Posted in Culture, Uncategorized

One Child, Two Cultures

I sit here writing on the eve of my son’s 7th birthday, with tears descending down my cheeks. I am not sure if it’s the nostalgia I’m feeling from spending the last hour lost in old home videos of him when he was a baby, or the fact that I just kissed my 6 year old goodnight for the last time. I can’t believe this fun-loving, silly, gentle, warm hearted child is mine. His eyes and curiosity for the world are so big and that makes me so proud.  

We have now been living in Kuwait for close to 7 months and one of my biggest worries was always how Noah would adjust to this new culture. In the beginning it was very hard on him, all of his cousins would be playing together laughing and joking in Arabic, he would become frustrated and discouraged about not being able to understand. (Much like the way I felt at a family lunch). It was heartbreaking to witness my child’s difficulty trying to fit in with his own family. 

Raising a child is an extremely difficult job, raising a multi cultured child is even harder. There are different sets of cultural norms and rules, something that was perfectly normal in America is looked at as strange here.  In Kuwait, when you walk into a room with adults a child is expected to greet the adults with a kiss on each cheek; it’s a sign of respect.  Noah refused to do this when we first got here. He would wipe his face if someone kissed him. In America he would wipe off his family’s kisses and burst out with laughter. So it was a bit embarrassing how this little joke of his turned into something he needed to be respectful about. 


My husband and I both came from opposite sides of the world, and experienced completely different upbringings. We discussed what it was that we didn’t get from the adults in our life as children, and as parents we do our best to bring those things into our sons life. 

One of the things Aziz told me was when he was growing up he didn’t hear the words I love you, it’s a common part of this culture not to express emotions. It’s more shown in action rather than words. There would be times I would tell him something about how I was feeling and he would tell me there isn’t even words in the Arabic language for that. The power of telling your child that you love them has such an effect over how they perceive themselves and their worth. 


Aziz’s sister mentioned to me that she noticed I talk to my son, like he’s an adult. I look him in the eye, I listen to him, and am genuinely interested in his words. She also said that in Kuwait, it’s not something she sees very often. It’s much more “badain, badain” (meaning later, later in Arabic) or go play.  For me this was eye opening. It’s so important to me for Noah to feel like I’m always listening. I want him to always feel like I am the person to talk to, especially when he becomes a teenager. 

So much of what we do as parents has a lifelong effect on them. We are not only responsible for their health and safety, but for their inner voice that carries on into adulthood. What we put in their mind is what they become. When we fill it with love, confidence, trust, belief, success, and possibility, they will believe that’s who they are. 


As the time goes on here, I am amazed at how well he is adjusting. He is learning the language, started a new school where he has made many new friends and even earned student of the week for “always having a positive attitude and great sense of humor.” He is even warming up to the double cheek kiss! I know that this move was the right thing for him now. I know that immersing him in his fathers culture and teaching him the best of each of us is what is best. 


The day he was born was the start of my life, and my first feeling of true love. As I go to bed tonight, I pray that all of these things I am doing in hopes that he will have a fulfilling childhood do just that. 

Happy Birthday, Noah.  I love you. 
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Stuck In The BeginningĀ 

In some ways I enjoy being a stranger in a country with a fresh new start. Nobody knows who I am, what my past is , or what my personal insecurities are-something I’ve actually had trouble speaking openly about. Maybe being in a a new country will allow me to transform into someone completely new, where my past fears can disappear with my old life and I am able to become the version of myself I have always wanted to be. 
Over the past few months I have been struggling with who this “new” person actually is. In LA, my identity seemed to be; Kristen the girl who painted furniture, an identity I became comfortable with. I’m at a place now where I don’t know what it is that defines me. Do I start something similar here or do I go a completely different direction? As you can imagine, I am finding it difficult to find my place and purpose here.

Having been in Kuwait for a few months now, I am finding this pressure to identify myself and my work a bit suffocating. The one thing I get asked the most from people is “what are you going to do for work”? Why do we put so much emphasis on that part of our life? Why do we let that piece define us? I am triggered by this question because it is the single most thing I pray for clarity on. I truly don’t know what I want to do. We teach our children that they can be anything they want to be, but as adults we often settle. I don’t want to settle, I want to take some time to reflect on how much I have changed over the years and appreciate how my passions and aspirations may have also done just that. Adult life doesn’t quite allow for “reflection time” & I think that’s unfortunate. 

This transition hasn’t been easy, I have had a lot of trouble getting the necessary paperwork to be a permanent resident and it still isn’t over. With that comes a list of things I am not yet able to do, like “get a job” and “define myself”. We also had a really difficult time getting our son into a private school that was taught in English (they were all full). The government schools are taught in Arabic and his understanding of the language is very minimal. On top of missing my family, feeling complete culture shock, and being just plain homesick it’s made for a rough start. 

I worked really hard over the years to silence the voice of negativity and self doubt that made itself at home in my mind since I was a child. As of late it’s been showing up, loud and clear, commanding all of my attention and truly making me question this move- and myself. In the past I have recoiled, hidden or ran from my problems, I am now reflecting on how that will only cushion the self doubt. I will instead write through this tough time, walk with it, and get to the other side in a way that will allow the change I wish to see in myself. I am learning to find a way to lean on the brightness of the unknown, trust in this new adventure, and have no doubts that where I am at this point in my life is leading me to a place better than I could imagine. 

Just by recognizing the tough transition in this move and myself, I am going to feel gratitude for this experience and focus on all that is going right. I find that when we go about our day looking for things to be upset about or offended by, we will find them. When we seek to find all the blessings that are surrounding us, we will find they are unlimited. I intend to focus my attention on being fortunate enough to have the ability and time to make this discovery. 

           

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Closed mind, open heart

One of our first dates in 2008 #wherearemyeyebrows
 
  When I first met my husband Aziz almost 8 years ago, it was absolutely with out a doubt love at first sight. We shared an instant, immediate , powerful connection. Then he told me where he was from; Kuwait.  

  Kuwait?? The Middle East?  I instantly thought of Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, 9/11, Islam, a war zone. I had memories of my 7 year old self with my dad glued to the couch watching the Gulf war unfold on television. I remember thinking Kuwait = Muslim, the women are oppressed in his religion. I was scared. All of these amazing feelings I was experiencing for this man I met, were replaced by fear. A fear based on nothing other than what I had seen on tv or opinions I read on the Internet. 
 

 Telling my family and friends I met a man from Kuwait was followed by just as many fear based questions. Is he using you for a green card? Does he expect you to convert to Islam? Have you seen the movie Not Without my Daughter? What does he think of 9/11? Or my personal favorite from a relative “You know they make you cover up over there?” (For the record they don’t)

  After the first couple of dates I learned very quickly this Kuwaiti was in fact much different from anyone I had met in the past. He was a gentle soul; a complete gentleman with so much respect for me. He was passionate about family, traveling, and his knowledge of the world was intriguing. I discovered that every worry I had about his culture, religion and country was completely unjustified.  

  As our relationship progressed, I always had those voices of fear ingrained in every disagreement or fight we had. It took a couple of years until I had a realization after spending time with his family. 

  His mom had come to the United States to have cancer treatment, along with a couple of his brothers, sister and aunt. While spending time with them for 2 months, I learned so much about who he really was and where he came from. I saw how important women are in their culture, they are seen as the heart of the family. I saw absolutely no oppression. I saw how all our relationship needed was for me to let go of those irrational voices that where he came from was somehow bad. 

Celebrating Eid 2016, the holiday following Ramadan

 

  I often think about what it is that makes us pass judgment on other cultures, races and religions. I’m consistently brought back to the same conclusion; fear & ignorance to the unknown. For the most part we are all stuck in a bubble of the same people we talk to, same places we visit, same things we watch on tv, same friends on social media posting their opinions. Only 10% of the population has traveled outside the United States. When you get out and experience other countries and their people, it will follow you for the rest of your life and completely influence your view of the world. 

Sunset over the Arabian Gulf

  

  At a time in the world when we need more love, acceptance, open minds, less judgment.  I urge you to start a conversation with someone different than you. Someone who you have always had a preconceived notion about, someone who you think has nothing in common with you. I am willing to bet that your mind will be changed. We all share the same HUMAN experience on this beautiful planet. 
  

  I have been in Kuwait for 2 months now, I feel safe enough to jog alone at night.( I didn’t feel that way in parts of L.A.) I was welcomed with open arms and hearts into a home filled with Muslims. I’m genuinely happy to be here and have this one of a kind experience. To think if I had given into the fears and stereotypes I had originally believed, my life wouldn’t be this complete.

Our 6 year old son Noah
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From L.A. To Kuwait

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Our new home
It’s been exactly 2 weeks since we arrived at our new home. The jet lag is slowly wearing off, and the reality of the move is quickly setting in. We each packed 2 suitcases & sold the rest of our belongings to start a new adventure in a world much different than the one we left behind.

When we arrived in Kuwait, we had an overwhelming welcome. There were over 50 family members waiting at the baggage claim to greet us. My husband Aziz is one of 10 children and has not lived in Kuwait for over 15 years, so everyone was incredibly happy to have him back. There were smiles, tears, and so much love. It is a moment I will not forget.

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Long flight
Most of Kuwaitis live in multi generational housing, it is one house with different levels for each family. The parents, children & grandchildren all together under one roof. On the main level there are living spaces, kitchens (3 šŸ˜³), bedrooms and bathrooms. On the upper levels each family then has their own “condo” complete with their own living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms. It truly is unlike anything I have seen in America. After visiting here in 2014 I fell in love with this living arrangement, there is such a sense of togetherness.

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Front right living room

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The most beautiful gifted flower arrangement from Aziz’s cousin

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Downstairs of our living area

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Entryway
Since we arrived, we have taken this time to really just enjoy the moment. Our life back in Los Angeles was so busy, always working, on the go, & chaotic. I felt like we didn’t have time to enjoy each other. One of the motivating factors for making the decision to move was the pace of life here.   Most of the country takes 2 hours for lunch with their family. Everyone gathers to eat together, some have tea & dessert, others take an afternoon nap. There is no sense of  urgency to be somewhere or doing something. Aziz and I have already been on 4 dates together, something we were almost never able to do before.

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Enjefa Beach
I want to leave by saying thank you for following my very first blog post. I will use this space to share my family & my experiences learning to live in a new culture. I hope to show a true perception of life in Kuwait, I look forward to sharing my life with you.

 

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