Kuwait Safaris – The Martyrs House

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So, what do you do when the safest place for you and your family is at home and isolated, however, you and the kids are desperately itching to get out the house? You go on a Kuwait Safari of course.

What better way to show the kids around Kuwait and keep them safe within the 4 wheels of your car, than to take them on a Kuwait Safari.

First stop – The Martyrs House. I few years back I wrote and article on this piece of Kuwait history and I got to walk through and photograph this memorial. Martyrs House – a suburban pocket of war. This past weekend we took the kids there and shared the story and history with them. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to venture out while still staying safe ‘indoors’. My kids loved this little (and I mean little, it’s not very far from anything really) road trip and they’re already asking me when the next one is.

Next stop – Kuwaiti Water Towers.

Stay safe,

la

My friend. My hero – How Jiu-Jitsu gave her new life.

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Mirella (right)

Today I couldn’t be prouder to bring you the story of one of my personal heroes:

Mirella Atallah.

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Myself (left) and Mirella (right)

I met Mirella back in 2007 when I first moved to Kuwait, we worked together. A kind, sweet, funny, spirited young lady who had already, even at that time, overcome so many challenges in life, with ultimate grace. I was always so impressed with the fighting spirit that lived inside her, clear to those who truly knew her, perhaps not even clear to her at the time.

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The first (and only) time I ever saw snow was in Lebanon with Mirella (left).
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Mirella (right), myself (middle), and our dear friend Jihane (left).

About 3 years into our friendship, Mirella moved to Canada and within a few short years, her life was turned inside out, and up side down and somewhere between Canada and Lebanon she has managed to land strongly on her feet, and in a way that very few people would be able to replicate.

Today she is but a shadow of her former self and for all the right reasons. I am so incredibly proud of this woman and I will be telling the story of her to my daughters in the years to come.

Below is a Q&A from Mirella in her own words, sharing her story with me in more detail and with our readers. Enjoy!

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Q&A

Tell our readers a little bit about you? My name is Mirella Atallah I’m Lebanese, I immigrated to Canada a few years ago. I work at an IT company as an Internal Senior Designer and I am currently studying digital marketing and social media.

I am a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. This is a huge part of my life and an integral part of my journey to a good and healthy lifestyle.

Life has been hard, I’ve moved many countries, had to come face to face with a bad long term relationship and dealt with many health issues along the way.

What was your lowest moment and what was your highest? Lowest – 40 years old, broke, divorced, no kids and no clue what comes next. Highest – I would say the same moment because this was when I realised that I was free and the sky was my only limit, I packed my bags and left chasing my dreams.

Where do you think your fighting spirit has come from? Many people in your situation would have just given up on themselves and accepted that life has simply handed them a raw deal. I’m not sure were this spirit came from! I think of myself as a very stubborn person and I never accept failure as an outcome! I always manage to lift myself up after each fall! I’m not perfect, so many tears I’ve cried and felt like life is just closing its doors on me but something deep inside always says: no you have to try again, if you don’t try you won’t know! After each fall I stand up, dust off the dirt and keep going!

How has your past shaped you? It has made me tougher, definitely, but not angrier. I feel I still trust people and the world and feel there should be good out there, I just have to believe! Some people may think I’m silly but like I said I’m stubborn and I’m sure something good is hidden out there for me, I just have to keep digging.

What motivates you? Being able to inspire people! My main goal is to be a role model to my nieces and let them believe that they can be what ever they want to or go where ever they want they to go, they just have to work hard for it.

10 year challenge – what has been your biggest change in yourself within the last 10 years? I’m happy again.

What advice could you give someone going through similar struggles? Keep dreaming and believing, there are no age restrictions, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, NOW is the perfect time to start!

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How did you get into Jiu-Jitsu? I was a kick-boxer for around 4 years and got bored a bit and felt it was dangerous to compete not a fan of getting hit in the face and getting a concussion! I have always been curious about Jiu-Jitsu specially after I started watching UFC and watching JSP (he is Canadian) and he trains at the same gym where I did! I hesitated a lot for 4years because I was overweight and one day I decided to try it and I got hooked! Went through a lot of emotional and physical challenges but never stopped!

How has Jiu-Jitsu helped you? Jiu-Jitsu is my meditation, the only way I can find calm and clear my head believe it or not! It made me stronger! I Learned to be a problem solver and to think fast! Physically it made me ageless along with strong! I lost so much weight since that first class! I have never felt better.

What is your favourite thing about the sport? I love everything about it! I cant pick one thing! Even with my lowest moments and I think that I’m not improving and having a bad game day,  I still feel that I love everything about it! If I go on vacation the first thing I look for is a place to train! Jiu-Jitsu has a great community, you are always supported everywhere you go! We are a big family!

What are your goals for the future? My dream is to get my black belt in Jiu-Jitsu in 4years from now! And get to a stage in my life were Im able to work and teach, specifically to women in the Middle East! I would like to create camps and teach self defence to women and kids.

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If you find Mirella as inspiring as I do, follow her journey on Instagram at:

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Thank you for sharing your story friend.

Cheers,

la

My Madeira

As summer rolls around and I hear of people’s plans for grand summer vacations, I can’t help but think back to our “best ever family holiday” – Madeira, Portugal – 2016.

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During July/August two years ago our family travelled to Lisbon and Madeira. It felt like a ‘right of passage’ kind of trip. It simply HAD to be done. My children are Portuguese, as is my husband. For me growing up in a little town called Boksburg in South Africa, most of my childhood friends were Portuguese. I have always felt really close to this ‘family first’ community. As a young adult, one of my dearest friends was Portuguese and I was maid-of-honour at her wedding, it was at this wedding that I met John. He was the cousin to the young man who married my friend.

Needless to say I have always had a heart to explore Portugal. I think out of all of us in my little family, I was the most excited. I had just finished a Portuguese language course before this trip as well and I found that to be highly valuable. While most people in Lisbon speak some level of English, most of the family and locals in Madeira do not. While I still feel somewhat clumsy speaking Portuguese, my reading and comprehension, I think, is really pretty good.

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My kids at the time were 5y 10m, 4y, 2y 6m. My gosh looking back at it like this I think they were true travel stars! It is, without a doubt, the most amazing family holiday we have ever had. The weather was spot on. The perfect amount of summer heat! We were out everyday doing new things, exploring, soaking in new traditions and culture, tasting new foods, making memories. So yes, while everyone here is making their plans for this coming summer holiday, my heart goes back fondly to our time there. If you ever have the opportunity to go, please make a plan and get there. It really is one of the worlds greatest treasures! This time of year, my heart truly aches to go back.

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And as an added bonus this photograph below of, the worlds best Poncha, was featured on @ilovemadeira Instagram page.

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Above all though, wherever your summer holidays may take you, please stay safe and make beautiful family memories.

Cheers

la

Black Isle Brewery – Scotland

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It wouldn’t be a DG family adventure without us checking out the local brew scene. We discovered a stellar brewery just outside Inverness, Scotland. The Black Isle Brewery started as a Homebrew operation 20 years ago and now ships all around Europe and as far as Canada and Japan. They haven’t broken into the USA market yet, but I’m certain they will at some point. They are that good!

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In 2011 they moved to their current facility located north of Inverness and 2 years ago opened their first brewpub in the city itself.

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We visited the brewpub first for some delicious pizzas and to sample a few brews before making the 20 minute trek to the brewery the following day. At the pub, the atmosphere is light and funky, combining the classic wood and industrial look of the brew world with pops of tangerine and painted murals of the local landscape (pictured behind our sleepy kid below, ha). In addition to the food and beverages, you can also rent a room and stay for the night as you romp around the highlands or if you’ve just one too many Migrator DIPA’s to continue on.

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Having had a lovely evening the night before, we were happy to visit the brewery itself. Kate, our brew guide, met us at the door and invited us on a tour of the facility to learn about their process and their space. She was so kind to our boys and didn’t mind their silly questions and odd comments like “yum it smells like pasta!” What?! Not like this is their first brewery, ha! Boiling wort does not smell like pasta, I promise!

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We learned that they are committed to a totally organic process and grow most of their malts on the farm next to the facility. Once the mash is finished, they feed the spent grain to the black sheep in their pastures. Since Scotland is too cold to grow their own hops, they source organic hops from California and New Zealand, depending on the recipes.

I really dig their logo as well, design geek that I am. It features the flower of Scotland, the thistle, and each brew has a designated color for the bloom of the thistle. The creative behind the labels and logo is the brewer’s wife. She recently started to develop variations on the their original labels to differentiate between their flagship brews and their special ones like their barrel aged oatmeal stout and collaboration brews. Oh, and we learned that each of the brews is named after a bird in from the area too, pretty cool.

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We had the honor of interacting with the master brewer himself. He overheard us and recognized that the hubs is a true brew lover, so he stopped and chatted for a minute. He demanded that we take home two bottles of the newest brews literally fresh off the label line! He was correct in his suspicion that we love us some hops!

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Another great note about Black Isle Brewery that makes them stand out from other local UK brews are their higher ABVs (alcohol by volume). Although they do have sessions ales at about 3%-4.5%, good for a few rounds at the pub, they also have some heavy hitters at 8-10.4% (specifically of interest to my beer guy!). We found it rather interesting how low the average ABV is here, but it makes sense if you plan to be watching a rugby match for hours. Interestingly, I did recently learn from some British friends that if you go outside the main cities to the small towns, the pubs have taps with higher ABVs. It’s good to be “staggering distance” from your lodgings though!

If you’re visiting Scotland and like a well crafted, organic brew, we highly recommend tasting one of the many Black Isle ales they offer. They even have a tasty Gluten Free brew called the Gold Finch. This brewery truly was a standout for us. Try it and let us know your thoughts!

Cheers!

kdg

Follow along with our brew adventures with #dgbrewphotos on Instagram.

An Outlander’s Adventure in Scotland

“I had been in a number of cold places in my life, but there’s something remarkably penetrating about the Scottish cold.”  – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander 

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I have Irish blood, but it is paired with some tropic and humidity-loving Puerto Rican blood, so I was flipping freezing in Scotland in March! Meanwhile, my beloved husband breathed it in like the cold was refreshing his soul. The cool 40 degree temps went well with all his Scot and Viking blood. Our tiny one was with Dad on this one, he kept pointing to the snow capped mountains of the Highlands saying he wanted to go there! Apparently, his Celt blood is stronger than the few drops of islander blood in this particular case. Meanwhile, our older one was wearing layers like his momma ready to run indoors!

That said, I do love it there too. In addition to my husband’s obvious connection through his heritage (which was so fun to teach the boys about), the landscape is breathtaking and the people are down right lovely and hospitable!

This was our second trip to bonnie old Scotland. The first time was in May 2013 with just one wee laddie in tow and my brother-in-law. That was an awesome adventure and our first travel abroad experience with kids. Needless to say, we have learned a lot since, ha!

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When we arrived in Scotland from our London adventure we made Inverness our home for a few days. We particularly love the city of Inverness, which means mouth of the River Ness in Gaelic. The city is split with the River Ness running through it with multiple bridges connecting it along the way. There are several churches and steeples dotting the skyline, as well as Inverness Castle on the hill overlooking the bustle of the capital of the Highlands.

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Fun fact: Scotland is home to the largest dolphins in the world, they can grow to be as long 4M (12FT)! Inverness is located near the North Sea where these clever giants call home, so you can even take a dolphin cruise to search of them. Sadly we didn’t see any this time, but the boat ride was a fun addition to our trip and our tour guide was super informative.

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We stayed at the Westoburne Guest House overlooking the river. It was fantastic and the owners went over an beyond to take care of us. Kirsteen, one of the owners, even packed this prego a bag of her amazing homemade shortbread for the road! It is seriously the best I have ever tasted! We highly recommend the Westbourne, but wherever you stay, include visit the infamous Culloden battlefield and ancient standing stones at Clava Cairns, both of which are points of interest for fans of Outlander books and Starz series, which we are. Funnily enough, visiting these two sites began our spontaneous Outlander tour.

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Even when we visited Beauly Priory we overheard a kilted guide discussing the real dynamics between the MacKenzie and Fraser clans.

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Then on the way from Stirling (a post all it’s own) to Edinburgh, saw signs for Blackness Castle where they filmed the scenes of Ft. William, so we took the chilly detour. However, the highlight to our little tour was visiting the dilapidated Midhope Castle – the fictional home of James Fraser – Lallybroch.

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Needless to say, it was such a fun adventure finding our way into the imaginary world of Outlander and exploring the areas around the River Ness and Highlands. It was especially special to share it all with our laddies. If you plan your trip to Scotland we hope you will not miss out on these beautiful areas.

Cheers,

kdg

 

Nomadic Friends

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In a way I was born to be a nomad. I’m a second generation military brat and we moved every two to three years. Like other military brats, I never knew how to answer the question, “where are you from?” That is until about 5 few years ago when I moved from Virginia to Kuwait.

After a stint of almost 8 years in Virginia, (literally the longest I have ever lived in one place), where I graduated from college, met my husband, and had my babies; our little family of four left home and moved to Kuwait. I was confident that we would love this adventurous life and that raising citizens of the world would be amazing, but I had forgotten one lesson I had been taught all those years as a military brat: how to “bloom where I was planted.” I convinced myself that it was about this family I was building and that I didn’t need any new friends. I had “my people” back home. I could make it on my own until our next trip home.

Who was I kidding? I’m an extrovert! Within a week of settling in I dropped my proverbial basket and had a complete meltdown about how lonely I was. Life in a foreign country is hard enough. You need people who understand  just how foreign and often times frustrating a place/people can be, to support you and help you laugh your way through it.

A few weeks later, at pickup from Montessori school, I saw this mom and thought, “I’m going to be her friend.” It took a few more chit chats at pickup to find my way in, and I pretty much forced a coffee/play date on her. Love you Liz!

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Although she was my first real friend in Kuwait, she was just the beginning of our crew that we now call the ABCDGs. Five families (including Lindy-Ann’s) that became each other’s village. Our kids grew up together for a time, our husbands teased each other endlessly (still do), and we kept each other sane living the desert life. Even though a couple of us have moved away, we’re still connected and share our lives with each other thanks to technology. However, the best thing is when we get the chance to travel together or to visit each other. It’s in those times that we continue making memories, laughing, and bonding.

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Over this past spring break, the ABCDGs ladies met up in London, prompting my family’s latest adventure to the UK. Sadly, Lindy-Ann couldn’t join us, but she was definitely there in spirit! It was such a fab time to be with 3 of my 4 buddies and I will cherish those moments until we are together again!

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No matter where you are in your journey, whether an expat or in the same town for decades, don’t close your heart to new people. You never know how they may change you forever. Thank you, Kate, Lindy-Ann, Liz, and Michelle for being a part of my life – you and your families mean so much to us! Until the next ABCDG adventure…

With Love,

kdg

My Favourite Turkish Restaurant

My husband and I are simply loving our new place and it’s more central location. About a week ago we got a babysitter and went out for dinner to a wonderful little Turkish place that we stumbled upon. Bazaar Gurme – Kuwait.

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I just fell in love with this little restaurant. The design and decor has been so wonderfully thought through and deeply considered. They take attention to detail to a new level, and the best way for me to sum up my experience there would be to say that they absolutely took me into the heart of Turkey, into someone’s house, and their sweet grandmother cooked me an authentic Turkish meal.

They are located in The Arabella Complex just off the Gulf road facing street side. They offer a gorgeous outdoor area as well which we didn’t get to enjoy due to dusty weather, but clearly just as magical as inside.

One stand out feature for me was the roof. It’s not often that people look up and consider the roof of a place, but I did, and so did they. They carefully placed the vents to fit in with the designs as well. Then of course there is the beautiful coloured lanterns that hang proudly. You see, extra attention to details. It is a beautifully put together Turkish experience and I highly recommend it.

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Yes, I’m slightly obsessed with this roof and it’s glorious lanterns.

To anyone living in Kuwait or visiting this Arab country soon, I really hope you get to try out Bazaar Gurme. Seriously though, even their Instagram account is pretty to look at!

Cheers.

la

 

For the Love of Israeli Food

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Last month, while my folks were visiting, we took them to all of our favorite restaurants and introduced them to some fantastic Israeli cuisine. My mom was overwhelmed by the combinations of spices and flavors, so much so, that she was determined we should take an Israeli cooking class. Now I love to eat, but cooking is definitely not my love language, that said any new experience I can photograph is a WIN for me.

One of our lovely Israeli friends, Shani, offered to look into an instructor for us and came up with the best solution ever…her husband, Shai.

Shai is an amazing chef with several years of experience in the restaurant industry, however he had only done cooking classes for his close friends before our group. We were honored that he was willing to plan and execute such an amazing event! For three hours he awed us with his skillZ in the kitchen. Seriously, in three hours he prepared 16 different menu items to serve 8-10 people! Ah-mazing!

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He had purchased all the groceries at his favorite local markets and shops, each item was fresh including fish, beef, lamb, fruit, veggies, and spices. Shai even said he could offer classes at the markets and teach people how to shop the markets, especially for spices.

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Speaking of spices, Shai had prepared a packet describing each spice we would be using. The biggest surprise for me was sumac, this beautiful garnet colored spice can be sprinkled on anything from meat to focaccia bread. Shani told us her boys request it on everything, ha!

We learned a lot about food, Israeli culture, and where they intersect. When we all sat down to eat it was quiet with the exception of the sound of “mmmmms” from around the table. It was truly a perfect and memorable day.

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Of course, the entrepeur in me couldn’t help but suggest Shai do this more often. I know the expat community is literally hungry (pun intended) for great experiences like this. He agreed to think about it, so if you are in the Tel Aviv area and you’d be interested let me know!

L’chaim {cheers in Hebrew},

kdg

Special thanks to Shai for teaching & feeding us, to Shani for setting it up, to Vienna for hosting, and to my clever momma for the fabulous idea!!


PS – Don’t forget to join us for the L O V E Photo Challenge this month!

#IACWLOVE2018 – Shot 4 – Pink or Red….RED, of course!

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Mom’s weekend away

Just for perspective, it’s been over 8 years since I travelled anywhere alone, leaving both husband and kids at home. This weekend I took the plunge. It’s natural to feel out of my comfort zone here, but I feel it’s so incredibly necessary to create some space. You see, I have come to realize that as much as my family needs me, I need them too. This may seem obvious, but it’s more than that. I realized that as my kids emotionally depend on me, I in return have become so emotionally dependent on them. I wonder if this is magnified by our expat lifestyle, or the loss of my mom – my first immediate family circle, my safe zone, my green zone, my everything.

I described this weekend to a friend, before flying out, as a neat little present wrapped up with a bow waiting to be opened, and it has been just that.

Where did this weekend take me what am I doing you may ask? I flew to Dubai to watch Ed Sheeran live, of course. Wow! What an amazing concert. He is such an incredibly talented man.


If you ever get the chance to see him live, I’m putting it down as an absolute must!

To add the incredible show, my weekend has been filled with upgrades! Our room at the hotel was upgraded to a suite and our concert tickets upgraded to front pit! Thanksgiving moments for sure.

Yesterday, we attended the brunch at the Maridian Hotel. You buy your ticket ahead of time to secure your table and you just need to make sure you arrive on time and all dressed up. The buffet is waiting, the bar is open and the bill is already paid. Brunch was from 12-3 and then the music got louder and everyone moved outdoors poolside, and danced till 7pm, when we then fittingly went out for dinner. I wonder if this is what people who live in Dubai do on weekends.

For dinner we were recommended this gorgeous little Jamaican lounge called Miss Lily’s. We were early, it was quiet and it was gorgeous.


We escaped Miss Lily’s before the crowds and went back to the roof top of our hotel. We chatted and took in the night time views until we were ready for bed.


It’s now 9:30am and I’m still in bed. I will make my way down for breakfast soon, but right now as I write up this post and reflect on the weekend, I am just so thankful. Thankful for my friend who fetched my kids from school. Thankful for my husband who held down the fort at home and made this trip happen for me. Thankful for friends who did all the amazing weekend planning. Thankful for the blessings of upgrades. And now, most of all thankful to be going home to my beloved little family.

I hope if you are a full-time parent like me, that you take moments like this to make some space for yourself and come back refreshed and full of gratitude!

Cheers,

Martyrs House – a suburban pocket of war

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As I drove into the neighbourhood, the site of the house took my breath away. I parked the car and made my way inside. This house, this moment in time, has been restored ever so slightly to make it safe for visitors to walk around. And walk around I did.

Al-Qurain Martyrs House is a museum dedicated to those brave Kuwaiti souls who gave their lives for their country. During the invasion of 1991 a group of Kuwaiti men formed a resistance group that fought against Saddam’s army. This house, in an ordinary Kuwaiti neighbourhood, became the hide out and headquarters for the 31 member group known as the Al Messilah (Kuwait Force). At the time of this particular attack on February 24, 1991, their were 19 members present and sadly 12 lost their lives while 7 managed to survive.

After the liberation of Kuwait a few days later, H.H. Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait, ordered that the site be transformed into a historical museum which will commemorate the sacrifice and heroism of these Kuwaitis. It has become a symbol of national pride. It stands tall as a reminder to future Kuwaiti generations of how their forefathers fought against their Iraqi invaders, and the price that they, and many coalition soldiers, had to pay for them to maintain their country.

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What struck me first was the sheer damage that had been done over the 10 hour battle. But what came next is actually what stayed with me. There is a strange unexpected peace within these walls. You see the destruction yet you hear the birds chirping. You imagine the chaos, yet you feel the stillness of the air.

I looked closer at the inside of the house. The tiles in the kitchen were probably thoughtfully and carefully chosen.

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The ceiling fan in a bedroom resembles a wilted flower.

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For me, the detail that still lives within the walls, carries the voices of family gatherings, children laughing, the memories of lives lived, and now the sorrow of lives lost as well.

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The cars outside still parked as they were on that fearful morning.

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If you find the opportunity to explore this fiercely patriotic country, or perhaps you already live here and you have family and friends visiting, then this is a trip that is an absolute must. It was an hour well spent, we were able to walk around freely and if anything, the locals in the area appreciated the fact that we were interested in their history and a place that was clearly very important to them. I got the sense that they respected us for paying our respects. One gentleman took the time to come talk to me in broken English and explain the history, even happily leaving me with English translated booklets with further information. Yes, this trip is a must. It will move you.

Cheers with a humbled heart,

la