Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Long Way from Home

Day 15: What the tourists never see in my town that they are really missing out on...

We get one 'Get Out of Jail Free Card' so I used it for yesterday.  My day was overwhelmingly ordinary but extraordinarily busy.  I literally did not have a minute to write.  But I'm back and ready today.

This one might be short and sweet.  It's been a wonderful and exhausting weekend.  Our BFF 'L' came over from Kuwait.  She came a little bit to hang out and go on a friend date to see a Michael Buble impersonator, who was amazingly good, but mostly she came to paint.  The girl loves to paint. Tonight, as I write this, I am staring at a purple wall where once there was grey/blue and there is a faint smell of paint in the air.  It's wonderful and I feel even more at home in my home than I did yesterday.

So, on to the prompt.  If you come to Bahrain, something you might miss as a tourist that you really shouldn't is... the people.  Bahrainis are so unbelievably kind and friendly.  They are welcoming and inviting, warm and delightful.  They'll take you home for a cup of tea to meet their family as soon as they'll tell you the history of their country or recite the Quran, just because you asked.

I think that, unfortunately, many Westerners have a very skewed view of the Muslim man and woman.  Outside of our prejudices and what the media (and the extremists) have led us to believe, the burka and thobe can be intimidating.  There's something foreign and almost uninviting about men and women in traditional dress, especially the fully or almost-fully covered women. We don't really get it.    We think it means something else.  We steer clear.

Uh... maybe I won't buy one (women have to cover in the Grand Mosque)
Our BFF 'L' went to a cultural talk in Kuwait led by a young Muslim woman.  She was, humorously, discussing her decision to 'cover,' because it was her decision.  One of the main reasons she covers is, according to her, because 'after a night of partying, you want to make a quick run to McDonald's.  What's easier?  Getting dressed and fixed up so that no one knows you were out, or throwing this thing on?'

I like her style.  She sounds like my kind of woman... perhaps I should go buy a burka...

Not all Bahrainis cover, men or women.  I have been lucky enough to get to know a few parents at our school and it has helped to demystify the thobe and burka.  I hardly see them anymore.  I like that my kids don't really react one way or another.  It lets me sit back and truly enjoy the kindness of the country, having gotten over my own... fears?  No, misunderstandings.  That's a better word.

As a tourist, you will actually not encounter many Bahrainis.  They are not the workers in their country, though more so than in Kuwait.  You would be hard-pressed to find a Bahraini in a service position of any kind- these jobs are occupied by Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Bangledeshians and Indians.  The Bahrainis own things and then they employ people to run the places they own.

If you're planning a visit, I'm not even really sure how to suggest you go about meeting a Bahraini.  But if you have the chance, you should.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Day 13: Something I left behind

I feel a bit introspective on this one.  The most obvious answer is that I left my family and my friends behind, both literally and figuratively.  That first plane ride out of your home country- the one you make not knowing exactly when you're coming back- is terrifying.  It's heart-wrenching and exciting and scary and overwhelming and just plain WOW-what-the-eff-am-I-doing-right-now-ing?  My departure for the Dominican Republic felt a bit like a movie moment- watching my house disappear around the corner as we drove off to the airport, sadly looking out the window (if only it had been raining!), wondering when I'd see the lovely highways of Georgia again.  Then hugging, crying, hugging, laughing, more crying at the airport.  Looking behind as I walked to my gate, waving until the last possible second, the last glimpses of my family for who knows how long.  As soon as I found my gate, I sat down and started texting friends who weren't with me at the airport and even those who weren't even out of the airport parking lot yet.

And since that life-altering moment, I've lost friends and I feel uncomfortable at family reunions.  At first, it was all so exciting- everyone wanted to know what it was like:  Where did I live?  Does everyone speak English?  My life in a foreign country was an adventure for everyone... for a while...  Then people started tuning me out- I could see it in their eyes.  They'd ask, but really, they didn't remember what country I was living in or they didn't even know where it was.  Family nodded and 'uh huhed' when I tried explaining what I did for fun on the weekends in Shanghai or what my first experience with Lebanese food was like- answers to questions they'd asked.  Friends told me tales of their day-to-days but forgot to ask about mine.  And I slowly got used to it.

There is a saying about living life as an international teacher:  Friends will listen to you talk about your life for about a minute before they tune you out.  Your real friends will listen for two minutes.

See you later, alligator...
It's just life, but my family and friends can't relate anymore.  They don't know (most) of the people I'm talking about.  They can't visualize the school where I work or the home where I live.  They have no connection to the country I'm describing, so they don't really listen.  They can't really care.  I left them behind to go on this adventure.

My life is like an endless slide show from Uncle Morty's trip to Mt. Rushmore- all 763 slides- that no one wants to see.

This is not a self-pitying post, nor do I blame anyone for their lack of connection to my life.  It is my life after all and I'm living it with three of the people that I love the most in the world (and two furbabies).  It's just the nature of the beast. 

It's funny, I was actually going to write about leaving behind my crippling fear of change- the family/friends thing was meant to be the introduction.  I love not knowing where my writing will take me sometimes!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

An Open Letter to Mothers

Day 12: An Open Letter (ooh, I love a good open letter!)

Dear Mothers-

Calm down.  No seriously, get off Pinterest and calm down.

You are not meant to enjoy every minute of your child's life.  I know I just bolded and underlined that, but it's worth repeating (in capitals):  YOU ARE NOT MEANT TO ENJOY EVERY MINUTE OF YOUR CHILD'S LIFE.  You're just not.  Kids are loud and messy and infuriating.  Kids are annoying and pokey and dirty.  I don't care that some old lady in aisle six of the Walmarts glared at you for speaking in that scary, whisper voice to your toddler, saying, If you don't sit down right now, I'm going to leave you here and you will have to figure out how to survive on your own, sleeping in the camping section and cooking frozen pizzas on the barbeques.  I don't care that the 50-something woman with empty nest syndrome smiled sweetly and said, Enjoy these precious moments- they grow up so fast.  I don't care.

You're supposed to feel tired and frustrated and irritated and yes, even angry sometimes.  You're supposed to have nights where you count the moments until bedtime and gulp a giant glass of red wine after those little pickles are asleep.  You're supposed to want free time, when no one is touching you or demanding something from you or whining at you.

You're supposed to continue to be YOU after you have your kids.

Our own mothers mothered before Pinterest.  They fed us, they clothed us and they loved us.  Are any of us scarred because we didn't make glittery snowman crafts for Christmas and homemade Valentines for each of our classmates?  Are you really sad that you don't have molds of your hands and feet from birth until college plastered all around the house?  Were you okay eating a processed chicken nugget every now and again because your mom was just a little too tired to prepare a gourmet, five-course meal from scratch after work?

We're turning our kids into self-entitled monsters with our own desires to be perfect.   Your child should not get every moment of your time.  She should learn that if you're already doing something, she might have to wait just a second before you grab her that cup of milk/rescue the toy from under the couch/turn the movie off/turn the movie on/etc.  It's your role to let your child know they're important but they're not the only person in the house.  It's how you teach patience and a bit of respect.

Sometimes, the dishes need to be done.  Don't tell me, internet mom, that I should never clean my house because it takes away from time with my kids.  Well, guess what?  If I never do the dishes, we have no dishes to eat off of, therefore we don't eat.  Or we eat take-out.  That's not healthy every night.  By not taking care of my home, I'm teaching my kids that it's okay to be dirty and messy.  I'm telling them that their happiness is the most important thing in my world.  It's not.  It's my job to raise them to be responsible, functional adults, not people who think everyone should stop everything they're doing to cater to their every whim.  This mom, by the way, is my hero. 

Look, someone wrote a book about it
I've seen so many articles lately about taking the time to enjoy your little ones, and I agree wholeheartedly.  Enjoy those little pickles.  Enjoy the heck out of them.  They're cute, they're lovely, they're huggy and kissy and cuddly.  They freely throw around I love you's and the Ladybug has taken to telling me that I'm a really good mom lately.  I enjoy that.  Personally, I try to avoid using my phone from the time I get home until after bedtime- I have a short amount of time with my girls each day and Facebook and email can definitely wait.  It's important to me that they have my attention for the space of time I can give it to them.  I prefer to have the TV off but sometimes we have some music in the background so we can have dance parties if we want.  We eat dinner together, then playing, bath, books and bedtime.

Some nights, though, I need to turn on Sofia the First and veg a bit with my kiddos.  Some nights, I beg the Rugby Star to do bedtime because I'm exhausted.  Sometimes, just sometimes, we start the bedtime routine just a few minutes earlier than seven.

We haven't been crafty in a while.  We had pizza twice last week.  I fussed at the Ladybug because she tried to shut her sister in the cabinet this morning.  She yelled at me because I wouldn't give her some chapstick.  But I can't wait to get home and see her this afternoon.  I can't wait to snuggle both of them and laugh and play and probably have at least one time out or screaming fit.  And it'll be okay.

Dear Mothers- take a break.  Let yourself off the hook.  Your mother didn't ruin you and you won't ruin your kid.  Love them- love them so much it hurts.  Cry when they head off to school for the first time.  Celebrate their successes and teach them to persevere through their defeats.  Let them know they're safe with you... but not so safe that they never want to leave.  And be tired if you want to be tired.  It doesn't make you a bad mother.

It just makes you human.

One Tired Mother

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dear Diary...

Day 11:  I wish that when I started my blog I had...

... not treated it like a diary.  This particular version of my blog was started to honor my mother and to get my writing on track.  But way back in yesteryear when blogging, or whatever we called it back then, started, I had a Xanga account (is that even right?).  And I put a lot out there.  So much so, that it's been years since I've gone back to it because I'm kind of embarrassed.  I should probably see if the site even still exists. 

*Inviting elevator music plays while you wait for me to go check...*

Hmm, apparently it does and I was able to correctly guess my password.  But it's all archived which I hope means no one else can read them and I'll have to save my own perusing for another day.

I started taking voice lessons in ninth grade, mostly because I found out my arch-nemesis/best friend was taking them, too.  At our first recital, I was to perform a stirring rendition of 'On My Own' from Les Mis (I was Les Mis before Les Mis was cool, y'all).  Anyway, I was terrified.  I got up on the church stage before oh, at least twenty-five people.  The music started.  I gripped the microphone like a drowning man grabs a life vest.  I opened my mouth and, well, this story is a lot better when I tell it because I basically started the song about two octaves lower than I was supposed to and not anywhere near the correct pitch.  The audience looked startled.  I was startled.  I quickly recovered and was able to perform the rest of the song beautifully... or at least I sang the right notes.

This event is one of those ones which grew and morphed in my mind over the years.  It became huge- an epic failure of my young life.  Of course, my parents videotaped it but I never watched the video- it was too humiliating and I knew how terrible I had sounded.  But, a few years ago, while cleaning out some of my mom's stuff, I found the tape.  I started thinking, "You know, it probably wasn't that bad.  It was embarrassing, but I've probably made it so much worse by telling nervous kids about it before performances or laughing about it with friends.  I think I shall watch this video."

Rest assured, it was as awful, if not WORSE than I thought.  The look on my face when that sound came out was priceless.  Luckily, having already graduated from college as a vocal major, I was able to laugh it off and move it.  It's really even funnier because it was true how terrible the beginning of that song was... and I survived.  I've thrived, even.  But it was really hard for me to put myself out there as a singer- every time.  From that first performance in 9th grade to my senior recital in college.  I rarely sing for my students, and if I do, it's only to demonstrate, never to perform.  It's part of me and it's personal and if you say it's bad, I'll cry.  

My first blog entries were not very Raven.
Writing is like that for me.  I'm terrified to show people my work- my hands shake and my heart pounds.  I'm in a creative writer's group here in Bahrain and we meet monthly to write... creatively.  I never share unless I am asked.  Except the whole time, I'm sitting there hoping someone will ask.  I crave the kudos.  I want the accolades.  And in trying to get those, I sometimes tell a little too much or talk a little too long.  It's also part of me and I want people to like what I've written. 

I read through my Xanga entries a few years ago.  I was embarrassed and then I forgot about them.  But it is part of me.  Maybe I'll download them for me and then delete my account.  I know, thank you very much Internets, that it doesn't mean they're gone.  But hopefully out of site (see what I did there), out of mind... and yes, I've learned my lesson. 

Smile for the Camera!

Day 10: A Day in Photos

I forgot to take a picture this morning, but we eat breakfast together before heading to school.
The Ladybug was cold yesterday, hence the mittens with her Cheerios.

This is my office.  I spent nearly all of my free time here today.

This is part of my classroom.  I have been so busy lately that I barely leave this room.
Good thing I like it.

This was my walk home today.  I left early because I needed to run some errands.
Usually I get home around 4:30 and I am lucky enough to be greeted by a Ladybug running down the street towards me, screaming, "Mom!"  Best part of every day. 

The outside of our house.
Today I tried to sneak to the car because if I go in,
it's really hard to get out...

... but I heard the Sprout crying so I went in to check.
She was just being a pickle.  I was rewarded by this face.

Today I drove out to Saar to pick up our tickets for our Valentine's Day date.
I've never been to this club before-
it's MUCH nicer on the inside than the outside
(we're going to see a Michael Buble impersonator).

Then I went to the craft-cum-equestrian shop.
Oh yes, that's right- literally half of the store is arts and crafts supplies,
the other half is saddles and riding crops and leather.  It makes me laugh.

This is our neighborhood convenience store.
I am literally here every day- usually for milk.
Today it was bread.

For your amusement, this is the pork section.
It is a separate area of the store and clearly marked,
lest some unsuspecting Muslim wander in and be tainted forever.

Dinner was spaghetti bolognese, made by the Rugby Star.
This picture does not do it justice.

The Ladybug having her dinner and showing off her bandaid on her 'little gaze (graze)."
Very traumatic, as you can see.

We eat as a family most nights which is something I love.
It's never quiet and it's never boring.

The Ladybug decided she wanted to feed the Sprout tonight.
Extremely helpful... 

We headed upstairs for playtime and
the Sprout got ahold of my toothpaste.
I had to chase her down to get it back.
That was fun.

Then we all 'flash lighted' stuff, as the Ladybug calls it.
That provided about 30 minutes of entertainment.

Next, it was bath time.
The Ladybug had another boo-boo that she was keeping out of the water.

Finally, books and bedtime.
Sprout was amazed at how cute she looked in Mommy's phone.

Oh wait!  This happened on my way to the craft store.
No one else batted an eye...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Them Are Fightin' Words

Today's Prompt: “‘Expat Syndrome’ is a condition whereby many expatriates see mostly either the best of their own nationality & the worst of the locals, or see the opposite.” -T Crossley

This could raise some heckles and I'd like to say that I'm going to apologize in advance, but I'm not. 

I like home.  I've mentioned it more than once during this blog challenge.  I like so very many things about my home- my friends and family first, Target running a close second.  I love driving (relatively) safely.  I like personal space and politeness.  I like finding any and everything that I want whenever I need or want it.  I like crafting, which I've found hard to do in many of the countries I've lived in. 

But there are things that I've realized about my home since moving overseas.  Not everyone likes America or Americans.  In fact, a lot of people don't.  Now before you go spitting fire at the computer, slow down.  Yes, I realize that many people are grateful to take our 'help' (read: money) when they're in need.  They're also just as happy to turn back around and curse at us or make fun of us as soon as they've been helped.  But we've kind of brought it on ourselves.

We're arrogant when we travel.  We're arrogant when we offer our help.  We're loud and fairly obnoxious and I have found myself, on more than one occasion, scoffing at some annoying American trying to get something done by being an overbearing bully.  Or a passive-aggressive bully.  Or a loud bully.  Case in point- I landed in Bahrain after a weekend in Dubai and this large American family, wearing the exact same purple-sports-team jersey was in front of me.  Apparently, the little boy left his pillow on the plane and they wouldn't let him back on to get it.  The mom started complaining LOUDLY about how 'these people' wouldn't let her precious widdle boy on the plane to get his pillow.  "I don't understand why THEY won't let him back on- it's just a pillow!" she said, loudly.  Well, guess what lady?  No airline crew anywhere let's you back on the plane after you've exited.  I have learned that the hard way.  But she was being so pushy, so angry, and did I mention loud, that I doubt anyone even tried to help her.  They probably threw the pillow in the garbage... I would have.

And that's not it.  You can find an American in a crowd anywhere- they are usually taking up the most space, making the most fuss.  We tend to think we're right- about anything.  We tend to think we could fix any problem in any other country.  We tend to think that people want us there... they do... as tourists.  Then they want us to go home.

I am not stereotyping all Americans, I promise.  But it is easier to see the ridiculous arrogance of a people who think they know everything about everything when a large majority have never even left the country!  Seriously y'all, people hate us.  And I don't really blame them in a lot of cases.

BUT... on the other hand, I am not so blind as to the 'wonders' of each new country I live in either.  I got some serious China Rage in Shanghai- did you seriously just hock a loogi out the window of your car, taxi driver?  Oh, now you're stopping to take a piss on the side of the road?  CAN YOU PLEASE STOP TOUCHING ME WITH YOUR CART, GROCERY STORE LADY!!!  I said OIG (Only in Guatemala) daily.  I know there's one for Kuwait but I can't remember it.  I can appreciate the differences of the cultures I've experienced but I know that each new group of people is not any more or less put together than the Americans... they just tend to keep it to themselves a little more. 

I am kind of half-and-half on this prompt.  I think I've lived in enough places and gone through enough culture shock to see both sides of the coin.  It's possible if I had only lived in one place, I might feel differently.  But now, we'll never know.
Another thing I love about home- The Awful Waffle!