Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hanging Out in Kuwait

26 May 2006

Well, here it is Friday already. Started out my outbound trek on an Embassy flight from BIAP to Ali Al Salem on Tuesday. We had a small delay after a mortar landed on the runway and repairs had to be made, but the plane had been delayed anyway and hadn’t landed yet, so that really didn’t slow down our departure. I must say that for my “last” C130 flight out of Baghdad, it was fortunately an uneventful flight. The weather was clear and hot, no sandstorms in sight and everything went as planned.

We arrived in Kuwait and KBR was there to meet and greet us and take me away to the Hilton on the waterfront. As long as they have openings, we can stay there. They put you up in the villas which have a living space, a kitchen, four baths, four bedrooms and you room with another person. Only hitch there is you never know when you’ll be woken up as your roomy may have a 2am flight out and is packing or moving out just as you’ve dropped off to sleep…or the opposite, where you don’t have a roomy when you fall asleep, but wake up to someone coming in. Still, the situation is far superior to the 18 men tents with bunk beds at Ali Al Salem.

I met up with Mike and Mary at the Hilton and we pal’d around together for the next few days. On Tuesday, we did dinner at the Blue Elephant, a great Thai place there at the Hilton. And yes, I did get my cup of Starbuck’s as there is also a Starbuck’s on the property along with a pizza place if you really must have a pizza in Kuwait.

Wednesday was our big day to hit the town. We got ourselves a taxi to take us to the souks and the rest is history. Yep, between the two shop-a-holics (Mary and me) we did some damage there! Mary found this interesting Turkish antique marriage helmet inlayed with some semiprecious stones, glass stones and some dangly type things hanging down from the top of the helmet. She also was taken by some interesting costume jewelry very typical of the Middle East. She is going to have this jewelry set which included a necklace, two dangly earrings and a thingy that is attached to the hair and drops down the woman’s forehead, mounted somehow in a shadow box once she gets home.

I found a picture from Ishfahan (Iran) like my chess/backgammon board about 2X1.5 in size with the drawing/hand painting and the inlayed frame. It will look perfect above my bed. Then when I’d gone into the next vendor, he had the matching 1.5 X .75 pictures that will look great flanking the bigger picture. Naturally, all this stuff will have to be shipped, so I had eyed a small 3X2.5 hand-woven wool carpet in brown, butterscotch and dark blue which I used to wrap up the bigger picture when I shipped it back home.

Comparing it in price to the similar sized ones I had bought in Qatar about two years ago, I’d say that these were probably a better deal. They actually were cheaper than the ones I’d bought back then, so I did get a good deal. I am thinking about putting that carpet up on the wall in my room too, so it won’t end up rolled up on a shelf in the basement in storage.

If you’ve never been to the souks, you really go there for the atmosphere and the deals. Although it kind of grossed Mary out, the meat market is kind of interesting there. Lots of hanging veal carcasses. And don’t forget the (don’t ask me why they do it) sheep’s heads complete with eyeballs minus the skin. I guess that it just gets skinned off when they skin the rest of the carcass so they just include the head in the meat display for ornamentation. The only other thing I might hazard a guess is to think that they have it sitting there is to see how fresh the kill is. Don’t the eyeballs get cloudy after the animal has been killed? Who knows, but I will admit that they do look a bit evil with their skinless face-meat and muscles all showing and their eyeballs all popped out, teeth with this massive overbite haunting you with that permanent evil grin staring at you from the meat counter.

Mary was also looking around the gold vendors to see if she could find some humongous gold hoop earrings. She half-heartedly looked for some gold bracelets for her Mom’s friend, but nothing seemed to catch her fancy. I did see one thing that interested me in the gold markets, but it was a set of gold mint coins. Not just any gold coins, mind you…these were official gold replicas of the Kuwaiti currency put out by the official mint of Kuwait. For the low, low price of 300KD (the Kuwait Dinar is at about $3.65 to 1KD which equals roughly around $950) I could own one 22K gold mint set. Think I’ll pass this time around. Besides, the price of gold is outrageous right now. Give it some time to come back down to earth.

We met our taxi driver at the prearranged time and place and asked him to take us over to the Marina Mall. I’ve been to the Shark Mall, but never to Marina, so it was a good field trip. Mary had to pick up her makeup from M.A.C. and picked up some clothes from Zara, also a UK based trendy shop that we don’t have in the States. I had the chance to pop into Next another UK based shop that I found I liked after my trips to London. Before you know it, it was time to leave.

Ended up having Wednesday night dinner at the restaurant at the Hilton. The food that we’ve had for breakfast was always good and I’d heard that the dinners were good too. While we waited for the restaurant to open, Mike got himself a haircut. Being the uncultured bum that I am, I didn’t realize until the barber started working on Mike, that his haircut included the full works. The barber gave him the full 30,000 mile work over! Next thing ya know, Mohamed is doing the facial wax, pulling the wax off (rrrrrip!), facial moisturizer, trimming the ear hairs, nose hairs (inside and on top), and don’t forget the old threading of the eyebrows. (I’m sure the guy would have “trimmed the yehti”(or is it yeti? Look *THAT* one up in your urban dictionary at urbandictionary.com) if you’d of asked him to!) along with the ever popular hand massager along the forehead, face and neck.

Now if you’ve never witnessed this threading thing, it is really quite entertaining in and of itself! Threading involves him wrapping one end of what looks like dental floss around one finger and putting the other end in his mouth. Then he gets up into your eyebrows and thins those bad-boys out. At first I was worried that old Mikey was going to end up with eyebrows like Joan Crawford, but lo and behold, he came out of it looking like a million bucks.

So after Mike steps out of the chair, Mary is egging me to get in the chair. Her real reason is that she really got off on watching that whole threading thing and wanted to witness it again! Although I just had a haircut right before leaving Iraq, it was a bit rough around the edges and could stand for a bit of a trimming out in some areas; so what the heck? I sat down in the chair and let Mohamed take it away. And I gotta say that the only thing that might have been nicer would have been a soaking in the bathtub…except for the waxing part, of course! The light waxing that he did, however, must be for the pores more than to remove hair because it was like my pores were opened right up.

I don’t know what scents they used in those products, but I’m thinking that with rose water being so popular, it must be rose water based. I could smell whatever it was on me even after a shower that night to get all the loose hairs out of my head after the hair trimming.

So after our hair experiences, we all headed to the restaurant for dinner. We sat out on the deck overlooking the Gulf and enjoyed the warm breezes off the water and the sound of the surf. The food was great too. As a final send-off from Iraq, I couldn’t have asked for any better day than this one. We just relaxed and enjoyed the whole day. Good people, good shopping, good food and good weather.

We finally ran into Roland that night too. He has been around, but quite the socialite with the ladies here. He has a Philipina girlfriend that works here in Kuwait, so he has been kept occupied. He popped in during dinner to say hi and have an iced tea with us. He agreed that since he had a car, he wouldn’t mind taking us up to the base at Arifjan so that we could mail off to the States, all the new possessions we acquired during the day.

Wednesday night, I was just relaxing in the room. My roommate had left the night before, and it was already 930pm, so I wasn’t sure if I would be seeing a roomy that night. Lo and behold, Jim pops in. As he was dragging his stuff in, he was just describing the scene we all know about rhino bus rides from the Embassy to BIAP, cancelled C130 flights and spending all night at BIAP with nothing but a hard chair to curl up in. He said he had gone 24 hours without sleep and was exhausted.

Although he was exhausted, he was still wound up and probably could have handled a good two fingers of single malt to help him relax after his harrowing experience. We ended up having a great chat for an hour or so before we both headed to sleep. I woke up Thursday morning and was careful not to wake him. Roland had a car and volunteered to take Mary, Mike and me up to Arifjan to mail out all the goodies we’d acquired at the souks the day before. We also wanted to check on the rendezvous time for the Friday morning meeting at Ali Al Salem, so we checked the boards at building 1465 for that.

I saw Jim again after lunch, but didn’t realize it was him till after I got back to the room later in the day and saw him crashed out again on the bed. By then I didn’t want to disturb him, so I didn’t even say goodbye. I should have left a message with my contacts and all, but you don’t always think about those things when you’re heading out the door. So Jim S from Milwaukee working for the DoF at IZ, if you get the message, drop a line or give a call sometime. I wouldn’t mind exchanging more of our experiences over in Iraq.

After lunch, we also checked in with the travel people at KBR here in the Hilton to find out that they don’t have a bus going to Ali Al Salem as we first heard. We would have to take the bus to the airport and then catch another military bus to Ali Al Salem. With the bus schedules the way they were, that now meant that we’d leave the Hilton either at 3pm or at 7:30 pm depending on how late you wanted to fool around.

I took the 3pm and ended up at the tent at Ali Al Salem by around 10pm. Mary and Mike took the later busses and ended up at the LSA at about 1am. Mary decided that she needed another shopping fix before leaving. Actually, she went back up to the souks to buy more of those jewelry sets. I think that she is going to try her hand at making some shadow boxes and giving them away as gifts in the future.
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