How Not to Blog

It’s been months.

You know how if you let something slide, sometimes it’s really hard to get it back?  I settled into routine, which left me apathetic about blogging.

But I’ve been traveling a fair amount over the past couple of months, so it’s about time I share some stories. 

I’ll break things up into a series of posts.  Expect to read about the following soon:

  • My surprise trip to Canada and North Carolina for the holidays.
  • Traveling to Oman with my parents.
  • Hosting my parents and the Newells in Bahrain.
  • Visiting Kuwait for a long weekend.
  • Hosting Kara for a weekend and settling back into regular life here.

But for now, I’ll highlight a few key events from October through December. 

Olivia’s Birthday

Our friend Ben hosts Olivia’s birthday party.  I make strawberry cake, but the glass pan cracks all the way through as soon as I take it out of the oven.  It appears to be a clean break, so we keep the cake.  I cut out the areas that may have glass.  We tell the guests after they’ve eaten it.  We also make margaritas, and I am criticized for my “put the whole lime in the blender” technique.  The birthday girl says they are the best margaritas she’s ever had.

Eid al Adha

We decide to stay in town for the Eid-al-Adha break.  We drive to Malkiya Beach along the western coast.  The highway to Malkiya winds through Shia village after Shia village.  There are checkpoints and char marks and that’s all I’ll say about that. 

Lisa and I swim in the clear, shallow water even though we must remain covered as this is a Bahraini beach.  Sure, technically every beach in Bahrain is a Bahraini beach, but some cater to an almost exclusively Western crowd—here’s where it’s fine to wear a bikini and grab a mojito.  Malkiya, however, is frequented by Bahrainis.  The children may splash about, and the men may strip down to their skivvies for a dip, but the women typically remain in their black abayas and hijabs. 

Al Fatih Grand Mosque

During Eid al Adha, Al Fatih Grand Mosque in Juffair hosts an open house.  We go, dressed in long sleeves and long skirts, of course.  At the check in, we’re ushered into a large tent.  On one half, there are folding chairs and banquet tables serving tea in little plastic cups.  The other half is the abaya station.  It’s like a department store: a dozen women toothing through a rack full of abayas.  One lady squeezes into a skin-tight abaya.  She is asked to change.  Olivia and I don abayas and cover our heads.  Mosque-ready!

The courtyard is lined with tables distributing literature—the basics of Islam, Islam and Christianity, etc.—trifold boards with titles such as “What does the Bible say about Islam?” and “What is Jihad?” and activities booths for children.  We’re given a tour of the mosque.  We’re told that most of the building materials have been imported: the light fixtures from France (Cyril is pleased), the glass lightbulbs from Egypt, the crystal chandelier from Austria, and so on.  We observe prayer from the upper level.

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is an old, hard-to-find tree in the southeast desert/oil fields of Bahrain.  We attempt the drive, equipped with maps and two GPSs.  The asphalt roads are unmarked and are dotted with occasional speed bumps.  The drive winds past oil rigs, campsites, and workers’ camps.  Bahrainis love camping.   I don’t find the campsites particularly compelling, but I guess it’s an excuse to sleep outside your own home.  You can tell the difference between the campsites and the workers’ camps by locating the satellite dishes. 

The Tree of Life is famous just for its age.  Some claim it is the last remaining tree from the Garden of Eden.  In reality, it’s probably only a few hundred years old.  I’m betting even hardline creationists would have a hard time with that timeline.

The tree is gnarled and covered in graffiti.  It appears someone has built a crutch for one of the bigger branches.  Seems the fellow has seen better days.  

A’ali Pottery

We visit A’ali Pottery, a large pottery complex right in our neighborhood.  A’ali is known for it’s pottery tradition, a craft dating back thousands of years in this area to the civilization of Dilmun.  On the same street as A’ali Pottery are a few large royal burial mounds from the same era, and beyond that is the field covered in hundreds of burial mounds.  It’s quite something to see modern life moving around these icons of bygone eras.  Fruit and fish vendors set up outside A’ali Pottery; boys on bicycles wheel around the burial mounds.  And this little neighborhood of ours is riddled with signs of making a new history, but more on that when I’m back in the States.

Halloween

Olivia dresses up as Frida Khalo and spends the evening explaining why she has a unibrow.  I dress up as Shanna the She-Devil and spend the evening explaining who that is.

Thanksgiving and Staphy

For Thanksgiving, I fly to Egypt to visit the Newells.  They host a few other American and Egyptian friends and serve the best Thanksgiving spread you’ll find in the Middle East.  While I’m sad I can’t be home for Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be at my second home.  I’m reminded just how blessed I am.

Unfortunately, about a week before I fly to Egypt, I get what looks like a bug bite on my left wrist.  It gets slightly worse throughout the week, so the night before I leave, I consult my friend, Mike, who is a doctor in the Navy.  Mike is vacationing in India, and he suggests I start an antibiotic.  The situation is somewhat complicated by my being allergic to augmentin, the go-to drug in this situation.  Olivia and I attempt to lance it to no avail.  The next day, I pick up the recommended antibiotic at the airport pharmacy about an hour before boarding my plane.  See, in Bahrain, you don’t need a prescription to pick up prescription drugs.  You just pick out what you need.  I am still hesitant in the airport.  I ask the pharmacists, “So, do you, like, want to even look at it?  Or, should I just . . . is it okay that I just buy this?” 

Through the course of the flight from Bahrain to Dubai and Dubai to Egypt, the tiny “bug bite” swells to a fluid-filled abscess, my hand is so huge with cellulitis that I can’t see my knuckles, and my forearm swells and reddens. 

The next day is Thanksgiving.  I go with Kara to the school where she teaches and meet some of her coworkers.  We try to see the school nurse before I go to the hospital—just to get a preemptive second opinion—but she isn’t available. 

We go to the hospital.  We walk through a woman in labor in the waiting room.  We walk through a glass tunnel and up some narrow stairs to dermatology.  The ceilings are lower than I’d like.  The waiting room seats remind me of a bus stop.  The room into which I’m ushered is small and the cot has a regular sheet on it instead of those papery ones they normally use and now I’m crying.  Kara and Mr. Newell distract me with talk of their recent decision to buy a new TV.  Mr. Newell is asking “which brand do you think we should get?” as the doctor is injecting a local anesthetic and then making an incision and squeezing, squeezing, from all different angles.  I’m squeezing Kara’s hand.

We go home and enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal.  I struggle to eat with one hand, but I’m not one to let a harrowing medical experience keep me from turkey and sweet potato casserole.  I message Mike, and he recommends I double my current antibiotic and start a large dose of a different antibiotic.  I’m convinced he is the best telemedicine doctor, and I’m grateful he’s willing to consult on my case even while he’s a few time zones away.     

The next morning, Mr. Newell changes my dressing, and the swelling is down some.  I send  pictures to Mike.  There is improvement with the evening dressing change.  Kara reads from This Is A Book by Demetri Martin while Mr. Newell plays doctor.  While I’m sad I can’t be home for Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be at my second home.  I’m reminded just how blessed I am.

I fly back to Bahrain and make an appointment with a hospital Mike recommends.  They run a culture.  Based on the results, we learn the staph bacterium (which we later name “Staphy,” but that’s a different story) is resistant to the first antibiotic we tried but is very sensitive to the second.  So we’ve got it under control.  It’s classified as having “moderate growth,” meaning had things gotten much worse, I would have likely been put on an IV and injectable antibiotics. 

The infection subsides and the incision heals.  All that’s left of that infection now is a pink scar, maybe an inch wide, right on the wrist bone.       

Harlem Globetrotters Game

We go to a Harlem Globetrotters game on the base.

Al Dar Island

The gang plans a trip to Al Dar Island—an island even smaller than Bahrain off the coast of Sitra.  Sitra may be the armpit of Bahrain, but Al Dar is lovely.  We rent a chalet for the night.  We drink Christmas beers and soak up the afternoon sun.  Ben goes spearfishing.  Suz makes friends with the Pakistani family next door.  They decorate Suz’s hand with henna, and they are much better at fishing than Ben.  We watch the dhows make waves as the sun sets.

We decide if we are a TV show, we are “Sitra Shore,” so we come up with our Sitra Shore nicknames.  They are situational and comedic.

National Day

The university hosts a gala of sorts where different departments and organizations host booths.  There is tea and dancing men and a football match and a lot of dioramas.  Everything is red and white.

Cyril, Lisa, Olivia and I go to Prince Khalifa bin Salman Park along the causeway for National Day festivities.  Bahrainis—and a few Saudis wanting in on the fun—have decorated their cars with their national colors, decals of the royal family, and flags draping out of windows.  People waiting in line to park honk, “Beep! Beep!  Beep, beep, beep!”  That is: half note!  Half note!  Quarter note, quarter note, quarter note!”  This is the celebration honk generally recognized in the Arab world.  At least in my experience. 

The park is flooded with Bahrainis wearing beautiful red abayas, flags as capes, face paint, red wigs, and all sorts of other national garb.  There is a concert and a stage and promise of fireworks.  We grab tea in the café at the top of the viewing tower.  This is where your wealthy, suburban Bahrainis have come to celebrate their country.    

Embassy Christmas Party

The embassy hosts a Christmas party for embassy workers and their families on the ambassador’s lawn.  As part of our official Fulbright duties, Olivia and I are elves, and Scott is Santa.  Every child gets his picture taken with Santa before Santa and the elves are allowed to eat pizza and gingerbread. 

Teaching 

Dr. Deller and I decide I should continue teaching the first unit for our three classes and that we will take a more active role for the next two units.  I write the test for Animal Farm.  There are three sections: character identification, questions related to specific quotes, and short essay questions.  While I think I’ve put together a strong test and have given the students everything they need in order to succeed, the students do not, as a whole, do well on the test.  A few students are on the money, but most of them give disconnected answers and write poorly.  I try to remember that they’re young students and are used to multiple-choice, reading comprehension questions.  A test focused on writing seems a bit out of their skill set at this point.  But at least we’ve pushed them. 

We have a few extra days to fill in the fiction class.  Dr. Deller asks if I wouldn’t mind if we teach a story I wrote so that the students have the opportunity for a Q&A with the author.  I feel weird about this, but I’d be lying if I say I’m not also excited.  I give him a copy of Colonnades: the Art and Literary Journal of Elon University so he can read “Rabbit,” the short story I wrote that’s published in it.  The story is about a man led by his own concocted religious narrative to sacrifice rabbits to the river.  I still have the story saved on my computer, so I edit a copy for language.  Now, the protagonist says things such as “con flab it,” and “fire in heaven.”

We decide not to tell the students I wrote it until after they read it and we discuss it for one day.  We don’t want the knowledge that I wrote the story to cloud their judgment.  Dr. Deller leads discussion on the first day.  He walks through the plot and asks the students to respond to specific sentences and phrases.  I sit in the corner taking notes on my own story, and it feels like an out-of-body experience.  At the end of the class, Dr. Deller reveals that I am the author.  The students turn in their seats to look at me, eyebrows raised—it’s a dark story, and I practically chirp and bounce when I’m teaching.

I teach day two of “Rabbit” discussion.  See, in teaching literature, I tend to phrase questions in terms of authorial intent.  Why did Orwell choose to voice his criticism in the form of an allegorical novella?  Why does Shakespeare use iambic pentameter in some places and free verse in others?  Why does Tolstoy open The Death of Ivan Ilyich with the funeral scene instead of jumping right into the biographical narrative style he maintains throughout the rest of the book?  So now, through teaching my own story—however narcissistic that is—I can actually speak to authorial intent. 

Discussion goes well.  Students ask why I made certain decisions regarding religious references, dialogue, and even how the idea came into my head in the first place.  When all is said and done, I hope I communicate this to the students: writing is decision-making.  Can you make decisions?  Can you decide upon characters and watch them react?  Can you decide how to describe a blade of grass so that it evokes pleasure or pain in your reader?  Yes.  If you are a decision maker, you are a writer.  Literature, then, is a means by which we connect to our world and to each other—it is accessible, it is valuable, and it is doable.      

For the rest of the semester, I teach maybe once a week and hold office hours for students to meet with me regarding classwork or their own creative work.  Students have brought me poetry, fiction, and even the makings of an essay.  This renews my faith in my students.  Several of them are willing to meet with me on their own time to discuss their own work.  They’re willing to read and write responses to articles I’ve assigned outside of class in order to decide how their creative essay can utilize the same techniques.  They’re willing to draw character sketches, talk through revision ideas, and take criticism.  And they keep coming back.  There isn’t a creative writing department, but the students seem to be hungry for one.

 

So.  I’ll get you all up to speed eventually.  But that’s a couple of months, at least.  Next up: home for the holidays.

-S

In a Month

Salam!

I’ve been here a month already, ma sha Allah.  I can’t believe it.

I’m starting to fall into routines, which is nice, and I’m getting better at bearings.  I’ve learned to make a map of Bahrain by flattening my right hand, keeping my fingers and thumb square against each other, and pointing my fingers down.  My neighborhood is a little north of my middle-finger knuckle.  The university is the garnet in my ring.

The goal, of course, is to make the I-know-Bahrain-like-the-back-of-my-hand pun as often as possible.

Teaching/Weekdays

I’m still teaching two sections of Intro to Fiction and one section of Intro to Drama.  The actual professor arrived this week, so he and I are working out our schedule.  He’s asked me if I’m interested in team-teaching the course, so hopefully I get to stick with these students.  They are such lovely duckies.  And the professor is pretty great, too.  We eat lunch together one day and discuss the disappointment that is top-40 rap music.  It’s all just an ego trip, man.  We are literally the two whitest people on campus.

I’d like to say I’m getting better at teaching, but I think it’s more likely that the students are just finally adjusting to me.  The students are really getting into discussion!  And while I am warned that students are not too keen on reading, I seem to have classes full of readers.  It takes a little while to get them going.  I do make one guilt trip/quiz threat, which involved the directive, “Don’t do anything fun this weekend.  Go home and read.”

I have a discussion with another professor in the department who gives me some advice on teaching here.  I’m warned that the students are used to memorizing and regurgitating material and that I shouldn’t expect too much when it comes to critical thinking and discussion.  I am also advised that going into depth about the Russian Revolution—which Animal Farm is based on—would be a waste of time because the students aren’t used to making connections beyond the text.

So I assign a summary of the Russian Revolution and give a lecture on the historical context, Karl Marx, power dynamics, and the arguably cyclical nature of revolutions.  This goes fairly well, probably because of all of the hand motions.  See, because I have such long arms, I’m very good at clarifying historical obscurities and literary quandaries with gesticulations.

Although the students don’t know who Karl Marx is and have never encountered the word “propaganda,” they seem to be making smart connections.  They know that Old Major is Karl Marx and that Napoleon’s name is no coincidence.  But I do see the other professor’s point: after the lecture, a student stops by my office to ask what he needs to know for the exam.  I tell him that dates aren’t that important, that I’m interested in knowing how Animal Farm connects to or satirizes or comments on the Russian Revolution.  I reword and repeat that answer several times before the student leaves, either satisfied with the answer or tired of pushing the question.

Embassy

The embassy treats us well.  We get invited to all sorts of embassy and military events, including a welcome party for new staff members, hosted by the Deputy Chief of Mission.  There, we meet all sorts of interesting Americans and Bahrainis and eat bit-sized niblets offered by servers weaving through the minglers.  We meet the ambassador, who congratulates us on our Fulbright grants.

We also attend a happy hour at the embassy, where we’re given a bunch of leftover samosas.  Looks like the Fulbrighters are the hungry college kids of the embassy.

Cats

Olivia and I got two cats.  They are both six months old and all right for cuddling.  We got them from a neighbor whose cat had kittens—she had seven cats in her apartment, so it was time to let a couple of them go.  Olivia’s cat is Lentil.  Lentil is a most aggressive cuddler—she yells if you’re not petting her or petting her correctly.  My cat is Elphie.  Elphie is short for Elephant because I have never seen a cat eat so much food.  We got cats because it’s nice to have something that needs you, and we weren’t sure what to do with the spare room.

Weekend One: Mannequins

This is the weekend we finally do something culturally relative: We go to the National Museum.

First, let me clarify that “we” is now four: Olivia, Scott, Cyril, and me.  Cyril is Scott’s roommate.  He’s here for a semester working on his MBA.  He is all kinds of fun and super French.  He gets fed up with how American we all are, and his favorite video is a clip from “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader.”  He quotes it all the time.  “This might be a stupid question, but, like, I thought Europe was a country.”  He’s afraid of hugs and very fond of eggs.  He says “NEUU” a lot.

The museum has a giant floor map of Bahrain (Almost to scale!  Funny joke!).  We find our neighborhood, of course, and learn about the multitudes of burial mounds surrounding the area.  We drive by them daily and have asked what they are; turns out they’re 4,000-year-old mounds of dirt marking tombs.  Also turns out several have been destroyed in the wake of building infrastructure and housing.  This means that it is likely that our apartment sits atop a few ancient tombs.  I’ll let you know if we discover that our place is actually haunted.

The museum also houses an exhibit on Dilmun, a civilization from around 2000-2500 B.C. involved in trade with Mesopotamian societies.  I take pictures of lots of pottery exhibits and tiny, intricately carved seals.  The other main exhibit displays elements of traditional Bahraini life, including birth festivities, wedding traditions, main industries (pearl diving, fishing, and some manufacturing such as weaving), shopping, dress, and marketplace practices.  Mannequins.  Mannequins everywhere.  Gratuitous mannequins.

More on the museum later—we plan on making multiple visits.

On our way out, we drive off the road to a small beach.  We haven’t touched the water yet, and the sun is setting, and this is an island.  Turns out the beach is littered with broken glass and cigarette butts.  We touch the water for ceremony’s sake and then move along to dinner, followed by dessert at Lilou’s Café, which is rumored to have the best dessert on the island.  It is French, so Cyril sounds like a show-off when he orders.  We sit outside so we can watch the BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes, Lamborghinis, etc., cruise by.  Most of the cars are white.

Weekend Two: YOLIBO

“YOLO,” an acronym popularized by Canadian rap artist Drake, means “You only live once.”  We have modified the phrase to fit our lives here: You only live in Bahrain once (YOLIBO).  The following section details our weekend starting to explore the cultural side of Bahrain that is nightlife.

We kick the weekend off at the welcome party for the new Regional Security Officers (RSOs), which is hosted in the basement of the Marine House.  We get there early because we think it’s further than it is, so it’s we three Fulbrighters, the three Marines behind the bar, and one of the Marine’s wife and two children.  We order drinks and play pool.  We are uproariously bad at pool.  Our game takes so long that by the time we finish, the party is well attended by embassy staff and Gurkhas patiently waiting for the table.

Gurkhas are crazy Nepalese soldiers—look them up.  Or just judge their credentials by this quote from the former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army: “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or a Gurkha.”  The U.S. pays them to guard the embassy.  Their arsenal of security skills includes booty-popping to top-40 tunes (dancing by themselves in a group, mind you) and tequila-shot-taking.

We’re about to leave when a couple of the Pol-Mil men from the embassy convince us the party has yet to begin.  So we stay.  One of the Marines claims to be an expert at margarita-making, so the good tequila and a sombrero is issued forth for me.  It is certainly the best margarita I’ve had in the Middle East.

We get invited to a club by another third-floorer, so we go home to change and meet her and a few friends there.  We see dozens of white people at this club.  We do more people-watching than dancing, especially after we trip on some stairs.

The club closes at 2 a.m., so we go with a few people back to one of the Navy guy’s apartment.  He’s Naval Intelligence, and his place is nice.  We drink Jameson, smoke shisha, and discuss politics and camel spiders.  The group is a mix of Navy seamen, Marines, embassy Pol-Mil staff, and Fulbrighters.  And also Frenchie.  He tires of American talk, but he is a good sport.

We leave around 5:30 a.m. and watch the sun rise on our drive home.  There’s a flat layer of mist spread a shoulder’s height above the sandy dirt.  Everything is layers.  Tans, purple grays, yellow pinks.  Colors of the hand: knuckles, veins, nail beds.

The next evening we join the Public Affairs Office at a hotel lounge to be entertained by an American DJ and a break-dancer.  We dance with the break-dancer, Frankie, who is from New York.  He teaches me a few moves, so we take him out for pancakes afterward, meeting a Marine friend there, too.  We find the IHOP of Bahrain.  Pancakes at 3 a.m. must be a universal truth.

We spend the next day at a local beach club.  All American military or embassy staff + Frenchie.  We see some posh Russians girls, and the Intelligence folks joke that they are spies, but they seem maybe 15 percent seriously suspicious.  We will never escape the Cold War.  We swim in the water, which is salty and slightly oil-slicked.  We meet more Naval seamen, one on the base and another a Seal in Lebanon. We climb up a boat and jump maybe 25 feet into the water.  Dusk is starting to turn the water black.  We pay our tab and agree we’ll be back.

More on the Blog

Now that we’ve started to settle into normal life here, I’ll probably switch to more topical blog posts.  You can expect to see posts featuring cooking and food, attire, shopping, profiles of each of us, and more.  I’m still learning all of this, and will be for the extent of my stay here, but I’ll do my best to inform you on various elements as I learn.

If there is something in particular you’re interested in learning about (excepting politics), let me know and I’ll see what I can learn and discuss here.  An interactive blog is better than a static one, no?

-S

Life as a Temporary Professor, and How to Be Fancy

University Life and Related Lists

We’re all starting to figure out the university!  And we found two delicious pastry shops in the building housing the English department.  One is full of doughnuts, and the other, samosas.  Meaning we are always full of doughnuts and/or samosas.

So it turns out one of the English professors is still in the States—some of his paperwork has been misplaced, etc.  This is the news I deliver to his classes—three of them, at least—as I introduce myself as their interim professor.

Class: “Are you a Doctor?”

Me: “Not yet.  Some day, probably.  I haven’t decided.  But maybe.”

Class: “Do you have a masters?”

Me: “Nope, don’t have that yet either.  But I have a B.A. in English/creative writing!  We’ll all be fine.  Mafi Mushkila (no problem).”

That’s right, classes!  I’m asking you to trust some American fresh out of college.  Well, the Department’s asking, really.  The professor should be here next week (in sha’Allah), and I haven’t got a syllabus for you, but go buy this book and be prepared to discuss it.

I’m teaching two sections of Intro to Fiction, and one section of Intro to Drama—both are literature courses.  We’re reading Animal Farm in fiction and Oedipus Rex in drama.  Revolution and incest.  Completely halal topics.

Note: the University of Bahrain is a public university (connected to the state, government, etc.).  There are lots of pictures of the governing family throughout the university.  This isn’t altogether surprising considering there are pictures adorning pillars along the highway, too.  There is a practice in place at UOB of reporting on classmates, professors, etc. to the administration.  This somewhat limits discussion.

Here are some lists for you.

Things I write on the board:

  • “Benjamin = >:(“
  • “Dead babies :(”

Things I reference in class:

  • Shrek: “Onions have layers” = round character.
  • Harry Potter: scar = symbol.
  • Arrested Development: “Never touching Buster’s hand again”/Buster has his hand bitten off by a seal = foreshadowing.

Things I say in class:

  • “I don’t know how classes normally go at this university, but at my university in America, we discuss things, so that’s how it’s going to go here.”
  • “Y’all.”
  • “I say ‘y’all’ because I’m from North Carolina.”
  • “I mean, you can’t just go out in the streets and start making fun of whoever’s in charge, right?”
  • “Homeboy’s dead.”
  • “Do you see any red flags in this passage?  Wait, is ‘red flag’ a saying here?  It means drawing attention to something.  But I guess your flag is actually red, so that’s probably not a phrase.  No?  No.  Not a thing.”

And while we’re making lists, here are a couple of nuggets.

  • Favorite quote so far from Olivia [while discussing the perplexities of humanity, history, etc.]: “Don’t get me started on people.”
  • And from Scott [while in the car when we hear a male vocalist on the radio]: “Is this Adele?”

Scott Gets a New Roommate   

Scott gets a new roommate!  He is French, and we’re calling him “Frenchie.”  He arrives late last night, and he’s working on his MBA at UOB.  That’s about all I know for now.

The Gang Goes to International Parties

A few nights ago, Team Bahrain attends an evening party hosted by the Indian family.  Also in attendance are the Algerian professor, the Tunisian professor, and the Jordanian professor and his two adorable daughters.  We drink kiwi juice and eat Indian finger foods and pastries and play a game involving celebrities, guessing who chose which celebrity, and organizing into teams along the way.  Such fun!  This compound is quite the international hub.  Also, we are called “spinsters” because none of us is married yet.

The Girls Get Fancy

A few days later, the Indian woman takes the American women (Olivia and I) to get our nails done at the local beauty parlor.  Part of the pedicure involves threading the tops of my feet, which is removing the hair via a thread.  I don’t understand how this works.  Also, I didn’t know there was problem hair on my feet.  WAS problem hair.

I wear a knee-length skirt to the salon (my favorite blue one, Mom), and based on the angle and height of my leg while Lina—who is now my local beautician, apparently—is doing my pedicure, the scene is perhaps a scandal.  Small scandal.  There are men in the salon (none of whom are at the proper Lina angle to really experience the scandal of seeing partially up my skirt), and Lina discusses with her coworker whether this scene is a problem.  Her coworker says, “It’s no problem.  She’s American.”

That Time We Go To a Different Mall

This time, we go to City Centre Mall, which is atrocious on the weekends.  We go on the weekends, and we are a success because we are able to find a parking spot.  ALL OF BAHRAIN AND MOST OF SAUDI ARABIA IS IN THIS MALL.  There is a Fuddruckers, a TGI Fridays, a carousel, and a kiddy drop-zone ride.  There are three stories of glam.  We eat ice cream and look at fancy jewelry and abayas.  We wish we could justify dropping 1000 BD (2500 USD) on a fancy abaya, but we are not divas.  Not yet.

-S

Driving, Mostly.

I apologize for the lack of pictures on the blog—I have some up on Facebook, but I haven’t figured out a good way to organize them on the blog yet.  Everything is also complicated because I’m using pre-paid Internet.  I can’t set up an Internet plan until I have my Bahraini ID card (known as a CPR), and that won’t happen until the end of the month.

Here is what we have been doing for the past several days: malls.  There are lots of malls here, all with very fancy things.  And with Forever 21 and H&M, so I’m set.  We are somewhat limited in our ventures to eateries and retailers outside the malls because we’re still learning which neighborhoods are questionable at night, and we’d rather not learn this one by trial and error.

Note: “questionable” means just that: in question.  This doesn’t mean there are certain neighborhoods where families raise children and other neighborhoods where they raise AK-47s.  It just means certain areas are less welcoming than others, and while we’re still learning, we’d rather be overly cautious. 

We are, however, learning traffic patterns mostly by trial and error.  A lot of “error,” actually.  Such as the time we almost drive into Saudi Arabia, and also that time we get into a car accident.  It’s a minor fender bender, really.  No one is hurt, and the whole matter is resolved in a couple of hours. Khalas.  The whole thing is almost funny because we just had our security briefing in the embassy today, where we learned how to handle minor accidents.  There’s your engaged learning.

Before We Almost Drive to Saudi Arabia and Also Definitely Get Into A Car Accident

We drink espresso on Scott’s back porch, smoke cigars, and swim in our pool.  We live the dream.

The First Day of School/The Morning We Almost Drive To Saudi Arabia

That time we almost go to Saudi Arabia happens on our first attempt to drive to the university on our own, on the first day of classes no less.  We manage to triple the drive time for what should have been a 20-minute trip.

But then we make it and park and are the only non-Bahraini students on campus, except for the Chinese student and British student.  I am not exaggerating.  Also, Olivia and I are two of maybe a few dozen girls not wearing abayas, and two of only a handful not wearing hijabs.  We stick out.  No one leers or glares or anything, but we do catch a lot of double takes and glances, simply because we look different.

Olivia heads off to the Bahrain Teacher’s College (BTC), and Scott and I find our way to the English Department.  We are shown to the faculty kitchen and given tea, and we do our best to stay out of the way of first-day bustle.  John shows Scott and I to our office, and a girl in the office across from ours comes out to greet us.  She: high-top Chuck Taylors, electric blue nails, pierced cartilage.  Her office: decorative brooms, a yarn spider web, and a sign that reads, “Drink Coffee: Do Stupid Stuff Faster.”  This is our neighbor, and she introduces us to the rest of the American Studies Center team.  These students, we’ve been told, are the best of the best, and I am certainly impressed.

I sit in on one of John’s classes: a survey course of American poetry.  I will be fine here.

Team Bahrain (Scott, Olivia, and I) meet up to grab lunch in the cafeteria, which comprises several fast-food restaurants and many, many students.  Because one must step down into the building, we are sort of forced to make an entrance.  We are briefly on a platform—that platform being the two, wide, marble stairs leading into the main seating area.  Lots of eyes.  No hush or commotion, just lots of eyes.  But this is the first day of school, so there is a lot of looking everywhere.

That night, Olivia and I cook our first meal: Bahraini-barbeque chicken and microwave-fresh okra.  We are a success.  We go to the mall for more Internet.  That about sums up the day.

The Day We See Nicolas Cage on a TV in the Embassy and Also Get Into A Car Accident

We have been taking turns driving, and today is my day.  We drive to the embassy without complication, we are given a tour, we borrow books and take business cards, and we are briefed.  Con Air is playing in the background at one point during all of this.  We leave the embassy in search of lunch.

We take a less-than-direct route so as to see more of the island.  We are still exploring, and it is daytime.  Scott navigates, Olivia looks for food options, I drive.  We turn off onto a two-lane, one-way road, although it appears everyone has universally decided the left lane is for driving and the right lane is for parking.  There is still some room on the right for driving, though, which proves to be problematic.  I pull over to the right to park, and there is a truck zipping up the right side, and we collide a bit.  His headlight is broken, and our rental car’s right doors are dented and the bumper is scuffed.  We call the police and snap pictures as a couple dozen men come out to assess the scene.

We eventually follow the man who hit us over to the traffic police claims center (or whatever it’s actual name is) where paperwork is surprisingly smooth.  But the accident is my fault because technically I turned from the left lane into the right lane without checking.  I maintain there did not exist a de facto right lane, but what can you do.  We visit the car rental agency, I pay less than I expect to pay, and we’re on our way.  All in all, this incident is costing me far less than it could, so I’m all right.

Lunch doesn’t happen, which is probably the most upsetting part of this story.

But there is a happy ending.  It’s about 4 p.m., so we drive home to make our own food and call it dinner.  Scott, a.k.a. “Pasta Boy,” makes for us—you guessed it—delicious pasta, and I cook okra again, and Olivia plays the Mountain Goats, and then there is swimming, and all is well in the world again.

-S

The First Few Days

Salam, y’all!

We’re off to a good start.  So let’s start at the beginning.

Day 0

After diligently packing the day of my flight, and after succumbing to the fact that no, I couldn’t manage to get everything in one 50-pound bag, and after difficult goodbyes, to which a TSA agent said, “Did you get enough hugs, there?” as I smeared mascara-stained tears across my face, and after Burger King in the airport, which was a gross homage to American food, I was off to D.C., then off to Kuwait, then finally to Bahrain.

Aisle seats the whole way, and fancy touch screens, so no complaints there.  I think my touch screen was extra special.  The screen said, “Touch screen to begin,” so I did, and the plane took off.  I’m not saying I’m directly responsible for our flight, but probably.

I met up with the other two Fulbrighters, Scott and Olivia, in D.C. to catch the same flight to Kuwait.  This was appropriate considering we met in D.C. for our pre-departure orientation almost three months earlier.  They are also two recent graduates doing English Teaching Assistantships at the University of Bahrain (UOB), so we’re all in the same boat.  And on the same plane.

Twelve hours later we’re in Kuwait, and an after that, we’re in Bahrain.  It’s about 7:30 p.m.  We’re escorted through the airport by a representative from UOB, and then we’re driven in a minibus to our apartments.  Samar, our point of contact at the embassy, calls my cell phone on the way to make sure we had a good flight, we’re all fine, we’re ready for tomorrow, we have at least two forms of I.D., we remember to see so-and-so tomorrow, we make sure to talk to so-and-so about our visas—are you writing this down?

Then we’re at our gated, quiet compound.  Olivia and I are in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and Scott is also in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment.  Everything is furnished.  UOB even stocked us up with some basic groceries.  And the compound has a private pool.  Here’s what I’m trying to say: we are beyond spoiled already.

Day 1

The next morning we’re brought to the university to check in with the head of housing, visit the departments where we’ll be teaching, and start the paperwork for our Bahraini I.D. cards, university I.D. cards, and our university barrier/gate/security cards.  Scott and I will be teaching in the English Department, and Olivia is in the Bahrain Teacher’s College.  We’re shown the American Culture Center, where the English Department hosts various guest lectures, events, parties, etc.  They also occasionally host dignitaries such as ambassadors and Thomas Friedman.  There are books and pictures of American authors everywhere.  I am photographing and giddy.  And possibly ethnocentric?

Then we’re off to rent a car.  Turns out the rental agency is out of cars.

So we grab some shwarma and shish tawook (and discuss how delicious Middle Eastern food is, etc., etc.), and then we’re shopping for sheets and towels and a few more groceries.  We all unknowingly pick out the same sheets because we’re ALL EXACTLY THE SAME, but then we choose different ones.  American individualism.  Also, I have a king-size bed.  More like Sheikh-size.  I keep making that joke and it’s still funny!  Olivia and I will switch rooms halfway through, but for now, my bed is about the size of Bahrain.

And then we’re back at our apartments, exhausted and blaming the heat.  I think I will always be blaming the heat.  You know how unpleasant it is when someone breathes down your neck?  Warm and kind of damp?  How you’re aware of both the temperature of the air and the space it occupies because of the moisture content?  That is what it is to be outside in Bahrain in September.  My glasses serve as a pretty fair barometer, and subsequently, a good watch.  Can I see?  Must be morning—the humidity is down some.  Is everything fogged up?  I’d say it’s about 4 p.m.

But here is the truth: the weather is my biggest complaint.  Everything else keeps getting better and better.

This evening, we have an encounter.  A Bahraini grocer scolds Olivia because she does not fill up her plastic container with enough labna.  He wants her to get her money’s worth, which is a fair reason for someone to be angry, I think.

In other words, if you have any sort of image in your mind about we three wee Americans islanded by Bahraini rage, stop graying yourself.  We are safe and surrounded by bargain-hunters.

Day 2

Our driver picks us up at 9 a.m. again, and we’re off to pick up our rental car.  I sign the paperwork and tell Scott and Olivia to never ever get in a car accident, please.  Olivia drives, Scott navigates using a map without street names and a GPS that sometimes thinks we are in Saudi Arabia or just the desert, and I document.  Meaning I sit in the back and make videos of traffic.  It is my official role.

After thirty minutes of following our very cautious minibus driver, we make it to the university!  We’re all set to pick up our university IDs because they’re ready.

Turns out they’re not ready—those are someone else’s IDs.

We are shuffled around between three offices, and then it is decided that our IDs and barrier cards will be ready on Sunday.

We meet with John, the professor in the English Department who runs the American Cultural Center, in his office.  There are New-Yorker-covers-turned-posters and American calendar pictures on his walls and jazz playing.  He has Norton anthologies, and I flip open to find Faulkner and William Carlos Williams (first try!), and he mentions Ginsberg, and I am happy as a clam.

We’re then off to the embassy to meet Samar, the Regional English Language Officer, the Public Affairs Office, et al.  The embassy is not listed on maps, much less our street-name-less map, but Scott successfully navigates our caravan!  Huzzah!  We are bug-eyed at the embassy because none of us has been to an embassy, and the doors are very heavy.  But the people are very welcoming and informative.  Samar gives us all the snacks she has in her office when we ask her for suggestions on where to eat.

We go to Moda mall to eat lunch/dinner.  After gawking at the Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, etc., and entertaining ideas of possible embassy party dresses, we decide to eat our first fancy meal.  I mea, we are in Bahrain, right?  Of course, our definition of “fancy” amounts to about 20-25 USD a person, so probably not that fancy.  But we did shisha and smoke rings and celebrated the day’s success, which is pretty fancy.

We are going to be just fine.  Sure, we’re still honeymooning, and you’re right, ten months is a long time to be away from home and family and friends, but bearing all that in mind, things really do look promising for our time here.

Yalla, Team Bahrain!

-S

[Pictures soon]

Safe Arrival

I’m here and all is well! Over the next few days I’ll be getting settled in, so be patient with me.

Something you should know now: my glasses fog up every time I step outside. The first time it happened I doubled over in laughter and maybe made a scene in the airport parking lot.

Humidity: level Bahrain.

More to come, more to come.

-S

Here Goes!

Hi, all.

I leave tomorrow, and about 24 hours later, I land in Bahrain.

I’ll do my best to update this blog frequently and thoroughly, but for now, I still need to finish packing!

Also, I’m still figuring out WordPress, so be kind.

I’ll check back in once I’m on the island!

-Shanna