The fall season has different markers depending on the locality but there’s now a wider distribution of early Christmas decorations (and in our case setting up for National Day), pumpkin spice flavored anything and everything (hello San Diego), and that sudden change in temperature (10* F or 5* C) that has people putting on sweaters and coats depending on their comfort level, which for me is shorts.
I was invited to an Alice in Wonderland themed Halloween party (girls only) which I thought would be a new and exciting experience. It was definitely new and I was the first to arrive (as I’d forgotten the two hours early invite to get others there “on time”), dressed as the tea party, and the three sisters had spent hours doing their makeup to be the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, and Alice with a bloody card sticking out of her neck; and Mom was the Queen of Hearts.
I helped with some of the decorations (arrows and rabbit ears), brought some cookies to go with the tea, but forgot my over-selfie taking self at the door when the other girls arrived to take a million photos from every angle. There was also a photo station under a tree where they gathered, but had no problem using the couch and mirror, etc to set the tone for their Instagram and Snapchat. Most of these girls arrived in an abaya so this was their chance to show some skin.
Between all the flash there was time for party games, some to include all twenty guests and others for just six or less at a time. I won a headband. People left en masse after the food but I waited for one of the cakes to be cut (and my Uber) to return me from Hidd before taking some cake pops with me. This party helps me appreciate all the moments I can spend with friends at events or gatherings while not buried in our phones. Perhaps some great invention will be revealed from their addiction, but until then I will continue to appreciate people in person before attending to my likes.
BAHRAIN NATIONAL MUSEUM
Since I landed I was looking for things that Caleb and I could do or that I could entice a friend to join me in doing. Caleb had a Saturday off and we got a ride to the Bahrain National Museum to look at their Dolls of Japan exhibit. It was a nice surprise to see there was an Investing in Culture exhibit and that permanent exhibits had been updated in an attempt to keep the attention of the younger crowd after we paid our 1.005 BD entry fee.
Since we left, Bahrain has introduced a VAT (value-added tax) mostly aimed at expats to help with the government decreasing the subsidies from oil revenues that have historically been spent on Bahrainis to pay their rent, bills, and meat costs. I can understand why the locals would be upset after having been given handouts for so long when the government started asking for 5% on taxable items… back to the museum.
We follow the numbered panels in the foyer to read about the beginning of Bahrain and the construction of the museum and its effects on the country and the region as a collection of a history that has since been built over and expanded to hold more shopping malls, mosques, and three-story villas on what little public beach there used to be. Bahrain is definitely investing in its new sense of culture and building it high.
Bahrain used to be more traditional but even now there is a movement to upgrade the Manama Souk with Wi-Fi so that cell phones will be able to show off its Instagram worthiness within seconds, especially with the facade, signage, and walkway improvements scheduled. Perhaps this will improve businesses in the area by modernizing the shopping experience to match with malls who offer discount apps and geo-tagging for loyalty programs.
I see how change can be difficult for more old-fashioned people used to doing things a certain way, such as when I had to adjust from a 30-foot-long corded phone (a trip and choke hazard with siblings) to a cordless phone that my step-dad could leave outside in the rain — twice — and they weren’t cheap back then. Bahrain may be small and covered in water bottles and cigarette butts, but that’s not stopping this country from trying to compete in the international market.
After detouring through the history of Bahrain we reach The Dolls of Japan: Shapes of Prayers, Embodiments of Love exhibit. We learn that what started out with such traditions as the Hina Matsuri (Girl’s Festival) led to the spread of this art to show the appreciation of time-honored costumes and craft styles with familiar themes of Noh and Kabuki to bring the love of dolls to more people than just little girls.
The festival is held annually in March to showcase the attendants in traditional court dress of the Heian period, 794 to 1185, named after the capital which is now modern Kyōto, at a time when Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism amongst other Chinese influences, upon poetry as well, were popular in Japan. The hour walk back to the house in Al Fateh was nice as we got to appreciate the new pavement (sidewalk) bricks that line many of the roads as Bahrain attempts to become more pedestrian-friendly.
HOW THINGS WORK
In anticipation of the shipment from America I’ve been slowly inspecting the house – the two sets of speakers can’t connect to the TV in the living room, I don’t want to be bothered with all the cables to set up the TV in the bedroom, and turns out none of the converters worked because the fuses were all blown. The iron doesn’t work, don’t know if the toaster does, the lamps need bulbs, and I replaced our pool balls with the new set that was bought because one of the balls had been chipped.
There was a cabinet in the kitchen with two sets of measuring cups and a set of spoons but we bought a new set anyway until ours arrives, hence why I was checking all cabinets and drawers to look for these hidden treasures amongst the cracked dishes, used knives, and “old” pot set. If we aren’t going to be using these we can give them to someone who will. Meanwhile, I’m stuck vacuuming with hearing protection until I decide to buy an updated model.
BAKING AFTER DARK
I was invited to a baking party and was looking forward to sweets. I walked the 50 minutes there and found Frank and Azazel’s place in Segaya where they’ve lived for about a year now. There was some construction going on that would leave us eating the fresh baked savory items along with gathered cheese and homemade wine by candlelight. I got to catch up with Chris, remeet an older couple who are moving to Amwaj and a younger couple with their daughter who has just started teething.
We spoke about work (mostly teachers and a retired contractor) as well as what we’ve been up to since we last saw each other over three years ago. We talked about who we knew then, especially Tony who recently moved to Poland, and all the marriages in between, such as Eric and Wasan that the guys hadn’t seen since April — that would change with a BBQ invite to her place in A’Ali the next week where I would meet S’mores her Lhasa Apso puppy along with her version of the treat — a McVitie’s digestive, three Cadbury squares, and three marshmallows — pink, white, and burnt.
CALEB and BOOKS
Caleb doesn’t get much time off with his current schedule but he enjoys baking cinnamon rolls and Irish soda bread, cooking pasta and veggies, playing his daily sudoku, and finding weird cartoons to intersperse with our latest documentary series when we’re not out shopping for food, taking a walk amongst the cars in the dust, or curled up on the couch — him reading from Kindle and me from the over 50 books I’ve amassed from the library’s free offerings.
I’ve been keeping an eye on activities we can do on base — smoke-free, cheap, and close — for when Caleb isn’t on duty. We were going to play bingo last time we lived here but I thought it was an outrageous cost (how else will you fund the $7,000 jackpot that has to be won by the first 50 numbers) but since Caleb has had a few raises and two advancements since then and me a job we had enough to spend the $25 per gamepad for an hour and a half of entertainment and possible winnings for each game.
I’m not saying that we couldn’t afford to play last time we were here but I prefer to spend our money on fancy popcorn in Dubai or scuba diving in Hawaii instead of movie theater kernels and cheap beer… hence why opposites attract, but we agreed on the Mongolian BBQ (by the pound, not the plate) after the game and both eyed the cast iron wok that we’d enjoy cooking with. We’d gotten haircuts earlier (my last being three months ago and his being three weeks ago) and the cost, time, and massage option will have me coming back soon.
PRINCESS IS HERE
The same weekend I meet S’mores was when the Bahrain Marathon Relay was happening and Princess happened to be on a team visiting from Saudi to get some exercise, but not before hanging out with me. We met at Bennigan’s for dinner because she was staying in that hotel where I got to try a cinnamon apple margarita before going to Wembley Lounge (a first for me) where the drink service is like Señor Pacos but served individually instead of by the pitcher so our table was covered in wine (red and white), whiskey (mixed with soda or just ice), and other glasses of vodka and gin.
We made acquaintances with an outgoing Navy wife from Iowa and her shy Irish teacher friend, a couple of guys who liked drinking and diving (not sure in which order), and some other guys playing billiards but we never got the table because I was too busy eating free pizza from the guy singing the most karaoke before Princess ordered fish and chips and got an Uber. I walked home.
S’MORES and MORE
After hearing about my night at Bennigan’s Caleb wanted to go and try his luck at finding the sandwich with a pretzel bun — which is no longer on the menu. We had an early dinner around 4:30 as the BBQ invite was to arrive between 5 and 6, so I knew dinner would be later and it was definitely worth the wait. I got to meet Wasan’s husband, the French chef; her neighbor who likes cigarettes, Carlsberg beer, and dog kisses; and one of her triathlon training friends.
The rest of the crowd was waiting on the chicken, meat, and shrimp to finish on the grill while I enjoyed the asparagus and other veggies, two salads consisting of carrot and onion and another mostly olive and potato, two loaves of bread — one zaatar and the other olive, and baked potatoes. There were plenty of nuts, trail mix, and Cheetos and the drinks of which I had mostly water didn’t disappoint either, but there was champagne, red wine, XO cognac, and an alcoholic punch. I’d have stayed a couple more hours but my ride, without having to worry about a taxi, was ready to go.
It took three guys an hour to unpack 47 items (front bike wheel removed for easier transport counts as one) and nothing was broken but we seem to have misplaced the connector cable for our dive watch to the computer. Being that we had these things packed six months ago it’s difficult to remember what we chose to leave in storage and that we mostly brought clothes and kitchen supplies, but even there we managed only one coffee cup – Caleb’s happy birthday mug from a decade ago.
After a long day of reorganizing the kitchen, hanging smelly clothes to be washed later, and trying to connect electronics — stereo, Wii, mixer — we decided to go to Show Shha for dinner. I was craving spicy and I was in luck when I walked in and noticed the pani puri serving station. I stood there excitedly and absentmindedly popped them into my mouth without count until I remembered we were here for dinner. We only got two entrees, but Caleb ordered enough bread variety for catering… or take away.
The next day we would buy a mop because we couldn’t even sell our last one for a dollar so it stayed in San Diego. I got a new dustpan because using one without a handle and a rubber lip is hard on my thumb and patience. Caleb got a new toilet brush so he wouldn’t have to look at the poop-stained one that was left behind and a cheap blender with the only options being on, really on, and off since we didn’t bring ours and he plans to leave it here.
SAID and SCIENCE
Said moved to Riyadh after getting married to his wife in Turkey (she has family there) and had driven the four and a half hours to come visit. We agreed to meet at 10ish and I was on schedule to meet that time until I went on base to get the utilities check since Visa wouldn’t approve our card through the Electricity and Water Authority (plus municipality tax of 10% total rent) and got sidetracked by a “health” fair where there was candy at every booth except the dentist and it was more of a services offered awareness where I was able to get a reflective band for Caleb when he’s able to ride his bike to work, as it’s required along with a helmet and a bell.
The event looked more like a science fair to me but I was able to look into a machine that gauged my eyesight (still good), get a quarter of a wheat bagel with egg and cheese, and get a book recommendation from the lady running the air quality booth — cities have a long way to go in cleaning up one of the fundamental needs of human survival, such as the case with Bahrain allowing cars to idle for hours and block traffic as they honk for service from cold stores and restaurants.
Anyway, Said picks me up to join him on a trip to a government office to get his residence sticker put into his new passport. We walk up to a man at the service counter and he says this should be done on the causeway or at the airport to save time, but he’ll see what he can do. He comes back after two minutes and tells Said to go home and then we have a laugh as we realize just how quickly we were able to bypass going back and forth to ‘merge’ the data and paid nothing without waiting in line or on the system that is down.
We celebrate by having lunch at Hash House in Adliya and split some wonton tacos and rice wrapped in banana leaf. We’ll get some matcha tea across the street at Dose Cafe before he’s off to a business meeting and I’m hand-in-hand with Caleb on our way to yet another sale and deal on base — anything to keep us coming back for more and I’m not going to complain. I got a new pair of owl earrings from one of their pop-up booths and the man rewired the fish hook backs to ensure my ears wouldn’t get irritated.
I find myself at City Centre Mall walking every level to see what catches my eye — a lot of little Daiso-inspired shops, Lush outlet with naked (plastic-free) products, Cioccolat Italiani where they put melted chocolate in the cone before topping with gelato, other body outlets with soaps and lotions (that I have plenty of) but not the shampoo I like, and a bookstore where I can add books to my to-read list and soon my to-read-on-kindle list so that all the horizontal surfaces in the house aren’t covered with books.
Lunch will be at Ric’s Kountry Kitchen and we are one of four customers in the place sans bunnies and chickens that used to roam the front yard. We talk about work and the hassle of being an entrepreneur, the lessons learned in marriage, thoughts about having kids, spending time with family, and knowing when to stay in or where to travel to next. I didn’t go to my high school reunion but it’s an experiment in nature vs nurture in seeing how kids that spent so much time together adult differently. Even though I’ve been gone three years it seems a lot has changed (relationships and jobs) while everything has stayed the same (constant moving and remodeling).
I’m not home long before Ozzy messages me to join him on a trip to Avenues Mall. We park by the long entrance to the Four Seasons and walk around the canal that still has bridges and buildings under construction so that we can see the purple, blue, and yellow lights from the walkway, cranes, and lampposts reflect off the water as the sun sets. Once darkness arrives we meander up to the 5-star hotel to enjoy the greenery lining the way amongst their three outdoor pools — all with a guy on watch to make sure we don’t do anything silly (which happened at the Ritz).
I’m usually up for trying new things — except a hotdog at Ric’s and a meal at Raising Cane’s that consists mostly of fried chicken. We opt for Blaze Pizza instead and the lady preparing my half pizza and side salad asks if I’m “veagen” as I order cheese with both so I tell her, “mostly”. We had plans to walk off our meal and actually look around inside this time, but Ozzy’s work called so that just gives us a reason to go back.
MEETING the BOSS
We were to walk to his place around 7 pm so that Captain and Senior could call the crew that were up for advancement and let them know if they made it — three of them did. Well, turns out there are four different buildings that start with Fontana, so we ended up at the wrong one and the boss offered to come pick us up. While we waited I helped myself to some free coffee, two types of tea (of which I didn’t finish the last), and a date with tahina which was sweet.
Caleb and I tried out some of the chairs in the lounge and then the Nissan pulled up and we were off to the proper, and closer, Fontana building and all the way to the top floor. I didn’t expect anything to be fancier but was hoping to see the view. I meet his wife, the woman who will bring me a chair and a glass of water before disappearing and sit with the guys for a moment before joining Andrew’s dad in the living room to chat about work and travel and his three kids for about an hour.
I was gifted a blue and gold keychain with some knots learned from a boatswain mate (the guys in charge of ropes, paint, and hull maintenance) on a tiger cruise (when sailors invite people over the age of 8 years old sans significant other (anyone they’d have sex with) on the last part of a long deployment — his was from Pearl Harbor to San Diego. I’m grateful I got to be with Caleb at work before I got out as what happened underway definitely wouldn’t be appropriate if I was pretending to be his sister just to get a peek at his life out to sea.
Having learned some background I felt more relaxed around Andrew and on the ride home he gave us I learned that he was Caleb’s age, but besides that, they don’t have much else in common. Andrew has a twin sister and is a workaholic, finding any and every excuse to be at the ship and convince Caleb into working late (after the last bus leaves the yards), and doesn’t miss his wife on her long visits home. I could see being friends with Andrew, and definitely his dad, but I can see the difficulty in trying to work with someone who sounds ten years younger.
It wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t have food mentioned ever so frequently… as the only people who can’t be considered foodies are those who try to live without it (unsuccessfully) and those who find joy in food that varies from my taste (as cultural norms play a part). Caleb was looking for something at the deli and saw my eyes light up between the olive selection and cheese salads — labneh, which is strained yogurt made into the consistency of spreadable cream cheese. We grabbed some with black cumin seed (Arabic: haba barka) and another with pomegranate and beetroot.
Ozzy brought me along to Dragon City to look for some TV technology device for his uncle but we also got to look at the lights, clothes, gadgets, and kitchenware sections in the portion of this large mall that we covered. I looked around for something I didn’t need — like the flimsy phone case with an owl on it or the backup phone the length of my finger or the Saudi flag sticker for the car I don’t have — and didn’t get anything.
Ozzy wanted a snack and I was told to bring home bananas so we walked around The Lagoon but couldn’t decide between the empty bowling alley and the packed Starbucks so we went to the corner market where I got a bottled falooda (of course it’s not the same, but I have a thing for trying basil seed drinks in glass bottles) and could’ve tried a new flavor of popcorn — boti kabab, tom yam, shawarma, seaweed, or chili & lemon, but didn’t. I also didn’t get any new loose leaf flavors from Tea Club because I can try them later before I buy a tin of something I don’t like.
Caleb had Thanksgiving Day off so he volunteered to make banana bread and candied yams for the guys who didn’t. He also made some loaves for us and a regular loaf so we could have a sandwich for dinner. The base had plans to give out free meals and we thought with the arrival of the 5,000 people from USS Abraham Lincoln that there would be no food left so when we went at 1 pm we only had room for pie — pumpkin, cherry, and apple — even though there were kid volunteers yelling at us to eat from their side of the buffet line as there were two set up.