Category Archives: observations

Things I learnt this week

It is entirely likely that I am learning more than my students. Just this week I have picked up some unknown tidbits that serve me well when we sit down en famille to dinner each now. I am greeted with raised eyebrows, nods, hmmms and even a few “wows”.

Observant Muslim men cannot wear gold. None. So there goes the big fat gold rolex stereotype you may have had a hunch about. No one could really tell me why this it, there were a few murmurs about blood, an anecdote or two about the prophet, but no exact reason was given. Women on the other hand can wear as much gold as they want. As such, it is considered highly feminine if an Arab man wears gold and you will never see a man here wearing a gold wedding ring.

Observant Muslim men can also not wear silk! I must confess that in this subject my students also did not have any concrete reasons, however I was assured that some forego this rule in order to slip on a nice Hermes tie.

Perfume is highly important here, not simply as a way to smell good, or if we are to believe the highly raunchy ads displayed in western magazines, to attract a mate; but as a means of personal definition. There is skill involved in the combining of perfumes to create one definite and individual smell that will be admired by other women. It is an art and one that takes much practice. When I asked my girl students if my daughter should be wearing perfume. they were aghast that at the age of 14 Trooper had yet to be shown the art and delights of personal perfumery. According to one delightful 17 year old student, her mother had been spraying her since she was in the 2nd grade!

In other news I would like to mention that today is Friday and it is my weekend. So when you crawl from your bed to your sofa and pop in a DVD on Sunday morning as I am already teaching my second class, remember that my Friday was your Sunday. No, I am not yet used to this.

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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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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.

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Africa, time passing, movies and leopards: or what is in the mind when you are sick.

I hate being sick, I mean really hate it. I can’t see the pleasure in lying in bed and waiting until it passes and just knowing that the world is going on out there while you are not. Because you are stuck, waiting and frozen in time. I hate it.

Especially when my mind is so full of the many things I have to prepare to do before we leave. Because that won’t change, time won’t hold on just because I am sick in bed.

My mind is very full, too full to sleep and full of wonder and worry; the very things that make up a move. And I feel the sharp strange taste of nostalgia and regret and sadness and excitement all at the same time.

Moving breaks my heart but it also breaks new ground and that is life, no? That is what the destination is all about, enjoying the journey, finding the surprise. I think life is like a safari, you never know exactly what you will see, but you know it is all out there if you keep your eyes wide open, peer and look and always, always scan the horizon.

I never saw a leopard. And I always said I wouldn’t leave until I did see one. I have been on countless safari drives, even once in the park with the MOST leopards in Kenya, but still I didn’t see one. I scanned the trees for that tell tale hanging tail, I hoped and wished, but still no leopard. I have a friend who has seen three. One up close, right by the car, looking at her with wild cat eyes.

But I did see a cheetah walking away, and lions, lots and lots of lions, in trees, walking, sleeping, grooming.

So I will have to come back for the leopard, I imagine. Maybe that is the trick of the gods to get me back, to tell me that me and Africa are not done, finished quite yet.

Lots of time to think while sick in bed. And make lists in the head and on scraps of paper lying about, backs of credit card bills and envelopes. I have lists littering my mind and house now. They will all come together and be done, when they must.

And one good thing about lying in bed, under the weather, poorly, feeling sorry for myself, is that I watched 3 movies. Good ones, too.

The American, with Mr. Clooney, always dashing and silent with his sideways smile and his dark hooded eyes. Beautifully shot, lovely Italy, sad but good, obviously was a book once, the story feels like it was written and not just composed on a story board.

Conviction with Hilary Swank based on a real story. Also good, meaty, brother and sister loyalty and faith and love with a solid dose of  hating the evil justice system. Good old American good vs wrong story and of course we all know who wins those . No one makes a film where good triumphs so absolutely like the Americans.

And finally a film that is hard to place, to put my finger on, but beautiful and pulsing with life and questions and beauty and wonder and failings and love. It’s called Mammouth. See it . Tell me what you think. It is one to discuss and pick apart over a glass of wine or two, or three.

Except I still feel sick so no wine for me, not yet. Wait till this African bug passes. Like everything else.

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The rains have come

The rains have come. The smell is green and deep and musty and the parched yellow grass has already perked up and turned green. In fact the whole garden looks shiny, dark, lush and alive. The change in seasons is welcome as it had become too hot and sticky here. Now it has cooled down to a refreshing degree, I nearly wanted a sweater this morning. There are so few opportunities to feel cool in Kampala.

But every time the rains come there is a small nudge of fear, of worry that something might go wrong. Last year saw the terrible landslide tragedy at Bududa in Eastern Uganda near Mt Elgon. The destruction was a direct consequence of deforestation since there were insufficient trees left to prevent the land from slipping away. The trees are cut down to make charcoal which is then used  for heat and cooking. What alternative do they have? With no electricity and a lack of funds to purchase solar powered panels, charcoal is their means of energy. But the earth suffers and the scars left by the landslides are the proof.

And a less tragic, yet sad all the same, consequence of the rains is the destruction they cause to the mud huts. Mud likes to melt in the rain and when your house is sliding to the ground the only thing for it is to rebuild, and rebuild again.

So while I am breathing in the mulchy goodness and loving the cooler nights a thought must be spared for those whose lives are inconvenienced by the rains.

The earth is angry elsewhere too, as we well know. We are all thinking about Japan. At first we felt relief that this was a First World country with an infra structure prepared for disaster, to a point. Yet the first world comes with First World problems and leaking radiation would be that.

I lived in Japan for 7 years. I normally tell people that I grew up in Japan. When I think of my childhood, it is Tokyo. It is bike rides to school, cherry blossoms crushed under bike wheels, it is the smell of Roppongi, the steam coming from tiny noodle shops, white gloved taxi drivers, orderly, safe, honourable, kind. It is earthquake drills at school where we had to crouch under our desks, it is always wondering if “the Big One would come” it is the Iced Coffee in a thin tin can from a vending machine, it is the smell of the stationary shops.  It is so much more. Japan is deeply rooted in my early memories and my sensual recollections. I am remembering and thinking and hoping. For Japan.

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With apologies to Montreal

Oh God. I complained about the snow and the cold and the ice and the shovelling for 15 years. Now I am too hot, my classroom is a sauna and I need to run to the IT lab, the only room in all of Kampala with air conditioning to do my marking. Yesterday Handsome Husband lost me in a large over priced appliance store: I was standing in front of a portable air conditioning unit. Generally we are lucky here, it never gets that hot, thanks to the altitude, but now it is the dry season and the heat just climbs and clings and settles on my head and around my body stifling me. I am longing for a cold day so that I may beg to be warm and wrap myself in a long soft and warm shawl, scarf thing like this:

Thanks Sartorialist.

Sorry Montreal friends. Really I am. I know that it was -21 at 6am the other day and I know that you are all fed up right about now. I would be too. This would be the one week of the year I would refuse to go out, it would be my hibernation week and I would be calling friends to bring me Starbucks and Sushi STAT. So I know I should keep my mouth firmly buttoned up as I have no right to complain. But I just wanted to say…the grass is not always greener on the other side. Sometimes it is dry and yellow and hot.

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