Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Before the Blog: Arrival in Kuwait

After three years in Doha, AdventureMan transferred to Kuwait to take on a new position. I followed, spending a couple months dealing with a variety of authorities to get permission to take my cat, known as the Qatari cat in the blog, his real name was Pete.

When our Morgaine died, AdventureMan said “No more cats!” but six months later, on a plane back from our son’s wedding, I told him I needed a cat. He worked long, hard hours, and loved what he was doing. I loved that he loved what he was doing, and I was lonely in our huge house, just me, rattling around like a little pea in a big pod. Because he loves me, he agreed, and as soon as we got back to Doha, I went to the vet and found Pete. I brought him home. Pete didn’t love me to start with – he loved AdventureMan. When AdventureMan would leave for work, Pete would howl in anguish. Slowly, slowly while he came to find me an acceptable substitute, he always loved AdventureMan the best.

So I was trying to do everything I could to guarantee Pete would travel with us to Kuwait. Travel was complicated by an outbreak of Bird Flu. While it didn’t affect people traveling on Qatar Air with falcons (birds!) it seemed to complicate travel for cats. AdventureMan came back a few days ahead and I told him of my frustration – I had a veterinary certificate, I had been assured by the airlines that Pete would travel with us but every person gave me a different answer. He got involved, and the day before we travelled, he got a firm “yes.”

We’ve lived in the MIddle East for years. We know “yes” isn’t always yes. We got to the airport early, to check in, to make sure everything went smoothly. It didn’t. The woman at the check-in desk said “No,” Pete couldn’t travel because of the bird flu. I said “we have him on the reservation!” and the woman said “He’s just a cat. Don’t you know they have many cats in Kuwait?” AdventureMan got involved, invoked the name of the high poohbah he had dealt with and got permission from. After many a phone call, and almost at the very last minute, Pete was allowed to fly.

Magic Kingdom

I use this image of Magic Kingdom because flying into Kuwait from Doha was flying into a whole new world. You might think all Gulf Arab countries are alike, but you would be very wrong. Kuwait and Qatar have many interrelationships, many of the same families, but the culture was very different.

AdventureMan had reserved a limo – not what you are thinking. Not a big fancy car, but a sort of beat-up big car that could handle all our luggage and the cat, and would be waiting for us. Coming into Kuwait, getting a residence visa, getting to the limo was easy. What happened next was unexpected, and part of why we chose this kind of life.

The beloved Emir of Kuwait had died, and we arrived on the day of the coronation of his son. Important people from all over the Gulf and from many other countries were attending this event. It didn’t affect our arrival at the Kuwait Airport, because there is a special VIP terminal for important people. Getting out of the airport, however, was unbelievably complicated as cavalcade after cavalcade of important people stopped traffic so they could be rushed to the events surrounding the coronation. Just as we were about to turn onto the road to Fintas, where we were to live, we were cut off by a big sand-colored official SUV with six men hanging on the outside in desert fatigue uniforms carrying automatic rifles. These were not friendly looking guys, in fact it was a little bit terrifying.

And this was part of the magic of Kuwait, the contrasts and the unpredictability. First rule, you never never mess with the police (and there seemed to be several different kinds of police.)

When I had flown to Kuwait to look at housing, they showed me one apartment and many many villas. The villas were huge, two or three had their own indoor swimming pools, two had elevators. I chose the apartment, which had more square footage than the house we live in now.

I loved living in this eyrie, with it’s huge view over the Arab Gulf.

Kuwait City is center in the distance.
Moon Over Family Park in Fintas

Scenes in Al Fintas

Scaffolding

AdventureMan would never go out on our balcony. We would watch other high rises going up and know that the concrete was poured at night, but it was still very hot, the concrete often had more sand than was good, and many of these buildings are built at sea level. Like the collapsing buildings in Miami, we often had salt water in our underground parking garage. I had thought I could care for the apartment on my own, but the seals on the windows could not keep out the sand, and every day the tile floors were gritty with it. I couldn’t keep up. I was lucky to find a wonderful woman to help me; she also helped me understand many of the realities for expat-labor in Kuwait.

High rise going up next door; elevators not in yet so laborers are taken up in this raft by a crane.

Some of the labor practices were horrifying. Kuwait and very modern laws and standards. Kuwait also has a system called “Wasta” which sort of translates to “who you know/who has influence” and depending on your “wasta” the standards may or may not have been maintained. Also, the fine, ever-present air-born sand creates engineering and maintenance difficulties that we can barely imagine.

Creating a Fish Trap

We came to admire the laborers very much. They had a hard life. Most were sending everything they could back to families in their own countries, mostly to feed their families and to educate their children. Some were badly treated, some did not have jobs. You get used to thinking in a different way. We had regular beggers, men who waited outside our favorite restaurants knowing we would give them our bag full of food on our way back to the car. There were, of course, scammers, but most who asked for food or money were grateful, in a dignified way, for anything we could share. These men are building a fish trap – there is a way in, but no way out. It was fascinating to watch it being built.

In the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, Kuwait monitored their best male students, and sent these young men to study in different countries. Many went to the US and UK, and being young men, found themselves the kind of adventerous wives who would dare to marry a dashing foreigner and go to live with them in their country. (That is a topic for a whole other blog entry!)

I was fortunate to be friends with many of these women, who in turn introduced me to Kuwaiti women. These were all very fine women, a lot of fun, educated and skilled and sophisticated. It thrilled my heart to be an aging woman who still had so much to learn, and was blessed with these spirited mentors.

Below is a refrigerated water supply tower, put on the street by a generous and religious person to bless those who do not have access to cool water. You see them everywhere. I hope our country never becomes so desertified that we need to install these. I always loved that they are so joyful, so exuberantly creative. They are not only functional, they came in many different sizes, styles and shapes, and they always made me smile. This is what I call giving cheerfully!

Water tower

Kuwait was often beautiful. Below is a window called meshrabiyya, it provides light; it also provides privacy for the viewer. Many buildings in Kuwait incorporate homages to earlier architectural traditions.

Meshrabiyya window

“Regrets, I have a few . . . ” Mostly I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, mostly just earrings I pick up on my travels. My son was getting married; I offered to help the bride with bridesmaids gifts and a Kuwaiti woman guided me to the old gold souk where a jeweler made these necklaces for me, raw emeralds and pearls. I did not get one for myself. I wish I had! You could find real treasures, original and nothing less than 18K and real gems. The workmanship was exquisite.

One of the great joys for us was the Magreb (sunset) call to prayer. Everywhere in Kuwait there were mosques on almost every block. At sunset, each would have a call to prayer. They started seconds apart, so there was a sort of lovely cacaphony of sound, voices raised praising God and reminding everyone to worship and praise. We would watch the light change as the sun set and listen to this marvelous sound.

Mosque

So many mosques! So like Pensacola! Some were small and simple, some larger and ornate and a few gigantic mosques. I think of Kuwait early in the morning when one church, I think the downtown Presbyterian church, has a carillon concert. It’s not the call to prayer, but it’s the same idea, calling our hearts to be thankful for our creation.

And now, my favorite haunt in Kuwait, the Mubarakiyya. Mubarak is blessing, and the Mubarakiyya was a blessing to me. This is where we would go for the best dates (the dates you eat, and entire street of date vendors), cottons and fabrics for our stitching and clothing (no Macy’s in Kuwait), and for some of the best eating in Kuwait. The stalls and kitchens were miniscule, most had outdoor seating, and the food was FRESH. Our friend Mohammed said that the reason the tea was so good (the large brass pot sitting on a heater at our table) was that they never washed the pot, so it had an aged tannin flavor, LOL. We would eat Kuwaiti shrimp, mezze, and oh, the freshly baked bread. We would take our visiting experts to this souk, a place they might never otherwise experience, and thrill their hearts with the sights and sounds and smells.

Main entry Mubarakiyya
One of the date stalls
Souk foods
This store cracked me up with it’s giant model

I didn’t always have a great view, and driving home one night alone in the middle of a sandstorm is one of lifes most adrenalin filled moments. You can’t see, and you can’t breathe.

I will end this with a big smile. Near the Kuwaiti airport was a store that sold electric palm trees. AdventureMan told me that he’s always wanted one and threatened to buy one to bring back and put in our yard in Edmonds, or Pensacola. Horrified, I just let it slide, and it never happened . . .

August 12, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Moving, Qatteri Cat, Travel | Leave a comment

Florence Nightengale Made a Difference

Today, in addition to the readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospels, the Lectionary celebrates Florence Nightingale. I had no idea how influential this woman-ahead-of-her-times was in making hospitals safer places in which to treat our wounded and sick. She observed, studied and documented sanitary practices and how changing small things – like changing the linens on beds between patients, clean latrines – could make a big difference. She brought order out of chaos, truly a Godly woman.

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE

NURSE, RENEWER OF SOCIETY (12 AUGUST 1910)

 
Florence Nightingale The commemoration of Florence Nightingale is controversial. On the one hand, she doubted or denied many of the central articles of the Creed. On the other hand, she believed in God and devoted her life to His service as she understood it.

She was born in Florence on 12 May 1820 of upper-class English parents travelling through Italy, and named for her native city. (“Florence” was not an accepted first name at the time. Her sister was born in Naples and named “Parthenope,” the Greek name for that city.) Florence was reared in the Unitarian Church, but later joined the Church of England.

In her diary, an entry shortly before her seventeenth birthday reads: “On February 7th, 1837, God spoke to me and called me to his service.” She did not know what the service would be, and therefore decided that she must remain single, so as to have no encumbrances and be ready for anything. With this in mind, she rejected a proposal of marriage from a young man whom she dearly loved. She suffered from “trances” or “dreaming” spells, in which she would lose consciousness for several minutes or longer, and be unaware when she recovered that time had passed. (Could this be a form of petit mal epilepsy? No biographer of hers that I have read uses the word.) She found the knowledge that she was subject to such spells terrifying, and feared that they meant that she was unworthy of her calling, particularly since she did not hear the voice of God again for many years. In the spring of 1844 she came to believe that her calling was to nurse the sick. In 1850 her family sent her on a tour of Egypt for her health. Some extracts from her diary follow:

March 7. God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him, for Him alone without the reputation.
March 9. During half an hour I had by myself in my cabin, settled the question with God.
April 1. Not able to go out but wished God to have it all His own way. I like Him to do exactly as He likes without even telling me the reason.
May 12. Today I am thirty–the age Christ began his mission.
Now no more childish things. No more love. No more marriage. Now Lord let me think only of Thy Will, what Thou willest me to do. Oh Lord Thy Will, Thy Will.
June 10. The Lord spoke to me; he said, Give five minutes every hour to the thought of Me. Coudst thou but love Me as Lizzie loves her husband, how happy wouldst thou be.” But Lizzie does not give five minutes every hour to the thought of her husband, she thinks of him every minute, spontaneously.

Florence decided that she must train to be a nurse. Her family was horrified. In her day, nursing was done mostly by disabled army veterans or by women with no other means of support. It was common for nurses of either sex to be drunk on the job most of the time, and they had no training at all. It was common practice never to wash or change the sheets on a bed, not even when a patient died and his bed was given to a new patient. Florence was told to go to Kaiserswerth, Germany, to learn and train with the Lutheran order of Deaconesses who were running a hospital there. Back in England again, she used the influence of Sidney Herbert, a family friend and Member of Parliament, to be appointed supervisor of a sanatorium in London. Under her able guidance, it turned from a chamber of horrors into a model hospital. The innovations introduced by Miss Nightingale were, for their day, little short of revolutionary. She demanded, and got, a system of dumb-waiters that enabled food to be sent directly to every floor, so that nurses did not exhaust themselves carrying trays up numerous flights of stairs. She also invented and had installed a system of call bells by which a patient could ring from his bed and the bell would sound in the corridor, with a valve attached to the bell which opened when the bell rang, and remained open so that the nurse could see who had rung. “Without a system of this kind,” she wrote, “a nurse is converted to a pair of legs.”

While working in the poorer districts of London, Miss Nightingale encountered a Roman Catholic priest, Henry Edward Manning (later Cardinal Manning), who was working among the poor of London. She was impressed by the assistance he gave to many who had nowhere else to turn, and they became friends for life. She was greatly attracted by Roman Catholicism, but rejected much of its theology, and so reluctantly decided against joining it.

Florence Nightingale attending patientsThen war broke out in the Crimea (in Russia, on the north edge of the Black Sea), and Sir Sidney Herbert, now Secretary of War, obtained permission for Florence to lead a group of 38 nurses there. Of these, 10 were Roman Catholic nuns, 14 were Anglican nuns, and the remaining 14 were “of no particular religion, unless one counts the worship of Bacchus.” They found conditions appalling. Blankets were rotting in warehouses while the men did without, because no one had issued the proper forms for their distribution. The lavatories in the hospitals had no running water, and the latrines were tubs to be emptied by hand. But no one emptied them, since official regulations did not specify which department was responsible for doing so. The result was that the hospital had a foul stench that could be smelled for some distance outside its walls. Far more men were dying in hospitals of infection than of wounds. The chief concern of many of the Army doctors was that the nurses might usurp some of their authority. Florence gradually managed to win the doctors and other authorities over, and to reform hospital procedures, with spectacular results. Once the medical situation had ceased to be an acute problem, she turned her attention to other aspects of the soldiers’ welfare. For example, most of them squandered all their pay on drink. She noted that there was no trustworthy way for them to send money home to their families, and she set up facilities for them to do so. First, she undertook to send money home herself for any soldier in the hospital that wanted it sent, and the soldiers brought in about 1000 pounds a month. She asked the authorities to set up an official service to do this, and they refused. By appealing to Queen Victoria herself, she overcame opposition to the idea, and the men sent home 71,000 pounds sterling in less than six months. She established with her own money a reading-room with tables for writing letters, and the men used it enthusiastically. She imported four schoolmasters to give lectures, and the halls were filled to overflowing. All this was done despite opposition from officers who said, “The men are hopeless brutes. You cannot expect anything from them.”

At night, she would often patrol the wards, carrying a dim lamp, to make sure that all was well and no one was in need of help. She became famous as “the Lady with the Lamp.”

Florence Nightingale, "The lady with the lamp"In April 1856 the war was over, and by mid-July the hospital was emptied and her work in Crimea over. She returned to England a national hero, with a great welcome prepared for her; but she slipped into the country unnoticed and went to a convent that had supplied some of her nurses. There, she spent the day in prayer before coming out to face the public and beginning to lobby Parliament for suitable legislation. She wrote pamphlet after pamphlet, pointing out by pie charts, for example, that the major cause of deaths in the Army was not wounds caused by enemy action but disease caused by lack of proper sanitation. She is perhaps the first person to use pie charts and similar graphic devices to convey statistical information. She obtained the formation of an Army Medical Staff Corps and a Sanitary Commission to oversee military health conditions.

Throughout these efforts, she relied on the help of Sidney Herbert, insisting that he must work hard and long to get the legislation she needed through Parliament. When he protested that she was asking too much, she would not listen. His health broke, and he died in August 1861. Florence prayed God to raise him from the dead, explaining that she needed him for the job. When God failed to comply, her faith was badly shaken. She wrote a book called, Suggestions for Thought: An Address to the Artisans of England, in which she explained that God was less of a Person and more of a Cosmic Force than is generally supposed by Christians. (But note that she was working on this book before Sir Sidney died, and one cannot call it simply a response to his death.) Advance copies were given to a few friends, such as John Stuart Mill, who praised it highly. However, it was never published (I have not seen it, and neither the Library of Congress nor the National library of Medicine has a copy, nor any other library in the United States that I have been able to learn of), since Florence kept revising it — arguably, because her beliefs on the nature of God were simply not internally consistent. Eventually, it seems, God spoke to her again and said, “You are here to carry out my program. I am not here to carry out yours.” She wrote in her diary, “I must remember that God is not my private secretary.”

Before his death, Sir Sidney had gotten her involved in Indian affairs. She served on the Indian Sanitary Commission. In May 1859, she decided that there were insufficient data available in England on conditions in the Indian Army, and she wrote to 200 military stations there, asking for copies of all regulations and all documents relating to the health and sanitary administration of the army. The reports that came back filled two vans. She read them all and summarized them for the Report of the Commission. Her conclusion was that the death toll from disease in the Indian Army was appallingly high (69 out of 1000 annually), and that this was largely due, not to the climate, but to lack of sanitation, and that preventive measures included sanitation not just for army posts but for neighboring villages and, in the long run, for all of India.

She was a friend of General Charles George Gordon, who captured the British imagination when he and his troops were beseiged at Khartoum in the Sudan, and finally captured and killed. After his death, Florence wrote to a friend that suffering, disappointment, and lack of success are the tribute which it is the soul’s greatest privilege to present to God. In Gordon’s death, she wrote, we see “the triumph of failure, the triumph of the Cross. With him, all is well.”

She met the scholar Benjamin Jowett, who was translating Plato into English. They became fast friends, and she contributed to the translation. She also began an anthology of mystical writings, called “Notes from Devotional Authors of the Middle Ages, Collected, Chosen, and Freely Translated by Florence Nightingale.” It was her contention that mystical prayer is not just for monks and nuns, but should form a part of the every-day life of ordinary persons.

Under the strain of ceaseless overwork, her own health broke, and she was an invalid for the latter half of her life. On Christmas Day when she was sixty-five, she wrote: “Today, O Lord, let me dedicate this crumbling old woman to thee. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. I was thy handmaid as a girl. Since then, I have backslid.” She wrote a manual called Notes for Nurses, and a set of instructions for the matron in charge of training nurses, emphasizing the importance for a nurse of a schedule of daily prayer. A few years before her death, she was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit from the British government. She died at ninety, and, by her directions, her tombstone read simply, “F.N. 1820-1910”.

Florence Nightingale died on 13 August 1910, and is commemorated on this day on the Lutheran Calendar. The Episcopal calendar commemorates Jeremy Taylor on 13 August, and accordingly has shifted the commemoration of Nightingale to 18 May. I am not sure of the significance of this date, but it is the date (or nearly) of the opening of the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in 1860. [Note: the current date in the Episcopal Church for her commemoration is 12 Aug.]

by James Kiefer

August 12, 2021 Posted by | Biography, Customer Service, Experiment, Health Issues, Hygiene, Lectionary Readings, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Spiritual, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment