I have been absolutely swamped with my life as a teacher and new Kuwaiti expat. I apologize for my absence. I have been itching to write and it feels good to be back!
It is Saturday afternoon here, which means that the weekend is almost over! Friday is the holy day for Muslims and so we do not work Friday-Saturday. It plays an interesting trick on your brain if you are used to the typical North American Monday-Friday work week and seems makes the week go by very quickly!
Since my last update I have not done too much more exploring. I have wholly thrown myself into teaching, eschewing a lot of social events to ensure that I am ahead in my lesson planning and keeping up on my marking. I am responsible for about 60 students and so the piles of work tend to get very large very quickly. In all, despite some very challenging lessons, I have to say that I am enjoying being a teacher. I am enjoying the students that I teach and I love the administration at my school. Never in my life have I felt so supported by administrators and fellow staff members. It’s truly a beautiful feeling.
I did, however, manage to pull my head out of my marking for a long enough time to visit the incredible Grand Mosque in Kuwait. And I’m so glad I did.
Together with my new Aussie mate S and my new friends and fellow Canadians T & C we went on a free tour of the Mosque last Friday morning. Upon arrival, a group of women dressed all of the female tourists in an abaya and a hijab. As a first time wearer of these garments, I have to say that I was extraordinarily comfortable wearing one. I didn’t feel awkward at all. And, if I may say so, the four of us looked really precious in our abayas.
When I got to the mosque I was waiting to see my friend N from back home in Canada. We met during our internship and became fast friends. We found out relatively quickly that we were both coming to teach in Kuwait and so we bonded over our fears, anxieties (and there were a lot of anxieties) and hopes for this school year. N encountered a number of difficulties with paperwork (no fault of her own) and her arrival to Kuwait was delayed by 3 weeks. And we were supposed to be meeting up at the mosque. When her bright blue hijab walked through the door I couldn’t contain my happiness!
There is so much information I want to give about the mosque, but I’ll sum it up in 10 quick and interesting facts!
10. The entire mosque is covered in the most gorgeous, imported Italian marble, Moroccan gypsum, German crystals and 18k gold plating (in Kuwait, 18k and under is considered “plating”).
9. There are four giant chandeliers that each weigh one ton hanging from the ceiling in the main prayer room.
8. All 99 names for God ornament the inside of the dome. The design is such that it looks like a sun. We had the opportunity to lay flat on the floor and stare up into the dome and look all of the magnificent detail. It was spectacular.
7. One of the first questions I received was, “Is it ancient?” and the answer is – not even by a little bit. Construction started in 1979 and was finished in 1986!
6. It cost 14 million Kuwaiti Dinars to construct the Mosque and all of its facilities (1 KD is 3x the Canadian and US Dollars)
5. The Main Prayer Hall can accommodate 10,000 worshippers. The carpet design helps to align people in a way that allows for maximum room occupancy. Our tour guide called it the “self-serve carpet.” There is a separate prayer room for women which can accommodate nearly 1,000 people.
4. The Mihrab is the central feature of the mosque because it denotes the direction of the qibla (or Mecca). It has special acoustics that project a person’s voice throughout the entire room of the mosque.
3. This mosque has an outside prayer area to accommodate more people. When Eid falls during the summer, temperatures at nighttime can be as much as 50 degrees Celsius and so they installed a sprinkler system that helps to keep worshippers cool.
2. The Emir has a special room at the mosque where he goes during Eid. As tourists, we were able to sit in the room and look at all of the architectural elements. Many of the room’s ornate carvings and decorations were inspired by Andalusia. (Spain was an Islamic country from 711-1492 AD and so Andalusia has a very distinctive architectural style.) This style inspired many elements of the Emir’s room at the Mosque! The Emir’s room also contains an exact replica of the original Qu’ran. It sits in the centre of the room enclosed in glass.
1. Kuwait has 800 mosques throughout the country, but this mosque is the largest. It’s area is approximately 45,000 square metres (1/2 of that, about 20,000 is for the building itself). The dome itself is 26 meters in diameter and 43 meters in height. It’s sole minaret is the highest of all the Kuwaiti mosques, at 74m in height. Put simply, the mosque is enormous.
As a foreign guest you are treated with the utmost respect and care. The tour guides do a fantastic job educating you about the building, it’s facilities, and it’s incredible features (of which there are far too many to list in a blog post). But, they also do a very good job explaining the Muslim faith and some of the religious and cultural beliefs that are a part of Islam. When the tour ends you are provided with free tea, juice, water and cookies. As well, you are shown shelves of literature (pamphlets, etc.) that are entirely free and for your taking. Each guest receives a small fabric bag with a magnet, two postcards and a poster. The four of us stayed longer than any other group because we were asking a lot of questions about the mosque and about Islam itself. Our tour guide was more than happy to answer all of our questions and was extremely helpful.
Afterwards, we decided we wanted to take a walk along the coastline and get up close to the water. After playing Frogger on the highways (an accurate description, I promise you) we made it to the coastline and began our walk. The problem with Kuwait is that the public beaches aren’t for swimming. Swimming at the beach isn’t a popular pastime with the locals and so the beaches are unkempt and seriously dirty. The closest entrance to the water was next to a fish market. And as we made our way to the water, we were dodging bodies of dead fish all over the place in addition to the smells that accompany a fish market.
On the water at any given time in Kuwait are the following things: Oil tankers in the far distance, sea-doos or the equivalent type of watercraft, expensive, expensive personal boats and small yachts. I have never looked at the water without seeing all of these things.
We made it back to our apartments after a very lengthy, hot cab ride home. I got changed and headed over to a pool party hosted by our new staff liason T & her husband R. Though it is outdoors, it is a private pool and so the ladies were able to wear a bathing suit of their choice.
Kuwait: a country where you can start your day in an abaya and hijab and finish it in a bikini.
New (to me) Arabic Words:
Abaya – the traditional cloak worn by many Muslim women as part of their modest dress code
Wallah – I swear to God (something I hear my Grade 7s use upwards of 50 times a day)
Yalla – Come on, Let’s Go, Hurry Up (Something I find myself saying to my Grade 7s everyday…)