Saturday, 21 January 2012

Tedx Safat, Kuwait: Ideas Worth Spreading.. indeed!

I wasn't supposed to be attending Wednesday night's Tedx Safat Conference. But I did and it was awesome.
I'd received no reply when I emailed to ask if the event was going to be held in English. My friend Sahar (who blogs about her experiences in Kuwait on Eternal Joie de Vivre, go check her out!) found out that it was. Problem solved.

Thank God I emailed, because apparently you had to pre-register. An event organizer asked for our names to tick off a list and I thought with a sinking feeling that I wouldn't be able to sit for it. But it was there!! *fist in the air* (awful rhyming was unintentional, my apologies)

And what did I think? Read on for a succinct account on what each speaker communicated. Words in italics are their words (or close), not mine.

We walked in and found seats just in time to see the first speaker, Dr. Saad Hamad Al Barrak take the stage and start his speech on 'Leading Change', the essence of which was that the purpose of leadership is to impact change. He explained this concept through John P. Kotter's change model below.

I loved his definition on delegation, 'it is nothing but a loan of a power of authority'. An illusion of power if you will.

Dr. Ghanim Alnajjar was the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights in Somalia, appointed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan. He specified that without equality there was no stability and that might and right are never too often on the same side. Seeing the destitution and war-torn lands one wonders, do we live in the same world? The UN did not allow its people to travel by cars in parts of Somalia; the areas were so dangerous and riddled with land mines that workers actually had to use small planes! Tragically the situation in Somalia is far from light, with 300,000 Somalians internally displaced and living in camps.

Sulayman Al-Bassam blew me over. A world-renowned playwright, he tries to foster open-mindedness through his plays. He brought to light the fact that people prefer to express in English, fearing to do so in their native tongue. In 2003, when Iraq was invaded, there were mixed feelings of joy and trepidation in the region - joy at the attempt to overthrow a dictator and trepidation because, well, war is a terrible thing.
He wrote and directed a play in Kuwait at that time, casting Kuwaiti, Iraqi, British and American actors, in an attempt to promote kindred feelings amongst people and put the torrid past behind them. A terrible thing happened on opening night - one of the Kuwaiti actors suddenly died of natural causes backstage while the performance was going on. A member of the audience somehow got wind of the death and announced on stage that the Iraqi actors had 'killed our compatriot'. A ripple of shock went through the audience (the TEDx one) as Sulayman made his point, that in less than a minute, the man had poisoned the idea that we were trying to promote. It was a lesson on how difficult it was to change a society. Questions we ask through our art should help support an open society.

Hussaa Al Humaidhi was a ball of energy! Her fantastic slide show was perfectly synchronized and well coordinated with her speech and the message she wanted to deliver. Her presentation was titled From Frustration to Collaboration to Inspiration (Connecting the Dots). The 'dots' were represented by four creative individuals (in her speech as well as on the slide) frustrated (frustration occurring 'when things are out of your control') with the lack of inspiration in Kuwait, travelled to different countries to find it. They then decided to take matters into their own hands and here's where the collaboration comes in. They founded Nuqat, meaning dots in Arabic, an organization that offers individuals the chance to bring out creativity within the region, taking care of the inspiration factor. They realized too many young designers in the Middle East were uninspired and just mimicking the West. With Nuqat, these entrepreneurs want to encourage designers and other creative individuals remain to true to their Arab identity and find that spark here. She signed off with the well-known and extremely apt quote: Never wait for inspiration, hunt it down with a stick!

Sheikha Intisar Salem Al Ali Al Sabah founded and runs a publishing house. At a bookstore in a neighbouring Gulf country, she noticed the store had books on most countries of the Middle East... except Kuwait. So, she set out to write one! She interviewed Kuwaitis that had made a real difference in the country and through their passion, found her inspiration. She described their contribution in a slideshow while quoting each of them.

I liked the way Mrs. Maha Al-Ghunaim (founder and MD of Global Investment House) began her speech, by stating quite frankly that she moved to the States for Bachelors in Engineering, because it seemed right, as her siblings were engineers. A year later she switched her major to mathematics because she loved it and hated engineering. Move where your passion is. After completing her degree, she moved back to Kuwait in August to look for work. An HR manager of an elite investment firm told her to go on vacation to Switzerland with her parents and that they didn't hire women (scumbag company). Twelve years later, I became the boss of his boss. YEAH!! *round of applause*
She ended saying something simple and profound that I've pondered on a lot in the past two days, and I hope I never forget it. At the end of each day, think, 'did I give it my all?' Give the best you can be at that point to everything and do it regularly. She ended with the quote: Giving it your all, is not too far from victory.

We left then, her words echoing in my head.
Actually, they still are.

I hope someone uploads the videos on youtube, I'd love to hear Sulayman Al Bassam's speech again as well as the last two we missed by Dr. Ahmad BouShehri and Khaled Al-Kulaib. Kudos to Dana Al-Hilal and her team for a wonderful event and the fantastic choice of speakers. I was completely unaware as to the brilliance of these people. The message each one of them gave, especially the latter ones has touched me differently. Why do we need to look to world famous, far removed personalities for motivation when we have very worthy ones right here?

Note: I tried to get their words down verbatim but it wasn't possible for all. If any of the above mentioned ever read this (hey it could happen) and feel I got the wrong idea, I am profusely sorry, I was lost in your awesomeness : (

(If you'd like to see pictures, check out the ones by The Dusty Co. here)

Monday, 16 January 2012

a much overdue and awesome trip to Failaka.

20 years in Kuwait and I had never been to Failaka. It was time to change that. Went to the Failaka Heritage Village with Maeve, an old friend from school (my oldest one, our friendship is ancient) and her friend Kayo who was visiting here. Ever since I heard about the Greek ruins on the island I've been dying to see them!

The ride in the catamaran was rejuvenating. I discovered my sea legs were not fully developed.

Bye bye mainland

The sea's got its bling on

someone asked why I took this.
is it not obvious?
Once there we were taken to the hotel in a minibus. The receptionist gave us a map, directing us to the restaurant Ikaros for lunch and informing us of a tour at 3 pm at an additional cost of 1 KD. The Greek ruins were not open to the public unless you had special permission from the Kuwait National Museum. That sucks.
The island was called Ikaros by the Greeks back in the day (324 BC or a few years later). It reminded them of another island of theirs in the Aegean Sea by the same name. Sentimental much?
The hotel was pretty cool with a touch of the old Kuwait, atleast what it must have looked like before the modernization fever hit the country.

Yup old world window alright..
if you ignore the ATM outside.
3-dimensional picture! It's too bad so few of these (the actual
building not the pic) exist today.

We stepped outside to explore before heading to the restaurant for lunch (we had to be back at 3pm for a tour of the island). It was pretty awesome! This is a little startling, almost every pic below brought to mind some fantasy/movie/cartoon.

Lantern: I'm thinking of that scene of Harry looking at musty
books in the library in Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
the tree's central location reminds me of
The White Tree of Gondor
umm.. Sleeping Beauty going up
the staircase to prick her finger?
No? Okay no.

my mind draws a blank at this one.

the courtyard, blank again

from the first floor. Kayo said the sheets reminded her of
Aladdin. I love people that relate Disney to reality! :D

Lunch was surprisingly good. There was a buffet with fatoush, mutton biryani, chicken majboos, spaghetti and meatballs (untouched), rice and dakoos (untouched), jelly (untouched) and my absolute favourite Arabic sweet dish muhallabiya. There were other dishes too but none worth remembering.

We went back to the reception to take the tour. First stop was the Iraqi tank cemetery. For some inexplicable reason, it reminded me of the elephant graveyard in the Lion King (I'm beginning to think that I may have watched Disney movies too often as a kid). We only had about four minutes here before the driver tooted his horn and everyone rushed back to the bus. I strayed for a minute trying to cram in more pictures that I had neglected to take. That one minute of solitude there was no sound but that of the wind, blowing through the derelict, rusting, once terrifying machines of death and destruction.

anti aircraft gun
killing machines

Someone please enlighten me as to what on earth
this is.
When we get wowed by war museums and admire the destructive machines on display, how often do we allow the grim realization to dawn on us and reflect on how many lives those may have taken? Wiped out towns? Stolen innocent civilians' rights to a peaceful existence, caught in the crossfire of political differences?
Probably never.

Next stop, the camel farm. First out of the minibus, I ran upto an enclosure containing camel mommies and their young. The herder keeping guard at the gate ushered me in, advising me to make no sound with my camera. I went in noiselessly, standing among the camels but never behind them, afraid of getting kicked by a stray hind leg o_O Pretending I was a wildlife photographer, I managed to capture a tender moment between a mother and her child.

That one.
Those eyelashes are the envy of every woman.
What a soppy grin!
We were then driven to an area that had a hotel. When the Iraqi army invaded Failaka, they kicked out the residents and used the buildings for target practice.

Hotel rooms.. dozens of them.
Buildings riddled with bullet holes, the place was a ghost town. It was eerie being in such close proximity to empty, ramshackle houses that were once full thriving with life. Almost every house seems to have had a decent sized backyard, such a rarity now in Kuwait.

What's left of the bank.

The crooked man's crooked house (from the nursery rhyme)

Of course, this being Kuwait, it is imperative that one encounters a BlackBerry Pin no. exhibited somewhere, even if it is in the middle of nowhere.

Or in this case, a 'Bin' number.
It was 4 pm by the time we got back; we had to clear out by 4 30. We had just enough time to take a quick peek at the market wares, all handmade in Failaka. Great place for souvenirs!

Metalwork: a doe. We bought stags.
The sheesha tile cracked me up xD
This awesome stuff wasn't on sale :(
And then we were shooed out.

I have a bone to pick with the organizers: I understand high tide being at 4 45 pm means we have to leave then, but WHY on earth must the catamaran leave so late (12 30pm!!) from Marina Crescent? That's 45 minutes going, arriving on the island at 1 15 pm, having to report to the hotel at 4 30 pm to leave. That's just 3 hours 15 minutes minus the one hour that goes in the tour if you opt for it, equaling a little over 2 hours to explore on your own. NOT ENOUGH!!

The way back, I nearly fell overboard trying to get pictures of the Kuwaiti skyline by nightfall. Deciding I had taken enough photos (hundreds) and that whoever wanted to see the same could very well find them on Google, I went inside and firmly parked myself on a seat where there was no danger of meeting with the chilly Arabian Gulf.

For more information on the cost, how to get there etc. visit the website.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Howdy 2012?

My instinct couldn't have been more right when, on the eve of New Years Day 2011, it whispered to me that this was going to be a year of promise and that there were great things in store for me.

It was honestly the BEST in a long, long time, only ups, no downs.

But I didn't feel anything this time. There was no excitement, no adrenaline rush. Only a dim curiosity as to whether I grew at all as a person the past year. I did a bit, I became a little less reticent because of which I met some truly wonderful people.
I didn't believe any of the hoohah about the world ending in 2012, but just brooding about an Armageddon (not necessarily at the end of this year), death in short, made me wonder if I was ready for it.

Definitely not.
During the course of 2011 much of humankind was subject to some natural disaster or the other, it was hardly any less of an apocalypse for those that died as nature took its course. We all have a vague inkling that we could kick the bucket at any time, which is why we prepare bucket lists, selfishly obsessed with living life to the fullest. In the end, most of our lists are quite shallow. Which is okay, but they shouldn't remain thus. How many items on our lists would benefit anyone but ourselves?

Two days post New Year's, at the risk of sounding emo (and a little cheesy), I have finally come up with something simple, something worth keeping. I won't call them all resolutions, but the timing is ideal, as it gives me a year to track my progress.

1. Remember back in kindergarten your teacher encouraged you to perform three good deeds everyday? I don't remember doing that in forever. No, I'm definitely not a total self-absorbed moron. But I would like to be more altruistic.
2. Never. Stop. Learning.
3. Exercise complete capabilities and mental faculties in the execution of a task. 
4. Continue having awesome experiences and meeting awesome people.
5. Read more classics. 
6. Get published. 
7. No rice. No bread. Which is going to kill me 'coz I friggin' LOVE bread.
8. Dream. Write. Blog. As soon as an idea creeps into my noggin... WRITE IT DOWN!!

This should do for now. Since my instinct is silent on the subject (which is a bit of a letdown), all I can do now is continue taking things in my stride.

Tracking the progress made on the resolutions (these were resolutions) made on the dawning of 2011:

1. Find a job by Jan end.
Well, I didn't find a job per se. By mid-year, I altered the deadline to Dec end (still no job). But, I got into freelancing for social media marketing, got some experience, earned some dough. That's got to count for something.

2. Move base to a country where I know no one and no one knows me. And keep it that way.
   And if THAT doesn't work out, visit atleast ONE country that isn't India, Kuwait or the UAE.
Needless to say, the first option didn't work out. BUT!! I visited, not one, not two but SIX previously uncharted lands! Uncharted on my map anyway. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Germany and Turkey.

3. Write something remotely decent that'll throw the world into shock and awe.
I'm going to tweak this one a bit. I wrote this, which is definitely my best piece so far, and though it isn't published anywhere except on this blog, it received a lot of adulation from the people in my world.

4. Make memories doing something totally unconventional, innovative, avant-garde. Things so thrilling, I'll never have trouble remembering them and will relish the thoughts of. Coz life is too short to be taken seriously.
Euro trip, bungee jumping. 'Nuff said!

5. Never, ever leave home without the camera and take a picture every time the thought 'I should take a picture of that' crosses my mind.
Arghh. There were many instances wherein I cursed myself for not carrying my camera. So let's not count this one.

4 out of 5 accomplished. That's pretty good. Best track record so far! =D

I hope I stay true to the ones made for 2012. Here's wishing you all a very Happy New Year.