And best of all, what is possibly Kuwait's only playground that is new and in good condition is right next to the eating area!
Sunday, 11 December 2011
And best of all, what is possibly Kuwait's only playground that is new and in good condition is right next to the eating area!
Posted by The Globetrotter Parent at 09:42
Monday, 5 December 2011
The number of play areas in a country as well as the state of a country's playgrounds says something about that country. In Italy, for example, there aren't many public play areas at all (although this is changing) because Italians view the family unit as a pre-emptive force. Children stay at home (or in the restaurant or wherever) with their parents and brothers and sisters (and maybe cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents). The state has no role in entertaining children. There is no room for a neighbourhood playground in this scenario.
In Madagascar, there are no public playgrounds, because the country is far too poor to think of spending public money on such luxuries. Children play on the street, in the dirt. This might sound romantic but in reality it is not. Their are no parks, so children play on the street where they breathe in noxious car fumes all day long. Their clothes and bodies get filthy from the red earth, the children rarely bathe and their clothes don't get washed. Disease spreads. Asthma is common.
In France (or at least in Paris), the playgrounds are numerous and of good quality. Practically every church or public square has some kind of a play area, and sometimes even a sand box. There are also the major play areas in the Champs de Mars, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Jardin des Tuileries (including trampolines), to name a view, not to mention pony rides and merry-go-rounds (but you have to pay for those). It is a convenience that I will never tire of boasting about. Where is the first place we go when we hit the ground in Paris, once we check into our apartment-hotel? The local playground!
In France, if any part of public playground equipment gets damaged, it gets fixed, promptly. If the play equipment is starting to look worn out, the local city hall takes it all down and builds another play area. All play equipment has a sticker on it indicating what age the equipment is appropriate for. What do French playgrounds say about the French? For the French, children have their own sphere of activity separate from their parents and extended families, and providing activities in that separate "children's sphere" is part of the job of the state.
Kuwait is interesting when it comes to playgrounds. The country is stinking rich, and the weather is decent for playing outdoors at least six months of the year. So you would think that this country would be the ideal place for lots of good playgrounds. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case. There are many playgrounds, especially on the Gulf Road, and many families frequent these playgrounds. However, all the equipment looks about 20+ years old and is badly in need of repair. 20+ years. Hmmm. That would take us back to before the first Gulf war. So it would seem that before the Gulf war, the Kuwaitis were very keen to have lots of great space for kids and families. Since then, they have left it all at a standstill. None of it has been maintained and nothing new has been built. Amazing how a war can affect the mindset of a people.
It's not only the run-down playgrounds that need a facelift. The public hospitals are on shoestring budgets. The beaches have been full of sewage for the past 10 years. There is litter all over the desert....
What does the state of Kuwait's playgrounds tell me about Kuwait? It tells me that while Kuwaitis, for whatever reason, no longer think that their country is worth investing in. The war seems to have made them cynics. After all, why build a playground when it risks getting bombed?
Sunday, 4 December 2011
The nursery being the most "authentic" Montessori nursery in Kuwait (other nurseries in Kuwait call themselves Montessori but are more "Montessori-inspired" than actual Montessori), there are very few "toys" in the classroom. The closest thing you get to toys are stacking blocks, puzzles and an abacus. This being the toddler class, these toys are acceptable.
There are also the standard Montessori mathematic and sensorial materials, like the pink tower and the cylinders. These materials are actually meant for age three and up but the school decided to put them in the toddler room as well.
And here is the Bambino during his adaptation period at the school (no uniform yet - that came a week later).
We recently had parent-teacher interviews. You read it right - a parent-teacher interview regarding our two-year old child. Never before have we encountered a nursery that gives parent-teacher interviews for toddlers. Not that I'm complaining. It's always fun to hear how my two-year old boy acts at his nursery when we're not there. Oh, and this "interview" didn't take place at the school, in the classroom, as you would expect them to. No no. We received a formal invitation to a tea at the very chichi Le Notre Restaurant and had the interview there.
So far, we're happy with our decision to put him in the posh Kuwaiti nursery. Now if only I could understand the Bambino when he tries to say something in Arabic!
Friday, 25 November 2011
2. Bahrain has pubs that serve (gasp!) alcohol.
3. Bahrain has a Trader Vic's Restaurant. And they serve alcoholic beverages.
4. Bahrain has Kumon. And since I've recently enrolled the Bambina in Kumon and there's no Kumon Centre in Kuwait, it looks like we're going to be doing it by correspondence with the Kumon Centre in Bahrain, which is why we visited there during our trip. It's run by Fiona, a lovely Irish woman who did a great job of encouraging the Bambina to do our worksheets every day.
5. Bahrain has a slightly nicer, less polluted skyline than Kuwait.
6. Bahrain is greener than Kuwait.
7. And finally, there are just as many Ferraris, Infinitis, Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs and other very expensive cars in Bahrain as in Kuwait (all owned by locals of course. We poor expats get a rented Toyota.)
Monday, 14 November 2011
Call it a parenting quirk of mine, but in all our travels, we have never, ever, stopped at a Mcdonalds. Or even driven through. This means that my 7-year old daughter has never been to Mcdonalds. Or Burger King. Or KFC. Or any other restaurant that serves meals in throw away containers, with the exception of the time she had a slice of oven-baked cheese pizza in a food court in Sun City, South Africa.
How have we managed to avoid it? Well, it was easy to avoid in Madagascar because there were no fast food restaurants there at all. In Europe (and we have spent a lot of time in Europe), fast food outlets are abundant - French people love "Mac-DOE", as they affectionately call it. And here in Kuwait, there is a fast food chain restaurant of some kind about every 100 metres. It's not surprise that obesity is such a problem in Kuwait, there is even a Wikipedia entry on it!
The answer is that we just don't go there. In France, we just didn't when we were living there and we don't when we visit. We find a real restaurant or brasserie that serves food that our kids like, and we go there. Sometimes, we go there again and again if we can't find anything else. In Italy, the food is so good, why go for fast food? In Kuwait, we don't eat out much anyway and when we do, it's usually Pizza Express, a UK restaurant chain that serves wood oven pizza the way they make it in Italy (or pretty close ;-)). It's eat-in and the food in served on real plates with real cutlery.
I know people who think that we can't, realistically, maintain our "abstinence program" in Kuwait, or who ask,"why continue with it? Doesn't a fast food boycott just make your lives inconvenient? And after all, everything in moderation, right?"
I can see greater, long term inconveniences in taking my kids there. You see, my original reason for not taking the Bambina to Mcdonalds was only partly ethical and nutritional and more to do with keeping the whine factor to a minimum. I knew that once she had been one time, she would ask, beg, and plead to go again and again and again.
Are all kids like this? No (so please don't write in the comments that I must be wrong because your children never did this and you go to MacDonalds once a year, no problem). But my daughter is and so is my son. I'm very happy to avoid this trap.
As for the "everything in moderation" argument, that only counts for things that are actually *good* for you in moderation - like salt or brown sugar. Mcdonalds isn't. As a nutritional matter, Macdonalds meals are too calorie-dense, too high in fat, too high in sodium and not balanced. The fact is that there is no good reason to have a meal at Mcdonalds if your kids will enjoy a meal elsewhere. Not one. Macdonalds is not good for nutrition, not good for calories, not good for agriculture and not good for the environment.
Hippopotamus. The beef is excellent and they even have mashed potatoes and green beans on the side as an alternative to fries.
Even on a highway in the States, surely stopping at a diner or other truck stop and getting a burger is better than stopping at Mcdonalds (or Burger King or Wendy's or KFC...). At least at the truck stop, the hamburger patty is more likely to come from just one cow and not 20 different ones. Here in Kuwait (and throughout the Middle East), Pizza Express is a good alternative. There are also some good Italian and seafood restaurants. And there is delicious Middle Eastern food if your kids are open to trying new tastes. Wherever you are with your kids, finding a local restaurant, or even just a place where you can sit down and eat food on real plates, will almost always be a better choice nutritionally and environmentally.
Posted by The Globetrotter Parent at 18:19
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Friday, 4 November 2011
- About three-quarters of the desert is covered in trash. What the heck is with that? I expect to litter in poor countries like Madagascar, where the government doesn't have the money to provide garbage collection services. But a rich country like Kuwait? Not only is there trash everywhere, there are no "Don't litter" propaganda campaigns in this country like they used to have in Canada in the 1970s. In Canada, we don't need those ad campaigns anymore. We stopped littering a long time ago. The Kuwaitis need to get with the programme!
- On the way there, we drove by lots of tents where, presumably, Kuwaitis spend their weekends (the Canadian equivalent would be the cottage in Muskoka, or the cabin in Waskesu).
- The wind was as strong as on a winter's day in Saskatchewan. Try putting your tent up in that.
- No toilets.
The Bambina railed against the idea of going. Said she wanted her own bed. But once she was climbing up and running down the sand dune, she was having a blast. She also met some other French kids, which is good, because right now the only French speaking person she has to talk to in this country is the Frenchman and I worry that her French is going to deteriorate as a result.
The Bambino was happy sleeping with his parents and sister in one little tent. He probably wishes every night could be like that.
Sunday, 30 October 2011
Kuwait is a tiny country on the Arabian peninsula, nestled between Saudi Arabia and Iraq (guess we won't be taking any long car trips while we're here...).
Highlights and lowlights of moving here:
1.) The reconnaissance trip from Madagascar involved taking THREE airplanes: Antananarivo to Mauritius, Mauritius to Dubai and Dubai to Kuwait. With a 2 year old (and a 6-year old, but traveling long distances is about as old hat for her as riding her bicycle around the block three or four times).
2.) Flying Emirates. Need I say more?
3.) The Emirates Lounge at Dubai International Airport, including this enclosed glass kiddy-space.
3.) Visiting a lot of potential places to live, like this swank villa:
And then deciding to take a three-bedroom apartment.
4.) The heat! In summer, it's 46 degrees Celsius in the shade! It's gotten colder since then. We're now freezing cold when we step outside in the morning and it's only 25 degrees. Of course, in shopping malls, it's still around minus 10 degrees Celcius with the air conditioning.
5.) Checking out schools - the Lycée Français de Koweït, the American School of Kuwait and the American International School of Kuwait, among others. The Bambina had to take a test for both American schools. I was a little worried because she had very little experience reading in English and had never written a thing in English during her entire school existence thus far, having always been educated in French up to now, but she passed the tests, no problem (apparently, she could read at her grade level in English. Who knew??). Phew!
The lycée français did not impress us at all and the Bambina isn't going there. It was so obvious by talking to the principals and even just looking at their website that they are content with their "captive market" of francophone families and their school will therefore remain "good enough" (read mediocre) but not great.
7.) The pollution here: worse than in Madagascar. Think Beijing. Or Jakarta. The beach here looks ok but there is sewage leaking into the Arabian Gulf and besides being disgusting to swim in, it really does smell bad sometimes. So we settle for the pool at a club.
More on life in Kuwait coming up in later posts.
Friday, 6 May 2011
- The Bambina's accent (when she speaks English - I think it's a mixture between Brooklyn and East London)
- The Bambina insists on wearing a dress or skirt every single day. She hates jeans and all pants in general. Even in winter in Europe, she will typically wear leotards and a dress rather than long pants.
- The Bambino typically wears a shirt with a collar and cotton shorts or pants. His best American friend is always in a T-shirt and sweat-shorts.
- Neither of my kids has ever been to McDonalds (although there are plenty in Europe, there are none in Madagascar), nor have they heard of Burger King, Taco Bell, or KFC.
- The Bambino asks for "mano" with his pasta (mano = parmagiano, Italian for parmesan cheese).
- At age 6, the Bambina knows how to write in cursive but doesn't really know how to print!
- Neither of my kids drinks cow's milk - ever!
This is not to say that my kids are purely European. In fact, when European kids (and adults) hear my kids speaking to me in English, they assume that my kids are American. When my kids ask for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or drown their French fries in ketchup, this is more of the North American coming through.
And then the Bambina turns to her father and speaks a perfect, accentless, Parisien French, and people get really confused. :-)
Sunday, 1 May 2011
If there is one thing that I really dislike about expatriate life, it's all the lunches and dinners. There are so many of them, at least one a week, and sometimes more.
So why do I continue to go, you ask? Well, a few reasons. First of all, there ain't much else to do in Antananarivo, Madagascar on a weekend, unless you leave the city to join nature. There are no cinemas, no parks, no playgrounds, no museums that have had any upkeep in the past, oh, 30 years. There are no outdoor cafés. You can't even walk around town, because apart from the fact that you will be very quickly surrounded by street beggars on all sides, there are no sidewalks, the traffic is scary and the pollution is enough to give anyone instant asthma.
So we visit each other. (And sometimes the "club olympique", which is just a campout with a swimming pool, tennis courts and some stables with horses - but we don't like the food there).
Visiting each other reduces our own boredom and especially the boredom of our children, who would be otherwise locked in our air conditioned houses watching dubbed Hannah Montana French satellite TV all day long.
Why don't I enjoy these lunches and dinners as much as I should? It's not like I don't love our dear friends (bless their hearts). It's just, well, me.
For one, I'm a vegetarian. Almost. I do eat beef and duck and lamb and poultry, so you could argue that I'm very far from being a vegetarian. But I don't each shellfish or any sea creature that lives on the sea floor. I also don't eat tuna. I don't eat ham or pork. I won't touch fois gras (goose or duck liver paté). And I generally don't eat fish unless I am right next to the sea and the fish has been caught the same day (and it's not tuna, of course).
If I go through this laundry list with my hosts, they will inevitably give me this strange look and try to review each item to understand why I won't eat it. Since I refuse to get into a long discussion about levels of mercury in tuna with someone who hasn't even read up on the issue, it's just easier to say that I'm a vegetarian.
The problem is when either I forget to tell them that I'm a vegetarian, or they forget that I am one, or (more often than not) they haven't forgotten but (quite understandably) they don't want to have to adapt their fantastic menu to my fastidious tastes. The French can't imagine a meal without fois gras and the Americans can't imagine a meal without shrimp. So I often end up just not eating half the stuff that is being served.
The second problem is with dinners - late dinners. Well before motherhood, my brain was wired to go to bed no later than 10:30 pm. At 11 pm, I'm a zombie. Post-motherhood, I'm the same way, plus add the fact that I have an todder who, since birth, has woken me up at 5:30 every morning - for the day.
In Antananarivo, when someone invites you over to dinner, you arrive at 8, you talk for what seems like an eternity, and you start the meal at 10 pm. At 10:30, I'm ready to hit the sack (keep in mind that I have been up since 5:30 am) but it would be rude to do so, as most people haven't even finished their main course by then (I have though, because I generally have only been able to eat the rice and vegetables).
"Well, then, why don't you explain to your hosts your problem", you ask.
You're right. But I need to do this when I accept the dinner invitation, so that they are really forewarned. This is what happened the last time I had to explain at the actual dinner (I was solo that evening, as the Frenchman was in Paris on business):
Me: "Thank you so much for having me over. I had a wonderful time."
Hostess: "You're leaving already? It's only a quarter past midnight." (I am not kidding. She considered a quarter past midnight on a Thursday night to be "early" for leaving a dinner party).
Me: "Well, yes. My 18-month old son wakes me up at 5:30 every morning so I get tired pretty early. And I have to get enough sleep in before tomorrow morning."
Hostess (who is French, by the way, which really does explain a lot): "5:30? This is not acceptable. Can't you just give him a bottle?"I'd like to mention here that I don't understand how on earth a bottle solves the problem. You want me to get out of bed and go to the kitchen and warm up a bottle of milk for my son? At 5:30 in the morning? Are you fricking kidding me?
Back to the conversation:
Me: "Well, I do nurse him when he wakes up but he stays awake after that. His day starts then. He's just wired that way."
Hostess, with look of shock in her eyes: "You're still breastfeeding him? But isn't he is too old for that."
Me, shrugging my shoulders: "er, I don't know. People don't seem to think that he's too old for a bottle, and breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby..."
Another guest, now listening in on the conversation pipes in to say: "So you're a militante."
Me, shrugging shoulders again and trying to smile: "I don't know what that means. In any event, it's not the nursing that causes my son to wake up. My six-year old also wakes up at 5:30. Fortunately, she's capable of taking care of herself. It's just the way our brains are wired in our family. And of course, the 18-month old needs to be looked after once he's awake."Understand that I don't generally mind being questioned about nursing my 18-month old. After all, what better way to educate people? But when I've just told you that I have to go because I am extremely short on sleep, why are we having this conversation? I told you that i had to go. I told you my reason. Why are you now launching a discussion about the fact that I "still" breastfeed my son?
The third problem that I have with lunch and dinner parties is that the conversation generally bores me. There. I said it. I find about 90 percent of the discussion during lunch and dinner parties dreadfully boring.
Am I the only one? I don't know. I'll be the first to admit that I'm borderline Asperger's when it comes to small talk - it's not just that it bores me - I am incapable of participating in it. I have no idea what to say. And the problem is that most stuff for me is small talk. I care very little about the hotel you stayed in when you went to Toliar (in the south of Madagascar) last year and certainly not enough to listen to you talk about it for half an hour. I care not much more about the cute little restaurant that you discovered while you were there. I'll be happy to talk to you more about that should I ever decide to book a trip to Toliar (which is unlikely ever to happen), but I have no desire to hear all about it for twenty minutes now. I'm happy to talk about that little boutique you discovered up last week for about, oh, thirty seconds and then I will try to change the subject. I don't give a rat's ass about where to buy great shrimp, not least because I don't eat it.
I would love to talk about politics (especially French or US politics) but apparently I'm not allowed to. Religion is another topic that fascinates me but apparently that's taboo, too. I'm always happy to talk about someone's kid of whatever age, even if the "kids" in question are already adults. "What grade? What school? What does she plan to do when she graduates this year?" "Where do they live now?"
Fortunately, people are always happy to give forth when it comes to talking about their kids and I never get bored by it, but I can only milk that topic so much.
As an expatriate and a mom of bicultural children, the topic of schools and education fascinates me, but I have the impression that many people aren't so interested in that subject. Most French people accept that their kids go to the French school, wherever they live, without thinking much about alternatives, and most American people accept the American school in the same way.
I love to talk about the ins and outs of people's businesses. Give me a factory or store owner anyday and I will ask about how they select their inventory, how hard it is to get and train staff, and who designed their products. It's not often you get to meet this kind of person though, and when you do, even if he or she is keen to discuss the business in detail, others around the table don't understand why you keep bringing up questions about the nitty gritty of running some store or factory at a dinner party.
Yep, just say it. I've got Asperger's. Or I'm just too academic about things.
My saving grace is the Bambino. He is often present for lunches at people's houses, and I therefore often have to excuse myself from the table because he needs some attention for whatever reason. It's a great way to escape! If there are other bigger kids hanging around, I like to talk to them too. At a lunch a few weeks ago, I had a great bunch of French kids asking me all kinds of questions about bilingualism and trying out their English on me. It was much more interesting than the discussion among the adults about that hotel in Toliar....
Thursday, 28 April 2011
We spent this Easter in Nosy Komba - the island of lemurs.
Monday, 18 April 2011
Expat transfer season is coming up soon. With that in mind, we can't help but wondering whether we'll stay or be sent somewhere else. We've had our fill of Madagascar and love the idea of moving to yet another country, but as I contemplate our last two years here, I realise that, however much we complain about the dirt, the pollution, the poverty and the lack of choice for schools in this city, we still have it pretty good. So if we do end up staying (and the chances are good that we will), at least there'll be more of these positive aspects of life in Tana: