I’m still thinking about the 20-minute conversation I had with the oven repair guy yesterday. For so many reasons our conversation crossed so many cultural barriers and expectations–a real learning experience for both of us.
Before I get to the conversation I have to share that the reason why I even had this interaction is because when we moved into our villa, I discovered that only three of the five burners worked, the ignite for the burners didn’t work, the oven light didn’t work, there weren’t degrees on the oven dial, and the oven ignite didn’t work. Nothing too extreme, especially since we found a long grill lighter (a.k.a “torch”…British terms make me giggle still). But what it does mean is that I get to use my gumby-yogi-like-ninja skills every time I want to use the oven. Picture me manually lifting the bottom tray of the oven, positioning the long grill lighter just at the right angle towards the gas hose as I turn the gas knob with the other hand, all while using my feet, legs, or hip to ward off two curious toddlers who would love more than anything to “help” a.k.a. catch on fire. I know, I know. “Booo hooo, I’m such a spoiled American,” I can hear my international friends poke at me. But really, I have been taking my oven and stove for granted back in the States. Luckily, we have an amazing landlord who is willing to play to my spoiled American ways and agreed to have our oven “fixed,” or some variation of that concept.
So jump ahead to the oven repair man returning our oven after being “fixed”…
The conversation started off by him asking me about the round thing that I hung in the oven. He wanted to know what it was called, what it did, how much it cost, where to buy it, and why did I have it. When I told him it was called an oven thermometer, a $5 fix, probably found on eBay, to an oven with no control settings that allowed me to cook better, he called me an “expert cook.” I laughed in his face. Then when he asked how I knew so much about cooking and I told him I do most, if not all, of the cooking in the house his jaw literally dropped. His eyes shot out of his head when I told him I don’t have a full-time nanny or housemaid, so I do the cooking. To confirm what I told him and to make sure he understood my statement correctly, he then asked in about three different ways who watches the kids and who cleans if I don’t have a full-time maid. He really couldn’t believe that I did that too. I think he then gave me a compliment when he said: “I hope for my wife to be as strong as you one day.”
This young, definitely younger than me, Pakistani oven repair guy shared that he and his wife just had their first baby and so she needs a full-time housemaid. I chuckled and called him a good man for making sure she had support. I shared that I wish I had had full-time help when Trace was born but that things in America were different. When I shared that most of my friends in America didn’t have full time or part time housemaids, he again looked puzzled as if saying, “How could this be?” A conversation about finances with the oven repair guy seemed a little too intimate so I just said, “you’re lucky to have a full-time housemaid.” We chuckled. His smile lingered with approval.
What I keep thinking about is that we spoke with each other the way I would with anyone back in the States and by doing so I hope I didn’t offend him. I looked into his eyes as we spoke, the way I would do in the States. Even in this “liberal” country, I rarely see women looking into the eyes of men. I’ve even been told that looking into the eyes of men is not “recommended.” I laughed at some of the things he shared, showed him how to look up the oven thermometer on eBay, and then even told him if he had any more questions about cooking with a thermometer he could contact me–just like an expert. Haha. Everything about our conversation seemed so natural, and yet, still thinking about it over 24 hours later, it was against the grain.
To all of you in the States, I know this all sounds so simple but it really was a perspective shattering moment that I got to witness and share. Who knows if he’ll ever need my “expert” oven advice again (I can’t help but giggle a little every time I hear his voice in my mind say “expert cook”) or if he’ll even go out and buy a thermometer and try to explain to his housemaid why she needs to use it. But for me, I really want to remember this moment (hence, this blog). It represents so much of my experience here in Bahrain so far. A melting pot of people just making the most of their opportunities while learning from each other, often without even trying. Every day I learn so much from the people and culture around me. Every day is like a 3rd-grade field trip to the science center. The world as you know it explodes into awesome possibility and understanding that what I once knew was so small and insignificant to what is out there.
One of the aspects of travel I have always loved is learning about others’ perspective and experiences in the world. We all walk on the same planet and yet what we see, feel, hear, believe are potentially radically different. It’s this realization of all the human potential that makes me really feel alive. Makes me really feel like I know nothing and there is a whole Universe beckoning me to learn more and dive deeper into the human experience. I feel blessed to be diving deeper in Bahrain and to be sharing some of my human experiences with others as well. As I get to have these daily experiences, like with this young Pakistani oven repair man or the samosa man, I hope they feel or sense my genuine sincerity to just be present. Maybe even capture a bit of the Aloha spirit. After all, we are both spirits having a human experience…we just happen to be in Bahrain.