the last day of this term, we had a ferocious storm and the road I’m on was really flooded up to the high curbs due to the sand silting up the drains. As I sat waiting for the lights to change looking at the other cars stranded with wet electrics I noticed the water level rise and decided to do a ‘yuee’ (u-turn as they are called here) and go another route. Unfortunately the one I chose was totally jammed, moving a few feet every 10 minutes or so, probably when someone decided to ride over the median in their 4 wheel drive and go home or another way. The jam was due to gridlock at a roundabout. I got to school 2 hours after I was supposed to get there to find I had 10/20 children in.

The storms we usually get are sand ones. We are getting the coldest winter here for 10 years. The homes are not equipped for cold. I have no carpet, just tiles and one moveable radiator that is good but has to be wheeled to where you are. There is a raised ledge to the kitchen and bathroom so it can’t go in there. When I say cold I mean 13 degrees centigrade, but still that wind is nippy. The red and white checked headdress is very useful for the men working outside as it protects them from the heat and the cold.

No one can ignore the call to prayer blasted from loud speakers at the top of the minarets in the mosques throughout the day. Each mosque is within easy walking distance from each other so they are close together and I can hear one loudly and two others more distant. I deliberately did not say I heard it clearly because the sound of all of them is distorted but as I can’t understand Arabic it makes no difference apart form assaulting my ears. The first one goes at 4am, then 5am and I don’t recall the times of the others except there is one about 11:30ish, 3ish and 6ish. During the summer the times kept changing a little and there was one at 8pm. On Fridays, the holy day, the loud speaker is used a lot and it seems that a sermon is broadcast from it too. I have seen crowds of men outside the mosque on their mats at this time, especially during Ramadan. Everyone gets a bit more religious then and some people go every evening to hear the Koran being read. They get through the whole Koran during the month of Ramadan.

People’s attire
I was shocked coming from America to Britain to find women and girls in scanty dress, midriffs showing on cold days and teenagers going out for the evening looking like prostitutes.
Here it is rare to even see a cleavage, most people cover shoulders and knees are hidden. Muslim women usually have scarves on their heads with long sleeves and legs covered. The big clothing stores have special lines for the Middle East. However teenage Arabs will wear a scanty mini dress over a long sleeved top and trousers, ignoring the rule of not showing the shape of body. There are many women who put a long black robe (an abaya) over their clothes to go out and some have the black veil (niqab) on. The Bedouin tribes also wear black gloves. Occasionally I have seen women with black material over the whole of their face. The Arab men usually wear an ankle length shirt and ghutra on their head (like Yassa Arafat used to wear). Men in business wear all white with cufflinks and others wear brown or blue with the red and white headdress. Men in these long costumes without any safety helmets worked on the flats that are being built outside my kitchen window. The only people I have seen with safety helmets are road workers.

The street cleaners have yellow boiler suits and the cleaners in shops and offices wear their company’s uniform, usually a pale blue poly cotton trouser suit looking like pyjamas. There are loads of cleaners around standing with a broom or mop waiting for a bit of dirt to clean. There are also the maids who wear a uniform when out with the family looking after the children whilst the parents shop. The people who work in shops all have a uniform too depending on their job. The cashiers are different to the grocery packers.

All children in all schools have a uniform. In our school even the 2-3 year olds in Pre KG! The Muslim girls all have shorts on over their knickers so their pants don’t accidentally show. They must be so hot in summer. It is odd seeing flashes of lime green or orange under the uniform blue dress when they play.

Fortunately the country’s liking for uniforms have not spilled over to what teachers wear apart from keeping the country’s dress code of modest attire and the school’s one of being smart, not casual. We have three maids, one in KG, reception and Pre KG who do the dirty stuff that an LSA in the UK would do and they wear a uniform.

I thought I would have loads of money doing this job but the reality is I’m sending most of it back to Britain to pay my debts, the girl’s rent (more money that I expected) and the exchange rate is much worse now than when I accepted the pay. Things will look up when I get those children who need tutoring, wherever they are. I’m not allowed to advertise. My ‘headmaster’ (as he calls himself) was aghast when he found out I was doing just that. The reason for his disapproval was that it was “touting for business!” (Oh the horror of that! Definitely not a British private school thing to do!) The amazing thing is – he has an American wife but it has obviously not affected him.

The grocery packers not only pack the stuff but also take it out to the car and put it all in the boot. Westerners tend to tip these people but Arabs don’t.

Everyone who has children has a maid, often living in. Maids are Philippine, Sri Lankan or Indian. The job of the maid is to clean the house, but she may also look after the children and cook too. Working for a western family is much preferred to an Arab one. A family without children may have a houseboy instead. Some families also have a driver too. And then they may have a cook.

British mothers like it here because of the maids. A working mother’s life is so much easier with a maid. I have a maid, even though I find it a great struggle to pay him the KD5 (over 10 pounds) each week. Justin is the husband of the real maid who is ill in Sri Lanka having operations and so he took over all her work. He has medical bills to pay and so I couldn’t say no when a teacher asked if I wanted to employ him. The going rate is that flat fee and they will do whatever is required which can take him 4 hours or more. He is very thorough, floor vacuumed and mopped throughout, widows cleaned inside and out (hanging onto the window ledge outside the window! – doesn’t matter which floor you are on but I’m 1st floor), clean kitchen and bathroom, dust, iron and balcony cleaned. He has been here 25 years; only works for British people and his English is so pigeon he is difficult to understand.

Being a Muslim country the weekend falls on a Thursday and Friday, Friday being the holy day. It is very confusing. We often have to clarify whether we are talking about virtual or real Saturday when organising an evening event because we often get mixed up, even those who have been here for years! Some people say the weeks seem to go quicker because the weekend is in the wrong place. The Christian churches go with the flow and have their services on Fridays too.

There really is not much entertainment here. No theatre, orchestra or nightclubs. There are a few funfairs though. There is a Little Theatre which houses the amateur dramatics, and the two choirs each put on two shows a year in one of the many posh hotels, and there is a group who organize musicians to come and play a few times a year. There is an enormous Dow, a traditional Arab boat that has been built attached to the Radisson SAS hotel, (on land) which is used as a function room. The rugby club put on a ball in October. Most people go shopping for their entertainment. The Arab days are split with people having a sleep in the afternoon and subsequently are out late at night. Some shops close at midnight with children still up, because they had a split day too. I went into the grocery store last night at 11:45 after coming back from a friend’s and there were people in there doing their weekend shopping! Ramadan was weird because some people stayed up all night partying with family and slept most of the day because everyone had a shorter working day. Westerners don’t join this lifestyle. We just struggle with having to get up early in the mornings.

There are 2 singing groups for ex-pats in Kuwait. I joined the Kuwait singers. It is very cosmopolitan with 21 different nationalities among 55 members. It is interesting to mix with them all. (The teaching staff at school are British with 2 Australians.) We have just performed in a really good Christmas concert. We were of a high standard which is gratifying to be part of. It was lovely singing the British versions of Christmas carols having had the US versions the last 3 Christmases. Our musical director is English, as is the other choir’s.

I joined the British Ladies Society early on basically because the membership secretary is a mother in my class and the handbook has useful information and maps of the various places drawn by members. The Christmas ‘do’ was free to members so I went and had a great time. I happened to be on a table made up of parents from my school.

Most western ex pats belong to either a gym or a beach club. If you want to go on the beach here there are very few places you can do it if you are not a member of a club. I joined the Hilton. All clubs have special deals for teachers as they make up a large part of the western ex pat community. We were invited to several places to sample their facilities. The Hilton is the farthest away, about half an hour in light traffic, with most beaches and greenery. I like seclusion so it suits me, I can go to the furthest beach and pool. However I haven’t visited much. I didn’t get my driving licence until a few weeks ago and the cost of a taxi all that way is high.

It is illegal to drink alcohol in this country, not that it stops many people, Arab and westerner alike. Ex pats tend to brew their own wine and/or smuggle, and Arabs buy on the black market run by the Emir. The school proposed having the Christmas ‘do’ in a hotel but that was voted out because there one couldn’t imbibe in ‘ribena’. So it was held in someone’s large villa with catering by a hotel. The hotels do this a lot and send waiters for the food and bar. Many villas actually have a bar built into a room. Someone said that when they go back to Britain they have been known to get their drinks and just walk away from the bar without paying ‘cos that is what he is used to here. I was at a party held by an Arab once and asked the waiter for water. I had to repeat it. He said ‘On it’s own?’ I said yes, thinking well I don’t want whisky with it. (I don’t drink alcohol). He brought me half a tumbler. I was thirsty so took a swig and it was vodka! He had obviously never been asked for water before and assumed it was my version of vodka. I stopped going to parties after a short while, as they really aren’t my scene.

I have a cat called Treacle who is 15 years old. She is a tabby and very quiet apart from 2am if my bedroom door is closed! I like to sleep with my door closed and do not like having animals on my bed but I’ve had to compromise with this old lady as she makes such a racket! She does not like for there to be a door closed between her and me but does not necessarily want to come in the same room, although she spends all night on my bed. One of the teachers is moving on to Australia and so needed a home for this cat. I also got her large plants so now the place looks homier.

My classroom was newly built to take in the expanded intake. When I arrived a few days before the children started it was finished but that was all. I had a floor, walls, 2 doors, windows with blinds and two air conditioning units. That was it, and there was nothing available to put in it, no furniture and no equipment! I found out that tables and chairs had been ordered but nothing else! I got a carpet ordered locally so at least we could all sit on something and the day before the children started the tables arrived but no chairs. Chairs of various sizes were scrounged from somewhere. I scoured the school looking for any spare furniture and found some shelves so then I could raid the other KG classes for stuff to put on them. Pre KG had house corner walls, sink and stove delivered and I begged that. Another class gave me their new bookstand and filing cabinet. It was a bit stressful on top of moving to a new country! I still have no computer in my room despite that being one of the things mentioned at my interview.

We have a very well stocked library in a newly refurbished room, which looks great. It even has some computers! I found lots of old favourite books that we had at home when the girls were small.

There are 450 pupils from age 3-14 in The English School and it follows the English National Curriculum, but the Ministry of Private Education modifies this. Children from Arabs have to study Arabic and Islam and non-Arabs have to learn Arabic. They vet all our books, blanking out any rude bits like a bare backside of a boy playing in the paddling pool and references to alcohol in the text. If someone sees an un-vetted book in the classroom and complains to the ministry then that teacher is out of a job and back home. (This happened a few years ago at my school which means that the ministry is much more strict on us than other schools.) They also vet our productions and class assemblies. No last minute rush here, as the script assembly has to be sent at least 2 weeks before performance. Our first choice production about Mr and Mrs Christmas was denied so we adapted a reading book about Humpty Dumpty –‘ Was he pushed or did he fall?’ I had to send the words to the nursery rhymes and had to change the words of Georgie Porgie to him chasing the girls, as kissing would be vetoed. This was deemed acceptable but we were told that no girl was to play a boy part and vice versa. Now, we had lots of police officers investigating the case in this play’ some of whom were girls. All the police here are men, but of course in UK they are both. We decided to keep our interpretation. Last year the 3-5 year old boys were asked to wear tights for their costume and Muslim parents rebelled.

Jane, my LSA has been here for years and is married to a Kuwaiti. She does not like doing anything she thinks a maid should do in the classroom! But she has a wonderful manner with the children.

We have two teachers in school who are married to Kuwaitis. Although they all had to convert to Islam they do not wear the garb. However there are a surprising number of western women married to Arabs who wear the scarf (hijab) and some even wear the full regalia. In school I see a group of Arab dressed women waiting to pick up their children and they all have British accents!

The school day is really tough on my 3-4 year olds as it starts at 7:30am and finishes at 1:25pm. We have two periods where they eat from their lunch boxes. I’m definitely ready for my lunch at 9am having had breakfast at 6am. Now that is no different from the UK as I had to be up early to beat the traffic but here that is my official lunch break with another one at 11:30. Children 8 and older have a longer day as they finish at 2:25. The teaching staff are allowed to go home at 2:45 unless they are doing an extra curricular activity (required at least once a week) but that is early for me and I have been known to stay until 8pm. Some of that time I was using the school computer to go on the Internet. I had to go then as the school officially closes and some rooms get locked.

The school grounds are secured by high walls and locked solid gates. When a car or pedestrian wants to enter or leave by the main gate the security man sees on his monitor and opens it. During children coming and going times two further pedestrian gates are manned. The school is opened on the first day of the weekend (Thursday) and is full of cleaners and the odd teacher like me. However it is closed on Friday.

This was an experience. There is a law here, which states that no one is allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours. The smoking bit of course didn’t bother me but I was very bugged by the other part! I felt that my liberty was curtailed. It was still hot here, 90 degrees F. I was in the habit of taking a bottle of water wherever I went and having swigs especially in the car (public place). I also had water frequently in the classroom (public place). Fortunately the staff room was deemed not to be a public place. Jane and I sometimes disappeared into the kids’ toilets to have a long drink if we got desperate. The children of course were exempt from this law. The weather, having cooled somewhat was pleasant to be outside and it would have been lovely to have taken a picnic to the Hilton and had a day or afternoon out. However if I wanted to do that I had to eat in the dark! When Ramadan finished I did not want to go for a swim and picnic in the cold sand storms.

The upside of Ramadan is the shorter working day. We usually have to be in school for 7:10 am but in Ramadan that changed to 8:40. Other schools finished earlier but we stayed open until the usual time.

I had originally planned on meeting the girls in Montana for Christmas until I saw the state of my finances and the cost of the flight. So I’m staying in Kuwait. Helen is in Montana with Orion and Claire is in Texas with her friend Christine. It has been quite festive here. Some shops have a small amount of decoration and some have signs saying ‘Season’s Greetings’ and some sell Christmas decorations. Most shops of course ignore the whole thing. At school we skirted around the Christmas theme, by making cards with trees, candleholders, snowmen, snowflakes, all using lots of glitter without really saying too much about Christmas. We were not allowed to hold Christmas parties so we got around that by asking the parents to organise it by word of mouth. The children were not sure why we were having the party, we had had a spate of birthdays and they were wondering who’s birthday it was, so I could not resist saying we were having a birthday party for Jesus because that is what Christmas is! Most children, even the Muslims are expecting Santa Clause to bring them presents so they all know it’s Christmas. The parents organised a ‘Winter Wonderland’ fayre, which was totally Christmassy with music, Santa’s Grotto on the stage in full view, photos, ‘sleigh rides’ on a donkey cart and stalls selling Christmassy things. It was a great event.

At school there are two Christmas songs that are approved for use, We Wish you a Merry Christmas and Jingle bells so we were able to sing those at the last assembly.

I went to the Christmas concert of the other choir and of course sang in my own which I really enjoyed! Santa Claus came to both events. We had three concerts altogether, one at Camp Doha for the American army, and two at the Marriott hotel. The buffet food at these hotels here is just so well presented, imaginative, varied and tasty. I also went to ‘An Evening of Carols’ hosted by the British Ambassador at their embassy residence. Mince pies, sandwich rolls and mulled wine was served. (The embassies seem to be exempt from the alcohol ban as there is a pub there too!) It was a great evening and I liked the fact that I knew a few people there, a few teachers from my school, some parents, ladies from the BLS, and people from the choir. I was also invited to a private Christmas party, which was quite sedate and enjoyable.
I finished school on the 15th but the other British schools went to the 21st. I have been busy splitting my time between having a rest and sorting out the storage needs for the KG department. I’ve had a great time shopping with school money! We have ACE hardware here, which is so useful. (The readers from the US will recognise that.) I also have to do the stock order for the next school year (starting September 2005)! It takes that long for the order to be dealt with in Britain and then in customs here that in order to have the stuff for the start of next school year we decided to do it now.

I’ve bought a computer from a teacher who is happy to have the money when I get some tutoring work so I’m now able to do this at home and very importantly able to attend the four day conference in Montana (virtually) that I was hoping to do in person over the new year.