Saturday, January 30, 2016

Horseback on the Beach

I had a very glorious few hours yesterday with one of my Kuwaiti hosts. We drove to one of the country's best beaches to meet some equine friends.

In case those waters weren't gorgeously blue enough, let's add horses:

And it's probably best to add a sunset, just to really make sure the day is okay:

All in all, I had a rather fun few hours. Here are a few moments from the ride. Not shown in the video are several utterly fantastic canters. Happy Becca. :)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Baby AlFadhel!!

There's a new baby!

My Kuwaiti family has a new granddaughter. Baby AlFadhel was born on Tuesday.

In Kuwait, newborns are often greeted and the new parents congratulated with a fancy reception that takes place nearly immediately in the hospital. All of the women of both families, as well as close friends of the new mother, gather in a suite and are plied with tea, hot chocolate, and sweets. The men gather separately and do...whatever it is men do when they're together without womenfolk? Haha. I cannot give an accurate account of that portion of the reception.

Depending on the parents' preferences, the reception time may last one or two days. My adopted family decided to hold two days' worth. I attended last night. Given the fanciness, one of the daughters dolled me up: makeup, hairstyling, and all! 

However long the reception goes, all the aunts are essentially required to be there to help greet all the extended family and friends. I was thus at the Dive Team's officers longer than usual today, since the normal family lunch was cancelled in favour of the reception.

It all seems a bit exhausting for a brand new mother to me, but I imagine it may also be nice to deal with all the visitors and well-wishers in one go!

In any case, the baby is adorable and very little. :)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekend in Bahrain

One of the "traumas" of traveling in one country for a lengthy period of time is that visas may expire. This can be a real nightmare. If, however, you're in Kuwait researching for 6 weeks and they only give 4 week tourist visas for free, but you're able to afford a flight to another Gulf country...this dilemma becomes a rather lovely excuse to go visit a beloved friend.

Hello, Bahrain! I met Ghadeer through AMENDS, at the same conference I first encountered the Kuwait Dive Team. She's an architect and environmentalist in one of the Gulf's smallest countries. This weekend, I had the opportunity to tour her island nation with her. We crammed quite a lot in - meeting her two project teams (the first, a student-driven initiative promoting recycling; the second, an artist-focused project drawing attention to issues of urban planning and space politics), touring museums and historical sites, and dining with her family and in-laws.

Highlights included:

Hand-feeding a baby camel at a sheikh's farm (oh my word cuteness factor of 11/10);

Drinking from a freshwater spring in the middle of the saltwater Gulf; and

Praying in a Hindu temple for the first time.

Bahrain has an incredible diversity packed in - (tense) Sunni and Shi'i Muslim sect politics, significant Indian and Pakistani migrant populations, a large American segment thanks to military presence, and regular flows of tourists from other Gulf countries. It makes for quite a colourful scene. Given the climate, architecture, and community spaces, I honestly felt like I was in the US, Middle East, and Asia separately within 30 minutes of driving.

It was a valuable weekend research-wise, as it provided the opportunity to compare Kuwait with another Gulf country (incredibly different - think how dissimilar the US and Mexico are even though they're immediate neighbours!). I also met a variety of Bahraini artists and architects focused on environmental issues, several of whom are beginning projects that may well qualify as "environmental peacebuilding". It was great to gather their perspectives informally and know I could get several more formal interviews if I decide they'd be valuable for my PhD or in the future.

A rather fabulous weekend, all in all!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

KDT Operation 3: Boat Salvage

Woohoo, she's up!

I had the most bizarre boat ride of my life on Tuesday. I was in the Khiran Resort Marina in south Kuwait, and I cruised along through the beautiful clear blue waters standing on a boat.
The trick is that the boat was upside down. And under the water.

The thing had been on the seabed for 20 years, 6 metres down and barely visible beneath the water. The amount of regular activity around the dock, issues of visibility, and the skill (and expense) required to lift a sunken boat meant the thing had years and years to settle in and cause pollution issues and potential hazards.
But on Tuesday, up she came. And I "helped" much the same way Iorwerth assists me in baking. Waleed was kind enough to give me simple jobs that would have taken him 20 seconds and managed to require five minutes of our joint effort as he explained what to do.

The divers are all volunteers, and the Team isn't contracted or paid for any of their operations, though they do something receive support in the form of free equipment loans. And while 3 hours in the sea is generally fun, it's also exhausting, dangerous, and demanding work. I understand why they do it, though. The feeling of being underwater, watching a boat slowly begin to rise from the sand as giant air bags carefully tied around it heft it upward, is nigh on undescribable. And having it all the way out of the water after 2 hours of trial and error, communicating underwater with specialised sign language, tying and retying ropes, and testing various angles of boat and crane pull, was a definite high.

And now I better understand why the Team is so intent on forging relationships with other organisations around the world - this stuff is serious, and niche. They have incredibly specialised skillsets, and sharing their particular approaches while hearing others' is a way to be better at this. It's not the kind of thing one can major in at university or learn at your average vocational school...

I was privileged to get a small insight into how these kinds of operations work. I teased Waleed that maybe someday I'll be able to lead a salvage myself. But given that the Team has spent 3 decades honing these operations, 'someday' may be far distant indeed. ;)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"All Black Everything, No White Anything"

This post is going to challenge many of you. Me too. That's okay. It's important anyway.

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US. This annual focus on the continuing problems of race and oppression is one of the things I miss most about living in America. In the light of that, I would like to share with you a project from a beloved friend. He and two of his friends in New York are committing to a year of only watching and taking in media created by people of colour.

This affects me, quite directly...Nico isn't going to be reading my blog or my academic work this year. As a cherished friend and valued co-intellectual, this is a direct loss, and perhaps a bit of a blow to my ego.

But that's okay. Nico is doing this because in too many places in the world, my voice and my words and my writing are louder than his and other persons of colour. Nico is doing this because every day, the majority of the books, movies, television shows, art, and information that enters my brain originates from people who look, sound, and think like me. That is not true for him, or for the majority of people of colour in America.

And it's time that changed. There is beautiful, heart-breaking, soul-moving, mind-changing media out there by persons of colour. And it deserves all of our attention, not just Nico's. And it doesn't deserve our attention only or because it is by persons of colour. It deserves our attention because media shapes who we are and how we see the world. And we must take in a wide variety of perspectives if we have any hope of seeing the world for everything that it is and can be.

Nico's project in no way undermines that white people can write good books, or author articles that challenge issues of racism, or produce fun television. It is an effort to showcase how much of what our society creates and intakes is white, in direct contrast to the glorious diversity that our society actually is. It is an effort to experience how much your mindset and worldview can shift depending on what you feed your brain. It is a challenge to all of us to more consciously consider how we shape ourselves and our knowledge.

There's a powerful irony to the fact that Nico won't be reading these words on my blog. At least not for a year. But there's also a powerful hope, I think. Hope that he finds undiscovered gems that shake him and his worldview. Hope that following his journey will give me a very needed shake-up as well. And hope that reading this will, in some small way, encourage you to reflect on these issues.

TV Interview!?

The problem with telling your research partner organisation that you're really happy to help in any way you can during your fieldwork is that sometimes they take you up on that. And send you off to Kuwait's Ministry of Information to do a live interview on national television.

So that was exciting.

It truly was a lot of fun - the host was a pleasure to meet and knows Dari, the friend who first brought me to the Kuwait Dive Team. The crew showed me around the studio and explained how various things worked. It was nifty to see the full operation!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

KDT Operation 2: Another beach clean-up...and the aquarium!

Fridays are the Muslim holy days, so they are weekend days in Kuwait.

What does the weekend bring for the Kuwait Dive Team? More time to clean the beach!

We joined the Kuwait Society for the Protection of Animals and Their Habitat (K'S PATH) Friday morning for another clean-up. A few bilingual high schools came out, so I got to easily speak with the students and join in fun. A few rather memorable moments included:
  • finding the cascasses of both a crow and a cat facing each other in the mud. I moved the cat's body away from the main walking area, much to several students' distress...someone else grabbed the bird.
  • a teenage boy's discovery of a whole - but disgustingly dirty - teddy bear. I had to pry it from his hands to discard it; he was threatening to take it home and wash it. I think his teachers and parents would not have been impressed with us. We spoke a few words of both the bear and the boy. ;)
  • a group's very focused determination to get an old tyre up and out. It was almost completely buried. 1.5 hours of shoveling and the expertise and equipment of the KDT later, up it came!

That afternoon, Waleed's grandkids and I headed to the Kuwait Aquarium to see penguins! And eat at Pizza Hut. A grand time was had by all.

After dropping the kiddos, a couple of the older girls and I headed to Chilli's for a fun dinner. Nothing says Friday night like alcohol-free strawberry-mango margaritas and vegetarian fajitas!!! Happy Becca. :)

I should also mention that, with Fridays as the weekend, Thursday nights are the big family gathering nights. Cue Becca's getting her butt kicked in table billiards:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

KDT Operation 1: Beach Clean Up

The majority of my time in Kuwait is going to be spent sitting in the Kuwait Dive Team's Headquarters in Shuwaikh Port, working on a variety of translation, publicity, and curriculum projects for them.
But one of my assigned duties is to occasionally 'assist with operations'. This is a bit of a joke, as these folks have skills in marine rescue, conservation, and salvaging that I will never in my life acquire. It's nice to get a very physical feel for what they do, though, and I attempt in some small way to be a help rather than a hindrance.
My first activity was a beach clean-up. The Team leads these all the time, with a wide variety of partners - schools, corporations, government agencies. Today we had a mish-mash of folks representing the Kuwaiti Environment Public Authority, some youngsters, community members, and a crew of regular Dive Team volunteers and workers.

There were a ton of jellyfish washed up on the beach. Sad to see (though there's hardly a lack of them alive in the ocean in these parts), but fun to examine!

We picked up quite a bit of rubbish...waste from irresponsible picnickers, bits broken off of boats, illegal dumpage. It's always entertaining to see who can find the weirdest object. We found an abnormal number of shoes today.

Waleed seemed to think it was a good idea to hand me a knife. I was oh so tempted to practice knife-throwing on the beach. I did, though, restrain myself and only use it to cut free a ghostnet that needed to be safely disposed of.

Kuwait's Environment Public Authority sent several representatives. Since my PhD is funded by the EPA, it was lovely to meet them - and be presented with some mementos of our work together.

After the beach clean-up, I tagged along for one small special operation - the securing of a floating buoy that posed a major hazard for boats and was currently rusting away into marine habitats. I was given the camera and told to take pictures. My attempts to be vaguely artistic were...well, let's just say there are pictures.

And our last stop before heading back to the office was to visit some of the youngest - and best-looking - of the Dive Team's members:

And now, back to work at the office. I've got reports to translate!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ahlan wa Sahlan to Kuwait!

أهلاً و سهلاً
Welcome to Kuwait!

I am safely arrived in Kuwait City. I am staying with the family of a Dive Team Member and have an absolutely gorgeous apartment. I shall be spoiled rotten and unwilling to return to London!

There are paintings done by the family's daughters and some of the comfiest, warmest blankets I've ever felt. (Forget returning to London, I won't make it out of the apartment and into work!)

I had a fairly easy day yesterday, heading into a shopping centre to set up my phone and have a meeting with some of the Dive Team about the projects to do while I'm here. I then headed to the founder's home for dinner with his family. The kids have grown so much in the fifteen months since I was here last!

As I've just arrived, there is little else of note to report. Other than, for the first time in all my flying, I managed to get bumped to first class on the flight from Istanbul to Kuwait! That was quite exciting. A frequent flyer got upgraded but his girlfriend didn't; he swapped with me to sit by her. So I got lots of fancy food and leg room. It was nice, though nothing I can imagine paying so much extra for!

Ta ta for now...I'm sure there will be lots of fun photos and stories to come. For now, I am safely and happily here and all is well! :)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Au revoir, Sarah!

IWith much wailing and gnashing of teeth (from the five-year-old) and many happy waves and fond wishes farewell (from the adults), Sarah has completed her stay on this side of the Pond and headed back to America. 

Okay. There wasn't really wailing and gnashing of teeth from Iorwerth. But there was a great many hugs, extracted promises to come back and visit him, and calls to Miss Sarah from our toy phone to check in. All in all, I think my houseguest went over well with the child. 

We rounded out her visit with a quite incredible New Year's. On the 31st, we managed to wrangle tickets to "A Winter's Tale" as performed by Kenneth Branagh's new theatre company. I have now seen Dame Judi Dench and the man himself performing live in a beautifully intimate theatre. And all I can really say That was *theatre*, in its most pure, beautiful, and emotive form. 

We then met up with a PhD mate, grabbed dinner at a pub, and headed toward Camden Town for midnight shenanigans. We stopped at another pub (called The Spread Eagle, to Sarah's great amusement) and then climbed Primrose Hill for an astounding view of the city by night. Countdown to midnight and some fireworks exploded over the London Eye, and hello to 2016!!

I'm now preparing for my next round of fieldwork. I leave for Kuwait tomorrow. After Sarah's departure yesterday, I stole the child for one last frolic in central London before my extended absence. Today, I'm helping a mate with river sampling for data collection and dealing with last-minute errands. And then we are once again off and away! I'll next write from the Gulf. 

Hope everyone's new year is off to a fabulous start! Much love and best wishes for 2016 from London. :)