Tag Archives: middle east
I’ve been wrapped in a warm blanket on my sofa watching season 2 of Downton Abby. Not only am I crushed that it is over (what will I do without the drama?) I am sort of alarmed by how cold it is. I was warned it would get chilly but I just scoffed and said a little too arrogantly “I’m Canadian. Don’t talk to me about cold.” But they were right. I think it comes down to a few factors. First, the temperature dropped like 10 degrees in 2 days. Every morning when we get into the car we look at the digital reading of the temperature and I recall when I arrived back in August it was 42 degrees Celsius most mornings. Now it is 12. Last week it was 27. So there is the shock.
Then there is the fact that our house is all stone and has no insulation. So the desert winds just come straight through the walls and through my clothes.
Then there are the clothes. In Canada I would have a warm scarf, a gentle jacket, maybe even boots. And certainly if my house was 18 degrees I would have on some heating, or at the very least slippers and a sweater. I have neither. I am spoilt from 4 years of living in the heat.
But on the up side there is the sensation of seasons. And I wore black opaque tights for the first time in 4 years the other day.
But with a change in seasons comes a change in heart. And I am a thinker.
So I have been musing on time and being stuck in the middle.
I am coiled tight and tense against time. For some reason I am yet to explain, I am overly concerned with time these days. I cannot relax into a minute and feel anxious about wasting precious time. I have never had this sensation before and I cannot fathom why I am holding onto to time as if were priceless and threatened.
I am sitting on a sharp point between the past and the future, balancing on a tipping point like a wobbling weeble, uneasy with the sensation I might fall. To my right I see a long stretch of desert and two girls walking away with a cloud of hope and anticipation rising around them
To my left I see photographs, black and white faces of pale chubby cheeks, eyes of those no longer with us, a family of four smiling beside a mountain of snow. I see books I have disappeared into, pages worn with eager eyes and a tower of films I have loved and never wanted to end. I see a laughing circle of friends fresh out of high school, our lives on a plate ready for the taking. I see a young couple by the Nile, holding hands.
Is this what middle age feels like? Feeling like I am in the middle?
I teach seniors of the brink of possibility and hope. They feel the uncertainly of next year, where will they go? Will they miss home too much? What will they be? Who will they become? I write university recommendation letters and I feel the excitement and nerves of trying to get in. And I often write to former students, staying in touch with their lives; sometimes I even skype with students I haven’t seen for four years. I read the status updates on facebook as they negotiate the freedom of university with the tender pull of home. I feel their anticipation as they tip towards a different point.
Is this what is feels like to be in the middle and surrounded by those just starting?
So I have taken to baking. It has worked in the past and seems to be working now. I find nothing quite fills a void like melted butter, warm chocolate, spiraling egg yolks and lines of sugar.
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.
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.
Having taught in International schools with their diverse populations for some time, and before that in Montreal with its gentle mix of cultures I have never, until now taught in a school with single ideology. Now my class is full of students of one faith, one culture, one nationality and one common background. At times it unnerves me, sometimes I am surprised but most often I am quietly jealous of their sense of belonging.
There are things that are certain. Every Friday they will gather with their whole family at the grandparents’ house for a lunch time meal. Every summer they will leave Bahrain and visit London or the States. Every weekend they will see the same friends and family that they have been seeing for all the weekends of their lives. Each school day they will come and sit beside a friend they have known since kindergarten. They will probably leave for university but then almost definitely return to live close to family. They will marry someone they know, or who is at least known through association. Each day, at some point, maybe for some during school in the prayer room, maybe for others later in the privacy of their home, they will pray. But for all religion is not only a quiet focus in their lives but a central source of purpose. During one of my outside duties I observe a number of students, certainly not the majority, but a handful, walk over to the prayer room, remove their shoes and enter for about 5 minutes. And I am always surprised. That they take time away from their already short lunch break, that they find comfort and solace in the simple act of homage and that religion shapes the structure of their days.
My own prejudice led me to believe that living amongst a singular ideology would cause single
mindedness, therefore closed mindedness. But in the majority of cases that is not true. Of course there are some who live with a naïveté that borders on precious. In the words of one student: “for the high class women bringing up children and cooking are not their tasks, they are the jobs of housemaids”. They are all comfortable; struggle is not in their vocabulary. They have sense of us vs. them, they are deeply proud and protective of their Arab culture and hate the way the Western media portrays them and ‘gets it wrong.’
But there are many who struggle with the daily injustice they see before them, who are thinking and critical young adults, more aware than many I taught back in Montreal. They have an awareness of their culture that rests within the certainty off all it offers them.
Often I feel I am the student. But isn’t that the way real teaching should be?
I am not sure I have ever been so busy. I barely have time to breath and there is another onslaught of things to mark, to do, to cook, to fold, to find. I don’t remember this happening before.
I am squeezing in a few solid procrastination minutes here away from marking to write this down, dear readers. Since I am so sure that you are interested and wondering how life is going on my sandy isle now that the glow of Berlin is worn and I have just finished week 6 of term 1.
The ground is moving faster than I. It is a giant conveyor belt that is simply zipping along too fast and I fear I might trip. I wake, I run, I return, I sleep.
Princess is being terribly clever and sparkly and brave. She has made it the finals of her school’s IDOL. It is not American Idol, nor is it the X Factor, but in our house it is even bigger and more important than either of those silly competitions. She will be spinning, dancing and singing up a storm on a stage before 100 people. And she will be Walking on Sunshine.
Meanwhile Trooper has her nose pointed downwards towards her phone where her real life lies. She will soon have carpel tunnel of the thumb. We are monitoring the situation and sitting somewhere on a fence between “ she is 14 and it’s her right to be anti social” and “ she needs to be a human if she wants to live in my house.”Parenting Teens 101.
And finally in other news I am tired of not knowing where I am going. I fear I may need to purchase a GPS as navigating a car around my sandy isle is proving difficult. The thought of veering off the well worn highways worries me. I may get lost, or never get back, or…. It is somewhat akin to the fear of falling off a map. So I am slowing exploring; when I need my shoes re heeled and I haven’t a clue where to go I ask a fellow teacher to draw me a map and off I try.
There is one other tiny but rather exciting tidbit. We are now the proud owners of a dishwasher.
The last time a non human device washed our dishes, it was June 2009. Getting the dishwasher, finding one that fit, having it delivered, installed and ready to go was no easy task. Finding a garden shop off a certain highway on a certain sandy isle was only slightly less difficult.
I had the opportunity to go to Berlin for some professional development last week. While I did, indeed develop professionally, and benefitted from the stimulating environment of sharp, bright and experienced teachers; there were many conversations around red bottled tables; I also developed within from a hop over to Europe and The Great Shiny West.
Within moments of arriving I feel the pulse of Europe. It’s in the orange and grey, the efficiency, the shined shoes, good cappucino and bright alarming adverts. I know I am somewhere with a penchant for good design and a trained work force, with years of efficient practice and expectation behind them. Everything works and I find myself charmed by German efficiency.
I notice the little things: that the toilet in Frankfurt airport is Villroy &Bosch, that the arrivals and departure signage harks back to the flippy train signs of yore. I notice that all the men have smart belts and shoes, haircuts are purposeful and glasses chosen with some care. The font on all the signs sings the subtle but sure message that I am somewhere different. Moments ago the silky but guttural sounds of Arabic rang through my ears, now it is the guttural but lilting German that takes some time to digest. And then I notice what else is odd, at least to me, transplanted person from desert lands. Everyone is white. Pale, caucasian, sun starved And people are wearing clothes, that I can see. There is no Thobe to hide beneath, nor the comfort and anonymity of an Abaya. Here the display is open for show.
I inhale the changes and look with my interminable stranger’s eyes.
I walk the leafy neighbourhood near my hotel and am drawn to shop windows, the creative and unusual display. It is the difference, the shock of the new that hits me and I walk with eyes upturned toward the changes. Berliners and Europeans walk past their ‘ordinary’, not feeling the charm and delight of an autumn leaf crunched underfoot, nor the curled stoned adornment that rests proudly atop a door frame. I breathe in history with every step, feeling a city charged with everything that has come before. There is a collective awareness of history at every corner and it lends a special pulse to this city.
I returned to Bahrain with a loud and sandy thump. I do indeed live on a desert isle and this week I feel a million miles from the centre of the world.
More Berlin photos to follow….
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.
l felt so guilty about posting quick snaps and not having taken my camera out of its bag that I set my photographer’s heart a flutter and jumped into action.
“We are going on a drive to the desert!” I declared, and off we went. It was not like I expected, certainly not the golden desert sands of Arabian nights and definitely no sand dunes dancing in the wind.
But now I know where oil comes from and found a strange beauty amidst the ugly pipe strewn, oil well scattered landscape. Dusty, hot and not a place for a walk, it was surreal, moon like and resembled the set of some scary science fiction movie.
Here then are the first of the photos. A different Bahrain, a different desert.