Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Prediction: Kuwaiti Best Sellers

(Whooping with laughter!) I’m on a roll today – again, Kuwaiti Times, page 6

There is no surer way to guarantee books make the best-seller list than to ban them. Imagine the fun you will have smuggling books by Kuwaiti writers Mohammed Abdul Qadar Al-Jassim (Sheikhs of Dignity) and Zaid Jlewi Al-Enezi (25 Constituencies . . . The Best Choice) into the country.

Al-Jassims book is banned because it “discusses taboos concerning Kuwait’s political leadership and the ruling family.” Al-Enezi’s book is banned “for discussing sectarian and tribal issues concerning the electoral system followed in Kuwait.

Even dull books are bought once they are banned. Maybe the Ministry of Information is using reverse psychology?

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October 31, 2006 Posted by | Books, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Social Issues | 6 Comments

Judicial Staff Immunity (??) (!)

Page 6, Kuwaiti Times News In Brief

“Major General Thabit Al Muhanna has instructed officials of the traffic department not to issue any tickets against members of judicial staff such as judges, prosecutors and investigators, reported Al-Qabas. He said that they were also not authorized to report any of these members to police or any other officials for investigations. He said the traffic department officials in these cases should only record the civil ID details of said members.”

The judiciary is held to a LESSER standard than the average citizen? In most countries, the judiciary (my son is a prosecutor) is held to a HIGHER standard, because they are the ones who must dispense justice with wisdom . . . How can they prosecute, investigate, judge with clear conscience when they are exempt from the laws they implement?

October 31, 2006 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, News, Political Issues, Social Issues | 2 Comments

Little Diamond

My neice is blogging! She started just as I did, without telling anyone. When I saw her on Friday, she very casually mentioned it in passing. Woooo Hoooooo! She is beautiful, and articulate, and always full of amazing information, and a lot of fun. Her website is A Diamond in Sunlight.

October 31, 2006 Posted by | Blogroll, Communication, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Language, Middle East, Relationships | 2 Comments

What Am I Missing Here?

“Yes to the waiver of loans” read the banners of 50 citizens rallying in silent protest in front of Parliament to request a bailout of private debt. What am I missing here? As I understand it, these are grown-up people who have taken out loans, many loans greatly out of proportion to their income, and who now don’t want to pay the loans back. Am I understanding this correctly?

So who pays? If the loans are waived, who pays the banks? If a loan is waived, does that person forfeit the right to ever borrow again? And what discourages a person whose repayment is waived from making the same mistake again, borrowing more than they can re-pay?

And who is making these huge loans to citizens with limited salaries? Why would they give a loan that the borrower could only repay with hardship? Are there laws governing banking practices in Kuwait?

October 31, 2006 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Kuwait, News, Political Issues, Social Issues | 3 Comments

The “A” Word: Accountability

My internet was out when I got up – waaaaaay too early this morning, totally jet lagging, so I read this morning’s Kuwait Times, which I usually save as my reward for getting work done. (Yep, total news geek.)

You can usually scan a politician’s speech quickly to tell if it is platitudes or substance – so Speaker of the National Assemply Jassem Mohammed al-Koraifi’s speech at the opening of the National Assembly yesterday caught my eye. For one thing, he used the “A” word – accountability – three times. That’s a very brave word for a government official to use, and he used it in impressive ways.

He may have used the “A” word more than three times – I am betting he was speaking in Arabic, and the full text of the speech is not printed, only excerpts. Still – three times!

First, I’m impressed that he encourage women who are interested in participating as elected officials to start running NOW. He’s right. It takes more than an electoral season to build a winning platform. You know there are good women out there qualified and capable of public office – encourage them, support them, and introduce them to your friends.

The KT quotes the Speaker as saying that “reform is a responsibility that lies with all, and that that both parliament and government are first to bear that responsibility. ‘I stress to the head and members of the government; you are responsible for laying policies and responsible for implementing legislation and are accountable for your institutions and bodies’ performance, and bear the responsibility before your superiors.'” (emphasis mine)

His next reported use of the word is in his section on reform: “Parliament is a constitutional partner in the planning of reform precedures and legislation, and an overseer over implementing reform programs and realization of its objectives, and a body those who abuse its means and tools shall stand accountable to.” (emphasis mine)

The last reported use was in the part of his address on building consensus. “This should all come within a positive relationship based on transparency, credibility, mutual respect, and guarantees for optimal use of supervisory and accountability tools and where the independence of the judicial authority is maintained with none interfering in its affairs and where its objectives are the interests of Kuwait and its future, its security and its stability.”

My favorite part of the speech, beyond the “A” word, is this: “When coming upon difference inopinion or disagreement over an issue, the matter should be dealt with in parliament and in its committees and with a keeness to preserve this partnership.

“Handling such issues should be as partners who disagree rather than as enemies with a dispute; none shall question the patriotism of another, it is not right for any to doubt another’s loyalty, and there cannot be hurling of accusations and abuse and settling of scores as that would strain the social fabric and dispel amicability and respect.”

I started reading blogs when I was coming to Kuwait, and trying to find out what the issues were. The papers are . . . ambiguous. Vague. I could catch glimpses, but it was following the blogs that I have learned the most. One blog helped me understand the issues in May The Ultimate with words and photos and a discussion of what the difference was between one voting district, five voting districts or ten voting districts – something I had never found in reading the English press.

I find committment, passion, insight and intelligence in your blogs. I find potential leadership, and an honesty when you are talking with one another that I don’t find when I ask questions myself. We are all so careful in our cross-cultural conversations, not to offend, not to give too much information which makes us look bad.

My country is also young – only 200 years. We have had our corrupt Presidents, scandals, lax standards and poorly enforced laws. Rule of Law is not something that happens overnight – it only happens when a good majority of the people have the conviction that the rule of the majority serves the greater good of all, while still protecting the interests of the minority. It takes time. It takes committment. And it takes accountability.

October 31, 2006 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Middle East, Political Issues | Leave a comment

Kuwait’s Ms. America

It was a loooonnnnngggg trip. There were what we call “travel mercies” – blessings. On two very crowded flights, I had an empty seat next to me. I ran into some really caring cabin crew members, people who looked like they really like what they are doing. For a trip with a lot of potential for disaster, it went well. As my husband says – any time the number of successful landings equal the number of take-offs, it’s a good trip.

The flight into Kuwait had a majority of two kinds of people – Dutch soldiers, who came onto the plane already drunk (and REEKING of alcohol) who were drinking all the way to Kuwait, and tired businessmen, who sacked out – I was surrounded by a symphony of snores. I didn’t mind that at all; I am betting they work hard and have families waiting for them, and just needed to catch up on a little sleep before getting back to Kuwait.

We all have our little pet phobias. I have a horror of airplane lack-of-cleanliness, and I have little slippers I put on as soon as I get on the plane. Arriving in Kuwait, I changed back into my boots, but horrors! My toes feel all cramped up; I am so used to wearing sandals. I think my feet swelled during the flights!

Everything goes smoothly, even another line opening up as I get to immigration, and my bags come off the flight right away, customs doesn’t ask me any questions, not even about the canned Alaska smoked salmon – now these are more travel mercies! But then, with my poor little feet screaming in dismay, I have to make the long walk down what I think of as the Miss America runway.

For those of my readers who do not live in Doha or in Kuwait, who have never visited me and experienced this for yourself, I will explain. Imagine, when you arrive, as you exit customs, you have to walk about 100 yards to where you will be met. Imagine along the route, there are hundreds of people waiting for others to arrive. Their full attention is on whoever is on the “runway” at the moment. My toes behave; I will NOT limp as I stride down the runway, refraining from doing a queenly wave at those along both sides of the the parade route.

But I can’t help but have a big goofy grin on my face at the hilariousness of running this ordeal at the end of a long trip, skin alligatored by hours of moisture-sucking airplane air, feet swollen, clothes rumpled, make-up worn off . . .now this is where having an abaya and veil makes a lot of sense.

And the greatest travel mercy of all, my husband waiting at the end of the long walk, the car nearby, and a quick exit and trip home. It is well after midnight, but we have so much to catch up on, even though we talked twice a day while I was gone. Today, I slept until noon and I am making a very very slow start on the day.

October 30, 2006 Posted by | ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Marriage, Relationships | 8 Comments

Morning Culture

In Kuwait, driving early Friday morning is a delight – everyone is sleeping in, things won’t get busy until around noon. Sometimes you have the whole road to yourself.

Here, in the land of the descendants of Scandinavians, the morning may dawn dark and foggy and damp, but by 8 this weekend morning the highways are already crowded with early birds, out to catch the worm. I can’t help but wonder where they are all going on a Saturday morning, so early.

Saying goodbye to my parents this morning was really heart wrenching. They have become so weak and so frail. They are already up, although I am stopping by early, and Dad is watching a football game and Mom is fixing coffee. It breaks my heart to know how hard they struggle to stay independent, and that there is nothing I can do to make them young and hearty again.

I remember when my Dad was always on the cutting edge of technology. Well into his 70’s, he was buying new computers and writing code to make them do what HE wanted them to do. Now in his late 80’s, we were all astonished when he showed no enthusiasm for the new laptop we bought him – until we discovered that his hands were now bothering him, and the keys on the laptop were too small for him. I wonder when we will no longer find new technologies so enticing, and will long for simpler days – and we will look back on the early 2000’s as the “good old days” when life was simple.

The flights are crowded today – it’s a full flight, and here is is, the end of October. Isn’t this usually low season?

October 28, 2006 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Big Diamond and Little Diamond

Today is my last day here, before I leave to go back to Kuwait. This morning, I packed everything except what I am wearing today and tomorrow. I know myself too well. I have to go to one of my favorite stores today to buy my father some soft cotton gardening gloves. I will have to face one last temptation.

No, I did not make it out of the store without buying something for myself. It’s the smell. . . You walk into a hardware store and something in the air gets to you. I love hardware, I love new bathroom ideas (glass block makes me shiver in anticipation) and oh! a new magic tool! A storage solution! Hardwood flooring! New countertop options. . .! New shades of paint! steel wool! Oh! Oh! Oh! The problem is I know I still have a little room in my suitcase. . .Yes, I am a hardware junky.

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My sister, Big Diamond, is in town and called me to ask if we could have lunch together with her daughter, Little Diamond. They like Vietnamese food too – I have to have one last portion of Vietnamese salad rolls with shrimp, and a “small” bowl of vegetarian Pho. I picked them up nearby. I know you have a lot of curiousity about me and my family. Here is my sister and her oldest daughter:

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October 28, 2006 Posted by | ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Lumix, Photos, Shopping, Uncategorized, Women's Issues | 2 Comments

Fundamentally Green

Yesterday on National Public Radio, they did a segment on evangelical churches going “green”, i.e. environmentally conscious, and the problems it was causing the Republican party, who count on fundamental support.

Many of the churches are focusing on our stewardship of the environment, and setting up all kinds of recycle programs, calling in their “environmental tithe: (10% of your income.)

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The problem is, the Democratic party is the party focused on the environment. So with the November elections coming up, NPR was examining how the shift in thinking will influence the voting.

There are other issues on which Democrats and Republicans differ – my guess is that those issues will have more influence on how people vote. But it is interesting that the “green” issue was raised – it could be a growing influence. The baby-boom generation are still a big voting bloc, and things may shift as they near retirement, and focus differently.

October 27, 2006 Posted by | Communication, Political Issues, Random Musings, Social Issues | 4 Comments

National Public Radio

I like BBC, but most of the time I find I don’t like listening twice to the same program. When you get tired of BBC, here is an alternative: National Public Radio.

You can stream National Public Radio through your computer, and listen to All Things Considered, The Beat . . . all kinds of things you never knew existed. National Public Radio was the only local American station to broadcast Ramadan and Eid greetings, and carried a lot of coverage of the season – objective and factual.

One of my favorite shows is “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” which is a cafe-style conversation between very witty people discussing the news of the week. They really skewer politicians who have said stupid things, sing funny songs parodying events, and you just can’t help but laugh out loud when you listen.

October 27, 2006 Posted by | Communication, News, Political Issues, Social Issues | 1 Comment