Lost in Bahrain

Finding my way in this crazy place

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Heckled for my freckles

Posted by drifter on December 6, 2011

I find it slightly strange that people here in the Middle East hate freckles. All freckles. Even teeny weeny freckles. And the freckles they seem to hate the most? Mine.

Okay fine if you don’t like my freckles. But really, do you have to tell me to my face as if they are the most disgusting things in the world! Now in my opinion I am not what you would describe as ‘freckly’, I don’t have one freckle on my body just very light splatterings on my cheeks as a result of my mixed Chinese and English blood. I don’t consider them to be offensive, but apparently everyone else here does.

Take for example the time I went to a beauty salon here in Kuwait for a facial. I was all cosy, kicking back ready to be pampered when I spotted the products the beauty therapist was going to use; Skin whitening cream. I nearly jumped out of my chair as I don’t like any bleach products on my skin let alone my face. I told her I didn’t want to use any skin whitening products.

‘But why madam?’

‘I don’t want lighter skin’

‘Oh but madam, light skin beautiful, take away these marks’. Indicates freckles.

‘But I want to keep them’

‘But madam you look beautiful if no marks, marks ugly’

If there’s one thing the Filipinas here in Kuwait are good at doing its telling you exactly what they think…using the bluntest manner possible in the most tactless manner possible. It is a talent I haven’t quite come to appreciate yet. I insisted on the strawberry smelling face mask and didn’t leave a tip.

My most recent encounter with my usually charming pharmacist didn’t go as usual when he started the conversation by saying:

‘You know you have very pretty face….BUT you have just one problem’

‘Yes?’

‘These small spots’ and indicates on his face by doing a poking action on his cheeks.

I roll my eyes in my head and can’t believe I am about to have this conversation with a supposedly medical professional. The gist of it was that he thought my face was pretty but it could be upgraded to beautiful if I lost the spots (spots means freckles in Middle East as for some reason people don’t know what freckles means) I told him I liked my spots to which he kind of shrugged in a ‘well, it’s up to you’ kind of way. I was by this time slightly flustered, blushing profusely as I waited for my card payment to go through. I think I was more shocked at the nerve of this guy. Okay fine if that’s what you think but really, this is not something you should say to a woman’s face, unless of course this is some kind of popular Middle Eastern joke where I can’t see the punch line, in which case I am seriously lacking a sense of humour!

Anyway, sensing that I had become uncomfortable with his remarks he states:

‘Okay, okay…your face no problem’.

Oh thanks I say in my head.

‘BUUUUUUT….why be pretty when you can be beautiful!?’ he exclaimed with a pointed finger!

My cheeks burned redder and I stormed out (hopefully in a manner that looked dramatic!) and cursed the pharmacist for making me look for a new chemist to go to.

I do from time to time let these kind of silly comments get to me and feel paranoid that people are repulsed by my freckles when they are talking to me, but I know this is silly and if anything I have only become more defiant when defending my freckles! I know there is never any harm intended and it’s a matter of different cultures. But did anyone ever hear of the word ‘tact’? Well my Egyptian colleague certainly hasn’t.

She told me a story where she had gone to the beach recently during the weekend and had seen a ‘white’ woman with ‘many spots’ on her body. Apparently it was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen and reminded her of a snake. Then she notices the freckles on my cheek, rubs them with her finger and tells me the woman was ‘like you but all on body…your spots are not disgusting just a little bit disgusting’. I thank her kindly for that very nice comment to which she says ‘you’re welcome’ and then asks me what cream I use as my skin is ‘very soft like baby’.

My landlady also thinks I have soft skin, I will never forget her wedding gift to me given 3 months in advance of my big day; 3 tubes of ‘Fair and Lovely’ whitening cream. I thanked her kindly, assured her I would try to get a ‘lighter complexion’ and then chucked them in the bin.

Don’t worry freckles, everyone else hates you, but I love you!

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Lots of stress….and a dress!

Posted by drifter on October 15, 2011

I know, I know! It’s been 8 months since I last updated my blog, shame on me I know and I really am going to try harder to update it often from now on.

So what have I been doing in the last 8 months you may ask? Well quite a lot actually. As well as managing to still commute to Bahrain every weekend from Kuwait- and believe me it is actually quite stressful- I have also had the pleasure of planning for 3 weddings, our weddings in fact. In July I got married to my now husband Adi and we enjoyed big celebrations in Algeria and England, and a smallish one in Scotland. The ceremony in Algeria was more for the benefit of Adis family who would not be able to travel to the UK; it was also his wish that we did something traditional in honor of his Algerian heritage.  I insisted on a ceremony in England for the same reason, that my friends and family would not be able to make it to Algeria and because I have some sentimental ties to Liverpool that I also wanted to honor.

Our traditional ceremony in Algeria was of the ‘big fat gypsy’ wedding kind; lots of people, a lot of dresses, lots of bling, glitter (and frosted eyeshadows) and generally quite fabulous and over the top (by my standards at least). It was an extravagance and privilege that I have never experienced or likely to experience again and it truly was one of the best days of my life. Even better was the fact that I had two of my best friends with me, as well as my sister to share in all of the amazement, and of course Adi and his lovely family. I was lucky enough to wear 4 different outfits in 6 hours; the first dress was a traditional white wedding dress, and then the following 3 were variations of traditional Algerian dress adorned with lots of heavy embroidery and gold.

In the same week as the ceremony in Algeria, we flew back to England where I had 5 days to put together the wedding ceremony in Liverpool. Prior to embarking on our 5 week wedding adventure, I had been working non-stop on my wedding dress for the Liverpool ceremony, which I am proud to say, I made completely from scratch. That dress traveled everywhere with me in a desperate bid to finish the enormous task of beading the 10 meters circumference of French Lace at the hem. Even on the actual day of my ceremony in Liverpool, I was still working on the dress applying the final crystals before I could relax and enjoy wearing it. Despite all the blood, sweat and tears that went into that dress (and there was a lot of tears), it was totally worth it in the end and I must say, one of my biggest achievements to date. The fact that every single one of my friends had a go at sewing some crystals onto the dress (even if it was just one) makes it even more special to me.

The UK ceremony was held at a grade II listed Victorian Glasshouse in Liverpool, 74 of our closest friends and family shared this special day with us. I had 7 bridesmaids and one of my best friends did the ‘blessing’ for us; it was all very lovely, intimate and emotional. The wedding in Liverpool was a real DIY (do it yourself) job, I made everything; the bouquets, table arrangements, goodie bags, a wishing tree, invitations….so you can see what I have been doing for the last 8 months!

The day after the ceremony in Liverpool, Adi and I took a train up to Scotland. Even after 2 ceremonies, we were still not married. Unfortunately it was impossible for us to get legally married in England since we both had to give notice of our intention to marry in person in the UK at least 3 months in advance, it was just logistically impossible to organize. We couldn’t get married through our respective embassies in the Middle East since we are not both residents of the same country (I am a resident of Kuwait, Adi- Bahrain). So the only two places in the world we could marry without having to give notice in person were Las Vegas and Scotland. I actually quite fancied Las Vegas but we opted for Scotland since it was next door to England (and we are not that rock n roll). And so off we went to Scotland where we spent 2 lovely days sightseeing and preparing for the registry office. It was just the 2 of us on the day of the official marriage registration with the registry organizing 2 random witnesses. It was all very romantic, very sweet and very special. And that was it! Officially married!

We ended our whirlwind wedding adventures with 2 weeks honeymoon in Sri Lanka and the Maldives which was amazing.

And then back to the Middle East, back to reality and how difficult it was! After months of running high on adrenaline, I suddenly found it very difficult to adjust to not having much to do in my spare time. So I replaced working on my wedding with working on ‘work’, and as a result got a pay rise and started travelling a bit more. I am also quite chuffed to see a lot of my designs worn on women here in the Middle East as well as in shop windows and local advertising campaigns.

But alas, it seems all my hard work comes at a price and perhaps it’s time to consider slowing down a bit. Its seems my body does not recover so well any more when it gets ill, it’s not so easy for me to recover from just a common cold and it seems I am destined to always be suffering from some kind of infection. Combined with my weekly flights, my demanding job and my diabetes, stress has finally taken its toll and forced me to reconsider my priorities right now.

Anyway, I am happy to report that I am recovering from ­­­my latest infection and will be back bouncier and perkier than ever…inshallah!

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Fun and games at the airport

Posted by drifter on February 9, 2011

Let me tell you about Kuwait airport. It’s a strange place, a unique place in fact. Since I am travelling to Bahrain most weekends from Kuwait, I have spent a significant amount of time in Kuwait airport. I have gotten to know the place quite well, and likewise, Kuwait airport seems to have got to know me.

Let’s take the visa section for example where I have to go every week upon arrival (my work visa is STILL in progress so I have to take a tourist visa). The men behind the counter are a grumpy bunch, but seem to soften as soon as they see I was born in Liverpool. And then kicks off the conversation about LFC and how they are a great club and who is your favourite player, but oh they are not doing so well this season! Yes I say to myself as I role my eyes in my head. It has become so often now that I frequent the airport that upon seeing me, one man behind the counter always exclaims ‘it’s the girl from Liverpool!’ It’s the same when entering the airport from Kuwait side, I pass them and a few will give a nod in my direction. The other hot topic of discussion whilst waiting for my visa to be issued is the fact I am a designer, some of them are genuinely interested in my field, some of them tell me Kuwait is the best place in the world for fashion, and a few of them have asked cheekily if I would like to design them some clothes sometime. I tell them straight that I design women’s clothing only.

I had a rather comical conversation with a man at the currency exchange place a few weeks ago at the airport. After exchanging the currency, I was peacefully counting my dinars when the man behind the counter knocked on the separation glass and proceeded to quiz me on where I was from:

‘Excuse me, are you from Korea?’

Ah it’s the ‘guess where I am from’ game the people from this region seem to love so much.

‘No’

‘You Japanese?’

‘No’

‘Ah, you Taiwanese?’

At this point I am tempted to give the poor guy a clue saying he is close but not the right ‘ese’. He looks puzzled.

‘Chinese, I am Chinese….and English!!!’

Still looks puzzled.

‘But you look Japanese’

‘Nope’

Still looks puzzled.

‘Well we are all human’ he says and goes back to counting his own stash of money.

I walk off, so very grateful for that revelation.

I have also built up some silent friendships at the airport. It seems I am not the only one who works in Kuwait in the week and commutes back to Bahrain on the weekend. There are a few of us in fact. We all see each other at the gate and give silent acknowledgments with slight nods and smiles to each other without ever saying a word. There is something reassuring in this as I don’t feel like the only person in the world committing to such gruelling routine.

But my experiences are not always positive as I found out last week. Upon exiting immigration on Kuwait side, the guy at the gate entering duty free took my passport, looked at it and said ‘well done, well done, you did well to get that passport’ handed it back and gave me a wink. I just chirped ‘thanks!’ and walked off before the penny dropped and I realised what he was implying (okay I may be paranoid, maybe he wasn’t implying it, but I think he was). I believe he thought I was a ‘Thai bride’ of sorts (okay not Thai but you know what I mean) and I married for my passport. He could also think I got it on the black market and it was an impressive counterfeit but the twinkle in his eye when he winked at me would suggest the former. This ignorant and very common way of thinking really annoys me, and at times, upsets me.

I had a very upsetting experience a few weeks ago where no amount of talking about Liverpool Football Club was going to help with the guys at the visa section. Without knowing it, I had exceeded the amount of times I was allowed to exit and enter with a tourist visa whilst having a work visa pending on their records. So technically, I was on two visas at the same time. I wasn’t aware of this and they refused to let me back into Kuwait. The guy behind the counter told me rather rudely that he was ‘sending’ me back to my country. It all got very heated and quite complicated so we had to call my boss at one ‘o’ clock in the morning who luckily was able to convince them to let me back in with the promise I wouldn’t exit until my visa situation was resolved.

Like I said, Kuwait airport is truly a unique place. It’s the only airport in the world where I have seen the staff smoking cigarettes and eating Burger King behind the x-ray machines. The only airport where I have had Arab women clicking their fingers at me to get out of their way. It’s the only airport I have seen female immigration staff allowed to wear drag queen style make up (but at least they smile and say hello). Kuwait airport also seems to be the place where the Arab women and men like to display their interesting combinations of clothing. Seriously, I have never seen so many women wearing Juicy Couture velour tracksuits tucked into UGG boots, with classic Louis Vuitton monogram bags and a diamante trimmed headscarf to match! And the men. Really guys? Socks with rubber ‘crocs’ shoes? In public? At the airport!? And I thought London was ‘experimental’. But there is one good thing about Kuwait airport that I love. The lounge. I can access it for free with my credit card where every Thursday night I happily gorge on all of the delicious food on offer. Well I have to look forward to something right?

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A star is born

Posted by drifter on January 24, 2011

I recently had the cringe worthy pleasure of seeing and hearing myself on American Cable TV. There are no other words to describe the episode other than ‘cheesy’!

Just to recap, Adi and I had been asked to take part in an American TV program that documents couples search for a home abroad. Episodes are filmed in many exotic locations around the world and one such location was Bahrain. I jumped at the chance to be on the program (I was bored, oh and they pay you!) and I dragged a reluctant Adi into it. Negotiations took place with the production company and a date was set for filming in July 2010.

On the first day of filming, we were greeted by three very jolly (and very loud) American guys at Cafe Lilou in Adliya. Both Adi and I were very nervous and as soon as we saw the film crew bundle out of their van with all film equipment in tow, we panicked. It didn’t occur to us that yes, the film crew would be taking this seriously, and yes, this does mean having a massive camera in your face, with a fluffy microphone hovering above your head at all times. Oh and let’s not forget the permanent tiny microphone taped to the inside of my bra. Let’s just say it was way more professional than we were expecting and no sooner had the camera crew sat down, then the management at Cafe Lilou marched over demanding to know the reasons for the cameras and ruled out any filming on the cafes premises. It wasn’t a great start to the day so we all proceeded to order fruit shakes and chit chat about the next 3 days. We were given our itineraries where we saw appointments and viewings for apartments had been booked with shots in-between of us doing ‘normal’ things like haggling in souks, driving our jeep in the desert and drinking mint tea. The schedule was jam packed, it all looked scary on paper, but in reality it was very, very fun.

The camera crew seemed to be in awe of everything they saw in Bahrain. One forgets how ‘glossy’ Bahrain seems to those visiting for the first time; one of my friends even went as far to describe Bahrain as the LA of the Middle East. It seemed that the American crew also thought the same as they seemed to be impressed with absolutely everything; Thawbs, ray-bans, Porshes, Hummers, Chanel and frozen yoghurt. They were so impressed by how ‘groomed’ and ‘hip’ the men in Thawbs and Guthra (the national head- dress) looked that they were adamant they would also buy some Guthras in the souk that very same day. The one thing that they were not very impressed with was the conversion of American dollars to Bahraini dinars. As soon as the director received the bill, his face dropped a mile and the whole excitement of buying a Gutra was suddenly lost.

Day one was a ‘taking it easy’ day, though in reality ‘taking it easy’ transpired into the director not really having a clue what scenic shots he could take in Bahrain and so pressuring us for amazing ideas. I didn’t really have a clue and refrained from suggesting the ‘Pearl Roundabout’. We already had the souk scheduled for the evening, but he wanted to shoot ‘authentic’ Bahrain. Muharraq instantly sprang to mind and I nervously suggested the small village with all the small houses as museums and in particular Sh. Isa Bin Ali House which would make some great shots on film. I nervously made the suggestion to which the director agreed immediately and ordered the sound man to wire us up with microphones. And so we made our way to Muharraq where my idea seemed to have pulled off and they filmed us walking through the narrow streets with whitewashed houses, ‘oouing’ and ‘arrring’ and pointing at nothing in particular. The nicest shots were taken at Sh. Isa Bin Ali House House where I was told to be more animated in my appreciation for the architecture. My animation didn’t really shine through until about the sixth take as I found it extremely difficult to be animated with a camera in my face and even worse, my continuous blushing as soon as I opened my mouth! It was all just so surreal, the director would scream ‘aaaaaand ACTION!’ and then there was all this pressure to be ‘yourself’, but you were not being yourself when asked to say things like ‘wooooow, I love this ceiling arch’. Anyway, I got there in the end.

The day ended with us going to see a realtor where we to be filmed discussing the criteria for our perfect flat. Just for your information our criteria was two bedrooms, preferably near a beach, sports facilities would be an advantage as well as modern. By the end of the day we were exhausted and we went home to ponder the day’s events.

The next day began bright and early at a rather gorgeous apartment in Um Al Hassam directly behind the British Club; I was genuinely excited to see all of the flats. The director briefed us on what to do as today was the day we would have to do some ‘light acting’. It all sounded reasonable and quite easy, but in practise we had to repeat the scenes many times, and there was often occasions where we just burst out laughing. We were all put into position just outside the door to the flat and then ‘ACTION’. The realtor led us into the flat where we greeted with this huge living space that was drenched with so much natural light coming from the massive window in the living area. The camera in my face did unnerve me slightly, but my reaction was genuine as I proceeded to do as instructed and say things like ‘Wooooooow this place is amazing’ in my highest pitch possible. It’s amazing how quickly you become comfortable with the whole acting thing. It suddenly became the most natural thing in the world for me to say idiotic things like ‘I love the big size of the floor tiles’ and ‘I can’t believe the dishes are really included in the rent?’. I look back on it now and cringe. I really liked this apartment, it was furnished with uber trendy ‘Kartell’ furniture, had a lot of natural light and a spectacular view of Manama’s skyline. Even better was the fact the apartment overlooked the British Club so the swimming pool and tennis courts were only a stone’s throw away.

The day got better when the director asked me whether I had done acting before, he said I was a ‘real natural’ and that some people takes ages to get comfortable in front of the camera but I just ‘got it’. I got all flustered, he was probably just humouring me, but whatever, it totally worked as I proceeded to ‘act’ my little heart out for the remainder of the day!

Anyway, on to apartment two. This flat was in Lulu towers in Sanabis and if the reception was anything to go by, we were in for a treat. From a design point of view, this place was very trendy. I really loved the quirky and fashionable decoration adorning the walls; there was this cool mix of barber mirrors on a mahogany wood panelled wall that all looked very Philip Stark. It just looked cool. Maybe too cool, but I was excited! We had a few issues getting into the apartment caused by the bombardment of film cameras. After 20 minutes of the realtor negotiating with reception, we were finally allowed to go in. We had to linger outside the flat whilst the crew got busy setting up the cameras, and then ‘AAAAAAACTION!’ .Now this apartment didn’t have any furniture so immediately the vast empty space immediately hit you as soon as you walked in, this was a good thing though as at least you had the opportunity to set up and furnish the home to your own taste. I particularly loved the kitchen as it was homely looking with a hole in the wall looking into the living area. There was one scene where we all burst into a fit of giggles when the director thought it would be a good idea if he stood in the shower and pulled funny faces as we walked into the bathroom. As soon as we walked in we burst out laughing, and didn’t stop for some time! Watching the DVD I was also reminded of a hideous line I don’t remember saying when describing the wardrobes; ‘I don’t like the wood, give it a little knock and it feels it will fall apart’. Cringe! Would I really say that? Apparently I would.

We ended day 2 by being filmed strolling around the souk. Everyone from the stalls was staring at us as and very curious by the cameras. People lost interest however when they realised that the people being filmed were no Angelina and Brad. The time spent in the Souk was the time I was supposed to express my ‘passion for fashion’. So we were filmed doing a sequence of fashion related things like watching a tailor stitch a Thawb, discussing printed cottons in the fabric shops and me getting excited by Indian Saree, an item I am not likely to wear anytime soon. We then went to a cafe to sip green tea and smoke Shisha for the cameras. We learnt the next morning that the smoking shisha scene had to be cut as apparently the Americans are quite sensitive to smoking related TV viewing.

Day 3 was the day I was looking forward to the most as I had seen from the itinerary we were going to look at a house at the Floating City on Amwaj islands. Adi and I had of course gone to the Floating City before, but merely as spectators drooling at the boats floating in the canals looking longingly at the people picnicking on their back lawns. And here we were, going to look inside one of the houses…I was very excited! The Floating city is called floating city because, well, it’s like a mini city, floating in water with canals as your back garden. House number 3 was to be expected in such a posh neighbourhood; posh! Glistening marble interiors and sparkling chandeliers immediately blinded us as we entered. This was a proper house, a proper grown up house. My favourite feature was the back garden which had its own mooring facility for a boat. You could also jump straight into the water if you felt like it. It was at this point that Adi professed he should buy a boat. I made it quite clear there would be no boat. I loved this house and I loved the neighbourhood, but I did wonder if it was indeed a bit too grown up for us.

Day 3 ended with the ‘decision’ scene. This was the scene where we basically had to decide which apartment we would take. We were instructed to create some drama, a bit of suspense. We did our best to be dramatic, but again, it was difficult to be dramatic when you are shy by nature and have that forever present camera in your face. After 1 hour of us ‘dramatically’ weighing up the pros and cons, we heard ‘aaaaaand cut!’ and we were finished. Actually it turned out we were cutting it pretty fine as we were losing the natural daylight and the crew had a plane to catch a few hours later. We quickly said our goodbyes (I was very sad to say goodbye, sob) and off we went to contemplate the last 3 days over dinner.

Two weeks after the filming in Bahrain, the production company flew me to London to do the back story. It was just one day of filming where they filmed the flat I was leaving behind and me prancing about on Bond Street doing ‘fashion’ things (since I am a designer) like gazing longingly into the windows of Gucci and Louis Vuitton wondering if I ever will afford that LV Speedy bag. We finished the day with an interview of why I was moving to Bahrain and expressing my excitement at the ‘Arabian adventures’ ahead. It was all very cheesy.

The director got back in touch 3 months after the original filming saying they needed to return to re-shoot some scenes and do some more interviews. So they came back for one day only and filmed us driving crazily in the desert in our jeep! Except it wasn’t really the desert, more like a patch of land, do you know it’s quite difficult to find the desert in the desert? They also did a follow up on our chosen apartment with all of our furniture inside which looked quite good in the end considering the fact it has been so difficult for me to fill since it’s too big!

Christmas day was our movie premiere as we received copies of the DVD on the 23rd. We premiered to 12 of our friends including the realtor who has become a good friend since. We all screamed as soon as it came on and I screamed even louder when I saw my big face and scouse accent boom from the TV. It takes you 10 minutes to adjust to seeing yourself on TV then another 10 minutes to decide you look fat, spotty, pale, scruffy, unfashionable and generally not really worthy of being on the TV in the first place. In the end however, we all decided it was a job well done and quite glad we had decided to do it. I have since played my TV debut 5 times, each time cringing at the things we said (were made to say!).

So, which apartment did we choose in the end? Well I will leave that up to you to find out.

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A big fat SORRY!!!

Posted by drifter on January 3, 2011

I am not going to apologize for my absence….again, rather, I will explain my absence for the last 5 months.

You may remember some time ago, well my last entry in fact, that I told you I was applying for a job in another country within the Gulf. Well I am pleased to inform you that I got that job and so I started a new, yet very challenging chapter in my life. After a lot of tears, I decided to take the job I was offered in Kuwait and commute to Bahrain every weekend in order to see Adi who was the main reason I moved to Bahrain in the first place. It strikes me as odd that I decided to move when the whole time I was living in Bahrain I constantly complained at him for ‘dragging’ me away from my beloved London. I also surprised myself in my decision as I am completely and utterly obsessed with Adi and have always found it quite difficult to spend 5 hours away from him, never mind 5 days a week. But of course if I look at this in an ‘adult’ way, he didn’t really drag me away, he merely offered me the opportunity to explore new horizons in life and consider new and exciting adventures that we would not have experienced had we stayed in London. It just so happened that an amazing opportunity cropped up in Kuwait, and so here I am. After 5 months of having to adjust and settle into the new set up, I finally find myself in the position to start writing again and share with you my many stories, and believe me there are many stories. So, I may no longer be living in Bahrain full time, but this doesn’t mean I am no longer Lost in Bahrain. In fact, I feel more lost and disorientated as when I was living and working in Bahrain full time. I am continually looking for ways or opportunities that may tempt me to return.

The one great thing about working in Kuwait is I can now say whatever I want about the company I used to work for in Bahrain. However, as much as I would love to divulge every last juicy bit of gossip about this family, I won’t, purely because I still have ties with Bahrain and would be scared to be banned! I know the travel ban thing imposed by important families who you may have annoyed somehow is probably a rumor, but its scares me none the less and I would never risk the chance to be in Bahrain every weekend with Adi. But I will say this; my experiences with the family I used to work for and the things I had witnessed during my time with them did influence my decision to leave greatly. I could no longer bare being witness to their awful treatment of their staff and their blatant disregard of other members of the human race. I marvel, yet vomit, at their ability to get everything for free yet giving nothing in return, this also translates to ‘screwing’ people over. I could no longer be witness to the grown men crying because their salaries are late, they want their passports back, they want to go back ‘home’ or even worse because their measly 55BD salaries leave them hungry and unable to feed themselves let alone their families back home. And I have lost count of the amount of times I have been propositioned in the office by sleazy friends of the male members of this family with silly chats up lines such as ‘I would love to see your drawings some time’ or being asked to describe what I look like when one of them calls the office. No. I had to leave. Every day I spent in that company meant losing a tiny bit of my self esteem and when I woke up each morning with the dread of going to work with the continuous feeling of wanting to vomit, I knew I had to leave. And so when I saw an advertisement for a fashion designer for an International retailer who had a head office in Kuwait on all of the UK fashion recruitment websites, I nearly fell off my chair. Firstly, the job looked great and I knew I had all applicable experience. Secondly, I couldn’t believe this company had an office in the Middle East. I immediately applied for the position and was asked to complete a project the very next day. To cut a long story short, I did the project, they loved the project, I had a telephone interview, they offered me the job, I visited Kuwait, they showed me my office, I cried goodbye to Adi and I started my new job 6 weeks later. I will bring you up to speed with my life in Kuwait in the coming posts.

I had considered giving up this blog, purely because I feel I can’t dedicate the time. However, I had continuous requests for updates on the blog and when I think about it, I feel like documenting my experiences here in the Middle East is a ‘therapy’ of sorts and has helped me a lot with settling in. Also, a few great things have happened as a result of this blog; I have been on American TV (this will definitely be in the next post!), I have been asked to develop I-Phone applications about Bahrain (something I had to decline since I was no longer in Bahrain full time) and I have also received many encouraging and heartwarming comments from readers. So in a nutshell, I am back, I will continue to document my experiences and I only hope that you will continue to follow my blog.

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A whirlwind July (and August)

Posted by drifter on August 23, 2010

So firstly I must apologise for my very long absence. July (and most of August) has been and gone, and so has all of the travel, holidays and weddings.

This year’s July will be particularly memorable to me. After 4 long years, I finally travelled to Algeria to visit my boyfriend’s rather large (enormous) family. Of course I have met his parents and sister in Paris where they reside, but never his aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. The only thing I have to say about the sizes of families in Algeria is; they are huge. Oh and they don’t speak English, only Arabic and French. The main purpose of the visit was to attend his cousins wedding using this as a good way to introduce me formally to the family. But anyway, I will write a separate post about Algeria since I have many photographs to share with you.

I also had to make a flying visit to England to attend a friend’s wedding. This will be the first friend’s wedding I have attended but not the last since I have 2 more weddings to attend next year. It suddenly dawned on me that I am indeed getting older and I am at that stage in my life where everyone is walking down the aisle! And if they are not walking down the aisle, they are most certainly having babies!

There is some other news I wanted to mention. I have recently become fed up in my job. Fed up of being told ‘no’ when I ask for a pay rise. Fed up of seeing the awful treatment of some of my colleagues. But mainly fed up with the lack of opportunities career wise. So I have started to look elsewhere. Needless to say there is not much for me on this island and as a result  I have extended my search outside of Bahrain but within the Gulf. I have recently pursued a very interesting opportunity in a neighbouring country and just completed a rather exhausting design project for this company. It’s supposedly a ‘proper’ company, with a ‘proper’ salary and hopefully ‘proper’ work ethics, but after everything I have seen and experienced here in Bahrain (work wise), I won’t hold my breath. Anyway I will have to wait until after Ramadan for a response but I will keep you posted.

Oh and a piece of exciting news! We recently finished filming for the American TV show I keep mentioning. More coming up on that soon­.­

I have to say that the last 7 weeks have been exhausting, but I am happy to be back blogging.

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Holi-daze

Posted by drifter on July 27, 2010

Apologies for my dissapearance…tis the season of holidays and weddings so I have had to leave the island for a short while…will be back soon.

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The frozen yoghurt phenomenon

Posted by drifter on July 4, 2010

I have noticed two obsessions with ‘berry’s’ here in Bahrain. The first one is the annoying intrusion on your life called the Blackberry. And the second one is a much more pleasurable intrusion on your life called ‘Pinkberry’. Far from being another technological phenomenon, ‘Pinkberry’ is in fact a frozen yoghurt phenomenon.

Have you tried it? I have to say it is amazing.

For those of you not familiar with the ‘Pinkberry’ craze, let me give you a little update. Hot from America, it is the latest trend in ‘can’t live without’. Its a frozen yoghurt (but I think it’s more like melted ice-cream). Its smooth, silky and it’s definitely sexy (yes, frozen yoghurt can be sexy!) and like the Blackberry, it also flashes red for your attention (Pomegranate) as well as light green, brown and beige (Green tea, chocolate and Vanilla). You can enjoy on its own or trim it up with extras such as candy and fruit. And the best thing about Pinkberry? It’s all low fat (so they say).

You can’t really miss the Pinkberry store in the City Centre Mall. Firstly, its sugary, pastel coloured trendy furnishings immediately attract your attention. Secondly, it is the only place to have a ridiculous queue of people snaking halfway around the mall. I have also noticed it’s a place where the good looking people go. Definitely girls donning massive sunglasses, immaculate make up and high heeled shoes. Oh and they will always be holding their Blackberry’s, arm bent with a swinging Louis Vuitton bag. They seem to live by the rule that since there is no fat in the yoghurt; it is only right that they should compensate by buying the biggest tub ever, topped with lots of fruit and even more candy.

Visiting the Pinkberry store can be an unsettling experience. Firstly you are greeted with Alessi branded kitchen merchandise (super trendy, bright coloured plastic) which to be honest is a bit expensive, and a bit silly. You kind of wish you could revamp your kitchen with all these bright coloured plastics that manage to hypnotise you on the way to the counter, then you see the price for an egg cup and remember you don’t eat boiled eggs anyway. Then there is everyone sat at the tables checking you out as you queue in line, as if they are giving an approval to whether you are worthy of eating the delicious stuff. They look at me as if to say ‘girls who wear flip flops can’t eat Pinkberry’. You have to endure a whole queue of this until you get to the front where someone screams at you ‘Hello maaaaam, welcome to Pinkberry!’ and you have to scream your order back since they are so far behind the counter. You get to the till where it is evident that being ‘cool’ comes at a price, ‘That’s BD2.225 maaaaaam’. That’s for a small scoop and 4 raspberries. It’s a small price to pay for being healthy apparently.

But is it healthy? Well, Pinkberry’s selling point is that it contains low fat and non fat flavours making it every girls dream. However, having no fat doesn’t mean no sugar. It has reduced sugar according to the staff at Pinkberry, Bahrain. I personally have to wonder how much exactly the sugar is reduced by since I haven’t ever been able to dose my insulin correctly when eating it, and I always end up with a high blood sugar.  I have actually found alternative frozen yoghurt at Cineco at City Centre which is completely sugar free, this is great for me but not great for my chocolate cravings since it is only available in Vanilla.

Anyway….I think the obsession has gone too far when all of my bosses send our driver on Pinkberry runs.  This being a mission in itself with a race against time (actually the sun) in a bid to prevent the stuff becoming melted goo. The driver is summoned and an order is made for ‘medium pomegranate with kiwi and raspberry-quickly huh!?’ He then belts down to his car, charges to Pinkberry and races back where he makes a frantic call to the office boy on route.  It is imperative to the mission that he is waiting outside of our building as soon as the driver pulls up so that the 45 degrees heat doesn’t melt it. The office boy then rushes back upstairs where it could go either way; the lifts could take 7 minutes (as they often do) or luck could be on his side and he makes it 2 minutes. Believe me the time is critical to the yoghurts consistency. By the time the office boy enters the office, the receptionist will have already prepared the bowl with its matching spoon where the yoghurt is then served on a platter to ma-dam.

I have also witnessed my bosses using Pinkberry as some kind of party trick when a meeting is flagging…’who wants Pinkberry!?’ Ta-da!!! This was in fact how Pinkberry came to my attention. I was in a meeting with both of my bosses when the office boy bumbled in and delivered 2 bowls of this sumptuous, glistening yoghurt. They asked me if I wanted some. Well, I did to be honest but felt it was a bit impolite to accept, so I declined. Then they just proceeded to ‘uuuuuummmmm’ and ‘areeeeeeee’ over this yoghurt, talking in Arabic while analysing the contents of their tubs, digging their spoons into each other’s pots, he takes her raspberry, she takes his kiwi, all the time whilst I was trying to relay meeting notes. Well, it was all a bit much for me and I couldn’t concentrate, such was the pleasure radiating from the two!

After that incident, I made it a point to try the magic goo myself.

I have to admit I have been drawn into the Pinkberry thing and it has become a bit of a ritual of ours to go on a Friday after lunch. I take the chocolate and opt for raspberry toppings and Adi has the exotic Green tea version. However, as stated earlier, I haven’t managed to does my insulin correctly with Pinkberry so I have had to wean myself off the frozen goo. I have turned to London Dairy Sugar Free ice-cream as a substitute. Okay so it doesn’t have the same texture as the yoghurt, but if you leave it to melt for long enough, you are not far off.

So a little less of Pinkberry for me, I think I can live without it. But the Blackberry? No way!

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The cost of being healthy

Posted by drifter on June 22, 2010

I had a rather traumatic experience at the weekend that I just need to get out of my system.

I had been putting it off for some time now, far too long in fact, but I had to do it and decided to take the plunge and visit the dentist here in Bahrain. So far I have had only good experiences here concerning anything to do with my health.  Being an Insulin dependent diabetic means I have had to endure frequent trips to the Gulf Diabetes Specialist Center which I can only describe as a pleasure; convenient, hassle free and with lovely doctors. 

The one thing I suspect owes to this excellent service is the fact I have to pay quite a lot of money for a consultation (since my company is too tight to give me medical insurance). So all in all, I have spent a small fortune on my health in the 10 months I have spent in Bahrain; that includes having my eyes tested and photographed, seeing a dietician, having regular blood sugar tests as well as the frequent trips to my doctor for prescriptions for Insulin which cost a whopping BD55 for a 7 week supply, and blood testing strips (a diabetic should test their blood before they eat) will cost you BD24 for 50 strips, that’s about 2 weeks supply for me. Believe me; it is not cheap to be a diabetic in this country. And it turns out there is only so much Insurance companies are willing to fork out for Insulin Dependent diabetics.

I have since learnt that as a resident in Bahrain (with CPR card) means I can actually receive Insulin at a very small cost if I go to the public hospital (ie not private) and if I decided not to be so posh and take myself to a public health centre, I can have a wide range of blood tests taken for BD7 instead of BD25 if private. Blood testing strips are not available at all. So you will have to consider other ways of getting them. Of course one has to the weigh up the pros of cons (and the weight of your pocket) of private vs public, with the main criteria being convenience and friendly service. As expected, paying for private means you can get an appointment whenever needed with not much waiting around. However, I am also happy to report that visiting a public hospital/health center is not too bad either, though you may have to wait a significant amount of time longer to be attended to.

So anyway, one of the unfortunate side effects of my diabetes is the decline of my gums. My teeth are in excellent condition, it’s just my gums that are weak and have caused problems for many years. I usually wait until I return to the UK to see the dentist, but since I don’t have any trips planned in the short term I needed to see a dentist just to have my gums tended to, my teeth deep cleaned, and for general piece of mind.

I had originally intended to visit the Bahrain Specialist hospital in Juffair on recommendation from a friend, but after 2 failed attempts where the receptionist just could not understand what I was saying, I decided to go to Gulf Dental Speciality Hospital in Mahooz. I figured that since they were specialists, they would be great.

The clinic itself is nice. There was no waiting around and I was shown into the dentist’s room almost immediately. After introducing himself, the dentist remarked that I was diabetic. ‘Yes I am’ I told him. He then asked me what was the problem, to which I said there was none but I simply wanted a check up and clean since I am diabetic, I also relayed the history of my gum problems, to which he looked blank.  He told me to sit in the chair and I expected him to do the usual; take x’rays, measure the swellings of my gums (called ‘pockets’) or at the very least have a rummage around my mouth! But no he switched on the ultrasonic tool and went straight for my teeth! Except he mistaken my teeth for my gums and proceeded to scratch my gums with the sharp, vibrating instrument. It was as if he was in a frantic rush to get somewhere and my teeth were holding him back. Imagine the frantic movements when scratching a scratch card, well that’s what he was doing to my teeth/gums; all rushed and frantic. Then he got to my front bottom teeth which are very sensitive due to tooth bone being exposed at the roots and dug that vibrating metal stick under my gums. I seriously jumped out of the chair from the pain. I yelped and try to squirm out of the nurses hold on my shoulder, except she didn’t let go and the dentist himself was able to stop my face from jerking since he had his fist in my mouth! ‘It’s good for you!’ he exclaimed. Did the tears running down my face suggest it was good for me moron!!? There was no way I could have endured what I thought would be 60 minutes of this torture, but after a few more pokes under my gums it ended in 7 minutes…that’s right 7 minutes to have my teeth deep cleaned. In the UK I would be lucky to get out of the hygienist in 1 hour, that’s not because I am unhygienic, that’s just because the job is being done properly.

After 3 minutes of spitting blood out into the sink I shakily walked back to the desk. I have to admit the pain had left me traumatised; my dentist in the UK would usually numb the problem areas because of how deep under the gums she has to go. Tooth pain is the worst pain, especially when hitting the nerves. I asked him if he had anything to add about my teeth (ie their condition, any movement etc) and then he said they needed whitening. That’s right! Forget the huge swellings of my gums; the real problem here was apparently my teeth were not white enough for him. That’s like a doctor saying you need a facelift! He said my gums were normal. What an outrage!!! I know they are not normal, any good dentist will know they are not normal. And the solution to all of this was to apparently take vitamin C!!!!

I had to leave. I was in shock. He handed me a bill for BD45 for the total of 10minutes I had of his amazing skills. I didn’t even say goodbye.  I managed to get to the clinic, have my treatment and go back home in record time of 25 minutes.

I went home where I showed Adi my butchered gums. He was angry and demanded I tell him the name of the doctor. I managed to calm him down with the solution being that I never go there again. Funnily enough he got talking to someone at the Brit Club that same evening whose wife had gone through a similar experience. She also had been butchered, not at the same dentist, but another one in Um Al Hassam. So I think there are a few lessons to be learnt here; don’t go to the Gulf Dental Speciality hospital and always go to a dentist recommended by a trusted source.

It’s also very clear that I can’t fend for myself in such situations and how hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wished I had said this, I wished I had told him that. But in my defence I was in shock from the pain. Instead, I am going to write a letter of complaint and send it to the hospital. I don’t expect to get an answer and I guess it’s debatable (depending on who s debating) to whether he did his job properly, but I will send one anyway since I don’t believe he did do his job properly.

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Searching for…

Posted by drifter on June 15, 2010

So it’s that time again where I like to do a bit of a re-cap on who’s searching for what and leads to my blog. I like to do this because, well, quite frankly some of the things being typed into the search engine just make me laugh!

So here are the top 5 things you guys are looking for:

Lady Gaga:

Its surprises me how many searches are made on Lady Gaga with reference to Saudi Arabia. I have had ‘What do Saudis think of lady gaga’, ‘Lady gaga Saudi’, ‘Saudi lady gaga’ and ‘lady gaga coming to Saudi’.  I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I don’t think Lady Gaga will be coming to Saudi any time soon. And even if she did….I don’t think she would be let out.

There is also the question been constantly asked ‘Is lady gaga coming to Bahrain’? Again, I would probably say no, but you never know. I think the best chance we have of seeing Lady Gaga in the Middle East would be in Dubai. So, if you are that desperate, do what I did and join the facebook group ‘Bring lady Gaga to Dubai’. I would love to see her and apparently so would many of us here. Many of you out there also have a penchant for ‘Lady gaga hair bows’ and ‘lady gaga ringtones’

It seems we are all a bit obsessed with Gaga here in Bahrain. I had to tell the company driver to close his mouth recently when watching her interview with Larry King on our office TV. ‘She is beautiful!’ he kept saying. He was cracking me up to be honest, asking me who she was, where was she from, and then saying ‘she is very beautiful’ in his Indian accent. I told him that many people think she is a man (I don’t!), to which he responded with rage telling me people must be stupid to think that! Don’t insult the Gaga was the definite message there!

I also had to laugh at the time I had to take the office staff home since the driver was busy on that day. I searched the whole way through my IPOD on the in-car sound system and blasted out Gagas ‘Bad Romance’. They all then proceeded to ask me who it was and that it was ‘very good, very excellent’ and started bopping their heads to the beat. They got completely sucked into the Gaga cult!

I have to confess I have a bit of an obsession with Gaga myself. So much so, I just had to buy tickets to go see her in London in December.

Driving:

All things relating to driving here in Bahrain ranks the highest of all searches that lead people to my blog, hardly surprising since this is all I have moaned about!

Many people are looking for a heads up on the driving test itself, I searched for exactly the same when I was learning; ‘How to pass driving test in Bahrain’, ‘Bahrain driving test’ and ‘Bahrain driving test tips’ and an alarming, though not surprising ‘Bahrain driving test bribe’.

Then there are those of you who just can’t find an instructor; ‘Unable to find teacher to teach me driving’, ‘Bahrain driving instructors’ and ‘wanted Bahrain driving instructor’ and ‘Bahrain instructor mobile numbers’. All I can say to this is that I sympathise as I know how difficult it is to get an instructor.

Then there are those of you who are wondering whether you should even bother learning; ‘Can I learn to drive in Bahrain’ and ‘Should I learn to drive in Bahrain’.

And funnily enough, there has been the odd search here and there for ‘hills in Bahrain’. Has anyone actually seen any hills here in Bahrain?

One particular search really stood out, ‘driving in Bahrain is bad’, to which I have to agree, yes it is.

Girls girls girls:             

Or more specifically, ‘escort girls in Bahrain’. You naughty, naughty boys!

This has all become a bit too predictable as daily searches for women lead to my blog. ‘Filipina ladies’ rank as the highest search, but there has also been searches made for ‘Indian escorts in Bahrain’, ‘Thai escorts’ and ‘Chinese escorts’. It also seems that a few of you men out there like the ‘larger’ lady as you have searched for ‘Arab fat ladies’ and ‘Fat Bahrain escorts’.

I had to chuckle at a recent search of ‘sexy foot in Bahrain’ and ‘waitress in maid uniform in Bahrain’. Wow the mind boggles.

Someone also asked google whether there are ‘any nice escorts in Bahrain’? I would be interested to know the answer to that question and whether said person managed to find one to his liking. I know a guy who was driving in Juffair did last Friday night at 2.20am in the morning. At first he pulled up alongside my car making these ridiculous gestures to me and a girlfriend (we were going home from a party) basically asking whether we might be ‘interested’. He failed to see my friends husband in the back of the car (or maybe he didn’t care) and she just showed him her middle finger. He just laughed and drove off and as if luck would have it, this oriental lady (extremely young girl) in a sexy black dress just appeared from nowhere, well a block of flats actually. He beckoned to her, she came to the window, and then she just slid into his car. Wow, it was that easy.

Guys guys guys:

Okay so the girls are not as blatant as the guys, it would appear they have matters of the heart closer to them. Which has prompted me into considering a second career as an agony aunt.

A search of ‘My driving instructor fancies me’ would prompt me to say:

Do you fancy him back? If you do, are you willing to be his second, third or even fourth wife. If not and you only want to drive, I would say just stick it out, I know it’s not easy, and I am sure he is sleazy but if you want to learn how to drive here in Bahrain it’s the only way. Of course if he lays a finger on you, you can whack him one, but this would be unlikely and he should back down should you point out to him that his outrageous flirting would not bode well with your husband/boyf. Also see my post ‘driving me crazy’ for some top tips!

A search of ‘Shall I ask my boss out? He stares’ would prompt me to say:

Well it really depends on how he is staring and what he is staring at. Of course if you like him and he is single, (and you are brave!) then yes, ask him out.  However please note the risk in office romances, sometimes ‘dipping your nib into the office ink’ doesn’t work and I am not completely sure of office etiquette here in Bahrain, or the Middle East for that matter.

A search of ‘I like this guy whos from Bahrain’ would prompt me to say:

Hmmmm, I am not sure….maybe I should stick to my day job.

Fashion:

It would seem that I am not the only one with a ‘passion for fashion’ here in Bahrain. And it would seem my boss is not the only one with a passion for shoes. Not just any shoes. Sexy, red soled Christian Louboutin shoes. I understand the obsession, I really do, but it still surprises me how many women here in Bahrain aspire to them and it surprises me how many of you are actually typing ‘Christian Louboutin Bahrain’ into the search engine.

A few of you have also been on the lookout for a ‘Chinese designer’ and it appears someone is considering starting a business of their own and needs a ‘Fashion designer logo’ and a ‘fashion boutique label’.

I also had to chuckle at a search made for a ‘Middle East bling obsessed designer label’. Hmmmm, I wonder which one of the million ‘bling’ brands that could be?

So that’s it in a nutshell. I would say searches for ‘Al Fateh Mosque’ ranks quite high also. And then there are the odd ones worth mentioning for laughs such as ‘Lost slippers Friday prayer’ (though probably not so funny for said person) ‘ear plugs + muezzin’, ‘and ‘Is 800000 salary good in Bahrain’

That’s it for now!

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