Beyond the Veneer

Living, Working and Playing in the Middle East

In 2004 I moved to Kuwait. I left behind my secure position as an arts specialist in the Sequim School District, my home and husband in Port Townsend and my little dog to teach art in a Middle East desert.

Only after resigning my professorship from a women’s university in Kuwait do I feel free to tell the full story of what happened to my students and me during my six-year stint in the Arabian Gulf.


An itinerant artist, when I first arrived in Kuwait, I knew nothing about the country except what was presented through popular media. By the time I left in 2010, I had been taught to see beyond these stereotypes by my students and others in this country bordered by Saudi Arabia and Iraq.


I soon learned that many Kuwaiti women enjoy one of the highest rates of disposable income in the world and the associated luxuries. A Kuwaiti woman’s freedoms are largely dependent on her male relatives and tribal affiliations, and I found many were given much greater latitude than women in other Middle Eastern countries.


After returning to Port Townsend, I wrote a book on my experiences titled “Suitcase Filled with Nails.”


Untarnished by war or terrorism and without the gilding of political diplomacy, “Suitcase Filled with Nails” is a slice of life in the Middle East rarely evidenced through popular media. The book is not meant to be diplomatic. It is my human and humorous account that evolved from living and working in a country where the basic rights and privileges I took for granted in the states were subject to the whims of a not-so-whimsical system and culture.


Beyond my work with students, I maintained my athletic regimen that included learning to run in 100-plus degree heat and how to bicycle in the desert.


My PowerPoint presentation overviews culture, climate and conditions of working in this part of the Middle East. Signed copies of “Suitcase Filled with Nails” will be available for purchase after the presentation.

About the presenter:

When she was 18 years old, Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield built a log cabin in the Oregon mountains. The cabin still stands. She went on to earn a Ph.D., has taught art to every age and ability on three continents and received awards for her work, which is internationally collected and published.


When not traveling, teaching and lecturing, she divides her time between this cabin and a studio/loft in a renovated apple warehouse in Tieton.


“Abaya and Beyond,” a solo exhibition of her work, will be featured at the Larson Gallery in Yakima, through March 8. The Yakima Valley Community College, Central Washington University and other regional agencies are sponsoring linking presentations by Pepin-Wakefield.


Examples of this work can be seen on her website



About the series:

Traveler’s Journal is a presentation of the Peninsula Trails Coalition. All of the money raised is used to buy project supplies and food to feed volunteers working on Olympic Discovery Trail projects.


Shows start at 7 p.m. The cafeteria benches are hard and people should bring their own cushions. Suggested donation is $5 for adults. Youths 18 and under are welcome for free.


One selected photo enlargement will be given away each week as a door prize.


Call Dave Shreffler at 683-1734 for more information.