Marhaba from Kuwait

Let the misadventures begin! – Oh, they already have.

August 22

7:30 p.m. Kuwait
  9:30 a.m. Portland

I rolled off the plane and down a corridor lined with men in traditional Arab dress. Long white robes, called a dish-dash-ah or thoub and the scarf-like head covering called a Shumagg. Most of the men sported red and white checkered Schumaggs, some men worn hats, in what we would call a pillbox style for women and some men simply had a white cap like a Yamaka on their heads. All the women in the gate area, except those of us getting off the plane were covered. As I passed the elevator a fully-veiled woman passed me children in tow. In a sea a black only her eyes were visible. The veil covering the lower half of her face stayed in place by way of a small black thread over the bridge of her nose. Her face looked similar to the men Frodo and Sam encountered with the Oliphant in Lord of the Rings.

As I rode in my everyday chair pushing my sports chair laden with bags and a pillow in front of me I could feel the curious stares. I was much more of ananomly to them than they were to me. At immigration a tall, bearded immigrations official singled me out of the line to help me get through customs. I could have just gone through the line, but he took my passport and got it stamped for me. It of course took three times as long as if I had just gone through the line, but he was trying to be helpful and I couldn’t speak enough Arabic to refuse. After customs we passed through another long corridor lined with people behind metal barriers. It was like they had never seen a 6 ft blond in a wheelchair and they probably hadn’t. I didn’t return the stares or even acknowledge them. I felt a little bit like I was in a parade, either that or a freak show and I just kept scanning the crowd for a sign with my name. At the very end of the corridor a short dark man in a button down shirt and dress pants stepped forward and introduced himself as Chacko.

He and another man, Abu Saman, our driver escorted me out of the airport along with the skycap who was pushing a giant cart loaded with my baggage. Exiting the airport it felt like I’d rolled into an oven. Arriving at the car I pulled Chacko aside and asked him if I should tip the man. He said yes, but when I tried to offer him money he said “No, I like this woman, no money.” I looked at Chacko who nodded yes and said 1 Kuwaiti Dinear (1 KD) would be appropriate, but when I pulled it out of my purse, the skycap indicated that it wasn’t enough. It was my first confusing experience with someone saying something they don’t really mean. So I gave him a second KD and called it good, but I didn’t feel good about the interaction. Chacko told me in the future that 1 is plenty. I asked him what the whole situation was about and he said, “He is Bangladeshi,” as way of explanation. I guess I need to learn about that culture now also, but they will probably be saying that about me in a month or so. “She is American.”

Leaving the airport we passed a sign that said “Welcome to the state of Kuwait,” I wonder if that is similar to being in a state of euphoria or denial. The radio said it was 38 C which is 100.4 F. We headed into town through a sea of sand, spotted with palm trees. The buildings were all done in what we would call Southwestern colors, creams, browns and pale pinks, as if to blend into the sand. One pale green and one pastel violet building stood out amoung the pale city scape. Checking out the cars next to me I noticed that almost no one wore seatbelts. A Pepsi sign and a Seattle’s Best Coffee, paired with a Cinnabon were the most familar sites.Kuwait City

Kuwait CityArriving at the apartment complex where Mercy Corps is headquartered I was greeted by Rafid, an Iraqi in charge of procurement. He took me to a three-bedroom two bath apartment on the first floor, showed me where the food was and how to operate the thermostat. For dinner I made a sandwich, three slices of beef bologna with cream cheese on a mini hotdog bun. For dessert vanilla poundcake. Each of the bedrooms had two beds a little smaller than a twin bed. They don’t use box springs here, so the mattress is almost even with the wooden box. I had a bottom sheet and a light comforter. The apartment complex is right behind a mosque, so I heard the call to prayer three times my first night. The bedrooms also have armoires, tiny two drawer dressers and in one room a dressing table. In one bathroom there is no toilet seat, so I desginated that the men’s room and have been using the bathroom off my bedroom. They are very small with no counter space and there is a spray attachment next to the toilet, like American’s have on their kitchen sinks, that you can use instead of toilet paper.

The kitchen has a tall skinny refrigerator and a mini oven, the size of a microwave, with two hot plates on top of it. All the floors are tile, I guess because you don’t have to worry about it getting cold. After Rafid showed me the apartment, he took me upstairs to the offices. The offices consist of three apartments that have been converted with some cubicles, we also have two kitchens. It is extremely warm passing through the hallway to the other offices and very cool in the actual office space. My boss Yassin, came down to greet me and I asked him what time we started work. “8:00 a.m.” he told me.

It is 7:30 p.m. and I am headed to bed.


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9 Responses to Marhaba from Kuwait

  1. Tami says:

    Where are the misadventures?! I want stories about bathrooms! I like the spray idea, but it doesn’t sound like a good hose down is a replacement for paper. Maybe it’s a portable colonic?

    Glad to hear you managed to make it with all your carry-on luggage (three pieces!), two wheelchairs and froggy pillow. I guess my tip-off to United of you being grossly over baggaged didn’t get you kicked off the plane so that you’d have to return to Portland and work at the same company as me. (You know you can’t get thrown off a plane without coming back to work with me, right?)

    Justin and I were harassed by your people, not the gimps – Mercy Corps, the other day at lunch and thought of you mostly because we missed your harassment. Please send a note to the head office about your folks and ask them to be especially nice to a guy with a monk’s spot and a chubby girl downtown. Thanks!

    We had drinks this evening without you and it just wasn’t the same.

    Keep us informed of your misadventures.

    ~ Your Lil Buddy

  2. Hana says:

    Salaam alaikum! I’m the only commenter who’s going to be jealous of you being able to hear the adhan, aren’t I? We miss you being across the street! Our kitties are outside on a leash now and you could come over and play with them. Is the apartment you talked about the one where you’ll be staying or is it just a place to settle for the first few nights? Post pictures for us?

  3. Shelle says:

    Oh my cousin — I loved reading about your first day. You are such a fabulous writer and I found myself laughing outloud about some of your comments. I was yelling them across the house to Aldo so he could laugh with me! I feel like I’m on the misadventure with you! I love you.

  4. Kari says:

    I can’t believe that you are actually living this- As I read your beautiful prose I can see everything you are describing. This is totally your next book!!! I miss you already!

  5. Ryan W. says:

    hi tiana! so sorry jeana and i didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. seems like you left pretty quickly… in any event, good luck with all of your endeavors and please, keep this blog going. i’m excited to hear more about what you do and your experiences in kuwait. more than anything, i think i’m going to miss getting your cinnamon rolls every holiday season. 🙂 please, keep in touch.


    ryan (and jeana too)

  6. Lissa says:

    I’m glad you made it safe and all! The nice thing about being somewhere completely different is you never forget you’re not doing the “ordinary”. =-)Hope your first day at work went well and you’re settling in. Looking forward to the next installment…

  7. Crazy Knitter says:

    I’m following you, you’ll never get rid of me and I’m enjoying reading about your misadventures – guess you won’t be needing any knitted items there -)

  8. Why are you calling this as misadventures? It’s adventurous ;)…

    • tianatozer says:

      Because I’m always getting into trouble, sorry I’ve been in Sudan where information is restricted, and I’m just starting to blog again.

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