Monthly Archives: September 2011

Hello Google

I think now that we are in a brand spanking new and fresh place it is time for a little revisit to the search engines. Who knows how you end up here?

i need a horse for my wedding in kampala

Do you now? Can I come? I would love to see a wedding in the middle of Kampala that featured a horse, skipping tidily over a pot hole or two. Will the horse wear ribbons on its tails and will you wear bells on your toes? I do hope your wedding fantasies come true and you find the horse you have been dreaming about.

lying on elbows

You know I find it a bit knobbly and painful. I prefer to lie on my arms, chin on hands, eyes on the movie. But if you are googling this I imagine you don’t know how to accomplish this tricky position. Are you lying on your own elbows? Perhaps those of a dear friend? You dog perhaps? I suggest you slather said elbows in cocoa butter, so as to have a smooth landing and a fragrant smell. Good luck, I hope the elbows give you all the comfort you need, and much more.

road tripping stories

I suggest you don’t trip over or down any roads. It might hurt. I do have a few stories of road trips and I can tell you that on more than one occasion it felt like tripping, in every sense of the word. Be careful, take plenty of apples, think about who you take, drive safe,  do not tip the car and watch out for people called Papu.

happy family in walk

Ahhh, Yes a family in walk is a good and happy family indeed. However there is nowhere to walk here in Bahrain, we walk to the car, out of the car, into the mall/school/supermarket, where we walk happily for a short while and then back into the car. When I am very lucky I walk in London, Montreal or some other city in the Great Shiny West, but rarely are we all together as a family in walk. The best happy family in walk is certainly on the beach.


Be mindful of the mud, my friend. If you are here looking for mud, 3limes in Uganda was full of it. Now that we are in the desert, no longer are we full of mud. So sandfull might be more appropriate.

lying in bed reading.

I am charmed that this brought you to my humble home for lying in bed with books is one of my most favourite past times. We all subscribe to the activity and there are many Saturday afternoons when an inquisitive bee, bothering around the house would find four persons, reclining happily on beds with books. I suggest large pillows, a cup of tea and dig in. Presently I am reading three books: Pulse by Julian Barnes, The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, and Brave new World by Huxely.


Now you have come to the right place. We can offer you Puberty at Home 101, pre Puberty at Home 101, Puberty in the Workplace 201, Puberty and its impact on listening to the teacher 401. We also offer side workshops in the following areas: “ Take that Caterpillar off your upper lip” and “ The unexpected: dodging tears and flying objects.”

Red Dust under car dash

Now you have made me nostalgic. Whereas there were moments last year and the one before when I glared at the red dust and wished it gone, now I am looking for it and it is nowhere to be find. Not under my finger nails, not on my window sill and not any where near my car dash. Look how those things once pesky, when no longer here become poetic!

Cockroach room 101

You are not a nice man, yes you. And I am certain no girl would google that, she wouldn’t. Now I have written the post here and there that have mentioned the dreaded roach but how did you assume that they were my 101. Now I have to go and clean out my head, again. Thank you very much. And by the way how lucky am I for a lady with such a particular 101 to be living in hot countries, the ones they really love.

Giant African Snail in Trinidad

I am so proud. How many people can  show off that their blog gets this accolade? 3limes is the only one that internet searches for cockroaches, giant snails, killing chickens and Shoebill birds ( even in Russian китоглав) will all find. How did this happen? I belong to the species Maximus Wimpinus.

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First World Problem

The internet is driving me crazy. I was under the missapprehension that I would have none of my Uganda slow internet issues. Okay I have power, I have hot water in the kitchen, I have no potholes, now can I please have fast internet? Skype is a nightmare, downloading takes forever and if I want to watch a TV show I need to start streaming it hours before. I am looking for solutions but I hear that all the internet comes into Bahrain in one pipe (!?) and that it is notoriously slow.

My First World Problem.

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Culture Shock #2


The Shock of the new….continued.

My weekend is Friday and Saturday. This is going to take some time to adjust. As I type this it is Sunday and rather than preparing for the week ahead I am dressed in my work clothes having spent the first day of the school week at work with my students. I am convinced that a Friday/ Saturday weekend is shorter than a Saturday/Sunday weekend. Not sure why, but it is.

I didn’t expect so many people to be dressed in their national dress. It is not as if you see Lederhosen on a regular basis in Germany, Kilts everyday in Scotland or Kimonos in downtown Tokyo, so I never imagined I would see so many men with checkered head scarfs, ( Guthra) white starched and flowing robes, ( Thobe) and women top to toe in black, albeit a black that might be bedazzled with crystal. I simply had no idea. And with these red and white cloths, black ropes and brilliant white robes everywhere it is impossible for even a second to forget where you are.

It turns out dress is a very important part of culture and identity here. Yet it is dressing all the same that defines them rather than being distinctive, on the outside. It got me thinking about clothes, well more than usual.

Trooper and Princess wear a uniform, have done for the past four years. When I wait at the school gates after school ( which is incidentally the absolutely best part of my day) a sea of uniforms pours out of the school, a mass of red and blue and they all look the same until I see those brown eyes.  As you know people try to find their own spirit within a uniform, whether it be a hair style, shoes or earrings. Individuality is not promoted, nor encouraged at schools with uniforms and when we leave school we are quite thrilled by the freedom and luxury to wear what ever we want, all day long. Most of the time college kids wear a uniform anyway, all looking indistinguishable in the jeans and baggy sweaters; but it is a choice.

Here the uniform continues into adult hood and is worn with a great deal of pride, rarely shunned. Men sitting around a table could look exactly the same as each other, save a flashy watch or  creatively trimmed beard that might add that touch of the individual. Rebels are not revered, stepping outside of the box has to be done in its own unique way. I am still wondering and discovering how that comes to be.

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Culture Shock: # 1.

Somethings are so different over here they lead to that phenomenon wisely known as culture shock. It is also, in my case the shock of the new, the different, and the shock of finding that space between they way things are done here vs “my way”.

I am fervently not a suburbanite, having lived in the centre of cities and within walking distance or lucky throw to anything I might reasonably need: dry-cleaners. chocolate, lattes, sushi, wall hooks, bank, fountain pen ink. At one point during the Montreal Years when the cost of city dwelling ( i.e. the cost of a house for city dwelling) was more than what we should be spending, we thought about moving out to the Burbs. For about 2 days. And then decided that we would rather be in debt then live all the way out there and in our two cars. Bahrain is essentially, apart from one or two small neighbourhoods intended for yuppies and dinks, one large suburb. Every time I want to buy a singular item of some importance, say milk or fizzy water, or get something done, say pedicure or tailor, I have to drive for at least 20 minutes on a very fast highway to get to a mall.

Our house is exactly the same as the one next door, cookie cutter/lego village style, and we have a guard at a large entrance gate, Florida gated community style. I am living the suburban dream with two cars and a golf course nearby.  It has only been a month but the thought of getting in the car has filled me with the need to micro manage and organize so as to minimize the amount of time I spend in a very large mall.  I often day dream of the inner city neighbourhood where I could walk out my front door, accomplish all manner of task within a kilometer radius, and then return back home, all on foot.

The money situation here is out of control. In Uganda, obviously it was the other extreme and we would frequently pass people on the street who lived on a dollar a day. Clothes were either torn or purchased from the market where all the clothes were the left overs from second hand shops in the West. Everything looked a bit shabby, a bit grey, unless it was traditional African print where the colours stood out like rainbows in a mud puddle. In Canada, the States or the UK people are financially comfortable yet everyone still is conscious of their budget and arranges their spending accordingly. Gross displays of wealth are unusual and stand out in a crowd. Here, on the other hand, we can count the Ferraris in the mall parking lot and students in my school have Cartier bangles, Rolex watches and Louis Vitton bags to carry their books. The streets are clean, swept and freshly tarred, the glass shimmers in the sun, the sand is swept neatly away from doorways. Grass gardens have automatic sprinklers, the shops are lavish and full, the restaurants are plentiful, the grocery stores, where everything is imported to this small dry island, are filled with raspberries, fresh pasta and mascarpone.  Oil rigs dot the landscape and pipes run beside the highway reminding us that liquid gold is always running the show.

This is a Kingdom, but not like England is Royal. People here love their King, with a passion that a small child would have for a beloved father. Yes there are the dissenters, but they are not the majority, however loud they might be on the BBC 10 ‘o’clock news. Most are fiercely proud of their country, their King and their heritage. Yesterday, driving home at around 5pm we were stopped by a police man’s upheld hand. We were to stop and wait as the King and his entourage were about to pass. The policeman then stood to attention and saluted as a deep burgundy Mercedes and 8 large black Land Cruisers with tinted windows passed in front of us. It was a moment for awe and reverence for the waiting cars and the saluting police men. I am impressed and quite touched by this particular breed of patriotism. I have never met it before, this unwavering loyalty to one’s country.

Except perhaps in my mother and her beloved Britain.

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A soup made of old and new: African and Arabian skies.

Trooper is drowning already. Homework is piling around her, her bed is covered with papers, her desk has no surface, her face has that “what the hell” look about it.

Princess cooks, between bouts of less homework, she has perfected the art of perfect banana bread.

Both are surviving the change. There are well weathered in this “move around and start all over again” malarky, even though they hate it.  They have fit their shoulders around the feel of their new uniform and are learning the ropes of new hallways, the strange jungle of making new friends and the touch of a different morning routine.

Sometimes I wonder how our heads don’t spin out of control with all this change.  We are nomads who have to jump in and adjust, no matter that the smell of the old mingles with the new. Some days I am living a parallel life, I am in my old house listening to African birds and lying under a burnished African sky and I am simultaneously looking out of my window at a desert and an Arabian sunset.

When I enter the cafeteria here at school and hear the musical Arabic voices I am simultaneously back in the Kampala lunch room, with the Ugandan breeze touching the heads of those I know so well.  As I sit in my classroom and tell the students to please stop talking in class and if they must then please only speak English, I am immediatly back in my old classroom telling the girls to stop their chitter chatter, feeling the heat of the windows press on my back and brushing the red dirt off my black skirt.  When I drive past a cleaner-than-thou mosque, resplendant in marble, I am walking through Bukoto market worrying over the Boda driver who nearly knocked me into a ditch.

I am the old me and the new me. the past and the present mingled with memory and tears, hope and fear all at once.

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Change of Plan, change of heart.

This past week I have seen many of my firmly held assumptions come tumbling down.  There have been some rather shaky stereotypes that have been knocked and my ideas renewed.

When we travel, as tourists, our impressions may add to rather than remove any pre conceived ideas we may have had. On the other hand we may add colour and shade to hunches we have about people, places, culture.

When you live in a place, sometimes we are in a bubble and what we learn is seen through a prism of other expats; conversations and combined observations mesh together to become a thick layer of learning. Our eyes are opened but do we really know? What do we know? How much do we know? Always more than those who never came, but is it enough?

Example: I tell people I lived in Africa for two years and their response varies from “ Was it dangerous?”, “ Were you scared?”, “ Did you get sick” to “ Did your school have walls?”. There is a preconceived idea that Africa is not much more than poverty and filth combined with elephants and lions. Africa as a notion is a collective lump of images made from Oxfam video appeals to National Geographic Specials. Africa as a continent with countries and cities, glass, steel, Japanese restaurants, fashion designers and literature professors is not the package most of us are sold.

Likewise the Middle East is often a collective and rather messy group of ideas centered around checkered tea cloth on the head men, deserts, camels, suppressed women, dogmatic ideas, fanatics, materialistic shrines of steel, ferraris, felafel, heat and black draped groups of women resembling a murder of crows.

And taking a little side trip to Dubai sandwiched between London and Bangkok will do little to dispel those ideas. 

There are countries and cultures that I am drawn to. North American, Latin, Japanese, Italian, Moroccan to name some. But I have never been intrigued by the Middle East and in fact had been negative about it whenever Handsome brought up the idea of living here. We met in Egypt over 19 years ago and at that time he told me that he longed to live in the Middle East and was drawn to it for some inexplicable reason. He loved Arabic music and would play it and even fashion some dance to it in our Montreal living room on many occasions. Sometimes I joked that perhaps he was Arab in his past life.  Five years ago he applied for a job in Qatar and journeyed there for an interview. I was most relieved when he did not get the job. I had the opposite reaction to him,  shuddering when he mentioned wanting to live in the Middle East and hoping that the idea would pass. I wanted to visit beautiful Morocco and Petra in Jordan and see the stunning landscape of Lebanon but I had no desire to go further or explore the culture or, heaven no…live here!

And here we are.

I worried that I would have nothing to write about and that 3limes would dry up and sadly shrivel. But instead I find myself alert, wide awake to the rich and surprising culture before me. I was nervous that I would not like teaching in a Bahraini school, with no expats and their familiar Western culture to buffer me. I fretted over what the kids would be like and would I relate? Could I teach and penetrate such an unknown and “difficult” culture?

Was I ever wrong and am I ever happy to admit it.

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Routine, balm for the tired soul.

And here we have it, routine has arrived. I get up at 5,30 am, yes I do, and yes it hurts, I drive 15-20 minutes in the blazing sunshine to work, where I do my teacher thing.

Princess and Trooper go to their school and work and toil as kids are wont to do, and secretly love, despite all quarrels to the contrary.

Handsome drives all the way across the country to the airport where he does his thing.

And at some point we all meet home again, back to our house of cool marble and books, where we congregate in the kitchen, open the fridge and wonder what is for dinner.

It is the same everywhere, for everyone. Whether you live in Uganda, Canada, Trinidad, England or Bahrain, we all wake up, work and end up looking in the fridge at the end of the day.

But it is the little differences that make it interesting. And I suppose that is how I survive in this hopscotch sort of life.

Here then are the little things that make a difference.

Like the time Handsome went out for dinner and has a Peach Ice Tea instead of his usual beer. If you know him, even a little bit, you realize how odd this really is. Like any warm blooded Canadian man, he likes his ice cold beer after a day at work. And here there are very few ways of getting it. The “ice cold” shop does not sell beer, but does sell Coke and Milk. One way is to eat at an expensive restaurant that has a license, or one of the few bars ( a bit grotty) or at a hotel. Another is to drive through the ‘drive-through’ beer shop at the Gulf Hotel. And I just found out about an online service where you can choose your liquor and they deliver. All very clandestine, but legal.

Sometimes it is easy to think we live in India. After all there are as many Indians here as native Bahrainis, and they tend to do the jobs that no one else wants to do. And also all the tailoring. One evening during Ramadan when we could not enter a restaurant until 6.30 pm we decided to take a very warm walk around the neighbourhood. Walking is not something that is done very often here, it being a suburban sort of driving place. But we did have a little walk around the block, sweat pouring down our backs, and we found all the tailor shops. Run by Indians I could stop and actually believe for a second or two that I was in India. Until I saw that the shops were full of the long white robes ( Kandura)  that the Bahraini men favour. Since there are so many Indians here there is also a plethora of Indian movies, music, clothes and restaurants.

You can actually speed right past a police man here. They don’t care one smidgen about fast cars. People drive so fast here, it is scary. And there are 20,000 minor road accidents a year on this small island. No surprise there. As sn extreme contrast very occasionally you might meet this on the road. Not going so fast, obviously.

Wednesday and Thursday night the malls are packed to bursting with Saudis who have driven across the bridge to come over for some Bahrain fun. This little Island swells in size on Thursdays and Fridays and then shrinks back to normal on a Saturday. Suddenly there are Saudi cars all over the place. And watch out for the ladies. They don’t get any driving practice back home.

School is full of polite, high spirited and respectful students and the stark difference between them and the students I have taught in the past is that the boys and girls are hardly ever seen together. Not in class, not in the hallways and not in the cafeteria. There is a silent division between the sexes that goes as far as standing in different lines to buy their lunch. This is not a rule, but is something cultural and hardly conscious. I may yet be proven wrong here and find out about some secret romances.

I was very fortunate to have a lot of house hold help in Uganda. It was the done thing, not something I spoke about very often but I was very spoilt with my two live in helpers. Here we have opted to not have live in help despite the fact that most do and in fact our house comes outfitted with a maid’s room. So we have gone from a lot of help to much less and I have to admit, it suits me just fine. I am back in the kitchen, cooking, doing laundry, being normal once again. However, strangely most houses here do not come with dishwashers ( cue the maid’s room) and so we are doing a lot of washing up which quite frankly I could live without. I am having scary flashbacks to student life. I find it ironic that life here is so comfortable, our house is so lovely, we even have a garden complete with automatic water sprinklers. And yet I am washing up.

One of the surprising differences that colours my days.


Filed under Bahrain, Family Stuff

A little story about a Mosque

Handsome Husband decided we ought to do something cultural, learn something, about our new home. The Grand Mosque here was offering tours during Eid, an open door of sorts to show expats what Islam, the mosque and Eid are all about. I shrugged, not feeling particularly enthralled about the educational tour, and feeling guilty that I would prefer to stay at home and play house. So I went, for the kids, it would be good for them. But there was a condition. I would not sit and be lectured to and I would not be forced to wear an Abaya. Yes I would cover my head, take my shoes off and show all due respect but I had no wish to be draped in black and made to feel invisible.

I’m the open minded world traveller here, but still ,what’s a nice Jewish girl to do in a Mosque?

We parked and looked up , the minaret glinted in the deep heat, pale sand colour against the bluest sky, a sky too blue in the burning heat.

And then inside to the cool exterior where smiling men dressed top to toe in white pushed us in the right direction.

Within 5 minutes I was taken aside, along with a rather worried Trooper, dressed in a black zip up abaya, head entirely covered, top to toe invisible and plopped down in front of a man holding a lecture stick. I was handed a succulent date soaked in honey and a thimble full of rose tea.

Handsome stifled a laugh, Princess was jealous and Trooper blushed. We were swept into the main hall of the mosque and lectured to for the next 45 minutes. And once I got over my great discomfort I have to admit we learnt something. The whole experience pulled me out of my tidy little world and plopped me into another one. And if felt most odd.

But I realize that sometimes we need to feel uncomfortable.

The majority of Bahraini women walk around all day the way I did for 45 minutes and we have no idea what it feels like. I felt anonymous, disguised and frankly uncomfortable that I was made to feel invisible. However I know that for many women it is a quiet relief to not be defined by their outward appearance and they might take pride in the fact that only they know exactly who they are and how they look. Over in the West much stock is put on what people think of us and we find ourselves dressing up for others, hoping and wanting their approval. It is quite disconcerting to suddenly not matter, but rather to blend in with a crowd of other women tidied up in black.

And so I did it, the very thing I dreaded and expressly did not want to do. I have visited other mosques in the past, I have gladly covered my head but I have never been told to cover up entirely. It was rather extreme in my opinion and as much as I am sort of glad for the experience, I do not wish to do it again. I was pretending, playing a part, wearing someone else’s skin and it didn’t feel right.

When we walked out of that mosque, the one where all Muslims stand side by side, equally, before God, where the lights come from Austria, the marble from Italy, the doors from India and the carpet from Scotland; when the girls had henna beautifully applied to their hands in the ladies only room and we had felt the cool marble on our bare feet, when I slipped off my black abaya, removed the head scarf and put on my shoes, I became once again just simply me. But a little changed by the whole experience. Eyes open and all that.


Filed under Bahrain, Family Stuff

Bahrain by night

Laptop back and running, routine is commencing and 3limes is returning to regular blogging practices. It’s about time! Are you still there?

My trusty laptop is terminally ill and most keys have no discernible letters, but still, it is home from the IT hospital and I can once again type. How many of you thought I had donned black and gone local? No I am still here and between hammering holes into my new walls, driving proudly around the island and starting my brand new job I am alive, thriving in fact, eyes wide open and amazed.

I can’t help but compare, who wouldn’t? After two years in Uganda it is hard not to be stunned by the differences laid out before me on a daily basis and it is not just about the number of Ferraris and sparkly malls, the wide open deserts, the overbearing colour of sand, the concrete and steel architecture, the empty, long highways or the long traffic jams at 9pm. No, what strikes me now is the depth of culture here, something ancient and immovable.

Everything is different. Some simple observations have led me to see that Arab culture is concerned with good smells and tidy bottoms. Every bathroom has not only the ubiquitous hand help shower head to assist one’s personal hygiene, but also a bidet in case further washing is necessary. One hotel even has a delightful toilet that sprays warm water in an oscillating fashion followed by a gently warm heat. Some have admitted to finding this quite enthralling.The malls have more perfume shops that I have ever seen, and even extravagant, opulent silver mini trunks to store the perfume within. Men here may cover up the hair on their head but beards and side burns are groomed with some imagination and effort. Women who are draped and nearly disguised focus closely on makeup. eyebrows, and sharp heels that click away, peeping seductively beneath the Abaya. Everyone looks neat, smells divine and has paid some homage to the gods of vanity.

And yet, unless they are peering subtlety at one another, there is no flirting between the sexes, in fact no mixing at all, even after dark.  This is a culture that lives at night. Traffic is intense here at 9pm, and whereas back on my ranch pajamas and TV might be in order, here it is time to go out. The night is cooler, the finest grooming is revealed and the city shines.

One evening Handsome and I slipped out after dinner, leaving Trooper and Princess in the capable hands of Friends re-runs, to a very popular and exquisite coffee shop. This was no Starbucks. Instead we were transported as the ornate menu directed us to be, to belle époque late century Paris, where plush red velvet and tinkling chandeliers reflected the chattering classes beneath. Yet in the Paris of Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge there would certainly have been Pernod, even Absinthe sipped by ladies with coquettish eyes. Here the menu was gateaux, cappuccino and fruity juices served in gorgeous tall glasses. Men sat together, some in traditional garb, in this case starched white resplendent with shiny cufflinks and headscarfs flicked up like mighty sails. At different tables women sat, adjusting their headscarfs, beautifully knotted and dotted with Swarovski crystal. There was not one mixed table, no couples, no mixed friends. I couldn’t help thinking how any Saturday night in London at 11 pm would have seen a rowdy bunch spilling out of the pub, having “pulled” some willing member of the opposite sex, who, with enough booze, might be persuaded to come over for a quick shag.

And there Handsome and I sat, the only mixed table, quietly talking, sharing a divine pistachio and chocolate mousse and sipping coffee.

There was something exciting in its foreignness and something so elegant. Where was the loud boozy laughing, the overtly sexual looks hanging over the room?

Bahrain was starting to sink in and I could now see that beneath its sandy and materialistic exterior there was tradition, deep habit, customs dating back centuries and above all, pride.


Filed under Bahrain, observations

September 11th 2001

It’s been on my mind all day.

I was driving Trooper to school, a little four year old, eager and happy for her new school, bouncing in the back of the car.

And I was listening to the news.

At 9.02. And since I was in Montreal, and on the same time as NYC, I listened as it happened.

And the journalists were trying to figure it out at the same time as we were listening. No one knew, no one understood.

And then I took Princess to the first day of her play group, and all the other mothers, on their cell phones, worried, pale faced.

Were we at war?

Why? Who? What?

And I met one of my most special friends in the world. And she had no idea why I was acting so strange. And she thought I was unfriendly. But I was scared.  And I couldn’t believe anyone would do such a thing. And it shook me to my core, along with everyone else. We walked in a daze. But I always remember meeting her and starting out wonderful friendship on that date, in the midst of the world falling down.

And today, 10 years later, I sat in a classroom with a group of Arab students and listened to their stories of that day, and all their days since. And we talked, deeply and with profound hope about what had happened and what should never happen again.

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