Wednesday, February 3, 2016

KDT Operation 4: Kuwait Yacht Show

Sunday 31 January kicked off the 2016 Kuwait Yacht Show. A bit of a misleading name. Certainly there are yachts! But it's also an exhibition for all Gulf-relevant marine sports.
The event took place near Marina Waves, a lovely spot to spend some time with interesting architecture right on the coastline. That in and of itself made attendance worthwhile.


The Kuwait Dive Team regularly exhibits at any and all expos that are related to them or any of their projects. And so there we were, a variety of educational and publicity materials in hand!

Sunday evening, one of the coordinators of the Beach Clean-Up efforts and I staffed the KDT Booth for the Show's opening VIP Night. We had a good evening sharing stories of the Team, answering questions from divers and non-divers alike, and greeting kids with our marine life colouring books and stickers.

The evening brought with it the greatest concentration of non-Kuwaitis I've ever seen in the country. It was very strange to speak with Americans and Europeans after so much time almost entirely in the exclusive company of Gulf natives. My presence helped to boost some of the attendance at the booth I think, though, as people stopped by to figure out what the random girl was doing. ;)

After our shift ended, I had the chance to visit a friend's beautiful 3-bedroom vessel. The owner has just started a 'Safe Sailing' organisation in Kuwait, training seafarers in marine safety and encouraging more sailers in the country. Waleed and I have been helping them to hone their mission and vision, and the group made their first major public appearance at the Show. It was great to meet them in person and, of course, a riot to play on the boat a little bit. Plus there was cake!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Horseback on the Beach

I had a very glorious few hours yesterday with one of my Kuwaiti hosts. We drove to one of the country's best beaches to meet some equine friends.

In case those waters weren't gorgeously blue enough, let's add horses:

And it's probably best to add a sunset, just to really make sure the day is okay:

All in all, I had a rather fun few hours. Here are a few moments from the ride. Not shown in the video are several utterly fantastic canters. Happy Becca. :)


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Baby AlFadhel!!

There's a new baby!

My Kuwaiti family has a new granddaughter. Baby AlFadhel was born on Tuesday.

In Kuwait, newborns are often greeted and the new parents congratulated with a fancy reception that takes place nearly immediately in the hospital. All of the women of both families, as well as close friends of the new mother, gather in a suite and are plied with tea, hot chocolate, and sweets. The men gather separately and do...whatever it is men do when they're together without womenfolk? Haha. I cannot give an accurate account of that portion of the reception.

Depending on the parents' preferences, the reception time may last one or two days. My adopted family decided to hold two days' worth. I attended last night. Given the fanciness, one of the daughters dolled me up: makeup, hairstyling, and all! 

However long the reception goes, all the aunts are essentially required to be there to help greet all the extended family and friends. I was thus at the Dive Team's officers longer than usual today, since the normal family lunch was cancelled in favour of the reception.

It all seems a bit exhausting for a brand new mother to me, but I imagine it may also be nice to deal with all the visitors and well-wishers in one go!

In any case, the baby is adorable and very little. :)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekend in Bahrain

One of the "traumas" of traveling in one country for a lengthy period of time is that visas may expire. This can be a real nightmare. If, however, you're in Kuwait researching for 6 weeks and they only give 4 week tourist visas for free, but you're able to afford a flight to another Gulf country...this dilemma becomes a rather lovely excuse to go visit a beloved friend.

Hello, Bahrain! I met Ghadeer through AMENDS, at the same conference I first encountered the Kuwait Dive Team. She's an architect and environmentalist in one of the Gulf's smallest countries. This weekend, I had the opportunity to tour her island nation with her. We crammed quite a lot in - meeting her two project teams (the first, a student-driven initiative promoting recycling; the second, an artist-focused project drawing attention to issues of urban planning and space politics), touring museums and historical sites, and dining with her family and in-laws.

Highlights included:

Hand-feeding a baby camel at a sheikh's farm (oh my word cuteness factor of 11/10);

Drinking from a freshwater spring in the middle of the saltwater Gulf; and

Praying in a Hindu temple for the first time.

Bahrain has an incredible diversity packed in - (tense) Sunni and Shi'i Muslim sect politics, significant Indian and Pakistani migrant populations, a large American segment thanks to military presence, and regular flows of tourists from other Gulf countries. It makes for quite a colourful scene. Given the climate, architecture, and community spaces, I honestly felt like I was in the US, Middle East, and Asia separately within 30 minutes of driving.

It was a valuable weekend research-wise, as it provided the opportunity to compare Kuwait with another Gulf country (incredibly different - think how dissimilar the US and Mexico are even though they're immediate neighbours!). I also met a variety of Bahraini artists and architects focused on environmental issues, several of whom are beginning projects that may well qualify as "environmental peacebuilding". It was great to gather their perspectives informally and know I could get several more formal interviews if I decide they'd be valuable for my PhD or in the future.

A rather fabulous weekend, all in all!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

KDT Operation 3: Boat Salvage

Woohoo, she's up!

I had the most bizarre boat ride of my life on Tuesday. I was in the Khiran Resort Marina in south Kuwait, and I cruised along through the beautiful clear blue waters standing on a boat.
The trick is that the boat was upside down. And under the water.

The thing had been on the seabed for 20 years, 6 metres down and barely visible beneath the water. The amount of regular activity around the dock, issues of visibility, and the skill (and expense) required to lift a sunken boat meant the thing had years and years to settle in and cause pollution issues and potential hazards.
But on Tuesday, up she came. And I "helped" much the same way Iorwerth assists me in baking. Waleed was kind enough to give me simple jobs that would have taken him 20 seconds and managed to require five minutes of our joint effort as he explained what to do.

The divers are all volunteers, and the Team isn't contracted or paid for any of their operations, though they do something receive support in the form of free equipment loans. And while 3 hours in the sea is generally fun, it's also exhausting, dangerous, and demanding work. I understand why they do it, though. The feeling of being underwater, watching a boat slowly begin to rise from the sand as giant air bags carefully tied around it heft it upward, is nigh on undescribable. And having it all the way out of the water after 2 hours of trial and error, communicating underwater with specialised sign language, tying and retying ropes, and testing various angles of boat and crane pull, was a definite high.

And now I better understand why the Team is so intent on forging relationships with other organisations around the world - this stuff is serious, and niche. They have incredibly specialised skillsets, and sharing their particular approaches while hearing others' is a way to be better at this. It's not the kind of thing one can major in at university or learn at your average vocational school...

I was privileged to get a small insight into how these kinds of operations work. I teased Waleed that maybe someday I'll be able to lead a salvage myself. But given that the Team has spent 3 decades honing these operations, 'someday' may be far distant indeed. ;)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"All Black Everything, No White Anything"

This post is going to challenge many of you. Me too. That's okay. It's important anyway.

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US. This annual focus on the continuing problems of race and oppression is one of the things I miss most about living in America. In the light of that, I would like to share with you a project from a beloved friend. He and two of his friends in New York are committing to a year of only watching and taking in media created by people of colour.

This affects me, quite directly...Nico isn't going to be reading my blog or my academic work this year. As a cherished friend and valued co-intellectual, this is a direct loss, and perhaps a bit of a blow to my ego.

But that's okay. Nico is doing this because in too many places in the world, my voice and my words and my writing are louder than his and other persons of colour. Nico is doing this because every day, the majority of the books, movies, television shows, art, and information that enters my brain originates from people who look, sound, and think like me. That is not true for him, or for the majority of people of colour in America.

And it's time that changed. There is beautiful, heart-breaking, soul-moving, mind-changing media out there by persons of colour. And it deserves all of our attention, not just Nico's. And it doesn't deserve our attention only or because it is by persons of colour. It deserves our attention because media shapes who we are and how we see the world. And we must take in a wide variety of perspectives if we have any hope of seeing the world for everything that it is and can be.

Nico's project in no way undermines that white people can write good books, or author articles that challenge issues of racism, or produce fun television. It is an effort to showcase how much of what our society creates and intakes is white, in direct contrast to the glorious diversity that our society actually is. It is an effort to experience how much your mindset and worldview can shift depending on what you feed your brain. It is a challenge to all of us to more consciously consider how we shape ourselves and our knowledge.

There's a powerful irony to the fact that Nico won't be reading these words on my blog. At least not for a year. But there's also a powerful hope, I think. Hope that he finds undiscovered gems that shake him and his worldview. Hope that following his journey will give me a very needed shake-up as well. And hope that reading this will, in some small way, encourage you to reflect on these issues.

TV Interview!?

The problem with telling your research partner organisation that you're really happy to help in any way you can during your fieldwork is that sometimes they take you up on that. And send you off to Kuwait's Ministry of Information to do a live interview on national television.

So that was exciting.

It truly was a lot of fun - the host was a pleasure to meet and knows Dari, the friend who first brought me to the Kuwait Dive Team. The crew showed me around the studio and explained how various things worked. It was nifty to see the full operation!