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