Tag Archives: expat

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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Filed under Bahrain

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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Halloween I miss you

Halloween was the very best sort of fun back in the day. Handsome would come home from work, roll up his sleeves and dig out all the soft, pulpy pumpkin flesh. We would lay out newspapers on the kitchen floor and scoop out the insides of two or three very large pumpkins. Then a small Trooper and an even smaller Princess would carefully draw the face with black Sharpie and Handsome would pull out the sharpest knife and start to carve. By the time we were finished it was dark and the perfect time to drop little candles into the belly of the gourds. Costumes would be donned, and then coats to cover them up since it was Montreal and already far too cold. Then hats and makeup, boots pulled up, enormous trick or treating pillow cases slung over shoulders and off we’d go. Handsome and I both wanted to trick or treat. There is nowhere better than our old Montreal neighborhood for house hopping, even people from the burbs would drive over, spill out of minivans and use our roads to collect good loot. So we’d take turns. One of us would stay behind and hand out candy, one of us would take Princess’ hand and guide her up the stairs to each house, prompt her to say ‘trick or treat’ and ‘thank you’ in the smallest voice and then onto the next house. Then home to switch and the other would do another road. We always shared Halloween with the same friends, ate the same blood red spaghetti sauce, drank the same red wine.

A Trini Halloween was fun, as everything in Trinidad was. It was all rum and candy and loud music and it quickly turned into a street party, a lime. Not coats needed there, the teenagers loved to wear the skimpy costumes, to laugh the loudest, come the last. All my students would turn up and show off their imaginative outfits, and share candy with us.

In Uganda we carved a Watermelon, having no pumpkins on hand and Princess had a party. There was no Trick or Treating but we couldn’t drop the tradition. There was still dress up and candy and costume. Then last night, our first Bahrain Halloween and…nothing. We live in the wrong neighborhood for Halloween. I heard there were some parties, some costumes and even some trick or treating over there where the majority of expats live. But it all feels a bit half hearted. So I miss it. And I miss home and our traditions.

So I feel a bit sad today. Halloween I miss you, cobwebs, chilly night, tiny children in oversized witch hats, over eager parents, pumpkin carving, too much candy, non-stop door bell ringing, scary noises, ghoulish over priced decorations, ridiculous merchandise, hand made costumes, competitive parents, many little spider men, princess tiaras; the lot.

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Filed under Family Stuff, Great Big Shiny West

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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Filed under Bahrain, observations

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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Filed under Being brave, How old am I?

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.

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Filed under Bahrain, Family Stuff

Farewell Uganda

The day has arrived. The past week has been quite wonderful with dinners and breakfasts and coffee breaks spent with good friends. It has been a slow but soulful goodbye and I feel happy and ready to depart. Of course my mind swings back to the last farewell, two years ago, when we said goodbye to Trinidad.

I am absolutely sure that I will come back, I am already day dreaming about a visit next year.

In the mean time it is time to bid this great land farewell.

And 3limes will be taking a short break too. I am boarding a plane for Bahrain today, then a short week later I will hit London for the weekend. Finally on July 3rd we arrive in Montreal! It has been a long two years since we were home and I intend to have a splendid summer both lake side and in la belle ville.

See you later, Uganda, and thank you.

 

 

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Filed under Being brave, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda