Saturday, July 21, 2007

Kuwaiti foods, a few books, and the newspapers

Life has been rather eventless lately. I made several unsuccessful attempts at photographing the desert foxes that come out at night, and I caught another long-eared hedgehog a couple of nights ago. I’ve been reading books and newspapers to pass the time, and I’ve been getting more time to talk to the Kuwaiti border police personnel. I’m not even trying to improve my Arabic, since any progress I might make wouldn’t really be significant enough to make this mission much more enjoyable. Spanish is much more important to me at this point. I still have a long way to go until I am fluent in it, but not nearly as long as Arabic.

One of the advantages of spending time with the Kuwaitis is that their food is far better than ours. This is a light meals, in comparison to others that I have had. I still know a lot of food names, but I just make the Kuwaitis laugh with the Iraqi dialect I am used to. Some of the sergeants on the border now call me Abu Timmin, because I didn’t know that the Kuwaiti word for rice is ’Aysh, and I used the Iraqi equivalent: Timmin. From the American point of view they look like a bunch of uncivilized picnickers, but in fact there is a whole set of unwritten rules on how to handle each kind of food. I guess my table manners are bad by Kuwaiti standards. Oh well…

I just got done reading Mi País Inventado, by Isabel Allende. It was not a great book (informal, and too short), but it made me re-evaluate the other books by her that I read this year (Cuentos de Eva Luna, Hija de la Fortuna, Zorro, La Casa de los Espíritus, and Retrato en Sepia). What surprised me most is just how much of what she writes as “fiction” is actually straight from memory. I still get impatient when she has female characters act and think like upper-class, modern American women (such as a nineteenth century Chilean woman who opens a microcredit bank for poor women). However, I had to completely re-evaluate La Casa de los Espíritus and Retrato en Sepia, in light of the fact that they turn out to be almost all family lore.

I also got some interesting comments on Chilean society from this book. Some anecdotes are really funny, like one about a powerful landlord who used to say the following rhymed prayer after having raped the women on his property:

Señor, no fornico por gusto o por vicio, sino por dar hijos a tu servicio.
(Lord, I do not fornicate for pleasure or for vice, but to provide children who
will serve you)

I really wish she would just go ahead and write a people’s history of Chile. Her description of the late 1800’s expansionist war against Peru and Bolivia is extraordinary, and Zorro is unexpectedly full of neat descriptions of California, Spain and New Orleans in the early 1800’s.

According to the crown prince of Kuwait, the Amir is Father to all Kuwaitis, and he has “inherited from his honorable ancestors deep insight into the present with all its reality and, in tandem, exploring the future with all its dimensions and potential either on domestic or foreign policy at all levels.” I know, this is grammatically dubious, but this is exactly how it was reported in the Kuwait Times a few days ago. The original Arabic. probably sounded even more like a badly translated Hindu scroll. His deep insight decided that Kuwait needed a new weekend. Starting in September, Kuwaitis will get to rest Friday and Saturday, instead of the current Thursday and Friday.

Hey, if I had his abilities, I’d adopt a new weekend too: Tuesday through Sunday.

Nobody seems to mind the coming of the new weekend, since unlike the US where the weekend tries to encompass the Sabbaths of Jewish, Catholic, and Adventist traditions, here everyone that matters is Muslim, and there is only one sacred day of prayer – Friday. So the day of rest is just a recent addition, a western import. As for the imported labor that does 99% of the work in Kuwait, most of them never get a day off so they aren’t impacted.

I also learned about a really neat office in the Kuwaiti government: the “Supreme committee for the ideal mother.” Its chairperson is Sheikha Fareeha Al-Ahmed. She thinks Kuwaiti youths are corrupt because of insufficient satellite TV censorship.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great work.