Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fourth Weekend in Kuwait (November 28 and 29) A Meal With the Air Force

On Friday, I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a Thanksgiving Day meal at a friend's villa in our camp in Al Zour. As has been the tradition in years past, we had two busloads of US troops in our camp. This year we had only members of the US Air Force who are stationed in a Kuwaiti air base in the northern part of Kuwait. Nature cooperated by providing some really FINE weather - sunny and cool (25 deg C). The airmen/women played volleyball a while and then we all dove in to the turkey dinner and desserts!!

Members of the US Air Force stationed in Kuwait playing volleyball.

The water was excellent and the weather perfect!!!

And the high point of the day was turkey dinner with all the fixings!!

A perfect day for someone far away from home.

Saturday was reserved for a few chores: my monthly haircut in the nearby town of Fahaheel and then home to cook my own meal. One complaint: the Starbucks at the Hilton Hotel in Mangaf was out of decaffeinated coffee!! Can you believe that??!!

Today - Sunday, November 30 - it's back to work here in our office in Wonderful Wafra!! Only a few days to go before I fly to home sweet home for some badly needed vacation and Christmas shopping!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Well, here I am in Kuwait working away on what would normally be a day off from work on Thanksgiving Day - a BIG holiday in the USA. Just wanted to wish all my loyal followers and readers and everyone else in the USA a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

As for me, the plan is to go to one of my neighbor's villa tomorrow (Friday) and have a turkey dinner along with about a dozen or so US service men and women. In prior years, our company has a tradition of inviting over about two (2) busloads full of United States troops (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force) who are stationed here in Kuwait at the nearby Camp Arifjan. The troops are typically divided up amongst several families who feed the troops at their villa a home-cooked meal. Hopefully I will have a few pictures to share with my Loyal Followers a few days from now.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Third Weekend in Kuwait (November 21 and 22)

I managed to enjoy another fine weekend here in Kuwait. On Friday, I travelled north from Al Zour along Hwy 30 into Salmiya. Along the way, I passed many fine looking villas - some more elaborate than others! Many of the homes here are built from cement - not like the cheap wood-framed structures that most American homes are constructed. The concrete structures shown here can no doubt withstand hurricanes (wish we had these in Houston for Hurricane Ike!!)

(My favorite home!! Not a clue as to who lives in this fine place!)

A simple but thoroughly fine home sweet home!
Following my weekly grocery stop at The Sultan Center in Salmiya, I went to the new Movenpick Hotel and Resort situated along the Gulf Road (Hwy #25), in-between the 5th and 6th Ring Roads. Allegedly this place has been here for 1 year & 3 months. I have no idea how I could have missed this place but I am sure glad I finally came by today!! Next to the Movenpick are several fine restaurants: Chili's, Tumbleweeds, Starbucks (naturally!), Costa Coffee and at least a dozen more places whose names I can't remember. All are as new as the Movenpick. A selection of the photos I took during this lunch stop are shown below:

A camel all set for a ride by the tourists at the Movenpick Hotel's beach area.

I had the Friday Buffet meal which includes a chicken schwarma (shown above). Total cost for the buffet meal was 15.4 KD or $57 USD or 45 Euros. As always, I waddled home fully stuffed.

The poolside area at the Movenpick Hotel in Salmiya, Kuwait.

The front view of the Movenpick Hotel entrance and adjoining Chili's restaurant and many other fine eating places. Well worth a weekend visit!
FYI: The weather this time of year in Kuwait is excellent: 20 - 25 deg C (68 - 75 deg F) with blue skies.

Arabic Calligraphy

Calligraphy: (a): artistic, stylized, or elegant handwriting or lettering; (b): the art of producing such writing.
Above are just a few examples of Arabic calligraphy - one of my favorite art forms. I have no idea what these say but they look GREAT!! All were taken from greeting cards received during the recent Eid Holiday following Ramadan.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

LATEST UPDATE (Nov. 24) on Starbucks Closure in Al Zour - Kuwait

Just a short update to advise everyone on the recent closure of the new Starbucks in Al Zour (Kuwait). As you can see from the above photo, a temporary wooden door has been erected over the existing glass door entryway. There are absolutely NO signs anywhere explaining what is going on leaving us to depend upon any hear-say/scuttlebutt that we can run across. A colleague says he actually talked to the Kuwaiti owner of the franchise and this owner alleges the store was closed because some critical paperwork had not been filed and / or that certain "considerations" had not been paid to the appropriate people. My colleague says he hopes to visit the owner during this weekend and maybe obtain more details about the closure. Naturally, all of us expats in the immediate vicinity are hoping this store's closure is temporary. Again, I am sure many folks who read this posting are likely to laugh and say "just get over it". Still, when one is far away from home, one needs as many comforts of home as possible and the loss of any such "comfort" is always upsetting ... and a great incentive for us expats to speculate and come up with all sorts of "explanations" and theories. Stay tuned ....

LATEST UPDATE (November 24th - Monday): It's confirmed that the reason for the closure is a simple licensing fee! Some licensing paperwork (and fee) needs to be processed and - hopefully - our little lovely local Starbucks is supposed to reopen "in a week".

Ron - a loyal follower from Canada - asks if there is a Tim Horton's coffee shop here in Kuwait. Sadly, I have NOT encountered any such coffee places, Ron! However, there are several Costa Coffee, Second Cup and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores around the area here ... in addition to the dozens of Starbucks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Little Information Please

Having made many postings from Wonderful Wafra, I thought I'd better include a map showing the exact location of where I am working. The red star shown in the above map image indicates that we are in southern Kuwait, a short distance (just a few kilometers) north of the Saudi-Kuwait border. Our oilfield is in what is termed the "Partitioned Neutral Zone". Basically, since Saudi Arabia and Kuwait could not decide exactly where their mutual border was situated, they simply decided to split the oil production 50% / 50% from that area. The US-based company for which I work is the official contractor to the Saudi government and as such we are in charge of producing the Saudi share of the oil from the PNZ.

People ask me what's it like to work over here and I simply respond that as an American living in the Middle East, Kuwait is probably the second best area within this part of the world (the best being Dubai, of course) where an American can ever hope to be assigned. At least the people over here don't hate us as much as may be the case in other Middle Eastern countries (whose names I shall withhold for obvious reasons!). Furthermore, the infrastructure is sound - the water is safe to drink, the power is on 99% of the time, I can get CNN, BBC and Orbit News, a few newsstands sell The International Herald Tribune (THE American expat's favorite newspaper when away from home), and there are many fine hotels where we can eat a very decent meal and relax on the weekends. Alcohol is illegal in the country but I don't care as I don't drink that much anyway. Christians and other non-Muslims can worship as they please and there is a huge Catholic cathedral in downtown Kuwait City with a big cross out front. Overall, I find this a very tolerant country. Not as liberal as Dubai but still a nice place in which to work.

In the interest of shedding a little bit of light on an area of the Middle East with which many folks (particularly Americans) may not be aware, I will try to answer any questions posed by readers about this part of the world.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Second Weekend in Kuwait (November 14 & 15)


We made the 90 km drive into downtown Kuwait City (about 60 mins.). After making my usual stop at The Sultan Center for my weekly supply of groceries, it was on to Starbucks at the Sharq Mall (see above photo). Thank goodness THIS Starbucks has not been closed down!!

Final stop was at the Sheraton Hotel where I had lunch at Riccardo's - an Italian themed restaurant. Fancy place with excellent food - see the photo of my salmon lunch.

Total expense: 15 KD (about $55 USD); expensive but darn well worth it!! Mmm - mmm good!!!
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Lunch today was a more restrained affair. Hardly gourmet dining! We stopped at the local Pizza Hut. The only high point of the day was a mini-crisis that transpired right outside my house. A pair of kittens were chased up a tree in front of my residence by a barking dog. Both kittens were meowing all morning and looking down at me with a sad look that seemed to say "What do we do now?"
The Mother cat was off to the side (with another one of her kitties) looking on and presumably coaxing them to just get over their reluctance to jump out or climb down from the tree!

Finally - after about 5 hours - they were all gone so I shall presume that Mother and kitties have been reunited and all is well again in Kuwait!! Now if I can only get my local Starbucks to reopen ....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Al Zour Starbucks Store Closed by Kuwait Authorities ??

Today is Thursday (November 13th). Normally I'd be in a happy mood since Thursdays over here in Kuwait are the last day of the work week (sorta like Fridays back home). However, as we pulled into the parking lot by the new Starbucks store near our camp in Al Zour, we were shocked to see the entire store closed and the front door blocked by furniture and covered over by several red-colored strips of paper. I took the above picture and shared this with two Saudi and Kuwaiti colleagues. They explained that the red sashes pasted over the entrance door were from the Kuwait health department and that this means the store was closed because of some alleged health-related problem (dirty conditions of some sort). I have my doubts since this is a brand new store (opened September 27) but folks assure me this is not a "political" action. I'll keep everyone posted. I fully realize many readers will shrug and say "so what" but when you are an expat working in a place far away from home and one of your favorite hangouts is closed under mysterious circumstances, well, the event raises a lot of questions. Hopefully this setback is just a simple event and not something more nefarious.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunrise Over the Arabian Gulf

The exact moment the sun peered over the horizon at precisely 6:05 am. I may have adjusted the colors and brightness incorrectly when using Photoshop Elements to edit the raw JPG file but this view is about as good as it gets. A nice scene to wake up to every morning!

PS: A loyal follower, John, asks: Is the sand on the beach clean? The sea (or rather, gulf) looks calm. Does it ever get rough? ANSWERS: (a) The sand is very clean! However, I wear waterproof "beachshoes" to avoid cutting my feet on sharp shells; (b) The Arabian Gulf is generally quite calm. On a windy day, the waves may get as high as one foot (30 cm). During the summer, the water temperature is a most pleasant 80 - 85 deg F (30 deg C).

First Weekend in Kuwait (November 7 & 8)

Water Towers: In some sense, water is more valuable than oil. And the design and painting of these towers is always pleasant to view. The above towers are on the Sixth Ring road.

After running my weekly grocery run to The Sultan Center, I had a fabulous seafood buffet at the Al Noukhaza seafood restaurant in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Farwaniyah section of town. The restaurant is in the center of the above photo at the top of the staircase. Cost for the meal (with drink and tip) is about 12 KD (@$3.70 USD/KD, that's about $45 USD or 35 Euros). Excellent meal as always. I went home well fed.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel (near the intersection of Highway 55 and the Sixth Ring Road). About an hour north of my company's camp in Al Zour.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My "Home-Sweet-Home" in Kuwait

The house to which I have been assigned for the next few weeks. The place comes with a house keeper who makes the beds, does the laundry, takes out the trash and irons my shirts. What more can I ask for??

Sunrise early this morning (6:15 am) as viewed from my living room window.

My house is located right on the Arabian Gulf and offers excellent views of the beach. Terrific swimming in the summertime.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Toilet With a View at 39,000 Feet!!

Apologies to anyone who may be offended by this subject but I couldn't resist sharing this with my readers!

On board the Lufthansa Airbus cabin, the business class toilets come with a window located right over the toilet seat!! Although modesty almost forced me to close the window shade, I decided it wasn't worth the effort. After all, who would be outside looking in at 39,000 feet while we were flying at 580 MPH? Even a bird couldn't keep up with our aircraft!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Greetings from a Rainy Kuwait

I arrived on time Monday evening aboard Lufthansa 628. A decent flight to be sure but I'll only give Lufthansa an "average" rating in terms of service and food quality. My one gripe: no overhead storage bins were installed over the center row seats!!! See the above picture. Only those seats by the windows had storage compartments!
Anyway, I arrived on time at 8:07 pm Kuwait time (Houston + 9 hours). My colleague and I rented our vehicle and we were on our way to Mina Al-Zour (a one hour drive south of the airport) where our company has its main camp site. After unpacking, I got to bed late at around midnight. Sadly, I only managed a little sleep and so Tuesday dragged quite a bit. Thankfully, last night was better so this morning I celebrated a bit by stopping by the new Starbucks shop along the road side by the Al Zour turn-off from Highway 30. According to the employee, this store opened September 27 just in time for the Eid Holiday. (For me, the arrival of a Starbucks signals the approach of 'civilzation' to an area!!)

It's now 7:25 am on a very rainy Wednesday morning here in my office in Wafra. Wafra is a modest-sized oil field located in what is termed the Partitioned Neutral Zone (PNZ) - a strip of territory between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait where each contry has agreed to split the oil production 50%/50%. (My company manages the Saudi half of the oil production from Wafra Field.) Time to get to work and so I'll sign off for now and probably wait for the weekend until I make additional postings. In the meantime, I'll let the news of Obama's election victory sink in. Although I have not been a major supporter of Obama, I do like his promise to get out of Iraq in 16 months. I just hope Obama sticks to that promise and withdraws from Iraq as planned!!

After a rainy night, Wafra becomes Mud City!!

Too much mud to walk around in!!

The meal served onboard my Lufthansa flight last Monday (Nov. 3).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On the Road Again - Middle East Here We Come!!

Frankfurt International Airport: Crossroads of the World!!!
Greetings from Frankfurt!! I flew in early this morning - tired as usual. As much as I travel you would think I might have finally learned the trick of being able to sleep on a plane but no such luck!! After more than thirty (30) years of travel I still cannot drop off to sleep while flying. As a consequence, I arrive at my destination a veritable 'basket case'! The only way I try to counteract this affliction is to split up my journey into two parts. Hence the layover tonight here at Frankfurt. I booked a nice room at the Sheraton Hotel which is just a five minute walk from the arrival hall at Terminal 1 here at Frankfurt Airport.
My one comment about Frankfurt's airport is that it is so HUGE! Maneuvering thru the maze of gates and terminals can get complicated. Still, when I look at the main flight departure sign (pictured above), it gives me a feeling of truly being at a major crossroads where literally thousands of people cross by every day - probably every hour!!
Anyway, today's plan is for yours truly to get some badly needed rest tonight (hopefully) and then tomorrow it's off to the Middle East - yet again!! I shall keep everyone posted as always.