Driving in Bahrain, part 1

Driving in any foreign country is often a cultural experience on to itself.  Bahrain is no exception.  Upon arriving in Bahrain I was still shaken up from my car accident in the States and the thought of driving in Bahrain was a nightmare.  I literally still shook when I had to drive and sitting as a passenger in Bahrain was just as terrifying.  Now, looking back I realize Bahrain was just  the cure to my driving fears, mostly because I either had to sink or swim.  Not really having a choice, unless we wanted to hire a driver (which is totally a normal thing here), I have learned to find driving in Bahrain quite efficient.  Not really sane or safe in anyway, just efficient.  I get from point A to point B, which is the whole point of driving, right?

Driving in Bahrain is frustrating for my western, logical, mind.  When we first moved here, just getting to my destination seemed like a momentous occasion to be celebrated.  I’m still amazed at how I’ve learned to navigate around Bahrain since Google maps “does” work here but seems to be about 1 block delayed and street signs may or may not exist.  Even the signs that do exist can be so faded you can’t read them, blocked by an overgrown tree or bush, or just straight up wrong.  Before one can really celebrate arriving at your destination, finding parking (which might be a whole blog on to itself) becomes the real obstacle and test of patience.  Thank goodness the rules, I mean guidelines, for parking are even less defined.

Driving in Bahrain takes patients, a lot of patients.  It also takes the sense of letting go of expectations. Which seems weird because if you think about it ALL of driving is based on expectations…certain expectations that everyone will generally follow said country’s driving rules.  And this is where the patients come into play.  Driving “rules” and “laws” do exist here but no one really follows them.  They are more like guidelines or suggestions open to serious interpretation based on the driver’s country of origin, how expensive your car/SUV is, and how big your vehicle is.  Now having been here 15 months, from what I have witnessed, these are the only agreed upon driving guidelines that most driver’s follow:

  • Drive on the right side of the road, inshallah.
  • Turn on your lights when driving at night, inshallah.
  • Stop at a red light if there is a traffic camera.  Otherwise, inshallah.
  • Honk often.
  • You are the most important driver on the road, so everyone needs to get out of your way and read your mind since you don’t use any signals.
  • Do not use any signals.
  • Park anywhere your car sort of fits.

Those are the guidelines.  Speed limit signs and other traffic signs are posted everywhere but these are more like side-of-the-road decorations or, again, suggestions.  Right of way exists to the largest vehicle in the vicinity, or the car that honks the most aggressively.  Pedestrians definitely do NOT have the right of way and never assume since you are walking half way across a street with your kids in hand a car some distance away will see you or slow down.  This makes walking with the kids a nightmare.  This is probably why you rarely see kids walking around on the streets.

While no one seems to know how to use a turn signal here (a pet peeve of mine even in the States), honking is everyone’s form of communication.  It’s not as bad as Delhi, India, Lima, Peru or other major cities I’ve traveled, but it’s still a lot.  At first, the honking got to me and it made me all flabbergasted and stressed out. Over time, I’ve learned to distinguish between the honks and realized honking (not signals) is a form of communication between drivers.  Here is my analysis and honking guide for Bahrain:

  • One long honk = equivalent to the middle finger -or- I’m not happy -or- get out of my way -or- watch out.
  • One short honk = move -or- start driving.
  • Short repetitive honks = (typically following the one short honk) i’m losing my patients and you need to move now before this turns into one long honk.
  • Two short honks = thank you (I have only seen three people in my entire time here actually wave as a ‘thank you’).

I’ve started using the honks. What I’ve learned is: 1. they work, and 2. God forbid you accidentally give someone two honks (“thank you” honk) when you meant to give one short one. The car in front of you becomes so confused they freeze and it takes longer for them to move. Rookie error.

There is so much more to go into this topic like parking, Saudi Swoops, car seats, and motorcycles but for now I’ll leave you with this. In a country that seems to be me-me-me first on the road, Emergency vehicles (i.e. EMT vehicles) have to stop for red lights even when their lights are flashing and sirens on. YES!!! I know.  I’ve seen this happen many times.  Every time I have witnessed this all I can do is pray. Pray that the person or people inside make it. Pray that the added 1-5 minutes (depending on the red light) isn’t the difference between life and death. And pray that the driver says “Fuck this shit” and blows through the light knowing how ridiculous it is to wait while no other vehicle on the road does.

Then again, maybe this is a deeper reflection of my time in Bahrain. Maybe this country, while I love it, has made me a little less optimistic. Or maybe it’s more optimistic, depending on how you see it. Either way, if you choose to visit us (and the doors are still open as long as we are here) please come with your favorite anti-anxiety remedy/medication or a new bottle of whiskey.  Tad particularly likes Jura which is hard to find here (wink wink).

Until next time. Aloha & Namaste.

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Even bees get “Bahrained”

#bahrained is a common hashtag used in conversations among my American friends living in Bahrain.  It’s hard to describe #bahrained unless you live here.  It’s kind of like an inside joke but the joke is on you.  Bahrained is typically an unfavorable outcome or describes a situation that only seems plausible and acceptable in a place like Bahrain.  In addition to #bahrained there are also the regularly used #bahrainproblems and #inshallahtiming.  Let me use my week to shed light on insiders’ terms and give you a glimpse of what life can be like living in Bahrain.  Note to reader: I did not make up any of this.

I pick up my car, the Island Beater, from the mechanic on Sunday night.  I don’t drive it at all on Monday. On Tuesday, as I’m driving to teach my first class at a new yoga studio, my Island Beater overheats because the water tank decides to fall apart.  I’m stuck turning the AC off and turning the heat on in 118F/48C degrees hoping it will help cool the engine off.  Simultaneously I pray to God, and every remover of obstacle deity I know, that I can make it over the one stretch of highway that is a bridge with  no shoulder and no exits.  #bahrained

I make it across the bridge and even further than I had anticipated.  Eventually, my car finally dies in the middle lane and everyone honks at me and gives me the Bahraini hand swat in mid-air as if I’ve purposely let my car die in the middle of the road trying to ruin their day. #bahrained

#Luck: My car turns back on.  I go back into prayer mode, “please car, please car just get me to the studio.  please.”  I’m giggling with how ridiculous my morning is.  It’s only 7:48am.  At snail’s pace,  pleaful chanting, and reassuring car talk like my car is trying to have a baby, I putter my way to the yoga studio.  The car dies as I turn into the parking lot. BUT I MADE IT!!!  I think, “it’s not a bad day after all.”

I’m dripping sweat because I’ve been driving with the heat on in 118F/48C degrees.  I run into the yoga studio for a sweet surrender and cold escape only to discover the studio’s AC and electricity are not working.  Not joking.  Seriously #bahrained!

I pull my phone out of my bag only to be reminded my phone died the night before (not joking) and I’m using a backup phone with no contact information for any of my “guys”–not the car/mechanic guy, not the tow truck guy, not even my Bahrain friends. The only number I have is Tad’s because it’s his old phone but then I realize he isn’t allowed to have his phone with him at work so I’m texting all my updates to a turned off phone sitting in a locker. #bahrained

#smartphonesforthewin:  I go to open Facebook to start my search for phone numbers, tow trucks, mechanics, etc. and discover the FB app is not loaded on the phone and there isn’t enough memory to download it.  Thank god for plain old internet on a phone.  I think, “I love you Steve Jobs.” 

I have to choose where to rectify my situation: inside the studio with no AC but a roof to cover me from the blazing sun OR outside with a slight breeze.  It’s now a feel temperature of 122F/50C degrees and the iPhone6 is beginning to get hotter and hotter with every search and phone call I make and the battery is draining like crazy. #bahrainproblems

#LifeisGood:  It’s now Wednesday…I go 24 hours without anything “exciting” happening.  My car actually got towed to the right mechanic.  My kids are sort-of listening and not draining my soul with whining.  It’s a good day. I’m also headed to a sunset SUP yoga paddle session with a Bahrain bestie.

I’m being a good global citizen by picking up the trash in the water as I paddle around only to pick up a bag of ground beef and half of it is still filled with flesh (semi-cooked because the water is so warm) and it flies across my legs, arm, and board.  Beef?!  Who finds ground beef in the ocean?!  #bahrained.

It’s still Wednesday, the sunset was beautiful and I’m relaxed knowing I got all my #bahrainproblems out of the way for the week.  I was wrong.  Just as I’m finishing up I receive a text from our nanny that there is no running water at the house.  Surprise, I just got #bahrained…again.

On the way home (my friend is driving) the mechanic calls to say he thinks he’s fixed the car but he can’t be 100% sure. Furthermore, I can come to pick up the car tonight and hopefully, it doesn’t overheat again or I can leave it with him until tomorrow and he’ll double check the engine in the morning. I decide to go another day without a car and now start to realize I may have to cancel work because I don’t have a car and possibly running water.  #bahrainproblems #bahrained

It’s evening prayer time and close to dinner so my landlord and his brothers are not checking their phones and receiving my calls.  I need the plumber guy ASAP but I don’t have his number because remember, I still don’t have any phone numbers because my phone is dead.  #bahrained

My landlord comes over and realizes he can’t fix the water, he’ll send someone over in the morning…Inshallah.  I don’t hold my breath because that literally translates to, “someone will come to check out the water situation in the next week.”  Let me introduce you to #inshallahtiming.

I smell like dying flesh because I haven’t showered all day but have sweat like crazy teaching yoga both on land and in water and had to walk to and from the yoga studio in 110F/43C degrees (because my car is still at the mechanic’s), and I still have remnants of semi-cooked beef juice on my arms and legs.  HOWEVER, Tad tells me there is water in the upstairs bathroom.  YES!!!  So I squat under the trickling stream of water, lather up and scrub the beef juice areas extra hard, turn the water on to finally wash off and THERE IS NO MORE WATER.  NONE.  NOT EVEN A DROP. I’m forced to wipe off the soap with drinking water, a washcloth, and baby wipes.  #bahrained.

#Luck:  It’s now Thursday morning, less than 48 hours after my car died and about 60 hours since my phone died, and the plumber guy actually shows up.  It’s the first time in a full year someone has shown up when they said they would.  Inshallah THAT!  It’s going to be a good day.

Thank goodness I took the day off because not only can the plumber not figure out why our water isn’t working (and I’m now wondering if I need to move us into a hotel), I now also have the Civil Defense Department at my front door.  What? Where did they come from?  Why are a bunch of very official looking men standing at my front door.  Oh wait, the landlord this morning saw a beehive in our yard and is having it taken care of. #bahrained  This is a good time to insert a joke: “How many men does it take to remove a beehive?”  Apparently in Bahrain, about 10.  No surprise though for anyone who lives here and constantly sees one man working and 3-8 on-lookers…I mean helpers.  We’ve finally arrived to the title…

Even bees get #bahrained.  The Civil Defense’s solution for a beehive is to blast it with water.  No joke.  The very official men all arrived on a fluorescent yellow fire truck.  They drug a fire hose into our entryway and blasted the poor hive to pieces.  I didn’t want them to do it but the order was called in by my landlord out of wanting our family (mostly the kids) to be safe.  When I saw they were honey bees I lost it.  Honeybees are like GOLD!!! I thought I was doing so well this week given the onslaught of #bahrained moments but it was the bees that broke me.  I started crying for the thousands of bees dying and drowning in my entryway while the Civil Defense crew picked dates off my tree.  Even bees get #bahrained.

#Life:  So there you have it.  It’s now 2pm on Thursday [deep breath of relief].  I’m still using a backup phone because the phone plan we use (Google’s Project Fi) only has a few specific phones that work with its plan and NONE of those phones are sold in Bahrain.  Surprise.  And YES, if you just silently said to yourself “Bahrained,” you get it. You got it.  By noon I got to bring my Island Beater back home and our water was turned on while I was getting the car (it’s a miracle).  Life is good.

Honestly, I’m not really surprised by this week.  About one week ago I heard that voice within warn me, “Are you ready?”  I knew what it was talking about.  I hear this voice and have glimpses of what-might-come-to-be in the most random times, doing dishes, opening a car door, brushing my teeth.  Life’s been really smooth lately—no major bumps, a few house issues (but what’s new), and overall we’re all in a really good Bahrain groove.  The voice was letting me know the pot was about to be stirred.

The old me, the version of me I still have memories of in college and even in my 20’s, would have cried, lost it, complained, and even though the world was out to get me. Now, I know these weeks are here to test me.  I see weeks like this as a check-in to see if I’m really walking my talk.  They are also a good reminder that life is good.  I mean really, the truth is if I’m texting my Bahrain besties #bahrained or #bahrainproblems, it means we’re making light out of an annoying situation.  No one is hurt.  No one is in serious danger.  I’m overly grateful to have the means to take care of each situation as well.  We’re turning our complaints into jokes and trying to just do the best we can given our western upbringing in a same same but different country .

During weeks like this, I can’t help but think about all the people who move to the United States and have to adjust to life there.  Do they have a term with their friends that helps them get through their adjustments?  Like ‘Merica’d, or “RWB’d“?  That culture shock and adjustment just seems unfathomable to me.  Like all things, living in Bahrain is another great test of letting go of the things I can’t change and learning how to be more adaptable, open-minded, and even accepting of the things I don’t want to accept.  I know not everyone moves as much as we do but maybe my week, my #bahrained vignette will help you to be more compassionate to people in your neighborhood, city, office, or school.  Please, next time you meet someone who has moved to the United States, might I suggest you think of Tad, Trace, Izzy, and I. They are likely going through a similar adjustment period but uniquely their own in a foreign land.  Rather than see them as different or not fitting in, maybe just realize they are a son or daughter making the most out of their given situation and likely getting there version of #bahrained.   

From my heart to yours…

Aloha & Namaste

 

Happy 1 year Bahrainiversary to us!

And just like that, we’ve been here for one year [eyes bulge out of disbelief]. In my mind, it feels more like 7 months. To Tad, he says even shorter. But alas, we’ve hit our 1-year Bahrainiversary and we are definitely in full stride.   I had full intentions of writing a 1-year blog before we went to Georgia (the country in Europe, not the United States) but that clearly never happened. So here I am, one-month post-Georgia finally getting a moment to write.

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Tad and Trace feeding the camels at the Royal Camel Farm.

Bahrain has and continues to treat us well (knock on wood). Tad has been traveling all over the Middle East and back to the United States quite frequently. While he doesn’t like being away so long and so often, he seems to be enjoying the executive treatment at the airport lounges like a kid in a candy store. And let’s be honest, traveling without kids has to feel like winning a jackpot.

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Trace wearing his Pre-Nursery end-of-the-year costume at the bowling alley.  Yes, that’s an 11lb bowling ball.

Trace LOVED attending Kidz World (pre-school) this last year and is still our avid learner and bookworm. To my own fault, I often treat Trace way older than he is. Tad taught Trace how to say, “mommy, I’m just 3.” I wish I didn’t need to be reminded, but I do. He’s just so mature and smart.  Aaaand he still loves to cuddle.  I feel like I can really get into this age.  Maybe 3.5 years is my thing.  2.5 is definitely NOT.  Intro Izzy…

 

 

 

 

 

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Izzy is better at walking in heels than I am.  She has also perfected her fashion blog pose at an impressive age.

Izzy…Oh, Izzy. She is so her own (said with a huge sigh and huge smile). That girl. Pre-Georgia she was getting soooooo bored staying at home with me (yes, she would tell me) and kept asking me to go to school with Trace. Thank goodness Kidz World is hosting a summer camp they both started after our trip to Georgia. Izzy is super excited to be a big kid now and Trace loves having Izzy at “school” with him.  Already, this summer is a big turning point for Iz. Not only is she going to Kidz World every morning with her favorite person in the whole entire World, but she also decided she doesn’t want to wear diapers anymore. Score!  She also has turned up the boundary testing by 300%.  Maybe Trace was this stubborn but if so the amnesia is real.  She’s testing me in every way possible.  Tad just taught her, “Mommy, I’m just 2.”  Izzy naturally threw in the head tilt and cute blinks while saying it.  Watch out World…Izzy’s coming for you.

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Getting ready to paddle out for a solo Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) Yoga session.

And me, oh yeah, me. It’s all divine timing. The week I signed the kids up for summer camp I was contacted by three different yoga studios to teach.  Yoga is just beginning to become a thing here, as is all things natural and holistic.  And with the country being as small as it is, apparently, my name got out.  It is really good timing for me to be here now. Now that the kids are at summer camp and soon-to-be pre-school every morning, I’ll be teaching yoga at two new studios in Bahrain while continuing to teach Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) Yoga for Beach Culture and growing my YouTube channel library Yoga with Haunani.  I’ve also been asked to do cupping, acupuncture, and workshops.  We’ll see if that comes to be.  So yeah, we are all in our little Bahraini groove and it feels amazing.

Recently, I’ve noticed Tad and I share more and more phrases that start with, “You’d never know unless you lived in Bahrain….(finish the sentence with something new to our family).” So in honor of this one-year mark, I figure I would share some of these insights we’ve gleaned as a family. Honestly, I’m not sure these are specific to Bahrain.  They are probably more like lessons you learn from a western family moving anywhere in a Middle Eastern desert-like country.  However, since we live in Bahrain, here goes…

You’d never know unless you lived in Bahrain:

  • 105F degrees feels cool, even with humidity.
  • Having a “guy” for everything is the only way you get things fixed here.
  • Wearing glasses or sunglasses with metal frames during the hot-season (June-October) will burn the side of your face or anywhere that your frames accidentally touch your face.
  • Having your own date tree is the best!
  • Driving gloves are required…not for the cold (the only reason I knew they existed) but for the billion degrees steering wheel that cooked in your car while you were getting groceries or running an errand on Base.
  • We are in the middle of everything…it takes 3-5 hours to fly all over the globe and we are definitely taking advantage of it.
  • A 3-5 hour flight with toddlers is no big deal.
  • Hummus in the United States is gross.
  • Tripping or falling onto your hands, knees, and even face, during the hot-season, can lead to 1st and 2nd-degree burns.  Izzy helped us figure this one out.
  • Making crisp, fresh french fries is harder than you think.
  • Holistic anything…yoga, Acupuncture, Ayurveda…is spreading like crazy here.  It’s a good time for me to be here and help that growth and education.
  • Keeping a house in good working order…water, electricity, plumbing…is apparently a miracle.  We all live in miracle homes in the States.
  • The “Saudi swoop.”  It’s totally acceptable to cut across three lanes of traffic to make a turn or u-turn.
  • Fruits have seeds in them…duh, I know but everything you buy in grocery stores in the US has been modified to lose the seeds.  I love showing the kids all the different types of seeds and making them learn how to eat around the seeds.  Less work for mommy!
  • You can drink camel’s milk.
  • Rain is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because it’s rain in the desert and a curse because this island was not built for rain.  Everything turns into waterfront property, including your bedroom floor when the water starts leaking through your roof or running down your walls out of the Air Conditioning units.  We lucked out but several families here had full on rivers in their homes.
  • Google’s Project Fi is the best phone service and invention for families who move abroad and travel a lot.
  • Cars have a lifespan of 10 years.  It’s literally so hot and sandy it destroys the cars. My car is 12 years old and every day I pray to God it starts and doesn’t fail me mid-drive.
  • High rise buildings and malls are still built by hand…like the whole thing, cement bricks and all.  Only the really rich developers bring in the machines like a crane or cement mixer.  It’s truly impressive.

I’m sure I could keep going on and on because a lot of stuff we’ve gotten used to.

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Now that we are at our one year mark it means we are mentally preparing for our next move.  I know, CRAZY, but that’s how it works.  Move.  Adjust.  Settle.  Prepare (to move again).  Repeat.   With that said, NO we don’t have any idea where we’ll be moving next. Maybe by December but I’m not counting on it until March 2018.  I have asked Tad numerous times to extend and stay here but that will not be happening.

By the way, I post a lot of family (Trace and Izzy) photos and our life in Bahrain on Instagram.  Only a few get shared on Facebook.  So close friends and family, if you want to see more of us, follow me on IG at BreatheConnectBe.  If you want to follow my work (yoga, acupuncture, holistic health), follow me at AlohaYogiMom.

Until next time.  Aloha & Namaste.

Ever receive a bird as a party favor? We just did.

Warning: there is swearing in this blog. Yes, it is warranted.

I have so many blogs to write, to catch up on my online journal/family memory lane blog.  I’ll get to them.  Someday.  But this one—this one deserves staying up to write.

I consider myself rather imaginative.  I can come up with really crazy stories, out there ideas and hypotheses.  I’m a “free thinker” in so many ways.  But never, ever, ever, EVER in a million years did I ever consider that people gave away birds as party favors, let alone be on the receiving end of this unimaginable concept. But it happened. Oh yes, it happened.  And it happened to me last night.

Let me say, as I begin writing this I’m about 24.5 hours into this cultural comprehension moment and I’m still in a little shock and overcome with random chuckles and LOL moments.  Last night I was leaning more towards the shock side of the experience and as the day progressed, I’m just laughing and giggling at this very unexpected and unconventional “gift.”

Screenshot_20170611-23So how did this happen? The short version: I delivered some goodies for the kids celebrating Gurgaon (a special day in Ramadan celebrated in Bahrain) to our neighbors and came home with a bird. Literally, I wish there was more to the story but there really isn’t. The neighbors had invited us to come to celebrate Gurgaon with them but by the time they were celebrating (after sunset, Iftar, and prayer) our kids were already asleep. This is not the first time this has happened. The Bahrain family schedule is very different than ours. Since I had prepared goodie bags and some treats, I didn’t want them to go to waste or spoil so I thought I’d just stop by really quick, drop them off, and apologize that our kids had fallen asleep.

Yeah, well as I left our house Tad and I both knew there was no way I could just drop something off. A polite invitation to join the festivities would inevitably happen. For how long I’d be there, we had no idea. I asked Tad to call me if it got too late. So off I went with the goodie bags and cupcakes (from the amazing Semper Fi Treats).

When I arrived there was a sea of shoes already at the front entrance.  Like in Hawai’i, people take their shoes off before entering a home.  I was greeted by our landlord and he immediately invited me to join the festivities. Several women–his sister, wife, mother, and cousins–all came and welcomed me. I couldn’t leave. No matter what I tried to say, it would be unacceptable to leave. So there I was invited to sit and join the family Gurgaon/Ramadan gathering. I was feeling both happy I had changed out of my pajamas and back into my day clothes (jeans and a blouse) since the room was full of beautiful gowns and dresses and super uncomfortable since I had not gone to great lengths to look my best.  In fact, I had the just-got-out-of-the-pool-and-put-on-some-clothes-look.  I was stunning in my own special way.  Haha.

I sat down and was immediately given a huge bag of gifts for Trace and Izzy. I learned quickly it is quite uncomfortable to receive gifts for a holiday you don’t celebrate and from people you barely know. Literally, for the next twenty minutes, there was song, dancing, and blessings for all the children, especially the new babies in the family. From what I gathered from the cousin who patiently sat next to me and tried to make me feel at home Gurgaon is a big celebration for the children, especially the new babies in the family since last Ramadan (at least this is how it was being celebrated).

During this time there was a non-stop stream of gift giving, mostly candy and food items, but also fully wrapped gifts of all shapes and sizes. I sat there more and more uncomfortable. I literally came over with goodie bags of candy and chocolate and here I was being given so many gifts it eventually would take me three large bags to bring it all home. As the blessings seemed to be winding down, the song and dance less the focus of I saw one of the cousins leaving with her son that goes to Trace’s school. In my mind, I thought it would be a good time to leave.  If she’s leaving, it won’t be rude for me to leave either.

After I said my goodbyes and thank you’s, I was attempting to walk out when the sister stopped me and asked me to wait for one more gift. I already had three large bags of gifts and food they had just shared, what more could I possibly carry or get? This is when she came out of the house with the birdcage and bird. I’m sure my jaw dropped, my eyes bugged out of my head as I chuckled with disbelief trying to turn the gift away. But when she said it was from the two new babies of the family (I forget their names) I realized there was no turning this bird away. Culturally it would be beyond rude and a disgrace. Somewhere in my shock and bewildered perspective-rocked mind, I thanked her and proceeded to walk home. The rented black and white miniature pony didn’t even get a double-take from me as I carried the chirping bird toward my house.

Thinking back, I must have looked like a crazy unkempt lady walking down the street with bags in one hand, a tiny birdcage holding it in front of me like it was a dirty diaper, while I stared straight ahead like a zombie mumbling quickly and out loud to myself, “Oh my god, we just got a bird. Oh my god, Tad’s going to die. [Quickly glancing into the cage but not long enough to acknowledge the reality of it all] Oh my god, this is a bird. What the f&ck? Who gives a bird? [chuckle] I’m holding a bird. [chuckle] Oh my god, I’m holding a bird. What do I do? Should I let it out now? What the f&ck? What the f&ck? What the f&ck!” Then I was home.  We live two houses away.

Thank goodness Tad is an animal loving Saint who took the news and appearance of a tiny pink cage and scared-shitless bird to heart with a chuckle, open-mind, and heart. He immediately understood the cultural conundrum I was put in and also realized I couldn’t turn the bird away. His first overzealous, animal loving idea was, “great, now we can have a house bird that just flies around.” Having lived with parakeets in my pre-teen years, I immediately vetoed that idea reminding him bird shit would be everywhere. He disappointingly agreed.

Between our disbelief and fits of chuckles and laughter, we discussed our other options. Should we release it outside? That wouldn’t work because what would we say when the landlord visited or brought his kid over for a play date and asked about the bird. Would we lie to them? Tell them we “accidentally” let it out? And in our hearts, we knew the finch would likely become feral cat food more than anything—which I’m sure would make the neighborhood cats happy and tiny birds are not endangered but the thought of this little bird being mauled by street cats was disheartening.

“It wouldn’t be acceptable to return the bird would it?” we considered. That’s when Tad declared, “I guess we’ll just keep it.” And if any of you know how Tad makes decisions, once it’s made, once it’s declared, it’s done. So, just like that, we had a bird. Tad decided it would be good for the kids, the kids could name it, we could only keep it for one year because we could not move with it (military wouldn’t allow it), so what harm could having a bird for one year do? For a second my imagination ran wild with memories of my birds, the cleaning, the smell, biting Trace and Izzy’s fingers, bird getting loose and there being a mad hunt trying to get it back in its cage, and then the tears of having to say good-bye to another beloved friend when we have to PCS (military move). In my mind, a lot could go wrong with this bird. But it was decided Tad chose the name Lemy and then went to bed. So much for the kids getting to choose a name.

I poured myself a glass of wine, sat there half stunned, half hysterical as this little bird chirped away in a cage way to small and I posted on Instagram and Facebook about our bird. “Does anyone know what type of bird this is? Male? Female?” Screenshot_20170611-211908.pngWithin a few minutes, I was informed it was a male zebra finch. Upon doing a Google search I could confirm it was and I began reading up on what I was now going to be responsible for keeping alive for one year until we could re-gift it back to our neighbor/landlord who has a huge aviary at his house.

The information I read was only putting me into greater shock and disbelief. This one overly generous unnecessary gift was escalating quickly. Everything I read said I’d need to get at least one more bird, if not more since they like a community. I’d also need to get a huge cage.  If I wasn’t so concerned about early-onset dementia I would have been pounding my head on the table saying, “what the f$ck?!!!!” over and over again. I chugged the wine, told the little birdie to have a good night, turned off the lights and went to bed not convinced his name was Lemy.

After a surprisingly deep night’s sleep the very first thing I woke up thinking was, “Fuck, I have a bird downstairs. Should I go release it before the kids wake up?” I checked my phone really quickly almost hoping I had a message from Tad saying he’d already done it. Nothing. I did have a bunch of social media updates that made it clear birds are either loved or hated; there’s no in between. By the time I had my contacts in and ran down to see if it was still in the cage, I heard Izzy waking. By the time I got back upstairs Izzy was standing at the top of the stairs and immediately said, “I hear birdies.” Her cute little voice saying “birdie” sealed the deal. It was too cute. She would love it. I picked her up and we listened a few more times as I told her we got a new bird. Before I knew it, Trace was up and asking me about the chirping sounds too. The look of anticipation and excitement was like Christmas. Now that I think about it, that must have been quite a morning for them. Go to bed with no clue of anything changing and wake up to mommy and daddy getting a new pet bird. I think we just reinforced their concept that mommy and daddy are magical.

IMG_20170611_090253.jpgTrace and Izzy were in love at first site. I quickly told them it was a Bahrain bird so that when we travel and move it needs to stay in Bahrain. I also told them we needed to find a name for it. Trace wanted Bobby. Izzy thought about it through breakfast than declared Kaka. Both seemed appropriate. After I told them daddy’s name idea, Trace then declared “the parrot” should be called Lemy Bobby Kaka. In good ‘ole Hawaiian style our bird has a forever long name.

Trace keeps calling it a parrot even though I correct him every time. Izzy…oh, Izzy, she is hysterical. She is her own. All day today she has been running up to the cage and yelling, “Boat snack!” to the bird. This makes me laugh out loud every time. For those who don’t get it, it’s a reference to the movie Moana. Maui, the demigod, calls Moana’s chicken a “boat snack.” I found Trace singing to the bird before school because he told me it would make the bird less scared. Izzy also kept saying in her sweetest voice ever, “It’s okay birdie” every time it chirped. So yes, we now have a pet finch (not a parrot) for the next year.

IMG_20170611_204538.jpgThe neighborhood watchman found an unused cage at the landlord’s house so we could upgrade the size of the cage this evening. Tad is already talking about buying a friend for the finch so he doesn’t get lonely and depressed. I, on the other hand, have cleaned the surrounding of the cage five times today. And while the bird seemed to like yoga class today, possibly even falling asleep during savasana, it’s going to take me a while to get over the culture shock of receiving a bird as a party favor.

When something unexpected happens to you that is both hysterically funny and culturally out of the box, it is quite a psychological experiment in mindfulness and watching the mind waver between thoughts and reactions that are both loving and ones that are cruel.  I know this is just a bird.  It’s not like it’s a rare species or human being but still…receiving a bird as a party favor is like my friend texted me, “so funny, so wrong.”  I’m already hesitant to attend any more events at my landlord’s house, especially for Ramadan or Gurgaon next year. I guess our saving grace from a pet chicken or who knows what they’ll hand out next year, is that we will be getting ready to move this time next year. Now THAT is crazy to think about too.

Cut and paste stories of Bahrain

Clearly, we’ve “settled” into our routine of living in Bahrain. I say that because I don’t feel as motivated to write, a direct reflection of feeling comfortable and not having the need to share or think anything is worth sharing.  Then again, my parents were just here for five weeks and spending time with them was a priority.  I bet if I asked them what I should write about, they’d say “driving in Bahrain.”  So I’ll begin working on that one.  In the meantime…

In doing some computer and smartphone cleaning, I found some pieces I had begun to write when we first moved here.  Rather than try to weave them into one long story as if they actually represented now, I figured I’d literally cut and paste.  It may not read as cohesively but I do want to “archive” them in some way as family memories.  Enjoy

5th Anniversary
Immediately upon arriving Tad and I had our 5th wedding anniversary. “Had” being the most appropriate word, not celebrated and definitely not toasted. Honestly, we almost forgot. Oops. In the short to-do list of moving our whole life across the globe, we both forgot about our anniversary. This is what I love about us. We did both mentioned, in passing at one of the six airport terminals we got the pleasure of sitting in, that the other should not expect anything for our anniversary. But to actually go until about 2pm before remembering…ooops.  Clearly, we are a good match for each other with very low expectations.  When we did finally remember, we figured out that still being married after three moves, two deployments, two amazing kids back-to-back, and not having killed our kids or each other was probably the best gift we could give each other. We then also did the geographic math and discovered we have been in a different state or country for each of our anniversaries: 1st Hawaii. 2nd California. 3rd Florida. 4th Virginia. 5th Bahrain. Not totally outrageous places often sought out for anniversaries but a cool record nonetheless, one that may actually hold up for a few more years. So Happy Anniversary to us.

Moving with Toddlers
Trace and Izzy have been the real rock stars of this move. Yes, kids are adaptable blah blah blah. Aaaaaand no they are not! If you are a parent of a toddler you know as well as anyone that all the psychologist and toddler books say, “routine is everything.” Let me paraphrase the rest for all my friends and family who forget the toddler stage, a.k.a tantrum stage: your child depends on predictability and routine. If you want to mess up your child up and deal with tantrums, break their routine. Whatever you do, don’t move across the globe to new sounds, smells, tastes, temperatures, and sights. This will destroy their sense of reality and you will be the one to pay.  Like the awesome and amazing parents we are, we moved across the globe. Why follow the rules?

 

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Izzy’s first tantrum.  The hotel elevator, a convenient place to share how you really feel.

Call it luck, timing, or fateful backlash to moving across the globe, Izzy discovered her voice and opinions about three days after landing in Bahrain. Thank goodness we have TWO toddlers now. Oh, joy. Yippee. I was just starting to think this whole parenting thing was getting too easy and boring (said no mom of a two-year-old. Ever.). I now look forward to the unpredictable nature of wine o’clock. No, not whine o’clock, that’s predictable. That will happen all day long. Wine o’clock is the time I decide to have my first glass of wine. It might be 10am or 2pm.  That’s what makes it so fun. Every day is different. Like a choose your own adventure but every ending I’m the winner. Wine o’ clock is definitely proportional to the psychopathic irrational tendencies of the two toddlers in my life. No shame. The real choose your own adventure horror plot twist is when the wine supply is low at home and your only source of wine is on Base (a full hour outing there and back).  Makes wine o’clock more interesting now, eh?

In all seriousness, Trace and Izzy are doing really well for moving across the globe into 120-degree weather.  Yes, it keeps getting hotter.  The hotel is our saving grace still.  It is hilarious and so sweet to watch Trace and Izzy jet out of the hotel elevator and race to the lobby so they can begin their pageantry of waves, “good morning’s” and “hi’s.” It’s so sweet. The breakfast staff adores the kids too. The commotion of “hello’s”, giggles, and waves that accompany walking into breakfast every morning, or just into the lobby, makes me feel almost like a celebrity. The hotel staff has been so sweet to us.  Tad and I are trying to figure out how to stay in touch. The staff here is truly amazing.  They will be missed.

How Burning Man prepped me for living in Bahrain

Never, and really I mean never, did I ever think my Burning Man adventure would follow me to Bahrain.  Thank God I went to Burning Man to learn how to walk my way through a sandstorm.  Today, the day we are moving into our Villa it is so dusty and so windy I can barely see the high rise hotels that are less than 200 meters away from our hotel.  Our beautiful view that I have come to love and admire at every hour of the day…just gone.  Gone behind a wall of dust and sand.  My lungs are already crying and scratchy just looking out over the dust.  This should make for a really interesting move today.

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The view of Manama from our hotel living room.

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The view of Manama from our hotel living room the day we moved out of the hotel.

and the last cut and paste story…

What will go next?…

Our dryer machine was taken away…again; the second time in ten days.  Honestly, it wouldn’t be such a big deal but the temperatures have dropped enough that it now takes a full day and a half to air dry/line dry most of the clothes, instead of 30 minutes that it took in the summer.  Insert your sad face emoji here.  As I drive around the neighborhood or look out our windows to the balconies nearby, I realize I’m whining.  I am.

Life in Bahrain, life in “the sandbox” as some of the other Americans call it, as I have mentioned before is same, same but different.  When it comes to the house, this is NO exception.  Our house has every amenity (minus a sink disposal) that a suburban house in the US would have.  Heck, we even have a bidet in every bathroom.  So what lies in the “different” category?  While amazingly beautiful and serene on the outside is in a constant state of work or repair.  Something is always breaking.

Just in the last 10 days of the dryer deciding it doesn’t want to spin and the electricians telling me they fixed it (they did for one load before it broke again), we also had an electrical short in our downstairs.  After a full day of no electricity in the kitchen, and being told an electrician came by and fixed it (he didn’t), Tad somehow figured out how to trick the circuit breaker to stay on.  In that same time period, the OSN (cable) decided to short out too.  It’s been three days and I don’t anticipate it being fixed within the week.   Oh yes, and the pool pump has taken on a life of its own.  Despite a major language barrier between the pool guy and myself, he tells me, “It’s okay madam.  Automatic timer is okay madam.  It’s okay.”  But it isn’t.

While it seems excessive the constant house repairs and electrical fixes, when I think back on our first few months in the house, this is the norm: blocked sinks, broken upstairs door that needed complete re-welding, air conditioning units needing repair every 7-14 days, broken oven, broken microwave, broken shower heads, broken water pipe, and broken water heaters…insert defeated sad emoji face here.  Each break takes a minimum of two days to coordinate and fix, but I’d say the average is 5-10 days to fix.  Just when everything seems like it’s in good working order around the house give it 10 days and something will go.  Thank goodness I’m not working outside the house doing a typical 8-5.  My domestication value (yes, I made that up just now) is very high right now since I need to be around the house nearly half the month for someone to come fix something.  And if you’ve read previous blogs, the repairman never, NEVER, comes when he says, so I become housebound for days at a time awaiting his arrival.

All this “house stuff” keeps me humble though.  I keep thinking, if this is what our house is like, I can’t imagine what others who have fewer resources and money are going through to keep their place in working order.  Even our housemaid Anjala laughs at me when I get upset or frustrated when the next thing breaks.  She tells me, “This is normal madam.  All Bahrain is like this.  No need to get upset.”  Whether she’s saying this because she’s figured me out and doesn’t want me to stress, or it’s the truth, she’s like a zen teacher watching over me.  So this, the house, has become a new yoga practice…not allowing all the little things to add up and ruin my day.  The silver lining is that it forces me to stay home with the kiddos and we get to play a lot.  Watching these two transform week after week is pulling at my heartstrings in a major way.  I want it to hurry up because I hate toddlers AND at the same time, I never want them to stop saying, “more snuggles mommia.”

I think everyone right now could use more snuggles and fewer headaches.

Cheers!  To more snuggles and fewer headaches.

Aloha & Namaste

 

Same same, but different

Note: amateur blogger error.  I swear I posted this weeks ago.  No wonder no one had commented on it.  Ooooops.  A little dated now but still worth keeping around for a few laughs and memories.  Enjoy!

In past blogs, like all of them, I’ve used the phrase “same same, but different.”  In keeping true to my past references, I dedicate this entire blog to life in Bahrain and how it is same same, but different.

Note to reader:  It’s 11pm when I’m starting this blog.  I apologize ahead of time for the lack of editing and lack of flow.  I’m just going to use the good ‘ole listing method for this blog.  If that bothers you, skip this one.  Aaaaand to be clear, NO WAY did I stay up to write this blog.  I too get the creative stroke of genius in the wee hours of the night, especially on a full moon like tonight, but I love sleep too much to stay up for a blog.  Priorities people.  I’m up this late because there is a Seahawks game starting in 22 minutes.  Which leads me to my first same same, but different example.

Example 1.  Sunday football.  I have had many incarnations in this life.  The agnostic, cheerleader, homecoming queen, the 80 hour work week restaurant manager, waking up to full body pain, coffee and chasing it with wine and whiskey, the hippie, anti-government, live-off-the-grid yogi, the spiritually uplifted but totally ungrounded gotta-figure-this-thing-called-life-out while getting a masters degree in the most out of the box field of medicine, to the current stay-at-home mom living in Bahrain…but through it all I am a die-hard football fan.  From the time I can remember, watching football was a family event.  Over time, as I began to watch the game for the sport and not the cool outfits the “cheerleaders” were wearing (because my “Auntie” was the designer…no joke), I loved the game.  I love the sport.  I love the psychology.  I love to yell at the TV like I know better than the players or coaches.  And I love guacamole.  Every game is better with guacamole.  Duh.  Bahrain is literally halfway around the globe but we’ve figured out how to watch NFL games live–God bless Game Pass.  The only drawback is most Sunday games start at 8pm and most Hawks games start around 11pm, ending around 2am.  So yay [insert happy dance] to getting my game fix, booooooo to bags under my eyes and crankiness the next day.  I still love watching the games but there is a totally different vibe to my Sundays when games start so late.  For you football types, imagine trying not to yell at the refs at 1am because you might wake up the kids, your husband, or the neighborhood.  Kind of takes the fun out of the game a little, right?   Also, guacamole at 1 am doesn’t taste as good.  So NFL and Sunday football…Same same, but different.

Example 2.  The Internet.  Clearly, we have the internet if we’re watching Game Pass and posting blogs.  But…do you remember the internet 10 years ago?  More like, do you remember the speed of your internet 10 years ago?  Well, that’s what we have going on here.  It. is. so. slooooooooooooooowwwwwwwww.  I’m not complaining (well, not right now but 50% of the time I do get frustrated with the speed) because the alternative to slower or no internet is just out of my modern-day realm of possibilities at this point in life.  So internet…same same, but different.

Example 3.  Alcohol.  I know not everyone drinks, and I’m always really impressed by those who don’t, but our family does.  Obviously (or maybe not so obviously, hehehehe) Trace and Izzy don’t, but mommy and daddy sure need their “mommy milk” and “daddy milk” to survive these toddler years.  Technically, alcohol is illegal in Bahrain.  Thanks to international relations, we can buy alcohol on Base…via a rationing system.  Through an application and approval from Tad’s boss, I was granted 26 points per month (something like that).  Each bottle or six-pack has a point value assigned to it.  As I buy a six-pack or a bottle, my points slowly dwindle.  If I use all my points I can’t buy any more alcohol until the 1st of the month when my points renew.  And no, there is no carry over like your cell phone minutes.  I definitely stock up just to use my points towards the end of the month just in case we ever have a huge snow storm and I can’t get out of the house (rookie mistake I made in Virginia that I’ll never make again).  And yes, you have to pay for your alcohol on top of using your points.  While this has definitely decreased my glass of wine while I cook tendency, I have become more discerning about my wine drinking.  I save my precious glass of wine for those toddler moments when a glass of wine is really needed.  Oh, let’s say, like 10am instead.  Again, priorities people.  So alcohol…same same, but different.

Example 4.  Weekends.  “Weekends?” you ask.  “How can this be same same, but different?”  In Bahrain, and in many middle eastern countries, the weekend is Friday (the holy day) and Saturday.  This means Thursday nights are the equivalent to the American Friday night and Sunday is the first day of the work week.  You’ll hear us say on Thursday night, “Yay, it’s Friday.”  I’m sure we’ve permanently screwed up Trace’s initial concept of days of the week.  Eh.  He’ll get over it.  Practically speaking, if Tad ever really got a day off (which he rarely does), he’d work Sunday-Thursday.  As it is, because his boss’s boss’s boss (or something like that) is in Tampa, Florida, and they work for “the man” who never sleeps, and there are conflicts all over the middle east (in case you haven’t turned on TV or radio in ten years), Tad is at work a lot.  Since the kids and I are impervious to time (one of the blessings of being a toddler and stay-at-home mom) we technically get weekends but really every day just blends in with the next.  So while you all are getting ready to kick back, party, and socialize on Saturday night, it’s a “work night” for us.  Sunday football is a work day and work night for us.  Blah.  So weekends…same same, but different.

Example 5.  Showers.  To my delightful surprise, we have decent pressure.  I mean, it’s better than a bucket and cup which I was totally prepared for too. Expect the worst, be surprised and happy about anything better than the worst is the new type of mentality  Tad is slowly encouraging me to embrace.  Another thing about our shower is that I didn’t anticipate hot water.  Yes, this is a developed part of the world, so running water is widely available but when I’m talking about hot water, I’m talking about scalding hot water every time you turn on the faucet–immediate hot water.  Is this a blessing or a curse?  Need to shower? Jump right in. Wash your dishes?  Ready to go. Wash your hands?  Add a little soap and those germs are toast. At first, I was excited. How fun. Instant hot water.  The Environmentalist in me was thrilled, “no wasting water while waiting for it to warm up.  Big tree hug. Then the reality hit. Oh wait, but there is NO cold water. Anywhere. Not in ANY of our faucets. No biggie since we have a water cooler for drinking water and I typically drink warm or room temp water anyway. But the theory of you want what you don’t have hits. “What if I WANT cold water?”  Too bad.  Not getting it. Apparently when the weather begins to drop so will our water temperature. Makes sense. Our house’s water tank is on the roof. It’s basking in the desert sun just absorbing, like a hot pot of water, the heat of every second of every day.  So yes, all our house water is hot. The hotter the day and night, the hotter our water. When we first moved in the water was scalding hot.  So hot you could barely wash your hands or shower. Never thought that was a possibility.  With a simple lack of foresight, the kids’ bath time was pretty loud with screaming tears of pain as we threw them into scalding hot bath water.  Oooops.  We quickly learned…we need to draw a bath (never thought I’d ever use that phrase in my life) and let the bath water sit for 5-10 minutes until it cooled off.  Soon our water temperature will drop and we won’t have any hot water, only cold water.  We’ll have to test out the water heater and see if it actually works.  So showers…same same, but different.

Since we’re in the house and on the topic of water, let’s stay here for one more example.

Example 6. The sink.  In our kitchen, we have a double stainless steel sink.  A little industrial but it works and I’m grateful for the double basin.  No garbage disposal had me lost for a few months but I’m slowly finding my way.  I’m such a suburban princess. So not only is there no garbage disposal the drains are teeny-tiny, said in Izzy’s cute toddler voice.   Two big basins + two teeny tiny drains = [Insert emoji of me pounding my forehead into the wall].  How does this all add up in a practical sense?  Washing dishes takes fourteen times longer than in the States.  The sink is constantly getting backed up with dirty water because the little strainer is so tiny and the smallest particles of food, i.e. bread crumbs, chicken nugget crumbs, and God forbid if flax seed or chia seed gets washed into the sink, fills the drain strainer immediately.  It doesn’t even matter if we’re using the dishwasher, which we have, because all the food particles still back up in the sink preventing me from even getting the dishes into the dishwasher at any normal rate.  Regardless, I rarely use the dishwasher because it cleans about as well as Trace and Izzy would do if they tried to do the dishes.  Oh, I hear some of you saying, “just wipe off your plates of debris before you wash.”  Aha, I do!  In the four weeks of living here I have managed to scientifically analyze, test, and conclude that the best method for dealing with these tiny sink drains without a disposal is to live off paper plates.  There goes my Environmentalist streak. Noooooo, we don’t use paper plates but I fist bump the families who do.  So sinks…same same, but different.  

So it’s getting really late, so late tomorrow is going to be a treat for everyone.  Poor Izzy.  At least Trace has school in the morning.  I have so many more same same, but different stories about living in Bahrain.  I’ll save them for another blog.

Before I sign off, please know Trace and Izzy were not badly hurt or burned by the hot water in the story shared above.  Toddlers are so dramatic and scream about anything.  I also want to make it very clear that we are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to live here.  I totally understand and am very aware that the stuff shared in this blog is petty in the big scheme of life.  It’s also these little things in life that make Bahrain…Bahrain. Before we know it, we’ll be PCSing to another place and Bahrain will seem like a blink of an eye.  I want to look back and remember what made Bahrain, Bahrain.  These blog posts are those memories, those little things.  And who knows, maybe someone will find a little more gratitude in their day after reading this when they realize just how awesome it is to control the temperature of your own water.  Again, those little things.

Gratitude is one of the most valuable perspectives to have, especially when we have it so good.  And we do have it, SO GOOD.  Life is really good to us…just a wee-bit different in Bahrain.  Different is not bad though, just different.  I personally LOVE IT (most of the time) even though it does take a little more effort, patience, and acceptance.  Since patience is not my forte, more like the biggest life lesson to work on, Bahrain is providing ample experiences for me to lose my mind and then recenter myself as I say, “let it go. let it go.  let it go.”  As a yogi, what more could I ask for than an entire day of challenges to practice patience and acceptance?

Time for me to get to bed.  Seahawks squeaked out another win.  Sorry Falcons fans.  Go Hawks!

Aloha & Namaste y’all.  Until next time.

The oven man

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.

 

Living in Bahrain, part 1

I’m titling this blog “part 1” because I’m sure in the next two years I will have so much more to add.  Having only been in the country for 2 months and really living among the people for three and a half weeks (but feels like a year already) gives me lots of room for discovery, mishaps, and adventure.

So what is like actually living here?  Same, same but different.  I know I’ve used this phrase before in previous posts but it really is the only way to describe it.  I learned this phrase during my bachelorette, globe-trotting days.  Essentially, life in Bahrain is life (same, same) with its own unique twist, taste, and punch (but different).

Bahrain is almost all urban, at least the areas that we are allowed to live, work, and play.  So moving from the white picket fence, cozy, suburban Stafford, Virginia to an urban, middle eastern country is like moving from any comfy confines of suburbia (same same) to any major city like NYC or Chicago (but different).  I had a short stint of living in Brooklyn to attend my graduate program in NYC when I first met Tad (the things we do for love) and I remember how grocery shopping was such a production.  I always felt so accomplished after grocery shopping.  It’s like that here too.  Sometimes the most mundane, day-to-day things, like grocery shopping, getting gas, finding someone’s house, feels like a HUGE accomplishment.  Other things, like getting gas, finding someone’s house, and grocery shopping, feel totally like no-big-deal.  So see, same same but different.  Haha, now I have you really confused.

Let me give you an example, one that really sticks out in my mind to this day.  The day I got our house keys duplicated I felt like a frickin’ queen!  I was so excited I even texted a friend about it, “Takes forever to do anything here.  The day I got keys duplicated, I felt like I deserved a top-shelf martini.”  Keys duplicated…yes, a huge accomplishment with two kids in 120+degree weather.   Then again, anything in 120+ degree weather is a huge accomplishment.  Oh, I also didn’t know where this place was located.  All I had to go on was someone’s description that said: “the place is in shawarma alley, look for the key.”  My inner monologue, “Seriously?! Look for a key?  A big key?  Small key?  Ugh.”  So by the time I got home without getting into a car accident, without getting another parking ticket, no tantrums, and three sets of working keys duplicated…I felt amazing!  Now, jump ahead three more weeks I’d feel super comfortable doing this again but am so thankful I don’t have to and will enjoy a top-shelf martini just reminiscing that triumphant day.

Part of the challenge, and thus a feeling of accomplishment doing the basic daily things, is the sense of time is not as concrete as my western, type-A, fiery, pitta (for all my Ayurveda yogi peeps) mind would like.  Think, island time + total lack of commitment to the time you said you’d be there = San Diego….ooops, I mean Bahrain.  Haha, just a little love to my San Diego friends.  I easily could have shown up at the place to duplicate keys and they would have been closed.  The added summer heat gives an extra excuse for some to close up shop especially if their AC breaks or the shop owner is smarter than their shoppers and realizes it’s too hot for any sane human to be out shopping.  While some businesses post their hours, a lot don’t.  And even if there are posted hours, it still doesn’t mean they’ll be open.  Granted, if I’m going to one of the major malls their hours are set and are followed.  But anything else–you just never know.  Thank goodness Trace is still fond of the song Hakuna Matata to remind me that life here means no worries, for the rest of your days. It’s a problem free philosophy…Hakuna Matata.  Good luck getting that out of your head today.  You’re welcome 🙂

I happen to keep track of the first day I was living in our villa and Tad had gone to work.  Right off the bat, I realized it was going to be one of those “welcome to Bahrain days” full of tests and initiations.  Because it started off so early and I was already laughing at life by 6:30am I actually kept a log of the day.  I figured one day I would look back and miss it.  Since so many of you continue to share with me, “keep writing, I love hearing what it’s like for you over there” I’m going to share this daily log.  I haven’t changed a thing:

First day in our villa with Tad going to work:
Wake at 5:20am because the garbage truck comes.  Sounds like we have no walls.  
6:30am Roosters crowing.  De jas vous to living in Kenya.  Part nostalgia, part ready to ring its neck.
Doves and other birds waking. I like it. Love it actually.
I know at 7:30 the “workers” are coming to fix up the house since the weekends (Friday and Saturday) are truly no work days. I make sure the kids are up and breakfast at least on the table.
7:45 no one. The kids are now destroying the house and covering it with their toys making any worker crew thrilled at best…if they ever show up.
7:50 right on time. Workers? It ‘s the same two guys who have been stopping by all weekend to ask how we are doing.  I wonder if Bahrain time is like Hawaiian time. We are on an island after all.
The stench of the workers makes me gag. Not like I smell like roses anymore after months of fast food, eating out, curries, and new spices.
Make new reading nook for Trace in his room. So cool.
11:00 ish.  Gets too hot and everyone hibernates.  Seriously, where did everyone go?  Disappeared. Are they going to come back and finish up?
Nap time.  First hot yoga class. Me, myself and I by the pool. Sweaty. Very sweaty.
Break the curtains they worked so hard to put up this morning. Ugh.
Find Olympics on TV. Internet not working. Sad face.
Take a walk around the block. Ferrel cats everywhere.  Fun.   Masala Village-Yes! Cold store guy waved. Aaah, I’m a local.
Get home to guys standing in front of house who’s only words are “curtains. Now? Is ok?” Charades helps a lot. I let the kids run around trying to keep them out of curtains guys way only to discover water everywhere. A mini lake and trickling water feature down stairs. Oh no. 2″ standing water in the laundry room. Trace and Izzy think it’s the coolest thing ever and immediately start playing in the soapy water (booyah, bath time!). Leave the 2″ standing water for later.  I have to make dinner and keep kids away from curtain guys.
Dinner time.  Made it.  No wine or beer.  Ugh.  
101 degrees at 6:50pm, sun has set and I’m sweating worst than a Bikram yoga class as I squeegee standing water to garage area where I hope it evaporates.

Take aways from the day: nothing is going to be as easy. Do not plan around a working crew’s schedule.  Always have wine.

So there you have it.  A day-in-the-life.  I’d like to say that was a rare day.  But as I reread it and compare it to life now, it’s not.  It’s the norm.  While that first day felt like a huge mess, test of patience, and composure, I realize that’s what life is like here.  Really, that’s what life is like anywhere you live.  Life is messy.  The test is, can you make lemonade out of lemons?  Not all days are that packed with testing my sense of humor and patience, but many of them are.  People not showing up, or arriving five hours late, is not surprising anymore.  In fact, anticipated.  We’re going on an extra week of trying to have a piece of furniture delivered.  It was going to be delivered last week.  Tad and I looked at each other and said, “yeah, right.”  We are still waiting.

This blog feels like it’s coming to an end but I realize I have barely scratched the surface of the title “Living in Bahrain.”  I also am realizing that I could write for days about the “same same but different” aspects of life in Bahrain.  I guess I have a few more blogs ahead of me to write.   Stay tuned.

Before I go, I want to just THANK YOU for all the support you’ve sent via email, texts, or care packages.  Although we are on the other side of the globe, for some of you, I feel closer than ever.  You know who you are, so thank you for reaching out, keeping me in the loop and just being YOU!  It already feels like “home” here.  Living like this is truly what my Soul thrives on.  I love it.  I do miss home, friends, and family a lot, A LOT, A LOT but it only makes me more grateful for the time we live in where I can live in Bahrain and Facebook and Instagram stalk you at all hours of the day.  I love you all.  Keep smiling and spreading the Aloha that lives within all of us!  Smooooch.

 

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 used 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 heartbroken but I was hoping 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 zigzagging 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, the 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 standalone (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 sandstorm 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 to 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

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 bawling 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 you be bothered if someone called you your child’s “nanny”? 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