Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Good Night, Kuwait

It’s been a great day in Kuwait.

I needed to go into Fehaheel this morning. Why Fehaheel? I know Fehaheel, and Fehaheel is so much more manageable, to me, than driving downtown to find what I need, and I always have a list. Feheheel is more concentrated, and, if you can find what you need, the prices are often better.

All my secret parking spots are already taken, and it is not even ten o’clock. People! What is going on here?

After circling several times, I found a spot and headed to a shop where there is my kind of guy. He lit up when he saw my camera, and not only did he have the card reader I needed – for less than I would pay in the US – he also had a card with DOUBLE the amount of space on it. Well, I don’t even use all the space on the cards I use, but I appreciated his enthusiasm, and that he keeps up with all the latest advances in photo technology.

So I asked him where he changes his money, and he gave me directions, AND he told me not to take less than 27.700 – 27.750 per dollar, that it holds fairly steady.

As you might have figured out by now, I am a western woman, so the first price I get is often not the same price my Kuwait or Indian friends might get. Armored with the quote my photo-nerd friend gave me, I fought the good fight, when the money-changer would look at me and say 27.500, I knew better! I would just laugh and tell him I am going next door. Finally, when I said that, one guy said OK, OK, 27.900, and I didn’t blink an eye, just changed my money, WOOO HOOOO. I know, I know, it is a primitive response, the hunter-gatherer still present in my lizard-ego, but I love not getting taken.

I found all kinds of wonderful things to take back today, including a Kuwait flag that I can fly on Liberation Day, and when Kuwait friends come to visit. 🙂 I had one when I lived here before, but it was windy, and it blew away!

And here is a final photo for today – today’s sun going down into an Ethel tree. (When I was a kid, there was a gas called Ethel; I think it was special, but I never hear anyone talk about ethel anymore. I can’t imagine Ethel-the-gas and Ethel-the-tree are related.)

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February 8, 2011 Posted by | Beauty, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Shopping, Sunsets | 10 Comments

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Until I sat down to write these reviews (so I can pass these along to friends in Kuwait who I know will read and discuss them 🙂 ) I didn’t realize that the books had so much in common. They both take place in the WWII time frame, and both are told from the point of view of children coming of age in this time. Both are love stories, romantic, parental, community – they have many of the same elements. They both have bullies, and children who steal. They both have wise adult conspirators, mentors and guides.

In The Book Thief, right off you get a chill. One of the main characters in a personification of Death, a tired, weary, cynical Death, but a Death who is fascinated by his humans. When the opening pages are written by Death, you get a feeling that this can’t be good.

And, in the beginning, it is not good. Liesel is on her way . . . somewhere, we don’t know where, on a long train ride, during which her brother dies. They are forced off the train, and her brother is buried in some small village where they are unknown; the grave will probably never be visited. Shortly after, they re-board another train, and when they arrive, Liesel is turned over to a government foster family agency, and she is placed with a rough, uneducated couple in a small village on the outskirts of Germany.

Not far from Dachau.

So many similar elements . . . people at the mercy of their government, and the madness of the politicians and mass hysteria. Bullies, but not just in the schoolyards, here there is also a nationally encouraged group of bullies, the Nazis, and people in every village are encouraged to join the party. The kids join Hitler Youth and practice to become good Nazis.

Except inside each one of us resides a spirit of humanity, and if you let that spirit dominate, you can come into conflict with the party, even if you appear to comply most of the time. Liesel’s foster parents turn out to be a very humane sort. They feel compassion for the Jews marched through their village on the way to the camps, and attempt to give them a little bread, for although they have little to share, they can see that these Jews are starving.

And then, a stranger arrives on the doorstep, the son of a man who saved Liesel’s Papa’s life in the first world war. He is Jewish. He needs a place to be hidden. Liesel’s foster parents take him in and hide him in the basement.

Only after I read the book and read the afterword did I discover this is a book written for young adults, and that makes me laugh, because I am not a young adult, and I enjoyed the book so much. I love books about the triumph of the human spirit, the triumph of good over evil, and the triumph of hope and life over hopelessness. Even Death has a heart, in this book.

I know that there will be one copy of this book in Kuwait; I am leaving it with a friend I know will read it, and I know she will pass it along, because this is a book worth discussing. I hope you are friends with my friend, and that you will get a chance to read it, too!

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Books, Character, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Leadership, Living Conditions, Relationships, Values | 4 Comments

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This book had everything going for it, and still I had a hard time getting into it. The book was given by Little Diamond to my Mom – Little Diamond often passes along the very best, thought-provoking books, and in our family we pass the best along, so I knew it would be good. I love the title. The book is set in a part of Seattle now called – euphemistically – The International District, but as I was growing up, and among older Seattle-ites, it is called Chinatown, even though that is not politically correct, or geographically correct. Chinatown was never Chinatown, it was a group of distinct populations – Chinese, Japanese, later Vietnamese, Korean, even later Ethiopian, Sudanese, Somali, Pakistan . . . you could call it immigrant-ville, I suppose, if you were really, really politically incorrect. My Chinese friends still call it Chinatown.

Last, but not least, Jamie Ford started this book as a short story at a camp run by Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite authors, especially to recommend to young people. Orson Scott Card knows how to capture the painful contradictions of being teens and young adults, the conflicts with parents, the loves, requited and un, and most of all, he understands how the young see things clearly as unfair; it’s only later when we start seeing shades of grey.

In spite of all those positives, I hated his voice. I hated the smug little Chinese boy he started as, a scholarship student, first generation born in the US, mocking his parents, fighting off bullies. . . Here is what I hated the most. He had a girlfriend, and he didn’t understand chivalry, like walking her home. He protected her, but he was a pretty self-absorbed little boy.

I kept reading because he had some interesting friends. I liked his friend the jazz player, and I liked the gruff lunchroom lady, and I liked his friend Keiko. I understood his parents pushing him to excel, and their not understanding the struggles this caused Henry; I liked his parents. Because the book jumps around in time, I also liked his wife, and felt annoyed that Henry was all caught up in this old romance when he had a perfectly good wife, but I kept reading.

I am so glad I did. About a third into the book, we begin to see Henry transform into the man he will become. He gets help, he gets mentoring from unexpected people, and he becomes more likable.

The book also deals with a terrible time in US history, a time when we turned on our own citizens and sent our citizens of Japanese descent to concentration camps right here in the USA. The Japanese were a class act; most of them were hurt and outraged, but compliant. Many men volunteered to fight in the war in spite of this slap in the face, this accusation of potential treason. It is a shameful time in our own history, and particularly so for Henry, who loves a Japanese girl, Keiko.

By the end, I loved this book. I hope you will, too.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Books, Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Relationships, Seattle | 4 Comments