I need a GPS!

A few days ago was my first day driving in Bahrain. We finally rented a car and procured for ourselves greater freedom. The shuttle is an accommodating service, and sometimes it is nice to sit back and take in the scene, but one starts to feel a little dependent on someone else’s schedule and destinations.

Driving here is crazy. Not so much that there is disorder, although you really do have to be on alert at all times as people will cut in front or squeeze their way in with no signal or warning. But there are no road signs! I just called another school and she isn’t even able to give me directions, because there are no street names! Only landmarks: “Go around the tree and past the furniture store.” Or “Go through the roundabout and at the second signal, turn right. There will be a gas station on your left.” Time to download the right software to my GPS!

I drove Josh and Cayden to school – Cayden, by the way, is doing a little better, but still cries when I leave and says that school is too long. 8-2:30 is a pretty long day for a kindergartener, but he does enjoy Specials at the end of the day. Thursday’s Special was Host Nation, where Cayden learned that Eid is a celebration and camels here have only one hump. He will leave Kindergarten knowing more about Bahrain than Josh and I do.

I then visited one of the British-curriculum based schools in the area that has a pre-school for Anya. It should have taken me 10 minutes to get there, instead it took me 25! I did so many u-turns and backtracking, I was dizzy.  There’s the gas station, there’s the roundabout, but where is the light?!? I guess getting lost is a good way to get to know the area…..if you can find your way back. Fortunately, I did.

The school reminded me a little of the British school I went to when I was that age up until 6th grade, although we didn’t wear uniforms. They wanted to put Anya in the 2-3 year old class, which she is way beyond, thanks for Sonshine Preschool. So I will continue looking for a good school for Anya. In the meantime, we are “playing school” at home – we just finished working on letter recognition, tracing, cutting and pasting, and it is now recess time. Together, we will explore Bahrain.

On Friday, we went to church on base. It was a nice service, but they don’t have Sunday school – or I should say Friday school – for Anya’s age, so we may need to go elsewhere. Trying to occupy a three and five year old for an hour and a half might get a little exhausting week after week. There was a great group of Gospel singers that we all enjoyed listening to, and of course, lots of diversity. On the way home from church, we were stopped in traffic to allow for the exiting of all those praying at the Grand Mosque, a beautiful landmark in downtown Bahrain.

Yesterday, I went with Meg and some other teachers to a great craft fair, or bazaar, way down south in Riffa. Again, I really had no idea the island was as big as it is. I was surprised that we could drive for over thirty minutes through desert mostly and still have a ways to go. The bazaar was mostly handmade items – baked goods, paintings, clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, and interesting items such as camel puzzles and henna painting. It was good to get out and do something fun with other adults – as we have yet to meet other families with kids our age, I really have only been with the kids on a day-to-day basis.

We had lunch at a shisha lounge – empty in the middle of the day, except for one man who I don’t think took his mouth off the pipe. I found this great article if you want to read more about the shisha, or hookah. The service was incredibly slow, with the waitress bringing out one person’s meal at a time, interrupted by a fork here and a napkin there, all served from a tray; it took ten minutes from the first order served until Meg and I got our pizza. Oh well, at least I got to enjoy the decorations on the wall as I waited – red construction paper hearts and red feathers, taped to the walls.

As we were driving the other evening and stopped at a stoplight, we looked over and right in the middle of the street was a man riding a beautiful brown horse. He crossed the highway as if it were made for horses, and rode off into the sand. Talk about a random sighting.

There have been lots of those, and will continue to post them in the days and weeks to come.

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Is it safe? First Thoughts From Josh…

On This Beautiful Night

I need to preface this first post with the fact that I feel like I am in a dream and I might wake up any minute to find that these last 45 days are just part of a 5 minute dream. I loved the movie Inception, but I really hope that this is not a dream. I cannot believe that I have been chosen to live this life. It is in that posture of humility that I write my first post:

Life can be predictable at times, and there is a certain comfort that comes with predictability. The alarm goes off at 5:30, I put on my running shoes, I run through the dark yet I know the route exactly, and the rest of the day continues almost as if I had it on autopilot. And then one day a phone call interrupted my tranquil life like cold water on one who has fallen asleep when he should be awake. It actually all began with a prompting of the heart, an unexpected awakening before that phone call. I was reading “Waking the Dead” by John Eldredge about a week before I got the initial call from the principal in Bahrain, which tilled the ground for the seeds of our dream as a family: to live and work overseas.

Life was safe. Everything was clear. I had a great reputation and tenure. I could see the coming and going of my days right into my retirement, if I wanted to.

And then came a beautiful, dark night that clouded everything like condensation on a shower door. A question. Do we want to leave everything to pursue a dream? My friend and former Foothill student, Jordan Frye, wrote the song “This Beautiful Night” and it’s my anthem right now. (Check it out, and buy it…how’s that for a plug for an old friend?) Certain songs always have a way of speaking to me, and — I may be a little biased– it is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. All I know is that I have never felt so alive in my life. I have never felt such an intense pain of leaving friends and family, and I have never run so quickly into an amazing opportunity and experience. Although I cannot truly “see” what is going on here in Bahrain, we are here. And that seems like a miracle to me. In that sense, I can see a little of what is transpiring. I got the call on September 1st and we were on the plane on October 1st, just 30 days later. That still boggles my mind. Despite the exhaustion of moving everyone here, adjusting to a new life, changing everything that is familiar, life is good. But is it safe? Is it ever?

I have vivid memories of my father sitting on the side of my bed, reading C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to me when I was a boy and I thought I would include an excerpt from The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe as I feel that not only captures my view of this world, but this particular chapter in our lives. Lucy and Susan want to know what Aslan is truly like. They want assurance that the great lion Aslan is safe. Is that not the pursuit of so many people– a safe journey through life? But something deep within calls us, draws us to something adventurous–a life that transcends the mundane like a beautiful song on a dark night. We are prone to safety, but adventure makes our hearts sing. We sing not because everything is orderly and perfect, but we sing because something deep within us resonates with difficulty, true joy, victory, failure, and surprise. I’ll let C.S. Lewis take it from here:

“Is-is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion-the lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Since there is a king like that, Lucy and Susan ought to expect life to be a little wild sometimes. So should I. Despite the fact that this logically may not have been the safest of options for us, it makes sense somehow. After all, even though this may seem like we are all alone sailing out across the sea, this could very well be the best thing we have ever done. ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. And this may not be safe…but it is good.

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A morning at the base

Anya and I just returned from the base. Fortunately, we got our military ID’s yesterday so we are now able to access everything on the base – a commissary with grocery store, shopping, movie theater with free movies, a post office with free mailing, DVD rental and liquor store, a library and CDC for childcare, and more. I learned that it is one of the smallest bases in the world, and just last year started allowing families to accompany their spouses in service. All families live off-base, but they have plenty of activities and resources for kids and families.

I did some grocery shopping and while they have many items, I do so miss Trader Joes and more readily available healthier options! I am keeping my fingers crossed for an Organic Foods and Cafe that is supposed to open up at one of the malls we visited yesterday – a store with over 12,000 organic foods would be wonderful; however, I imagine the prices will be through the roof.

Even at the base, everything is more expensive. I look forward to shopping more at some of the local megamarts such as LuLu, Geant, and Carrefour, and also at some mom and pop grocery stores. My first mission is to find a bakery where I can buy fresh Arabic bread and savory items. At the mall food court yesterday, there was a bakery called Golden Dough, chock full of beautiful pastries and savory items like small Arabic pizzas called Lahm Bi Ajin and little calzones filled with meat called sambousek or with spinach called fatayer. (For those following me on Randa4Health, I will post these recipes soon if you want to try making them on your own. Otherwise, you will just have to come and visit to try one!)

Since we haven’t rented a car yet, Anya and I waited outside the base for the shuttle, as the man at the hotel had said 10-15 minutes. Well, after 30 minutes of waiting in the hot sun with three bags of heavy (and cold) groceries, I called and he said, “No, Ma’am, we leave the hotel at 10:15, we be there 10:25.” Welcome to the beginning of miscommunication! The experience reminded me of my life growing up in Saudi where we often waited for our driver to pick us up with melting ice cream and souring milk in our bags. At least I have the imminent hope of driving on my own – my mother did not. She was dependent completely on the driver or my dad to go anywhere – and waited many cumulative hours in the hot Saudi sun.

So we watched people walk in and out, most of them military personnel and I pondered the very different lifestyle of the military, and all these men and women in service have left behind. The guy who did our ID’s yesterday has traveled all over the world as part of being based in places like Japan, Germany, and even our neighbor cities in California, Port Hueneme and San Diego! He expressed a little quizically his surprise at our decision to leave such a beautiful area. However, he understands the significance of the experience, enrichment and global exposure we are giving to our kids, not to mention our ability to travel to many places we otherwise would not have the chance to do. Right now, we are deciding where to go for the school’s 5 day Eid break and then again at Christmas – Dubai? Egypt? Oman?

For those of you praying for Cayden, here is an update. He did a little better yesterday and was ecstatic when our friend Emi, who is the Sports Director at the school, picked him up from his classroom and let him help set up for a basketball game. This morning, he was very happy at home, but lost it right before we got to his classroom, so I waited with him until 8 when he went in. Yesterday when we picked him up he even talked about three boys he had played with. So, little by little, day by day, he is acclimating, as we all are.

The weather feels a little cooler and less humid today – only 35 degrees celsius, or 95 degrees fahrenheit. In the shade, with the breeze, it is actually quite pleasant. My dad was telling me it can get down to 35 degrees fahrenheit in the winter time – seems impossible at the moment!

We are off to the pool so Anya can expend some energy. Anyone care to join us?

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Picture Post

Packing before the big move
Excited to fly - LAX
Jet lagged in Amsterdam on our layover
Morning #1 - Anya excited about room service
In one of the many malls - a bug merry-go-round
Outside the water park in the same mall - surfin' USA
Love this! Anyone want to put in their order for one?
Dinner with my folks at the Ritz Carlton
Waiting for the shuttle on his first day of school - notice the condensation on the windows! That should tell you how hot and humid it was outside - at 7am
Daddy and son haircut at the Men's Salon in the hotel
Loving his new do. I think the barber was quite proud.
Reading our very special book of friends (thank you Sarah!) with Gamma, who is visiting my dad from Connecticut.
One of the typcial communal pools on a compound
A house with character at the Arabian Homes compound. The houses are all very spacious, depending on where they are. This one is a ways from the school, but I liked the traditional Arabic design and architecture.
A break from house hunting for a cold drink. People drive up, honk, and wait for the guy to come out and place an order! Talk about service.......and laziness! I pictured doing that at a 7-11 in the States......hmmmmm. Maybe not.
....you get the idea. Big.
One of the living rooms.......choose formal or informal. Or skating rink?
Anya at home in this spacious kitchen.
A sign on one bathroom door. Tells you a lot about the culture. Actually, may not be such a bad idea!
......more space
One private villa was beautifully done, including this bathroom.
Private gated villa.

I hope these pictures give you a better idea of the life we have begun here. More to come. How about those Burqinis?

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Reality Setting In

We have been here exactly one week, and the realization that this is not temporary, but our new home, is starting to solidify itself in our daily lives. Even though we are at a beautiful hotel ordering room service for most of our meals, coming back to clean and kempt, and having drivers and shuttles drive us to school, the reality is our lives are drastically different than the ones we have left in California.

We face the challenges of knowing few people, being car-less for the time being, and not knowing our way around. House hunting has been interesting – the houses are either huge, and I mean huge, or too small – do we live in a compound twenty minutes from the school but where other kids are out playing, or do we live closer to town and the school but not in a compound? Decisions, decisions.

Cayden started school yesterday and as a family, we took the hotel shuttle over to the school. His Kindergarten class is a cultural mixture of children, though many are American kids from military families. School begins at 7:50 and the kids get there early to play in the enormous, tented playground and field.

I am impressed with the daily schedule, which includes literacy centers and math centers, multiple reading times and recesses, social studies and science, and forty-five minutes of Specials (music, art, PE – this month is swimming, enrichment and host nation where the kids learn about Bahrain and its language). They even include twenty-five minutes of rest, where the children lie on blue and green mats and can rest or read books quietly. I told Cayden I want to go to Kindergarten! He is having a very difficult time adjusting in terms of school, and has cried a lot both days – for those who pray, please say a prayer for our little guy! He is happy that Josh is just upstairs, but the reality of this foreign place is foremost in his mind, not to mention that he is the “new kid” and knows no one. My heart goes out to him, and know that in time, things will get better.

The highlight of the day yesterday was my mom and dad driving over from Saudi to pick Cayden up from school with us- I never thought I would see the day that my dad would be directly involved in the kids’ daily lives! My mom stayed the night with us which was also a treat and my dad came for a burger tonight. Again, after all these years…….a burger……

More pictures tomorrow –  I will post a bunch. Tired, and ready for bed. Jet lag is gone.

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