Sunday, 11 December 2011

Dining at the old Kuwait souq

I've already written about how we avoid fast food outlets in Kuwait (and everywhere else), so now I'll write about a place where we do go to eat every now and then - the old souq in Kuwait city.  Here, not only do you get mouthwatering traditional middle eastern food like humous, lots of olives, special salty pickles, lots of veggies, a cheese whose name I don't know (but it's really good!), enormous wads of flat bread, and grilled lamb or chicken covered in some kind of yellow spice that I can't identify.  You get it on real dishes. Only the beverages are served in plastic cups (they're not allowed to serve them in glasses outdoors).

Here is where you sit.  I think we were the only westerners there that day.  Oh, and the menu is all in Arabic and the waiters don't speak English, so for non-Arabic speakers, the best way to order is to just point to the things that the people at the table next to you have ordered.

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!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Judging Kuwait by its playgrounds

Since having children, I have learned about the importance of public playgrounds.  Playgrounds give children something to climb on, swing on, slide down, and run around.  But they're not just for children.  Playgrounds are a meeting place.  They are the place where you bump into other mommies and daddies and grandparents in the neighbourhood, where nannies can meet up to chat every day, and where your children get to meet other kids.  In our travels, I have met many people and made many friends in neighbourhood playgrounds and I have failed to meet people and been prevented from making friends in places where they were no playgrounds.

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 Bambino's nursery in Kuwait

So we decided not to enroll the Bambino in one of the nurseries frequented by expatriate children here in Kuwait.  We figured that while he is still so young and his mind like a sponge, why not put him in a nursery with Arabic speaking children instead?  So he goes to a private, upscale Kuwaiti nursery.  The children wear uniforms (they're only two years old!).  The teacher-child ratio is one teacher for six children.  The materials are from Neinhuis.  The languages of the classroom are English, Arabic and French.

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 is a practical life section, which real glass pitchers of water and bowls to practice pouring and transferring with a spoon.

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!