We’ve known our first guest writer, Kelli Cochran, since college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She took the very big leap this year, quit her day job, and hit the road for Kuwait City, where she will be teaching for a few years.
I have been living in Kuwait for one month and in this four weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not at all a country that I would describe as a traveler’s dream destination. It is perhaps, at best, an ideal one-day stopover location. You could see mostly all there is to see in that exact span of time.
You could spend an hour at the Kuwait Towers overlooking the gulf and random architecture, another hour at The Grand Mosque learning about islam and covering your entire body except your face, lunch and shopping at the Old Souq, an afternoon at The Palms for a yoga class, dinner at a local restaurant for Shwarma, falafel and hummus, skip the censored movie at the cinema and head to a shisha bar for flavored tobacco and music and perhaps finish your day at a resort? This is by no means what my life is like, save for Palms classes, hummus dinners and shisha bars on weekends. My purpose here is to gain teaching experience and make as much money as I possibly can while doing so. Kuwait has the strongest currency in the world and it is both bafflingly not obvious but also very evident as you experience the customs and culture. You can go to the bathroom in a hole and hop over a dumpster cat and trip and fall into a Fendi store.
I am currently teaching elementary PE, coaching varsity volleyball and coaching basketball on Saturdays at a local basketball camp. I am also signed up to coach varsity soccer and basketball. I am doing what I can only best describe as “getting my hustle on.” I have recently accepted the head of the PE department position. If you want to do something here it seems that if you just step up and make a move towards it, you can make it reality. The opportunity for an international teacher is unreal. You just have to stay open minded, culturally sensitive and do your best to take advantage of each opportunity you have to keep busy. I will be in Kuwait for the next two+ years with the exception of summer’s spent in Mallorca, Spain for a global studies program. I am teaching PE to 25 different elementary classes a week, filled with the most talkative first through fifth graders I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve heard that they can hold a conversation and listen to someone outside of the discussion at the same time. My students are also extremely lovable. At some points during my first grade PE classes I have 1 student hugging my leg with another petting my arm hair. The most common quote in Kuwait is “yalla, alla..” meaning quickly, hurry, yet no one is ever moving quickly, unless behind the wheel. Strangest thing. My students all go to “chalets” (massive second homes,) “farms” (homes with a few animals and gardens,) or a wedding of sometimes someone they don’t even know on weekends. I’ve been told they get dressed up to the nine and basically show off to one another all of what they have. A little different from my school years.
I’ll begin describing Kuwait by it’s lovely climate and attractions. If you like it hot and dry, then this is the place for you. If you enjoy the feeling of a blowdryer on high-heat blowing in your face at all times of day this is your paradise. I’ve always known a breeze to have a cool refreshing feel to it. I’ve since dismissed that thought. Here the breeze feels like when you open up your oven when you’re baking cookies, however the smell is not one of Nestle or Tollhouse, but more like the scent of if dirt had a smell. The culture is very conservative to point out the obvious.
(Kelli is second from the left)
Most women are covered with an abaya (gown/robe,) he-jab (head-dress that covers the hair or a burka which only exposes the eyes. Alcohol is illegal so a night out typically consists of Shisha (flavored tobacco smoked from a hookah,) dinner and dessert. The famous traditional Kuwaiti dish is a meat over rice- Machboos, which is either mutton, chicken or fish (now it seems to be more of Fatburger followed by Pinkberry for dessert as Western restaurant chains have spread through the area like wildfire.) Mutton brains are available at the local market for purchase. Pan-fried lamb brain with a pinch of rosemary..? Not exactly a Pacifist dish but it might just be something most of us are missing out on.
A source of entertainment is definitely watching people cross the street. There are very few crosswalks and the road system seems as if it was planned by someone who abused drugs heavily. It’s like a giant game of Kuwaiti frogger with the most unskilled, unlawful and careless drivers. At one point my taxi driver spat on another driver and yelled what I assume was some profane Arabic. There is garbage strewn about the gulf and there are cats leaping from garbages with hairless tails and various other war wounds. I guess animal control isn’t exactly Kuwait’s top priority.
For every feature that is displeasing there is something positive to be considered. Since I have been here I have not seen a single homeless person. I know that homelessness exists here but certainly not at the magnitude of the United States. Homelessness could be hidden or perhaps the area is so oil rich nearly everyone has an opportunity to make a wage. I haven’t seen vomit, broken glass and other features of debauchery filled evenings from alcohol consumption. I haven’t seen any drug addicts on park benches or the local mentally ill man wandering aimlessly through town like I saw back in the states.
Crime and news stories consist of things such as car accidents, petty theft and someone’s domestic pet, such as a lion, getting free in town. I feel more safe here than I did in Chicago. Yes, I’m stared at and perhaps it is an assumption that I will sleep with any man due to Western media, but no one takes significant action besides persistently asking for your phone number. The lack of separation between mosque and state seems to have everyone on the same moral code which is actually quite refreshing.
Kuwait is a perfect venture for someone looking for a place to grow, gain experience and have the ability to make a significant amount of money while doing so. If you’re a driven individual looking to make some cash and don’t mind sweating for it, this is the place to be. There’s a strong community for international teaching with a safe living environment. If you’re in the market for freedom of expression, beautiful sights and strolling the beach topless, perhaps sit this one out.
If you would like to get in touch with Kelli, she’s available over email : Email Kelli