My cell phone rang at 8:43 on Thursday morning. It was Sven.
I laughed as I told Sven how I'd woken up early to get ready for work and then remembered it was the weekend, the Saturday of the Muslim world. I'd been quite pleased when I'd realized we did not have to go to work.
"But we do work today. I'm waiting for you downstairs in the lobby."
"Uh… er… be right down," I said, wondering if I could pass off my flannel pajamas as the latest fashion from New York.
It was an honest mistake. My awareness of what is going on around me in Kuwait is limited at the best of times, and certainly no one had told me that a weekend was only one-and-a-half days long. That makes my freelance life a little more challenging. I don't think it's the same at all jobs here, but I suspect it might have something to do with us working closely with people in other countries, who take Saturday and Sunday off while we are working.
At the office, I asked my co-workers where I could find the post office. No one knew.
"Ask one of the mandoubs to do it. You should not waste your time in line at the post office."
Mandoubs are drivers, messengers, paperwork expediters, and errand-runners. They are the feet of most Kuwaiti organizations and are usually expat Arabs. A mandoub drives me to work every morning. I keep talking about how I am going to take the bus instead. Most people are horrified, a few are amused, and one of our mandoubs told me it was quite safe.
Then I was told that people don't really send postcards here, that I should put my postcard into an envelope and seal it up. I made a half-assed attempt at explaining that the recipient would want the postmark and the stamp, that the thrill of a mailed postcard was in the whole package, not in the photo and certainly not in the words on the back of it.
Other things I'm slowly learning here: Each decent office has a "tea-boy." We actually have a kitchen staff, and Sunita of Sri Lanka brings me coffee and a rusk in the mornings. If I say I don't want coffee at any point throughout the day, she'll press mango juice or water on me. And with computers, Macs and iPods are everywhere. We're all thinking different the same. The local supermarket sells incredible spices that I have no idea what to do with. Water is desalinated at great expense, and there's some kind of correlation in there between oil and water that I haven't worked out yet.
There's still so much left for me to learn in a city-state where there seems to be no post office but there are 32 branches of Starbucks.