Voting day differs in other countries

Growing up in Bolvia, voting day was always a fun day for me. I remember listening in on my parents conversations; discussing candidates, their issues and personal positions. We would get ready and head to the voting tables. People from each neighborhood are drafted to fulfil different roles to facilitate election day.  Once there, we would see our friends and neighbors. Some in line to get their ballots and others just hanging out after completing their civic duty. My mom then would pull out her vaseline, smear it all over her index finger and do the same on my dad’s finger.

“Wait… what?! That can’t be right…”

That’s probably what you are thinking after reading the last statement, but it’s the truth. You see, in Bolivia voting is a whole experience.

The experience starts on Friday when stores around the country stop selling all types of alcoholic beverages. Candidates also must stop any type advertisement and remove all banners and billboards. Voting is mandatory for all people above 18 years old. If, for any reason, you can’t vote you need to get a letter notarized and stamped by the “Corte Electoral” stating the reason why you were unable to vote. If you want a loan or have to leave the country in the months following the vote, you must either present your proof of voting or your letter. Not having one of them is a big no no. There are many fines and you aren’t eligible to do any banking transactions.

On election day you are not allowed to drive unless you have a special permit granted only if you can prove that it is a necessity.

For example, my aunt once got the permit because she was 9 months pregnant and there was a possibility she would give birth; good thing she got it because my cousin was born on that day. No one was able to go visit her till later in the day when the curfew was lifted.

The reason we are not allowed to use vehicles is because people were registering in two or more areas and voting two or more times. Another way that they thought of preventing this was to “mark” their voters with ink. 

Enter the vaseline that I previously talked about. 

When you are done voting they dunk a finger of your choosing in ink. The vaseline keeps it from sticking too much but you bare your mark as voter. Sometimes you bare it for many days.

Once my parents were done voting my friends, my sister and I would walk to a meeting place and just walk the empty streets of the city. Voting always takes place on a Sunday, businesses are all closed. 

Your sole duty on that day is to vote.

Gathijos

A gathijo is a term I came up with that is used whenever I speak about my kitties. It encompasses exactly what they mean to me:

Gato + hijo
Cat + son

But a pets meaning changes depending on where you are.

In Bolivia pets are appreciated loving members of the household but there is always a boundary that should never de crossed. The dogs we owned were not to enter our home; if they did, they were to do so very quickly, say hello and then be ushered  out like nothing happened. Our dogs had all the luxuries we could provide. A huge warm enclosure, a massive garden and a vet available whenever they needed one. I would say most homes in Bolivia, regardless of their economic status, provide the same amenities. Bolivians also have the mentality that a dog and a cat will do just fine in the streets. If you have ever visited my country you would have probably witnessed our streets filled with friendly stray dogs and a few cats. People don’t mind them roaming the streets and recently many animal welfare organizations have popped up bringing more  awareness and striving to do better for them. There are new public feeding places for the strays and some buildings even include outside homes for their streets dogs.There are new laws protecting them and thanks to social media people can report and document abuse.

When I moved to the States I saw a huge difference in the treatment of pets. People there whole heartedly embraced them as family. Living and sleeping with their pets. You didn’t buy a pet, you adopted one. You didn’t own an animal, you were their guardian. I don’t think I ever saw a dog just wondering the streets. People walk their dogs and pick up their poop for heaven’s sake. I found this new dynamic very interesting, could a pet be more? My sister who lives in the States has a lovely dog, Madison. Whenever she has to travel or must leave her alone for more than 5 hours Madi is dropped off at daycare where she can even enjoy swimming lessons and hangout with her puppy friends.

In Kuwait my husband and I decided to buy two kittens. We were unaware that there was actually a place where we could adopt from. We took them home and they have ruled our lives ever since.

Because of culture and interpretations of the religion dogs are deemed filthy and unwanted. Many dogs are targets of children who find pleasure in hurting them. There have been several reports of children burying, kicking and cutting animals just for fun. Just yesterday a kitten was rescued from children who hung him(Click here to see some of the abandoned animals and their stories). In 2013 the abuse of dogs reached a new low, with a report of over 80 dogs slaughtered and tortured. It is common practice for people to purchase a puppy or kitten and then releasing it on the streets or worst, leaving them in the middle of the desert. Many pets are abandoned for the Holy month of Ramadan, for the summer season when most people travel or just because it just “got too big”. Many animal organizations report at least 50% increase in homeless animals during those seasons. Such organizations struggle to make ends meet. Most of the animal organizations are just groups of independent animal lovers that donate their homes and time for this cause. These people have vet bills of over $8,000 every month.  Though there are many Kuwaitis who help and love their pets like family, the grand majority of citizens in the country perceive animals as inferior creatures and have no qualms to abandon them in a 50°C (122°F) weather.

Personally my husband and I spend hours feeding our feral colony of cats. We currently have over 15 cats and 4 dogs. We are hoping to have a TNR (trap-neuter-return) campaign in our area in the future. We are not the only “crazy cat people” though, there are many expats who come to this country and can’t help but to aid these creatures in any way they can.

I’m not by any means implying that animal abuse doesn’t happen in the States or Bolivia. I will say though that in my experience and from what I have observed it is extremely rare to find children who are encouraged and find joy in harming defenseless creatures. In fact, on January 2016 acts of cruelty against animals are now counted alongside felony crimes like arson, burglary, assault, and homicide in the FBI’s expansive criminal database.

Bolivia was the first Latin American country with legislation a prohibiting any and all animals in circuses and it became a law in 2009. The story of the Bolivian circus raids, including 25 African lions, is told in the award-winning movie, “Lion Ark.” There is also a law that prohibits and punishes any physical, emotional or psychological damage to any animal. It also prohibits the breeding of domestic animals for commercial purposes and the keeping of animals by people who have a history of violence against them. 

I’ve tried researching and seeing if there are any laws protecting animals in Kuwait and from what I can gather, they are only protected if they belong to someone. For a more in depth explanation click here.  I’ve spoken with many of the Kuwaiti people I know and they are totally unaware of the problem or that cruelty like this happens. Animal cruelty is not reported or deemed important at all. If a blogger or an influencer talks about it or supports awareness they are harassed, because on the list of problems that need attention  in the Middle East – animal welfare should be at the bottom.

I would like to say that things have improved in the five years that I have lived here, but unfortunately I have seen no such change. There are more active groups and it never seems enough for all the cruelty that happens around us.

Two years after…

Dear followers, I can’t believe I’ve allowed two years to pass by with out a new post. When I first moved to Kuwait this blog gave me a gateway to express all these new experiences and as time passed by I found my footing, people to relate and share those experiences with.

I wasn’t even sure anyone was reading this or if the posts were interesting enough. About a year ago my husband and I were lucky enough to visit our alma mater. We visited our beautiful campus and even got to spend some time with our former professors. Luckily my Intercultural Communications professor was still in the area and so was my IT professor. I was shocked when they both said that they loved my blog and were sad that I had stopped posting. Before I left I promised that I would go back to it and write of the many other subjects that I had still not covered.

I arrived to Kuwait ready to make a comeback but instead took a job as a kindergarten teacher. What came over me, I will never know. Teaching Kuwaiti children definitely gave me material for Cultureness. The time I spent as a teacher passed by in a blur and now I truly have a different appreciation for all the expats that move miles away from their homes to mold minds in this country.

If you are still reading, please know, I really appreciate it. I can’t wait to share with you my new posts. I will cover topics like:

  • marriage and last names
  • pets
  • driving
  • college experiences
  • medical insurance
  • and many more

I would love to hear from you all and any suggestions you may have for any topic ideas.

Infographic, “Journey through Expatriation”

A few months ago I took a survey for InterNations regarding my journey as an expat. They’ve just released an infographic that really sums up many of the aspects of an expat.

20140314-204611.jpg

Number 6 is something most people wouldn’t associate to the things that expatriates experience, but in my experience it is one of the hardest.

I left my home when I was 19, I was fresh out of high-school and I thought I was ready for my adventure at college. The first times I went back home I felt like nothing had changed; family was the same, friends were the same, my opinions and views of the world remained the same. But, little by little, the longer I was gone and the more I experienced the world out side of Bolivia, the more I changed but everything in Bolivia remained the same. At the time I didn’t know that was called “Reversed Culture Shock.” I am part of the 55% who’ve had a change of mentality.

I was blessed to have been surrounded by a very diverse group of people who have open my eyes to many things that I would have otherwise not seen. Bolivia is mostly a Catholic/Christian country; I definitely wouldn’t have met people from as many religions nor would I have been able to have a broad understanding of what spirituality means to different people. I haven’t felt the need to go to church to feel connected to God for many years; but, many of my fellow Bolivians, including family members, won’t like that.

I’ve been happily married for almost 5 years and we don’t have kids yet. If you have any experience with Latin families you know that most of us don’t wait around to have them. Most of my high school friends are already posting pictures of their second child and here I am trying to find families for the kittens I’ve found near a trash can. I’ve been told that the reason I rescue animals is because I’m lonely and having a kid would solve that. On the other hand, I’m shocked by how simple the decision to have kids is for my friends back home.

Life as an expat influences every aspect of your life. It has some downfalls but the unique perspective that it gives you of the world is truly priceless. This experience has made me a better person. I love knowing that I will continue to change and will be sharing my experiences with you.

3rd year!

It’s been 3 years since I first landed in Kuwait and I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post… I’m so sorry I’ve been away for so long. Life has a way of making you feel like time is passing very slowly and then you look back and a whole year has passed. There are so many new topics that I want to talk about and so many experiences that I want to share with you.

I’m currently working as an English teacher and I enjoy it very much. The children I teach are mainly Kuwaiti so I get to learn new cultural things everyday. My Kuwaiti-Arabic has exponentially improved, I can now communicate enough that non-English speakers can actually understand me 🙂 I’ve also adopted most of the mannerisms of an Arabian woman  so much that whenever I walk in a store  everyone speaks to me in Arabic.

I finally can say that I’ve found my rhythm in Kuwait, and I will be back on my blog sharing my life and the lessons one learns when living abroad.

Sky line Kuwait

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

PAWS in Kuwait, to the rescue!

When I arrived in Wisconsin one of the things that surprised was the lack of street animals. Of course I saw many wild animals (raccoons, deer, I even saw a wolf once) but what I mean is that there weren’t many dogs living on the streets.

Bolivian cities, on the other hand, are crowded by dogs. Animal control doesn’t have much funding and people are not educated enough to know the benefits of spaying and neutering. So when I came to Kuwait I wondered if I would also be surprised. And boy was I shocked to see that the streets filled cats! Lots and lots of cats…

Usually I try to stay clear from the street cats, they are like no other cat I have ever seen. They are big, muscular, and are not afraid of humans at all. (In fact I’m kind of afraid of them but don’t tell anyone ^_^) But the other day on my way to work I heard a loud cry, it sounded like whatever was crying was in a lot of pain. I rushed to take a look and I found this:

This kitten was lying on a parking lot in a puddle of mud. I looked everywhere for the mom (cause if she saw me getting to close, she would make sure to protect her baby) but I didn’t see any trace of her or any siblings. It was noon, the sun was blazing and the temperature was over 50°C ( 122F), I had no idea how long it had being alone. I didn’t know how long it would last out in the heat.

So I did what any mother of two kitties would do, I picked him up and took him home. As soon as I picked it up he stopped crying. I called my husband and he gave me the PAWS (Protecting Animal Welfare Society) hotline number. I had heard of this organization, it is one of the few non-profit-organizations in the country that rescues animals in need. The person I spoke with told me to take it to RAH (Royal Animal Hospital) and they would pick him up. As soon as my husband left work we went together and left “Ratita” there (that is the nickname I gave him, it means little mouse in Spanish). The receptionist told us that he wouldn’t be able to stay over night at the vets since Ratita was clearly to young to eat by himself; they didn’t have people to bottle feed him every two hours. Luckily PAWS came to the rescue!!!!

They told us that he was probably dumped in the parking lot. Apparently it is very common for people who have a pregnant cat to just dump the kittens when they are born 😦

PAWS is an amazing organization, for only 30KDs a month you can sponsor an animal until they adopted into their forever homes. If you can’t sponsor or make a donation they also allow people to come and volunteer. Like I mentioned before, there aren’t many organizations like this one in Kuwait, so they need all the help they can get.

If you are in Kuwait, you should visit them, here is their web page: http://paws-kuwait.org/blog/  and their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pawskuwait

I’m not affiliated to the organization, but I wanted to share with you my story and this is my way of thanking PAWS for everything that they do.

UPDATE: Another cat that had kittens adopted Ratita. He is currently nursing and getting strong.

Ramadan Mubarak!!!

Muslims all over the world have begun fasting as the holy month of Ramadan starts. This means that, from sunrise to sunset millions of people all around the world will be abstaining of not only food and water but from other earthly pleasures. (Here is a pic that depicts what other things Muslims are refraining from.)

Personally, I’ve joined my husband in fasting for the past 4 to 5 years. Many of my non-Muslim friends always ask me “how can you do it?” but in all honesty, it is not as bad or as hard as it sounds. I thankfully don’t have any vices that make the fasting harder, like smoking. My husband, for example, is a coffee addict so the first days he usually has a massive headache and has to nap quite a bit in order to get through the day.

Fasting in Kuwait though, is quite different from fasting in the US. Obviously Kuwait is a Muslim nation so everything around me is tailored to accommodate the hours of the fast. Restaurants only open a few hours before “iftar” (evening meal when Muslims break their fast), malls and any other stores remain open till midnight since most people wait for the night-time to go out, banks and ministries change their working hours. When we used to live in a residential area of the country neighbors would send each other food for iftar. Also driving around sunset time is catastrophic! Everyone is rushing to get home, I’ve always said there is no one crankier than a hungry person ^_^

From the http://streetmedia.wordpress.com blog

If you live in a Muslim country beware of all the time changes of stores and restaurants. Also don’t ever eat or drink in public areas, even in your car. Keep all your eating for the comfort of your home. For more information regarding Ramadan here are some of my previous posts, but if you still got some questions please don’t hesitate to send me an email.

Ramadan Kareem!!!

Related Articles:

Ramadan Kareem for visitors

Why the 9th month?

Holy month of Ramadan

Smoking: Cigarettes – Water Pipe (Shisha / Hookah)

Smoking cigarettes in Bolivia is very common. There are no laws that prevent smoking in closed environments and the age limit is not really enforced so many start smoking in their late teens years. In the past 5 years the new fad has been smoking Shisha (hookah – water pipe)

Picture from: http://naeemebrahimjee.hubpages.com/hub/Shishapedia-All-about-shisha

So when I got to the States I was surprised by how badly smokers are regarded. My husband, who used to smoke at the time, used to get carded every time he wanted to buy a pack, mind you he never looked that he was under 18 but the law does state that everyone purchasing cigarettes must present proper ID. Also Eau Claire, WI passed a law, which made it illegal to smoke in any closed environment even bars. For many international students it was unbelievable the type regulations that smoking came with. A Turkish friend of mine who was used to smoking his own water pipe but he would want to smoke it on his front lawn. Every time he lit it up the police would pay him a visit to check that he wasn’t smoking any weed. Apparently many Americans use a water pipe to mainly smoke weed but what they don’t know is that there are several types of legal flavored tobacco, which is what is mainly smoked in Arabian countries.

By the time I got to Kuwait I was used to not seeing people smoking in closed environments but things are different here, they are actually very similar to Bolivia. Only a couple things differ: it is very rare to see women smoking in public and kids as early as 12 are seen smoking out in the mall. In winter outdoor cafes are filled by water pipes and the air is filled by different scents coming from each one. The scent depends on the flavor of the tobacco.

Most people I’ve asked, regardless of their background, seem to think that water pipes are healthier to smoke since water filters the smoke. Well I did a little research and it seems that although both are very unhealthy water pipes are even worse than cigarettes. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic (link here) “Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers do because of the large volume of smoke they inhale in one smoking session, which can last as long as 60 minutes.” I understand the appeal of a water pipe on the western world, it is exotic, but it is still very unhealthy for you and anyone sitting next to you.

 

Related Articles:

  • “Up in Smoke: Study busts myths about the health of hooka” (link)
  • “Is hookah smoking safer than smoking cigarettes? I’ve been told that the water used in the hookah makes the tobacco less toxic.” Mayo Clinic (link)
  • “The Claim: Hookahs Are Safer Than Cigarettes” New York Times (link)

Time Flies

I can not believe how much time has passed since the last time I posted something on my blog. So much has changed since the last time I wrote. Here are the highlights from the past months.

We moved closer to downtown, to a place that has more expats (expatriate: a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing) which allows me to walk outside more freely. We are also on walking distance to the ocean, which I love! Here is the view from our living room:

View from our living room

I’ve also started working as an English tutor at an academy. I really enjoy spending time with the kids. I get to teach ages ranging from 4 to 15 so it allows me to practice different teaching skills. I will definitely dedicate a whole post on how different it is to teach American children than Kuwaiti ones.

I also have two babies now ^_^ but not human babies, we adopted two kittens last August. They are my furry companions whenever my husband is traveling or at work. They are the most spoiled kitties ever; my husband and I just adore this little guys. Here is a picture of them so you can meet them Katniss on the left and Percy on the right:

My babies / Mis niños

I’ve also made several new friends, each one from a whole different background than mine. We have been very blessed and I can’t wait to share with you all the new things that I have learned from this very “exotic” culture. If you have any suggestions i would love to hear from you. I will go back to writing my cultural posts once a month.

If you have Instragram and want to see more of my babies you can find their acount @katniss_percy_kitty_pics or through #k_p (yes they have followers lol) and Katniss has her own video on Youtube: Katniss vs helicopter