Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Bahrain, etc.
I am born and raised in Delhi, India, to a family of bankers. I learnt to adapt, and more importantly, to enjoy different cultures very early in life. Looking back, these differences in behavior, language, and food as witnessed at home, at school, and in my neighborhood contributed to what I am today. My education and profession as a Chartered Accountant took me to distant places. After a good seven years of living in Europe and Africa I landed in Bahrain on Christmas Day in 2007.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Writing and photography are two forms of expression which have been with me since my school days. I consolidated material hibernating in film negatives, travel scrap books, and forgotten hard disks to build my digital archive in 2013. Reflecting on them brought back vivid memories, anecdotes and stories, which form the essence of my photoblog, Lifeommentary.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favorite entries are the ones in which I talk about my ideas on photography, like the one on the virtues of street photography, which is one of the more real forms of image making. I spend roughly 320 days a year in Bahrain and the rest travelling. So it is expected that a lot of my pictorials are about my experiences with immediate surroundings. I like covering events and try to showcase the essence and feel in my posts like the recently concluded Spring of Culture.
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?
My office timings converted me to a morning person; we start at 6:30 am. I have maintained a disciplined night life to accommodate the 5 am wake-up call. Culturally and visually, things are a bit different, we have to get used to the lack of greenery and occasion based interaction with the local populace. The one thing which I will truly miss are the food items from different parts of India, which are available here in every cold store. Back at home in Delhi we have to search and even order them.
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 employers and the team I was joining gave me a lot of information. I had barely got off the aerobridge that I found a smiling representative with my name card. He breezed me through immigration which is a worry for most first timers, bought me a phone card so I could call home and drove me to my hotel. Like most old timers would tell you, if they knew how long they would be spending here they would have made some investments differently. I would have partially owned a house if I had taken up a mortgage instead of renting and would have surely purchased a fuel guzzling motor vehicle.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My parents gave me some fruit as a part of the traditional sendoff. I put it in my hand luggage and flew to Bahrain. Airport security was very interested in the ball like object at the arrival scanning and enquired what I was carrying. I answered back “It’s a pomegranate” which was misunderstood as a bomb and grenade. I was not allowed to touch the bag and was promptly escorted to a small room in customs where my bag was examined as I was surrounded by officers in white. A few seconds later, when the juicy red fruit emerged, the place was engulfed in laughter and smiles. Till today, I look out for that officer each time I fly in and we exchange a smile.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Bahrain?
- Expectations: Have clear expectations and motives on what this move will entail for you professionally and for your family. Orient your spouse’s and children on the move. Bahrain as a job market is one of the smallest in the GCC. I know many professional couples who move, thinking that the equally qualified spouse will get employed later, only to be disappointed and ending up as school teachers.
- Finances: Study your contract carefully, both the terms and the benefits. Do the maths and research through local contacts or forums prior to accepting the offer. Try to work out what it will cost to maintain your current lifestyle or be open to a new one. A lot of the contracts get renewed, but sometimes they don’t so be prudent with your purse in the first year or so.
- Social: Bahrain without doubt is the friendliest of all the GCC countries I have been to. Its compactness and relaxed way of life can be addictive. At first, you will enjoy the reduced commute, the proximity of things, and the cheap fuel, but a few years and few extra kilos later you might get bored and realize you need to fly out to see something new. Having said that, finding new places is not much of an issue thanks to its central location in Asia and 4 big carriers in the region.
How is the expat community in Bahrain? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Of the million residents in Bahrain, half are expats. Your interaction with them will depend on your interests, attitude and leisure habits. There are plenty of places to mix, from clubs, national associations and activity groups, InterNations being one of them. We started our own group called the Manama Photography Talk & Tours with the aim to spread the joy of photography as a medium while building a visual connection with the place we call home.
How would you summarize your expat life in Bahrain in a single, catchy sentence?
Eating Heartily, Drinking Sparingly, Driving Carefully, Living Happily, Aging Gracefully.