Saturday, February 18, 2017

Al Shaheed Park

Last month our family finally made it out to visit Al Shaheed Park. 
It's a newer park that's opened since we've arrived in Kuwait, and we've been meaning to go check it out for months now, but had yet to make it happen.

But finally on one windy, chilly Saturday afternoon, we headed out to see this place we'd heard so much about. 

It's located in the heart of Kuwait City, so surrounded by beautifully creative buildings...

We'd been meaning to arrive mid-afternoon, but didn't end up getting out the door as early as we'd hoped (classic Kendra), so when we first arrived we were hustlin' a bit because I thought we'd need daylight to really see it all...

The kids were big fans of the lighted water fountain shows...

Brother asked us to take his picture in front of these fountains, and just like the time before, I was struck by how grown up he is becoming....

The kids were particularly enamored with these gold structures... 

The sun setting behind the Liberation Tower...

After a few selfie fails, we managed a pretty good one...

David snapped this picture of Brother giving me some love. 
I adore it.
I also can not believe how giant he looks next to me. How is he so tall all of a sudden??

The park hosts the "Wall of Martyrs", which was sobering, but really beautifully done...

I sure love these monkeys of mine...

We were near the airport, and the kids asked if they could lay down for a bit and watch the planes fly overhead...

Family selfie??
Crushed it. 

But just to be sure, we asked a stranger to take a family pic as well =)

Throughout the park there were several sculptures...

We walked around for a long time enjoying the lovely landscaping and serene atmosphere, before eventually making our way back over to the fountains, which were now even more fun to watch light up after the sun had set...

My cute little Peanut...

The twins were having fun guessing which color the water would turn next...

...clearly, Brother won this round...

We had such a nice evening together, strolling around. And we ended up being grateful we were there so late in the evening, as the fountain shows were so vibrant and the city lights sparkled everywhere...

This was one of those evenings where Kuwait felt so beautiful I could hardly stand it.
I'm so thankful we made the time to visit Al Shaheed Park, and will definitely be back again soon.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Lemme set the record straight...

A handful of people have referred to me as being wise recently.

Thanks, but before that goes to my head let me share with you just a small sampling of the unwise things I've done this week alone:

- I stood in the elevator reading text messages and silently lamenting how long it was taking to get to the lobby for a good minute or two before realizing I'd never pressed any buttons.

- I spent at least five minutes looking for my keys when leaving the restaurant the other night, nearly dumping out my entire purse trying to find them and FREAKING OUT before I remembered that I'd given them to the valet when I'd arrived. And I had my valet ticket in my hand the whole time I was looking for my keys, because I knew I didn't want to lose that.

- I've managed to burn myself not once, but TWICE with my curling iron this week. The first time was because I couldn't put my book down and I thought I could Kindle and curl my hair at the same time. This left me with a decent sized burn mark across my forehead at the hairline. Then a few days later I was curling my hair and talking to David, and I turned to look at him and just went ahead and rested that hot iron right on my neck. I tried to blame him - if he weren't so devastatingly handsome, I wouldn't have wanted to look at him - but we both knew I was the idiot who clearly could not multi task. So now I'm a 35 year old mother of two walking around with what looks suspiciously like a hickey on my neck. 
Not awesome.  

I may have moments of wisdom, but they are the minority indeed. 

Most the time it's a wonder I can form sentences at all. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mom's Night Out

Tuesday evening I met up with a handful of friends for dinner, dessert, and conversation.

I adore these friends I've made here in Kuwait (and many others not pictured below!) so much.

We met at The Cheesecake Factory, and we had the best time. We talked of politics, religion, and our grossest motherhood moments.

At one point we were laughing so loudly that I watched a waiter try and seat a couple at a table in our area -which was otherwise vacant- and saw them take one look at us hollering away, and turn to ask the server to be seated elsewhere. 
I did not blame them one bit. If I were on a date, I wouldn't have wanted to be seated near us either.

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That is a picture of six women, representing five different countries.
None of them Kuwait!
We are all expats trying to navigate life here.
These six women also represent three different religions. 
And with them, I laughed to the point of tears.

Get to know someone different from you.
If you have questions about your differences, in a respectful way, ask questions.
Educate yourself. 

Before we moved to the Middle East, I knew very little about the Muslim religion. Now I know a good amount, and it's because of open conversations, and kind friends who laugh lovingly at me when I ask stupid questions, and then answer them anyways.

My life is so much richer for it. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

See Their Faces

I feel like I've been a woman on fire since I woke up Saturday morning and read the headlines.

Even typing this my hands are shaking.

I've tried to run my fury out on the treadmill. 

I've tried to cry my sadness out in buckets of tears.

I can think of little else.

I came here today to post cute pictures of our kids playing in Kuwait, but I can't.

I just can't post about our everyday life, when my everyday life right now includes so much heartache.

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I had a polite, civil conversation turned disagreement with a friend of a friend on Facebook last week. He said, from what I truly believe to be coming from a sincere place; "I understand your concern...' 

And to that I replied (a little less Jesus-y than I meant to)  "you can't possibly understand my concern!"

I live in the Middle East. 
Right now.
Right this very day, and for the last 18 months.
These are my people. 

While Kuwait itself is not on the "banned countries" list, yet, as White House officials have said "The executive order also makes clear those seven countries are just a starting point for a likely broader ban" the talk of religious testing prior to obtaining a visa is terrifying, not to mention ridiculous. In all seriousness, who really believes a jihadist is going to check "Jihadist" on an entry form?? Truly, who? 
So one can assume what they are looking to turn away is Muslims.
And as I've told you before, these people are my friends.

I also have several friends here in Kuwait who are from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.

They are now indefinitely banned from entering the United States of America.
And this is not just people looking to relocate to the U.S.A., this includes people just wanting to visit on a tourist visa. 
That means my superior at work, the woman who teaches the preschool class I assist in, who happens to be Iranian, will no longer be able to go visit her daughter at Penn State this spring as planned.
Why? WHY? 
Because she has ties to radical Islam?
Hell no. She is terrified of what ISIS has done in the name of her religion.
Because she has an Iranian passport. Because she happened to be born in Iran.

We'll get back to those people - the ones who were not looking to relocate to the States, but merely visit - in a moment.

Right now let's talk about the refugees. 
This ban completely ignores an incredibly thorough process that is already in place.
Here are some facts regarding the vetting process ALREADY in place:

In total, the screening process takes an average of 18 months to two years and involves multiple federal intelligence and security agencies who carry out a series of security screenings and checks.
The process begins with an initial vetting by the United Nations’ refugee agency. Prospective candidates are then referred to the US, where officials from the state department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the defense department conduct further vetting.

If you have further questions about the vetting process that is (was!) already in place before this blanket, black-and-white ban, please message me. I have a family member whose career is this very thing, and I can get you any answers you need. I promise only the truth.

And now back to those who no longer can even set their foot on American soil. The people, the faces, the families.

Meet N. She is the beauty standing to the left of me, arms around each other. 
She is from Syria. She is a single mother of two living children (she has lost three children to "tragedy", I did not ask follow up questions). She works full time, and just finished putting herself through University. She graduated this very month. She still has family stuck in Syria, and her eyes fill with tears when I ask her about them, and she is only able to reply "keep praying for them..."

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Saturday evening, N had my little family, some of her family, and a few friends over for dinner.
She insisted she provide EVERYTHING, and no matter how many attempts I made offering to bring something, she declined. "It's my pleasure to host you", she'd respond. 

And host us, she did...

She hosted the four of us, some of her extended family members (also from Syria), a friend from Ireland, a friend from Sudan, and a an Irish/Sudanese friend.

We were a melting pot of expats in Kuwait =)

...and we had so much fun together.

We talked about a wide spectrum of things. English was the common language, although several of N's extended family members spoke very little English, so someone was always translating to Arabic for them...and when the conversation would switch over to Arabic, someone would always translate over to English for the few of us that couldn't hang ;)

N was the most gracious host. She refused to sit and eat until everyone had been served, and so wanted us to feel comfortable in her home. 
She has the biggest heart.

She is the teaching assistant in my kids' classroom, and at the beginning of the school year when my son was having a really hard time at drop off, N would come be ready to receive him each morning at the classroom door. She would lower her posture, leaning into him, right at his level. She would speak calmly and lovingly, and offer to sit with him in the reading corner and look at books -just the two of them- until he was ready to join the rest of the class. She tried something new each morning, until he was finally adjusted and walking into the classroom without tears on his own. One morning she took my phone number into her phone, and showed it to my trembling son. She explained to him that she would help him call me if he missed me too much. 
He loved that idea.
She did call me one day, hours after I'd left the school, just to tell me that he'd wanted her to call me and tell me that he was doing okay and he'd see me at pick-up in one hour.
She said "I promised him I'd call you, so I wanted to follow through on that promise."
She made my days and my son's days much easier by her selfless compassion.

I'm so thankful for her.

Ironically, a few days before this ban came to be, I had been talking to her about our plans to return home this summer, and how I very much want to keep in touch with her after we leave.
I said "if you EVER come to the States, promise me you'll come visit. We'll totally and completely host you! You just need to get to Oregon, and we'll take care of the rest!"
She kind of chuckled. 
"It's very difficult for visa..." she explained.
Oh. That's right.
For a moment I'd forgotten with whom I was speaking. 
A woman born in Syria, living in Kuwait.
It was highly unlikely she would EVER be granted a visa to America.

Let me tell you something I'm not proud of; before we moved to Kuwait and began to travel internationally, I really didn't grasp how easy things are for Americans.
Did you know we can just book tickets to pretty much anywhere in the world, show up there, and obtain a travel visa upon arrival?
Did you know that the entire process takes about 20 minutes for a family of four?
I guess I kind of did know that...what I did not really acknowledge or fully appreciate that it is so not that way for the majority of people born elsewhere.

I have a friend living here in Kuwait who is from South Africa. She and her children were trying to travel to Doha, Qatar to visit her brother and his family.
They - of course - had to obtain travel visa approval prior to even booking tickets.
Their visa requests were denied.
"Why???" I inquired, unable to understand this.
"Who knows..." she shrugged her shoulders in submission, already accustomed to accepting this reality. 
Was it because their family is Muslim?
Was it because they are traveling from one Middle Eastern country to another, while being South African?
Who knows.
No reason given, just denied.
And that is that.

It's a reality for the majority.

I didn't get that before.

Listen, I understand why there is a visa process. 
I understand why we have a vetting process before granting refugees open arms into America.
I understand, and I'm so grateful for the protections put in place. 
It would be ignorant to not preform due diligence before allowing anyone to travel anywhere.
I get that.
My point here is there are processes in place already, and there are hard stops in those processes.
If we need to make changes to our policies, then let's look at them. 
But let's look at them, not just ban good people from our safe space. 
These are people impacted by this ban.

An argument made to me in favor of the ban was this: "The ideology of "Jihad" is unique to Islam and is being taught by many radical clerics in the Middle East. The US constitution allows our country to protect itself from dangerous ideologies even those that are cloaked under religion. I absolutely agree with you that the vast majority of Muslims in this world have absolutely no inclination to "kill infidels" in the name of their god. But due to the fact that there are 1.8 BILLION Muslims, and the small percentage of the 1.8 BILLION (a lot of jihadists) are scheming ways to enter the US in order to kill themselves in order to kill the maximum number of "infidels" to ensure their place in heaven is a very dangerous situation!"

I will not stand silently by and let this mentality continue to exist without at least trying to speak to it from what I know to be true from my last year and a half as a white Christian living in a country of Islam.
Do jihadists wish to do harm to others, particularly those outside what they perceive to be their religion?
Is that a scary reality?
But, is the fact that jihadists who wish to do Americans (and others, by the way) harm a good enough reason to completely ban anyone believed to be from the same area, including those who have already passed through vigorous testing and been granted visas or green cards, from entering (or re-entering) the United States?
To draw a straight line between the fact that there are some radical clerics in the Middle East teaching about Jihad and the danger that produces in the Muslim people as a whole is asinine.
That's fear mongering at it's most basic of forms, and I believe America is better than that. 
We have to be better than that.

Look again at those pictures above.
Only three out of the eight people there are permitted entrance into the US currently, based solely upon where they happened to have been born.

I am incredibly grateful to be an American. 
But I also recognize I did nothing to earn the rights that accompany that citizenship, save for being pushed out of my mother on American soil. 
Why that fact alone grants me this elite status is something I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
It's a lottery, and just because we happen to hit the jackpot, does not grant us the right to ignore the plight of others.

Some day, I'll tell you about some others. I'll show you the pictures of the adorable dimpled Syrian girl in my preschool class here. I'll tell you about the precious Iranian boy in our class who only started talking to me in January, finally, after months of me trying to break into his world, and about  how his eyes light up when he speaks. I'll tell you about one of my favorite physicians I ever worked for, who happened to be from Iran, and about how he found me an exam room at the hospital and took care of me while I was in the middle of miscarrying my first pregnancy, even though it was a Saturday and he was a cardiologist. 

These are people impacted by how the U.S. is behaving currently, and I want to show you their faces.

But for now, I'll leave with what I believe to be a poignant article (written a few weeks prior to the ban, ironically) addressed to Christians that really spoke to my soul this week. The part that pierced my heart the most was this line: 
In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
In this text, Jesus is literally saying to us: How you treat the most vulnerable is how you treat me. He is saying I will know how much you love me by how you respond — or don’t respond to them. 

And I'll show you this last picture from our gathering last Saturday. It's our daughter, having the time of her life getting her nails painted by three new friends...
...friends who happen to be Syrian.

These girls took our American, white, Christian daughter and swooped her up into the bedroom and immediately asked her if she wanted to join them in the nail painting party.
Sister was delighted. 
And my heart was both overjoyed with gratitude for them and their acceptance and kindness, and broken for how our country had just said to them, "we don't want you here."

Friday, January 27, 2017

It was a year ago today that I had emergency surgery here in Kuwait. 

I had a counselor tell me once that our subconscious is so much more aware of dates/anniversaries than we even realize.

That is totally the case for me currently.

Yesterday I just felt off. Distracted. Blue.

When I realized the date last night and made the connection, it was as if I could hear an "a-ha" audibly. 
I got out our laptop and started looking through pictures of last January.
It's so strange to see myself, and think there was a giant cyst inside my person that very moment, twisting on itself to the point of becoming gangrenous...and I no idea. None. I had my annual women's exam in August before we moved to Kuwait, and no cyst was palpable upon exam. By the time the surgeon removed it here in January, it was the size of an infant's head. 
That bastard grew fast. 

I gave Thanks last night having lived through the whole experience, and shared with my family around the dinner table how grateful I am to be here today.

And then I didn't really think about it much more into the night, fell asleep on the couch watching shows with Dave, went to bed about 11:30pm, and proceeded to have a really disturbing night's sleep. I slept tossing and turning until Sister tapped my shoulder at 5:45am asking if it was time to wake up (no) and then if she could crawl into bed with me and snuggle (yes), and then slept again until I awoke sometime later in a state of sleep paralysis. 
I've only experienced it one other time in my life, and it's incredibly disturbing.
I could see the sun shining through our bedroom curtains, so I knew it was day time. I could hear my family making noise in the apartment, outside of our closed bedroom door, so I knew I was alone in the bedroom. I could feel a tear slide down my cheek, but could not will my arms to lift my hand to wipe it away.
Finally I fell back to sleep.

I woke up later to David gently tapping my shoulder. When I opened my eyes, he said "Baby, it's you want to keep sleeping? Or do you want to wake up?"
Um, I want to get up. It's the freaking afternoon.

He told me to take my time, and quietly left the room.

I laid there for a minute, blinking and stretching, and orienting myself.

And then a wave of panic washed over me.

How had I possibly slept so much?

Calm down's likely a result of an over stimulating week. 
(Work was especially loud this week. Think field trip with 120 three and four year olds, and a then party day. 
Also I could tell by the way my ears were all poppy and my nose stuffy that perhaps I had a cold. )

It's just those things. That's all. You are tired, and you are fighting an oncoming cold. That's why you slept nearly fourteen hours last night. Stop feeling so afraid.

And then I found words for why I felt terrified. 
This is how it all started. Last year on the day I went to the ED, I had been awaken by my husband telling me it was the afternoon.

It can't be happening again. It can't. I won't live through it happening again. I can't do it. It'll be okay. It's not happening again. Nothing scary is wrong with me. What happened to me was the exception, not the rule. 

I took some deep breaths, reminded myself I'm alive and healthy, and headed out to the living room to see my family who had been awake for so many hours they'd already had breakfast and lunch. I kissed David and thanked him for letting me sleep for so long.
I headed into the kitchen to make some coffee and get some yogurt and granola. 
I walked back into the living room and sat down to eat my breakfast.
The kids started talking to me, telling me all kinds of things.
It was an incredibly normal experience, but it all felt like SO MUCH. Too much. Words flying at me in rapid succession. I couldn't process what they were saying.
My breaths started getting rapid and short. I had sensory overload. My hands started shaking. 

I was having a panic attack.

I haven't had one in a long time, so it took me a bit to identify it and acknowledge it. 

Not wanting the kids to see me in such a state, and knowing I needed ground myself, I stood up and quickly excused myself to the bedroom for a few minutes. 

I sat on our bed and found five different things to touch. 
I closed my eyes and listened for five different sounds.
I took deep, purposeful, long, breaths.

I knew in my mind that just because I'd slept so much, did not mean in any way that I had another cyst. I knew in my mind that I was fine, and that the odds of such an event happening to me again were incredibly slim.
I knew these things in my mind, but I could not convince my panicking heart.
Such is anxiety.

I couldn't breathe. I was suffocating sitting on that bed.

I ran to the window and threw it open.

I thrust my arms and head outside. 
A sand storm was occurring, so it's not like I had the freshest of air to greet me, but the breeze felt good.

I looked down at the bumpy gravel road leading away from our apartment to the nearest main real road.

Right there. I walked right there while trying to get a cab to take me back to the hospital. I grabbed that pole, that one right there, supporting that carport to try and find my footing again after the pain had taken me to my knees. Right over there was where I had to crawl for a bit, the aching so severe I literally could not stand up. And there, right there was where I had to raise my hand in the air and pray that taxi would see me, because I was unable to use my voice to call out and get his attention. 

I was reliving it all, and it was tormenting. When I read the MRI report again yesterday I noted it said my ovary and tube were "infarcting". The medical term for a Heart Attack is a Myocardial Infarction. My ovary and tube were having a Heart Attack, and my colon was on it's way to being devoured as well. 
At that time as I was making my way to a taxi, I had no idea that's what was happening inside my body. Remember they'd diagnosed me with possible kidney stones (without any imaging) the night prior and send me home with ibuprofen and antacids. 

And then I went back into the ED...and I laid on that gurney...and I threw up into that kidney shaped bucket while being wheeled into the MRI...and I went back to that damn gurney...and they stopped my pain medicine drip...and I moaned and writhed about...and I passed out from the pain...and I awoke to a veiled Muslim woman praying over me, apparently drawn to my bed because of my wailing even in a state of being passed out...and then I passed out again...and I awoke and whisper-cried from that gurney, that effing gurney, "sister! sister! (the Arabic term for nurse) please...please somebody help me!" and I cried and cried at the futility of it all, as no one came. 

I really, truly thought I was going to die right there in that emergency room.

If you've read the original post, you know the story. Tina and her husband came to my rescue and sorted things out with the insurance and the hospital, and finally a competent physician was tracked down (by Tina, my hero :) ) and brought to my side and he fought to get me finally, actually admitted for surgery.  

Being wheeled into the O.R. (or "theater" as it's referred to here...which I can't wrap my head around calling it that as it makes it feel like a show to it's taking the seriousness of surgery all too lightly...) I remember looking around and seeing again that no one was wearing gloves and no one had really understood me when I'd tried to tell them I was allergic to sulfa meds and thinking if God Himself did not intervene I would surely die here and now.

I stood at our bedroom window and took deep breaths. I looked at different sites, smelled different smells, listened for different sounds.
It had all been so very terrifying, yes.
But I lived through it.
I am alive today.
I am a much stronger person for it.
Outside of panic attacks like today, things in general scare me much less than they used to, because I KNOW I'm tough. 
I didn't really know that about myself before this had happened. 
I am tough.

And, I am so thankful for friends, thankful for a husband who heeded my insistence he stay home with our worried children instead of come with me, thankful for the few medical personnel who did take care of me, thankful to be alive. 

Thanks be to God.