Thursday night kicked off our weekend with not only a cab ride home but also discovering Talabat…an online food delivery service. We have been dying to get some falafel and hummus and decided on some Lebanese fare. Purchasing enough for both the evening, weekend, and lunch snacks, our food epically arrived in a giant box.
Aside from the continuous munch of carrots and hummus we kept things simple through Friday given we had a little bit of school work and were getting better acquainted with the city on Saturday. We did get out for a bit though as Peter offered to take us on another grocery run; this time to “LuLu.” Hypermarket was an appropriate name for it given the likeness to the inside of a carnival. It was a bit like Costco and culture and a box of highlighters exploded. We were very hyper at the sight of it and very tired at the other side of an hour of running up and down the aisles. We separated from Peter and officially had our first solo bulk purchasing experience. This initially started with a lot of miming and shrugging and we graciously accepted the help of a staff member with an increased English vocabulary. I did get to practice saying khallas (finished) when the bag was full enough though. Baby steps. We tried to get a sampling of all the Kuwaiti candies but the man said no 😦 Apparently they are all priced differently so we could not just get one of each of the 20 or so varieties. Bummer….so we settled on hazelnut filled chocolates, dried apples, and pistachios to round out our snack shelf. A greater variety of gluten free was discovered, fascinating descriptions and knock offs were noted, but still no camel milk.
So Saturday….We can’t lie, moving to a new country where things are “same same but different” can come with its frustrations. Particularly when you are not on vacation and trying to get work done. Right now we are battling the internet pretty regularly, adjusting to time changes and how that affects communication with those at home, we are both used to having cars or living somewhere with decent transit so relying on other people or taking a cab to/from an address-less place without knowing where you are feels a bit limiting at the start. All of these things that we know will work themselves out but made us even more excited to get out and see actual Kuwait City, feel like we were doing something aside from living room laps with the wifi router, and learn more about what we’d like to do in the coming weeks. We were not disappointed.
We were picked up by Shebina; a lady with Indian background originally from Toronto and living in Kuwait for 17 years. She was the most generous and wonderful host having previously been in charge of tours for potential employees at a previous job. She also used to work at FSRI part time and currently works with the Al sidra (the cancer support organization) and will be helping at the Pilates classes this month! Though it was quite chilly for Kuwait, the skies were clear blue and perfect for sightseeing. Our first stop was at the Kuwait Towers, which we were very excited about finally getting pictures of. It was super quiet and I happened to be in pants vs. a skirt so we even managed to check a split pic off the list! As we drove we discussed how Kuwait is quite a young city and that it really just started growing in the last 60 years after the oil was discovered. it was largely occupied by nomadic people prior to that. The livelihood was based on farming, fishing, and pearl diving with very close ties to India; so much in fact, that the original currency was the Indian Rupee. Unfortunately, the country has not diversified as much as other countries in the region have and the lowering of oil prices makes the fate of Kuwait very uncertain right now. I suppose it is good for us that the Kuwaiti Dinar is not any stronger than it is right now, but hard to say what will become of many businesses and the way of life here.
We drove past many landmarks taking frantic notes about all the things we wanted to see and do now that we were acquiring a lay of the land. They include: Souk Sharq with its accompanying marina and fish market, the national museum, the grand mosque, gold souks, and some interesting sounding tours revolving around architecture and an underground private collection of artifacts. Since Shebina was more than happy to cater to our needs we took advantage and I finally got my Starbucks mug! We continued with our drive with explanations of the different landmarks, the commerce buildings of the Emir (the holder of the throne), the skyscrapers of the business area downtown (tallest building is 140 floors here), and noted where to get the best tailoring and electronics before arriving at Souk Al-Mubarakiya. This is the oldest souk in Kuwait that was the “mall” before all of the malls became a thing. It made sense actually why going to the mall is such a large event or attraction in this culture after realizing all the families would come to the souk on the weekend to hang out, get their goods and enjoy the fresh catch of the day. Speaking of which we were meant to check out the Avenues which is the big shopping place but we spent too much time at the Souk because we were enthralled so that will have to be saved for another day.
I already gave it away, but this market was great. We were so thrilled to go with Shebina because she introduced us to all her favorite vendors and pointed out things we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed or thought to try. The prayer bead shops were amazing given the shear inventory they stock on a regular basis. Apparently it’s not so crazy given they are in the souk and other shops buy from them in bulk, but it was a lot. We found our pit stop for scarves (get excited!) and Shebina bought some turbans for some of the patients she sees undergoing chemotherapy treatments. We took ample time in the food section. Shebina pointed out Iranian dry berries to try later today and potentially buy if we like it. She convinced us to buy some sugar apple, which looks a lot like an artichoke. We found the tastiest pomegranate, walked away with a half kilo of lychee because yum, saw the dozens of varieties of olives, nuts, seeds, and sweets finally arriving at the date souk where we met Ahmed. Ahmed was the most generous vendor giving us handfuls of dates to try. I normally eat a couple at a time so this was sugar overload to the extreme. It was hard to say no as I clearly wanted to sample the varieties, not to mention handing us dates turned into ample gesturing and “come, come” to lean forward and bite off a chunk of sweet dates dipped in salty peanut sauce. It was a very surprising taste but since I did not realize what I was getting myself into, it was a good surprise and amazingly delicious. I was actually very intrigued by the combination but the sauce only comes in a larger jar so we are waiting to make a final decision on that purchase. The site of Ahmed dipping these dates and half shoving them into our mouths turned up a jealous customer who thought he ought to have a try as well. After thorough sampling, we made our final decisions. It turns out the dates I was looking for hail from Saudi Arabia. We also tried some from Iran and Kuwait which were on the chewier side and a black date from Saudi that was more expensive and more significant as it hails from Mecca. It’s said “One who takes seven Ajwa dates in the morning remains under the protection of Allah from magic and poison for whole of the day”. We did not purchase these dates, so I guess we will not know for certain. We did try some other flavor combinations though including ginger and settled on a blend of date mush with Christmasy and chili spices that definitiely does its part in warming you up for the “winter.”
We continued to wander around the various shops and hear stories from Shebina. We had tried to learn some Arabic throughout our day, but with so much to take in it was a little hard to remember. The one that sticks out is saying something that sounds like “Golly”, when you are bartering and the price is too much…I thought it sounded intuitive 😉
To end our afternoon we headed to actual “lunch” (at 4:30 PM) at Mais Alghanim
We gave Shebina the reigns and ended up with another bag of take away for the fridge following our feast. Dishes included: fatoush, hummus, mutabal, chicken kebabs, lamb and rice (with saffron and Iranian berries), garlic paste, potates, lime and mint juice…. Basically all of the yum. On the way out, we got to see the towers lit up with a LED display for the upcoming National Day in February. Thoroughly spent and very full, we made it home with a lot of new ideas on how to spend our upcoming weekends.
Ma’a salama for now!