Thursday, January 26, 2006

Poor Jacko

"Michael Jackson, center, wearing a traditional Arabic women's veil and all-covering gown called an abaya, holds the hand of one of his children, also veiled, as they walk toward his car on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006, behind a Manama, Bahrain, shopping mall." [Link to source]

I love how he's still wearing the white socks and black shoes. He set the F.O.B. trend.

Since he's so close, I think we should invite him to Kuwait to do a concert in the ice skating rink to relive our 80s childhood memories. Remember those days in Kuwait when the hippest thing to do on a Wednesday night was ice skating to "Beat It" and "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough"? Man, what a great artist...but what a sad decline. From the werewolf of "Thriller" to wearing a niqab - I guess we've come full circle as far as the fear factor goes!

Anyway, I give him props for not becoming a cliché (celebrity) and moving to Dubai.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Crunch time

This is what the rest of my academic year looks like:

January - 1 paper
February - 1 paper + MA dissertation proposal + PhD dissertation proposal
March - 1 presentation + 2 papers + PhD funding applications
April, May - Study for exams in early June, which are comprehensive (3 exams, each one consisting of 3 essays in 3 hours)
Early June - Exams
Mid-late June - Preliminary/background research for MA dissertation
July, August - Archival research for and writing of MA dissertation
September 15 - Submit MA dissertation
Late September - Begin PhD programme!

Hopefully somewhere in there I can take a short vacation - maybe early July.

Freak-out session begins.......NOW!

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I read something quite ghoulish yesterday, a story recounted by Zahra Freeth, Colonel H.R.P. and Dame Violet Dickson's daughter. (For those that might not know, Col. Dickson was a British Political Agent to Kuwait in the 1920s-1930s, who then worked for Kuwait Oil Company after he retired from the British govt. The Dickson House on Gulf Road, across from the Souq Sharq fish market, was their family home until 1991, when Dame Violet, also known as Umm Saud, passed away at the age of 92.)

This is a story told to the Dicksons by some residents of Jahra in the 1930s, and is on the aftermath of the battle against the Ikhwan in Jahra (Red Fort) in 1920.

"During the days that followed...before the dead could all be buried the fingernails fell off the corpses, and for a period after the battle whenever the wind rose human fingernails were blown like husks around Jahra, eddying and drifting among houses and tents, creating a wierd rattling sound which was vividly described by those who had heard it." (Zahra Dickson Freeth, A New Look at Kuwait, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1972.)

What an awful image!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Succession

I am deliberately not posting on what's going on politically in Kuwait because to do so would be to cross into the realm of my academic-related work and I make a point of not using my blog for those purposes. But thank you to those who send me sms-es with the latest updates. I would love to have subscriptions to the Kuwaiti Arabic newspapers here because the only place I can get them is out at Edgware Road which I never go to and I hate reading the Arabic online newspapers directy from my PowerBook because I don't find their sites user-friendly. So now I spend my mornings printing out hard copies of a bunch of the articles, and keep them in my bag to read during the course of my day. What a time for me to be out of Kuwait...


Series of major and mini breakthroughs for the day:

Academic breakthrough (major): I have had a pretty good idea of the general topic I would like to research for my PhD, but I have been thinking up a sub-idea to write my MA dissertation on. The way I am working on it with my supervisor is that my MA dissertation will in some way inform my PhD dissertation (which is expected but is not always required). Anyway, today I was re-reading a book I have read before but for a different research project, and I came across something that suddenly triggered an idea in my head. The more I thought it through, the more it made sense, and it is a perfect topic to do my MA dissertation on as it will relate to my PhD topic. I immediately started writing my ideas out and came up with about two pages of preliminary notes – my proposal in the making! I’m going to sleep on it, re-read what I wrote in the morning, and then if I’m still happy with it I will do some background research before I pitch the idea to my supervisor. I see another research trip to Kuwait happening in March…

London breakthrough (not-so-major): I finally found a café that is open past 7pm that is perfect to sit and study in. Most café’s close at around 7pm here, surprisingly, so to find one that is open till 9:30pm was a great find (sometimes I need a break from the library and a good café that is conducive to studying is the next best thing). Oddly enough it is only like 2 minutes walking from my flat – I have been in there before to grab a cup of coffee to go but never realized they had a huge seating area downstairs. It was great – quiet, cozy, and non-smoking (the upstairs section I had always seen when getting coffee is a smoking area and it is too smokey and hazy to sit for more than 5 mins) – N and I spent about 5 hours there today.

Music breakthrough (minor): I finally got a hold of the name of a song I’ve been looking for for a while. I had heard the song a while ago and the voice was familiar but I couldn’t place it, and only half of one line stuck in my head: *something, something* “good for her”. I heard it again today and managed to get the rest of the line (“that he could be good for her”) and googled it and found it immediately – “Thrown Down” by Fleetwood Mac. Downloaded it and I'm listening to it now. The song is fine but I love the chorus – its gives me a warm, happy feeling for some reason.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Got my first paper back today. Got a distinction (i.e. highest grade range). I was nervous about getting the paper back, and it was a huge relief. See, the British system is very different from the American system. In the States I always did extremely well on papers - I never got less than an A. But I was nervous here. Because I knew how to assess myself, my work, according to American expectations, but I had NO idea what to expect from the British system of assessment. But I got the same (equivalent) score as I would have expected to get if I was in the States, so now I feel more confident. We have two papers per class, each totalling 25% of our score for that class, the remaining 50% being the final exam. So there is a lot riding on each paper! Our presentations aren't even marked, but are mandatory. So anyway, I feel happy. The friends I wrote about in my last post are all in that class, and the three of them all got distinction as well; we were very close in score range, but one girl and I got the highest of the group. ;) You know you have formed good friendships when you are all sincerely happy for each other, especially since so many other people here are so competitive. The four of us all happened to be writing our paper on the same topic, but each taking a very different angle/approach. But that meant we ended up discussing our papers with each other a lot, bouncing ideas off each other, sharing sources, being careful not to step on each other's toes in our individual papers - basically collaborating in a way that was both ethically acceptable and extremely untypical of people in our programme and school. I'm not into that ultra-competitive side of academia - when it comes to the people I surround myself with, we share thoughts and ideas with each other quite often, and because we have a mutual respect for each other we would never steal each other's ideas. But in my experience I must say that it is rare to find people like that. So I count myself as lucky...

Thursday, January 12, 2006


My presentation this morning went very well. Giving (academic) presentations is one of my forté's. That's two presentations done, one more to go for the year.

I like my new group of friends here. We have a Wednesday ritual - every week after class ends at 1:30 a group of us (usually four or five) go next door to one girl's place and have tea and cook lunch and just talk and laugh, and then eventually study. Today our professor joined us in our little ritual. There are two of them in that class that I have grown closest to, and have actually developed a real affection for - proper friends. It's so much harder making actual friends (not just acquaintances or people in your programme, but real friends who you enjoy spending time with) as a postgrad. I guess it's just about getting older too. You already have the people in your life that you love and care about, and who you trust and feel comfortable and happy around, and once you have that and feel secure in it, you really don't feel like putting in too much of an effort to start all over again. So when you actually meet people who you immediately feel that same sort of comfort around, it's wonderful. It's an extra added bonus to being here, doing what I love.

Suffice it to say, everyone here is just dying to come to Kuwait to visit. N and I do a good job of making Kuwait seem like Club Tropicana. But the great thing is, we're not lying or exaggerating - that's what our lives in Kuwait are truly like! Kuwait's fun, I don't care what anyone says. If you have a good group of people around you, you can live a pretty great life. Take it from someone who has lived on either coast of the U.S., and now in London.

I miss chalet.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Back in London...

Quite tired after my trip and still have several hours of work ahead of me to prepare for my presentation tomorrow so will use someone else's words for now:

“Two weeks away feels like the whole world should have changed
But I’m home now, and things still look the same
I think I’ll leave it till tomorrow to unpack
Try to forget for one more night that I’m back in my flat
On the road where the cars never stop going through the night
To a life where I can’t watch the sunset, I don’t have time
I don’t have time

Tomorrow’s back to work and down to sanity
Should run a bath and then clear up the mess I made before I left here
Try to remind myself that I was happy here
Before I knew that I could get on a plane and fly away
From the road where the cars never stop going through the night
To a life where I can watch the sunset
And take my time…”

-Dido, "Sand In My Shoes"

All true except the part about the "mess I made before I left here" - obviously not the case!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

I'm in Rapture...

Today is one of those weather-that-I-love days in Kuwait: overcast, rainy, dreary, and just splendid! I had to leave the house at 7am this morning (which I haven't done in years) to meet someone for my research so I got to spend a good portion of my morning in my car between Kuwait City and Salmiya (I love doing the Gulf Road in the morning). Anyway, a day like this calls for nothing but the best from my iPod, and so I spent the morning listening to my number one album of all time, "Stick Around for Joy" by The Sugarcubes (1992). I first discovered The Sugarcubes and bought this CD when I was about 12 or 13. Before going solo, this was Bjork's band. Two songs off this album, "Hit" and "Walkabout", are my top two favorite songs of all time, and both are more significant to me than any other song I have ever heard...EVER. They carry 14 years worth of memory and meaning, since they have been with me every step of the way! The rest of their (earlier) albums and songs are just as brilliant.

"But the thing that makes me love you, is the unforgettable smell of your skin." ("Walkabout")

Saturday, January 07, 2006

We've Grown Up...

Went to the engagement party of a good friend last night. It was a lovely evening, lots of old friends (some of whom I hadn't seen in years), and the happy couple looked…well…happy. And it struck me last night: we’ve grown up. This is it – we’re adults. People I actually care about are getting engaged, and getting married (at the proper ages, not at age 21/22 like most of the Kuwaiti girls in my high school graduating class). This was the second engagement party I’ve been to in the past six months. My best friend from the States got engaged in August and her wedding is in May. These are close people – not those random weddings you get invited to here and there. These are my friends. We’re at that age. We’re in our mid- to late-twenties; I’m actually officially closer to 30 than to 20. It’s so strange. Time has gone by so quickly. I like it though – as much as I loved high school and college and my younger days, I would never trade the life that I have now. I think that’s because I lived my teenage years, and certainly my early twenties, to the absolute fullest, leaving nothing out. So now I have no regrets, and nothing that I feel I didn’t do that I wish I had done when I had the chance. I like this feeling – not the feeling of being a “grown-up”, but rather the feeling of having grown up. I think about my future all the time now, and it’s finally becoming clear. It’s no longer with a sense of dread or uncertainty, now it’s just plain excitement. Because I know where I want to be and what I want to do, and most importantly I know who I want to do it all with. I just want to be done with this year and a half that I have left before I can officially begin my – or rather our – life. I’m excited at the prospect of FINALLY feeling settled, feeling like I am no longer in transition or in limbo but am actually settled, and ready to BEGIN. It’s all just beginning…

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In the archives

I spent the day at one of Kuwait's hidden gems: the library at the Centre for Research and Studies on Kuwait in Mansouriya. I first found out about the library four years ago through a friend who was publishing a great book on Kuwaiti history that I provided old photographs for and was asked to read the manuscript of before going into publication. The library is a great place - small, but very impressively stocked as far as Gulf history is concerned. They have an entire wall of all the bound British Foreign Office records of all the Gulf countries since the protectorate era, as well as of some other Arab countries. They also have a huge (pretty much complete) collection of all the British travel writing on the Gulf, plus tons of biographies, etc. I have been using the library with special permission as a researcher since I first found it four years ago. It's one of those places that just makes me happy. I went there this morning to do some research and got lost in my reading and before I knew it two hours had passed and they were closing. I'm going back again tomorrow (you can't remove books from the library since most of them are rare and out-of-print).

Today I was reading (or rather re-reading) "The Letters of Gertrude Bell: Vol. II". Her letters are a fantastic read, and I would recommend reading the published volumes to anyone who can get their hands on them. Bell held a high position in the British Imperial Government in Iraq, and she spent a good portion of her life in Baghdad (she died there in 1926). She was one of the few women of the time to serve the Empire in such a significant capacity, especially in the Middle East, and that unique experience (my personal opinions of her aside) makes for a quite fascinating, often frustrating (because you get a good behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of Empire), and unmistakeably entertaining read.

Here is a taste. This is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her mother on 14 March 1920. She is referring to some extremist religious leaders whom she had difficulty coming into contact with:

“Until quite recently I’ve been wholly cut off from them because their tenets forbid them to look upon an unveiled woman and my tenets don’t permit me to veil – I think I’m right there, for it would be a tacit admission of inferiority which would put our intercourse from the first out of focus. Nor is it any good trying to make friends through the women – if the women were allowed to see me they would veil before me as if I were a man. So you see I appear to be too female for one sex and too male for the other.” p. 484

I love this stuff.