I just completed my first week in Bahrain. It seems like it has been two days.
For sure everyone is asking me about the weather. While it is not burning hot, it is not chilly for sure. Coolest it has been this week is 88, and hottest is 102. Humidity has been pretty high and there always seems to be sand in the air. Cars get dusty very quickly. The heat has not been killing me as I thought it would. There is A/C everywhere. My hotel room is a nice 62-65 and I basically become an ice cube by getting outside and walking to work, which is about a mile walk. At night, you would expect the weather to cool off, right? Nope. It drops a degree or two, but you don’t really feel it. It feels like weather in San Fernando Valley, just a little stickier with the humidity. I am sure it will get worse during the summer, but right now it is not so bad.
My family and friends laugh at and my wearing of shorts. Hey, I am from southern California. Shorts are life. I think during high school I wore long pants about two weeks or so the whole four years. When my dad came to visit me in Washington during the cold month of November, I walked out to meet him wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. He laughed. I wear shorts everywhere, bank, school, dates, church, hockey rink, hockey games, cold weather, and for sure hot weather. My mom used to laugh at how the first thing I did when I got home from work was take my shirt off in the living room and put on a pair of shorts (I still do this). So I laughed when I was walking around the other night at 10 pm during 93 degree weather, and I was wearing my jeans which I had changed into from my shorts. HAHA. I wasn’t hot, was just comfortable. I laughed and know there will be some people who read this who will laugh at this.
The time here is 10 hours ahead of California. Texting friends and family back home when I am going to bed and they are getting up for work is kind of fun. Or when I am sitting eating breakfast watching Monday night football on Tuesday morning and they are sitting at home. Just weird. Easy way I have figured out how to tell the time difference is to add two hours to whatever time it is here and then find twelve hours behind. Those can do same thing back home, or if you read my blog you will see I have the times on the right side of the homepage.
I am staying at a hotel until I find a house or apartment to live in. I have a lot of paperwork to complete before I get into a house, visa, Citizen card, and also obtain a vehicle. The nice thing about my hotel is that I am about a stones throw away from the entrance of the base. I walk to work every day and it is easy. There are a few downsides.
There are 7 bars or nightclubs in my hotel. They open about 4 pm, but get started going at about 7 or 8 pm and go all night. While I am on the 8th of 9 floors, I can still hear them, but it is not too annoying. However, the 9th floor is the ballroom of sorts and they seem to move stuff around and organize things at about 3 am. That is more annoying.
I found this green arrow on the wall. I did not understand what it was for until the other day when I went into one of the rooms at work that employees use for prayer. There was an arrow on the floor and I realized that the green arrow on the wall points to Mecca.
The room is huge; I have a large living room and pretty large bedroom, with 15-foot ceilings. There are two TVs, one in the bedroom and one in the living room. The problem with this is that they are in the same line of sight. One morning I was sitting in bed watching TV and all the sudden I heard someone in the other room speaking Arabic. FREAKED ME OUT! I got up, expecting to see someone there and I realized that the TV in the living room had turned on when I changed the channel on the TV in the bedroom. So, I have to have the door closed to my bedroom to avoid watching two TVs at the same time.
The first morning I was here I decided to go to the 24-hour café downstairs. When I walk in at about 6:30 am, there is nobody in the restaurant. I ask a guy in the suit if they are open and he tells me across the hall at the seafood restaurant. So I go there and I see a buffet setup. There are two waiters and a guy in a suit. The suit guy is sitting down eating, and the waiter approaches me, asking for my room number. I tell him and he goes to the register and looks at a piece of paper. He says something to the other waiter in a language I don’t understand. They both walk out and a few minutes later return telling me that I have to pay for my meal after I eat. Okay. So now we are just standing there. I ask if I just sit down or what, and then the suit guy says something to the waiters. The first server then asks me to follow him. He takes me to the plates and then gestures with a plate what to do at a buffet. Not my first buffet, dude.
They don’t eat pork here, but they still have bacon and sausage it is just made with beef. So of course I had to try this. Beef bacon is pretty bad, just bland. Beef sausage? Hot dog. Literally, it is just a grilled hot dog. I almost started laughing because I was expecting something amazing to eat and it was a hot dog.
I don’t know if there are any places that actually have Bahraini food. Where my hotel is located, around the corner is a street called American Alley. This is located right outside the base and has all the comforts of home. Kind of. A phrase they use here is “same, but different.” The idea is that the places are the same name, but the taste is just a bit different that what you may be used to back in the states. Some people may be shocked to find what places are here in American alley:
Marble Slab Creamery
Starbucks (not really that surprising)
Caribou Coffee (with a drive thru!)
Three sushi restaurants
Hardee’s (Carl’s Jr)
KFC (open 24 hours)
There are a couple more American restaurants I can’t think of right now as well. And these are not just located in this area. They are all over the island. Also, there are plenty of non-American restaurants that serve Persian food, Shawarma, a French café, a health food restaurant, and about five coffee places (a 24 hour one I am sitting in right now having breakfast). And all of them deliver! Want KFC at midnight? Chili’s? Burger King? They all deliver. The streets are full of little motorcycle delivery drivers (crazy btw) who will deliver food at any time of the day to wherever you are.
I have tried to eat at as many non-American places as possible, and the food is quite tasty.
There is this Indian/Pakistani/everything type restaurant that has good lamb and chicken that I go to regularly. Funny thing is they serve French fries with their meals. I finally broke down the past few days and tried Fuddruckers and Chili’s. Same layouts, same food, service is almost the same, and the food is fairly similar.
Once I get a car and become more mobile, I will be able to actually get out around the island and check out some of the other places.
Bahrain is a giant melting pot. It is basically the Vegas of the Middle East. I guess my expectations were different or I came here with a wide-open mind and did not have a lot of expectations. Of course I did not think I would be coming to a world full of terrorists and American bashing brown people. I did not expect to find what I have found. Again, going back to what I have said earlier about our news in America. Our worldview is so small and skewed that you cannot learn about other cultures until you actually live with them. Imagine if someone from here only knew about America from what they saw on an Amish show, or if they had only known about Alabama and then when they finally went to America they went to Las Vegas. That is what this seems to be. I know there are some areas of the middle east that are not friendly to Americans, Christians, or anyone other than themselves. But there are places in America like that as well. There are places everywhere in the world like that.
I have always thought of myself as someone who is pretty open minded and educated about different people and a somewhat okay understanding of other cultures. I never got the opportunity to take a trip to Europe after college, or any time for that matter. I had other stuff going on and focused on those things. Part of me is glad I am getting to experience this now in my life. I can appreciate it more. Sure, some people got to volunteer in places around the world and visit exotic places, but I don’t think I would have known how to truly appreciate it as I do now. I can realize now how people see Americans as not appreciative of what there is outside of their country. I can see how much we take for granted in the US and how much these people really take pleasure in gaining something from their day. Even the metric system and using Celsius makes sense! Yeah, it takes getting used to figuring out the 30 degrees Celsius is REALLY EFFING HOT, but adjust and you realize it works really well.
Also, if you know me then you know that a lot of my time watching TV at home was watching the cable news channels and getting involved in the debates. I watched all of them, the way right crazy and obnoxious Fox News, the ridiculous E! Network of news (CNN), the way too highly wanting to be centrist MSNBC, and even PBS. I can honestly say that not having them to watch has been joyous. Over here we get BBC world and while I am sure they have some slant of some kind as anyone does nowadays, the stupid showmanship and yelling is not there. They have actual news on and show things going on around the world. They present things in an honest and educated manner, not using “some people say” bullshit every five seconds and throwing around typical bloviating of some news story. Even the weather reports show places like Africa and Singapore etc. Now, I know this is BBC World, but seeing the BBC in America and looking stuff up online as well, this is pretty much the same all over.
As any typical American, I figured Muslims who prayed five times a day would surround my day and spoke of America with nothing but disgust, the men wore thobes and the women wore burkahs (actually niqabs here. Click here for the differences). This has not been my experience. Yes, some people wear them, but a majority does not. One thing about the niqab that I have noticed is that a lot of the women have them designed with jewels or small gems on them. Also, it is interesting to see these women walking around like soccer moms in their niqab with Nikes on walking around the lake, or standing on the street with a pink Coach purse.
Where my hotel is located, the nearest mosque is a couple of miles away and I do not hear the call the prayer that apparently can start at 3 am. Looking for a place to live this is something I have to take into consideration. Yes, there are Muslims throughout the area and yes they do pray five times a day. But as with any religion, this is not the case with all of them. An American friend and I spoke with a Muslim coworker who has basically debunked all of out thoughts. We both sat down and kind of realized how ignorant we both have been. We were like little kids asking our friend, who has lived in the area for the past ten years and is from another Middle East country, about his lifestyle.
Do you pray five times a day? Nope.
Do you drink? Fuck yeah.
Did you just say you have a live in girlfriend? Yeah.
Do you eat pork? Tried it, didn’t like the taste.
Do you hate Americans (this was totally in jest)? HAHA. No, not at all.
Do you hate gay people? No, nobody cares here; there are a lot of gay people.
Do you hate Christians or other religions? No, don’t care, my mother is Christian.
We shared with him some of the interesting dynamics of America. How people from California are pretty open and laid back, but they are really in love with their looks. We explained the Bible Belt, and tried to explain the South but really couldn’t (especially Texas). We explained the northwest (where I had just spent the past 10 months and my boss grew up), and how you can drive through a coffee stand where the women are wearing nothing but panties and pasties. We didn’t even have to explain to him what pasties were; he just laughed and couldn’t really believe it. We explained how the people in the Northeast always seem pissed off about everything and are quick to say, “Fuck off” and where they are from. We used the example of the coffee we were drinking, for instance.
Person 1: This is some good coffee.
Person 2 (from Jersey): Fuck you; you haven’t had good coffee until you have had Tony’s coffee on 15th street in Jersey. Now that is some good coffee.
Living somewhere like this with an open mind about the people you are living with and around is going to be quite the eye opening experience.
One week in and I can already feel it. Thanks for reading.