Monday, September 22, 2008
The students seemed nice enough, although it is odd having only women in one class, only men in another. I've heard from studies that while this is actually good academically for women, the men tend to suffer.
You can see that the students dress in all different ways- some in traditional Arabic clothing, some very casual, some in the latest Western fashions, many with expensive brand names. I've seen more authentic* Louis Vuitton luxury goods today than ever before in my life.
*I've seen a lot of Louis Vuitton goods before while traveling in China, but they were all fakes...
Saturday, September 13, 2008
It was interested, although I would say that it was not really that different than attending Catholic mass, which I did faithfully at least once a week for the first 21 years of my life, sometimes more, since I also spent the 1st-8th grade attending Catholic school.
Be good to thy neighbor was the basic message, lots of prostrating and praying, many passages in Arabic, similar to the old Catholic mass with a lot in Latin which not many understood but it lent an air of mystery as well as authenticity. I’ve heard the same from some of my non-Arab Muslim friends here. They can pronounce the Arabic from the Holy Qur'an, and can even say many passages by heart in Arabic, but they really do not know what the Arabic words actually mean. Lot's of praise to God though and repetitions of how unworthy we are in his presence.
Different of course was that women were completely not seen by us men in the mosque. They were upstairs, in the back, in a separate room, hidden away.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Monday, September 8, 2008
this is the view from my new office that I started moving into today... you can see the Persian Gulf just beyond the buildings... I got a lot more done today than usual, perhaps because I am starting to feel a bit better... talked with HR about taking an apartment in the new AUK housing building... finally picked up my ATM card after two failed attempts already... it works too! although they spelled my name Milliam Andersen (they told me they would have to shut down my account for 3 days if I wanted to correct the spelling)... the ATM machines are quite interesting... you can stick in almost any amount of cash and it will count up all of the various bills and deposit it for you... I was hesitant depositing my cash this way but since the computers always break down when I go up to the teller, it was the only way to do it today... I did not want to deposit any cash until my ATM card was working since if you go to a teller to take out any money under 2000 KD (around $7000 USD) they charge you! ...also, when you hit the "fast cash" button on the ATM machine, the lowest you can take out is 200 KD (around $700 USD) (if I remember correctly, the "fast cash" button in the US is usually around $20 USD)... I've been told that Kuwaitis typically carry around a lot of cash... the bank would still not exchange my US dollars unless it was a $100 bill (although all of the guide books and even the exchange desk at the airport said they would) so I went off on an adventure to find an exchange shop... it was not far, but when I found it, it was closed because of Ramadan... many stores are open only in the mornings (until about 1pm) and then do not open again until after 7pm or even 9pm... between about 1pm and 7pm, pretty much everything is closed, no one is out on the streets and there is little traffic... also no restaurants are open during the day until after dark when the mosques call out that the fast has been broken... I still felt like I had some energy so walked down to the Sultan Center and went up to the second floor for the first time... they have just about any household item you might want... I got a rice cooker (since I am still being cautious about my stomach, I am only eating rice), some capri pants or long shorts (even men are expected to not show their knees or above), electrical plug adapters and some food... it was a pretty good day...
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Mada, a student worker, sent me the final revisions on the posters advertising a new course that I plan to teach. The posters turned out really excellent! Mada even worked over the "weekend" (Friday and Saturday) to finish them. Before I even arrived in Kuwait I had been pushing for AUK to offer a course like UW-Milwaukee's Art Survey class that I've been teaching for the last 6 1/2 years... they liked the idea and we just borrowed a title and course number that was already in the books, but no one had been teaching. I will be able to use the same textbooks, lectures, tests, etc. that I used for my previous class but will have to modify a few things... even making these posters I ran into censorship. At least for publicly displayed posters, any nudity is censored, even of a male with his shirt off! and any too political looking work, I could not even show a Banksy work that showed an image of soldier being frisked by a little girl! Anyways, I've talked to a few professors here and they have all different approaches-some show just about anything but give the students a warning, some have warned me about showing anything that is controversial in anyway. They offered a story of a new professor here that had shown and talked about politically sensitive material and after had to go all the way to Kuwait's parliament and defend herself, with no backing provided by AUK. Soon after, she left the job and the Middle East for good! The course will also be radically different since the enrollment will be 30 students at the most (at UWM, typically there were over 300 students) and there will be two sections offered, one for males and one for females. Previously university level courses could comply with the segregation laws of Kuwait by just having a short room divider between the sexes, but now they can not even be in the same room with each other. There was even talk that to comply with a more fundamentalist interpretation of the law, whole buildings might have to be segregated by sex! It is very odd that on the one hand, government rules over the educational system have to comply so strictly to conservative Islamic ideas in Kuwait, while at the same time popular culture in Kuwait is so liberal and attempting to imitate the West...
I did not do much else but a few computer things today since I am feeling worse and worse...
Friday, September 5, 2008
Friday is the Holy Day of Islam and starts the weekend. On our day off, some of us new teachers decided to go out shopping. The new AUK professor of economics, Hanas, has a good friend in Kuwait who provided us with a driver and huge SUV for the day. Drivers and maids for the rich (primarily Kuwaitis) are quite common and I've heard you can get a part-time individual (usually from Sri Lanka or the Philippines) to cook and clean for as little as $75 USD a month. We drove out to Ikea, the first I've ever been in, looking for items for our new apartments (although I have not settled yet on a place). I was impressed with the variety of items available and reasonable prices, especially since I need to purchase so many new things! It was very interesting to see how Ikea was being marketed to Kuwaitis - with a "special gift" being given out to all customers during Ramadan and Ikea providing a Prayer Room to its patrons. Quickly after, we rushed off to find a mosque for Hanas to attend Friday prayers. Unfortunately we could not find a mosque providing English services in time so we stopped at an Arabic mosque. Woman were not allowed in, so Sharon, my new AUK studio art colleague, had to wait in the car. As a male, it was no problem for me to go in, but it was suggested that I sit in the back since I am not Muslim. I was also the first Islamic service that I've attended, although I've been inside a mosque in Taiwan and China. Shoes had to be removed and the floors were wall to wall carpet. I was surprised by the variety of individuals attending, from very rich to very poor, to men looking very European to very black Africans and of course many from the Indian Subcontinent. The most striking part of the service was when everyone gathered towards the front of the mosque, lined up along stripes on the carpet, and chanted and prostrated together in unison, then the service was over and we rushed off for more shopping at the City Center. Along the way we found the mosque with English service and we stopped in to meet many prominent friends of Hanas. Most were doctors and professors and they welcomed us in, even Sharon, for a look around and invited us to come next week and to attend their cultural center for Islamic/Arabic understanding... After shopping for food, appliances and clothes at the City Center, I was bushed and just vegged out at the hotel the rest of the night...
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Went to the bank for a second try today… it was again around 110 degrees and an obstacle course to get there (see yesterday’s post)… waited around 20 minutes to talk to a teller and she told me my account had been closed despite just having signed up to open an account a week ago… started the whole process all over again and the teller told me to come back in another three working days… did not do much else today but bought some more plain rice and soda and checked out a health club… since no one walks, jogs or bikes in Kuwait… and few swim in the sea (I’ve heard that the beach is usually very dirty with garbage, seaweed and dead fish)… exclusive health clubs are very popular… this seems to go hand and hand with the strong sense of “class” in Kuwait… the south-east Asians do the manual labor but get paid very little… the Kuwaitis and Westerners get paid very well and should never do manual labor… the minute you try to carry something, not just at the hotel, but in any shop, a south-east Asian worker grabs it for you and carries it… in grocery stores it is not uncommon to see south-east Asian worker pushing around grocery carts for patrons… you are just expected to give some little change after they bring it out to your car… we went out to the Al Corniche club today… it is one of the most expensive in Kuwait… it’s of course great… an exclusive beach with impeccable sand… a half dozen workout rooms, a sauna (feels just like outside), a whirlpool, tennis and racket ball courts, a cooled pool that is mixed- a rarity in Kuwait where most gyms and pools are segregated by sex… we got free four day passes and waited until they served iftar, or fast-breaking… it is the smallish meal taken at dusk when the fast is over. Traditionally, a date is the first thing to be consumed when the fast is broken. Besides the numerous different kinds of dates, they also served Arabian coffee (tasted like tea with cardamom), buttermilk, samosas and sweat breads… Many Muslims believe that feeding someone Iftar as a form of charity is very rewarding. You see tents all around
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I met with Dr. Craig Loomis, the new head of the Humanities & Arts Division. He seems like a great guy and I finally found out what classes I will teach- a Drawing 1 class and two sections of a class that I can transform into something like my former Art Survey course- almost the same that I would have been teaching at UWM. Right after our meeting I ran off to the bank. I had an appointment today to open my account. Besides the treacherous journey there (only two blocks away but 110 degree weather, no sidewalks and no traffic signals) it was a big waste of time. Despite the fact that I had an appointment and had signed up for my account almost a week ago, they could not do anything for me. It took almost a half hour to see anyone, then they found that my account had been canceled, then the computers went down because it was Ramadan. The bank teller asked me to wait in hopes that the computers might come back online, but after another half hour they told me to just go home and come back tomorrow… by the time I walked back to the hotel it was like I had been swimming in a pool… I just took a shower and a nap… got up later to have dinner with a colleague… my stomach felt a little better so I tried some falafel… it was probably the best that I’ve ever eaten, but unfortunately, it did not stay long in my stomach… I’m back on plain rice…