Fish Market and A Boat Ride

It is almost noon on Saturday (our Sunday) and we have been enjoying a relaxing, uneventful morning here in our hotel suite. Reading, coloring, building forts out of thick hotel comforters, pillows and chairs, and scarfing down a weekend waffle.

I just walked into the living area from our room which overlooks the entrance to the hotel residences, and watched as Josh walked, camera slung on his back, toward the Grand Mosque to capture its sights and sounds. I stood by the window, my heart full, as it occurred to me for the umpteenth time since arriving how odd and marvelous to watch my husband get acquainted with, what to me, is a long-lost friend: this part of the world with all its heat, its deserts, its people and its culture. A friend to whom I have only ever dreamed I would have the pleasure of introducing my family. I watched Josh’s feet hit the hot sidewalk and marveled that he was walking into my dream – our dream. Here we are.

Yesterday we had the joy of visiting another church, which we really loved. There were lots of kids, and both Cayden and Anya enjoyed their “Sunday” school classes and both walked out with a chocolate krispie bar, a little box of smarties, and a box of juice. I had forgotten how much candy people love to give to kids here! Anya’s teacher was Jordanian and had a very thick accent, and the pastor is from Australia. It was very moving for us to sit in church surrounded by people from all over the world, singing some of the same songs we know and love. We are very grateful to have found this place, as we miss our home church in Ventura.

After a short rest back at the hotel, my dad picked us up to take us to a restaurant called Fish Market, located within a small resort in the middle of nowhere, it seemed. The kids were exposed for the first time to a wide array of fresh large and small fish, squishy squid, shrimp and lobster, beautifully arranged on ice and ready for choosing. We chose fish fingers for the kids, and for us, hamour, a brown-spotted reef cod one and one of the largest coral dwelling fish to be found in and around the Persian Gulf. We ordered it teriyaki style with rice and it was very delicious.

For as long as I can remember, there wasn’t a place we would go, whether in Saudi Arabia or any of the other countries we traveled to, that my dad would not run into someone he knew. It became a family joke. Yesterday was no exception. One couple we saw remembered me when I was a little girl, and were thrilled to now meet my children, my dad’s grandchildren. The other family invited us for a boat ride and we decided it would be a fun experience, especially for the kids.

Al Dar Island

A motor boat picked us up in the small harbor, and it was thrilling, really, to watch the kids screaming with delight as we sped through the warm air and ocean waves. As parents, we were somewhat apprehensive as none of us, including the kids, had life jackets on (Papa, you aren’t reading this right now!). Our destination was Al Dar Island, the nearest island getaway in Bahrain – dolphin watching, jet skiing, beach parties, and snorkeling. We transferred  to their large yacht, which Cayden appropriately exclaimed was like a house; they couldn’t get over the fact that there was carpet, a bathroom and bedrooms and a small kitchen on a boat!

We enjoyed drinks in the company of my dad’s friends, and moved up to the top deck to watch the jet skiiers, listen – and dance-  to Arabic music, and watch the Arabian sun turn into a big orange, fiery ball descending behind the skyline. A full moon cast its bright light onto the water, and we breathed in deep the warm ocean air, marveling at our surroundings and where the day had brought us. As I told my dad, “One never knows what surprises await when they spend a day with you!”

Even though the kids had had their fill, we ended the day at the base where there was a free movie showing of Despicable Me and complimentary popcorn for all military personnel and families. The large room was packed and the kids, though exhausted by now, enjoyed this day’s ending. We are learning that there are many such activities, events and entertainment offered at the base, and it is fun to be able to participate.

It was a long, fun-filled day and we are grateful we still have this one day left to enjoy and rest. Happy weekend to the rest of the world!

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A typical school morning

Wake up call, which lately has been one or both of the kids announcing their presence at 5:30am. Each morning starts with a different breakfast, depending on what we feel like, and order, the night before: eggs and baked beans on toast (British-style), muesli and milk, fruit platter, or on the weekends pancakes (more like crepes) or waffles. This morning, Thursday, marks two weeks at the Bahrain School for Josh and Cayden. As you read from Josh’s previous post, he is slowly getting his classroom in order and enjoying meeting students from so many parts of the world. As for Cayden, there were no tears this morning at all, and yesterday as we drove through the gate to go back to the hotel, he says, “I want to stay longer at school.” Longer? Only last week he was saying school was too long! Thanks for your prayers!

Josh has been taking the morning shuttle, and I have driven the kids a little later. If we leave much past 7:40, we hit quite a bit of traffic. So, each morning, we take the elevator down to ground floor and greet the doormen who open the door for us. The kids are still not used to so many people, especially adults, saying hello to them and shaking their hands, so this morning we had yet another mini-lesson in the elevator about looking people in the eye and responding politely. (I also had to remind them to walk to the elevator, quietly, and take turns pressing the up, down and number buttons – we have had lots of tears over this battle between the kids.) Calling all child psychologists and seasoned parents: how long does it take for a lesson to be learned and practiced on a continuous basis? Just curious.

We get in our rental car parked out in the covered lot – which can get quite full due to the 8 top-of-the-line restaurants and events that take place in the hotel that draw distinguished and wealthy guests from all over. Take a right out of the hotel, then another right towards Juffair, and join the hoards of cars going to school and work. The main road moves quite quickly, but once on the two lane road to the school, and depending on the skills – or lack thereof- of other drivers, it can take a good ten minutes to drive the approximate two miles to the school.

It is fascinating to sit and watch each car crawl by – fancy, shiny cars with wealthy businessmen, drivers driving kids to school, and run-down Nissan trucks that could use a paint job. Women with heads completely covered wearing stylish sunglasses; brown, black and white faces of children squished up against the bus windows; young Saudi men thinking they are somehow exempt from whatever driving laws exist and above waiting in traffic until it actually moves.

This morning I sat incredulous as a Bahraini woman with a child no more than three sitting in the front seat pulls out in front of me, cutting me off, only to block me from proceeding forward due to stopped traffic in the next lane she was attempting to enter. We sat that way for about five minutes, my front bumper up against her door, so close I could tell you the color of her eyes, while escalating horns and beeps expressed their frustration with the lack of movement and her ineptitude at driving. Fortunately, I had consumed a cup of coffee before venturing out or my own horn might have done some damage to her hearing.

On the opposite side of the street, across a sandy lot, I have found my morning humor to lighten the stress of traffic and annoying drivers: a large, multi-windowed store, packed full with all kinds of ‘antiques’ and goods supposedly ready for sale. Chairs, dressers, frames – you name it – squished much like those childrens’ faces up against the dusty windows in complete disarray. The name of the store, given its contents and the way they are displayed, is better than the morning comics: The Future of Antiques and Furniture. I don’t suppose I will be visiting that store anytime soon in my future, if it’s even open, but I am thankful for the smile it draws out of me.

Once we pull into the school parking lot and show my ID card to the guards, Anya and I walk Cayden through the air conditioned halls to the outdoor covered playground, which is huge and filled with all the energetic elementary kids. I lead him over to the Kindergarten teacher aid, give him a big hug and a kiss, and leave him in the care of a great school and a wonderful class.

This is how our morning goes – at least for a while. When we move to the house we have yet to find, I am sure the routine will change. But for now, we are getting the hang of it and finding comfort in an emerging routine.

Yesterday I got to spend time with another mother of three, her youngest Anya’s age. I went to her hotel and the kids played for a while in their play area then we spent time getting to know each other in her suite. I left feeling refreshed to have had some adult conversation, and for Anya, some playtime with someone her own age. Melanie and I plan to start a small play group, until we decide what school our kids will go to, if they go at all this year.

One of Josh’s co-workers is a connoisseur of good restaurants in the area, and took us, Meg, and Emi to a fantastic Thai “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant last night. The kids enjoyed the chicken satay and pad thai, while we ate spring rolls and spicy garlic chicken. There are so many good restaurants here, it is going to take us a long time to try all the great food!

This evening we plan to take the kids to a park on the corniche – much like a boardwalk. I remember in Ventura tiring of deciding which park to go to, and now I long for some more parks here! Hopefully this one will satisfy the kid’s longing for a park like one at home. We will probably head to Shawarma Alley for dinner, a street filled with quick ethnic eats, souvenir shops, a Lebanese Roastery and a Fuddruckers. We’ll eat a shawarma sandwich for you!

"American Alley" right around the corner from the Base - includes Starbucks, Burger King and Macaroni Grill!
Haven't even gone yet
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Un día de éstos (Josh’s day, that is)

I woke up this morning and the sun was already up. It’s up early here, and it seems like it’s in a hurry to heat up this part of the world. I’m now used to waking up in this hotel room at least, whereas the first few mornings I woke up dazed and confused, unsure of where I was exactly –I think mainly due to the sheer exhaustion of all that transpired in the last 50 days. I am here. We are here. And I still can’t believe it. It’s Wednesday, but the work schedule is such that it’s like a Thursday. One day of work left this week, and then we’ll go to a church service Friday morning…which in real time is only Thursday night in Ventura. Back into confusion…I’ll adjust soon enough.

I caught the shuttle again this morning and was dropped off at school by my new friend, Ahmed, who drives the hotel shuttle. “How are the babies?” he asks. I have been pleasantly surprised by how friendly the people are towards our family. I think it helps to have two kids to break through the ice, and this country truly has welcomed us warmly–literally and figuratively.

I left Ahmed and his diesel mini-bus with “ma’a salama” outside the solid 10-foot school walls, walked past the armed security guards after showing my ID and then into my classroom where I was greeted with the hum and scent of my classroom air conditioning system–a system that has probably been running all night, and all day…since the beginning of time. At least since the beginning of the invention of AC. I was immediately reminded that I was not in Kansas anymore. For me, my classroom has honestly been the biggest adjustment. I’m coming from Foothill Technology High School, where I had everything in my previous classroom dialed in. I have hit the reset button, and started over. I am up for the challenge, but some things will just take time.


Manama, Bahrain at sunset

I had my first parent meeting with a mother and father from Saudi Arabia this afternoon. They drove over just to meet with a few teachers. He was dressed in his thobe and traditional head-covering piece, and I had an out of body moment where I thought: “This is so cool. I can’t believe I get to do this.” And then I was thrust back into the conversation, encouraging the mother and father to stay on top of their  daughter’s grade, and send their daughter to Spain for the summer. Why not? Everyone leaves the heat in the summer.

From there, I strolled past the armed guards again out front as the sun was setting, and walked towards the shuttle stop. I sat down in the air conditioned mini bus, and waited for the diesel engine to kick into gear and take me back to my family at the hotel. During the commute, I pulled out a book to prepare a little bit for tomorrow and started reading: “Un día de éstos” (One Of These Days) by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I smiled as I passed by the Grand Mosque on my right, standing so tall in the late afternoon sun, elegant in its perfect symmetrical architecture. I smiled because of all the connections going on: the title of the short story to Randa’s previous post, Cayden with his kindergarten class, and my connection with my new job and this beautiful journey. I am feeling more at home and I realized today that the haze and fog that clouded my vision for the first few days is beginning to burn off.

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One of those days

Today was one of those days when I had to apologize to Anya for using a word she shouldn’t be hearing in the midst of complete frustration. Coming from the outskirts of L.A., I know what bad traffic is like, but at least I could choose to enter it or stay out of it. There are no choices here, only maddening intersections, congested roads and drivers who are too bold for their own good.

We were late to school today due to a misplaced key. I left Anya with our friend Emi to go to the base for a housing briefing, during which I get a call from Josh saying Anya is clinging to him and won’t let go. I rush back, pick her up and make my way through the windy streets and landmarks to another preschool, only to find out that 98% of the student population are Bahrainis who speak Arabic. Most of the preschools that I can see Anya attending are about 30 minutes away, so I am in a quandry as to her schooling decision.

We went back to the base after a rest at the hotel to pick up a package from my sister – and the mailman questioned my identity. I had to point out that The Dinkler Family shows the same name as Randa Dinkler, just written in a different sequence. My fuse was short after walking in the 98 degree heat pushing a sleeping Anya in the stroller, not to mention that there was only twenty minutes until I had to pick Cayden up from school. I powerwalk back to the sandy lot only to find I can’t find my car – I don’t remember where I parked it! I am dripping with sweat, time is not on my side, and the cars are so closely parked together I feel like I’m walking through a can of sardines. God shone His flashlight down through the dust and I found the rental car. Fortunately, we made it on time, red faces and all.

Back at the hotel, we are very thankful for Aunt Karen’s homemade chocolate cookies and Trader Joe’s fruit leathers, among other wonderful goodies. While the new foods we are eating are exciting and different, the familiar is always comforting. Thank you, Karen!

When no other adult is around all day to vent with, I turn to my faithful blog – and you all- to unload a little. Okay, I’m good now. Tomorrow’s post promises a happier tone.

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Odds and ends

The kid’s afternoon snack this afternoon was chocolate croissants and cinnamon bun croissants. Not quite worthy of randa4health (for those who have followed my health blog, which I hope to continue soon) but a cultural experience nonetheless – and quite delicious. We talked about the origin of croissants, and the kids are already excited to visit France. Based on the diverse way we are eating, they will be 15 by the time they visit all the countries represented by these foods!

Each day that passes, I feel sadder to be so far from dear family and friends. I know that as with any monumental change, things often get harder before they get easier. And right now, I miss our community of friends. I have been making small attempts to reach out and meet people. One mother at the school who has a little boy Anya’s age and two older kids has just moved here from Alabama and is also having a hard time finding a school for her son. We both confess there has been more TV watching than we would ideally like, so we are going to spend time together Wednesday morning.

I was so happy to help in Cayden’s class today- I thought I would ask when I dropped him off and she welcomed my presence, along with Anya, who played in the toy kitchen the entire two hours. Cayden’s teacher is fabulous – I am so impressed with the level at which she is teaching, the variety of subjects and activities, and the effective manner in which she disciplines the students and addressed them like little adults. I helped with the work centers and was equally as engaged as the kids were with her teaching.

We get the Daily Tribune every morning and it is fantastic to read news from all over the world that appears to be pretty unbiased. Some of the articles are quite humorous; take, for instance, one from today: McDonald’s offers big fat weddings: In Hong Kong, McDonalds Corp is finding a new role for itself – as a wedding planner. It will offer a new ‘McWedding’ service for couples next year. “People said they’d dated at McDonald’s restaurants, or met here, and wanted to get married here…We see this as a business chance.” McDonald’s started to accept reservations last week.” We are 11 years late for the McWedding – too bad.

We enjoyed an end of the day night swim in the pool, with the Grand Mosque calling people to prayer close by. It is a sound so familiar and to me, quite beautiful.

The Grand Mosque, a beautiful landmark near our hotel

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