Monthly Archives: November 2011

Coffee and Wine

Going out for a coffee is not a simple thing here. Yes there are the Starbucks and the Costas, and these are always busy. There is even an annual barrister competition, if that is any indication of coffee seriousness.

But there are also the cafes where attendance requires some embellishment, normally of the large sun glasses, glittering head scarf and fabulosa heels variety. We wandered into one divine cafe where the scene, at 10 am on a Sunday morning resembled a post Paris fashion show. The men wore their heaviest watches and silkiest Thobes, but it was the women of the towering heels and reddest lips brigade who really shone. The perfume mingled nicely with the warm almond croissants and roasted coffee beans. With an iphone in one hand and a blackberry in another, it was hard to pick at the ‘Oeufs aux fines herbes’, and carry on a conversation with a best friend at the same time, but they managed.

Maybe it is because this is, by and large, a dry society that coffee is taken so seriously.

Handsome wore a F1 fluorescent orange cap and shorts.  We felt decidedly underdressed.

Then it was onto the next stop: the liquor store. Now, I’ve mentioned before that alcohol is permitted in Bahrain, and in fact some Saudi’s depend on it, but it is not readily available You can’t find a beer or bottle of wine in a super market, nor in a “cold store’ the equivalent of the Quebec depanneur or the corner store. There is no Off License, nor SAQ, nor LBO. I thought Quebec was funny with its rules about where you can buy wine or not and the hours that it is open, or not.  But then I had never been to a liberal country in the Gulf.

Well here it is a whole different story, and one that often comes up as dinner party conversation. “ Where did you find that,” and “ you said how much? I am going tomorrow!” and “ they have that here now”? So far, as much as we can discern there are three shops that sell alcohol and they are not advertised. One is in a hotel, ( with a drive through featuring tons of Saudi plates), one is on a compound and can only be accessed through a sliding sheet metal door or Mondays and Thursdays between 1 and 3 pm. And the third is this one:

Inside it feels like a clandestine affair. There are shifty Indians with bloodshot eyes clutching whisky and fistfuls of crumpled cash. There are the odd expats, scanning the aisles for something new and cheap. There are the newbie expat dads waiting in line for their special discount card that is given out on a whim. Everything is paid for and wrapped in dark bags lest they be seen by a passing opinionated Muslim.

Everything is over priced and falls somewhere between ‘dep wine’ ( ask a Montrealer) and ridiculous vintage French stuff for the people who never look at price tags.

Like those ladies in the coffee shop.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Bahrain

A Bonus Sunday, overpriced Christmas trees and rainy days.

A rare treat: a Sunday at home, no work, courtesy of the Islamic New Year.  Happy New Year and welcome to the year 1433.

Not only was it a bonus Sunday but that meant the first Saturday night in months and a Sunday night that felt like a proper, night before the start of the week, Sunday night. Complete with eggs on toast and a side offering of baked beans.

Of course it also meant a 3 day weekend.

And well deserved it was too, after a week that culminated in a day and a half of parent teacher interviews. I was a little worried about getting all the Mohamed’s, Ali’s and Fatima’s straight. I think I did ok, considering that I have about two in each class. One thing I did notice is that the parents were most kind, very grateful to us teachers and that the mothers have an uncanny ability to lift their hands up considering the heavy bling.

This weekend saw more rain. Damp, flat, grey weather that reminded me of a London day in July. I loved it. And I have to risk the removal of my Canadian passport when I confess that despite being 18 degrees Celsius, it actually felt quite cool. Yes, I thought exactly the same thing when people told me it would feel cool. Are said “ are you mad?” I am a Canadian. I have lived in Winnipeg ( better known as Winterpeg in some parts). There is no way I will feel cold, ever, without serious frost bite chomping on my cheeks. But I guess 4 years of heat stroke will do that to you.

Ok it felt cool, not cold and I was just appreciating the seasons, that’s all.

Speaking of seasons….I have wondered about Christmas in the desert. How is it possible? And a Muslim desert, no less. But believe it or not, it is not even December and Muslim desert or not, the malls are top to toe in wreaths, garlands, tinsel and trees. I asked some of my students what the hell was going on and they replied that it was just another theme. And an excuse to shop. And eat out. And party.

So I guess Christmas spirit in all its materialistic glory will find its way to the Sandy Isle.

And here is the first evidence. Turns out you can get real Xmas Trees here. In my naivete I thought that meant there was a place tucked away in a green house that grew them. But no. They are flown in at great expense both to the customer and the environment. Exhibit one:

 

The smallest tree is $87.50 and that is for 1.5 metres. And the largest is a whopping $3.10 for 4 metres.

I guess we are sticking with the straggly, anemic, dwarf tree we bought in Kampala.

2 Comments

Filed under Family Stuff, I miss shopping.

A brief taste…

 

Our social life is rather sparse; we work, we visit the beach, we whirl through the mall and sometimes we branch out and see people. Occasionally we try and go out after dark, just to feel the pulse of life outside our home. Bahrain comes alive at night and is transformed into a different place.

Last night we traded in the DVDs and books, slouchy post work clothes and comfy sofa for a rather more glamourous option. It was the gala dinner to celebrate the end of French Week here in Bahrain and since Handsome works for one of the corporate sponsors we were invited to attend. It was a chance for the gowns to come out, the hair to be coiffed and the heels sharpened. Jewels were polished and hung with care, nails were lacquered and glossy. I only found out I was going about two hours before the event so little time was spent on sprucing, but a frock was donned and hair was brushed. It was fun to go zooming down the highway to be wined and dined at one of Bahrain’s top hotels and to talk to people we had never met before. There were opera singers flown in to provide entertainment and one of the top Sheiks made a brief appearance before being whisked away, entourage and all to another event. Pomp and ceremony was provided by the Royal Regiment’s band and no one acted as if it was the corporate hoo-ha it really was. Photographers ran about snapping pics for the society pages, a few were even snapped of us. I believe it was because Handsome’s red tie matched my dress. Champagne was drunk.

By 11 pm, with the dark knowledge that I was to wake up at 5.30 am, we had to leave. And dessert had not even been served.

 

Quite different from my night in the Best American Bar in the Middle East, I’d say.

1 Comment

Filed under Bahrain

Losing Things

That little theft we had this week got me thinking. Back to all the things that were pinched in Uganda and further back to an earlier and more devastating theft. And that led to thoughts about things, having them, losing them.

Things. I get very attached to things and when I lose them I get terribly sad. I have had two major losses of material objects in my life and neither time was my fault. Things never get lost easily with me, unlike my handsome and absent minded husband who could fill a book with the objects, ties, cameras, pens, sunglasses, umbrellas, clothes he has let slip through his fingers through the years, I am terribly careful, perhaps obsessively so. I check taxis before I exit to ensure nothing has fallen out of my bag, and likewise I check hotel room drawers, cupboards, airplane front pockets. I did once lose a roll of film in a dark but comfortable second floor hotel room in Mumbai that overlooked a courtyard filled with drinking travelers. It must have rolled out of an overstuffed backpack. Over 18 years later I still feel cross about it.

But the two great losses were completely out of my control and the greatest things were taken from me; sentimental, valuable and in the case of the London loss of great significance to my intellectual sense of well being.

It was summer and I was back in London at the parental home for a few weeks before heading back to Montreal. My mother was in a cleansing mood and was going through the storage area beneath the outside basement stairs. There were two arched caves there and my father was probably pleased that more space would be made for his growing wine collection. Inside one of those caves were two large trunks filled with the school paperwork, letters and paraphernalia of my sister’s and my school life. Upon being asked if she wanted to go through any of it my unsentimental and highly pragmatic sister said “ No . Chuck it.” When I arrived in London her stuff was already behind the house waiting for the rubbish collection the next morning. My box was waiting in the centre of a bedroom for the excavation that would begin the next day. I still remember that morning, at breakfast, listening to the large rubbish truck picking up her stuff, thinking how cleansing and unsentimental it was to just let it all go, all that clutter that we hold onto for so many years; school books, notes and letters from friends and old boyfriends that years before we clung to, promising to never let go.

When I went down and opened my box there was the usual collection of soppy letters and teenage angst written diaries, some embarrassing letters from an ex whose face I could barely remember. There were some charming and amusing school books from my primary years and one or two school projects from when I was an eager 12 year old, obsessed with the French Revolution. I looked around for the box containing my university and high school books and couldn’t see them. Thinking they might still be in the musty cave I went to check but having no luck I asked my mother if, perhaps she had put them elsewhere. No, she had no idea.

After some head scratching and searching that over the next half and hour became increasingly frantic, it was determined that the missing box, the most important box of all, the one containing my University Thesis and all my English A level work had been disposed of with all my sister’s stuff that very morning. At this moment it was probably being tipped with a simple lack of grace into a rubbish dump somewhere in East London.

I lost it. Tears, recriminations, more tears. Urgent phone calls were made to the rubbish company, tearful apologies were made but it was done. Remember that this was in the pre dawn days before computers, hard drives, USB sticks and the internet. The thesis that I had worked so hard on, for so many months, was gone forever, now a soggy stained mess rapidly turning to mulch.

I still mourn the absence of that box and often think how much I’d like my daughters to read that thesis one day.

The next great loss happened on September 13th 2004. It was 12.15 pm and I had just popped home to get my debit card before doing to do some grocery shopping. Uncharacteristically and in the mood of walking light, I left my handbag and wallet on the dining room table and simply tucked my ATM card into the back pocket of my jeans. I then left the house and walked to the nearby store. It was one of those wonderful late summer days in Montreal, where the light dappled though the trees and shadows played happily on the sidewalks. I walked to a coffee shop with my groceries, stopping to chat with a friend and making the most of my freedom while the eldest daughter was at school and my little one picked up at school and taken to a play date. It was rare that I was alone at this time since my curly headed youngest ended pre school at midday.

When I got home at about 1pm I couldn’t open the front door. The chain was hooked on the inside. My skin pricked and my stomach belly flopped. There was someone inside. I rushed to the back gate, entered though the garden and saw with a gasp that the glass door to the kitchen was smashed. The rock that has been used to break it had been tossed into the garden and was resting in the grass. I quickly went next door to the neighbour’s and called the police, thinking how lucky I was that I had no children with me. Within five minutes there there were, guns poised at the ready, on the alert in case the intruder was still inside. I wasn’t allowed in until it was declared all clear and then they walked me through the house.

It was a slick job, neat. Apart from one muddy foot print on the carpet of my sweet princess’ room, a foot print that made my eyes smart with tears, there was no trace of the robbery. He had known exactly where to go, the underwear drawer was tipped, the jewelry was all gone; the computer and camera had been un plugged and lifted from their spots on the desk in the office. There were a few glass shards in the kitchen, a small indentation on the wooden floor where the rock had hit and that was it. It must have been a two man job. One to call, by mobile phone, when I was seen leaving, another to enter the house and quickly remove all that I held sentimental.

We replaced the window before the children even came home and until a friend carelessly let out a remark about the robbery some months later they never knew. I insisted on it, not wanting them to feel scared or unsafe in their home. I remember my husband coming home from work, quickly and I remember sitting on the carpet in the front hallway and sobbing, really sobbing with anger and grief over all that was lost.

I still think, often, of items that were in that jewelry box, and I think with anger how someone came into my house and took things that were mine; valuable and sentimental things. A charm bracelet that once belonged to my grandmother heavy with charms given to her over many years by my grandfather, each charm from a different place on their travels. A watch, very valuable that I had received for my 21st birthday, the necklace that my real father had worn, was wearing when he died. The presents from Tiffany that my daughters were given on the occasion of their births, the first ring from my husband that he bought for me in Boston when we were so so young. And more, much more. A diamond pendant I got for my 30th birthday, a tiny ring I got when I was 12 that I was saving for my own daughter’s 12th birthday. The list goes on. It was devastating. The camera I was using professionally so that I had to rent another one for a wedding I was doing the next weekend. The computer filled with work. I felt invaded.

Yes, I know they were merely objects and no one was hurt. For a time I became extremely disinterested in jewelry or anything sentimental that I feared losing.  I had been burnt by investing too much emotion in pieces of metal.

But we do, don’t we? Isn’t it normal to invest time, thought and love into something precious? I wish I didn’t and I am fully back on the jewelry wagon, but objects are important to me, maybe because I move so much I have held onto to these trinkets as concrete pieces of memory.

1 Comment

Filed under pen and paper

Not a good feeling

Something unsettling happened this week.

We had a small but significant theft. Trooper discovered that her wallet was empty. There were three possible reasons: a) she hadn’t in fact put any money into the wallet, or perhaps it had slipped her mind that she had taken it out and pushed it into the pocket of her jeans. So maybe it was all her fault. b) She has a Kleptomaniac for a friend; she had just hosted a sleep over and perhaps her friend had an “issue.” This was far more unlikely than the former option. Or c) Our cleaning lady had pinched the money.

I worried it may be option c) so I asked Princess to check and low and behold, she too had money missing. It was looking like option (c) was the most likely scenario but I didn’t want to it to be true. I am very trusting; I have to be, if a person is to come into my house while I am at work and touch all my stuff. (I know I am very very lucky, there I have said it.)

I called her. She said she had no idea what I was talking about. The subject was closed but not solved. I was thinking Kleptomania…

Then the door bell rang. It was the cleaning lady in tears. She said it was her husband. He had come over to our house looking for her and when she refused to give him drinking money he walked uninvited into my house, walked into my daughter’s rooms, opened their sweet little wallets and pulled out their pocket money.

She didn’t give it all back. She says it is all there or at least what her husband claimed he took, but it isn’t.

I am sad. It was different in Uganda; I expected it, in a way. We had shoes, a laptop, a bag, a phone and two itouches stolen but never from anyone who worked inside our home. Now I feel the need to hide things away and I don’t like it.


 

4 Comments

Filed under Being brave

An unlikely night

Handsome has bought a car. ( He thinks this deserves it’s own post, and perhaps it does.) This required a drive in tandem to the car rental place to return the car he has been renting for 9 months. ( Yes it took him a long time to choose the car of his dreams.)  It being Bahrain and not the hot bed of efficiency I hoped for, the rental facility was closed. After some toe tapping and head scratching we called the owner and wanted to know how he could possibly be closed at 6.30 pm on a weekday. He replied that he would be over in 10 minutes.

While waiting for the trusty man to reopen the shop we hit a bar on the corner reputed to, and I quote, ” serve the best American food in the middle east”. The table cloths were a respendant red and white check, the scent was of a definite  fried variety and classic rock was being sung by a Filipino chap with a mike. It was the sort of American cliche only found outside of the USA.

Of course once we ordered our drinks from the “American Style bar” the man called and turned up at the shop ( disputing my theory that a Bahrain 10 mins would really be 45) and I ended up alone in the bar with a shady group of hard drinking, hard swearing and heavy smoking ( yes you can smoke inside bars here, ironically un-American) members of the US Navy. The tv screen showed a bloody boxing match and the walls were scribbled with purposeful graffiti courtesy of the handy markers left on the worn wood bar tops.

Suddenly I was in the middle of a surreal movie created by people who had been to the US once and were trying to re create the scene they drunkedly remembered. The American Navy was ill represented and the drinks over priced. The whiny voice of the singer failed to do justice to James Taylor and the thick smoke was settling over my hair, my clothes and my mind.

Handsome returned. We didn’t finish our drinks but left, instead, pushing the door into the cool and fragrant Arabian night.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bahrain

Looking for news on the domestic front

 

I must be starting to feel better as I am typing again.

Perhaps I need to hear the sound of my voice tapping in my head….it has been a very quiet week.

I woke up remembering a promise I made and failed to keep: I declared that when the rains came I would stand up and defend the right to dance in the rain. I would take to the garden and twirl and splash and then we would all go bowling. For isn’t bowling the best of all rainy day games?

 

But I did neither. The rains came late at night and carried on through the dark hours and when the sun came up and rains stopped  the urge to bowl and dance was no more.

 

So now I will probably have to wait 7 months to keep  my promise.

 

On the domestic front, with little to report and digging for something good, Princess and Trooper have discovered The Gilmour Girls. Remember that? They are half way through season two and I am catching snippits while I walk through the living room enroute to the kitchen/bathroom/bed. It is making me believe I am back in Montreal and it is Sunday night. Was it Sunday night? I can’t believe back in those days we had to wait a whole week to watch the next episode. No flick of the remote to move forward a week. My girls watched 10 years of Friends in 5 months! It was like fast forwarding through Jennifer’s Hair, Matthew’s Weight and the Evolution of Jeans from too high waisted to low and hippy.

 

Today I am going to take a thick black sharpie and place a juicy tick next to an item on my list. Princess is going to the Orthodontist.

 

Love ticking.

1 Comment

Filed under Family Stuff