Month: October 2014

Tim Tams and Apple Juice

We have been crazy busy lately.  We have been working our regular jobs during the day and then at night we have both been running from one side job to the next.  This has resulted in a couple of things:

1. lack of blog posting

2. lack of clean underwear

2. lack of seeing each other

Fortunately when you come home to see this….

welcome home

it makes it easier to scramble to get a load of laundry done so you will hopefully have clean and dry underwear in the morning.

 

 

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It’s a Big World Out There, But Yet Small Too

You often hear the phrase, “what a small world.”  Usually you hear it when you meet a friend-of-a-friend or a similar situation.  In all actuality, the world is HUGE!  There are so many cool places out there and so many interesting people to meet.  After just a couple of months in Kuwait, we are quickly realizing that the world is even larger than we ever imagined it.  We work with people from every continent in the world (except Antarctica) and they have all been to so many far corners of the world.  Well today, for the first time since we’ve been in Kuwait, I had a “wow, what a small world” moment.

I’ve started umpiring for the local Little League Baseball Association here, and we had our first games of the season today (I had a ton of fun, and will definitely share more details about my experiences in a future blog post).  Before the game, I introduced myself to my field ump for the game.  He was a nice young man, about 15 years old, named Mohammed.  We got to chatting, and I started asking him all sorts of questions. During our conversation he mentioned that he has lived in Kuwait his entire life, but his mother is from America. I asked him, “where in America?” and he replied, “a state called Minnesota.”  I thought to myself, awesome!  Our conversation continued like this:

  • Me: “No kidding, thats where i’m from!”
    • His eyes got big and the look on his face said “really?”
  • Him: “Have you ever heard of a town called Minneapolis?”
    • I chuckled
  • Me: “Ya, that’s where I live”
  • Him: “Reallllly? Have you ever heard of Coon Rapids?”

We shared a laugh and I informed him that I had family from Coon Rapids (shoutout to the Barnes Family!) and that I have spent  lots of time in Coon Rapids.  I told him I lived in a suburb called Minnetonka, and he about hit the floor.  He told me he bought his new baseball bat at the Dick’s Sporting Goods in Minnetonka last summer, and that it was his favorite store in the entire world (literally)!  He was in complete disbelief that I frequently shop at the same store, and that I would leave the city that has the coolest sporting goods store (in the world) to move to Kuwait!  It sounds like he goes back to Minnesota every other year to visit his family there.  He was a great kid, and I look forward to umpiring some more games with him in the future.

My second “what a small world” moment came a few hours later, after I was done umpiring my game.  I stopped over at the t-ball field to watch one of my 1st grade students play in his first game.  I quickly spotted his parents, and introduced myself.  His family was wonderful and we had a great conversation.  During our chat, when I informed his father that I was from Minnesota, he replied with “oh cool, I’ve been there.”  He went on and told me that he worked for a company called Emerson Process Management (shoutout to the Vacek boys!) located in a city called Chanhassen.  I laughed-out-loud and told him that is the same city that I worked in for the last 6 years.  We shared some fun stories about the area, like what our favorite restaurants to eat at were in Chanhassen.  The highlight of my day though was when my little first grader noticed me after the game was over.  He had the biggest smile you have ever seen, and called out, “Mr. Mitch, what are you doing here!?!” He followed it up with a monstrous high-five, and made my day!

It was a great day at the ballpark, and I’m fortunate to have made a few new friends there.  Ultimately though, it just proves that when you travel halfway around the world, submersed in a new culture, you will still find people with things in common. Like shopping at the HUGE Dick’s Sporting Goods in Minnetonka, Minnesota or eating at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Chanhassen, Minnesota!

Our First Sand Storm

Growing up in the midwest, both Rachel and I have been through some pretty crazy weather in our lives. We’ve endured our fair share of snowstorms, tornados, thunderstorms, brutal hot days, and even wind chills -40 degrees. We even survived the epic Halloween Blizzard of 1991!  Well earlier this week, we experienced a new kind of weather phenomenon . . . . . . a sand storm . . . . and it was nasty!

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One of our friends took this photo from our apartment building.

About 12 pm, the wind started to pick up (maybe about 15-20 miles per hour).  Within an hour or so, the entire sky and everything outside had a bright orange tint to it. The color was the result of the sun shining on the tiny sand/dust particles in the air. It was super eeeerry looking, almost like we lived on another planet or something. When you went outside, you couldn’t really “taste” the sand or “feel” it hitting your skin, but you could definitely notice it accumulating in your eyes.  After about 5 minutes outside, my eyes were full of sand. It kind of felt like when you wake up in the morning, and you have to pick all of the eye boogers out that Mr. Sandman left you while you were sleeping.

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Another one of our friend’s took this photo. Notice the crazy orange tint to the air!

It was fun listening to all of the people gasp and talk about the sand storm.  From what I understand, it sounds like they are pretty rare during the fall.  They are more prevalent in the spring, and some can get bad enough where the visibility is so bad that it is nearly a “blackout,” which forces the closure of schools, government buildings, businesses, etc. Some locals here said this sand storm was a pretty minor one, so we are a bit intrigued to see what the “severe” storms are like. Probably the worst part about a sand storm, is the mess it leaves behind! The airborne sand finds a way to penetrate through the smallest of cracks around the windows in your apartment, resulting in a thin layer of sand over EVERYTHING! We were fortunate enough and had all of our curtains closed, which helped reduce the mess in our apartment.  People also recommend always closing your closet doors and dresser drawers to keep the sand from getting in all of your clothes. Usually my clothes are scattered in random piles on the floor, so it wouldn’t matter if my drawers were closed or not!     IMG_1585     Check out the crazy orange tint in these photos!  Keep in mind that none of them have been edited. They kind of look like someone added a filter to them in Instagram or something, but these are the real deal. Crazy eh? The best part about the sand storm is definitely how some people handled it. There were so many people walking around wearing those protective masks, like the one your doctor wears while he performs your knee surgery.  Some people even wrapped toilet paper around their faces and mouths, to protect themselves from the sand.  They were just walking around looking like bodiless mummies the week before Halloween!  Although everyone probably thought I was the crazy one, because I was just walking around inhaling all of the sand into my lungs.

It was neat to experience our first sand storm, and it was a nice reminder of why we moved to the Middle East . . . . to experience new things!  Let it be known that I would much rather experience a 4 hour sand storm than the 5 months of  a cold/snowy winter that our family and friends are having back home!

Our First كرة القدم Game (soccer)

We had a blast during our vacation last week to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The trip was full of great times, new adventures, and lasting memories.  One of the highlights of our trip (for us me) was attending a soccer match between the United Arab Emirates and Australia!

Before our trip, I was pumped when I found out about the match.  It was just a friendly match between the two countries, as they both prepared to play in the upcoming Asia Cup in January.  I was excited to experience the atmosphere, huge crowds, team chants, and the pride the crowd had for their home countries. Needless to say, it wasn’t like that at all.  The atmosphere was more like a high school soccer game.

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Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium

When we arrived to the stadium, I was a bit confused to find out that you didn’t even need a ticket for the game. It was FREE to attend!  We tried entering the first gate we saw, but were denied entry by the security guards. They pointed further down the plaza, so I assumed we were just at the wrong gate. We then realized that even though we weren’t from Australia, we were being ushered down to the visitors entrance.  The security guards just assumed that since we were caucasian, we were rooting for the Aussies. No worries though, we were visitors in another country, so we just followed along.

When we made it into the stadium, I was surprised to see so many fans from Australia. Their designated “visitors” section was completely packed, and we struggled to find 2 empty seats. Eventually they had to open up additional sections for the Aussie fans because there were so many of them! I thought it was funny that they were restricted to their seat choices, because the entire stadium was empty! I think the capacity for the stadium was about 40,000 fans, however there was only about 1,500 people in the entire place! I would say about 3/4 of the people there were rooting for Australia, hardly any UAE fans were there.

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A panoramic photo take from my iPhone. Rachel wore her sunglasses during the entire game because the stadium lights were blasting us in the face.

Since the stadium was so empty, the atmosphere was pretty lame. Here you had this huge stadium, but you could hear a pin drop because it was so quiet. Once-in-while the Aussie fans would chant, “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oye Oye Oye.” I chuckled and participated since I was an adopted Aussie fan for the game. I blame the nonexistence of booze at the game for the boring atmosphere. There weren’t any other team chants or singing. The game was also a 0-0 draw, so no cheering after a goal was scored. However, we did see a bunch of guys take a “dive” and fake an injury!!! We actually made a drinking game out of it! Every time someone would fake an injury, we had to “drink.” However, since there was no booze there we decided to save our drinks for next summer when we return to the states for a few months. If we buy about 3 cases of beer, we should have enough to take a drink for each of the fake injuries!

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We had great seats and it was so nice to see GREEN GRASS!

I also got a chuckle out of the concession stand at the stadium. Any drink you ordered, they would pour it into a tiny plastic cup, and it only costs like $0.25 (for water, pop, juice, etc.) If you wanted to order a snack, it was always a roll of the dice on what they would have. The first time we went up there, they didn’t have any snacks. Then like 20 minutes later we saw people walking around with popcorn. However by the time we got to the concession stand, they were sold out. Then a little while later they were selling small bags of sunflower seeds (unsalted, yuck!). Then about a half an hour later they were selling little bags of potato chips. I have no idea where they were coming up with this food, but it almost seemed like some dude was running back-and-forth from the grocery store buying whatever he could find. It was absolutely hilarious! I kept waiting for him to show up with a stick of bacon or sausage, but he never did.

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Trying to “zoom in” with my crappy iPhone 4s.

Overall though, we had a great night at the game celebrating my birthday! We were able to cross something off my “sports fan bucket list” by attending an international soccer game. I’d still like to attend a big match in Europe or ultimately a World Cup game to experience the true atmosphere of a game.

Sounds of Home

I grew up in a house that was located right near train tracks. I remember when we first moved into the house, waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of the train horn as the train crossed from Canada into the US.  I remember thinking I would never sleep a full nights sleep ever again.  However; something changed, I soon became used to the sound of the train and it shifted from an annoyance that woke me up to a comforting sound of home.  When I moved into my very first apartment on my own it was a selling point for me that it was located close enough to the train tracks to hear them rumble by at night.  Trains were my nighty lullaby.

Upon moving to the Middle East I was nervous about the call to prayer that broadcasts through speakers from each mosque five times a day. I thought the call to prayer would wake me up early in the morning or bother me in some way.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

What is the call to prayer?:

Within the Islamic faith Muslim people pray 5 times a day. Muslims pray at dawn, midday, afternoon, evening, and night, the times vary based on the times of sunrise and sunset.  The call to prayer is sung live 5 times a day, 35 times a week and 150 times a month. When I first moved to Kuwait I thought that each Mosque just had a recording of the call to prayer that they scheduled to play at regular intervals.  It wasn’t until I was in Kuwait for a month that I learned that each of Kuwait’s 630 Mosques had someone signing live at each of the 150 calls to prayer in any given month. The call to prayer is a reminder of what times Muslims are to be praying.

It was amazing to me how quickly I have learned to love the call to prayer.  The call to prayer is such a beautiful sound.   It reminds me that many, many people in the world are taking this exact moment to focus on their faith.

The call to prayer is my new train, it is the sound of home.

The Holiday Hangover

We are in the midst of the worst part of travel . . . . the dreaded Holiday Hangover.

We arrived back in Kuwait, from Dubai, on Saturday evening. We were back to work and in our typically routine on Sunday morning when our alarm clock went off at 4:30 a.m.  Boo, hiss, yuck!  We had lots of fun on our vacation that lead to late nights and sleeping in until “normal people” sleeping times, like the sun was already up when we woke up.  It was glorious, but it lead to an even rougher Holiday Hangover once we made it back home.

After I struggled through the work day yesterday, I foolishly agreed to go and tutor (dumb mistake #1) when I really just wanted to go home, crawl into my bed, and watch trashy reality t.v. I waited at school for the driver to come pick me up and bring me to tutor, but because of a random police check-point (to check on people’s drivers licenses) he was an hour late to pick me up.   I tutored for about an hour and a half, but then found out that the driver was once again stuck at the police check-point.  He was going to be a while before he made it back to bring me home, so I called my trusty taxi driver Abdul.  Dumb mistake #2, clearly Abdul was going to get stuck at the same police check-point.  Abdul finally made it to me about an hour later. Unfortunately though, by the time he arrived, a shift change had occurred at the guard station outside of the home I was tutoring at, and the new guard wouldn’t allow him onto the grounds to pick me up.  So . . . . I packed up my bag and walked across the grounds towards the gate, which you are probably thinking is not that a big of a deal, unless you knew how unbelievably huge these grounds were!

Throughout this event, which will forever be known as “the longest tutor session ever,” Mitch was in the midst of another terrible part of the Holiday Hangover . . . the trip to the grocery store!  The following is the text messages that we exchanged throughout this entire process…

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As I walked towards the taxi, a bird literally took a deuce on my arm!  It was just enough to snap me out of my Holiday Hangover, as I burst into uncontrollable giggles over the series of unfortunate events. I was then reminded how grateful I was to live a life where I have the ability to travel, even if it causes the Holiday Hangover.

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On the car ride home, I chatted the entire way with the taxi driver Abdul.  I feel fortunate that I have had the chance to meet people who come from completely different walks of life and are willing to share stories of their countries, their families, and their religions.  I walked into my apartment grateful to have a husband who does the grocery shopping and even more grateful for the box of cereal and milk that he came home with, so I could eat dinner without having to cook.  I poured myself a huge bowl of cereal, took a big bite of the most sour milk I have ever tasted!

First Aid Station: Atlantis Dubai

I have always been a klutz.  I am clumsy and don’t pay near enough attention to what I am doing.  I once stabbed myself with my own ice skate and ended up in the emergency room with stitches.  In college I broken my foot while ….WALKING.  Mitch and I once got into an argument because he believed I was being too “Rachel” while standing near the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Yesterday, I continued the streak . . . I ended up at the first aid station at a water park!

While here in Dubai, we decided to spend a day at one of the coolest water parks in the world: Aquaventure at the Atlantis Resort. We smartly arrived 10 minutes before it opened, so that we could strategize what would be our first ride of the day.  We quickly came to the decision that we had to go big right away.  Our first slide of the day would be the Leap of Faith.  The Leap of Faith is a 60 foot near vertical drop followed by speeding through a clear acrylic tube that goes through a shark tank.  Yes, our first water slide of the day would be the “shark slide!”

IMG_1487We excitedly power walked (we couldn’t be part of the crazies who ran through the park) across the park to the tower that housed the Leap of Faith.  We climbed the bazillion stairs to get to the top, and realized that we were the first customers of the day.  With no time to think or get nervous, our friend Jooles quickly jumped in the tube and off she went, with only her screams to fill us in on what we were in store for.

I decided to go next.  I stepped into the water slide, SLIPPED, and immediately fell.  I barely caught myself on the handle bar saving myself from a trip over the edge, before my arms and legs were crossed, and inevitably the world’s worst wedgie ever.  A sigh of relief came out of Mitch, myself, and the water slide attendant, who humorously reminded me “be careful, it’s wet.”

As I giggled about my clumsiness, I pushed myself over the slides edge and screamed the whole way to the bottom.  (PS…apparently if you are screaming and have your eyes squeezed shut it, it’s really hard to see the sharks on the shark slide) As I splashed into the pool at the bottom of the slide I realized I didn’t possess the same gracefulness that my fellow sliders were apparently born with.  Every other person came off of the water slide by gently lifting their legs, and splashed bum first into the pool.  I however decided to go about it a different way.  I kept my feet crossed, locked my knees, and lifted my shoulders and head up off the waterside, which created a dismount that was more of a tumble rather than a plop.  The result: bleeding from 6 different locations!

To the First Aid station we went, where the kind medics informed me I was lucky customer number 1 for the day.  They were also pretty impressed, because they had never heard of anyone hurting themselves while sliding into a pool of water before.  In fact the medic asked me on numerous occasions if I was sure I hadn’t been running on the wet pool deck.   IMG_1486Once I was all bandaged up, I thanked the medics and began walking out of the first aid station.  As I was getting up from my chair, I stepped in a bit of water, SLIPPED, and barely caught my fall on the door handle.  One of the medics looked at his other medic buddy, and just said “Oh, she’ll be back.”

Eid Vacation Plans

One of the reasons we decided to move to the other side of the world, were the endless opportunities to explore and vacation to other countries, that are hardly practical to reach from the United States.  It costs thousands of dollars to travel from North America to other continents, and sometimes days to reach your destination.  One of the draws to moving to the Middle East, was the close proximity and affordibility to so many cool places in Europe, Africa, and Asia. We are so excited to be taking our first vacation, since moving to Kuwait, next week during Eid break!

You’re probably wondering . . . “What is Eid break?”  Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure either.  All I knew was that it was a Muslim holiday, and we got 9 days off of work! Therefore, I did a quick “google” search, and here is what I found:

Eid-al-Adha is the second and final Eid celebration of the year. It commemorates the completion of the Hajj, (pilgrimage to Mecca). Although only the people who take pilgrimage participate in the Hajj fully, Muslims around the world join them in celebrating Eid Al-Adha. For more information on Eid Al-Adha, click here.

Since we signed our employment contracts last winter, we have been looking forward to taking advantage of this week-long break in the school calendar. However we weren’t able to book a trip until about a week ago, because we didn’t have our passports!  The minute we arrived to Kuwait about a month and a half ago, School Administrators had to collect everyone’s passports at the airport so they could finalize the visa process and apply for everyone’s Civilian IDs.  They told us they were going to try their best to speed the application process up, however they couldn’t guarantee that they would be back in time for Eid. Thus they told everyone not to book a trip because they probably wouldn’t be back in time. We were bummed, but knew we had to respect the process, and just kept our fingers crossed.

We were super surprised last week when we got an email from the school informing us they had our passports back! We were so excited, however we suddenly felt panicked, because we only had a week to book a trip!  We frantically searched for flights to just about everywhere in the world. We were totally open to going anywhere new, that was reasonably priced. Unfortunately though, because it was so last minute, our options were limited due to high prices for flights. After an exhaustive day of searching, we found a great deal on airfare to Dubai!

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Photo courtesy of hdwallpaperfresh.com

Dubai is a futuristic city and perhaps one of the flashiest. It is home to the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa) and the largest mall in the world (Dubai Mall). I’m sorry my fellow Minnesotans, but Mall of America is nowhere near the size. The Dubai Mall is 12.1 million square feet compared to the Mall of America that is 5.62 million square feet, so its more than double the size!  Dubai also features amazing artificial islands and some of the best beaches around.

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Photo courtesy of Dave Anthony

Dubai is home to some of the most incredible (and expensive) resorts in the world. For our accommodations, we actually decided to rent an apartment right in the heart of Dubai, near the marina. We used a website called AirBnB.com (click here for a free $25 credit on airbnb.com) which is a website where you can rent a couch, a bedroom, or an entire house. Since we are going with a few friends from Kuwait, we decided to rent an entire apartment.

Dubai has a ton of fun things to do! We have been spending the last few days putting an itinerary together, and here’s what we have planned thus far:

  • Atlantis the Palm Aquaventure Waterpark

This waterpark has been named one of the top waterparks in the whole world, and has been featured on multiple TV shows, magazines, etc. We are super excited to go on their slide called The Tower of Neptune. You fall over 9 stories in a mere second before you find yourself speeding through a clear acrylic tube surrounded by Great White Sharks and sting rays!

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Photo courtesy of atlantisthepalm.com

  • Desert Safari

We have fun evening planned with a tour company where we go on a baja ride through the sand dunes of Dubai in a 4×4 jeep.

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Photo courtesy of arabizhorizons.com

  •  Burq Khalifa

As I mentioned earlier, Dubai is home of the Burq Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. We are excited to take a tour to the top of the 2,722 ft. building (163 floors). This building is twice the size of the Empire State Building!

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Photo courtesy of blogs.atrapalo.com

We have also decided to spend a few nights in Abu Dhabi next week, which is only about an hour or two from Dubai.  Abu Dhabi is also a very futuristic and flashy city.  As part of her research for this trip Rachel decided that this week was the perfect time to rewatch Sex and the City 2!

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Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

We’ll be in Abu Dhabi on my birthday and found something super fun to do . . . . . we are going to an international soccer game between Australia & United Arab Emirates!  I’m a sports junky who loves visiting professional stadiums, so I’m super pumped to go. I’ve never been to one before and can’t wait to experience the excitement, the crowds, the chants, and everything that an international soccer match has to offer!  Definitely fulfilling an item on my “Bucket List.”

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Al Jazira Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium – Photo courtesy of http://www.jc.ae

We also plan on taking a tour of the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, which is said to be the most expensive hotel ever built at over 3 billion dollars!

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Photo courtesy of proudlyarabian.com

Since we are going to be on vacation all of next week, I’m not sure if we are going to be able to post any new blogs. We will try to post a quick update, otherwise you can follow along with us on Twitter: @mightaswellers. When we return from our trip, we’ll be sure to post a bunch of photos.

Cheers & Eid Mubarak!

Al Khiran Beach

Last weekend we enjoyed the sweet taste of FREEEEEEDOOOOOMMMMMM (make sure you yell that like William Wallace’s Braveheart voice).  Since moving to Kuwait we have been car-less.  Kuwaiti law is that you cannot purchase a vehicle until you have a Civil ID, so as our paperwork is being processed, we have been bus and taxi people.  It is super awesome that our school provides free transportation to and from school everyday, however relying on taxis to take us to the grocery store or to find some entertainment has been….kinda sucky.  We love being able to just jump in the car and go, and that has been striped from us for the last month and a half, so last weekend we rented a car!

I knew that the number one thing on my weekend to do list, after the car was in our possession, was head to the beach.  We have heard from our Kuwaiti veteran friends that if we headed south towards Saudi, we would run into some awesome private beaches that we could spend our day enjoying.

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Al Khiran is a resort town, where they dug out tons of channels to create more beaches and space for chalets on the water. This is a google map view of the area.

 

We woke up early on Friday morning, piled the vehicle full of our friends and headed south.  As we drove through the desert I spotted something strange off in the distance.  As we pulled closer we realized it was a wild herd (flock, school, pack, I guess I don’t know the proper terminology) of camels!….yes you read that right, FRICKEN CAMELS!  We realized in that moment we were in for a stellar day.

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We pulled into the Al Khiran area, which is where many Kuwaiti’s have their weekend chalets, which is like their weekend lake home to us.  Now let me tell you something, these were MANSIONS, not like any cabin I had ever seen before.  These places were the opposite of the outhouse using, lake shower taking, generator using cabins we are used to.  IMG_4663 Al Khiran doesn’t have any public beaches but we were easily able to climb a ditch and jump over a concrete barrier to reach the beach just fine.  IMG_4664 Once we made it to the beach we were in Heaven.  We had the whole place to ourselves.  IMG_4665 We laid in the sun, splashed in the water, and talked about how amazingly happy we were to be having this day.  IMG_4669 The only thing we wished as we had our lazy sun day was that someone would ask us to house sit for them at the Kuwaiti version of a cabin.  10637761_10103538217450747_1213934942_n So if you happen to be reading this post and own a Kuwaiti chalet, and are looking for someone to housesit…I’m your girl.  10152758_10103538221148337_2125341546_nAl Khiran, we will be back again, very, very soon!
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