Archive for December, 2011

Sea Side Lunch

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

I don’t normally go out to eat lunch, but today I felt a little extra stir-crazy. In an act of pure selfishness, I decided to go to the Burger King close to my apartment. The biggest hurdle, now that the summer heat is far behind us, is the Gulf Road. With three lanes in each direction and only a slim median in between, it is an amusing game of Frogger. Yes, I could walk to a cross-walk at a light, but where I want to cross is equidistant and a long walk in either direction. Luckily, the ripple effect of the far stop lights give me a safe lull in the traffic after a few minutes.

To say this is a big Burger King is an under-statement. It’s two stories, indoor and outdoor play areas, and tons of seating that look out over a short beach and pier. I order the staple meal; A Whopper, fries and a Coke. For 1.450 KWD, everything tastes as it should. Well, almost everything. The ketchup isn’t quite right. Though I have a bottle of Heinz at the apartment, most restaurants seem to use locally produced condiments. This one is BK branded, but is made in Oman. It isn’t bad, per se, but it isn’t my Pittsburgh-raised ideal.

While I’m eating, and writing, I can look out the window at the water stretching out to the horizon. To think that the gulf is only a few blocks away on three sides is odd. Only on clear day can I see a sliver of it between two buildings when I lean out the kitchen window. Boats and sea-birds dot the blue-green gulf. A low flying military / coast guard helicopter flies past, its wash kicking up chop water. Shortly after, a large military hovercraft passes by as well. The Arabs are quick to point out that this is the Arabian Gulf, though most maps I come across still call this the Persian Gulf. It is a definite point of pride here.

A handful of stray cats lounge in a fenced off garden area. While they are surprisingly happy and healthy looking, you do not want to pet them and a table of covered women gave a passing tabby a wide birth. Other foreigners gape and take pictures of the kittens.

I’ve sat in the unofficial bachelors section. There is a bit of a taboo surrounding young men. Some restaurants and entertainment areas either have a ban on single men or have “family” sections. There aren’t any signs here at BK, but there is a noticeable self-segregation. As an obvious foreigner, however, would have given a bit of leeway but these are some of the best seats in the house.

Another difference here is that no one clears their own table. While we’ve been trained to bus our own tables at fast food restaurants, that is not the case here. All pervasive is the attitude that someone else will clean it up. Though that is true here in the restaurant, it’s not true on the streets as litter and detritus piles up. It is one of my bigger complaints about living here. It makes walking, an already dangerous proposition with the lack of sidewalks, even less pleasant.

With my meal finished, I head back to the apartment.

Dis-dis-location

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Sitting in an American brand coffee shop in the Salmiya district of Kuwait, I can’t help but feel a sense of dislocation with the sense of dislocation promised me when I first arrived. While arabic is quite prevalent, with most signage in both Arabic and English, I can go days without a real miscommunication. In fact, most of the common interactions that I have with people are with non-natives who probably speak english better than they speak arabic. English/American culture, with a heavy skew towards American, is pervasive. Obviously, up to this point, I’ve spent most of my time in expat areas. But even places like the “Friday Market” and the “Souk Al-Mubarakiya” are relatively easy to manage with an embarrassingly small grasp of the language or culture. Negotiation in broken English and hand signs often suffice. Cabs can find most landmarks with even my shameful pronunciations.

The very basics, like shopping for food, can even be taken for granted. At a Chicago like distance from our apartment, the closest grocery store carries familiar brands and English labels on nearly everything. Many of our comfort foods are here and at prices that are similar to Chicago, expensive but not outlandish. While our favorite stores offer the polish of our western expectations, cheaper fare can be found in the local co-ops and markets. Though you may have to brave a slightly grungier appearance, they are really no worse than many of the inner-city stores that I’ve seen in in America.

A sunset view of Al Khansa Street in Salmiya Kuwait. This is a single exposure a little bit of cleanup in Photoshop.