Kuwait


Sorry I’ve been a little absent from the blog. Eiding with a huge family means lots of obligations and we’re now gearing up to travel back home. TONIGHT.

But I was able to share some of my ‘Eid reflections over at Muslimah Media Watch in a small (and awesome) roundtable looking at ‘Eid celebrations and gender in four countries. I’m cross-posting my exert here as well.

Prayers for everyone as we fly over the Atlantic and things will be back on a regular posting schedule once we’re over the jet lag.

Enjoy and a belated very Merry Eid Mubarak!


Praying evening prayers in the mosque just before the 'Eid announcement was made. The ladies gobbled up Eryn and Ivy.

Evening prayers in the mosque just before the ‘Eid announcement. The ladies gobbled up Eryn and Ivy.

Eid for our small family usually means dressing in our finest, rushing to pray with thousands at an exhibition hall, patiently listening to elected officials remark on the amazing diversity of Canada’s mosaic, and delighting the children with bouncy castles for a few hours before returning home or going back to work.

This year, we celebrated ‘Eid in our pyjamas.

Many mosques in Kuwait start ‘Eid prayers at about 5:15am in the morning. So most of the household just didn’t bother going to bed — we stayed up all night chatting with extended family members, applying henna, praying Fajr and listening to several of the neighbourhood mosques chanting the takbirat, broadcast high above the city from minaret speakers. Then, bleary-eyed, we threw abayas over our pyjamas and carried the still sleeping children outside to pray in a rocky parking lot.

Carpets softened the makeshift musalla and a caterer distributed cold dates and water while the men sat in the open-air and women took their place in a special section behind them. To ensure “maximum privacy,” the women’s section was enclosed on three sides by a large beige tarp — which doesn’t provide much of a view, but beats staring at a paved road.

Admiring the henna.

Admiring the henna.

This year our speaker system unfortunately cut out just as the khateeb brought up the topic of women. A few people took the silence that followed as a cue to wish everyone a happy ‘Eid Mubarak, many waited patiently, and I peeked over the tarp to see what the men were up to. Later, the Hubby told me the sermon was very positive — telling everyone that women should be an essential part of the community, working and volunteering publicly. That women should be elevated, empowered and proud. A lovely sentiment, but pretty ironic without a game plan to change societal perceptions and when we’re peeking from behind the tarp.

The view beyond the tarp.

Peeka-boo!

An irony I largely ignored in favour of experiencing a fun and privileged ‘Eid day with friends and family in a city where the overwhelming majority celebrated as well. In Canada, the prayer itself seems to be the main event and I’ve always felt slighted at being told how empowered I am on ‘Eid, while mosque officials put me in a basement every other day of the year.

We later breakfasted with family at an aunt’s house — enjoying creamy and strong cooked tea, eating a sweet pasta dish called atriya and home made Yemeni bread, all lovingly cooked by the grandmothers in the family. Then we retuned home to sleep before finally dressing in new ‘Eid clothes and spending the rest of the day party hopping, gift exchanging with the family and wandering the hallways of a flashy and trendy mall with thousands of other families enjoying the same.

Eid Mubarak!

Eid Mubarak!

The Ramadan Reflections over at Muslimah Media Watch are wrapping up for another year. For my second reflection I wrote about an experience that truly illustrates some of my personal frustrations about motherhood and spirituality — so I’m cross-posting it here to be included in our ongoing series. 

Enjoy!


Help I’m alive…

The Grand Mosque in Kuwait.

The outdoor courtyard at the Grand Mosque in Kuwait.

We’re late. My favourite popular imam has already begun leading the second rakat for Qiyam ul-layl, the night prayers. We dash from the car and run across the street, our feet soon gliding upon smooth marble floors at the largest mosque in Kuwait.

My sister-in-law leads the way. One hand holds a chair for our pregnant cousin and the other clutches her black abaya as she power-walks ahead. A corner is turned and the scent of cardamom laced coffee brings a smile to my face. Hundreds of people are milling about. Some grab free water and dates, others coordinate with friends – everyone is searching for a place to pray. There’s a crush of people trying to enter the women’s section in the outdoor courtyard, but a female police officer is closing the gates, saying it’s full. Squeezing in, my sister-in-law grabs my arm and drags me inside.

We join the line and I open my Qur’an app, quick to find the right section so I can follow along. My eyes fall into their own rhythm – absorbing the English meaning before jumping back to the Arabic. Up, down and up again. Left to right, then right to left. The languages and words begin to meld together in cadence with the reciter. I lose myself in calligraphic script and try desperately to write the meaning onto my heart.

Suddenly a woman grabs my arm. I’m disoriented. She’s insistent. It’s clearly something terribly urgent. “Ta’ali!! Ta’ali huna!” “Come! Come here!” She grabs my arm harder and tries to pull me out of the prayer line. She’s saying more but I can’t understand her.

My mind races. Is she upset that I’m reading from my smart phone? Does she want me to fill the gaps in the line behind? I frown, angry that she’s disrupting my prayer and quickly pull my arm out of her grasp. Then she lightly brushes my shoulder. (more…)

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Colourful dresses and Girgian songs at the Scientific Center.

Eryn tore through the white lace curtains hanging between the family room and the corridor leading to the bedrooms with an excited scream. In her makeshift costume, she looked like a sunflower — half of her black, pink and gold abaya obscured by a bright yellow tutu. In one hand she held tight to a multi-coloured, glowing lantern and in the other, a fistful of her favourite candy.

She joined her two cousins who were decked out in fine clothes and the three girls laughed and screamed together as we desperately tried to wrangle everyone into their shoes and then into the car. Then, just as we stepped out of the house, we were met by a group of children coming along the road, singing for candy. Each one had a fantastically coloured costume — and together they took turns singing traditional songs and blessings upon Eryn and her cousins.

Over the last three nights, families throughout the Gulf region marked the celebration of Girgian. Traditionally held in-between the 13th and 15th of Ramadan, Girgian is a special children’s holiday where they dress up in fancy or national costumes and go door-to-door singing songs in exchange for small toys, sweets, nuts and decorative boxes.

Sounds a lot like Halloween, doesn’t it?

And that’s exactly how it was explained to me when we attended a Girgian event at the Kuwait Scientific Centre. While no one detailed the holiday’s actual origins, everyone I spoke to admitted that it was just like Halloween — just with a Gulf Arab flare.

One woman sadly lamented that Girgian just isn’t what it used to be when she was a child. Twenty years ago tonnes of children went door-to-door and neighbourhoods spent a lot of time decorating their homes in anticipation, handing out candy or homemade treats and really enjoying the sweet Ramadan entertainment as a community. Today, Girgian is slowly becoming more and more commercialized with grand public events at malls and ready-made sweet bags or Girgian treat boxes available for purchase at local supermarkets and souqs. Still, there remains plenty of children who excitedly make their own Girgian candy sacs and look forward to singing around the neighbourhood with their friends.

For someone who is always looking for new and interesting child-friendly Ramadan events, being a part of this celebration was an amazing treat. The happy, carnival-like atmosphere was incredibly infectious and I hope for Eryn’s sake, it helps create some fantastic childhood memories.

After parading around in their fancy dress, the three cousins ate traditional Yemeni crepes (thanks to their fantastic aunt who stood in line for an hour), had their faces painted, decorated bags, watched a magician, and sang songs with at least one hundred screaming children – while we parents enjoyed a little cardamon-laced coffee.

Well past midnight when the girls slept on our shoulders and the night was finally over, I caught sight of the full moon and was struck by how quickly the days of Ramadan are slipping by.

We’re halfway through the month. The last ten days of Ramadan will soon be upon us. And many people will be turning toward more devotional acts and events with special attention. Trying through prayer, reflection or dhikr to evoke a different kind of carnival — one that creates memories to nourish the soul.

It’s just after taraweeh prayers — and I should be sleeping, but jet lag has my wheels spinning, and no doubt I’ll be up way past fajr again. Surprise! We’re in Kuwait.

fghfh

Flying over a marine channel in the middle of the desert.

The Hubby came home from his stint in the UK and before he could take a breath, we were off to spend the rest of Ramadan with his family. But not before missing our flight due to delays and spending an extra 24 hours in Washington.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened. Two years ago delays allowed us to spend the day checking out main monuments and points of interest in the city. And I must say, the White House looks a LOT bigger in the movies.

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Main entrance, women’s entrance and basement.

Since it was Friday, we spent most of the day getting to and from the mosque. We went to the beautifully constructed, Islamic Center – a surprising sight in-between an eclectic collection of embassies. After walking through the main entrance and courtyard, Ivy and I were soon directed to the women’s section. I missed the entrance at first because the stairs led down toward toilet facilities and I naively thought there was no way such a nice looking mosque would send women underground. Instead, I took the stairs up at the back of the mosque and met a locked door. So, down to the toilets I went.

The women’s section is nice enough. Spacious and has two big screen TVs with an excellent speaker system (hey wow! What fantastic selling points)! But what won me over was a coincidental meeting.

After the prayer I looked up to see a woman in a black abaya staring and smiling at me. So I walked over, greeted her and we started talking. She was moved by the diversity in cultures at the mosque and was blown away when I told her I was Canadian. She was en route from Kuwait to Canada, just stopping off in Washington to visit her sick father. Funny how two travellers coming and going from the same countries were able to bump into each other, share a laugh, a hug and salaams.

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Obligatory Ramadan food picture

With some serious lucky children sleeping through most of the flight and 14 hours later, we arrived just in time for break fast. And then almost immediately were thrown into some early Girgian celebrations. Which from what I’ve seen thus far, include cheesy remixed 80′s music, magicians and lots of carnival fun for kids.

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Fancy a midnight carnival ride?

Tomorrow we’re invited to some more events for children. So far even though I’ve made it to the mosque, hear the adhaan five times a day and listen to Qur’an almost non-stop — it feels more like a huge party and less like what Ramadan is “supposed” to feel like. Though, I’m sure that will end once the jet lag stops thwarting my attempts to get up before noon.

I’m looking forward to discovering the spirit of Ramadan here as well.

photo 2 (3)Smooth indie pop mixed with the din of morning breakfasters — masking the Arabic and English conversations and adding a warm buzz to the many clinking tea cups. It was a cold morning and the wind off Kuwait’s Marina drove patio-goers indoors to the trendy cafés lining the water.

I was enjoying a Moroccan mint tea and nursing Ivy to sleep when I heard a testing, “Hello?”

Expecting guests, I looked up with a bright smile and instantly recognized Heba al-Ali, co-founder of BirthKuwait. Her colleague, a birth doula, gave a quick nudge and joked at me, “When I saw you breastfeeding, I knew you were one of us.”

The three of us had never met before — but a chance tweet and a couple of email exchanges later, there we were, talking all things maternal over poached eggs and organic bread.

BirthKuwait was created to better support mothers by advocating for healthy and natural birth, and to improve maternity services by making resources and information available to women. One and a half years ago, doula Sarah Paksima and midwife Zuzana Nadova spearheaded a plan to get professionals who were interested in maternal care — breastfeeding and natural birth — all together in one room. Health professionals, doulas, pediatricians, and members from the Ministry of Health’s Breastfeeding Promotion and Support Team entered into a discussion to move beyond just breastfeeding support and answer the question, what else was there to offer women in Kuwait?

Heba explained:

We wanted to offer monthly meetings to give out free information, and educate women so they can demand the changes in maternal health. We didn’t want to lecture the government or the hospitals to change — but to empower women to demand the change for themselves.

BirthKuwait is essentially helping to fill education gaps in breastfeeding support, prenatal care, unnecessary medical interventions during delivery and postnatal care that women in Kuwait might not receive from private or government hospitals. Unless someone actively seeks out information from their doctor or government clinics, it’s unlikely they will be made aware of  lactation consultants, childbirth preparation classes, or that the birth experience doesn’t have to include an episiotomy — a standard procedure in Kuwait.

I had read online that birth in Kuwait is a highly medicalized, hospital event and that midwifery isn’t a recognized profession. But I was still shocked to hear the opinion that doctors don’t know how to birth a child without an episiotomy and that women simply expect to receive one.

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Ivy is down with a fever, which is pretty time consuming for me when she just wants to nurse all day long, but alhamdulillah it’s nothing we can’t handle. My money is on teething — or on the possibility she picked up a bug from the many hands that touch her face. I’ve been carrying her in the sling, which seems to be an oddity in Kuwait, and therefore an invitation to stare, ask questions and kiss the baby.

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My awesome view when bowing in prayer.

There’s probably a bonus for us in terms of promoting babywearing and building up her immune system — on top of the many blessings Ivy gets as people coo over her.

When we’re not visiting family, eating out or shopping, we’re praying. Sounds funny I suppose, but being in a Muslim country just makes it easier to BE Muslim — from eating halaal to having easy access to places of worship. Voices from three mosques wake me for the dawn prayer. But in Canada, I have to drive 20 minutes to hear the adhaan from a crackling speaker system.

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Digital tasbeeh. There’s an app for that too.

A Muslim majority is not perfect mind you. It’s often remarked that when people leave Kuwait for their studies abroad, they either go to one extreme and go wild, or come home deeply religious and educated in the religion. In Kuwait, it might be easy to pray at the MacDonald’s mosque, but unless you have the time, the motivation and are a prolific Arab speaker, it’s more difficult to gain access to courses on religious knowledge.

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Kuwait City skyline at sunset.

Overall we’re having a really fabulous trip. But it’s not only fun and games, and extra orders of cheese fatayer (*drool*) — I’ve also been “working” — lining up interviews for future posts insha’Allah. I had the honour of meeting up with the fantastic hijabi boxer, Mombasa during one of her training sessions at the Kuwait Football club, and this week, will be meeting with Birth Kuwait to discuss their healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding awareness campaign, as well as the authors of The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook. Exciting!!

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A completely intimidating and intense skip-rope session.

We’re counting down our last days here. It’ll be good to get back home and return to our routine — but I think the girls will miss dear, ol’Kuwait. And after a month of lovely weather, I’m not that excited about returning to a Canadian winter.

nbvv

Of course I had to get the sweater.

We’re on our way back to Canada, and once we return you’ll also insha’Allah see a return of regular posting. Until then, more lazy photoblogging!

We’ve really had a brilliant time and I’m actually not looking forward to leaving. I’m really, really going to miss the easy of Muslim life and being on holiday of course.

Eryn and her cousin on their first carnie ride!

Why get a tattoo sleeve when you can get a sleeve with tattoos? The perfect gift for the rebellious, yet disconserning muhajabah.

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There’s a new little critter on the blog. I found the currently star of my banner at Mubarakiya — an old, and extremely colourful market. Tonight I was on the search for shawls, prayer beads and an abaya for Eryn, And when you want authenticity at a great haggling price, you head to this old souq.

Since we only come out at night (it’s dark by 6:30pm but still blazing hot — and I married into a family of vampires), I thought I’d do some lazy photoblogging on some of the nightlife I’ve encountered. We’ve got gold, firemen, spashpads and ice cream. What an exciting saucy combo!

Enjoy!

Lots of colourful kitsch at this souvenir stand in Mubarakiya.

There are hundreds of kiosks selling everything from kitchen ware, beauty products, clothing, and expensive incense.

... as well as gold. Lot's of gorgeous 22-24 carat gold.

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This post originally appeared on Womanist Musings and was inspired by a lovely email discussion with the brilliant Renee over my extreme excitement at having pepperoni on my pizza for the first time in 15 years.


Yalla, yalla, what’s the holdup?” There’s a group of young Kuwaiti teens standing in the doorway to the movie theatre. Final Destination 5 has just started and I’m anxious to get to my seat and enjoy my caramel and salt popcorn. I can’t understand why they’re just standing there pointing to the screen and flashing their mobiles — and just before I start pushing my way through the group, my sister-in-law holds my arm and says, “they’re waiting for the usher.”

The usher?!

We ordered our tickets online this afternoon, thankfully rejecting The Smurfs and unfortunately also saying no to Captain America (I like my superheroes). Once we decided on the movie, we chose our seats — specifically opting for the mixed “family section” over splitting our group between the two gender segregated “male/female bachelor” sections. Then at the theatre, helpful ushers escorted everyone to their properly assigned seats without stepping on anyone’s toes.

As action packed, gore-fests go, it was a pretty entertaining movie. I was a little surprised when a couple of youths cat-called and whistled when the sexy groupie character showed up in hot pants and fishnets, but was more surprised when none of the sexual innuendo or swear words were cut out of the film. To keep a level of public decency, almost every screened film is censored for physical intimacy — including kissing, but excluding hand holding and “wink-wink-say-no-more” references. So I missed that one scene where the main couple kiss and perhaps even a sex scene or two, but I wouldn’t know and it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film. No one else seemed to care either.

Sex or no sex, we all cringed and yelled together with each horrific death scene.

As far as modern, first-world regions go, the constitutional monarchy of Kuwait is just like Canada… only Muslim. But flashier. With taller, more modern buildings. A massive disparity between the very rich and the extremely poor. Mosques and malls on every street corner. High-end fashion malls. Really expensive cars and ridiculously cheap gas. Overwhelmingly Arab and South East Asian. Really hot.

Okay, Kuwait is nothing like Canada.

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It’s nearly midnight on the first day of ‘Eid here in Kuwait and I haven’t slept in over 24 hours. So enjoy some of this lazy photoblogging!

'Eid started with an announcement at the mosque and a round of balloons, music, dancing and henna at home.

I decided to stay up all night, since the morning prayer is at 4am and the ‘Eid prayer starts at 5:39. It’s so not like Canada or the US where you have the option of attending the 7am, 8am, 9am or 11am ‘Eid prayers.

We decided to pray outside as it’s a prophetic practice that many mosques here follow. It’s absolutely lovely weather at 5am. But the second the sun breaks, temperatures soar right up to the high 40′s.

Naturally, the men's section is open. The woman's section is hidden by a tarp barrier. We came early and had the front row... which doesn't really make for an interesting view.

There’s no “field” to pray in per se. Kuwait is a desert. So we prayed on tarp and carpet that was put down over a gravel clearing in a residential area.

Here’s a short video of the takbirat with a lovely view of Eryn and the tarp:

There were thousands of people all coming together to join in this special prayer. Honestly, it was amazing praying outside in the morning heat, watching flocks of birds take advantage of the dawn and just a wonderful feeling being so close to so many people who were all in a celebratory mood. Unifying.

Women greet each other with hugs, kisses and a happy 'Eid Mubarak after the end of prayers.

This ‘Eid is a little toned down due to some family concerns — so after prayers we had breakfast with family and literally just hung out all day visiting a few close friends. It was simple and wonderful and definitely has advantages over going back to the office and spending ‘Eid commuting to and from work.

Eryn's lovely 'Eid outfit that I picked up at this year's Muslimfest!

While I’m going to miss the sweetness and joys of Ramadan, it’s also my pleasure to say Happy ‘Eid everyone!

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