I often get asked the question… “What’s it like living there?”
Truth? I find it hard and amazing in equal measures. I could go on about the hard stuff but I won’t. They’re not that major to be honest. What makes them hard is not that they’re bad but rather that they’re different. I won’t focus on that because I choose to be here. I choose expat life in a foreign, non-English speaking culture. And frankly, if I don’t like it, I can leave. That puts a different spin on things. It then makes being in Kuwait my own choice. Hubby and I choosing to be here is liberating. Once we accepted that, life here became an adventure.
Here are 10 things I appreciate about my temporary life as an expat in Kuwait:
1. Tax-free money... The number one reason expats become expats. It isn’t materialistic… we all need money to live.
2. Shopping. Oh My Word! Shopping. From odd nooks and crannies offered by a host of souks (traditional markets) spread out across the city to high end fashion where I can’t even afford to look at a sock. The shopping here is unbelievable! I’m not a big shopper. I am happy wearing regular clothing and I buy on sale unless I need something. My first year in Kuwait though… I went crazy. Hubby never has to tell me to stop spending but that first big sale… he did! I had a blast! Zara for less than a dollar, Michael Kors and Anna Sui for less than 10 dollars! Less 90% and tax-free… just wow! My daughters and I have become so spoiled that when we travel we don’t shop – we have everything here for cheaper.
3. Food! I LOVE Food!!! The downside is that the huge amount of European, US and Arab food chains, restaurants and imports coupled with the lack of outdoor activity means the inevitable Middle Eastern expat weight gain is going to happen. I had not dieted until I moved here. Oh, but my taste buds have loved it. I’ve eaten everything from macaroons better than what you get in Paris to Krispy Kremes while guzzling down a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte to Elevation Burger’s bunless locarb burgers and NYC’s Magnolia Bakery cupcakes! I know that the ultimate (and my fave) Egyptian dessert is Um Ali – a glorious concoction of pasty, cream, rose water and pistachios, that Lebanese jams and breads are Ah-Maze-Ing and that French coffee done the Arab way is the best end of meal sip. Sure, I miss food from home – but I make it from scratch and feel awesome for my accomplishment.
4. International Schooling. My Kids go to an International British School. What they’ve learnt and how they’ve grown from being here blows my mind. Their school is on the forefront of technology too and as much as I moaned setting up their iPads, I love that they use them in class. Mostly, they’ve grown exponentially from mixing with kids from all over the world.
5. Safety. Honestly, it is so safe here that I’d walk down a dark alley wearing every bit of jewelry I own at 3 am and I’d feel fine. In fact, hubby and I walk around the city – once for 13 km – and get home at odd hours and never have any fear. I love that about living here.
6. The people. I have learnt many things from interacting with and observing expats and locals alike. It has highlighted areas that I never knew I had that needed work on. Isn’t that just about one of the most valuable things a human being can discover? It’s a gift I’m grateful for.
7. Quitting smoking. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t moved to Kuwait, I’d still be smoking. Smoking laws are a bit lax here – although recently huge kudos to the excellent police who are being strict about public smoking. Cigarettes are also cheaper to buy here. At one point we were smoking so much we felt sick. I am over two years smoke free now. Yay! Kudos to hubby and I.
8. Family time. The expat social circle is small and mixing with others who don’t speak your language can be difficult. Also, expats continuously come and go and friends become temporary treasures in your life. This forces many expat families to spend more time together. Hubby, the kids and I spend more time together as a family as ever before. I am immensely grateful for this.
9. Convenient city living... as opposed to my old suburban life. I don’t own a car. I don’t need to. Like in the movies you see set in New York, I wave for a taxi and grab that outside my door. My kids take the bus to school. I have a domestic helper / maid three times a week that saves me from ironing or I can go a few meters down the road and drop my laundry off at the cleaners. It is cheaper to eat out than in here – although I prefer to and do cook. I can walk out my door and cross the road to Crumbs bakery, go right and find a quirky coffee shop called Buttercup, grab a juice or soft serve across the road and when I’m feeling healthy, there’s awesome Lebanese food or lo carb food down the road. This is all within a few meters of my apartment. There is more all around me – florists, pharmacies… you name it. It is vastly different from my suburban life with my house, garden, pool, etc and I do miss the space. It can get cramped in a two bedroom apartment but that’s why I moved here – to not do the same. (Besides I’d rather save money and spend extra on travel than on rent.)
10. Last but not least… travel. I lived a very insular life in SA. I guess we could have applied for loans or maxed out our credit cards to travel but we chose not to. Hubby traveled a lot for work and had been overseas before but the girls and I had to apply for passports when we moved here. The SA Rand is weak and life in a big city is expensive. In fact, Kuwait’s currency is the highest in the world – it is stronger than the British pound, which makes it not a bad place to be. So, now, we live simply, I spend weeks worth of hours researching bargains and we travel. We travel as much as we can. In two years I have been to Greece (top 3 bucket list destination for me), Dubai, Oman, Paris, Disneyland Paris (another bucket list place), Thailand (yes, bucket list again) and Sri Lanka. I will write separate blog posts on these travels. They were mind-blowing experiences… from swimming in stinky sulfuric hot springs in the Aegean sea to watching a lady make lace by hand in Sri Lanka.
A friend told me that I live in an Ivory Tower here in Kuwait. I guess I do. But, you know what… I choose to live in one. I appreciate the small and big things that make up being an expat in Kuwait. When I leave, I leave with no regrets, having given this life my all and feeling so blessed for the experience.
Now,I will ignore my cravings to order Johnny rockets with sweet potato fries and go and make a locarb something instead. Or maybe not. 😉