Over the past few months, I have been lucky enough to have gathered heaps of new followers and visitors to the blog. As they say here in the Middle East:
Pronounced as: Marhaba!
Simply meaning: Welcome!
As WordPress says, “Traffic is booming” and that makes me happy and grateful! Some of the most popular posts on my blog (that have attracted the new visitors) have actually been the two personal posts I wrote this year, strangely enough. It took me by surprise but as my husband says, “People want to get to know the person behind the panda!”
A while ago, I was tagged in a post by scottishfamilyadventures, a fellow expat, originally from Scotland and now living in Kuwait. She asked me to answer a series of questions called The Expat Tag. It is a series of questions about life experiences that expat bloggers around the world are answering in attempt to create awareness of different cultures and lifestyles around the world. I know I am a little late with this (she asked me ages ago!) but I thought I would also use it as an opportunity to introduce myself now for those people who don’t know anything about this panda.
Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?
I was born in Durban, South Africa where I grew up enjoying warm winters, beach days and a laidback lifestyle for 21 years.
I spent two years teaching in the amazingly efficient South Korea where I explored South East Asia and now I currently live in Kuwait where I am tackling the Middle East one shawarma at a time.
What made you leave your home country?
This is a loaded question. After I returned from South Korea in 2013, I thought I actually might settle down in Durban for good. I mean, I really do love that place! Overall, South Africa is a very unique country. We, as a nation, have gone through an enormous transformation in the last 2 decades- my formative years. I grew up during the end of Apartheid and watched the country change before my eyes. I’ve seen it develop and I have no doubt that the growth opportunities are exponential. Like most other South Africans, I have a deep-seated love for my country and will defend it against any argument. I continue to encourage people to visit, and I owe so much of who I am today to my experience growing up in South Africa, a truly “rainbow nation”, where so many people of different backgrounds can coexist happily.
But simply speaking, I left behind familiarity, job security and loved ones for the adventure. The adventure of walking on unfamiliar streets to tasting new cuisines. To interact with different cultures and make friends from many countries. To broaden my horizons and make me question my beliefs. It’s also a bonus that in Kuwait the financial rewards of my career and peaceful lifestyle make my fairly frequent travels possible.
And for every South African who’s called me a traitor (often incoherently, after a one too many glasses of wine) for living abroad, or who mistakenly thinks that I hate my country because I’m willing to discuss problems with it, well, that’s just idiocy I mostly shrug off.
What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?
There are a few reactions I receive every single time I meet a new person and tell them where I am from:
“Really? Are you being serious?”
“Oh! But your English is so good!”
“Don’t lie! You don’t look or sound South African!”
I’ve been mistaken for Mexican, Spanish, Sri Lankan, Indian, Pakistani, British and most popularly, Arab. At first it used to annoy me but now I consider myself a child of the world and have embraced my ethnically ambiguous appearance and misleading accent! I often imagine the thousands of children I’ve taught all over the world all speaking English with a “touch of South Africa.” That makes me a feel little naughty!
What was the easiest/ hardest part in adjusting to your new country?
The easiest thing about adjusting to life in Kuwait is the convenience of doing basic things. When I order things online (I have ordered everything online here from groceries to an expensive camera), my orders usually arrive within 4 hours. Amazing! From drive through ATMs, petrol attendants, super helpful sales assistants to ordering food through various apps, life in Kuwait can be super convenient if you embrace the relaxed (lazy) lifestyle.
The most difficult element of living in Kuwait is that despite a country full of expats, Kuwait is really not foreigner friendly. Stringent visa requirements means tons of paperwork which can leave you feeling a bit helpless in the first few months as you have no ID card, bank account, medical insurance or even your passport which is kept by the company while they process things. Everything works with wasta– basically whom you know and how favours can get granted. Also, Kuwait does not have many activities or attractions to keep people entertained when compared to other Gulf countries, which can make it rather boring and not the ideal place you want to bring your friends and family over to visit.
Are there any images, words or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far?
Sure. Here are a few images… Feel free to interpret them as you wish!
Your favourite food or drink from your new country?
There is very little in the Middle East that I don’t enjoy eating (as you may have noticed from my Instagram posts) BUT there are two beverages in particular that I have developed a dependence fondness for.
Lemon Mint juice
I didn’t even know these two beverages existed before I moved here and now I don’t want to imagine my life without them!
What’s the one thing you said ‘yes’ to in your new city that you wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to back home?
Well to be quite honest, I’ve always been quite a “yes” sort of person. I think you’d naturally have to be to agree to this sort of life change especially if you live in the Middle East.
Are there any cultural norms/ phrases in your new country that you cannot stand?
The Arab culture in Kuwait is very laidback and relaxed even about urgent matters. For example, nobody in this country is ever punctual, administrative matters take forever to process and car accidents happen all the time since they don’t see the point in adhering to the rules of the road. Everything will happen in “Inshallah” time. Inshallah means “God willing” and can mean anything between one day to one month. I find this very strange, as I like to have dates and plans which I can adhere to but no one here has a similar mindset. Kuwaiti’s themselves complain about how inefficient they are which also confuses me as they don’t seem to do anything about it!
What do you enjoy most doing in your new country?
Well other than exploring and learning about the local culture, I have to say that I really enjoy blogging here! Kuwait is a relatively unpopular destination for travelers and prospective job seekers which means that there really isn’t enough information about it online. Through my blog I frequently receive questions about those curious about life in Kuwait, those moving to Kuwait or people hoping to move to Kuwait and in this way, I engage with and educate a wide variety of people.
I have also been very fortunate to meet, eat and interact with other bloggers in Kuwait during my time here. Having a supportive little community around eases the homesickness and ensures that I never feel completely isolated.
Do you think you will ever move home for good?
Not in the foreseeable future but I never say never because who knows what the future can bring! And it isn’t hard when you come from the friendliest city in South Africa; known for its glorious sandy beaches that disappear into the Indian Ocean, lush sub-tropical greenery and sumptuous cuisine! (See I told you I love where I am from!)
Here are some of my favourite expat blogs if you would like to pay them a visit (and if they would love to participate by answering the questions, that would be wonderful!):
Wandering Expat Family (Denmark-> Mauritius)
Sharon Cees The World (Canada-> United Kingdom)
Stories of The Wandering Feet & Mind (The Philippines-> Saudi Arabia)
Fabulous Fusions (Poland-> United Kingdom)
American Teacher Overseas (U.S.A.-> Qatar)
The About Everything Blog (Egypt-> Kuwait)
The Xpats (United Kingdom-> United Arab Emirates)