Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Sharks and Underwear

Two things happened yesterday that caught my attention – and I wonder if everyone knows about these things except for me, or if others are also caught by surprise.

First, on the way to go shopping, my good friend told me that shark is no longer available in the fish souks. We don’t eat a lot of shark, but we often buy it to fill in a good bouillabaisse (if you are superstitious and believe there must be seven different fish in your bouillabaisse) or to cook up to feed the feral cats in the neighborhood. Even the heads make a big hit with the local cats. 🙂

“No, a recent religious decision says that shark is ‘haram’, ” she said, as I gaped in disbelief. “Their skin has no scales.”

“But the Kuwaitis eat shrimp!” I responded, “and shrimp are also haram according to some Muslims. Who is going to tell Kuwaitis not to eat shrimp?”

“I don’t make the rules,” she responded. “I am just letting you know. The fishman said that because sharks have no scales and something about the male sexual organ, I don’t know, but now they can’t sell shark anymore.”

She paused, thoughtfully.

“What will the poor people do?” she asked. “Most of the people who buy shark can’t afford anything better.”

Later, our marketing accomplished, our goods safely in cupboards and refrigerators, I read the news. This is from yesterday’s Kuwait Times:

Shops Banned from Displaying Lingerie

Kuwait: The Minister of Commerce and Trade and Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs Ahmad Baqer last week issued decision No. 430/2008 which bans any display of women’s underwear in shop windows or at the front of shops.

It is permissible, however, to display such garments inside outlets.

The decision also banned any unclothed display of mannequins used for modeling underwear in order to protect the moral well being of passersby, with legal penalties to be taken against shops which violate the new regulations.

I’m sorry if this offends you, but it just made me laugh. Even Saudi Arabia, the most traditional of the traditional, allows underwear to be displayed. Even Qatar, more conservative than Kuwait, allows underwear to be displayed. Some of my very favorite images are those of abaya’d, veiled, ladies looking at a particularly luscious set of fabulous under-garments.

Changes are occurring in Kuwait, small changes, incremental changes, and little by little, as they aggregate, the face of Kuwait is changing.

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September 2, 2008 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Shopping, Social Issues | 23 Comments

Brutal Ramadan

Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan. As I headed out early to the markets, it was a breeze. It was hot, but not too bad. Schools are later during Ramadan, so the roads were clear. It wasn’t too bad, not until around 10 a.m. when I started getting thirsty and reached for a bottle of water, which, fortunately, was not there, or I might have taken a swig without a second thought, just out of habit.

“Oh my good sweet Lord,” I thought to myself, “how are these people going to make it through the day?”

I knew all I needed was to get home, and behind my closed doors, in the privacy of my own home, I could sip to my heart’s content.

But what about my brothers and sisters, fasting in this heat? To make it worse, high humidity set in, when you walk out your door, your sunglasses steam. It is so hot that the car’s air conditioning finally cools you down just about as you are arriving at your destination. Heat, humidity, heavy traffic and fasting – what a test of spiritual fortitude.

Last year, I discovered late afternoon – around four – was a good time to hit the co-op. I am guessing that it wasn’t the first day of Ramadan when I figured that out – because at 4:00 yesterday, the co-op was full, mostly men with their phones to their ears, men with that harassed look on their faces that says they are feeling desperate as they try to fill the list, buy the things that their wives MUST HAVE to make their first breaking-of-the-fast meal a perfect one.

The lines were long. The aisles were messy, the special displays had been hit and there were cans and soaps and things all over the floor. The bread wasn’t even on the shelves, customers had to dig into the delivery bins to pull out a loaf. All the helpers were up front, helping bag, helping clean up, helping customers tote their loads out to the cars, which were jammed into the parking lot, as other cars trolled, looking for a spot.

For such chaos, it was not noisy. People were subdued, suffering, just trying to get through this purgatorian experience, knowing that the best is yet to come. I saw no yelling, no pushing, none of the behaviors that being hot and hungry and desperate can bring on. People were patient. I respected their commitment.

But one thing caught my eye. Above the cashiers, there are now flat screen tv’s beaming luscious photos of food at all the fasting Moslems. Pancakes, being loaded with honey. Whipped cream loaded onto sweet, tempting fruits. Cakes, pies, rich and gleaming, meats dripping with fats on the grill. I looked around. Most of the customers had their eyes firmly on their baskets, on the ground, anywhere but on those flat screens. How awful, having those images broadcast repeatedly while you are still a good two hours away from breaking your fast!

The parking lot was bearable. There were still people driving a little desperately, looking for spots. Still people squealing their wheels in their eagerness to return home. Still a few horns honking, but not so many as you might think. I was amazed and impressed at the forbearance of the fasting customers.

The image at the top is posted because it looks cool and clear. It can take you to a cooler place, as you endure through the day. I wish you success with your fast.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Ramadan | 13 Comments