June 10th, 2004 – Preparing for Vacation
As we close in on another vacation, things are getting crazy. Preparations are almost complete for our trip to Thailand, Los Angeles and Calgary. I am excited about taking a break as my brain has been pounded with the frustrations of working here in Kuwait.
Lorie has finished teaching and handed out report cards this morning. She has caught a bit of a cold and I am hoping she can shake it before we leave on Vacation. She has signed up for next year, although she will be working in High School rather than Elementary. I am sure it will be quite a change for her. She adapted well to teaching a group of forth grade girls and I am sure she made it interesting for each of them. Of course there were the occasional challenges but she is pretty good at adapting quickly to a new environment.
The boys have definitely switched off of the usual routine. I went to their new school today and talked briefly to some of the staff. The will need to wear actual uniforms next year so that will be a change. The American International School of Kuwait (AIS) decided only yesterday to enforce the uniform policy. It will cost us more for clothes because of that and I am sure Lorie will not be pleased.
I have a few things to take care of at work before I leave. I am on training in Khafji for my last two days so I really start my vacation a bit early. There are some major projects that my boss had hoped would be further along before I leave but I am at the mercy of others who have conflicting priorities. That is the usual fare for this part of the world. What would take a couple of hours in the US or Canada can take weeks here. I tried to schedule a meeting and after 5 days of postponements, I finally gave up. This is not an environment conducive to optimal performance.
On the way in to work today I passed a rather nasty wreck on the Gulf road. Apparently a very fast moving Caddy slammed into the back of a small car and then slid over 200 feet before crashing into a light post. I am hoping the small car was not occupied at the time but it is very likely that a few people died. The posted speed limit was 80 kph (50 mph) and the Caddy was probably traveling at 140+ kph. Not a good way to start the day.
June 1st, 2004 – Khobar Tragedy
Read my CBC News Viewpoint article on CBC.ca
April 28th, 2004 – Short Trip to Saudi and Bahrain
Just after work we departed for a long weekend trip to Saudi and Bahrain. When we arrived at the Kuwait-Saudi boarder, it was obvious that everyone had the same idea. It took us over half an hour to make our way out of Kuwait and then the fun started. The visa for Jared was incorrect! His indicated he was going to Syria while all the others showed Bahrain. It really was not a big deal except that we had to wait over an hour for the Captain to return so they could correct the mistake. By then the line of cars waiting to go through customs clearance had expanded to 12 lanes wide and 30 long. It took another hour to get to the front of that queue. Fortunately the customs check was very quick and we were on our way.
I was real happy because the highway for the first hour from the border is not divided. At night this can mean some serious oncoming traffic. It is bad enough driving on the highway in this area when 99 percent of the cars are going in the same direction. It is another story when you see three or four sets of headlights bearing down on you on a two lane road. And you know that the ones in your lane are probably sailing along at 160 kph (100 mph) or more. It calls for a level of attention that would challenge a fighter pilot in a dogfight. Fortunately we were able to make the journey without serious incident. A few close calls (even for here) but no scrapes or dents.
Once we were on the dual carriageway (or divided highway for some of us), it was an uneventful trip to the Holiday Inn resort on Half-Moon bay just South-West of Dhahran. In spite of my concern for being able to find the place, the meager directions and a few well placed signs on the highway made it easy. It was late and we simply unloaded and hit the sack.
:: April 29th, 2004
On Thursday morning, I arose early and took a beautiful early morning stroll around the resort. The grounds and lagoon are very attractive and quite a contrast to the surrounding desert. The hotel forms a horseshoe around the lagoon. There are a few palm trees scattered around and a fairly nice pool. Though there is not much shade, the effect is quite relaxing given the starkness of the surroundings. Jennifer was a bit miffed since they did not permit women to go swimming. They had a ‘Women’s Pavillion’ under construction near the parking lots but it would not be completed for several months. It would naturally be off limits to all men.
Once everyone was up, we piled into the car and drove Al-Khobar for some breakfast and shopping. We drove along the coast and finally arrived at a Burger King restaurant about an hour later only to discover that it didn’t open for another half-hour. Apparently breakfast on a ‘logical’ Saturday is not the normal fare in this area. We piled back into the car and headed for the old shopping area to exchange some Kuwaiti Dinars into Saudi Riyals.
We parked in the shade (excellent find) and walked to a nearby money exchange. There was a huge crowd present, spilling out the doorway onto the sidewalk. We turned around and headed up the street to see if we could find another. After walking around for a while, we found one that had no crowd at all. It took about fifteen minutes to change some money. Not because of any crowd, just because they are really slow at anything that involves math and money. It beat waiting an additional hour at the other place.
We walked back to the car and headed onto Gulf Road to try our luck at the restaurants there. We tried a couple of others and finally stopped at MacDonalds to wait until they opened. We were famished! Burgers for breakfast was not any of our first choice!
After breakfast, we drove North along the Gulf road and then cut over on Pepsi Road to the Khobar-Dammam road for a trip down memory lane. A kilometer down the road we passed the Seaview Compound. This was where we lived in 1980, shortly after we arrived in Saudi. They had added some more villas but it didn’t look much different. The trees were much bigger than I remembered them though. As we continued along the Khobar-Dammam expressway, I noticed that all the small date farms were gone. In their place were warehouses, a few modern buildings and lots of bleak-looking ones. We also notice an enormous shopping cart. It must have been 50 or 60 feet high. We decided to check out the market behind it. It was the ‘Giant Store’. It would give Walmart and Sams Club a run for their money.
We spent the remainder of the morning driving around and exploring. The area has been developed and even though it still had the look of the desert everywhere you went, there was a lot more green space than is evident in Kuwait City. We meandered around the streets and even stopped to visit the Babtain Building. This unobtrusive apartment building was our first home when we arrived on December 30th, 1979. The abandoned empty lot was still there. Without the farm down the street and the small store in the building across the street, though, it really didn’t have that familiar feel to it. We stopped at the old Souqs shopping center. This was near where all the soldiers were killed at the end of the first Gulf war. We could still see the damaged warehouse off behind the shopping center. They had renovated the shopping center quite a bit but the original buildings could still be picked out if you looked for them. The sign for the donut shop was still there although the shop was not.
As we drove around, we noticed several prominent sculptures placed strategically at intersections. They served as stark warnings of the danger of driving in the region. The cars were battered beyond recognition. Not at all unlike the wrecks that we see alongside the roads in Kuwait. These are placed intentionally to remind drivers of the dangers. I am not sure many of them get the message!
Shortly after noon we returned to the hotel. The shops all closed at noon and it was getting pretty hot. After a short breather, Jared, David and I headed down to the lagoon and pool. We waded across the lagoon (which was not over my head). We then spent some time splashing around in the pool. We got bored though, since Jenni and Lorie were not there to antagonize so we went back to the room.
:: April 30th, 2004
On Friday morning we packed up early and drove to Dhahran. We were searched rigorously at both gates and called some friends to sponsor us. The guard in the visitor center seemed interested that I had a Kuwaiti registration. When I told him I had worked for Aramco, he asked me for my ID number and I rattled it off without a pause. He was very friendly and even kidded around about only getting one phone call.
Once we were on the Aramco Camp, we drove around to visit a few of our old haunts before church. The huge trees along the outer roads were quite impressive. Although there were a few changes, it looked very familiar. It brought back many memories for all of us (except David who was too young). We visited all three of our previous homes here. They looked much the same but the trees and greenery was much more developed.
When we showed up at church, we were greeted by a host of old friends. Many we had not seen in over 10 years. They recognized us immediately (and likewise, us – them). After the service we spent some time visiting and then joined some friend for lunch before leaving for Bahrain.
:: Bound for Bahrain
The drive to Bahrain from the Dhahran-Khobar-Dammam tri-city area is fairly simple. We headed for the causeway and drove for 10 minutes to the mid-point island where the immigration and customs facilities are. Our transition from Saudi to Bahrain took about half an hour. They made us open our trunk but didn’t make us unload anything. Then we spent another 10 minutes driving to the island of Bahrain. It took us longer to drive to the hotel in Manama.
:: Bahrain Sightseeing
We unloaded some of our stuff and then headed off to explore Bahrain. We managed to navigate our way to the ‘Tree of life’. This tree is in stark contrast to the barren nature of its surroundings. There is no vegetation visible anywhere nearby. The tree, with its huge and expansive branches, has reportedly been growing for 200 years.
We headed back to the hotel where we enjoyed a late lunch in the lounge. After a short break in the hotel room, we went out for another short exploration. We were the only visitors at the old fort. Not too many tourists in this area. Particularly during the mid-afternoon. Most people use the afternoon to sleep so they can stay awake later in the evening when it is cool.
We stopped by a large shopping center and nosed around a little. Finally we went back to the hotel, fixed some soup and sandwiches and settled down for some TV and sleep.
:: May 1st, 2004
The next morning we did a bit more shopping before we headed back to Kuwait. I bought an auto-adapter for my laptop. This turned out to be a bad move because I managed to connect it backwards and terminate my laptop. Lorie had planned to work on the way back to Kuwait but, alas, the beast was dead! The only hope is that someone will scoop it up on eBay for salvage. We also had some trouble with our CD player but I suspect I can fix that when we get home. Technology is such a pain…
We began our long trek back to Kuwait. Once again we crossed the causeway, through Khobar and back along the 500 kilometer drive North to our apartment in Mahboula, Kuwait. The trip went without incident and we managed to make it back to the divided highway in Kuwait before the sun set. There is no place like home, even if it is in a foreign country!
April 20th, 2004 – David's 12th Birthday Party
David celebrated his 12th birthday with a large group of his close friends. They spent most of the afternoon frolicking in the Union Center swimming pool. As boys will be boys, they had chicken fights and had a grand time tossing one another about. An excellent way to wear down a large group of boisterous boys.
Following the pool, they settled down for cake, hot dogs and koolaid in front of a movie. Many of the boys even tried the cucumber dogs we had prepared for the few who were not fond of dead animal flesh.
Cheers, Thom Gordon
March 9, 2004
The bright sunlight and blue canopy above us is a nice reminder of the clear skies of Calgary but the weather is not the least bit normal for this time of year. We have gradually moved into the ‘air-conditioning’ season, although it will get much hotter even before summer gets here. True, it can get hotter in Calgary during August and the average home has no A/C but we were uncomfortably warm this past week before they turned on the central air conditioning in our apartment.
The fact that we missed another chilly season in Alberta helps to overcome some of the depressing aspects of Kuwait. Considering the fantastic weather and hordes of low-paid labor, much of the city is quite hideous. There are a few places where you can forget you are living in a country with little natural beauty but most of it looks rundown like a forgotten inner-city that has been long-since abandoned. The few places of sanctuary are intensely man-made.
Even the few good beaches have sand that is imported! Most beaches are awash with trash from the many overnight visitors. There is a strange mindset here that is totally alien to most Canadians. One young Kuwaiti commented, when asked about a totally trashed school lunch area, that he felt it was his duty to provide work for the foreign laborers who were hired to clean up after them. While we are taught to take personal responsibility for the ‘cleaning up’ part, the young people here are taught to care for the less fortunate who are commissioned to do the ‘cleaning up’ for them! This is an interesting twist of logic that makes us look inconsiderate for taking the job from others.
We have not had many opportunities to explore the less populated regions of the country so we have some exploring to look forward to. There are apparently some nicer areas up north and west. Even Iraq has some nice places to visit. That may have to wait a few years until things settle down a little. It would be nice to escape the squalor and clutter of the area we live in more often.
:: Roaming the Desert
We did manage to take a short jaunt down to Wafra in early February. I had hoped we could do some exploring of the Wafra Farms but, alas, all the signs were in Arabic and we had no idea where anything was. After a bit of aimless driving around we headed west to the desert.
Jared and David both took turns driving around the relatively vacant expanse west of Wafra. Both did fairly well although David, at 11 was the more disconcerting. He drove the SUV around much like he would navigate in a computer game. Fortunately there was not much to hit (although he still tried). We spent a few hours just roaming around the area which was dotted here and there by small groups of buildings. No vegetation at all but we did see a variety of animals.
At one point we stopped near a large herd of sheep and a few donkeys. They began slowly moving towards us, bleating and looking at us with those pathetic sad eyes. I know they don’t get many visitors but we made our getaway before they followed us too far. At one point Jared ground the bottom of the Toyota on a gravel bump and spent the rest of the trip claiming it wasn’t his fault! Actually, I must take credit since I insisted he take the worst path off a small hill. It sounded much worse that it was but was a good lesson in driving adventures to avoid.
We headed back to the city and arrived in time to make a showing at the birthday party of one of Lorie’s 4th grade girls. It was at the fabulous and exciting scientific center. Our boys were quite a hit with the girls at the party. We had some cake and chatted briefly with some of the birthday girl’s family. We didn’t spend much time in the center itself but we did take a walk along the sea wall adjacent the center. The sun over the Scientific Center was magnificent. It was one of those fabulous times and places that helps you forget you are living in an area that needs serious improvement.
To be honest, Kuwait is trying to improve the situation but, at the pace they are going, it might barely be done in time for the next millennium. Most of the occupied country resembles a poorly managed construction site. At times it can be difficult to tell which buildings are going up and which ones are being torn down.
:: February – Holidays Galore
February has been a month of too many holidays. It began with a full week holiday to celebrate the Eid and ended with the celebration of National and Liberation days. We have watched too much television and spent too much time on the computer. We are now planning for our summer vacation and I will be glad for a change of scenery. Many people escaped for one or both of the holidays but we stayed home.
:: Burns Night - February 13th
The Caledonia Society put on another gala Scottish event at the Crowne Plaza in celebration of the everlasting Robbie Burns. This year, in addition to the usual fare of Haggis, Burns poetry and speeches we were treated to three pipers.
Bader Mohammed, our illustrious Kuwaiti piper, was joined by our friend John Westin and another to produce a thoroughly enjoyable performance. It is amazing how well the three sounded together. We also caught the three of them out at Bader's farm a few weeks later (see below).
The meal they delivered was exquisite and we had many of our close Canadian friends in attendance with us. It made me laugh a bit when they ushered in the Haggis. The ceremony of addressing the Haggis is really over the top as far as ceremonies go. The true Scotsman they brought in for the event did a fabulous job of ushering in the Haggis. The greatest part was how seriously he made it look. OK, I did try the Haggis again this year but I promise I didn’t enjoy it…
:: CWL Country Dance - February 19th
The Canadian Women’s League followed up the next weekend with a fabulous country dance at the Crown Plaza again.
The food was superb and the DJ played a great mix of music. Unlike many of the musical functions here, we knew most of the music. Lots of great country tunes and songs that were
popular in the 60s and 70s. There were some great contests that had many of the attendees baffled.
We met plenty of new people. Many of them teachers and most, but not all, were Canadian. There was a small group from Ireland and even a few token Americans. We danced and chatted the night away and left only when the music got less Country. It was after midnight and well after my bedtime so we trundled home leaving the morning to more robust individuals.
Lorie and Jennifer put in a lot of effort arranging things and it certainly paid off. Everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Bader put in an appearance providing a great crossover between the Scottish and Country events.
:: Baseball and Liberation - February 26th
Kuwait Liberation day coincided with our anniversary so we decided to take in a rather unique event - a good old-fashioned American baseball game. A group of American soldiers from Doha camp were playing the Kuwait Little League teams.
They had free pop and hamburgers and great prizes. Much to Lorie’s dismay we came away empty handed but the baseball was excellent and we had a good time. Even though we didn’t know any of the players, some of them put on a real show. There were several powerful home runs by the big guys but even some of the less inclined players managed some great plays. One small woman managed a triple after a series of errors as the ball followed her around the bases.
I chatted with a few of the soldiers. Some were looking forward to leaving shortly while others had just arrived. They appreciated a little bit of Americana to remind them of home. They all enjoyed having someone to talk to and didn't mind that we were mere Canadians.
The kids had a great time too. They had a chance to ham it up for some folks that would truly appreciate it. It was great to see folks of all ages out. There were plenty of Kuwaitis as well. They fit right in, cheering along with everyone else. This was, after all, a celebration of the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 by a coalition force led by the determined Americans.
:: Search for the Wild Side
After the baseball games, we went for a drive north-east of the city. We had hopes to see flamingoes but apparently they don’t arrive until April. Although the terrain can be interesting, most places that are within easy driving distance contain an over-abundance of trash. We drove along the north coast of the inlet and stopped for a stroll along the soft sandy beach. Once you get through the trash, it is rather tranquil and as long as you look in the right direction, you can pretend you are in paradise. We managed to find a strange pencil fish lying on the sand who had obviously been there for some time. He was quite dried out and not looking too healthy. Lorie talked the boys into taking him home, although I didn’t think he would make a good pet!
:: Bagpipes in the Desert - February 27th
The day following, we ventured into the desert West of the oilfields to Bader Mohammed's farm. It was more of a tract of undeveloped land with several tin buildings scattered about. The surrounding area had much of the same style of buildings.
He had a huge brightly painted trailer that serves at the coop for his many pigeons. He has trained them to turn summer salts and is very proud of them.
The three pipers who played at the Burns night were all there and practiced a few tunes. Jared and David both had lessons and are getting quite proficient. Jared is beginning to fill the bag but, for the time being is content to play the main pipe only. Once he develops some stamina he will advance to all three drones as well.
We enjoyed plenty of food and drink with the group out in the desert. The women had a small barbecue fired up and cooked chicken and some kebabs as well. We had to contend with quite a few pesky flies but it was a great visit. The temperature was warm but bearable. Since there is no air conditioning at the farm, it will not be bearable in another month.
:: Back to the Grind
Now we are back to 5 day work weeks and it is tough after so many holidays. The kids have the spring break to look forward to in a month but I have to wait until July! Normally I would expect to go insane but in this country it would be hard to tell when the onset actually occurred! We have full weekends planned for the next few weeks and probably through June.
This coming weekend we have a full slate. On Wednesday night (logical Friday in North America) we are going out to supper with the Les and Donna Crowder before checking out all the events at the Ahmadi fair. On Thursday, Lorie has a Christian retreat and I plan on taking the boys to a bird sanctuary and possibly a nature reserve. Friday after church we have invited a couple of families over for lunch and fellowship.
The next weekend is already booked. We have a big walk slated from the Scientific Center along the Gulf Road to the Green Island recreation area. It is about 8 kilometers during the hottest part of the day. The temperature is likely to be mid to high 20s and may even hit the low 30s. A couple of weeks ago we went on a 5 kilometer walk and it was in the 20s with overcast skies. It was perfect. If the sun is out for this walk it could be a great way to lose a few liters of body fluids!
Lorie has been struggling with a new diet and is determined to make it work. It seems that there are so many things that she can’t eat. She has also taken to walking up the 11 flights of stairs to our apartment. I even join her occasionally on the long climb and it is a good workout. It will get a lot tougher as the temperature climbs, but maybe by then we will be in better shape.
Enough babbling for now. I have not been up to sorts lately so I apologize if my rantings this month are tough to bear. Hope you enjoyed the photos.
January 15, 2004
Rain is rare in Kuwait. But every once in a while it comes with a fury. This past week has seen not one, but two such rainstorms. Not the torrential rains of Houston but enough to cause monumental flooding. Sunday, January 11th was the first serious rain we had gotten for a long time. It set records and the flooding near our apartment building was rather dramatic.
I made the mistake of avoiding the freeways and using an alternate road. Apparently the water had washed a foot of mud across the road near its far end and I spent an hour and a half parked in traffic moving at about 1.5 km per hour (2,500 fathoms per fortnight for the mathematically adept). I did finally make it to work although I wasn’t the last.
I was more fortunate than many. Although I did have to venture through a bit of water, I didn’t get stuck and at least I had an office to go to. My daughter’s school had torrents of water literally coming through the walls. They also had water gushing from an electrical panel. Fortunately it was inoperative. The principal cancelled classes, much to the delight of the students and, I am sure, horror of the parents who had to contend with them at home.
One of my co-workers had a foot of water in his house that resulted in all his clothes being ruined. He managed to make it to work anyway. Another Canadian had threaded his way through and around the tangle of jack-knifed trucks on the Fahaheel Expressway to make it to work. He took to the ditch and within seconds he led a dozen cars around the major blockade. Naturally there was one joker at the back of the pack flashing his headlights in a vain attempt to tell those in front of him to make way.
While the problems caused by this rainfall were quickly being swept away, we experienced a second record-breaking rainfall on January 13th. This time we were almost stranded by the flooding on roads around our building. I had to drive several others to work when their bus showed up with a flat tire. Once again I found myself mired in slow-moving traffic for over an hour.
Everyone is convinced that the rain is over for this year but I am a pessimist to the core. They have been working for most of the past year to install cisterns in the Gulf Road near our apartment to resolve the flooding but I don’t think it will be enough. The Gulf Road is built so it captures and keeps the rainwater rather than letting it flow across to the actual Arabian Gulf. Since it rains so seldom, flooding does not appear to be something they really plan for.