Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life in Kuwait City: The Cornishe

I can't even tell you how brain dead I am. I've had this issue in the past, while PMSing. During that time, I'm usually quietly raging while forgetting what I just did, dropping everything, and trying not to cry in public. Now, this is my daily life. One of my girlfriends once said in regards to being pregnant (and breastfeeding, etc. afterwards), "The process of having a baby is like PMSing for a year and a half." It couldn't be more true! Friends hoping to be mothers, be afraid, be very afraid.

So on that note, I had grand illusions about how I was going to tell you of the experience of walking on the cornishe. But I can't write that creatively in my current state. So I'm going to show you lots of pretty pictures and talk about them. Enjoy.

Walking on the cornishe is one of my favorite things to do here in Kuwait, when the weather is nice. Many locals agree and it really gets kicking around sunset with tons of families picnicking along the water, street vendors selling ice cream, and many feral cats cruising for an easy meal.

I really wanted to take pictures in the evening when the crowds are out. However, I'm really nervous about taking pictures with people in them here. The religiously conservative women don't like having their picture taken and frankly I'm afraid that as a very white western-looking woman, me and my camera lens might get construed negatively. Additionally, its not a tourist town and people just don't walk around photographing things (very different from DC!).

There are so many feral cats here! I've seen two generations of kittens being raised outside my apartment building since we arrived. That's probably equal to the same amount of kittens I've seen my entire life. Cats rule the cornishe. It seems like each one has a territory and younger kittens live in the rocks along the water. The cats are worse than squirrels with their begging and you'll see them crowd around picnickers waiting for scraps. Seriously, they have no shame. Most of them have this calico coloring, and part of me thinks they are so cute that I want to take them home with me. I'm afraid of cats though, so it would be a terrifying existence to have cats in my home. 

Are you surprised to see so much green? I was! 

I'm fascinated with the date palms and the texture of their trunks. They are so different from the palms I grew up with in Florida. When we arrived in August they were producing dates (not coincidently during Ramadan when they are eaten frequently to break fasting).

I love this tricked out little bicycle. The kids here ride their bikes with reckless abandon. I've seen countless crashes, ones where you cringe as you see it coming. The kids will just get up afterwards, dust off their knees, give each other a quick stare down, then get back on their bikes and move on. I hold my breath every time. Also, the locals here seem to leave the plastic packaging on things - like this little bike and on the seats in their new cars. I think its funny and it reminds me of some of my grandparents friends who used to leave the plastic on their lampshades and put plastic on their couches.

Lastly, I like all the Arabic writing on the signage. Things that are so mundane suddenly seem exotic and interesting.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Have Standards

Amongst other things, I'm a coffee snob. I LOVE coffee. I love it more than wine (gasp) and I could drink it with every meal. Yes, every meal, morning, noon and night. When I was a working girl I would drink a cup in the mornings before work, then grab one on the way to the office - which I would sip on until lunch time. Sometimes in the afternoon I would get a third cup, though usually decaf. If I couldn't get a third cup, I would re-heat the old coffee for the afternoon. I know what you're thinking, and yes it did taste burnt.

I've been spoiled in almost every place I've lived with perfectly delicious coffee. Actually I remember the first Starbucks that opened in my hometown. It was at the Tampa International Airport and I believe I was just old enough for it to be OK for me to have coffee. Back then, going to the airport was a treat because usually we were picking up someone in town to visit and we could get a cup of Starbucks while we waited. In NYC and DC there were plenty of locally roasted, home grown places to purchase the perfect cup. In Dupont Circle, within a two minute walking radius from my apartment I had over five coffee shops to choose from. There wasn't a moment I had to consider drinking something sub-par.

My favorite type of coffee - not including type of beans and level of roasting - is just plain old American drip coffee. I sometimes drink it black, sometimes with a splash of milk, and once in a while black with a smidgen of honey (I don't really like sweet drinks). When at home I make my coffee by heating the water in a stove top kettle, grinding the beans fresh, and brewing in a single cup french press. I make one cup at a time. The process of making it has become a ritual for me. A way to transition from night to day, from dreams to reality.

Kuwait is a dry country - in case you didn't already know. I never thought I would move to a dry county let alone a dry country. No pork or porn either. I know, what a lame place you might be thinking. But its redeeming quality, at least in my mind before we arrived, was that they have a very active coffee culture. Instead of a bar on every corner, there are coffee shops. Just like in other large cities, sometimes two Starbucks face each other. Besides Starbucks there is Caribou Coffee, Illy, and MANY local joints I've yet to hit up. My fantasy was to buy beans from these local joints and experiment with local flavor.

Ah, yes. How does that old saying go? "The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often awry." Once pregnant and sick as a dog my little cafe dreams didn't stand a chance (and moving to a dry country suddenly didn't seem so crazy). Although my doctor said it was OK to drink 6-8 oz of caffeine a day, I couldn't even smell coffee in my first trimester. The idea of drinking it made me gag. I replace my morning ritual with dry Eggo waffles and orange juice.

Recently, I've began to be wooed by coffee again. Regular coffee now gives me the jitters and what I didn't count on is that no one really drinks decaf here. Here in this entire country. There is no decaf American drip coffee to be had (iced decaf Americana has been the closest acceptable substitute). Not even decaf beans at the grocery store.

With each passing day of not finding exactly what I wanted. My standards changed. My mind opened. One day, I found decaf instant Folger's and bought it with the excitement of a 5 year old on Christmas. I got home and "brewed" it right away. I set up a place setting and dusted off my favorite coffee cup. It tasted like dirty soapy water. My little heart was broken with defeat.

Finally after over a month of searching, I've found something acceptable. In an isolated little corner of my local grocery store there is a section called "organic corner". It has packaged organic goods including instant decaf coffee! And it doesn't taste like dirty soapy water!

Now I gladly drink my instant decaf coffee each morning in the crisp fall air on my balcony (and by crisp fall I mean mid to high 70s). I drink my coffee with pride and satisfaction because by drinking it I was able to overcome the biggest obstacle of moving overseas - managing my own expectations.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Depression + Pregnancy Brain + Culture Shock Does Not a Creative Mind Make

Where to start? I want to get personal with you. I want to pour my heart out a little. I want to connect. This is going to be the longest blog post ever written – and no pictures either. I’ve never been one to apologize for not blogging enough. I like to write when I can. I do have an editorial calendar that I try to stick with but over the last several months I’m afraid no schedule could have kept me writing.

I put an exorbitant amount of pressure on myself to make everything in my life just so. So much pressure that in the past I’ve stunted my own growth and creative process. But recently, that has started to change and I think with dramatic personal results.

Like you, I scan through hundreds of images a day of beautifully curated blogs and magazines with professional looking photo shoots of fashion and food, and perfect families and smiling models people. While it is nice to escape to fantasyland now and then thought the rabbit hole that is the Internet, it also gives me an even greater sense of never quite being enough. It’s hard to keep up with the Jones online because you don’t even know the Jones. You don’t get to hear the neighborhood gossip about the Jones, you only see what they want you to see. Though the images are lovely, its hard not to get jealous of others’ success or wonder why when you take a picture it doesn’t quite look like what you had in mind. But that’s the (sometimes glorious) thing about photography, you don’t see reality, you see what the artist sees through their lens. You can crop out the things you don’t want and make the lighting just so.

When I first started writing my blog I didn’t tell very many people I was writing it. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to say and voids I wanted to fill. I spend all of my spare time researching, writing, and teaching myself Photoshop, basic Internet coding, and photography. I wanted to be able to see what was in my head come to fruition. But then, a year into it I started wondering what other people thought of my little venture. The more I reached out the more vulnerable I felt. Not to sum up two years of my life in one sentence but – I went from feeling very fulfilled to feeling like I couldn’t measure up, no matter how many positive and reassuring comments I received. I lost my direction and I was petrified of moving forward.

Then one day in July, it all came to a head. I realized I was pregnant the same week movers were coming to haul my life away to the Middle East. Though this was happy news, it was also the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt like a week before jumping on an airplane my life violently exploded and I was just floating in little pieces out in the ether of outer space. I felt like I wasn’t present in my own body, just watching it go about daily tasks.

Once in Kuwait I became sicker and sicker with first trimester nausea and exhaustion. I slipped into depression. I’d like to share something I wrote on August 25th in my journal:

"Since my arrival to Kuwait I’ve felt sick. I’ve been so sick I haven’t left the house much. At any given moment I’m starving. But I also have that feeling you have right before you vomit. The one where you say to yourself, “oh G*d. This is it.” and you hope you make it to the toilet in time. Except I don’t puke and the only solution is to eat. So I go against my natural feeling and gag down saltine crackers. The sickness is followed by extreme fatigue and mild depression. 

Last night I finally gave in and took a sleeping pill. I slept for 11 hours almost straight without moving. I woke up feeling better than I’ve felt in weeks. For a few hours this morning I didn’t feel nauseated. I ate breakfast, read, listened to music, and then before I could catch myself I passed out on the couch for four hours this afternoon. I was dreaming that I was sleeping there on the couch and that the sun was so bright I couldn’t open my eyes. Gman came home and cradled my head but when I tried to move to touch his arm, I woke up and realized I was alone. It was my dream. It was like when you have two mirrors facing each other and your reflection goes on for eternity. I had to wake up twice. 

I’ve heard stories of women dying of fatigue in Victorian times. I wonder when that went out of fashion, or maybe we call it something else now. 

We are living in a beautiful 3 bedroom 2 and a half bathroom apartment over looking the Gulf of Kuwait. All day long I sit and look out the window at the traditional fishing boats, pleasure craft, and Jet Ski disturbing the peaceful ocean life. Brave individuals walk the 4 mile long Cornish that runs along the water. It is usually 115 degrees outside, after all. The heat drains what little energy I do have. Should I decide to venture out, it sucks me dry before I return to the safety of the air-conditioned apartment. Not to mention, I don’t want to leave the comfort of the many bathrooms should I actually vomit. 

As such, I’ve had lots of time. Normally I would fill this time with busying myself. When in DC I would read the news in the morning, read and research for my blog, travels, and magazine, and then I would work on the magazine and blog. I would schedule lunch dates and squeeze in a run or a P90X video. I would call my family or girlfriends and chat away the afternoon. Then I would barely have enough time to greet Gman and have dinner before heading out to meet friends for happy hour. But now I’m alone. I have myself to contend with. 

You always hope that revelations can come without pain. You hope that you can plan a trip, get away, travel, see new places, and it will open your mind and solve your problems. You hope that by seeing new things you will see your own life with new light- that you will be able to gain enough perspective to get through the hardship. Sometimes that has helped me. Sometimes a trip is just the ticket for snapping myself out of it. But now, now has been the most humbling experience in all of my life." 

I’m feeling much better since writing that. A revelation came over me during that time. Sadness and change are just part of life. It’s part of a natural cycle of emotion. Sometimes you have a good day; sometimes you have a bad one. And that’s ok. It’s just life. It’s not negative, it just is. Pain is awful but it passes. It passes just as quickly as pleasure. Time stands still for no one and feeling sorry for oneself only weakens the precious moments we have. Being that sick also took all of my body’s recourses to cope. I did not have a creative thought in my head. I had all these aspirations to finish issue two of my magazine and spend all that down time researching Islamic art and checking out as many local restaurants as possible. But I couldn’t do anything. And since I was my worst in the evenings, making friends was nearly impossible.

On top of that, I have pregnancy brain (yeah, it’s a real thing.) I forget what I’m doing as I’m doing it. My mind isn’t quite all there. I can’t keep a train of thought going for more than 60 seconds. I’ll just stop as if my brain was a printer and ran out of ink. I don’t think for long periods of time. No thoughts at all. It’s very hard to be creative. Just sitting down to edit a photograph in Photoshop comes with new challenges. Even if I write it down, I’ll forget about a task for days at a time. I have to do things as I think of them, otherwise it will never happen.

Coping with the extreme changes in my life has been more challenging that I was prepared for. As I adjust to new normals and to culture shock, everyday tasks take up most of the day. For example, meal planning. Although I still have no appetite, I have to eat something and I don’t want Gman to have to fend for himself. If I find a few recipes and get the courage to go to the grocery store, likely I’ll find only 80% of what I needed on my list and it takes twice the amount of time I expected to find everything. I have to come up with substitutes for the missing items or scratch what I’ve already collected and just go home. Things like organic, low-sodium liquid chicken stock not existing here has driven me to tears.

I no longer wish to keep up with the Internet Jones. I want my blog to be personal and not a brand or a business. I want to share stories. I want to somehow capture people living through my living. I want to show you the culture I’m experiencing and lessons I’m learning. I want to connect. I want to grow. I want to laugh about it.

As time goes on, and a visit from my mother, I’ve started feeling better. I know the streets around my apartment (there's a Zara and Starbucks within steps. I mean seriously). I generally know where things are at the grocery store (and what they are likely to have - I found frozen organic chickens to make my own stock). I have been able to venture out and make friends. Gman and I are settled into our new home and its beginning to feel quite cozy. The weather has cooled and I spend the mornings reading in the breeze on our balcony. I can see my belly growing and feel the baby kicking. I have the energy to plan my maternity wardrobe, explore Kuwait, and perhaps even start working again. I’ve decided to go home to Tampa to have our little baby boy, where I look forward to sharing such a lovely and life-changing time with family and friends.
I will be finishing issue two of the magazine in the coming weeks, Inshallah (G*d willing). Going forward it will be published twice yearly and online. I wish I had the time and money to print it quarterly, but for now it’s just me and I am stretched too thin. For those of you who ordered a subscription, I will be reaching out to refund your money in the coming weeks. 

I can’t thank you enough for believing in me. Please stick around and see what great things are to come!
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