from beach-bummer to beach-bum! I finally found a beach ya'll!!!

The morning, as most, started out early- 5am or so.  For some reason Shaika Spot and Sami Bey like to start their day at this time.  Their day starts with waking me up and luring me to their food bowls. Then it is play time- on the bed.  It can't be anywhere else (well, it can but it seems that the bed is the funnest play time). Why?  Because they have (half-asleep) me as a prop... They manage to make forts out of my abandoned pillows and ammunition out of anything they see fit (my glasses, a pen, my iPhone, various articles of clothing strewn about, the curtains, etc). Sami Bey especially likes to mess around with the curtains. He knows I hate this... What he didn't know this morning was that I added a new ingredient to my artillery- apple cider vinegar to my spray water bottle! 

In time, I woke up again an hour later. The kitties were right there waiting for me... Forced with no other alternative, I made some coffee and crawled back in bed again and reached for... my iPad. I was happy to see up front that my friends back home in Hawaii were posting about the upcoming Merrie Monarch Festival Hula. Upcoming meaning in 1 hour!  Hawaii is a 13-hour time difference behind Bahrain so I decided that it was fortuitous that the kitties woke me up so early on this morning.

Filled with coffee and current events, I made it to the living room and flipped on the air con switch (7am ya'll) and plopped down at my Mac Book Pro (Yes, I keep it all in the family where Apple products are concerned). I brought up the live streaming website and within 1 minute I was watching the Merrie Monarch!  Now this hula festival is special to me. Not just from spending most all of my life in Hawaii, but that I actually was at the Merrie Monarch festival for a few years in a row when I was temporarily living on the Big Island going to university at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. 

I remember the hanging about in the parking lot- a super party in itself for the loads of islanders and tourists alike that weren't fortunate enough to get tickets to attend. Inside the auditorium one's olfactory senses were overwhelmed. The air is simply infused with goodness from flowers, ferns and such other earthly delights (which is also somewhat of a natural disaster as well. In terms of the forests are plundered by all the hula halau right before the Merrie Monarch so everybody can make their lei (flower garlands or wreaths) that they wear during the competition, as well as vendors are selling to the audience, etc).

Also there are many Hawaiian and Polynesian handicrafts to buy there.  All sorts of lava lava (pareo or sarongs to wear around your hips), lauhala hats, scents, jewelery, etc. Of course delicious food and drink await with smells of laulau and pohole salad luring you over to the stalls to check it all out during the downtime. Sensory overload is delightful.  You just give into it, sit in your seat (bring a pillow ALWAYS) and enjoy the day.

Hula halau (dance troups) from all around the islands are invited to the competition. There are different styles of hula, as well as male and female halau.  It is 3 days of hula happiness.  The energy is infectious! 

Back to this morning, there I was at my computer and BAM I'm watching the Miss Hula Kahiko (traditional style hula) competition.  The hula kahiko is my favorite because of the movements and pace, as well as the oli (chanting) of the kumu hula (teacher) and halau (students of teacher competing).  It is, of course, a competition, but I think more so, in terms of importance, it is a cultural celebration.  It is family.  Hawaiians are people who stay close to the earth- their earth. The islands are their eco-system and they, for the most part, remain steadfast to their ancestral lands- of what little they have left after all the lands were partitioned off to their colonizers...

By the time the hula kahiko ended, the hula auhana started (another style of hula performed by single dancers to a slower rhythm where na wahine (women) wear form-fitting muumuus.  It is very elegant, but not generally a favorite of mine.  A friend came over right then as we had made plans the day before to find another beach on the island.  We both always lament over hardly ever laying our eyes on the sea here (and it's a small island), so we were on a mission.  After watching all the hula and seeing all the lovely Polynesians, I was just in the mood to celebrate the water over in this side of the world... It would be a day to step in the Arabian Sea- which somehow connects to the Pacific Ocean in the greater scheme of things.  It would be a day to bond with the water and make me feel that much closer to home. It would be a day to believe I was on a tropical isle... Could this day actually exist for me?  I was willing to find out. 

So off we went in my car with my GPS (seriously, I need a GPS to find the damn ocean?) to look for Al Bandar Beach Resort.  My friend was thinking about joining so we wanted to scout out the location.  Pictures showed that there was indeed a 'beach.' We came. We saw. We left unimpressed. I decided to pull rank at that moment and decide our immediate future.  Off we went to Amwaj Island where I found a decent public beach last week with Shamika visiting from NYC. We rocked up to the rockstar parking spot (the shade from the edge of an luxury condo building's wall). We walked out to 'my spot' (I have a 'spot' now!) and plopped down onto the sand.  I laid down my lava lava (no need for towels for this island girl) and BAM off came the clothes. Hello bikini! 

Moments later we were frolicking around in the sea.  Swimming goggles strapped to our heads, off we went towards the other side of the... lagoon I guess.  It's a pretty big area, yet too small for boats or jet skis fortunately. A girl on her SUP passed us up and waved.  Damn it feels good, I thought to myself as I was floating on my back staring up into the blue-ish sky (it's never a totally BLUE sky here it seems). Thoughts of baking in the sun woke me from my floating daze so I returned to shore to do just that!  As I was getting out, 4 buff, tattooed dudes were entering the water equipped with inner tubes and a floating raft for their cooler full of BEER of course!  I briefly chatted them up- for BEER of course... and they went about on their merry way floating- downstream unfortunately.  I thought they should have started out upstream (before they started drinking their BEER), but oh well, they will figure it out.  I say this because there was a decent current.  Whatever.  They are big boys.  They can hitchhike when they can't figure out how to 'float' back upstream!  We were at the beach for nearly 3 hours and never saw them again, and I don't think there was that much beach to float around in so... at least they had a raft carrying a cooler to BEER to amuse them...

After enjoying every sun-soaked moment in the sun, we decided that we were beached-out.  I got us back and then headed back to my apart-villa thingy and what did I do?  I made nachos and drank BEER!  What a celebration indeed.  I celebrated the shit out of today in the best way possible!  Because I'm nursing a little "why does my left calcaneous feel a little bit wonky" psyudo-injury (fingers crossed), I already knew I wasn't going to be running in the evening so there was that...

To summarize the day, it was awesome.  I have my little slice of Hawaii here with this strange little stretch of beach. It's free. There's no chaise lounges.  No appeal for tourists or tourist dollars in the near vicinity. No food being served, etc.  Just a beach. An entertain yourself kinda beach. It feels down to earth.  Nothing glitzy. No one was on the beach hardly except a few other beach lovers.  My kinda beach. Bonus- no gawkers.

It's midnight. I'm not editing. Later-


shenanigans here in the kingdom of Bahrain

Sitting in bed with my requisite cuppa joe and 2 kittens (Mischief & Mischiefess) with a new addition: the air con is ON!  Yep, it's that time folks.  I held it off as long as I could...

I'm reflecting on my time in Bahrain.  I'm well into my 7th month here and it feels... well it feels kinda cozy.  I was with the Fulbrighters early in the week at a gala event that the US Ambassador put on here- that would be the 4th of July par-tee that happens every April- and we were discussing getting ready to leave. It felt odd because I'm not leaving... But I've spent enough time living in countries and leaving, and remember that feeling- that a chapter is coming to an end.  What have I still not accomplished?  Where did all the time go? Why did I not meet a Mr. Right, and only Mr. Wrong's, or perhaps more aptly, Mr. Right Nows ;)

But seriously, it feels good to stay put for some more time.  I started to think how they will unload all their possessions- likely at my place for storage until the next set of Fulbrighter's appear in September! I remember back to Gaziantep last May and my unloading of 2 years of collecting.  It was so much fun actually as I had a moving party complete with adult beverages and peeps just came over and walked away with my pre-loved stuff.  I didn't even try to sell anything.  I just wanted to give it all away- the blender, the rug, the plants, the psychedelic lights (I hope you are enjoying those Farahnaz ;), and just all the other cool stuff that I had amassed.  It is nice to know they are amongst good friends and people who need things.

Now I remember the trips I made with Ahmed, Farahnaz, Selin and Marc to the Syrian refugee camps. I had loads of clothing to donate on a couple occasions- the last one in May I believe, after I had already been informed that I was a Fellow recipient in Bahrain.  I thought to myself, "what will I do with all these winter clothes? "  BAM! Pack up a small bag of the goodies, and donate the rest to Ahmed's family and friends in the camps near Gaziantep. I remember being amazed at the sight of rocking up in the car to the various camps- some tent camps and some container camps.  One was just opening that week- a camp of 10,000 containers that can hold 100,000 people.  It seemed so inconceivable to me that you just pick up from your civil war-torn country and, are lucky enough, to make it across the border and re-structure your life. These people are a stone's throw from their country and cannot do a thing.  They await news each day from back home.

These  moments that I spent soaking in what I was seeing, they have changed me. Even as I type, my eyes tear up. Why? Because I've somehow forgotten these feelings until now as I relive them. As always though, there is always a context for helping people in need.  Sure enough, I opened my email this morning and in my inbox was an email from a friend who is hosting Easter dinner Sunday evening.  We are all cooking different dishes (I'm bringing Nachos and tequila ;)  She belongs to a local women's group here on isle and they are accepting donations for the women's prison here in Bahrain. It's not a big prison of course as it's a small island with a small population, but it is full of, mostly, runaway maids trying to escape abusive employers, etc. They cannot get back to their own countries and life looks pretty bleak for them at this point- regardless if they broke the laws or not. So the women need international calling cards and underwear mostly. 

This brings me to another story (I know, I'm all over the place this morning with this post).  Last night I was heading out to a swank diplomatic party with a friend and my GPS always screws up in this one spot on isle in downtown Manama.  It always takes me near Pearl Roundabout- which has been closed for about 3 years now... ahem. Anyway, it re-routed me through the Pakistani/Indian immigrant hoods and to the guts of the souk. The hood was so interesting to soak in the sights: men everywhere pouring out onto the streets.  All these guys are working here for MINIMAL wages and Thursday evening is the night to chill in their hood since Friday is their only day off.  The men were all looking into my car as if they had not seen women before. They leave their families back home and come here to work their asses off to send their meager wages back home and subsist on what little is left over.  Many do not see their wives and children for YEARS.  From time to time I talk to a few and ask them, "Is it worth it?" And the answer is always an overwhelming YES.  I think to myself, 'Wow, this is not how it's supposed to be.  How is it that you have a family and can't be with your family?"  I have no answers, but I am humbled and grateful for all that I have, and don't have, but because I am a US citizen I am... I don't even know what the word is, or maybe I don't want to pen it...

Oh, by the way, the birthday soiree (Tony Stark of the Middle East) was a smashing success.  The highlight was the shwarma station in the backyard of the dude's villa- which was HUGE.  That got me and my party friends thinking as well. The villa was huge, and swank, but not really a 'home-y' feeling, in terms of what I (we) considered home-y to be back home (NYC, Phily & Hawaii we represent). There is this feeling of artifice here.  Things are outrageous, sure.  But that doesn't necessarily do it for me. I guess just the term 'compound' has some weird connotations for me.  I mean, they are reinforced, walled living sites, complete with guard shacks and different levels of security upon entering.  It's weird to think you're 'inside the compound.' I also think back to the Syrian refugee camps as they are in their compounds, but to keep them in, and outside of the local communities.  Same difference? Different passport. Different socio-economic status. Different as night and day.

As I backtrack in thought to the camps, we all noticed (hard not to) the barreled barb wire surrounding the walls of the camps.  I asked someone if it was to keep people in.  I got an answer that it is also to keep people out.  This, of course, gets into politics- in this context concerning Turkey and Syria and their governments being at odds with one another (this is an absolutely white-washed way of coining this, but I just can't get into it now). I guess I'll just end here on this.  I'm affected- that is all I want to say.  I have ideas. I have opinions. I have prejudices. I have compassion. I have doubts. You get the picture.  It's an emotional pot of stew brewing continuously and episodes of spillover in between some relative calm (relative).

Okay, I'm pulling it together to get out of bed.  It's close to 10am and I need to get my day on.  The party, oh yes the party... Well, there were 2 parties: first one being cocktails and pupus at the pool bar at the Intercontinental for the US Embassy's "Bahrain-America Friendship Week." This was the primer.  This was actually the reward for my Matilda (my GPS) taking me through the NARROW alleys of the Manama Souk where I don't know how I actually managed a 3 kilometer stretch of men swarming, cars double-parked, sometimes 2-way traffic down what seems impossible for even a 1-way traffic situation, bicycles, women running in/out of shops with their long, black abayas flowing, etc. Somehow the chaos works though. It did not seem abnormal for anyone else.  Whereas my ass (in a sweet Dolce and Gabbana LBD number) was gripping the seat, and it was tense, but with broken moments of outright laughter too. We took ourselves so seriously for the first kilometer, and by the last, I was indeed happy to see the InterCon, but decided that THAT experience was one of my highlights here in the Kingdom.

Party #2- Once again, Matilda was fussing about logistics of Roads, Blocks, Villa #s, etc.  We had a mini caravan on tour.  We eventually found our way inside Citadel Compound a narrow street with cars all piled up in the near distance. Right away this girl is thinking ahead to trying to pull out of this hot mess in the wee hours after partaking in adult libations so... As always, I parked far enough way to be able to make a 5-point turn outta there no problem. Not that THAT helped us in locating my car upon departing the soiree.  Just a minor detail though...

...And the party. Earlier in the day I anticipated sussing out a place in the yard to pass out until the early morning hours, but this recourse was in fact not needed.  We came home at a fairly respectable hour... fairly. Upon various reconnaissance surveys of Tony Stark's residence, there was not a corner in the party area that was not covered with adult beverages.  I mean, whatever you wanted, it was there.  Music was evolving. Crowd was cutting loose. Disco ball was spinning. A good time was had by all.  There were some other highlight, but best I keep my lips sealed...

Unfortunately I did not take any pictures, but my comrades did.  Perhaps I'll include them later when I get them.  We were looking hot after all.  Everybody was looking hot- in an environment-specific way (I'll keep it at that as well).

So, that's all I've got.  I think I've confused you all enough with my 'writing off the top of my head' style of entertainment... Oh yea, Ima going to pull the hungover card and not edit this so... there's that


HollyMissBerry does the Bahrain Grand Prix Formula One event!!!

I have exciting news to share from last week.  As you can see from the title of today's blog, yes indeed I did attend the Bahrain Grand Prix- a 3-day race in a series held throughout the world. These are the fastest racing cars in the world and so the charged atmosphere is simply thrilling.  Here is a picture of the race track.  The circuit itself is just under 5.5 kilometers. The race cars, in teams of 2, spend the first 2 days qualifying for the grand finale, in which they all race together and complete 57 laps.

I had not originally planned on going as tickets are expensive, but a last minute offer from a friend sporting free tickets... I could not pass up.  I mean, this IS the sporting event in Bahrain so how could I resist?  I must say, my little host nation continues to amaze me.  So, off we went.  We had pretty decent seats as well.  From the picture above, we were at the top of the bleachers at Turn 1 (the front right side of the picture).  Since it's a hairy turn, we got to see loads of action, including Esteban's car flipping over 2x when Pablo rammed him.  He managed to walk away unassisted.  We were all amazed and cheered him on when after a few nerve-wracking seconds, nothing happened and we didn't see any movement once the car stopped (rightside up). Slowly he got out, jumped on top of the car and waved his hands up.  The crowd roared!!! As well, other cars were still racing at this point so none of the ground crew could run out to help him. Soon enough, the Porsche safety car came out to lead the rest of the cars while everything was cleaned up.

Here are some more pictures from the days leading up to the finale, in which Lewis Hamilton took the grand prize.  He dominated the entire race actually.  I was rooting for Brazil's Felipe Massa (only because I know someone who worships him). I honestly didn't know any of the driver's, or what the race was about, but just by watching and talking to my neighbors in the stands, I soon learned the ropes. 

 The venue and main sponsor.  Exciting to walk inside the gates and instantly feel the energy.  Security did take away my carrots though...
 In true festival form, everything one needs was there: food, booze (inside the Gulf Air VIP tent), entertainment, swag for purchase (I don't think anyone that attended got away without purchasing merchandise, me included). Carnival acts & contortionists were also there, along with many sunburned tourists & females wearing completely inappropriate attire!  This part I loved.  Felt like back home!  Sheiks & Sheikas were walking around in mass as well attached to their cell phones.  Everybody was having a great time in essence.

 Couldn't resist a photo opp with these two...
 Anthony met up with us and gave us all the insights into race theory and terminology.  He was our ticket sponsor!
 Oh yes, marching bands were present as well.
 We ran into people we knew (not too hard to do on a small island).

 Hanging out in the stands with Dr. Starr waiting for the action.  My neighbor was glued to his phone the entire 3 days.  Unbelievable. 

The end!