Category Archives: Bahrain

Scenes from a Bahrain Sunday

I have clambered out from beneath a mountain of report writing, exam marking and planning. And now “hello fresh air!” I have a whole week off to breathe.

The winds have been wild; sandstorms blew sand from furthest Arabia into every corner, crevice, nook and cranny. We are sweeping sand and dust away and with it the cold wintery air. I heard from a wise man that the winds signal change and that a new season is around the corner.

I got a bit down, doldrum like. Bahrain was feeling small, dusty, dry and too quiet. I was dreaming of my perfect Sunday; a walk in a frosty park over leaves that used to crunch and past skeleton trees mourning their leaves; of a warm coffee shop with muffled chatter and a book shop with tables piled high, the smell of invited hope and paper. I was dreaming of a friend and a hot pot of tea. A week of time stretches before me and it winks at me with space and possibility. I am strange, alone in my house rather than at my desk, with peace and quiet rather than a classroom that twitters with teens. It tastes bitter sweet to have this time; like a dipped toe in a another’s life. I wish to spend it with friends who pop round for coffees and catch up but they are an ocean away.

So as always, to shake off the cobwebs I went out to find the pretty. Yes the grass is always greener, isn’t it? I know that the walk in the London park would be too cold, the friends would be busy, the books too expensive, the gallery closed. Princess told me, with all her wisdom, that we need to be happy with what we have. Thanks to The Prophet’s Birthday we all had a bonus Sunday off so we headed off to see something different.

Here then are my weekend moments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Bahrain, Finding the Pretty, When the rose tint fades

A trip around the corner, and back in time.

The weekend was busy and involved a fair amount of ferrying children from one place to another. Thursday night, normally reserved for a definite couch slouch, found us hosting a casual dinner party with candles and after dinner drinks in the garden that went on way too late. The moon was winking when I went to bed, ” you need to wake up early, tomorrow” it sniggered as I plunged head first into my duvet. Friday morning Trooper had her Duke of Edinburgh ( bronze) practice hike. This involved 70 teenagers let loose in the desert with a map and a packet of crisps. She needed to be delivered to school at 6.30 am. Initially I had optimistic ideas of an early morning walk, an efficient run around a grocery store and back home for coffee all by 9am. Obviously, considering the too late to bed thing, this was not to be. By 3 pm, having woken from a brief nap I had the feeling I was wasting my day and needed a jolt to bring me back to life.

“Let’s go somewhere we have never been before” I suggested. I am tired of the same tried and true arteries I drive up and down all week, rarely venturing off my beaten and safe path.

So we did.

We found an ancient Portuguese Fort that I see in the distance when I am on one of my safe highways, but had never visited. It was close enough to be there and back in an hour but far enough to feel I had stepped back in time and seen a different corner of Bahrain.

And we were there in time to catch the sunset.

It is important to sometimes take the other road, the one you always wanted to see but never found the time. Maybe right around the corner is a slice of magic and you never knew.

 

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Christmas in Bahrain

Well I thought it would be nonexistent, it being a Muslim country and all. But no, no no. There are Christmas trees galore, and tinsel and mince pies, little Santas and singing elfs, shelves stocked with glace cherries and marzipan and enough wrapping paper , garlands and pretty bows to fill a kingdom.

Everyone loves Christmas, even those who do not celebrate it. The season is infectious and each expat school has a Christmas fete, hotels have tree lightings and carol sing-a-longs and every mall is decorated to the nines. Of course this little island is filled with expat families who do celebrate, but they are not the majority.

We took a family vote and it was decided that Christmas day would be better spent at home than away. We have organized a holiday to Oman but will return for Christmas day. My vote was to stay away, in case you wanted to know. I find Christmas a quiet and lonely day without family and friends around but I have been assured that joy will be abounding.

We have had a few Christmases in the expat world. A Ugandan Christmas is quite odd. Obviously in a country as poor as Uganda, tinsel and trees are not high up on the ladder of importance. In fact the buying of presents is far below the buying of shoes. But there still exists the religious and more serious aspect of Christmas that is somber yet pure for its lack of materialism. Occasionally you might see a lonesome scrap of tree or tinsel strung above a shop, but for the most part, outside of expat stores, the shiny and glittery part of Christmas is lacking. The spiritual part is what remains. I was touched when Steve, who worked for us, brought his wife and daughter to visit and they presented us with a box containing cartons of juice. It was a gesture that resonated with all of us and remains today.

A Trini Christmas is like no other. They have their own food, music and customs and they take both the religious and glitzy side very seriously. No one in the world parties like a Trini and what better excuse to “lime” than Christmas? The decorations in the malls were literally stupendous, creative and festooned with colour. Initially I was surprised. What did a tropical island know about Santa and elves? But I was quickly pointed in the right directions and shown what a proper Christmas is all about.

And now Bahrain, where it rings false. There is no spiritual element. No, food drive or toy drive like in Canada. No sense that everybody is doing it. It is a fine excuse for a very rich country to wrap itself up in embellishments. But in our little world it is as it always will be. Chocolate peppermint bark, a few old traditions, a few new, a walk on the beach, Wham’s Last Christmas, hot chocolate in snow man mugs.

But first…. a new discovery. We are going to visit Oman and I will return with stories and photos. In the meantime 3limes will take a short hiatus to recharge, relax and refresh.

Happy holidays to all my readers!

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Filed under Bahrain, Family Stuff, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda

Red and white all over

I have seen patriotism, I have seen national pride and I have seen flag waving. The Royal Wedding in England, July Fourth, Canada Day or Bastille Day, St Jean in Quebec; I have experienced them all. But there is something just a little bit different about National Day here in Bahrain and I am not sure I can pin point what it is. Perhaps it is the meshing of love for a country with unflagging love for a King, or maybe it is the unfailing and unquestioning pride in this small land at a time when it is feeling bruised and vulnerable. Perhaps it might be the linking of national pride with religion so that the three tong image of King-Quran-flag makes for some very impressive symbolism.

Yesterday at school I heard the national anthem sung twice. I saw videos of the King in full military regalia, I saw old film clips of tanks and salutes, pearl divers and oil pipe lines. I heard poetry in Arabic and the King’s name said over and over again with a love normally reserved for close family. I tasted food that tasted of Cardamon and rose. I saw a blur of red and white as flags were waved with unceasing passion.

And I saw all forms of national dress from 3 year old boys, proud in their mini Thobe, fidgeting with long head dress, to tiny girls wearing sparkling Jalabiya. The Jalabiya is gorgeous traditional dress worn by women and comes in many forms; long, short, brocade or sequinned, flowing with swaths of silk and chiffon. Normally they come in the colours of jewels or flowers; emerald, ruby, fuchsia, lime or shimmering pearl.  I was loaned one by a student and flowed around in it all day, by the end of which I had discovered by new found personal style. I felt part princess and part Endora and decided that I would need to pop off to the Souq to purchase one of my very own.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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From here to there and back again.

How odd the journey is. One minute you have sand on your shoes and the next it shuffles through fallen leaves. Long ago we had time to process and feel the passing of time and place; the long boat journey with head leant over sea, salt in the hair and on the tongue, or body swaying in time with a train as most of Europe passes as a mere smudge against a window. I love the train and was thrilled by any trips taken across countries and landscapes. I remember falling asleep somewhere outside Miton Keynes and pushing up the blind of my sleeper to see the moon scape that is the Scottish moor. Listening to some teachers say they had a train to catch home to Holland, I felt the pangs of jealousy.  And I have always wanted to take a boat from Southampton to New York, the other direction wouldn’t satisfy my romantic grasp of the situation; I want to see the Statue of Liberty looming like a beacon of hope out of the fog. But who has time to travel? We need to get there as fast as we possibly can, forget about the journey.

The airplane is too fast, my mind arrives behind, dragging along like some lost luggage.

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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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