Monday, September 22, 2008

first day of school...

What struck me the most about the first day of classes was all of the students showing up in brand new Hummers and SUV's or being dropped off by their drivers.

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

to the english mosque...

Some of my new friends wanted to take me to the Friday services at a mosque here that preaches in English.


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.

to the souk...


buying a dishdasha...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

blood and oil...

Heading out of Kuwait City towards Iraq can be found an official Kuwaiti government sign, “GOD BLESS U.S. TROOPS.” Is this the same GOD that Republican V.P. hopeful Sarah Palin said endorsed the war in Iraq as “a task that is from God” or the same GOD that she said we need to pray to for another matter -- a $30 billion national gas pipeline project that she wanted built in Alaska. "I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that," she said. Here in Kuwait, with a mosque literally on every block, women covered up head to toe in black, the call to prayer wailing out every hour, and everyone fasting from dawn to dusk, one has to wonder what GOD was meant by the Kuwaiti sign? What GOD was Palin talking about? Is the religious right in the US really that different than the Islamic fundamentalist here? …despite gas being only around 80 cents a gallon here (in US dollars), I am, reluctantly, going to have to get a car… I do not want to, but Kuwait is just not made for walking… I’ve only walked a few blocks out from my hotel but it has been like an obstacle course… besides the over 100 degrees everyday, as seen in the photos, there is often no sidewalk… very often it is just sand… if there is a sidewalk, it is more often used for parking… I’ve never seen a country with more SUV’s and Hummers and their favorite place to park is up on any sidewalk they can find… many of the streets have fences going right down the middle so a walker needs to walk the entire block to cross the street even if they just want to go across the way… I also have not seen even one walking signal… many intersections do not even have stop lights at all… mant time that I have walked the streets, especially at night, I almost get hit by a car… drivers do not stop for pedestrians… I’ve heard this said about many places, the US, India, Taiwan, China, etc. but this is far worse than anywhere than I have been… it is built into the design of the city… everything is far away… roads and parking lots dominate the landscape… there is a bus system, but I’ve been told by many, Kuwaitis and Westerners, that it is ONLY used by the “lower classes” (the migrant South Asian workers) and they would not be caught dead on a public bus… what other university in the world has “valet parking” at their campus? A few people have commented that there are few people in most of my photos… one reason for this is that it is Ramadan and people just do not go out in the afternoon, but another is that no one walks, except quickly from their air-conditioned cars to the air-conditioned buildings… on global charts for carbon footprints, the Gulf states are all at the top… at least the UAE is starting to do something about it: UAE begins building new zero-carbon city , but city planning has to be thought in more holistic terms everywhere: Reflections: New Orleans and China

I got a lot done today-picked up and deposited my Resettlement Allowance, put up posters advertising my class, looked for housing and found a currency exchange that actually would covert the rest of my US cash! Starting to feel better!

Monday, September 8, 2008

new view...



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

a dozen...



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

Holy Day...




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...

tenth day...

I finally watched "Lawrence of Arabia"! and I watched it in the Arabian Peninsula! Although I've seen bits and pieces of it before, I do not remember watching the whole film and it is quite a long film... although there is still sand here and there, I've seen no camels and no warriors as in Lawrence's day... so much of Kuwait is just like the States and they want to be just like the States... I've found no anti- Americanism here and everyone is excited when I tell them I am from the USA... although the water towers are a bit different, there is a mosque on every block and a few palaces about (seen in the photos) there is also a Starbucks on every other corner, and plenty of McDonald's, KFC's and Dunkin Donuts... Maryam took us to a building downtown that had a whole floor of art supply stores... they had just about everything but I could not find a few things that I will need to teach my drawing class... found a few bizarre items that might inspire some interesting artworks... I am really fascinated by the emphasis on calligraphy and all of the calligraphy items in the art stores... lots of strange model and display making items as well... rushed back to school for a few meetings and then went out to eat with some of the other new teachers (I only had rice though)...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Al Corniche...




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 Kuwait where the company is providing free Iftar… you even see it in smaller versions in shopping malls with men serving dates and coffee after dusk...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

AUK campus...

The American University of Kuwait campus is quite beautiful. It is a little oasis in the desert and concrete jungle that is Kuwait City. Formerly a public high school, the campus was completely renovated in order to bring the university up to standards for its September 2004 opening. The design of the campus is open and airy, with a large green square enclosed by covered walkways. There are only a few buildings that are more than single-story. A Kuwaiti-style tent, known as The Hangout, offers students plasma televisions, pool tables, and PlayStation consoles as a place to interact and relax. Also available is valet parking, an American-style diner, a Starbucks and two other caf├ęs.

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…

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

one week...

One week in Kuwait- I should be able to give you some general overview of the culture, sights, life here… I don’t think I can say much… I find it pretentious when anyone claims to “know” a place… unless they have lived there for years... and even then, I know so many that have lived in a place and could not tell you what happens just next door… this often happens with expats… many of the Westerners that I knew when I lived in Taiwan could not name a single Taiwanese person outside of colleagues at work… conversely, I knew dozens of Chinese and Taiwanese that are students at UW-Milwaukee or even have been worked in the US for years, that could hardly count any Americans as friends… for a few of them their English even became worse… it seems strange but perhaps their desire to come here and the tests it required, rapidly improved their English, but once they were here… most, at least that I knew, lived with Chinese roommates, had only Chinese friends, watched Chinese television and ate only Chinese food… in classes, they often had Chinese friends in class with them or knew Chinese that had taken the class before and got help to pass it… I have yet to make a single Kuwaiti friend… I’ve barely even talked to any Kuwaitis… all of workers in shops, on the street, at our university are from somewhere else… the city is designed around car culture… large roads and parking lots… “homes” are usually in apartment buildings or gated so there seems to be little way to peak into anyone’s life here… everyone has been away for the summer but the woman that first interviewed me for my new position, Maryam, just got back in town… she took me out to the Sultan Center for shopping… that is about the only thing that it seems you can do in Kuwait… besides the sand and the mosque, literally on every block, there are two or three shopping malls, literally on every block…