Sunday, February 3, 2013

Breaking Bread & Learning Stuff

After almost a year of being in Kuwait, I finally went to an event sponsored by the Advocate for Westerners-Arab Relations (AWARE) Center [Link].  I've actually known about them since my first week here, when I was given one of their flyers.  Their telephone number has been on a Post It note stuck to my monitor since then. However, I never could seem to get it together to give them a call.

 About a month ago, Expat posted a list of their events on her blog [Link] and one of them was a Traditional Kuwaiti Food Exhibition that was being held on an evening that I did not have to work. So, I went online and signed up. In addition to sampling Kuwaiti cuisine there was also going to be a presentation on Kuwaiti clothing complete with the opportunity to try the garb on.

When the night arrived for the exhibition, I drove over to the AWARE center [Link] and went in. The facility was very nice considering it is a nonprofit, nongovernmental and nonpolitical organization.  I was greeted warmly and offered a cup of Kuwaiti coffee. This was my first of many lessons that I learned that night.  Having drunk Turkish coffee, I really expected the coffee to be both strong and dark. It was neither. Apparently Kuwaitis to not roast beans the same way or grind them prior to making the coffee the way we do in the West. So rather than being dark it was almost clear and rather than having a bold taste it was almost delicate.  It was explained to me later that it is traditional when welcoming someone into your tent to offer them coffee on their arrival.

After a short wait, it was time to start the event and we all exited the building going outside to a tent that they had set up alongside of it. Our guide, a very nice woman whose name I failed to get, explained the tent and the bold colors that were used inside of it. Apparently, you can only stand so much sand colored desert without needing a place to get a colorful respite.  Inside the tent small fire pit was going, even though it was not necessary as the evening was comfortable. She served us two appetizers. One was dates – – which I've become a fan of since my first Ramadan in the Middle East (at Iftar, the fast is traditionally broken by eating 3 dates as Mohammed did).  The other was a kind of deep fried dumpling that had sesame seeds on top. They were quite tasty as well, although I did not try one with the dip.

From outside, we went back into the center and downstairs where we tried on some of the traditional clothing. I put on a dishdasha, which is kind of a long white garment that reminded me of a priest's cassock, except it is white.  Over that I put on a traditional cloak (a bisht) that was normally only worn in the winter or during formal engagements and of course came the headdress.  I started with one person giving me a hand, but then a native Kuwaiti arrived who was very friendly and outgoing came and helped me add bit of panache to my outfit by ensuring that the crease was put in the front of my gutra so that I was wearing a proper style 7. The gentleman helped me arrange my gutra several different ways explaining how and when each style was worn. A lot of it had to do with climate, although some had to do with situation. I had difficulty getting the ogal (the rope on top) to set just right, but finally got the hang of it just as we finished the fashion show.
From here, we went to try many different Kuwaiti dishes that they had prepared for the occasion.  I recalled the comment that was made when I first started writing my blog over here last March from a local who said he enjoyed my writing because it was a lot like Kuwaiti cuisine because of the mix of spices that I put in to my essays. Now at last I was getting to find out how much of a complement that actually was.  I have been eating a lot of different Arabic traditional food since I have been here, but this was the first time I ate truly Kuwaiti dishes prepared in a Kuwaiti style. 

Some things had a familiar feel and taste to other things I had eaten. But my two favorite dishes were the Margooogah -- a very spicy chicken dish that was hot in the style that I like my American chili -- not a sudden blast but a slow burn. Delicious. The other was a rice dish made with dried shrimp; I don't recall the name of that one.  

Near the end of dinner, our guide gave a slideshow about all the different parts of Kuwaiti traditional dress for both men and women. Again I learned a few things I did not know, like most Kuwaiti men do not wear gold or silk because they are considered feminine. It is traditional to wear perfumes, which explains the plethora of perfume dealers in the malls here. 
The Kuwaiti gentleman who had helped me in the wardrobe room was also available and eager to answer any questions that anyone had. I really wish I'd had more time to have a more thorough discussion with him because he presented things in such a clear and entertaining way. For instance, many Kuwaiti fathers will put their sons into a dishdasha and gutra as soon as they turn 16 not just for tradition but because of the young man is wearing it he has a tendency to act more mature and because he is not experienced in wearing it the young man has a tendency to be slower and more graceful because he is trying to keep it from falling off his head. Sneaky but effective parenting, as a father I can admire that. 

One question I always had was about the ogal.  Almost every man that I saw was wearing a black one. But, in a lot of the pictures I saw people were wearing ones that had gold thread on them.  He explained that back during the 70s, people would wear them as an outward display of their station in life or if they were educated. It kind of faded away when everyone started wearing them and it no longer had a distinct meaning. I told him that I thought it meant they were royals, he explained that my assumption made sense since in the pictures of the older Imirs they are wearing those golden ogals.
As I said, I could spend hours speaking with him just asking the questions that I've built up over the past year. I really wish I had gotten his name and contact information before he left. Although, I wouldn't want to appear rude by having so many questions.

The AWARE center [Link] has many activities to include language lessons. There are two events that are of particular interest to me. I want to go to the camel races before the season ends this year and they will have a desert camp in the middle of the month.  It is too bad that almost everything is done on Saturdays, which is a work day for me, so in order for me to go I have to take vacation days in order to go, if I can get the time off.

I congratulate the AWARE center [Link] for making that event so fantastic. I truly feel that their goal of mutual cultural awareness was met and by the end of the evening everyone felt a little friendlier towards each other because in the end we are all just human.



  1. I love it! You look handsome in your Kuwaiti dress. :)

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