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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Alison, a Canadian woman who’s currently working and living in Kuwait with her husband. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city, shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail.com.
When I tell people that I live in Kuwait, most of them vaguely nod not knowing exactly where it is. Then I clarify and tell them we’re neighbours with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and eyes usually go wide. Despite the notoriety of our neighbours, Kuwait is actually a pretty chill country. My husband Peter and I have lived here for almost three years and we really enjoy it.
We’re teachers at an elementary school, which means that our daily life really is ordinary in a lot of ways. We’re not “teaching English” like a lot of people do abroad, but we are actual “regular” teachers in a normal private elementary school. Most schools here lumped into two categories: public schools, which are all in Arabic; and private school, which tend to follow either the British or American curriculum. We teach in the British curriculum. Peter teaches 5th grade and I teach music to 5th and 6th grade. We start work at 7:00 a.m. and finish by 2:45 p.m. The kids get regular break times during the day, and we have all the usual things a school would have in terms of P.E. classes, assemblies, concerts, etc.
Most families tend to pick up their children from school (or perhaps their hired driver or maid does that), and the kids go home for lunch and a nap. For us, we tend to keep more of a “North American” schedule and we still eat dinner around 5:00 or 6:00 and head to bed fairly early in anticipation of another busy school day. However, the locals (and expats that have adapted!) tend to eat lunch around 3:00 or 3:30, nap, and then wake up by about 6:30 or 7:00 and then eat dinner again around 9:30 or 10:00, if not later!
We often cook our own meals, but there are so many opportunities for eating out! It seems like it’s the biggest pastime here. There are so many malls and places with restaurants. You can eat at any of the European or North American chains, and there are also tons of little Arabic places with falafel, fatiyer or kebab.
This is often what our freetime is filled with. We meet up with friends for meals and while we all have our favourite standbys, Kuwait is actually branching out a lot more these days and there are more and more unique places appearing on the scene. A monthly market just started up last year where local vendors can sell their handmade items and goods, and some of the food stalls have created their own restaurants out of this.
Other than eating, most of our free time really is just relaxing at home. Being a teacher is exhausting and so we don’t tend to do a whole lot during the week. Plus it gets so hot from May-September that being indoors is advantageous. On weekends we might have picnics by the water with friends, go to the mall (one of the largest in the world!), see a movie, take a walk along the waterfront, wander through the souk (market place) or hang out at a friend’s place.
Something that a few friends and I like to do on a monthly basis is get a pedicure and shoulder massage! Manicures and pedicures are quite cheap here, and so having one done once a month is really nice treat.
Connecting with people in Kuwait can be both easy and challenging. It’s easy in that there are a ton of expats, and so if you hear or see someone you think might be from your own country, you easily start up a conversation. However, expats (especially Western expats) tend to only live in Kuwait for a short time, so it always seems like you’re saying good-bye to friends. It can be even harder to get to know locals. It’s not they’re antisocial, because they’re not; it’s just that we live different lives and it can be harder to strike up a conversation. While most Kuwaitis (and other Arab nationals that live here) speak English, there are still a lot that are not as fluent. So sometimes there can be a language barrier. I think the best way to meet locals is just to continue to connect with different types of social groups (theatre groups, sports groups, etc.) because that is where nationalities tend to mix and relationships can be built on common ground.
While we don’t usually have issues with language (signs are all in English and Arabic), occasionally we’ll find ourselves at a local medical clinic, or riding in a taxi, and something won’t make sense for us. Sometimes it’s the language itself, and sometimes there are some cultural systems that we just don’t get, and it can cause frustration.
Some interesting weather phenomena that can cause some difficulty are sand storms and rain! Rain is so infrequent around here that when it does happen the child get so over excited! We had so much rain last year (well, “so much” for here!) that the streets were flooding because the drains couldn’t handle all the water. Sand storms happen regularly in the winter/early spring. They cause us to wear face masks and stay indoors. Breathing in all that sand isn’t good for us, and it’s not easy to drive in either.
One of the most amazing benefits of living in Kuwait as teachers is that we have a lot of holiday time, and we are so central to so many places. This means that we can travel to a ton of great destinations. We’ve been able to see over 30+ countries in the last 3 years, some of which include Iraq (twice!), Ethiopia and Lebanon.
We just love the Middle Eastern culture, and so for us Kuwait is a really great fit. The lifestyle is relaxed and definitely not hard. The people in this region really are lovely, and we enjoy the mild (and hot!) temperatures all year round. The longer we stay, the more we feel at home. I know one day we’ll have to leave, but for now we’re happy we’re here.