Thursday, December 12, 2002

Christmas is fast approaching, but we are only aware of it if we really think about the fact. Karla is out self improving at a teacher's meeting. I have chosen to stay home and look for a car, get some Christmas cards finished, correct some student work and update the website.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Chirstmas Letter 2002

Dear Friends and Family,

This year we began a new phase in our lives. Karla finished her Masters degree and returned to the class to teach. I finished an unsatisfying job teaching in Canada and am enjoying grade 6 in Kuwait more. Kuwait is a satisfactory place to live. The quality of life is very mixed, but we are achieving our goal of saving some money.

The first half of the year is old news, but here is a brief reminder. January to June we enjoyed the Canadian winter and spring. Karla worked her butt off finishing up her thesis and doing a bit of executive English teaching. She wrote about Willa Cather and the relationship between the artist and her fans. In February we went to Kingston to look for a job teaching overseas. After a couple of anxious weeks waiting we were offered a position in Kuwait. The school was one of our first choices and we took it, even though the job was in the middle school, instead of the high school. To celebrate we spent the spring break on a little tourist island in Cuba gulping down the complimentary Pina Coladas. It was relaxing, but after a week we had had enough of “the good life” and were eager to get back to the real world.

In June, we bought a trailer and packed up the car to a seriously unadvised degree. Our last day in Montreal began with a final delicious breakfast at Cosmos and a flurry of packing. Despite a rough start, a few delays, several bouts of despair and a few soggy boxes, the whole enchilada made it to Humbolt (bikes thanks to Phillip and Greyhound!) where is it safely stored. Karla’s sister, Lianne has the brave little vehicle since we left. We hear they are taking very good care of each other.

Just before the trip across county we made a weekend trip/visit to see Mallorie, an old friend of Karla’s (someone she had spent a lot of time with in Costa Rica) who now lives in downtown Manhattan (New York City). This was one of the year’s highlights. Not only was it a great visit with an old friend, but we walked until we were ready to drop and managed to see the Metropolitan Museum, The Empire State Building, Central Park, Time Square, a play on Broadway (called Metamorphoses – it was awesome), Little Italy, Chinatown, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty, the remnants of the Twin Towers (sad) and East Village (where Mallorie lives)! The weekend was gorgeous – sunny and hot. I’d recommend a visit to New York City any day!

The summer was the usual visiting marathon of family gatherings, folk festivals, weddings and garden tours. The highlights here include wing night, bacci ball, riding up Honey Bee, getting down with Michael Frani in Calgary, watching the northern lights in Winnipeg, getting a new passport for Karla (in record time!), Slurpees in Edmonton, picking huckleberries, checking out the new homes of friends in Winnipeg and Saskatoon (it was the house purchasing year), eating sushi in Saskatoon (a highlight for Karla as Jamie hates sushi), barbequing in Tom’s home-welded fire pit, and of course, spending time with family and friends.

In August we headed off to Kuwait. Our flight to Frankfurt was delayed by a big dog barking in the cargo hold. We barely made it to Frankfurt in time to dash across the airport to make our flight. It was a good thing we made it. The one teacher who missed his flight had to wait 8 or 9 days to get another. Everyone leaves Kuwait during the infernal summer, (even the locals) and so the flights back in August are very full. I was surprised to see the passengers. We could have been on just about any flight. There were all different races and ages of people and lots of families.

Several of our bags didn’t make the quick connection with us. After filing the paperwork, we breezed through the bag x-ray check without a single question and were in Kuwait. It’s hot and it’s mostly modern. We spent the first week getting all the paperwork done for our new residency. All the tests and forms we had to fill out before we came, were all done again when we got here. You need to get a blood test before you come, another for your residence visa, and yet another for your civil ID.

The school is well serviced and the kids are mostly very polite. The Kuwaiti approach to child rearing depends to a large degree on hiring someone to do it. Even to the point of the parents living on one floor of an apartment and the kids and maids living on another (in extreme cases). In the elementary school there is one family that lives in the Sheraton. On a grade seven science test, one question was: “The __________ ant: this kind of ant feeds and nurtures the young.” Several students guessed and wrote the answer “maid”. So a lot of the kids are used to one-on-one attention. What they don’t get at school, they pick up with their tutor.

We don’t have to worry about guns in school, or keeping track of 40 students at a time. We do have a few wealthy and quite learning disabled students to look after (but at least with the help of their tutors). Besides working at the school, Karla and I are both tutoring a couple kids a few times a week. Tutoring is often just playing a parent: sitting with a kid and helping him or her get through the day’s homework and maybe doing a bit of reading. So although we work a lot, it’s not arduous.

We make enough extra money tutoring to pay the day-to-day bills so we don’t really need to touch our salary. We are living pretty low-class lives compared to most here. We don’t have a car yet, but when we do it will be an old one. We don’t have satellite TV, a fancy home entertainment unit or a mobile phone. We don’t go out to eat at the fancy restaurants very often. We do have a maid that does most of our cleaning. She comes twice a week, and if we time it just right, we don’t need to do the dishes at all! We do eat out quite a bit. We can get dinner for two, Indian or Lebanese or unusual pizza for about 5 or 10 dollars.

Leisure time for us is pretty limited. With 6 or so hours a week of tutoring (for each of us), plus keeping on top of classes, there’s not a lot of time left. And when there is, we just take it easy. We haven’t been out much – no museums, no movies. We go out with friends for a meal, or over to someone’s place to have a sip of homemade wine or beer. A couple times we’ve gone out to a chalet –which in Kuwait is a condominium by the beach where the less well off families go on the weekends. It’s not very nice, but at least it’s out of the city. We are definitely feeling a lack of a natural world around us. The time we enjoy, we enjoy less than we do in Canada or we did in Turkey.

Kuwait City is built around a system of ring roads and freeways. It is designed for cars. Since everything is flat and sandy, there are no impediments to urban sprawl. The city is spread out far and wide. Without a car, you really are very isolated. It is like being confined to a small town. The local grocery stores and restaurants are handy, but don’t have the selection of the larger ones in the other areas of town. Hopefully, once we have a car things will improve a bit.

We are spending Christmas in Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India. A friend of ours that Karla went to high school and university with is visiting his girlfriend, who is working there. So we won’t be alone for the holiday. It will be wonderful to be somewhere that is green (and hilly!) after being here in the flat land of beige.

Wherever you are and whoever you are with there are wonderful things to be celebrated and to be thankful for.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

It is alive! The first version is up. It's not all there, but at least it's something to look at. There are no notes from Karla or myself. Nor am I ready to accept your submissions (but from the html book I looked at I hope to give you space to send us words and pictures on the website).