Villa, a beautiful word I previously associated with southern France, green rolling hills, and lots of wine. Now, scratch the wine and the green rolling hills, we are living in a villa in Bahrain, a desert flatland of cement jungles and no alcohol. The word “villa” is just Bahrain’s term for “house.” Villa does sound so fancy. Just say it, “My villa is in Parkridge (our former suburb neighborhood in Virginia),” or “I’ll meet you at the villa.” Fancy, right? Not that I need fancy in my life, but it’s fun to say.
The Navy Base here does not have housing for most of the people, especially families, who move to Bahrain. I hear the Embassy and some of the other DOD (Department of Defense) families are given housing but it’s too out in town. When we arrived in Bahrain, we immediately checked into a nice hotel, acting as our temporary lodging, until we found our own villa or flat, a.k.a apartment or condo. After a housing brief on Base, we were free to find our own place with a little pressure knowing we would only be allotted 45 days in the hotel. 45 days sounds like a long time in a hotel. It is. Although I have heard of some families living in their hotel for up to three months trying to find a place to live. At first, 45 days sounded like a nice retreat. Why rush? In reality, 45 days was an incredible motivation tool to find a place as soon as possible because finding a house in 100+ degree weather was not as enjoyable as I would have liked it to be.
Finding a place was, in many respects, similar to the process you’d do in the States pre-Red Fin or Trulia. Contact a reputable (in our case, Navy Base Housing approved) real estate agent, tell them your price range, furnished, partially, or unfurnished (we needed fully furnished), must have’s (i.e. bathtub for kid’s, washing machine, safe neighborhood), would like’s (i.e. pool, dryer, garage), and then off you go to look at places. The difference is, we didn’t have a car, Tad was already working entrusting the process to me, and I had two toddlers who were still adjusting to Bahrain time and heat. Luckily, in Bahrain the real estate agent picks you up at the hotel and drives you around to look at places. Thank goodness, since Tad and I discovered very early on that Google is only about 75% correct and always 2 blocks slower than you need it to be. The day after our housing brief (I was on it knowing other families were moving here in droves) our real estate agent and associate picked Trace, Izzy, and I up in their very chilly AC SUV (not all families are so lucky to have cold AC) and off we went looking for a place to call home. Our version of House Hunters Bahrain was far from film worthy. Trace and Izzy were beyond tired, hot, and realized very quickly that looking at houses was not fun, so started saying, “I want to go home” within 15 minutes of our 2 hour house searching time. It made for an oh-so-awesome-stab-me-in-the-eye-with-an-ice-pick type of experience. Except, I have a fascination with real estate and looking at houses, so I was also loving it…with an ice pick in my eye type of love. Out of keeping my sanity and marriage together, I quickly figured out how to enroll our kids in the Base’s childcare center so I could look at houses while they enjoyed air conditioning and the comfort of other like-minded toddlers. Win-win for everyone.
Before we moved to Bahrain I heard the place to live was Amwaj Islands. Beautiful blue turquoise beaches, many expat and American families, close community, and a great lagoon with outdoor shopping and groceries. You should Google it, it’s gorgeous. I started dreaming of Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga (SUP Yoga) every day. What I learned very quickly is the Saudi’s, with their ridiculous amounts of money, have driven-up the market in Amwaj. What an American family use to be able to afford with a housing allowance like ours, a 4-5 bedroom villa on the water, would now only get us a 3 bedroom flat maybe with a water view or a small 3 bedroom villa at best. On top of that, logistically the Navy had recently changed the pay structure for housing allowances which the local landlords and property managers were either resistant to the change or just not “getting it” so made the negotiations and discussions beyond frustrating. The ocean addict in me was heart broken but I was hopeful something would open up near the water. We started looking all over the island (yes, Bahrain is a cluster of islands) and discovered, like in the US, if you’re willing to move away from the coastline, your money can go a long way.
Most of the villas the real estate agent showed us were in compounds, or gated communities. Essentially compounds are clusters of villas gated off with security. Some were gorgeous mansions but too far a commute for our liking. Even though Bahrain is small and by Google standards 20-25 minutes to get to the Navy Base from some of the furthest places, the reality of Bahrain driving is that you need to double your travel time to get anywhere due to traffic lights, accidents, and getting lost.
The very first time we looked at the villa we are now living in we got lost zig zagging through the narrow streets (again, Google is 2 blocks slow and not super accurate). When we finally found the general area of the house, we stepped out of the car and I had a deja vous moment of being back in Pune, India. My heart fluttered. When we walked into the house, our jaws dropped by the size of the place. It was huge, peaceful, and way too much for our four person family. I should note here, Lou and Coco, our sweet dogs are living with Tad’s mom and dad in Tallahassee, a.k.a Dog Paradise. Dogs are not a common house pet in Bahrain and often frowned upon. With the 100+ degree heat, six plane flights to get here, and the generous offer by Lisa and Van, we knew the best decision for their health and wellbeing was to leave them in Florida.
After a week of looking at villas and flats (I looked at over 20 places) and being exhausted and frustrated by the process it came down to a three bedroom penthouse flat in Amwaj with tiny rooms and no storage but a killer view of the Gulf or a spacious stand alone (not in a compound) four bedroom villa in Adliya closer to Base and a lot of Bahraini culture. We, actually I made Tad make the final call since I’m horrible at making decisions, liked being closer to Base and being in a villa closer to the Bahraini people and culture. We made an offer directly with the landlord and he accepted right away. After a day of double guessing, I always do this, I settled into our decision and haven’t looked back. I love it in Adliya and I love our villa! It was definitely the right choice for our family and our landlord is AMAZING. A really nice guy who has already welcomed us into his family. Apparently most of the villas and flats within a two block radius are his family.
Adliya is a large neighborhood in the capital city Manama. Maybe I’m biased or just not as familiar with some of the other areas of Bahrain yet but so far it really feels like Adliya has a lot of cultural heart. A diversity of restaurants in both price and ethnic cuisine, street food (yummmm), a “restaurant row” of sorts where no cars can drive, local artist displaying sculptures and art, cafes to enjoy a small bite outside (when it cools down), live music on Thursday and Friday nights (our weekend nights in Bahrain), and many foreign Embassies are located in Adliya. It’s not a place a lot of foreigners come to party, like the neighboring area of Juffair, but it is where locals go out. Our Real Estate agent pointed out three restaurants very close to our house the royal family visits regularly. As soon as the temperature cools off (probably sometime in September), Tad and I are looking forward to walking around and getting to know our neighborhood and neighbors. We can’t wait to put the kids in the stroller or wagon and walk toward Shawarma Alley (street food central), introduce them to bargaining for cool and awesome furniture (I so love this!), freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, and finding the Samosa man who apparently makes the best Samosas in Bahrain and is a stone throws away from our villa in some window between two shops. Undoubtedly, his Samosas will rock.
While my vision of moving into a fully furnished villa looked like a house that was deep cleaned the day before and totally put together ready to just start living, Tad (my grounding reality check) reminded and prepped me for the inevitable. We moved into our villa about two weeks ago to a pile of partially functioning furniture that greeted us when we opened the front door, dust thicker than a sand storm at Burning Man, and the smell of new paint. We couldn’t have been more excited!–not in a sarcastic way, we really were excited and ready to have some place to call home. There was lots of cleaning, moving and reassembling furniture, and realizing we didn’t have this or that in the kitchen for making a basic meal. In essence, it was like moving into any new house. You’d think we’d be more prepared by now after all our moves.
Our new villa is about twice the size of our old house in Virginia, at least it feels that way. It has a nice open floor plan in the living area with enough space to be an indoor gym for the kids by day and a beautiful yoga studio when it’s cleaned at nap time, four ginormous bedrooms, tall 12-15′ ceilings, a huge kitchen, and a lot of Middle Eastern charm and character. There is a small outdoor pool that is about the size and feel of a large jacuzzi (no heating needed, duh). When the temperatures cool down, I’ll be using the open roof deck as a garden and place to host dinner parties. My favorite part of our villa is the garden with the date palms right when you enter the front gate. They produce the most amazing dates I’ve ever eaten. Izzy is a huge fan too.
So what is like actually living here? I think I need to save this for another blog.
Tad and I have tried to take many photos of our place and we both have come to the conclusion that photos do not capture the feel or awesomeness of this place. You’ll just have to come see for yourself. Our guest room is ready and I’ve already begun making reservations.
Will we ever leave this little piece of paradise? Until next time…
Aloha & Namaste