Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kuwait Resource Links


Kuwait City, Kuwait

Whenever we move to a new place I'm always excited about all the newness. I can't wait to try new restaurants, find cute little shops to frequent, and I can't wait to see who it is that I don't know now but will become my best friend.

But sometimes all that newness is hard to navigate, especially when - like here in Kuwait - many of the streets don't have names, and those delicious restaurants are hard to find (hooray for GPS coordinates!). What if there is a language barrier? How am I going to find a stylist who speaks English well enough to understand how I want my haircut? It can be daunting. 

The best comparison I can come up with for Kuwait City to the US is that it is like a sprawling suburban town nestled between the water and the desert. Replace strip shopping centers with malls, add some dust and you got it. At first glance there is nothing to do here. It's barren, there are no green spaces, there are only American chain restaurants to eat at, and you never meet an actual Kuwaiti person. It can start to feel claustrophobic and lonely. But like most things in life, you get out what you put in. There are many young (and some old) entrepreneurs trying to make their home country as great as they imagine it to be. There are new local restaurants popping up almost monthly (eating is the thing to do here since drinking alcohol is illegal), many focusing on organic, local, fresh ingredients. There are art galleries trying to create an art scene and fashion designers building caftan collections for Ramadan and beyond. The trick is finding it all. 

Just like in an American suburb, having a car to get to said interesting activities is essential. Driving here can be frightening, but bring your best defensive game and try to remain calm. Also dressing appropriately will help you feel like you fit in, I'll discuss this in a separate post soon.

Speaking of, and getting to the point of this post, I've done my best to compile a running list of links and resources to help get you connected if you are new to Kuwait or looking for more than a walk on the Cornishe or a visit to The Avenues Mall once a week. Below you will find not only links to an expat mom groups, local news outlets and upcoming events, but also restaurants, shopping, and whatever else seems interesting!







Here are blogs, websites, and other fun places I find the best information on living in Kuwait. If you aren't already, I recommend getting on Instagram as it is widely used here for business and pleasure.

Additionally here are the posts about my daily life in Kuwait City and my Instagram.

Foodie links:

Eating All the Day. An American expat writes about her local food adventures (she's now living in South Korea, but check her archives for Kuwait locations!).

Bazaar.town The website for the locally popular English/Arabic free magazine (pick one up at Starbucks). They review newly opened trendy/fancy/delicious restaurants in addition to articles about business owners, and listings for events, music, and art.

Qout (farmer's) Market Farmer's Market on the first Saturday of the month from November until April. Best reason to go is the food "trucks".

Events/local news:

248am. and 248pm for local happenings, thoughts from a long time resident, and upcoming events for day and night.

Bazaar.town as mentioned above.

AWARE Center. Great place for Westerns in Kuwait to become more familiar with the culture. Group tours to Liberation Tower, House of Mirrors, Grand Mosque of Kuwait, Dhow sunset dinner cruises, and camel races are scheduled regularly. They also offer Arabic classes and Indi-film screenings.

Kuwait UPTO DATE Follow them on Facebook for frequent posts about local happenings including traffic accidents (yes, that's right), events, news, and random photos.

Kuwait Times One of the only English speaking newspapers in Kuwait.

Lifestyle:

Desert Girl on Kuwait. Hilarious, frank, and sassy rantings of a single American girl living in Kuwait. She does not filter anything, and that's why I read it (hers is a totally different experience in Kuwait than mine as a new mom!). She also has great resource links on the side bar of her blog. Check it out.

Kuwait Moms Guide Pretty much everything you need to know if you have children in Kuwait including schools, after school activities, other educational resources, events, things to do, doctors, and even photographers and birthday party resources (birthday parties are a big thing here). Follow them on Instagram @kuwaitmomsguide or Facebook

Just Landed Classified listings for expats abroad (in general) that has an active Kuwait following.

Fashion:

Confashions from Kuwait. Follow her on Instagram for some seriously fabulous Middle Eastern style. She was my gateway drug to how fashionable women dress in these parts (Conservative? Yes. Dumpy? Anything but!).

Art:

Art Kuwait. Gallery and museum lists, opening details, and featured regional artists.

CAP Kuwait. Contemporary Art Platform Kuwait, the only space I know of that is holding relevant and insightful contemporary art shows in Kuwait (besides the newly opened Almakan below).

Almakan The owner foursome (two female, two male) bring Kuwait something refreshingly different. It's a restaurant (Street), art gallery, and studio all rolled into one. The kitchen cooks up very modern and artistic interpretations of classic Middle Eastern dishes and food in general. They cook what they want to serve you and the menu changes regularly. Check out their website for current shows and menus or follow them on Instagram @Almakan_kw

Qout (Farmer's) Market





The brainchild of two local foodies, Noaf Hussein of Pretty Little Things and Budour Al-Qassar of The Oven Experiments, Qout Market was presented by Al-Qassar at the 2012 Middle East-North Africa Active Citizen Sum-mit, organized by the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), in partnership with the US State Department. At the end of the summit, Qout Market was selected as a grantee and organization be-gan. The first market was in November 2013.

Qout Market is an outdoor farmer’s market (‘qout’ meaning Arabic for ‘food’) that takes place on the first Saturday of every month until April 2014 (which is the end of the growing season). I was so excited to learn about this as I miss going to the Dupont farmer's market terribly. It wasn't exactly the same, still fresh produce is hard to come by. At least the little that can be produced locally is represented there (and at the grocery stores). Most of the booths feature street food (SO good), fresh flowers, artisanal products (there was a woman selling vintage sunglasses and I almost caved and bought all of them), baked goods, and local programming. There were also things to do with your kids, like purchase baby chickens (no joke) and craft stands.

The next market will be on February 1st - This Saturday! Go early and eat all of the foods - like we did!

Follow @Qoutmarket on Instagram for images and up-to-date information. Use hashtag #qoutmarket if you want to share your pictures from the market.

It’s located on the rooftop of Arraya parking lot and open from 10AM to 7PM. GPS Coordinates: 29.376306, 47.990408.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Destination: Grand Mosque of Kuwait


Until moving to Kuwait, I’d never been inside a mosque. I’ve only ever been to or toured Christian churches. With the Grand Mosque open for Westerns to explore, I was excited to see the similarities and differences between the worship spaces.

As with any place of worship, the architecture is seeped in historical significance. The Grand Mosque of Kuwait is designed with tradition in mind and takes heavily from the Persian style. Things like arcades of pillars forming breezy outdoor passageways, a central large dome, and pointed arches. The outside is humble and not at all assuming. One doesn’t expect the grandeur one is about to encounter on the inside.

Upon entering, you are struck by the grandness of saturated blues and gold leaf. Infinite geometric Andalusian style patterned tile work enlivens the space and hand-carved gypsum adds texture while decorative calligraphy draws your eye around the room. If you have a similar background as me, touring mostly cathedral style churches, you will notice a few differences.




First, the room is square with a large central dome and there are no pews. Worship always faces towards Mecca and the square design allows the building to be oriented as such. Praying is not only an emotional act in the Islamic faith, one also physically worships by praying out loud and bending down to bow at various points during the prayer. Here, the carpet indicates a space where worshipers may position themselves. Interestingly, our guide mentioned that this is a reason men and women pray separately. As worshipers come into the space to pray they begin in the front row and as it fills in then go to the next and so on. He said most women would prefer not to bend down numerous times in front of men. I can see how that would be distracting for both sexes.

Secondly, you will notice that the decorative elements in the space don’t include images of people, animals, plants, Mohammed, or Allah. This is because it is believed that attempting to represent God’s creations in art can never truly be as good as the real thing and it is sac-religious to try and depict what God might look like. How could we even comprehend such an image? However, this lack of scenic artwork isn’t lacking in visual interest. Star designs are preferred as they can be infinitely drawn out into as many different patterns as the artist would like. At the Grand Mosque, most of the mosaics are created in the Andalusian style. You might recognize this if you have ever been to the Moorish parts of Spain.

The most important design element in the mosque is the calligraphy. Great pride is taken in selecting the artists, fonts (some fonts are reserved for religious or royal purposes), and words. For instance, at the top of the dome it is common for the 99 Names of Allah (from the Qur’an) to be written out in a decorative manner. At the Grand Mosque you can see the words blending into geometric patterns as they circle around the dome. These were designed and written by Hamid Haddad who is one of the most important calligraphers in the region and whom I believe is now in his 90s. Everywhere I go here, I am captivated by the calligraphy.












The capstone of the Grand Mosque, and clearly their most prideful space, is a side room that is reserved for the Amir and his guests when he comes to worship. He worships in the same space as everyone else – but afterwards uses this space to entertain his guests. The most impressive part of the room is the hand-carved gypsum ceilings. I can’t get over the incredible amount of detail and almost got a sore neck from trying to study it.







As with all Grand Mosques, the Grand Mosque of Kuwait is situated at the conceptual center of Kuwaiti daily life and physically between the political and financial institutions of the city in downtown Kuwait. It opened in 1986 and the main prayer room was recently renovated in 2013 (the outdoor fa├žade and spaces and the ladies prayer room are scheduled to be renovated shortly). The main worship hall can house over 10,000 men and the women’s prayer room up to 950 on regular days of worship. During Ramadan, the surrounding gardens, patios, parking lots, and even the streets outside are transformed into suitable worship space that accommodates hundreds of thousands of people.

The people component is what was missing on our tour. Although the space is impressive and beautiful, clearly a gift from the worshippers to their God, it didn’t seem complete without people. I can’t imagine the chills you would get when you feel the presence of God amongst the worshipers while they pray in unison bringing life and energy to the space.

Tour information:

Daily tours are available through the Western Perception of Islam Center Sundays through Thursdays at 9:00am or 5:00pm. To schedule a tour fill out the form on their website and plan to arrive on time (not too early as you will disrupt prayer time). Ladies, although you will be given proper attire upon arrival – abayas and headscarves – wear conservative, loose fitting clothes. You can bring your own headscarf if you’d like. Also keep in mind that you will remove your shoes for most of the tour while indoors. 

When you arrive at the mosque, tell the gentlemen at the front security/information booth that you are here for an English speaking tour and they will direct you where to go or ask you to wait while they summon your guide. Pictures are permitted and encouraged. Tour usually last one and a half to two hours.

The AWARE Center also arranges a monthly group tour. Check out their calendar for upcoming events and tours.

GPS Coordinates: 29.379646, 47.975203
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