Eva: Tales of Dragons, Rabbits and Roosters
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Bahrain, etc.
I was nine years old when I was issued my first passport.
I have walked on every continent except Antarctica and Australia, been around the globe to 27 countries and vacationed in 35 of the 50 states plus Guam. Like so many who have wanderlust, eight years ago my husband and I found work in the Gulf so we could travel and let our children experience a different culture.
I would like to live in Australia and a South American country before returning “home”.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
My curious friends encouraged me to blog about my expat life. Instead I began incorporating my observations into a novel. Still I could not include it all.
Nearly two years after registering my blog, I finally figured out a theme that excluded any political commentary. In October 2011 I began posting. I discovered I love having a forum to share experiences that only warrant a short narrative.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- Hamleys and Helicopters
- The Magic of Jo Malone
- Water, Eco-Tourism and the Westerner
- A Day in the Life of Unexpected Coincidences
Tell us about the ways your new life in Bahrain differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Bahrain is obviously different than the US but to give perspective, in 2009 it was rated as the Number One place worldwide for expats.
Bahrain really cannot be considered a “developing country.” Generally we have everything you could want – culture, sport, entertainment, schools, shopping, healthcare, good infrastructure - but not in large quantities.
I was an expat kid in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia back in the days when we wrote letters. I remember bursting into tears when they announced King Faisal was assassinated. Back then the bus did not have air conditioning. While on vacation in the USA, I used to purchase boxes of Hubba Bubba bubble gum to sell for a hefty profit. Weekly my mother bought kilos of Gulf shrimp which the men cleaned in our front yard. Today we have internet, SKYPE and access to Amazon. I buy bubble gum and salmon at Carrefour in the air-conditioned mall.
I lived anonymously in LA, San Francisco, and Washington DC. In Bahrain anytime I go out I see someone I know. Here I spend less time stuck in traffic but more time driving to events. If you read my blog you will notice my days are filled pursuing various interests. I haven’t been able to get into the traditional Bahraini practice of an afternoon siesta. But I try.
When I went to boarding school in California, I experienced culture shock. Moving to Washington DC with my new husband, I experienced culture shock. Moving to Bahrain I experienced identity shock.
Becoming a stay-at-home mom sounded okay when I gave up a corporate career. My new reality did not hit me until I noticed my passport was stamped “Not Allowed To Work.” My shock over my “Housewife” status was greater than my culture shock. See America’s Most Famous Expat Housewife – Julia Child
Culture shock is not a bad thing. It forces us to grow. Living in a different culture expands the mental boundaries we have about other people. Although many expats stick to the culture they know and basically replicate it in a new locale.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Bahrain? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
My husband worked hard to make our transition as easy as possible but we still had to find a house after we arrived. Although housing is cheaper here than in other Gulf countries, generally the cost of living on an island is high.
And we get island fever. Combine that with the desert heat and our vacations to cooler climates are a necessity, not a luxury.
On average my family spends three months a year traveling. It takes a lot of time to organize several trips a year. Travel costs must be budgeted or else you learn to be the houseguest everybody loves.
Many, many people are unprepared for life in Bahrain. They come here for a two-year contract and ten years later they haven’t left.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My sons were three years old when we moved here. As much as you try to explain countries and cities, children really don’t get it.
A few months after we arrived, we were driving home from school. One of the boys shouted to me from the back of the mini-van “Mom I like this planet.”
As an expat mother with three children, you learn to take daily challenges in stride. You can read some advice I gave to my children in Playing Baseball in a Shamal.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Bahrain?
Bahrain has been a melting pot for 5,000 years. Sumerians, Indians, Persians, Chinese, Africans, Portuguese, Arabs and more recently Europeans have traded, visited and inter-married with the Bahrainis With half the population being non-Arab, it is difficult to learn Bahraini Arabic as it is a mix of Hindi and Persian. Plus everyone speaks better English than your Arabic will ever be. I believe Bahrain is very friendly because, like any port city, the people are accustomed to outsiders.
Although Bahrain allows Hindus, Christians and Jews to practice their religion here, the law is Sharia and applies to everyone. Home ownership by foreigners is quite new and joint tenancy does not exist. Before jumping to buy that new beach house, non-GCC should understand the property laws, passing title, as well as sponsorship, residency and the related issues if the working spouse (usually the husband) loses his job or unexpectedly passes away. Generally, when a person turns 60 their work visa will not be renewed.
Use credit wisely. Both Asian and European expats get into trouble when they have borrowed money (credit cards or loans) and discover a “travel ban” was placed on them when their work visa is cancelled. They become stuck in a kind of debtors’ prison; unable to find another job because of the travel ban, unable to leave to find work elsewhere.
How is the expat community in Bahrain? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is very social. You can fill your entire calendar with fancy dress parties, charity balls and embassy receptions. There are several private, members-only clubs on the island which cater to the expats. People go to their clubs to sail, play tennis, football, rugby or netball and end the day with dinner and a drink.
You can read about a typical dinner party on Would You Care For Some White Coffee?
If you have not been invited out, there are 5-Star hotels or excellent, stand-alone restaurants, many serving alcohol. If you want live entertainment, every weekend there are DJs at dance clubs, live bands, tribute entertainers and visiting classical musicians. I detailed a typical weekend line-up in Check Out My Weekend Plans as well as Andrea Bocelli’s One Night In Bahrain concert.
The shopping malls have local stores, European chains like Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Zara, Mango and H&M, and all the luxury brands. Theaters feature Hollywood and Bollywood movies like Ra.One (see Wanna Be My Chammak Challo?)
Believe it or not, what we lack most here are beaches.
In one sense living here reminds me of living in Los Angeles where people go to recreate themselves or in search of new opportunities. Becoming an expat means you can re-define yourself and no one knows the difference. And the Bahrain population is diverse. If you look you can find people who share your interests even if they are “eccentric” or unusual.
How would you summarize your expat life in Bahrain in a single, catchy sentence?
A family paradise.