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.