Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Belated Christmas

I'm sorry I haven't posted and sorry I haven't sent blog Christmas wishes to all my friends.

I'm in Virginia where it has been crazy cold, but nice. I was looking forward to a little snow, but I got a little frost and that's good enough for me. Mashallah, everything has been good so far. I'm going to try to extend the visit a little because truthfully - I don't want to leave.

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and I hope that we ALL have a much better 2009.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yet another reason why I love Kuwait

Isn't contrast great? Traditional vs. modern...

These undergarment shops are all over Kuwait - you just have to go to most of the basement stores(known as "souq shaabi"). (I don't really want to refer to them as "lingerie" shops as the word itself implies more elegance than these garments deserve.) We fondly refer to these shops as "the dirty underwear stores". You will find yer fancy party/dancin' clothes, feathers, fur, shiny stuff - whatever your heart desires. It's all right here. In fact, earlier this year I even found a rinestone-studded leather riding crop. Imagine that. Giddy up little pony, we on our way to the rodeo!

This one is in Salmiya right under the Kwik Copy store in Jawhara Center off Salem Al-Mubarak Street. They have an entire Chrismas collection. There are also a few good ones right below the Gulf Royale restaurant in Salmiya.

Looking to get your girl that special gift? Because nothing is more special than the gift of giving....

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I love the Royale Hayat Hospital!

I’m in love with the Royale Hayat Hospital. People have been telling me for several years now that I should go there and check them out. I just did and I’ve never had a more pleasant experience at the gynecologist – ever. (Some of you perves might take that the wrong way, but it is completely innocent – PURGY!). First and foremost, the RH is managed by Banyan Tree Resorts, so it is just like a high quality hotel. You drive up, and there is valet parking; you walk in and there is a “reception” desk. The lobby is dimly lit and tranquil – as are the exam rooms (no screaming brats either). The nurses are professional - unlike some who just stand there and stare at you. The bathrooms even have aromatherapy going on (mint!). It even has a spa and its goooooooooorgeous (everything has been brought in from Thailand)!

Ok prices: They are a little higher than what you would pay elsewhere. The initial visit is 22 KD and then after that, visits are 10 KD (which is below the market for International Clinic and Mowasat).. I would pay (and did pay) more just for the service. In both Mowasat and International Clinic, I feel like I’m going to a stock yard rather than a patient care facility. My RH experience was quiet and tranquil and I felt completely relaxed. The last thing you want to be when you go to the GYN is uptight. RH has designed the reception desks to allow for complete confidentiality (unlike International Clinic where the receptionists don’t have a problem shouting “PAP smear!” at the top of their lungs. If you have ever been to IC you will know that their reception desks at any floor resemble the deli counter at the grocery store.). The RH spa offerings are priced slightly higher, but dayam – looking at the quality of the treatment rooms (and what else is offered around Kuwait), I would say that is worth it also.

They don’t take Gulf Insurance – which is what I have, but they will let you do reimbursement if you bring them a GIC form. My doctor at RH, Dr. Ghazawwi (who used to be at Mowasat but moved and now looks so much calmer and more relaxed) assured me that he would only write “gynecological visit” on the form for confidentiality because he immediately knew about the problem.

Oh, and get this – they have a GIFT SHOP in the spa! A gift shop! I can shop when I go to the Southern Region doctor! Wooooo hoooooo!

Seriously, I wanted to check in. It was THAT cool.

I usually go to Mowasat, but if I ever go there again, I wish someone would smack me hard across the face. What sparked my retreat to Royale Hayat was the fact that I made a 6:00 appointment with a doctor at Mowasat, and sat in the waiting room until 7:30 waiting to get in. What Mowasat does is to make appointments for a set time, but give numbers. I was #4 at 6:00. There were something like 13 others behind me. Is that fair? I should send them MY invoice for the time they kept me waiting. I called RH from the waiting room and made an appointment. Mowasat sucks.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Smelly Cat Update

Slaperella told me to use chili powder on my welcome mat. While looking for the chili powder (my housekeeper's "organizational" skills are freakish), and several refreshing drinks, found some wasabi powder, so I made a noxious blend. The Slaps Theory is that when Le Chat squats to lay one of those enormous poops on my welcoming mat, it will burn its furry little ass. (Whaaaaaaa? It's not torture! My other alternative was trapping it and trying to convince PAWS that it was a nice kitty and should be given a loving home.)

This was before I heard about the orange peels and/or citrus sprays (thank you to those of you who commented. It is now stored in my trivial stuff database where I'm sure I'll be able to save it for later).

I also had gates put in. Desert Dawg will have to stay inside (as slaps says, "Your new home is as big as a park.") during the day while I'm not home (I ordered a "doggy box" for discreet indoor use). While I am home, I have a total of 3 new gates (locking one at the top of the stairs, another at the bottom of the stairs, and a 2M high one with locks at the back of the terrace that wraps around the house). I've already ordered motion-detectors from the US (I haven't seen them here - does anyone know if they exist in Kuwait?). All for the protection of my dog.

Go ahead funny people - laugh. I love my dog.

When I was 13, I got a pony for my birthday (no, I wasn't really a spoiled little girl - the pony in case was 30 years old and had a whooping cough and was barely alive and I had to rescue it). Cost of the pony: $100. So, my stepfather built a barn and levelled land for a coral (in February. In Rhode Island). Total cost: $25,000.

Desert Dawg's fences are a drop in the bucket.

Anyhoo, long-story-short, between my security obsession and the chili powder, I think the phucking cat/leopard/cow-patty-producer has moved on.

I'm sure my neighbors are laughing their asses off. "Stupid Amreekia!" I used to laugh at people like me too - until I became one. (Ok, I'm still laughing. Most often at myself. Ergo the blog.) Peace of mind is sometimes hard earned. Peace of MY mind is no easy matter!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

VIVA la competition!!!!

Arab Times today.


Dudes - COMPETITION IS GOOOOOOOOD.


Why should they "control competition in the market"? Finally, a company comes along that offers service to their customers that the other mobile companies are not providing - and they call a meeting to discuss how to control it - "a way out"? What - are they like the lines of same business-type shops (shoes for example) that put stores right next to each other (as in Samiya for example) and then all of a sudden the prices are all fixed/similar?

Sure VIVA is using aggressive marketing ploys! Good for them! Isn't that what the SHOULD be doing? Isn't that good business? What, did someone have say - a CREATIVE ORIGINAL IDEA - and it pissed off the old boys? God forbid someone in Kuwait should step outside of the box! It might be the collapse of civilization! Let's call our friends together for a meeting. This is awful! We didn't plan for this to happen.

Ever heard of "strategy"?

If the other telecomms companies - Zain and Wataniya - want to keep up, they should adjust. Change or stagnate. Stagnate and die.


How about this:
  • Peak and low calling periods with advertised rates!
  • Commonly called groups ("friends & family") at a discount (I think this is one of Viva's new ploys).
  • On-line statements with billing details and stats.
  • and my personal favorite - the ability to "own" your number/take it with you if you decide to switch to another provider (Viva - here I come....)
Why shouldn't telecomms companies be competitive? Oh... oh.... you mean that Zain and Wataniya might loose market share??? What are they - the chosen ones? Ma Bell?


I tell you what "strangulation" is: my 200 kd/month Zain bill with no itemization of call charges.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I am the excrement expert


This post is all about poop.

I wish I could post about what is happening at my job, but one never knows who is reading this stuff I write and I don’t want to put my living in jeopardy. Let’s just use the word “Enron” and you can figure it out. They literally locked the employees in one day last week. Is that even legal? I thought the term for forcibly detaining someone is “kidnapping”. I am traumatized. Heavy sigh.

One funny little diddy I can write about is an incident that happened this religious holiday weekend. We ate sushi at the Crowne Plaza (as usual) and were waiting for the car at the valet. Hoover-Moustache-Dude (you know - really skinny, but sporting an enormous moustache, so he looks like if you flip him wrong-side-up you can vacuum your floor with him) comes running out of the lobby, mumbling his phone number. I moved away. He gets closer and starts mumbling some mo'; literally, it was inaudible. It was like a whisper. I’m like, “Whaaaaaaaaa? I can’t hear you. Do you want something?” in English (angry white woman style). Followed by giggles from La Romanian and I. He moves in closer and (this is some shit), says, “Either one of you. I’ll give you 100 KD.” Oooooooooooooh – no he di-int! There, in front of a crowd of onlookers and valet parkers in the front of the hotel, I shout out, “Yala ya wasakh!” (Doesn’t literally translate to “get out of here you pig” but justabout. Direct translation is “Go you dirty person”.) Dude musta been high. He ran (sissy boy); everybody started laughing. Several of the valet parking dudes were doubled-over laughing. What kind of parents do these people have? Are all women – or maybe just all foreign women – assumed to be prostitutes? Again, I don’t dress flashy; I wore a black sweatshirt and jeans; ditto my Romanian pal. What up with the caveman mentality? Yeah buddy, Eid mubarak to you too!

Eid Al-Adha and the sacrificing of sheep: I’m sorry, but I will never ever get my head around the need to kill sheep/lambs during the holiday. I know it is meat and all that, but personally, I would never feel the need to have a fresh-killed anything. I go to the store. In my new neighborhood, I took Desert Dawg out for a walk around the block (I need to do that until my terrace is fenced and I can build an appropriate doggie-doo box). Anyhoo, we walked and I heard a strange noise that turned out to be a little lamb – the same size as Desert Dawg – all alone in a pen, crying like crazy for its mommy. Ok, many people see that and think “food group”, but not me. My immediate instinct is to hop the fence and rescue bambi-lambi and take off…. But to where? If I rescue it, it will go to a farm, right? Where they will turn around and sell it for someone else to eat. There is no salvation for sheep here. The only thing I can think of is, “Don’t worry little lamb. It will be over soon.” And then I look at Desert Dawg and think that I better had get the Hell out of there before someone thinks she is a sheep too.

More animal stories: I HATE cats. They are evil. Ok, not all of them, but I don’t like cats. I particularly HATE whatever frick-in evil neighborhood cat who must have detected Desert Dawg’s presence and decided to “mark” the territory… by continually shitting on my “Welcome” mat. I mean – WTF! The first day, I went outside in my slippers and SPLAT! It doesn’t even look like normal cat doo-doo. Maybe panther or tiger poop. What has it been eating?? (BTW – The Man calls me the “shit expert” because I can usually tell what kind of an animal it came from. I call that “common sense”, but all of a sudden I’m an expert on excrement. At least I have a specialty, right? Maybe I should put it on my resume – it is already quite obscure, so why not?) Obviously, I can no longer have a “Welcome” mat outside my apartment. That kind of shit is just soooooooo not welcome. “Welcome to the neighborhood. I made this for you….” Anyways, I’m paying very nice Metal Works Dude to come put up fences around my yard. (That’s “fences” not “feces”.) If a bird shits on you, it is supposed to be good luck, right? What about cats? I get an apartment with a huge terrace, but I can’t let my dog out until I get it properly gated (someone might think she’s a lamb). This place is costing me a shitload (ha ha) of money. Oh, I think I still have a bottle of No-Go (actual brand name). Maybe it will work for cats? Je ne sais pas. I will keep you informed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

REAL Christmas Trees in Kuwait


Incase anyone is interested in buying either a Norway Spruce (Picea Abies - top photo) or Norman Blue Spruce (Picea Pungen - bottom photo) tree, they will be arriving at Janayen Nursery on Sunday, December 7th. Trees are coming in air frieght from Holland and are available in 1.5 to 3 meter selections. I don't have pricing information yet.

The difference: Norway Spruce doesn't last as long as the Blue Spruce (needles fall faster). The Blue Spruce also has a silvery tone to the needles). Personally, I prefer the scent of the Blue Spruce.

Janayen is located on 4th Ring Road in front of the Friday Market in Shuwaikh - along the row of nurseries. Their phone number is 2472-2074 or you can reach the Showroom Manager, Mr. Mohammed Al-Zean at mobile 9952-0231.




This is an unpaid public service announcement by Desert Girl.




Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Patient “Confidentiality” in Kuwait: When your personal aint so personal

I am covered under a private insurance policy through my company (as many of you probably are).

The one that we use is (a very large and well known private insurance company in Kuwait that begins with a G and ends with an F). This insurance company's SOP is: They submit claim statements with deductibles to be paid by employees to the employer WITH full details of your ailment. In other words – NO patient confidentiality. In other other words – if you have anything going on (or even if you don't because you still have to pay a deductable most of the time), your business has just become everybody else’s. For example, who knows now that a certain person has erectile dysfunction? Lots of folks at the insurance company, at the insurance broker company, and at the employees company. Hell – dude sitting next to you might know your bid-ness. The freakin coffee boy might know what's happenin' down South (or any other region)!

How do I know this? Because my personal has been distributed all over my office and then some. I went in for a normal, regular, run-of-the-mill gyno visit and WABANG! All of a sudden, Ahmed in Accounting has a pretty clear picture of what is going on with my V. So does Ali in HR. So does…. Nice lady in HR said that most people don’t know English well enough to understand. I’m like, ‘I’m pretty sure any man anywhere knows what a V is – in any language.’ (And just so ya know - everything is perfectly ok with my V, but I still don't want my name next to the V word in print in my office.)

Do YOU want your wife’s or your sister’s or daughters or even yo momma’s V details broadcast all over Kuwait? Je thinks not. Flana Al-Flana would "Wheeeeeeeeee!" herself to death!

Mine is not an isolated case. I found out intimate details about our chairman by mistake (they sent me his form). I’ve heard talk about people in our office with all kinds of wacky/icky/intimate medical conditions. And mens, Viagra is not covered under insurance - and just incase you were thinking of going to get some and have your special night comped to your company; think again (yes, some genius tried that).

In a country where private matters are usually kept in deep dark closets; all of a sudden private aint so private. The US is supposedly an “open” country, but if someone was to divulge confidential information in a similar manner, we could sue in a heartbeat. I’m checking into what legal recourse I have here. However, the last thing I really want is to have my name stated in court - again with the V word - in front of lots of icky spectators. Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Holy Crap! I can’t believe I own that much junk

I have been moving for days. Mesotired.

I have been living alone (with Desert Dawg) in a small 2 bedroom apartment for the past 11 years. Just us. Nobody else’s junk – just ours. It never occurred to me how much stuff I have – and how very little I care about most of it. I think if I ever leave Kuwait, I'm not even going to bother trying to sell it - I'm just going to have people come in and scavange.

By the by, my shoes only took 2 large boxes. I consider that a major accomplishment. Desert Dawg’s toys took up only one medium-sized Prada duffle bag. Funny that - I kept a close watch on her bag and I can't find any of my own things. I don't want her to be traumatized without her toys.

I chose Global Freight Systems to move my stuff. They gave me a flat rate and a time estimate. I didn’t know all the details. Like, fer example how the timeframe might stretch just a little (like almost an extra entire day); or that they actually unpack and put the stuff together again. WAY COOL. Men with power tools!!!! They brought their own tools and ladders and everything – and they’re really fast. They sent a SWAT team of like 10 Indian and Egyptian guys – all of them in clean uniforms, shaven, not smoking and not smelly. In fact, several dudes wore really nice cologne. Go figure (is this Kuwait???). I am totally impressed. They have been so kind and friendly and courteous. They’ve been joking with me and seem to be having a good time. They must be well paid. I want to keep them. I have been buying them pizza to make them want to come back. Come baaaaack oompa loompa men!

The first night of the move, I stayed in the Holiday Inn in Salmiya. I didn’t know that they had expanded the hotel and it is now quite large. The room was really nice and they actually had a PILLOW MENU!!!. OMG! It was on an executive floor and there were noisy children (mini-executives?). I wouldn’t stay there again – I could hear every passing car on the Gulf Road and the door to the room was paper thin, so that you could hear anyone passing in the hall (and I’m purty sure they could hear my snoring too – not that I giveashit). Anyways, nice bath, comfortable bed, room service – must haves for moving night. I was out like a light at 7:30 pm (I do TOO have a life, but I was exhausted!).

I helped the movers. I did. I had a lot of stuff to do. My goal for this move was not to break a finger nail, but unfortunately, I’m not one of those sit-on-your-ass girlie girls who doesn’t help. I have 2 nails left. Poop. God only knows where my box of vitamins is. Folic acid and gelatine pills always help.

I NEVER wear flat shoes. Ok, sometimes when I am walking Desert Dawg, but mostly never. So, I couldn’t find my shoe boxes since I packed them on the 28th and I had to wear the same athletic shoes. I finally found my shoe box last night after a very long search and a whole lot of curse words. Today, my calves (is that right? It looks wrong.) are hurting like a sonofabitch. I’m walking funny and people in my office probably assume that I was having a FUN long weekend. Not so. I haven’t even been able to think about that kind of fun since I started my search months and months ago. No wonder I’m so evil.

Speaking of evil: I decided to give the man downstairs a bunch of cast-off stuff that I didn’t want; including my Whirlpool washer/dryer. Why? Because I love his kids. He’s a piece of doo-doo, but his kids have been so nice and so sweet. Plus, I see their poor maid out there all the time hanging clothes on a line (yes, formerly upscale building). I told him he could take a small table on the balcony after my other stuff was moved. The next day, he comes up to me and said, “You took your table. You said I could have it.” I’m like, “Dude, not the DINING ROOM table.” WTF. Give ‘em an inch…

Say THANK YOU, MOFO!!!!

I love our hariss, Khalid. Great guy. But, his brother is there now that the building is being demo’ed and Khalid is taking a vacation. So, I have only known bro-dude for all of 2 weeks and he gets all up in my face, “Why did you give HIM your washer/dryer?? I’m the HARISS!” What UP with people? He didn’t even take the trash out for the past month. Hariss my arse.

So the mover dudes are supposed to set up my stuff in the new place and my housekeeper is supposed to be helping them today (NO ONE is allowed to touch my underwear). I don’t know how that’s going to work. I can't take any more time off work. I might come home and things are in weird places. No problem. I can deal. I had my first shower at newplace this morning and it has kickass water pressure (unlike the trickle I had in the old place), and the AC rocks. I’m kindof unsettled by the fact that the villa owner wants to keep a key “to check on the apartment while you’re away”. Uh – is that legal? I’m (Bunny is) changing the locks. I am a very private person (at home in my real life – not on the blog).

Bunny is helping me with a lot of things. I bequeathed him my power drill years ago (as if I was ever going to use it – yeh!) so I keep asking him to come back and “help” me. More like, ‘Ok, you go over there and fix it and I’ll put my hands over my ears to block out the noise.’ Bunny understands. He knows the drill (ha ha – play on words – get it?)

Housewarming gifts anyone? (giggle)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ZAIN SUCKS!!!

Zain's online system for Quickpay is the WORST. I didn't have problems with it for a while, so the past several months, I've tried them again. No more.

SO MANY of my friends have had the same problem - over and over and over and over again (going back as far as 2006!): You input all your payment information, and on the final page where it asks you to hit a "confirm" button - and you do; instead of giving you a confirmation/receipt for printing as it should/usually does - it transfers you to an error page. If you go back (as the error page suggests) and confirm a second time, your payment will be deducted a second, third or how many other times you hit the button and receive error pages.

Nice little trick Zain plays, right?

When you call their Service Center, they will ask you to call back. And call back. And call back. And they apologize (thaaaaaaaaaaaaaanks), but the problem won't be resolved for weeks. I send faxes and e-mails and call continually - no one at Zain cares. I don't even get a response to written correspondence.

If they know there is a problem with the online system, should it have taken them 2 years to resolve it?

I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT ANYONE WHO IS EVEN REMOTELY THINKING OF GETTING A MOBILE NUMBER IN KUWAIT - DO NOT CHOOSE ZAIN.

And - my calls have been consistently dropping lately - as have most of my friends' who use Zain.

Why do I stay with them? Because I have had my number for 11 years and I can't transfer it to another provider. If I could, I would. In a nanosecond.

ZAIN SUCKS!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Told ya so

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. Our employees who have been forced to use the fingerprint machine are coming in exactly on time and leaving exactly on time. If you are in the office even 5 minutes after official quitting time, there isn't a soul around. And now the question is being posed - Why? Duuuuuuuuuh. Treat your employees well and they treat the business well. Treat them poorly, and your business suffers. It is a very simple concept that perhaps some people just don't get.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Found a Home: Preparing for the Move

Thank you to all the well-wishers who sent me e-mails and words of encouragement on my recent home-search saga/drama. It has been HELL and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. People who go out of their way to be kind are like God sending you angels and it has meant a lot to me. I hope others bestow kindness on you all in return.

Something has GOT to be done about housing laws in Kuwait. I don’t even know if the Government knows how badly foreigners are treated here (discriminatory practices – which extend to Kuwaitis as well – as many landlords specify “westerners-only), how expensive it has become, or all the housing scams that are going on. Whoyagonnacall? Honestly, I had no idea how bad it was before I started my search. I thought it was easy. I have been giving out advice to newbies here on how they can easily find a home. Not so!

I finally signed yesterday on the place that I looked at where the homeowner said she ab-so-lutely wouldn’t allow Desert Dawg. I sent her a 2-page letter the following day saying, “You don’t know me and you certainly don’t know my dog, but let me explain who we are and why she is so important to me and why I would do anything to make her as happy as she has made me for the past 10 years….” Obviously, it worked. The realtor called and said she had agreed. We are now getting to a better understanding of each other. I haven’t fallen-in-like with her yet, but I’m working on it. I think she is trying to like me too.

As a woman, I plead guilty on this: How many times have you (women out there) looked at another woman and judged her solely on what she looks like; her hair, her clothes, her body, her make-up, her accessories…. I have; and I consider myself very open-minded. I don’t feel good about admitting that, but I do it (even more so in Kuwait where talking about other people is somewhat of a national pastime). Anyhoo, maybe that is what Homeowner Lady did with me. Bunny thinks so. She didn’t know me from squat, and yet when she read my letter, she knew me more and wasn’t so quick to pass judgement.

[As a side-note, this is why it is SO IMPORTANT to send thank-you notes after interviews, after parties, etc: get your name across! Let the person see you as a human, not a number in the queue. My mother taught me that and all during my teenaged years, I thought it was tremendously stu-pid. Now I see the importance. If there is a job I really really want, I send the person who interviewed me flowers and a card saying, “I’m your best candidate…. Hire me!” Branding.]

Anyhoo, the apartment (Mashallah, Mashallah, Mashallah) is enormous; the living room could fit my entire current apartment inside it (it is something like 12m2). It is the biggest apartment I’ve ever seen in Kuwait (that isn’t 2,000 kd/mo). It has an enormous terrace (WITH tal potted plants!) – a fully-furnished kitchen, 2 full bathrooms, covered parking for 3 cars, and comes with electric and water. A steal at 400 KD/mo. The search was kinda/sorta worth it. Yes, the apartment definitely was worth it; no, I would never want to go through what I did for an apartment again.

My friends have told me that only now am I coming back to my “normal self”. (Please define “normal”). That’s just it – I don’t WANT to be “normal”. Life is all about perspectives and I have mine.

Hiring a Local Moving Company

Getting 2 guys with a truck (lorrey/half lorrey) in Kuwait is easy, but I am hiring professional movers. During my “lean years” (both physically and financially), I did the U-Haul moves. I “invited” all my closest friends (both male and female) to help me move. I provided the truck, the moving supplies, the pizza and the beer; they supplied the manpower. In two words: NEVER AGAIN! I vowed that as long as I could afford it, I would never do the self-move again. So, armed with experience and relatively decent salary, I have contacted 3 local moving companies in Kuwait to provide me with “I don’t want to break a fingernail” quotations. I called MoveX (phone 22643380 or www.xunited.com), Pack and Move (don’t have their contact info and not worth it to me to search for it), and Global Freight (phone 2431 6530 or www.global-freight.net).

MoveX sent 2 guys (who didn’t speak English and got lost trying to find my apartment – making me wonder if they would get lost with my stuff on the way to the new place). They were lurkers/stare-ers. The one guy took a small piece of paper from his pocket and seemingly took notes, then came up with 300 KD (the top of his head) and left. I wasn’t impressed and wrote a letter to the owner of the company who has now become somewhat of a friend. Still… I worried. Pack and Move showed up on time, with a uniform, but was almost scared to enter my apartment (‘BOOO!’). He had a proper clipboard and took notes. I received a detailed quotation the next day via e-mail (impressive so far, eh?) for 469 KD (including a 100 KD charge for 80 meters of bubble wrap!). I wrote to them, asking them to explain why they were so much higher than other quotes and I got no response. So, I contacted Global Freight. The Filipino lady (yes, now there is a plus!) who came to give me the quotation, Haydee, was so nice that I almost invited her to dinner (but she had a cold and didn’t feel well). She was professional, had a clipboard, and sent me a quote the next day for 308 KD. DONE. I will let you know how it turns out, but so far I am really impressed with their service.

So now, let the furniture/home accessory shopping begin! I am going to have fun with this. Hi ho hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to shop we go…..

Spa Aquatonic at Crowne Plaza Hotel Kuwait - GO!


I visited the new spa, Spa Aquatonic, at the Crowne Plaza, Farwaniya, this weekend. Oh..... my......God! It is GORGEOUS. I am fer sure going there. It is amazing. It is definitely the most luxurious place I’ve seen in Kuwait. Who wouldathunk it would be in the CP? Right there – under my nose – the entire time. Well, not the entire time because they have just finished it and the soft opening is still underway until November 27th when they open the pool. (Photo to right from CP's marketing materials.)

The CP is making a big deal of the spa – as they should be. They have changed their automated phone system to say, “Press 1 for the hotel, press 2 for the spa.” The renovations to the entranceway to the hotel is almost completed and when you drive in, you’ll notice the gateway to the spa on the left. Thankfully, the hotel has taken down the concrete blast barriers so it doesn’t look like a federal prison anymore.

Slapperella and I toured spa starting with the ladies locker area (they wouldn’t let us into the men’s area – we tried) and it was enormous – so many lockers and sinks and mirrors (WITH hair dryers!). The walls are covered with carved wood, there is lots of marble, and the hardware is all gold-toned. Puuuuuuuuurty!

I did some recon of the pool area and was able to snap several photos clandestinely while Slaps chatted with the greeter girl (who almost had a coronary when she saw me taking pictures with my mobile; it was a “Mr. Bill” moment). The CP is being secretive about the spa because – as one higher-up manager told me – imitation runs rampant in Kuwait (puhleeze – come up with an original idea!), so they are being cautious that people don’t try to replicate it. Yet.

(Update:  Ladies, be sure to bring a bathing cap.  They only have skanky, previously-worn ones that they will lend you if you don't have one with you.  You can buy one from the gift shop for 17KD.  Without one, they won't let you in the pool.)

Let me just tell you, Elysium (which is now closed for renovation, but was supposedly the most posh spa in Kuwait) NEVER held a candle to this place. I never understood why Elysium got away with their outrageous membership fees. Their space seemed cramped and the services were only so/so as far as I could tell. Not to mention that their “beach” wasn’t very far away from a sewage outlet draining into the Gulf. Special.

I’ve never understood why someone hasn’t come up with a hotel that is really over-the-top luxurious here. “… If you build it…. They will come….” I’ve been to camps in Kuwait that are more opulent than some of the hotels. Pillow menus, people!!! Anyhoo… back to our story….

The Jacuzzi Grows Up: Pimp my Pool!

The 650m2 pool is similar to the Hilton’s concept – only taken to the 10th degree with much more spectacular upscale d├ęcor. It is also multi-leveled. The pool uses hydra-therapy to address different problems (back, neck, shoulders, etc.) in different areas in the pool – Jacuzzi style. The pool is mixed gender, but they are planning for ladies-only hours.

Unlike the Hilton where the treatment rooms are IN the pool area (making it noisy when you really want quiet and uncomfortable as the pool is mixed gender and the treatment room doors open toward the pool), the spa houses their treatment rooms on a separate floor with elevators. Aquatonics lists “Chocolate Therapy” as one of their treatments. What I want to know is: Do they treat you WITH chocolate or is the treatment for your addiction TO chocolate? They also do my favorite hot stone massages, various wraps, lifts, contouring, and facials.

I’ve written about this before, but my family goes to Nemacolin Woodlands Spa at Christmas. Nemacolin’s spa has their own signature scent. As soon as you walk in the doors, you smell the scent; all their products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath gel, massage oil, candles) have the same recognizable scent. All the treatments are done using their signature products. I love the scent and anytime I use their products in Kuwait, it reminds me of their spa. I would like to see someone here do that, but I guess it would be asking a little too much as it falls under the area of branding – which is still a relatively new concept to Kuwait. Well, maybe it isn’t a new concept, but it is one that a lot of business owners don’t see as an important issue.

Anyhoo, if you get the chance to go to the spa, you should – at least to take a tour. Even the front entranceway is worth the trip. Looking is free. Membership prices start at 500 KD/yr for single women to 1200 KD/yr couples. Prices depend on number of treatments you have included in the package. Walk-in day memberships (without treatements) are 50 KD per day. Cha CHING. E-mail: aquatonic@crowneplaza.com.kw.

MEN:  I DON'T KNOW ANY PLACES WHERE WOMEN MASSAGE MEN.  IT IS ILLEGAL IN KUWAIT.  DON'T FRICKIN WRITE TO ME ASKING ME WHERE YOU CAN GO.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Zain and the Al-Manshar Rotana Spa

So Not Zain....
Does your mobile phone often drop calls lately in Kuwait? I'm just wondering because I seem to be having that problem a LOT. Yet another reason why I pay my phone bill late. It is my personal protest (like honking my horns when I go over speed bumps that have obviously been created by homeowners, but with no consideration to car owners).

Al-Manshar Rotana Spa
I had a massage the other night at the Al-Manshar Rotana. OMG! It was fantastic. The young lady was slight (small frame) so I immediately assumed (incorrectly) that she wasn't going to be so great of a masseuse. Oh .... my...... God! Awesome! She knew the correct placement of all the stones (thank God), and she not only did the hot stones, but reflexology (feet) and deep tissue at the same time. Her name is Akshima and she ROCKS.

The spa is up on the roof. It is more like a spa-ette (like a "kitchenette") because there are only 2 treatment rooms, something like 6 lockers, and a teeny tiny jacuzzi/changing area/steam room/shower area. Thank God I was alone in there to undress because if I hadn't been, my elbows would have hit fleshy parts for sure.

I hate to negate the spa because the service and the treatment was superlative, but this has been rolling around my head, so I must dish: The mens and women's changing areas open up to a small hall which is also the hallway to the gym. Therefore, if you are even just taking the trip across the hall is kindof uncomfortable since in many cases (like mine), you are ONLY wearing the bathrobe. The bathrobes only go to your knees - which doesn't seem to be problematic, but it doesn't feel right when you are going commando. Again, this is not a time when you want to run into hunky businessmen staying in the hotel and making their way to the weight machines (mithilin). Unless you like that kind of exhibitionist behavior. Anyone standing at the desk or down the hallway can also see your business. Might I suggest a screen of some kind.... Ok, and the treatment rooms are tiny also. By tiny, I mean that if the masseuse was going to be some former discus player from the Ukraine, she wouldn't be able to navigate around the massage bed (maybe she could swing down from the ceiling on cables - Matrix-style?).

I'm just sayin that it is a beautiful property and as such, should have given more thought to their spa. They probably should consider taking the next floor down and turning it into a gym/spa.

There was no little guest soap, hairdryer, or products in the shower room. No no, 5-star....
They had only ONE song on ONE CD which played continually - it was a nice relaxation song, but dudes - at least buy a full CD.

On the positive, the whole spa was very clean and smelled fresh. The massage rooms were nicely furnished and colors were relaxing. The hot stones were the correct temperature, and they used good products. And the staff was friendly and professional. Also, the prices are slightly below the rest of the market. I recommend a visit.

How to be a better human in 30 seconds

MBC has done it again. They are airing public awareness ads on how to be a better person. I LOVED their public service announcements during Ramadan about how to be more compassionate, and now these new ones.

The first one I saw was of a woman who mistreated her maid, and then it showed the maid crying. I assume the voiceover (in Arabic) was something about how you should be a nicer person to those people serving you in your home.

The second one I saw last night could easily apply to 2 men I know. It was a guy who first mistreats his maid, then his worker asks for his salary saying he hasn’t been paid in 2 months and mean dude says that he can stand it for 4; and then goes to the office and an old guy asks him to take his daughter to the hospital during work hours and mean dude says that he can do it after working hours; and then mean dude goes to pray, asking God for mercy when he shoulda been merciful to all those people who needed him to be. [I KNOW this guy and I’m pretty sure God is going to hit him in a major way with the Invisible Stick (he’s already been hit HARD by the Ugly Stick!)]

Neehoo (Amirah!), it is about time that a network decided to take on these issues in a reflection of their own corporate social responsibility, and turn them into something positive. You go, MBC!!!! It is one thing for smart people to create these ads, it is another to get top management approval to execute them.

Isn't it a shame that this form of guidance must be brought to us via television? I thought that was what religion was for.


Update: Mark posted about the Al-Rahma Campaign HERE. Check it out - he has video (waaaay more technologically advanced than I am!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Muskrat Love

Muskrat, Muskrat, candle light
Doin' the town and doin' it right
in the evenin'
It's pretty pleasin'


I can’t get the Muskrat Love (1972 by Captain and Tennille) song out of my head. It has been stuck in there for the past week. I don’t really know what triggered it. I know I’m losin’ my frickin mind! It is as if I want to play Whack-a-Mole but inside my own brain. Somebody call House!

It is like the corniest song EVER played in the history of all mankind. Watch the music video and get sick for yourself. If you do, write to me and tell me if you don't just want to BITCH SLAP Tennille (she's probably in her '70's by now so that would be very very wrong). And what's up with Captain? Why is he just sitting there while rats run all over him? What's with his face? Why no expression? What up with that?

It is so NOT RIGHT and I’m disgusted with myself (huuuuuuuurl!), but I can’t stop singing it. This sucks. Stress manifests itself in different ways.... My family knew it would come to this one day.....

PHUCK the muskrats!!!!

Who am I - Ally McBeal????





Disclaimer: This post in no way whatsoever reflects anything having to do with the previous post dated November 17th in reference to the illegal (display) of mind-altering drugs.

Marijuana in the Avenues


I went "leaf peeping" this weekend. I don't mean real marijuana/reefer/maryjane/ganja/doogies, but in the form of a design on a beaded door screen sold in one of he home furnishing stores in the very trendy Avenues Mall. Don't remember the name of the shop, but it is down near the ID Design store and sells (or attempts to sell) various funky objects and furniture at high (get it?) prices.

Hey - maybe it is a "smoke screen" - ha ha. Get it?
Well, this is not the only reefer leafer I've seen around town. I saw a fake plant at the airport once - right in front of the Customs stations, and I have seen several more fake plants here and there.
I'm just trying to EDUCATE the public so that we all know how to eradicate these evil influences from our country! Haram!

Little Things


I love this thing. I found it in Midas and I have no idea where I would put it (especially since I haven't officially signed on an apartment yet), but I love it. It is a ceiling lamp with little crystals hanging on fishing line, so it appears to be floating on air. So cool.

Midas has some really interesting furniture. I took Slapperella there recently and took her upstairs to the section that (as The Romanian says) has "too many colors". Slaps said it was "just too twee." I don't know the exact meaning of "twee", but I like it and the label seemed to fit. Anyhoo, I like the room - it is kind of Indian/Moroccan and reminds me a lot of an opera I saw once (don't remember the name - it was obscure). I would love a room like that, but I dont' see myself ever doing it.

I saw a rattan daybed thingy near the door that is waaaaaaaaay too expensive for my taste, so I'm hoping Special K from Midas will help a po' sistah out on a discount. Tee hee. Anyhoo, you rock and I love the store.

I found a store across the street from Home Centre in Shuwaikh (not Rai, but the one close to KFH off of 85 I believe). It has interesting wood object d'art. They also have all the spa supplies that Lavendar (Muhallab) sells. I think it is one of my new favorite stores and I can't remember the name right now. I bought 2 wood sculpture thingys that look like standing driftwood. Again, no idea where I'm going to put them, but I'm sure that once I find a home - they'll find a home!

Little finds make me happy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Real Pier or Just Another Fake?



Pier One Imports is one of my favorite home furnishings stores in the US.





I was cruisin' with The Romanian this weekend (as usual) and I came across a Pier Import store in Dhajeej (Al Waha Mall behind the Immigration office). I'm wondering if it is a knock-off of the real Pier One or if it is their overseas/international brand. The logo design/color is almost the same. However, since there is already a grammatical error in the name (did they just import once and not in multiples as in "Imports"?), it is probably a knock off like the Domain store.






The store wasn't open (Friday? or because it isn't open yet - dunno - have to go back), but we looked through the window and the merchandise is similar to Pier One.



December 10 Update:

I bought a few items from Pier Imports over the weekend. It is indeed a bonafide branch of the Pier in the US, but it is a "Middle East Pier" - so says a sales person. The prices are still low by Kuwait standards, so run in there quick before everything gets marked up. I bought 2 funky chairs and a plant stand. They also have some very comfortable sofas that have that Domain or shabby chic appearance. Me likes.

Is Yo Ride a Guzzler? The 2009 Green Vehicle Guide

The Arab Times had an automobile insert in the paper today which listed the top 10 gas guzzlers (not that we in Kuwait really giveashit, but ya know – good to know in a war of trivia, fer example). It is referenced from the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2009 Green Vehicle Guide. I don’t know what the AT criteria was, but there were vehicles on the list that got far worse gas mileage. The AT had the Chevy Suburban and the GMC Yukon XL listed as the worst gas guzzlers, but if you look at the guide, the Cadillac Escalade is actually worse at 11 mpg combined (the Escalade hybrid is way better at 20 mpg.)

Guess what car showed “N/A” for data: The Hummer H3 (plus a LOT of truck models from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge).

The car I’m driving, the “Jimms Enfoy” (that’s Bedu for GMC Envoy) comes in at 16 mpg; better than I thought. My sister’s Mercedes CL550 comes in at 17 mpg. Very interesting.

The entire Green Vehicle Guide can be found HERE or by going to the US EPA’s website at LINK. Although I would never own one (because I'm no longer a poor student who has to eat Ramen noodles and save quarters for gas), the Toyota Prius has an amazing combined city/highway gas mileage of 46 mpg. Wow. I wonder how many clowns they can pack in to it. Does Brad Pitt seriously drive one of those or is it just propoganda?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

“On the Beach”

Realtors have stooped to new lows in advertising. Why? Because they can get away with it.

I saw an ad in Al-Hadaf yesterday listing an apartment “on the beach”. Hmmmmm… the only apartments (not chalets or villas) that I know of that are actually ON a beach are Warba Beach apartments in Mangaf.

So, I call the joker and inquire as to where it is “on the beach”. Dude comes back with “Dasman”. Dasman? On the beach? Are we talking about a small patch between the Towers and Chilis or Le Notre? Where dat? Well, turns out it is not ‘zactly on the beach – it is a block or two behind.

I have narrowed my search down to a few places. I am biting the bullet at 400 or 450 KD per month. These are places that are within my standard of quality, but aren’t so tiny that I can’t fit my bed into them (California king, baybeeeee). One place I looked at was so small that I would have HAD to put my bed in the living room because the bedrooms were so small. Who lives in these places – Pygmies? No offense to little people, but c’mon. The average adult walking around Kuwait aint gonna make it.

I spoke to a nice realtor, Chrissy from Saba Real Estate (christine@sabarealestateq8.net), who said that she knows a lot of expat folks are being ripped off by realtors. When you yourself go to a building to look at place directly, you don’t ever have to pay a fee. For 15 kd an hour, Chrissy will take newbies around Kuwait to ask around (hoofin’ it). Her fee is substantially less also.

There should be some kind of Kuwait Realtor’s Board or association where real estate people can be certified. They should have to carry some kind of ID that they are certified and if they are not certified, they should be fined/imprisoned. That would start cleaning up the problem of scams and probably reduce the real estate costs nationally. Bada BING.

Premarital Tests

The National Assembly passed a law on Tuesday that makes premarital testing for contagious or hereditary diseases compulsory in Kuwait. (Is there a test also to determine if one or both is a homosexual also cause I see that as a problem too.)

Sabah el kheir, dudes. Did they just figure this out? What was their first clue? Gee, cousins marry cousins marry cousins marry cousins marry cousins. Birth defects much or what? There is also another disease that isn't mentioned much 'round these parts: AIDS.

Well, this is not only good for the above, but it might help reduce the risks of other hereditary diseases as well - or at least doctors will know what to look for during a pregancy.

Good on ya, National Assembly. At least now it has been done. It just took a long time.

And next, bring on the DNA testing! :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Rainbow in Kuwait

I saw this rainbow on November 3rd in the evening. It was much prettier than this photo; the first time that I have ever seen a rainbow in Kuwait. I actually pulled over to look it for a while! Magical.


Obama! Yeah Baybeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!


Now maybe Americans won't be hated so much by the rest of the world (personally, I have seen the trends).
Maybe the politics will be more about uniting the nation rather than polarizing it.
Maybe we can be INclusive rather than EXclusive.
Maybe we can work towards fostering tolerance.
Maybe things will really change for the better.


I can't watch anything about Obama without weeping. This morning, I saw Colin Powell's reaction on CNN. I LOVE Colin Powell. I wept. I saw Nightline about the students at Howard University and how they were celebrating. People were hugging each other in the street. I wept.

I WISH I had been in Washington yesterday. I bet Georgetown was an amazing place to be. I would have hugged everyone - white people, black people, foreign people - anyone! Georgetown is the place to be whenever anything great happens in Washington DC. People spontaneously go there to the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin avenue to celebrate (kind of like going out to the Gulf Road when something good happens around here). They celebrate Superbowl wins and New Years Eve and I'm sure they were celebrating last night.

I grew up in a white town with only one black man who was my neighbor. His daughter was my best friend. They had people who didn't like them, but they had a whole lot of people who did. I went to grade school in DC when they were in the middle of debates about school bussing. My mother always taught us never to see color and so we never have. I feel blessed. Other members of my family weren't so much like us and used the "N" word casually. I don't use that word and any time I hear it, it revolts me (several of my friends around this neighborhood use it freely and it has been an uphill battle to re-educate them). I have other friends who weren't taught the same way my sister and I were; they're not so tolerant of anyone different than they are.

I'm so glad that people voted this way; 7.9 million more people than voted for McCain.

To those who say that Obama will raise taxes: an interesting statistic showed yesterday that the majority of people who will be most heavily affected by those taxes voted FOR Obama. Obviously, they are willing to pay a price for change and true democracy.

I am so proud to be an American today. I am so proud of my country - that it has come so far - in the very brief period (29 years and stickin to it!) of my lifetime.
Thank you thank you thank you to all the well-wishers out there! Thank you to those Kuwaitis who gave me the "thumbs up" for my Obama '08 bumper sticker.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How to find an Apartment in Kuwait

Christopher all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts ("Ma shooft Yousef" bil Arabi), sent me a little e-mail recommending that I “write a few lines” about how to find an apartment in Kuwait. Well Christopher, it like dis: I can’t ever just write a FEW lines about anything, so here goes the entire deal on how to find a home in Kuwait. By the by, this goes for finding a villa also (pretty much).

What you will need

A good attitude: Patience. Lots of it; However you can get it, get it. A “happy place”
Chocolate (or whatever your crutch is)
Kleenex (incase it gets to be too much for you and you need a good sob).
A car (taxi) Lots of relaxing/tranquil music (maybe Yanni or Kenny G). Gas.
Someone who speaks Arabic
Copies of Waseet or Alhadaf classified papers

The process

Remove all weapons and sharp objects from your vehicle and/or person. This will help avoid a prison sentence when dealing with realtors and building guards (called “hariss” here).

Ok, seriously, if you are an English-only speaker, you really do need someone to help you translate – either from the classified ads or by going around building-to-building and asking the guards if there are vacancies. Sometimes, you can find a mandoob (expeditor/gopher guy) where you work or you can ask them to refer you to someone who can translate for a small amount of money. If you can’t find someone at work, or don’t feel comfortable asking for personal favors, taxi offices can often help and they can play a dual role in driving you around to find a place if you are new.

Zero to 30 days in Kuwait

If someone is new to Kuwait, they probably won’t get their civil ID for the first 30 days, so the employer should provide accommodations during the first month.

30 days to 6 months in Kuwait

After the first 30 days in Kuwait, I strongly recommend getting into a short term or furnished place first, so you have the time to look for your ideal home. It isn’t a quick/easy process.

During this timeframe, you are still in culture shock, but you are beginning to get it. You have to look for a place to live, but you are still freaked out by the idea and don't really want to be locked into something permanent because it is all so new. AAA Housing and Frost Real Estate are the two most reputable companies in Kuwait. I see them as "halfway houses" for people who are new to Kuwait and transitioning into life here. They provide the comforts of home in familiar surroundings and se haba English.

AAA only does furnished accommodations; Frost will provide unfurnished with benefits (phone, satellite TV, maid and laundry services on request). Both AAA and Frost furnishings are to western standards (both have websites). Expect to pay more for both.

6 months plus in Kuwait

So you are ready to find your ideal place. You have a pretty good "lay of the land" since you've been here for 6 months. You know what the traffic is like. You have either seen or heard about the places that you want to live. You have several options: Realtors, classifieds, and “hoofing it” by driving around to places you might want to live and asking for vacancies.

Realtors

Don’t expect miracles: Bait and switch is common. Untruths are common. It will be frustrating to say the least. You will make an appointment to meet and they will be late or send someone else. Some realtors will smoke and have poor personal hygiene. They will never ever have photos of their properties.

Finding a realtor: Ask questions of people you work with, check online and in the Kuwait Pocket Guide. Classified papers like Waseet and Alhadaf will have listings of available apartments and realtors (in English when/if you can find them).

Realtors generally work in specific areas: Seaside/Salmiya, Salwa/Rumaithia, Fahaheel/Mangaf. Ask what areas they work out of.

Work the list: Compile lists of realtors and go through the list to touch base. Don’t expect them to follow up; they’re generally not that professional. Don’t expect them to respond to you through their websites as many don’t ever check their e-mail. Call.

Realtors who commonly deal with Westerners: Target, Saba Real Estate, Eastern Homes, York Real Estate, Century 21. (There are more, but these are the ones I deal with.)

Commission: Note that realtors take a half month rent commission from you as the renter and another half month rent from the building owner. This is standard.

Be Aware of Con Artist Realtors: I met with a building owner and discovered something quite scary: Harisses who work with realtors to dupe you into paying a commission that they don't deserve. What happens is that YOU go to see a building and the hariss tells you that the building is being managed by a third-party realtor and that even though YOU have gone to the building and found it yourself, you must pay the commission to the realtor handling the building rental/management. I have had 2 experiences with this lately. At one building, the hariss didn't speak English and a bee-bop man walked right past the hariss and told me that I had to pay a commission to him. Thankfully, I knew the building owner and dropped his name. Just heard a story about a management company that rented a complex with 4 buildings for 3 months. They turned around and rented out every apartment in the complex and got tenants to pay 6 months in advance plus a security deposit. Then, skipped the country. Here's the skinny: They may ask you to sign a rental agreement with the realtor and you might not know that you actually have to sign with the building owner. Since the hariss is the one working the deal, you wouldn't know it. The building owner told me that this is a very dangerous con because then you are out not only your deposit but you don't have a valid rental agreement. So, how do you find out what is real and what isn't? The hariss should immediately tell you who the building owner is: if the realtor commission is legitimate, then they will have no problem with you contacting the building owner's office. If they are hesitant, then you know something is hinky. I'll write more about this when I find out more.

Write to me (mailto:amerab@gmail.com) you would like to get my personal list of favorite realtors. I'm not going to post it as it is subject to change and I'm too damn lazy to update it all the time.

Hoofing it – going building-to-building

Driving around in an area where you might want to live is probably the best way to find a good deal in the exact area you want to live. This is where your interpreter/cabbie comes in handy. “Fee shuqqa fathi?” means “Is there an apartment available?” Kuwaitis generally drive around Kuwait looking for apartments because landlords often don’t advertise or use realtors (both cost money). Wear comfortable shoes because there will be lots of running in/out of places. Most apartments in villas won't have elevators.

Note: if you find a place you LOVE and it is completely occupied, make friends with the hariss and offer to give him some money (I recommend 30 to 50 kd) to get you in as soon as one becomes available. I take this money to be an investment. Get the guy's number and call him back every now and then to see if anyone has moved. Take him some cookies. (I have my eye on 3 properties for both myself and The Romanian right now.)

Dreams of grandeur

Please don’t expect to find what you are used to in the West in Kuwait’s local apartment market. Aint gonna happen. Many buildings don’t even use interior designers for placement of walls. Most places do not require occupants to re-paint or even clean the apartments once they have vacated. Many landlords won’t even sweep the floors before showing the apartments to potential tenants. Some apartments still have squat toilets (which you can ask the landlords to remove/replace; they are stinky. Purchasing your own sanitary equipment is not expensive either.) Landlords often won’t change water boilers, so that is an expense you may have – don’t freak out. They aren’t expensive compared to the West (around 70 kd). The building guard can generally get you another and have it installed.

Zoning - We Don't Need No Stinkin' Zoning!

If you live on a farm (in Western countries), you might hear roosters crowing in the morning. If you live in a high-rise residential complex in Kuwait you might hear roosters crowing in the morning. You might see a sheep tied to a lamp post in your neighborhood (means that it will be slaughtered by homeowners/landlord - take your children away from windows). Get used to it. "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."

Unfurnished apartments in Kuwait often do not have kitchen appliances or closets. If you have a lot of clothes and are a single occupant, consider getting a 2 bedroom so you can create your own walk-in closet (SHOOOOOES!). Many apartments here also have a “maids” room (which is more like a cell) that can be used for storage (I had shelves put in). (Large wardrobe closets can be found at the Friday Market for around 85 KD each. There are also lots of carpenters (inexpensive) if you have something special in mind (Carrie Bradshaw, eat your heart out!)

The good thing is that many places in the local market don’t ask you for a security deposit – although that trend is changing.

Things to look for/things to ask

Who are the neighbors? If a building is full of single guys, it will most likely be used as a party place only on the weekends. “F flats” as they are known is where many a married guy will bring his mistress on the weekend for a drink and more. If the apartment has 2 doors and the windows are covered by either aluminum foil or lining sticker rolls, for sure, it has been used for either a party or an F flat. Be cautious as you may have unwanted visitors at night if they don't know that the former occupant has moved. The best way to find out what is going on in a building is to go back and visit on a weekend night after 10:30 pm. Keep in mind that the audio systems used for parties here can be heard from passing planes (I jammed out on a BA flight leaving Kuwait one night, flying over a party in the desert playing 50 Cent…)

Something to consider: While you think it might be nice to be in a complex with 100% Westerners, know that the company housing the majority of Western employees in Kuwait (CSA) has a policy specifically against this. They house their employees in buildings with a percentage of westerners to a percentage of occupants of other countries (locals, etc.) for security purposes. Don't make yourself an easy target, even though I personally have never found this to be a big concern (it may be to others). (I've always lived in multi-national buildings/areas in the US.)

Where is the mosque? If the mosque minaret is next to the bedroom window, you might want to consider another place unless you like to be woken up at dawn and reminded to pray. Westerners usually aren’t accustomed to the call to prayer; No disrespect to anyone's religious beliefs.

Where is the pool? Little people can be mighty noisy and you are in a country where parents believe that it is ok for children to be up all night without a bedtime. Check out what the pool sounds like at night or on the weekends when the kids are there. (Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Anonymous 11/6)

Does the apartment have both central A/C and heat? Lots of apartments here won’t have heat in the winter and it gets coooooold. When they tell you that you don’t need it, consider getting out of the shower in the morning when the temperature is down around zero (not saying that it will actually get that cold in Kuwait – but it has).

Do the windows have double-paned glass? A big selling point for apartments in Kuwait is that they are “on the main road”. As Westerners, we might not like the fact that the place is 5 feet from a highway. People like to honk their horns in the morning – especially when they are picking up kids for school. Double-paned glass is also important when the temperature gets up to holy-shit-that’s-hot.

Are there temperature controls on the water? This is kind of a trick question because most realtors and building guards won’t know the answer. Consider this – it is holy-shit-that’s-hot degrees outside and you want a cold shower: if there is no temp control on the water, you gonna boil like a lobster at a Cape Cod outing and there is nothing you can do to get cold (turning off the water boiler and using the hot for cold in the summer sometimes resolves this issue).

Does the apartment have internet/DSL and satellite TV? If not, no big deal. There are lots of places who will install it for you, but that means additional running around and cost.

Who pays for electricity and water? Often, the landlord will pay or you can pay slightly extra per month (around 5 kd) and they will take care of it for you. If not, refer to "Utilities" section below.

Is parking provided? Believe it or not, I know of 3 new buildings with a maximum of seven spaces to each building. Don't assume that there will be underground parking. Don't assume that there will be any parking! If you are looking for an apartment during the day, go back there at night to see how people are parked. Drive by and see what the traffic conditions are. Also, it gets holy-shit-that’s-hot here and shaded parking is a factor.

Responsibilities of the building guard (hariss)

Takes out your trash. Kuwait buildings are not equipped with something as simple as a trash shoot. Trash is generally left in the stairwell and the hariss collects it at night.

Washes your car. If you drive a high-end car, you might want to consider buying and providing cleaning equipment to your hariss and asking him to wash it only with water. Sometimes they will just wipe it down with a rag and your paint job suffers tiny little scratches.

Porter: Assists you in carrying items to your apartment.
Assists in small handyman jobs.
Brings cooking gas.

Payment to the hariss: For washing the car and taking out the trash, the standard payment is 5 kd per month (required or your trash will pile up). If he demands 10kd (1. too much and b. he shouldn't demand), then there is a problem, Houston; unless it is your decision to pay him extra. I’ve found that if you bring your hariss a covered plate once in a while, tip a little extra, or maybe even bring him some used/new clothing, he will do just about anything in the world for you.

Lease agreements

You will need a civil ID in your name for the lease and perhaps a copy of your passport. Make sure that they provide you a copy in English.

I freaked out when I came to Kuwait because I didn’t know if I was going to like the place that I selected after a few months. I was new and I couldn’t tell, so I was worried about breaking the lease and having to pay up (as it is in the US). Not so in Kuwait. You have a 1 year lease, but you can leave by giving your landlord 30 days written notice.

Furnishings

There are lots of furniture stores in Kuwait: Ikea, Midas, Safat Al-Ghanim, The One (the cheapest I've found is Banta in Dajeej). Kuwaitis like to change furniture all the time, so there is lots of competition. However, the prices are high compared to the US (dunno about the UK cause I’m ‘merican). Dhajeej area (between 6th Ring Road and the airport) has lots of small places that will build furniture for you. I brought one of these guys a photo of a Roche Bobois sofa and Crate & Barrel table and I had both of them made within 2 weeks at 1/3 of the price. After 5 years, both pieces have weathered very well. The cool thing is that I’m indecisive and so I had 3 sets of sofa covers made. These shops will also coordinate curtains to furniture. If you are into decorating, it can be a lot of fun.

There are also antiques places around Kuwait, but most of the treasures aren't Kuwaiti, they're Indian. Write to me for info on antiques places around Kuwait.

Decor

Now, this is something that you might not think about right away, but in the US, most landlords are very particular about what you can and can not do to decorate apartments. I lived in one building where they wouldn't even allow you to hang pictures on the wall. Kuwait is a free for all on interior decor. Don't like the flooring? Change it. Don't like the kitchen tiles? Change them. I'm leaving my apartment now after 11 years and I have changed just about everything. It was fun. Consider this: There is no minimum wage in Kuwait, so anything labor-intensive will be less. You can have things done cheaper than in the US.

Appliances

Xcite (Alghanim electronics)  is the biggest and most reputable. Their service is pretty good and they pick up/deliver. You can purchase appliances through them on monthly installments and online (they'll deliver to your house and install.)

Considerations: If you are buying a refrigerator with an ice maker, check the water hook up in the apartment first. Most stoves ("cookers") are heated with propane gas. Tanks are switched out once they are used. The hariss or the neighborhood convenience store (called "dikan" or "baqala") will deliver for less than a dinar.

Utilities

Landline phone: Ask your company's mandoob for his help. You can get a landline for 100 kd per year and all local calls are free. You will need your civil ID. You will not receive a bill or notification when payment is due. You should go to the ministry of communications in the area where you live (or have a mandoob go for you) annually to pay up.

Electrity and Water: Often provided by the landlord. If it isn't, again ask the mandoob for his assistance. You will need to go to the Ministry of Electricity & Water in your area with your civil ID and 100 KD deposit to have the electricity put on. 90% of the time, you will never receive an electricity bill. The average is 5KD per month on an apartment. You should have your mandoob (if possible) go to check with the ministry annually to see how much you owe and to pay up. (Personal note, I got busted after 11 years with an 800 KD bill. I giggle.)

Miscellaneous

Convenience stores: Lots of neighborhoods have convenience stores that you can call and they will deliver just about anything (including propane for the stove)

Addresses in Kuwait are almost non-existent. Until very recently, most streets weren't named/identified. Note your address on your lease. Mail will usually NOT be delivered to your residence. Consider a post office box (at your areas Ministry of Communications for 4 kd per year) or having mail delivered to your office.

Emergency Services: 112. They may/may not answer. Have a plan. Know where the closest ER is (this goes by area where you live also, so know what hospital services the area where you reside/what address is on the back of your Civil ID.   Know who to call (your employer, a friend, etc.)

Security: If your apartment doesn't have a peep-hole in the front door, have one installed. Beggars often find out where a Westerner lives, and will knock on your door relentlessly. Inform your hariss. Security cams are available at some places in Hawalli and you can have them installed over your door. Consider an apartment starting on the 2nd floor and up because thieves can break in through windows while you are out. If you are away for a long time, put your valuables in a bank safe deposit box. Break ins are becomming more common in Kuwait.

DG List of Realtors
(Almost all realtors ask for 50% of the first month's rent.)

#1 Realtor on my list is Zamina of Comfort Real Estate.  EVERYBODY is happy with her.  Phone 99464866.
Dana, 2468388, 2406582
Wael Sulaiman, York, 9930-1217
Marty, Frost Real Estate, 9972-3196 (furnished and unfurnished)
AAA Housing (furnished ONLY) 2246-5888
Mojgen, Target, 6661-9151.
Joey, 6670-5800 (mostly Salmiya)
Joanna, Capital Real Estate, 99136410
Sofia, 97134433
Aziz 66770840
Spanish Villas (multiple properties) 25658983, 99826883
Northern Star 25639183
Wael Sulaiman, York, 9930-1217
Amr, Al Kawthar, 9901-0315 or 243-3325
Abu Ahmed, 66920123
Catherine, 25632813
Dana, 2468388, 2406582
Nelly 9932-1096
Nadi 9723-5252
The Accommodators - 99746024 or Fax: 25630918

I love this service:  www.masahati.com/  - They have an interactive map with photos.
Q8Realtors (properties with photos):  www.q8realtor.com/ 

If you have any questions, you can always feel free to write to me at amerab@gmail.com an I will try to assist.

Butt in a Bottle


Liquid Ass. Yes folks, that is their registered name. I don’t make this stuff up. How did I hear about it? I was surfing the net for stupid yet humorous Halloween pictures to send to my friends. The trend on the net, by the way, is yard scarecrows in the mooning position utilizing two pumpkins. (Why is Halloween the favorite holiday of West Virginia? Because pump kin is official.)

What is Liquid Ass one might ask? Well, according to the LiquidAss website: “ Liquid Ass is an overwhelmingly stinky, funny prank product. Once unleashed, this power-packed, super-concentrated liquid begins to evaporate filling the air with genuine, foul butt-crack smell with hits of dead animal and fresh poo…” I read one comment that it smells like a cross between dog poo and diarrhea. How they manufactured this unique odor is left to the imagination.

I read some of the reviews and checked out some of the YouTube videos (thanks to a good friend, Mr. Tall, who mentioned that they were out there) and sat in my office silently giggling until tears streamed down my face.

I know what you are thinking: “Desert Girl, you have stooped to new lows.” Yes, I know this is juvenile. I know it is bathroom humor. I also know it is totally what I’ve needed lately.

I’ve already been fantasizing about practical applications of Liquid Ass in Kuwait. Yes people, it does come in a spray bottle. My friend, Mr. Tall, says that he dreams of following people who cut him off in traffic and leaving a little on their cars.

Ok, so try to call the police. I can hear it now.
“Aaaaloooo 777.”
Cut-Offer-Dude: Someone followed me home and now my car smells like shit.
777: What?
Cut-Offer-Dude: My car smells like shit.
777: Where did you park it?
Cut-Offer-Dude: No! Someone followed me home and did something to my car.
777: Why don’t you try the baladia (municipality)?
So then Cut-Offer-Dude hangs up and calls his driver/houseboy/gopher: “BABU!!! BABU!!! Come clean my car!” and then Babu gets sick, making things worse. And then the guys’ kids come home and they all get sick. The neighbors are lining up to stare thinking someone has been poisoned. Madame starts shouting for Cut-Offer-Dude to go and buy a new car.

Oh yeah… I too can have my fantasies. Someone call 2484-3900 and tell them to come get me.

Monday, November 03, 2008

International School for Scoundrels


Look at what I did: I went and jinxed myself again. I hate that. Either that or I was ‘sposed to give the cat some food and I di’nt. Now I’m F-ed again. The Universe is back to her shenanigans.

Why do people keep lying to me? I’m a nice person. Really. Unless the restaurant doesn’t deliver on time or doesn’t have the food I want. Or someone is an idiot. Or I'm faced with bad drivers. Or liars. Other than that, I’m a really nice girl.

Kuwait Bait and Switch: They loooooooooooove to play that game around here. For example, some places advertise cars and you call and they “just leased/sold it”. Bullshit. Or, you call for a really great sounding apartment and they “just rented it”, but “have another one in another area for more money that you will like much more.” Bullshit. I've started playing Bullshit Bingo with these guys. As soon as I hear their lines, I shout out "BINGOOOOOO!" and they think I'm a nutcase (which by all indications is indeed true). I just say, 'Oh, sorry, someone was at the door. I was just calling my khadama.'

So, me and Bunny (that is poor grammar children – don’t try this at home) went to sign the agreement on the really great (yet somewhat small) apartment in Bnaid Al Gar, facing the sea with a little balcony and view of the Balls of Kuwait (Kuwait Towers that is – there are 3, not 2). I saw myself in some Hollywood-looking PJs or robe sitting out on the balcony, hair blowing in the slight breeze coming off the turquoise Gulf waters…. having my International Foods flavored coffee in the morning, little dog at my side….. So we went to sign with mucho dinero in hand… and low and behold, Kuwait Bait and Switch: dude shows me a completely different apartment “on the other side – just the same…” with a completely different view, completely different floor tiles (yuck, ew), completely different everything. I can’t talk anymore. I can’t protest. The shouts of protest are collected in a ball in my throat that eventually makes its way down into my chest, staying there until later when I cry myself to sleep. But at the moment, I just walk. I turn on my (really cute stiletto) heels and I walk. Bunny knows the walk; I turn on my heel and I’m outathere: My International Foods Coffee Moment Bubble bursted, again and again and again.

Now, Bunny is of the philosophy that even liars, scoundrels, and thieves should be talked to as if they are your friends. He says that you can learn something from these underworld creatures. I know that God sends you angels and often they are disgused, but you can be polite to them without actually maintaining conversation. Maybe there is a religious reason for this – I don’t know; I am not of that mindset. I walk. I don’t say a word unless it is in disgust. Let’s just go and get me some damn chocolate before I light the world on fire with the laser beams shooting out of my eyeballs (green laser beams last night. I think I'll fire up the world with green...)

This is why they have strict gun laws in Kuwait. Bunny has taken away all my sharp objects and even when I eat, I am only allowed plastic utensils now (did you know that you can even fabricate a shank out of a spoon?). I agree with him completely. It isn’t safe anymore. No one is safe.

Here is my thing: I have money (TO THROW AT THEM). I’m not looking to rent a mulhaq – I want quality at a higher standard (ergo higher commission to realtor). I have a job. I pay my bills on time (except for my Zain bill – sorry guys. There is something fundamentally wrong with me because I just don't want to pay them on time - especially if they can't ever send me an itemized bill - EVER). I am quiet and responsible and even pay harisses more than I probably should every month. Why the game?

As far as real estate agents/scoundrels: Tell me the truth and I will give you my money. Find me what I (not you) want and I will give you money. It is REALLY SIMPLE. No brainer actually (for those with no brains). WHY THE DRAMA? If you lie to me, I’m not going to be your friend. I’m not going to recommend service to people who are really my friends and who trust me and who, like me, have money to spend on accommodations. I’m not even going to talk to you if you lie to me. What part of that scenario don’t the real estate liars understand? I wouldn’t associate with anyone who lies to me – why should I associate with a liar that is going to take my money?

Not to generalize (partially due to statistics because there are so few of them), but female realtors are doing a much better job. If they don’t have what I want, they tell me. Several of them call back and say, “Hi. I’m just calling you back to follow up and touch base.” Okay! Now that thar is friendly!

By the by, I love eWaseet. I wish they would publish/distribute more Waseet copies in ENGLISH (and who is paying the big bucks for accommodations?). They have an English language toggle online; however, when you get down to the actual listings – they are all in Arabic. Duuuuh. The other real estate sites don’t answer e-mail inquiries and many won’t even answer the phone.

Which brings me to another issue: If you are a realtor and you place an ad in the newspaper: ANSWER THE F-ING PHONE!!!! Again, seemingly a no-brainer: They have planned, they designed and placed an ad. They know the date the ad will run. Then they don’t answer the phone? What is UP with that??? Whyyyyyyyyy???

I hate this. I have 3 weeks left before I am living in a refrigerator box under a bridge. If you see a big box with a blanket draped over it and a sign that reads, “Villa Desert Girl” – that’s me!



Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bunnies and Cats Etcetera



I went to a function at the Al Manshar Rotana on the rooftop around the pool this weekend. OMG - I have to tell you - it is the most beautiful setting I've been to in Kuwait. You can see all of Fahaheel from up there. The food was fantastic - just finger food, but really very good. They played light jazz (someone there obviously has good taste - finally!!!!) . I am going to try to rent out the place for a dinner party sometime. Amazingly gorgeous venue.
I was out with Bunny looking for apartments and I had while to sit and talk to a cat (me in the car, her on a brick). Bunny loves to make new friends and chat with harisses, so while he was in there on one of his visits to some apartment or another - Shaab, I believe - I struck up a conversation with a stray cat who seemed intent on making eye contact with me. As cats are supposed to be the messengers of the underworld, I asked this particular cat to get in touch with my djinnis (don't ask) and have them go look for a new home for me. I could ask my djinnis (genies) myself, but they are so lazy and really require an intermediary to get them moving.

Apparently, the had a nice chat because I have found a few very nice apartments now and people seem to have changed their attitude all of a sudden (or maybe it is just the beginning of the month and the bastards want their commissions). I, however, know it to be the cat. So, thank you, cat friend.


THANK YOU BUNNY! I have to send a special shout out to Bunny because I can't believe he has put up with all my merciless bitching, moaning, and complaining about how much I hate realtors (liars!) and dirty places. He has been kind and calm when I am in tatters and he takes me to buy chocolate and makes everything in my world okay again (until we get to the next place to look at). He has been with me after his work day is through; after he has picked up or dropped off various children and children of friends and other people; after going to his business; after fixing some car or another; after going to his course - all the time cheerful and happy to see me even though his eyes are so bloodshot and weary. He never pushes back when I have the need to be pushy; he just lets it go. He puts up with me through sick and sin and I just adore him for the kind of person he is.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hug a Tree, Kuwait! Kuwait's Environmental Projects

New National Motto: Come to Kuwait! We have no bush.....
tee hee

If Kuwait has plans to plant 1 million trees, why is the municipality cutting down the existing ones? Ok, I know that the municipality is just the hit man, but that someone else is giving the order – a cabinet maybe? Well, come out of that closet and hug a tree!

All over Kuwait, tree murders are taking place at an astronomical rate. Look around and you will find bush whackers. Bayam! Another tree or bush or shrub bites the dust – and I do mean dust because in a short while, that is all that will be left anywhere. I thought Kuwait was trying to be "progressive". What UP?

Powers that be: Puhleeze – make it against the law for the government and anyone else to cut down a tree!

Who has the contract for procurement and installation of trees? Just wondering. I know that someone had the ugly plastic light-up tree contract for several years. Ugly plastic light-up palm trees were everywhere in Kuwait. It looked like a 70's disco around here for a while. All they needed were the plastic lei's (don't get me started).... I can't help it. Plastic lays aren't even real lays. Artificial lays. Go for the real lays. Uh.. I mean lei....

“Thursday, October 23, 2008 - The Higher Committee of the Friends of the Environment Campaign Thursday reported the launch of the second phase of a project, which involves planting one million trees in Kuwait, upon directives of and encouragement of His Highness the Amir. LINK

The first phase of this project was launched November 6, 2007 and ended in December 9. It comprised distribution of a million paper bags made from recycled material to be used at the state's different cooperative societies free of charge.”

The paper bag drive at Kuwait's co-ops was the brainchild of Environment Friends Campaign (EFC). EFC is a project which was coordinated between many local companies by a company called Challenge the Era Company (CEC). It is owned by the Al-Wazzan family/group (incase ya don't know: Mowasat Hospital, Ford, etc).

National Bank of Kuwait has recently started a paper waste reduction program through a company called Green Target Company . (I don't have a link to the article, but it was in Al-Watan's Daily paper on November 3, 2008.) GTC lists INJAZ and RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland??? - Dunno) on their site.

INJAZ has an impressive board of directors and I hope they are all participating in recycling efforts. I hope companies like Agility, which has been forward-thinking in their Corporate Social Responsibility endeavors (they actually HAVE an entire CSR department – way to go, Tarek Sultan!) will take up paper recycling efforts also.

Maybe these companies should also look into tire recycling in Kuwait. This photo was in Al-Watan about the increasing amount of tires building up in Jahra. With 1.5 million cars currently on the road in Kuwait, and 50-70,000 more being added each years, that is a hell of a lot of tires. Plans are underway for tire recycling plants in UAE and Saudi Arabia (don't know the status). Kuwait might be selling tires, but someone could be making a huge ROI through recycled products gleaned from tires: For example, 1 car tire produces 4.3 litres of No. 4 fuel oil, 1.4 cubic meters of syngas, 0.9 kilos of steel, and 3.4 kilos of residual carbon. Microwave technology (although expensive) has zero emissions for the recycling of tires.

While the stock market is crashing around us, the businesses that will emerge in Kuwait will be sustainable like the recycling and environmental industries. Kuwait is a consumer country and these business areas haven't even been touched upon.

Mold removal. (I'm giving you free business development advice.). Is anyone in Kuwait doing mold removal; either residentially or commercially? More and more houses are being built close to water. We have several very humid seasons in Kuwait. On my recent apartment search, I can't even tell you how many apartments and homes I've been in with mold growing on the walls. Tremendous ROI: Labor in Kuwait is cheap. Equipment is cheap (sprayers, fans/ventilation, cheap chemicals, biohazard suiting for the labor, maybe a van or two). The process is simple. The key is going to be educating the Kuwaiti public about how dangerous that black stuff on their wall is to their children. It can cause brain problems, respiratory problems, skin rashes, etc. How many kids in Kuwait already have asthma? How much of that is caused by what is in their bedroom and bathroom? Nobody knows. Sorry, but your kadama can only clean so much.