Beware of the Idle Expat Wife

(Written October 2011) So we’ve been in Kuwait over a month. And I’ve done the “settling in to the house” thing, I’m working on the “exploring the city” thing, I’m waiting on the “receiving our stuff” thing, but I’m definitely fully entrenched in the “filling my time” thing (beyond reading and writing). Which means two things, crafting and volunteering.

The former is marginally thwarted by the lack of having “our stuff” – with my crafting and sewing supplies not ranking high enough to ship them out early. So instead of doing, I’m amassing ideas and projects left and right, from quilting, to making baby clothes and nappies, to making tablecloths and napkins, to making napkin rings, necklaces and jewelry. I’m ordering supplies online and bookmarking websites and YouTube videos with wild abandon and just a touch of desperation.

As I mentioned before, I did attend a “Meet and Bead” meeting, that’s held once a month here in Jabriya. It’s basically a “Stitch-n-Bitch” for beaders. It was great fun seeing all of the amazing projects people are working on and is definitely something i'd like to do again. It also made me realize that I am not a “beader”; I am a “stringer.” All I do is string bead after bead. True beaders apparently employ actual stitches and weaving techniques to create patterns and shapes. So I’m going to take a class or two to learn some fundamental beading skills. Then I’ll start going through the multitude of videos awaiting me in my bookmark file to further enhance my beading abilities. Oh, the joy to be had!

On the volunteering side I’ve done a few things. I helped organize, sort, and purge the local expat library. It’s comprised of 100% donated books, so the variety can be striking. From hundreds of mysteries and thrillers, to romance, lots of child-rearing books (guess you either read and utilize, or never the get the time to read so you pass on to the next hopeful), some odd travel books, children and teen books, lots of religion books, and even some Econ and Algebra textbooks. In both Cairo and here, I make use of the library a lot. So when they asked for help organizing piles of new donations, I figured it was only fair.

My next volunteering also involved books. I had heard that American volunteers were needed to staff a booth at the Kuwait International Book Fair. How exciting! So I convinced a friend to volunteer as well, and we signed up for two evening shifts. Let me interject here and point out that in most volunteer “jobs” there are two fundamental problems; first, trying to find someone willing to give up their free time to do something that’s often rather mundane (stuffing envelopes, manning a booth, sorting donations, etc.), and two, being said person and having absolutely no guidance or information on what you are actually supposed to be doing, beyond seat-warming. The Book Fair fell in to the latter category.

The booth had really nothing to do with books at all. It was basically set up for the purpose of handing out information on studying abroad – in the U.S. So all the information we had was on two organizations, Amideast and StudyUSA, who can help students do that. Well, that’s wonderful. But what the heck are we doing here then? There was one employee from each organization who was also there with us (thank goodness!) so basically we just tried to keep people occupied until they could actually speak to the person who knew anything.

During a lull in the excitement, I did take a moment to wander the fair. I’m not sure what I was picturing, but any “International Book Fair” sounds exotic and intriguing. It was quite packed, with families bustling through, competing for space with the vendors’ carts coming by selling sodas and snacks, like we were at the county fair. And as I wandered, I came to realize that while definitely international, with booths from Dubai and Doha, among others, it was almost entirely books in Arabic. For a little variety, there were a few booths with some children’s books in English, and the seemingly displaced man with books in Japanese in the booth next to ours.

In our booth we did have some books for sale. But I did wonder whether someone just found boxes of remainders in a closet and said, “Let’s sell them at the Book Fair!” Most were in Arabic, and were scientific or political. We had stacks of Colin Powell’s book, “My American Journey” in English, as well as some American Readers that were well out of print (and were full of encyclopedic chapters on the 1900s, some poems, and even a song entitled, “The Drunken Hillbilly”). We also had a few children’s book in Arabic and the Arabic translation of Truman Capote’s classic, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Now, I’m a huge fan of both Capote’s and Hepburn’s renditions, however between the drunken hillbilly and a lovely story of Ms. Golightly and her antics as an “American geisha” (Capote’s preferred term, as he openly disputed that she was a prostitute), I’m not entirely sure these are the best images we want to convey of typical American life. Though that could explain the heightened interest in studying in America.

My most recent volunteering stint, was at a huge American Halloween party. They’d set up games all over the lawn, then they split the groups into zero to five-year-olds, and six to ten-year-olds, and went trick-or-treating through the parking lot where certain participating parents had decorated their cars and were handing out candy to the buzzing broods. I truly love Halloween, especially seeing the little ones’ costumes. There were some fabulous costumes this year, including a three-year-old Princess Leia and her little brother Yoda (I’m assuming there was some parental nudging with those choices), lots of superheros and villains, witches and princesses, a Shrek or two, and lots of parents all decked out as well. I went as a Volunteering Expat Wife and think I pulled it off with great flair (our costume box is coming, some day).

So I said I’d help with the “pizza distribution.” Sounded a little industrial, but I figured I could handle it. Luckily there was another volunteer, too. I found her sitting in the patio area where she said she’d been banished to by her eleven-year-old. We chatted as we waited to hear from “Papa John’s” with the delivery (yes, they are here in Kuwait competing against Domino’s and Pizza Hut). When the call came, I followed her out to the gate pulling a very rickety clattering metal cart. “How many pizzas are we getting?” I asked. “Forty,” she said. Yikes!

It took some finagling, but we managed to get the cart through the gate to the delivery guys. She paid him the 115kd (almost $400) and we then proceeded to stack up thirty-nine cheese pizzas and one mushroom (that was labeled “chicken BBQ”) on the metal cart. With incredible luck we got the cart and pizzas back through the gate unscathed and started our slow trek back to the patio area. She took the lead and pulled the cart while keeping a hand on one of the stacks, and I brought up the rear, holding the other stack and keeping an eye on both stacks as they leaned precariously. “You know what we have here?” I said, looking at the tilting towers. “Don’t say it.” “Really? But they’re such perfect leaning towers of pizza.” (Groan with me, not against me.)

So we then set up and distributed the pizzas with mild confusion, but eventual happy diners. Another parent was helping us and kept telling all the kids, “Now don’t forget to brush and floss tonight!” One little girl dressed as a dinosaur, following her pumpkin-cloaked mother holding their pizza, proudly reported, “We brush, but we never floss.” To which the parent wasn’t sure how to respond. I think I saw pumpkin-mom cringe a little.

Not all of my Expat Wife doings are this well-planned or thought out. Some of them are whim-inspired and completely spontaneous. Like the papier-mâché pig. I’m going to blame this moment of tunnel vision on my friend Robin. She knows me well enough to know how to plant the seed. All she did was call up to discuss possible table centerpieces for an event she was planning and we were musing about different animal-related themes. “You could do papier-mâché animals!” I said. “But how?” “It would be easy, just use a balloon and a paper towel tube, cut it up to make the legs and a snout.” “Okay, why don’t you make me twenty and ship them to me.” Ha, ha, very funny. Seed planted.

I slept on it, thought about it, saw the balloons bobbing in the wind at the Halloween party, and on my way out asked to take two. Before I knew it I was online researching how to make damn papier-mâché paste and then whipping up a batch of the ooey gooey goodness. Then I was cutting and taping the legs and snout in place, then shredding newspaper and suddenly making a pig! My husband came down to the kitchen just as I was finishing. It was also the moment that I realized I probably shouldn’t have grabbed our Arabic newspaper to make a pig, of all things (remember, it’s one of the forbidden Bs). My husband’s look went from confused, to bemused, to all-too-alert. “You’re not going to leave it like that, are you? With the Arabic showing?” he said with just a touch of worry. “No, no, don’t worry. I’m going to cover it with another layer of white paper.” (No one will ever know…) So we now have a beautiful white papier-mâché pig who will eventually be painted pink, once I find some paint. And no, I’m not making nineteen more or becoming a papier-mâché exporter. My whim has faded. Such is the life of an idle Expat Wife. Beware of low-hanging whims.