4.17.2014

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