Our new villa

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Front gate of our villa

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.

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Our street. Our neighborhood is very quiet, safe, and very Bahrain. Narrow streets, small local shops, smell of incense often wafting from a house, and friendly smiles.

 

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.

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A view of our neighbors and general neighborhood.

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.

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Our entry with date palms.

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.

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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.

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Will we ever leave this little piece of paradise?  Until next time…

Aloha & Namaste

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The nanny conundrum

When moving to Bahrain, one of the very first things you are made aware of by others who have lived here is that it is very easy, affordable, and highly recommended to get a housemaid or nanny.  “OMG, really?!  Yessssss please,” is how I reacted.  Since moving here, I’ve been a part of many discussions regarding hiring a nanny or housemaid.  The questions and discussions are philosophical, ethical, and mostly about logistics.  While I have those same questions, I’m also experiencing a nanny conundrum different from many of the other American military spouses–I’m being perceived AS the nanny.

I am humbled. Embarrassed. Mad. Yes, even sad.

Before we moved to Bahrain I had a moment where I was crying to my husband because I heard the majority of the service industry, housemaids, and nannies in Bahrain are Filipina. I was crying because for an untrained eye (uhhemmm, Bahrainis) I can easily pass as a Filipina. I was upset because I didn’t want everyone to think I was Trace and Izzy’s nanny. Tad assured me I did NOT look anything like a Filipina and not to worry. His advice and insights are often a grounding dose of reality for me so I shook it off and didn’t think of it again.

Until…

Two weeks into our time in Bahrain my fear came to fruition. As I described in First 30 days in Bahrain, a Filipina nanny, two of them actually, thought I was a Filipina nanny taking care of Trace and Izzy. At the time, I laughed it off like no big deal. Inside, I crumbled. Internally, I was balling again. Of course the first thing I did when we got back to the room was text Tad and let him know what happened. You know, the real mature, passive aggressive “I was right” text. Secondly, I texted my girlfriends knowing I’d get their unconditional support. I was right, they sent me the perfect texts reminding me how awful that must feel and that I was sexier than a nanny. Haha, ok I may have read between their lines to make myself feel better but you all have those friends too. So you get it.

All you moms reading this, would being called your child’s “nanny” bother you? Am I being way too sensitive?

Obviously, it still bothers me.  In the past, I might have pretended like it didn’t bother me. However, all my years of yoga have trained me to run straight into my discomfort and triggers.  I truly believe the things that trigger us most are our biggest teachers.  Now, I’m not one to just push it aside.  Why hold onto that stuff?  Better out than in, as I say.

So I’ve begun to reflect. Really try and figure out WHY does being called and perceived a nanny feel so hurtful? In a country where housemaids and nannies are in almost every household, maybe including ours when we find the right match, I feel like this is an important quandary to figure out so I can truly respect the cultural norms and nannies here and across the globe.  I also want to walk a little taller and spread the Aloha with my kiddos around Bahrain without this hanging over my head.  Heads up, this blog is not about Bahrain and more an inner monologue of my “nanny conundrum”. Please only read on if you have a sincere interest in helping me grow as a person.

So, why am I so triggered by being perceived as and called the nanny? This is what I’ve figured out so far…

Nanny is just a word and title, right?  “Who cares, let it go,” I tell myself. But I can’t.

Clearly my ego feels belittled and my heart sad, angry, and hurt. In writing this, it is clear I believe those titles are somehow degrading and insulting.  Me, a housemaid?  Me, a nanny?  “I’m better than that,” my ego cries. But am I?

My ego is hurt just thinking about being called a “nanny” because 1. a nanny couldn’t love my children the way I do, 2. all that charm and brilliance Trace and Izzy display wouldn’t be given due credit to me (which I realize is an insult to all the wonderful people who have shaped my children’s lives) and 3. because I’m THEIR MOM. My vagina has the memory and scars to prove it. Forever.  For all those reasons, that’s why I don’t like being called their nanny.

I realize no harm is meant by other’s preconceived notions.  I mean I fit the image: short, Asian looking, English speaking (yes, most everyone in Bahrain speaks English), walking with or toting two toddlers (but obviously they look like me, as I’ve been told), and really cute. Haha, had to add that.  So yes, I see how I fit the image.  Aaaand, it still hurts.  I see this as an opportunity to grow, to become more patient, compassionate, and break through my own barriers of conditioning.  Hopefully someone reading this has a clear perception of what’s really going on and can call me out or drop a great big wisdom bomb on me. Seriously, I’m open to your insights, thoughts, or reflections.  Please share them.

I laugh as I write because of all the things I’ve seen, witnessed, and learned so far in Bahrain, THIS is what’s been the most challenging for me.  I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past so a lot of the other stuff (the smells, the dirt, the driving, the stares, the physical reactions) doesn’t really phase me. Teachings come in the most unexpected ways.

Anyway, I promise more pictures of the kids and house soon.  We did move into a beautiful house in the heart and soul of Adliya and are starting to get settled.  Feels so good.  I only get to write when the kids are napping. So send good wishes for long restful naps. I love you all!  And don’t forget to drop a bomb of insight or reflection for me.  Thank you.

Aloha & Namaste

The transition to Bahrain

Note: In retrospect, my first blog about Bahrain titled “The first 30 days in Bahrain” should have been titled something like, “What I’ve observed in the first 30 days”  because this blog is really more about the first 30 days.  I’m new to this blog thing.  I’ll learn.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.

The most common question I keep getting asked is, “How was the move?  How is it? What is it like?”  The answers to these questions are not so straightforward.  The short answer is, “it’s good, same same but different,” a phrase often heard when traveling abroad.  The more truthful answer is…

We landed here on June 30th after six flights. Yes, SIX, with Trace who is 2.5 years old and Izzy who was 15.5 months old.  Why six flights you ask?  Because the military booked them for us.  Period.  Need I say more?  Tad came home excited (clearly he hadn’t flown with the children before) that we were flying from Tallahassee to Orlando to Dulles to Norfolk.  We’d spend the night in Norfolk to start our outbound rotator flight (military flight) from Norfolk to Spain to Italy and finally Bahrain.  My grey hairs started sprouting immediately.

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Trace finally sleeps on the airplane.

Our first flight out of Tallahassee proved to be the biggest test and an act of trust and constant prayer.  The airlines the military booked us through, a smaller partner of United, was not ready or prepared to handle a military family moving abroad with our extra luggage, overweight, car seats, and stroller.  While Trace was totally excited that it was a propeller airplane, like Dusty Crophopper!!!, I kept praying that our bags, strollers, and car seats with HANDWRITTEN baggage tags (yes, their printers happen to break the morning of our flight) would make it to Norfolk.  I didn’t hold my breath and immediately knew we would be shopping for new stuff in Bahrain.  To my delightful surprise everything made it to Norfolk.  I can’t say the same from Norfolk to Bahrain but everything eventually caught up to us and for that 6 flights to Bahrain was a miracle.  

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So cute it hurts. Miss Iz sleeping on the airplane

The flights were not as bad as I had anticipated (no, I didn’t bootleg some Xanex), thanks to introducing Trace to the tablet and movies. Best move ever.  Izzy had more stir crazy moments but I don’t blame her. She finally figured out that flying is boring for a 15 month old and slept.  The hardest part was keeping them from going absolutely bonkers at the airport in Spain and Italy. That’s when I needed a drink and Xanex. Too bad for me.  So all-in-all, the kids did great, waaaaay better than I expected for six flights and three days in airplanes and airports.

We landed in Bahrain at 0230 (that’s 2:30 am) three days after leaving Tallahassee.  It was 99 degrees.  It was a slap in the sweaty face of reality.  Luckily, Tad’s sponsor (the guy he replaced) met us at the airport and took great care to make sure were shown the ropes for the first few days.  He set us up to live at the Elite Resort and Spa until we could find our own house.  No, there is no Base living here.  Everyone lives out in town.  We did find our place to call home relatively quickly but here we are on day 32 in the hotel due to logistics and paperwork.  Patience is definitely the theme of my life right now.  The hotel is a large international hotel (mostly Saudi’s on vacation, their nannies, and other US military personnel moving to or leaving Bahrain) with amazing customer service.  Our room is a large two bedroom suite with a kitchen on the 14th floor overlooking the capital city of Manama and two bays.

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The view from our hotel room. Looking at Manama, Bahrain.

Hotel living seemed daunting at first but now I think it was a great way to adjust. Everyone here is so nice and helpful. They love, LOVE, Trace and Izzy…a lot! Almost too much contact for my liking but it’s just the customs here. Trace and Izzy have handled it well though. Izzy typically gets this look of fear, finds me, and then runs to me saying, “Mama. Mama.” Trace sometimes lets people hold him. The creepy ones he runs. His judgement of character is on point. Thank goodness.

Tad started work…yes, the day we arrived. He truly is a juxtaposition of lazy and hard working. I can learn a lot. The Navy Base where Tad works is nothing exciting.  Just a bunch of square buildings (with frigid AC…hallelujah!), lots of imported palm trees, and sand.  Really describes the whole island.  Trace insists on wearing his flip flops then immediately cries and complains of getting sand in his shoes. He’s a smart boy, except when it comes to his flip flops and sand. Bless his two and a half year old heart.  I have felt very grounded by a steady yoga and meditation practice that somehow feels easier to find the time to do here than back in Virginia.  My travel bug has been reborn and despite having two toddlers in-tow, I want to see, really see, smell, feel, hear, taste, this place.  #Bahrainorbust

Trace and Izzy are adjusting as well as possible but it’s not easy being a toddler anywhere in the world, let alone during a big move like this. Yes, Izzy entered her toddler stage sometime between Tallahassee and Bahrain.  Let’s really add some fuel to the fire, yippeee.  She’s discovered her voice, opinions, and screams a.k.a death squeals.  Why didn’t any of my mom friends with girls tell me of this horrible noise?  The first five days were the most rough due to several factors, 1. everything–the sounds, smells, clothes, beds, food, brightness of the sun, dust, taste of water, weather, EVERYTHING–was new to the kids which was fun and exciting until it wasn’t, 2.  Trace and Izzy had to learn to share a room for their first time while having troubles adapting to the time change (no big surprise), and 3. Ramadan was in full swing.  Eventually total exhaustion won and the kids got on schedule but that was right around Eid, the last day of Ramadan.  Ramadan is a holy month for the Islam religion.  Not being Islam and arriving during their holidays with two toddlers in 100+ weather was quite a treat (insert loads of sarcasm).  Out of respect, we did not eat or drink in public, show public displays of affection, or wear anything a typical westerner would in 100+ degree weather.  100+ degree outings with two toddlers who can’t have water is not a reality I wish on anyone.  Trace made us pay for it.  I don’t blame him. So for selfish reasons, Eid (the last day of Ramadan) was something I celebrated too.

I think changing routine is exactly what every psychologist and toddler book says not to do.  But we did it.  We had to.  Overall, they did great and I don’t blame them a single bit for crying more, being more clingy, and a little more irritating. I feel the same towards them. Locals seem to love, maybe tolerate is a better term, Americans so nothing but good vibes so far.  Almost everyone speaks English, or some version of it.  People seem utterly surprised when I share that I’m from the United States.  Maybe I should begin asking where they think I’m from.  My hunch is they think I’m from the Philippines (refer to First 30 days in Bahrain blog).

Sorry there is a lack of photos so far.  Honestly it just looks like an urban city with a lot of dust. Well, and the photos on Google are better.  Just do a quick Google search.

A hui hou…until next time…

Aloha & Namaste

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A beautiful sunset view from the master bedroom in our hotel room.