Monday, August 18, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2006

My second job overseas was in the Kingdom of Bahrain.  It's a tiny speck on most maps, smaller than a crumb, but my Dad knew where it was when I chickened out and called to tell them where I'd scored a job on my way home from the University of Northern Iowa's hiring fair.

"Where's that?" asked my mom.

Loud sigh, "IT'S IN THE MIDDLE EAST, GLENDA," said my dad.  He was not impressed.  I was, though.  I'd started learning to belly dance in earnest when I was in Korea, and I was eager to live in the culture, to learn about it unbiased by the media, relying on my own perceptions and experiences.  Those experiences taught me that no, Muslims are not all terrorists.  Some of them are zealots, some are hypocrites, some are heartfelt believers (so, basically, just like Christians, apart from a few points of doctrine).  The men can be total and utter assholes, but aren't necessarily.  The women may be extremely kind and utterly gorgeous, or they may not.  It isn't my favorite place I've lived - in fact, I think it was the hardest year of my life, but that had less to do with the culture than it did with the school.  But anyways.
Ramadan began in September that year, and school had hardly even started before we were on a shortened schedule.  The non-Muslim teachers had to be really careful not to eat or drink where anyone could see us.  The kids were exhausted from staying up late partying and getting up early for prayers.  Everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - was thrilled when we finally went on holiday for the last week or so of it...and then it was Eid!  I went with my roommates (whose heinous bitchiness I had yet to truly realize the depths of), these two gorgeous ladies (who I still keep in touch with via Facebook), and a couple of the Lebanese staff, and we had brunch in public in BROAD DAYLIGHT!  If you've never lived in a Muslim country, I don't think you can understand how good that feels.  During the month of Ramadan, depending on what country you're in and who catches you (and possibly how hungry they are at the time), you can be fined or even arrested for eating, drinking, smoking, or hell, even chewing gum in public.  So having a nice meal with friends was a great pleasure.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that being Mormon is really helpful when it comes to finding your feet in a new country.  The church in Bahrain organized a sightseeing day during that Eid, and I brought my heinous, bitchy roommates with me (don't let anyone tell you I don't try to be nice).  We visited Qal'at al-Bahrain, the World Heritage fortress on the north end of the island that is one of the few preserved historic sites in the country.  We also visited the "Tree of Life."  Bahrain is one of the suggested sites of the Garden of Eden, with this big tree in the middle of nowhere supposedly being THE tree.  But my favorite part of the tour was the camel farm.  I got to take a short ride (that didn't even remotely prepare me for the camel trek I would go on when I visited Wadi Rum in Jordan) and even did a camel (a belly dance undulation) WITH A CAMEL!
The last stop on our tour was Bahrain's Grand Mosque, which was airy and full of light.  It's not usually open to the public, but Eid is a special time.  Bahrain is a fairly forward-thinking country, and women are not forced to wear the hijab, but we needed to for the mosque, and we were okay with that.  It was a day full of good experiences, and gave me something to lean on as the days of poorly behaved students and passive-aggressive roommates started to add up.

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