Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More Kuwait Labor Problems

This article was in the Arab Times today:

Disgruntled Cleaning Company Workers Seek Backpay, Justice
Basic Rights Violated In Massive Exploitation
KUWAIT CITY, Aug 26: Two managers and dozens of employees working for one of the cleaning companies reportedly refused to go to work and stayed put at their accommodation in Hassawi because the company has not paid them their salaries for two months, reports Al-Qabas daily.
The daily added, some of them even complained that the company is refusing to grant them annual leave and that some of them have not visited their families for the past eight or nine years. The workers also complained that they are deprived of their basic rights, particularly any sort of leave, even in the event of death of close relative including father and mother.
The workers say if they apply for one month leave they are required to deposit with the company KD 120 and for two months KD 240. This is in addition to forcing them to sign a document prior to proceeding on leave stating they have received all their dues.

This kind of thing goes on - unchecked - all the time.  It doesn't just happen to low-level employees (although their living situations are must worse and they can do very little until the actually tipping point), but also to expats in general.  Finding a company that pays consistently, on time, and gives employees their basic rights is RARE in Kuwait.  Sad, but true.  Once you find an ethical company, you're really reluctant to leave them.

The Government and media has been talking talking talking about this problem for years; yet very little has been done to rectify the situation.

For example, if I, as an employee, want to voice a complaint against my employer (and this is a what-if scenario because ThanksToAllah, the company I work for is one of those rare companies I mentioned that does things ethically):  I have to go to the ministry of social affairs and labor and lodge a complaint.  My employer would immediately know.  They could find another reason to terminate my employment - and it might be something like a criminal charge; putting me in real jeopardy (and slapping on a travel ban - then what?  Stuck with no employment?).  So, many employees shut up and take it, hoping that their employer will pay.

I don't understand why Kuwait can't have a hotline like they do in the States.  (See the US Department of Labor's poster, which should be posted at workplaces in the US HERE.)

Why all the years of talk?  Why no action?  Am I missing something?

Welcome to Kuwait Orientation for Newcomers (aka "Newbies")

I just saw this on Life in Kuwait blog.  AWARE usually sends me info, but maybe they forgot me.  Sniffle, whimper.

AWARE holds a lot of activities for free (they are non-commercial and just out there to benefit people transitioning here!).  Their website is  They're not going to try to get you to convert!  Stop being so skeptical, newbies.  OMG.  They're there to promote Kuwait and form a better understanding between cultures.

I think any orientation for incoming newbies is a great idea!  The transition is scary; especially now when you're hearing all the crazy stuff about ISIS so close up North.  EEEK, right?

By the by: One of the best orientations (the most welcoming) was basically a meet-and-greet at the British Embassy in 1997.  A woman in line in front of me was wearing an evening gown and I totally freaked when I thought I was under-dressed. (it was "business attire").   I sipped Pimms all night before realizing that it WASN'T iced tea.  That was fun.  I was literally a hot mess....

Way back in early 2000's (holy snap - I just realized that there is such a thing now!), I tried to promote a concept of an orientation package (including seminar/s follow-up, booklets) to Westerners arriving in Kuwait (catering to large companies like CSA/later ITT contract, basically) and it never got off the ground.  What I suggested was more of a commercial concept, targeting companies that hired a large employment force of Western expats.  Various Kuwait-based service organizations that cater to Western expats (banks, short and long term accommodations, lease car companies, satellite, etc.; and then follow-on with handy-men, drivers with cars, tours, etc.) would provide a commission to the "orientation" company to promote their services (and would be ranked by users).   At the same time, it would be of great benefit to incoming Westerners.  I didn't promote the idea very well and, of course, life gets in your way and  your full time job comes first to pay the bills, so nothing ever emerged.  It would have been outstanding in/around 2003 when the workforce for one company alone was what -  10,000...  But hey, KBOS3 is coming up for re-bid in 2015, so maybe some entrepreneur will step up to the plate with an entirely new crop of incoming Western expats.  Thar ya go.  Free concept.  (Nobody listens to me because I'm blonde.  I've accepted it and moved on...)

Howefah,  if someone wants to hire me as a consultant for these kinds of ideas (Sheikh Hamad, perhaps??), please contact me.  I got a million of 'em...  

For the moment, it is just me trying to help people through my weeeee little blog and disseminating information from the various groups/organizations that aim at assisting expats... like my friends at AWARE.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Falcon Mobile Pet Clinic Van in Kuwait

Look!  It's Dr. Angelo!  THAT's where he is....

Mikey has been to 5 vets now as he continues to have bad skin problems.  I've known Dr. Angelo for years, so I decided that since Dr. Paola was out of town, I would have him check out Mike for the possibility of Demodex mange (as Al-Rai had diagnosed him with - without testing first).  Dr. Angelo ruled out demodex through a scratch test; Mike has bad infections, so we're doing a blood test to determine exactly what the cause is.  For now:  No chicken, no lamb, no beef.  Raw fish and potatoes.  Who knew?  I now have about 40 pounds of chicken in my freezer.  (Barbecue, anyone?)

I found out that Angelo had moved from IVH when I went there to board Mike and Angleo's picture was no longer hanging behind the reception desk.  I called him and discovered that he's with Falcon now (owned by a member of the Al-Ghanim family).

Falcon recently purchased a large mobile vet clinic truck/van from the States and have started a test market to determine if they would like to create a veterinary hospital and possibly add more trucks/services.  Angelo tells me that he is continually busy (his phone rang several times during my appointment) and so far, business is good (Mashallah!).

IVH has had a van in their parking lot at their hospital for years and I've never understood why it is wasting away there.  It has never been used. It's a shame.  Anyhoo....

Falcon's van is sparkling (and I mean that literally) clean.  There wasn't a piece of dust or dirt or animal hair anywhere.  It is non-descript from the outside:  Just a white camper-looking vehicle.  Inside, it is loaded with the latest technology:  X-ray machine, surgical equipment and operating table, microscopes, a full array of medicine, cages, tables, and a very expensive-looking generator system.

Anyone who has ever dealt with Dr. Angelo and/or Dr. Paola know how what exceptionally kind and compassionate people they are.  They are outstanding vets and go the extra mile to take care of critters in Kuwait.  They have long-held dreams of helping animals outside the confines of a stationary clinic/hospital and now it appears that these dreams are coming true.

I am thoroughly impressed and I wish them complete success.

To book an appointment with Falcon, call or Whatsapp 5111-9696.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer Love

I had yet another vacation love.  Ok, I won't call it "love" because it wasn't; let's just say a "thang" (or perhaps a "distraction").   And it wasn't physical - because he was 6,000 miles away in Monte Carlo.

We talked on the phone for an average of 3-4 hours per night; usually talking until one of us was too tired and had fell asleep.  We exchanged photos and videos of where we were each day.  He was caring and considerate and sounded totally passionate.  Mmmmmm.

We made tons of plans about what we would do when we both got back to Kuwait.  We wouldn't just hug each other on the phone to sleep, but in person ("hug me to sleep").  (He lives in my neighborhood.  Not to difficult to imagine.)   We'd go to visit friends; to parties; to restaurants.  We were planning to be girlfriend and boyfriend and all that mushy crap.

Ok, and then I frickin landed in reality (KWI, if you can call that "reality")....

He was still calling.  He arrived in Kuwait a few days after I did.  We had made plans to meet at my place. Then, that changed when he called and told me to meet him at a friend's apartment for drinks.  Uh, no.  You wants me, you come gets me. (Gentleman much or what?)

So he did.  We met on 2 different nights... at his friends' apartments.... for drinks.  I was seeing a pattern.

Several of his Kuwaiti friends also have American girlfriends (who I didn't meet, "yet").  I got the usual, "Are you a teacher?" from his friends.  I'm always like, 'Please don't follow that with, "Are you a secretary?"  His friends did the usual thing of, "Excuse us while we talk Arabic (or what I really hate "in our language"...)." And even after I TOLD them several times that I understand Arabic and speak it - and have been in Kuwait for 18 years, (and spoke it to them), they were still apologizing and translating what they had just said.  Em, ok... but I get it.... So it was like they were intentionally leaving me out of the conversation and then thinking that they should say something polite.  Sigh.  That shit gets old.

[Sidebar:  There is something to be said for just being able to be yourself with people who "get it" that you are multi-cultural and they don't want to label you or pigeon hole you into a "type" from the get-go.  Don't assume anything.]

Tall, gorgeous, Arab-Barbi-model girlfriend of one of his friends stared me down all night; doing the Arab female shake-down, trying to figure me out. I know the look; my little dog does it when she's trying to determine if she likes the person or not; or if the person is worthy of her.   (The dip was so close to Barbi's face.... She just looked so perfect.....  Don't do it, Desert Girl..  restraint... restraint.  smile, smile....)

Anyhooser, while we were there, we make plans to travel together to Dubai.  Everything is going good.  But, after all the lovey-dovey phone talk, dude still isn't really closing the deal and dropped me off at home because he "was tired" (he called me 2 hours later from a restaurant).  So ok, the phone calls seem to be coming in at times when HE has nothing better to do. Perhapsee you didn't realize that I might be sleeping at 2 am on a work night?   I'm getting it....

Monte Carlo invited me to a party the next night (Friday night).  Friday rolled around: He hadn't called and hadn't responded to my SMS's.  Okey dokey.  Maybe he got busy with the family.  He called around 8:30 pm and said he was on his way to his uncle's chalet for dinner ("just for the family.).  Huh?  What?  No party. In the blink of an eye, I flipped him.  'I'm on my way to the farm in Kabd to see my friends...  Talk to you later. Gotta go.   You know this road is dangerous... '

I did go to the farm, but it was about 10 minutes after I hung up with dude.  My bro, Hmood, always gives me good man-perspective advice:  "If he hasn't made any moves, he's keeping you around to show his friends that he has an American/foreign girlfriend so he looks cool."  You know, I may be daft, but this kind of thing just never occurs to me at the time.  I go along thinking that people are well-intentioned and straight forward.  NOT.  Foiled again.   I suddenly get it.  Hmood is dead-on.  Crap.  ...Hand me the bottle.  I was a sourpuss all night.

So, Monte Carlo calls me the next day.  He went to the party (where "they played Arabic music,")  and then had the balls to tell me what a great time he had,  "... but I was single....What's wrooooong, babyyyyyyy? C'mon, don't be maaaaad."  Me, being the in-your-face kinda gal I am just told him that I was disappointed that he invited me then un-invited me and I was disappointed in him in general after all the hachi al fathi (basically bullshit talk).  "Don't worry, this coming weekend we are going to have an American party and you can come. That is, if I don't go to Dubai..."  'Oh, so I'm dis-invited for Dubai too? Ok.'    I'm like, 'Dude! I would much rather be at a gaaada with a Khaleeji band.  Do you even know me? Have you listened to anything I've said about who I am?'  I guess I should have known when he played me, "Saturday Night Fever" over the phone several times, thinking I would love it.  That and "Hotel California" both make me want to puke.  I don't know why people think, "typical Americans" are into that stuff.  (And, WHO is typical?)   I'm pretty sure they were going to order some hot dogs for this "American party" and play crappy music all night that they think we would like.  Bring on the machboos and the oud... I'm outa there.

It is quite obvious to me now that I was having 1-sided conversations with myself when I could have been watching back episodes of CSI while in Virginia.  That was stupid.  Dude never heard most of what I said - and cared even less about who I am or what I like.  (Pop-quiz:  What are the names of my pets?  Quick, quick, quick...)

There are plenty of other American women in Kuwait that would make much better arm-pieces than me.  I'm sure he'll find someone else (once he learns how to treat a lady and cleans up a bit).  He's single, eligible, and from a REALLY wealthy family so perhaps he could just pay someone (50 KD and an EZ card?).

Sigh.  I would rather be home with my dogs, eating popcorn for dinner, and watching my Apple TV with my hair up

... until the next adventure. (And subsequent blog post...)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

10 tips for new expats moving to Kuwait

I saw this in the Kuwait Times today and it is very good advice to newbies, so I thought I would re-post.

10 tips for new expats moving to Kuwait
 By Jamie Etheridge
Kuwait Times

I remember when I first arrived in Kuwait how incredibly alien everything seemed. The strange sand colored landscape mostly devoid of trees and grass are shocking for someone visiting the arid Gulf region for the first time. Over the days, weeks and months to come I acculturated to the point that after a few years things like going to the ‘saloon’ to get your hair cut now seem perfectly normal to me. (Does anyone but me think it’s ironic that in the States, a ‘saloon’ is a place in the Old West where they sold beer and liquor?) I don’t even hesitate when ordering mushakil at Canary (although my accent leaves much to be desired) and I can take my child to the public hospital without losing my mind.

For the novice expat, arrival in a new country like Kuwait can be both exciting and daunting. There are so many challenges to living here. Whether you hail from Belgium or Bangladesh, adjusting to an alien culture, land and society takes time. There will be a million questions on everything from how to find a flat (realtor, classifieds or driving around for hours in the areas of your choice) to how to get a driver’s license. Some things your employer will take care of for you but for the most expats, when it comes to daily life, they’re on their own.

So here’s a few tips from an old timer to new expats now calling Kuwait home:

1. Start every day with patience. Seriously there are so many things here, so many ways of doing things that can drive you crazy. Just relax, take a deep breath and accept that things may take longer or be done differently than you are used to.

2. Find a few places – a local coffee shop, a bookstore, a spot on the seaside, a park or a favorite mall – that you like and get to know the area and the people who work there. Familiarity helps a lot when starting a new life so make some friends – even coffee shop acquaintances that you can greet each day and who will recognize you too.

3. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Yes, I know it’s currently 50+ C outside and that the cars on Kuwait roads are notoriously disrespectful of pedestrians. Do it anyway. Perhaps in the evening. You will be surprised at what you see and you’ll begin to appreciate all the interesting and lovely things that can be found in your neighborhood.

4. Explore Kuwait. When I first arrived, I used the Gulf Road as a baseline and would drive around in increasingly larger concentric circles – always working my way back to the Gulf Road – as a way to explore new areas. This can also help you find the small grocery, dry cleaners, mobile phone shop, gas station and other daily life services you may need.

5. Don’t stress the bureaucracy and the paperwork. If you have a deadline for anything – a paper that needs a stamp or a visit visa about to expire, rest assured it will NOT come through on time. That’s just the reality of life here. If you are very lucky, you might but it’s best not to count on it. Do what you can, ask help from your employer and the company mandoub and then just wait – seriously, you will drive yourself nuts worrying about paperwork in Kuwait but believe me, it’s really out of your hands.

6. There will be many things here that are not done the way they do them back in your home country. But that’s sort of the point, right? Remember you are here for a reason – a job, following a spouse, whatever and its best to focus on the bright side.

7. Respect the local customs, language and religion. Courtesy and respect work in almost every situation.

8. Enjoy the strangeness. You may eventually become a lifer expat. I realize now how much I enjoyed my early years in Kuwait and I wish I had fought less against the strangeness and explored more.

9. Be homesick. But don’t let it get you down. Instead book time to chat online with family and friends back home but also make plans to get out and meet people in Kuwait and build a life for yourself here regardless of the circumstances.

10. Smile. It’s not easy and for women it can be viewed as flirtation but still do it. Just be careful and keep walking if someone starts to harass you.

If you are new to Kuwait or a long time expat, what do you think is missing from this list? Email me at . (Only respectful replies will be published. No vulgarity and no spam please.)

By Jamie Etheridge

RIP Robin Williams

Sometimes the people who laugh the most - or make us laugh the most - harbor the deepest sadness. It is a roller coaster of peaks and valleys. I have known many similar people throughout my life and I thought of them today when I learned that Robin Williams had taken his own life.  It seems like more of a tragedy when someone who is a role model for happiness throughout the world suddenly becomes a real person with real pain.  You find yourself taking a step back and saying, "Not that guy.  How could that be?"  I was really sorry to hear the news today.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What I did during my summer vacation

I just got back to Kuwait from the States where I spent a perfect vacation with my family.  The weather was perfect, the mood was perfect, the food was perfect, the company (of course) was perfect.  I did NOT want to leave and I've been rather grumpy since getting back.

Anyhow, here's what I did.

Day 1:  Unpacked my suitcases and an unwelcomed traveller popped his little braissy head out of my suitcase, ran across the room and up the wall.  After chasing him for THREE hours, I decided that he would probably not make it in the house and would eventually die.  I couldn't tell my family because I didn't want them to spend every waking hour thinking that a gecko was going to fall on their head while they slept.  I told my mom, but swore her to secrecy (and she actually kept quiet this time).  EIGHT days later, my sister sees him run across the formal dining room.  She calls her husband and they both have a brief conversation about how strange it is to see a gecko in Virginia, but with the climate change - who knows?   I had to confess.  She didn't kill me, thank God.  We got a good giggle out of it.

How I spent my evenings:  Mad Men

Every summer, my nephew gets me addicted to another series.  This time, it was Mad Men; the most sexist show ever invented (probably why he loves it.  He just can't get over the pointy boobs....).  My mother, who lived and worked during the depicted time period, says that it was no where near as sexist as the show portrays.  Don Draper is a womanizing pig, but damn is he hot.  Anyhoo, I was on the sofa every night watching back episodes on Apple TV (and now I've started to do the same here in Kuwait).

Followed by.... talking on the phone for 2 to 4 hours every night to Monte Carlo (more to come on that, but maybe not).  Sigh....

This is what I ate:

Ok, we only ate crabs one night, but it was a good night.  The rest of the time, we had mostly chicken (my sister makes the BEST chicken!) and fish.  And margaritas and mojitos.  That's what I ate.  Also visited Silver Diner about a million times.  They've gone healthy, but I forgive them for that.  They still have great pancakes.

This is what I missed most about Kuwait life (besides my friends and pets, of course):

I wish they had water hoses in the US.  That's alls I'm sayin.

I couldn't take photos of the multitude of places I shopped, but that's usually where I spent my time with my mom. ... and we laughed and we laughed and we shopped and we shopped and we ate....

And my mother, sister and I had a wonderful girlie adventure at the beach.  So much fun.

Overall, I needed a low-key recharge and I got it.  I didn't realize how stressed out I've been and how it has probably affected my health.  My back is feeling better and so is my attitude.  I hope I can maintain it for a while.

Pets and Animal Rescue in Kuwait Presentation by Claudia Al-Rashoud

(Re-post from Life in Kuwait Blog)

Pets and Animal Rescue in Kuwait
By Claudia Farkas Al-Rashoud

Why should we help animals when there are so many people in need? What is the stance of Islam regarding the treatment of animals? What can you do to help Kuwait's strayed, abandoned, and abused animals? Join us for an informative and compelling discussion of these issues and more. If you would like to start helping animals in need right away, please bring along some dog or cat food as a donation to our local animal shelter.

Guest speaker, Claudia Farkas Al-Rashoud, is photojournalist and animal rescuer. Claudia Farkas Al Rashoud will be presenting along with a representative from Protecting Animal Welfare Society Kuwait (PAWS), who will be talking about their challenging work. We hope you can join us and we thank you for caring.

 Sunday, August 17 @ 7pm

Visit their site for more information.

Claudia is one of the nicest people you're ever going to meet.  She's been in Kuwait for forever and is an amazing writer and photographer.  If you love animals, you shouldn't miss this.