Up in the air at 1am and breakfast is served 45 minutes later. We are given the option of a crêpe or omelette. We decide to get one each and share. I put some cherry jelly on my stuffed crêpe and go to take a bite of the apple that comes with it. I’m disappointed for a moment thinking I got dry apple slices before I realize they are warm potatoes, different but delicious. I also got a Valdiporro plum-cake, a Sterling Vipiteno strawberry yogurt, and a fruit cup with a ginger ale. Caleb’s omelet comes with sausage and mushrooms. I find the eggs off-putting and am satisfied with my first decision of the day.
I read to Caleb for a bit before we decide to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Our screen seems to be the best quality – not losing signal and not too much of one color, though it’s not the biggest either. Those are reserved for the walls, but the picture is fuzzy. It’s such a neat feeling sitting on a plane at 4 in the morning watching the sunrise with people sleeping around you and a space show on TV called Gravity. The guy in front of us is passed out but has his headphones up loud enough that we can hear them. The guy across the aisle has taken advantage of his e-cigarette on this flight and is puffing away.
I put my sweater on to keep me warm but am keeping my shoes off and enjoying the cool air that circulates the smells of the plane. In a couple of hours I will be in the middle of Bahrain heat with no escape plan scheduled. Looking down at the lights in the water it could be Water World down there or tiny islands or floating houses. Some patches are packed brightly and others just little yellow and white lights that could be fishing boats.
My anticipation builds – as does the possible jet lag. We slept for most of a day, but traveling through time – six hours ahead in a day – makes me part sleepy with all the excitement that is coursing through my body. The sky is starting to light up like a flame on the horizon – from dark red to deep orange to a dandelion yellow to baby blue and finally melting into the royal blue sky. The sun will illuminate Bahrain upon our arrival.
What I thought was ocean was the vast sand desert of Saudi Arabia. It does help explain the erratic layout of roads and lights. I get to see a lot of the northern part of the island on our descent – a few buildings (enough to count on my hands), one visible road, and more tan than I’ve ever seen in my life. Then come the shades of tan houses, the fishing boats on the beach, and the few cars on the road at 5:40am. Then I see a patch of grass before we land and know that not all hope is lost.
I think it looks beautiful and has plenty of potential for snorkelling based on the changing colors in the water. We land and roll past the commercial airport and past the cargo terminal to a large hangar. From there we are escorted under a tent while the crew unloads our bags. It’s here that we find Senior Chief Madison who is here to see to his guys and YN1 that hands us invalid hotel reservations to the Golden Pearl – a hotel that doesn’t allow pets, just like all the other hotels that everyone else at the command is staying at.
A couple receives their dog from the bottom of the plane and he easily goes through a bottle of water and is tired and hot. I’m probably still warming up from being on the plane. Our bags are laid out on the ground and then we are told to clear them out of the road. All the guys are smoking and gossiping. I’m smiling at the local accent from the crew, thinking about today’s plans – getting a place to sleep and getting dogs, and wondering how long the housing brief is that we’ve been volunteered for at 8am – because we need more time to look for pet friendly places.
We grab our bags and get in line to go through customs – something the people who are going to live on a ship don’t need to do. The guys joke about missing the sand in their eyes and talk about how it’s not even that hot yet. My main concern is not getting a sunburn on my first day here. Inside, I show my passport and, ask and thy shall receive, the official stamps it. I’m excited and others decide to ask for it too. I put my bags on the scanner and then wait for Caleb while noticing they don’t care what’s in my bags and that my visa is only good for two weeks.
As we continue outside, Caleb tells me not to worry about it. That will be another fun process we get to worry about later. We go through a fence, by an office filled with guys carrying guns, to a parking lot with multiple buses and vans – all white – waiting to take all of us, about forty, and our bags to our destination – which will be nearby hotels for everyone but us. We will be going to The Dragon – the only pet-friendly hotel on the island that is still on the authorised list.
Senior gives Caleb the keys to a van, so we can sit and wait while he gets everyone else through customs and settled on a bus. I didn’t think it was hot outside until I sat under a vent in the backseat and felt something like brain freeze. Then I could start to look around at the dry cleaning on the balcony across the street and count the women that were wearing full dress – abaya (the robe), hijab (covers the hair and neck), and the niqab (covers the face) as they drove by on the dusty road.
Senior Chief drops off the navigation officer at his hotel in Juffair and then we head to base. In traffic a lot of the women are fully covered and the vans surrounding us are packed with people sitting three or four men across – carpooling to the max. I try to get some video, but all the buildings are surrounded by tall walls or are not allowed to be photographed – military, police, government, religious. I’m impressed with the sparkling of the water with minimal trash floating at the surf and the tall and shiny buildings in the distance – all the places Caleb never had the time or people to go with and see.
The street lights are arrows and when going from red to green has a flash of yellow in-between. I was already known for being the photographer on the flight and my reputation will follow me here. We park in a rocky dirt lot – really close to other cars ensuring you can practice your turning and reversing skills and learn the size of your vehicle. It makes me nervous. I grab my purse out of the van and join the other van of guys walking towards base. There are parking lot attendants that helped us find a parking spot and then offered to wash the van while we are gone. We decline.
Caleb points to a To Let sign on a nearby wall and announces that it’s missing the I. Later at the brief the petty officer giving the presentation will let the noobs know that this means To Rent, not toilet. Approaching the gate is a sentry that checks your ID and makes sure you’re on the military or contractor side of the wall or even allowed on base at all. Then there is a stop sign and you must wait to be called by one of the two sentries that will scan your ID. Behind them is a desk with another guard and to the right is a table where they conduct random bag checks – which I didn’t know at first when I walked over to the table and volunteered my bag only to be turned away.
On the left is a room for contractors and people being escorted on base to give up their ID for a visitor badge and then go through a metal detector. I go through a turnstile and wait for Caleb. We might joke about security in the States, but it seems to be efficient here. We go by the housing office, but it’s not time for the brief yet, so Caleb and I go to the Inn and Suites to make sure our hotel reservations have been updated to accommodate our dogs. While Caleb is doing that I go to the mini-NEX for water, peach tea, and a Rockstar.
With that taken care of, we have time to go to the big NEX with two floors so Caleb can show me around. There are fresh vegetables, a beer cooler, three brands of dog food, aisles of body and house cleaning supplies, a Walgreens-sized greeting cards section, along with sports equipment, camping gear, and car service supplies on the bottom floor. Upstairs is clothing, shoes, and purses on one side and all electronics on the other. There is also a food court, post office, liquor store, movie theatre, two-story gym, a barber shop, etc. in the same building.
We walk to the brief and get seated next to the fan on the right side at the end of the table at 8am. The brief was for E-7 and above so they could share the news with the rest of their command, but we were offered a spot so we could get a head start on finding a place that allows pets. The weekends here are Friday and Saturday, so we have the next two days off. It was relaxing to sit in a room of officers and joke with them about neighbors owning lions, not negotiating for a car with the rental lease, and listening to stories from CS1 about what others have done wrong – get everything in writing!
Two and a half hours later and we have to wait in line to sign-in to be seen by a counsellor who can enter our information into the computer and get our house searching process going. We are given a booklet explaining everything about renting in Bahrain – how much we can afford a month – BD1041 which equals $2,841.93 with internet and electric included. We’re also given two pages of real estate agents to contact during the five days we wait for housing to get back to us, so they can give us a tour of available places.
We will start by looking for villas in Amwaj Islands (where our hotel is), Juffair (near the base), and Busaiteen (recommended by one of the guys that does the security inspection). We go back to the NEX to buy a bag of dog food for the two dogs that should be arriving tonight – good thing their first impression of their new home won’t be in the middle of the day. Back to the dirt lot to get a ride to our temporary home and some of the cars have their windshield wipers up. The guys can’t seem to agree if that’s to show that they were washed and/or to keep them from melting to the windshield.
On return to the van, the attendant asked if we wanted movies. They are pirated, so quality can be questionable. We decline again. Driving through parking lots might be scary, but the roads seem easy enough during the day. There are plenty of arrows on the road and signs letting you know which way (or lane) to drive in. The signs are in Arabic and English, but you need to know which neighborhoods to go through to get to the one you need. We are told to be at the indoc brief on Sunday at 8am when the work week starts.