Saturday, February 27, 2010

Last Day in Bahrain

Today is our last day in Bahrain.  Part of me says, I'm sad it is over and it seems like this time has flown by!  The other part of me is very ready to go back to the States to all of our comforts of home that we have missed!  Sometimes being on vacation can be a bit exhausting!  Sleeping in foreign beds, eating foreign foods (and lots of it), and being out of your comfort zone for extended periods can begin to be a bit much.  Looking back, I am SO thankful for the wonderful opportunity we had to learn about another culture and show our kids that there is so much in this world for us to learn about and explore!

We don't fly out until after midnight but we had to check out of our room by 3pm (and that was with them giving us an extra 4 hours past normal check out time) so it was a bit challening trying to figure out what to do with our day.  We didn't want to waste it by waiting around for our flight, we wanted to take advantage of our last day.  How do you do that, start out by going to the beach!  We knew that back home it was about 30 degrees so we wanted to soak up every last bit of sun we could!

Owen, our little prince, took advantage of the sun and his last chance to be...
looks like he had it rough doesn't it?!?!?!
We knew we had 30+ hours of travel ahead of us where we would be stuck in muggy airports so we wanted to breath in as much fresh air as we could.  Here's a great way (or 2) to soak up as much fresh air and be outside as long as possible.... take your naps outside!

Poor little Addyson has gotten in contact with something that has caused her to have a terrible allergic reaction.  I too, have a rash on my arms and neck but it is not near as bad as poor Addyson's.
Poor baby!  Since we had to check out of our room at 3, we decided to go back to the market area for a bit of last minute shopping and to see if we could find something for Addyson.  It is so tricky when you are in a foreign country to find a medicine or ointment to take care of whatever ache or pain you have.  I'm usually on top of this and bring a TON of stuff with me.  Ironically, I picked up the hydrocortisone cream to pack but it never made it in our bag.... and that's the one thing we needed!  Thankfully, we found ONE pharmacy that was open (today is Saturday, so it is like a Sunday to them and a lot of stores are closed) and the pharmacist asked me a lot of questions and gave me some drops that would ease the itchiness.  Good enough to get us home.
Stopping for a snack break!  Look how helpful Owen is!!!  So sweet!

We left the market area and started walking in the direction of our hotel.  The drops we bought for Addyson set us back 2 dinar and we had already budgeted our money to have just enough for a taxi from the market to the hotel and then one from the hotel to the airport.  Now we were a bit short.....oops!  So, we walked a bit to make up the difference.  We happened to walk by Bahrain's World Trade Center which I had seen several times from a taxi window and was hoping to get the chance to get a close up.  Can you see the 3 wind turbines in the middle of the 2 towers?  They are proud to say that this is Bahrian's "first truly intelligent building with an array of sophisticated SMART features."
On the other side of the Trade Center is a VERY fancy hotel that we stumbled across.  Turns out, it is the site of the most exclusive shopping in Bahrain with over 150 of luxury brand stores.  We definatly were not dressed up enough to be shopping here and we got looks from a lot of people.  The stores here sold items that cost several hundred dollars each and so they only had a few items in each store front.  For us, it was a way to cut through instead of walking the streets all the way around.
It was a neat for us to see that there was more to shopping than the downtown market we had just been at.  We were told that Bahrain was very wealthy so I was surprised that we hadn't seen a mall like this until now.  I love that, no matter where you are, mall, airport, workplace, you can always find a mosque or praying area!
After shopping, we headed back to the hotel to eat dinner and grab our bags.  We took advantage, and ate at the seafood restaurant one more time!!!!  I ate SO many shrimp, I don't think I want to see another one for a month or so!!!  Because we want the kids to sleep on the plane, we ate supper later to draw out our day.  Poor Addyson just couldn't take it anymore.
We took the kids back to play at the play area for one last time and we sat back and took it all in.  What a great day it has been and what a wonderful trip!  Some might say we are crazy for taking our kids halfway around the world and I know this isn't for everyone but for us, it works!  I know our kids might not remember all the details of this trip, actually, they probably won't have any memory of this trip, but, I still feel it makes them more open minded.  They have tasted new foods and opened their taste pallets to a whole new world of flavors!  That, you can't take back.  They have seen many new faces and people dressed in different ways, that has opened their eyes to a whole new way of life and that, you can't take back!  Each trip we take or activity we do is done to fulfill our goals as parents, to raise our kids to be outstanding citizens of the world!  I hope this trip has brought us one step closer to achieving that goal!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day of shopping.

This morning, after a nice breakfast outside, we decided to go to the market part of town, and go shopping.
Without thinking, I wore a tank top and it wasn't long before I felt really uncomfortable! I was told that the men prefer to see a women with her arms covered.  I was glad I had my scarf in our diaper bag so I just placed it over my shoulders and tried to be as relaxed/comfortable as possible.  Of course, we still got stares and I'm assuming it was a mixture of how I was dressed and the fact that we were obviously foreigners!  We didn't let that stop us from having a good time and finding lots of good deals!
I know the women in the Middle East do most of the care taking of the kids so you can imagine the looks Brad got when he helped me with Addyson!
We stopped to buy some braclets for Addyson and a few of our friends.  Here, the owner took his kids outside to pose for a picture with our kids.  I also took advantage of the photo op and took one with my camera!  It is amazing to me, the number of people that ask to have their picture taken with our kids!  We must look really different to them!  I guess if I were to reverse the thought, they look really different to us and we took pictures to bring home and show!  Here, these people didn't have to travel great distances for a picture with strangers!! ; )
As we were shopping, I noticed a lot of men sitting at sewing machines inside a little store front with the little area FULL of their creations. I was so impressed that they were sewing them right then and there!!!
 We got a little outfit for Addyson from this nice guy who let me take his picture!  I can't wait until she is big enough to wear it!!  What a story we can tell about where she got the handmade outfit!
After walking through the streets, we headed over to the Gold Souk or Gold City.  This is a small shopping center that is just filled with jewelry stores!  Every where you look you see gold!  Gold rings, gold earings, gold necklaces, and even gold plated religious pictures!  We got my mom a gold plated picture of the Last Supper as a thank you for watching our dogs while we were gone.  I wish I had a picture to show you.
We bought the picture from my mom is the store here to Owen's right.  What you see here is Owen putting a 100 Fils piece of money into the candy machine.  We had given him the only one Brad had before we walked into the store and he was SO happy to get a couple of  M&Ms!  As we were leaving, he begged for more.  We had NONE and didn't want to make change and end up with a ton of these little Fils jingling in our pocket or a kid hyped on sugar because we let him put every single Fils in the candy machine!  I was trying to convience Owen we had no money as Brad was paying for the picture and it wasn't working.  The nice guys (looking out the window at Owen) gave Brad a Fil to give to Owen.  I felt SO bad since we had just talked them down in price for the picture!  But, I was so thankful they had a big heart for our little guy!  It saved us a lot of headache and saved Owen a lot of screaming!  See, there are good people in the world!
What a day of shopping we had!!!  It was a lot of fun and a neat experience to go out and shop where the locals do!  The kids fell asleep in the taxi on the way back to the hotel!  What a day!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our new hotel

Today we arrived at our new hotel!  Brad's work paid for our other hotel while he was at the conference which was really nice for us and a great way for us to enjoy a 5 star hotel!  Now that we are on our own dollar, we thought we'd find something a bit cheaper!  We also like to go to another part of town and see what that side has to offer!  We switched hotels when we were in Singapore and really enjoyed the change of scenery.  So while it might seem a bit crazy to pack up EVERYTHING (remember the number of suitcases and carry ons we have???) and move it is worth it!  For one, it helps us purge some of the extra things we, or should I say I, have been hanging on to like packets of crackers from the airplane I swore we would eat by now (Brad swears I have the purse of a 70 year old lady) and it helps us get a little organized (if you've ever seen our hotel room after a couple of days you'll know what I mean!).  But the real plus, is enjoying another part of town without having to pay for taxi rides to explore or we plan our trips accordingly so we pay less of a taxi fare.  It works out great!
This new hotel is great because it sits on a beach!!!  We walked down to the beach to see this!!!  They had a little bar on the beach so we grabbed a few adult beverages and were ready to enjoy the afternoon!
We didn't know what to expect, we couldn't see the beach from our room and we didn't know what the water temp would be like so we didn't come prepared.  It didn't stop Owen from exploring!  You can see the transition as mommy got worried about his clothes getting wet!  It started like this, isn't the water pretty?  Let's take a picture in front of it.  To, ok, you can walk in it but just get your feet wet.  To, oh, your shorts are getting wet, let's take those off.  To, oh no, now your shirt is wet... let's take it off.  To, frozen kid, naked in the water! : )
I think this was Addyson's first experience with sand!  She had fun exploring once she figured out what it was all about!  She also tasted it and found it to be a bit gritty! : )  "Mom, can you get this stuff off my hands?!?!"
She was also really brave when it came to exploring the water!
But wasn't a huge fan when a wave came up over her head... can you blame her?!?!
After an afternoon of fun in the sun, we were starving and ready to eat!!  Our hotel also has a great seafood restaurant that over looks the water!!!  You pick out the fresh fish you want and then they cook it for you right there!!!  This made for the BEST shrimp tempura I have ever had!!!!!!  Living in a landlocked state, like Arkansas, you forget how good fresh seafood can taste!
After filling our bellies, I was glad to see the hotel had a great play place for the kids!!!  We all needed to work off a bit of food before hitting the sheets!!!  Addyson knew, if she kept trying, she could do what big brother was doing!!!!  And she did!!! : )
What a great day!

Not so simple request

So I think I mentioned before the laid back spirit of the people in the Middle East and maybe every where else besides the US but, I want to mention it again. I want to talk about my experience with a simple request that turned into a big production and ended up taking 45 minutes to fulfill. Let me just say, this is just ONE experience out of many just like this that we have encountered since we have been on our journey.

The kids went down for a nap so Brad and I thought we would enjoy our balcony at our new hotel! We thought we'd get a couple of beers, sit outside in the sun, and talk about "life". I volunteered to run downstairs to the bar and get a couple drinks and bring them up to our room. The pool side bar was literally poolside, in the water, and I had pants on so I decided to go to the restaurant and ask them for a bucket that I had seen them set on a lot of the tables. I went to a worker, gave her my order; 2 Heineken, 2 Corona, 1 Diet Coke, and some lemons, asked her to put them in a bucket with ice, and then began to wait. I didn't want to just stand there and be stared at (which was what was happening) so I walked around a bit outside but stuck close to the restaurant. After about 5 minutes, I began to wonder what was taking so long so I went in and asked. The lady told me she gave my order to room service and to go to my room and wait. I said, "If I wanted room service I would have just picked up the phone and called it down. Besides, I had sleeping kids so I didn't want anyone to knock and isn't there a charge for room service?" She said there was a charge and I again told her I didn't want that which is why I came downstairs to place my order. She scurried off and I continued to wait. 15 minutes after placing my order the manager asked if I had been helped. I explained what had happened and he told the lady to get my stuff. Her answer "I am preparing them." He said, "There is nothing to prepare, just get the lady her drinks!" My thoughts exactly! What is there to prepare????

There was another server standing there and I asked her to PLEASE remind the lady that I would like lemon.... I just knew she would forget. SO, a guy 5 comes, 5 minutes later, with a tray in hand and 4 beers on it..... no lemon, no diet coke, and no ice! WHAT ?!?!?! It took 20 minutes to prepare that??? I looked at him with a stunned look on my face and not sure what to say next. I told him my order and that I would like ice and lemon and he left. I waited.

The manager then told me I could go to my room and wait for it to which I replied, I have sleeping kids and I don't want anyone to knock. He said I could wait 10 seconds (he said that, 10 seconds, who was he kidding?) and I would have it or I could go to my room. At this point, lots of people are staring and now I am wondering aimlessly outside the restaurant waiting for 10 seconds.....which turned into 5 minutes. I finally leave. I run a quick errand to the front desk (across for the restaurant so I can watch without being creepy) which takes about 5 minutes. Still no drinks. I go upstairs.

I leave the door open a crack and hope the guy remembers I have sleeping kids. What do you think happened???? Yep, he knocked. Luckily the kids stayed asleep.

45 minutes later.......
What is so crazy, is that this sort of thing happened SO MANY times. We would have to repeat requests several times and eventually they would either get it right or we would give up.

Speaking of having drinks, I wanted to share this interesting bit of information. I want to give the disclaimer that I am just speaking from my experience and that of others I have talked with. If you don't think what I am saying is correct, I'm sorry for that. My goal of traveling is to share my experiences with my family and friends. I try to ask a lot of questions to find out the "real truths" about how people live. And here is a real truth.

Bahrain is a melting pot. I find it is a bit of East meets West. So even though they are a mainly Muslim country they allow the sale of alcohol. I'm not sure if you can buy it at a store but I know you can purchase it at hotels and restaurants unlike its neighbor, Saudi Arabia. The traditional Muslim weekend is Thursday and Friday with Friday being the holy day. Bahrain recently changed their weekends to be Friday and Saturday so they can do more business with the Western World (they strive to be a banking country). I was told that on Thursday nights many people from Saudi will drive over to Bahrain, drink, party, and then drive home. Yep, they drink and drive. They believe that they will get home "inshallah" (God willing). *This is a phrase they use very often when speaking.* I was told by a lady that she has never seen so many dead bodies on the road as she has seen in Bahrain on a Thursday night. Yikes! Good thing we don't have to drive anywhere!
I asked if they do any sort of drinking and driving campaigns to which she replied, "No, that would be them admitting that there is a drinking problem and Muslims don't drink." So, if any sort of campaign is done, it focuses on Westerners. Kind of sad. It is hard to fix a problem, a very serious problem, if you can't acknowledge that it exists!

I wasn't sure if this was just a old wives tale that was being passed around but then I saw it for myself! It was a Thursday, there were 2 guys at the hotel beach bar hammered at 4 in the afternoon. The one guy asked me where I was from and then told me he was from Saudi. Tonight, on our way to dinner, the one in the picture was yelling as he walked around the hotel grounds and then over to the lobby, went inside, threw his keys at his buddy, they hugged, and then left...... Hope they made it home.....inshallah.

A Day with the Kids

This hotel is great because it seems like there are several families staying here with kids our age. What is interesting though, is that in the evenings, it seems like we are the only family with kids!!! It isn't until we go out by the pool in the morning that we see all the other families!

I love that our kids are social and out going and not afraid to go up to "strange" kids and play! Of course, not every kid wants to play with our kids and that is when I am thankful that at least my kids have each other!
Addyson is very proud of the fact that she can stand on her own and walk to places she wants to!!! She is getting very brave and isn't too afraid to go most places!!! She would sit back and watch the kids play......
...and when they were done she would give it a try for herself! I love watching her explore the world and problem solve to try to figure things out!!! She never ceases to amaze me at what she can do!!!
Today is the cloudiest day we've had since we've been here. When you get out of the pool, it is a bit chilly! Owen had to come warm up!!!
Today, the conference was only a half day, so it was REALLY nice to be able to eat lunch outside with Brad by the pool!!! He got to have a taste of what the kids and I have been doing the past couple of days!!! : )
One thing that I love about traveling, is that I am reminded that no matter where you are, kids are still kids!!! I love how kids know no boundaries of race, religion, language or culture! They know no differences of gender, color, or family structure!!!
No matter where you go, kids are still kids!
I love to sit back and watch their innocence, creativity, and imagination!!! I love to see their little minds working as they try to interpret what their new friend is saying and how they figure out a way to communicate, play, invent new games, and take time to stop and smell the flowers!!! They take time to enjoy each other and the small things in life!!!
Us adults could learn a thing or two!!! We could learn to love, laugh, and play like the kids do.... no matter where we live!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Trip to a Mosque

Today we went to the largest mosque in Bahrian, Al Fateh Mosque. Al Fateh Mosque in Bahrain is also known as the Grand Mosque or the Al Fateh Islamic Centre.This mosque was built in the 1990s and is a multi-national building meaning they got the parts for this building from several countries.
I wanted to be respectful of their religion and culture so as soon as we step foot on the Mosque grounds, I covered my hair. Of course, before we left the hotel, I put on my most covering outfit. What surprised me were the tourist that were coming that were wearing skimpy tank tops and very short shorts or skirts to go visit a mosque. In my mind, those people were being very insensitive to the ideals and values of the religion they were going to go learn about. Not in good taste.
What I didn't know, was that this mosque was ready for ALL tourists!!! We walk in the door and women go to one side with the kids and men to the other. There, there were women (or men depending on your sex) waiting to help us get ready to go inside. They had scarves and abayas for us to borrow and they helped us put them on correctly. Puberty or age 12 (whichever comes first), is the age in which girls start covering themselves so our kids were fine to go in as is. If the men was wearing shorts, he had to cover himself by putting on a thobe.

I had my own scarf, it was given to me by a co workers of Brad's that lives in Egypt, so they let me wear that and then just fitted me with a abayas. It was so cute, my kids kept staring at me and smiling. I don't think they knew what to think. What I find interesting is that we have seen MANY women covered up and thankfully the kids don't stare at them! I guess it was just a new experience for them to see their mommy wearing something different! : )
The beautiful entrance way. This has no roof so the sun was shining in on the beautiful marble floor!!!!
Notice anything different about the stroller???? It isn't ours!!! They had a stroller for us to borrow as everything that comes into the mosque has to be clean!!! That is also the reason for no shoes and why they have a washing ritual they do each time before they pray!
I didn't get any good pictures on the main level but there isn't a whole lot to see. It is a big open space where the men gather to pray. It is here, where the men stand foot to foot, touching their neighbors to show equality. We were told, we all pray together to show we are equal. I found this rather interesting because if they were ALL equal why were the women to pray upstairs????

Women pray upstairs for their protection. No man, other than their husband, should see them in the positions one assumes while praying. I found this interesting! Kids under 12 are welcome on either floor. You can pray while holding your child and when you have to bend down, you place your child on the floor next to you. We also learned that if they prayer leader hears that there is a kid getting restless, he will usually speed up the prayer!!!! Wouldn't that be a relief to some of us parents out there?!?!?
The kids loved climbing up on the little ledge and looking over! We did really good while we were there and tried to be really respectful of their religion and culture. We didn't let the kids down to run around until we were upstairs looking around and no one else was up there. While exploring, we looked over and found Addyson, with her shoes on (OOPS!!!) standing on a copy of the Qur'an! YIKES!!!! We all went running over, our guide quickly picked up the book, wiped it off, and placed it back on the shelf. So, besides that one BIG faux pas (shoes on, dirty shoes, and standing on the most sacred book in their culture), we did good!
Our tour guide was so nice and answered all of our questions!!! He was young and "hip" so I felt pretty comfortable asking him just about anything! It was funny, we didn't take his picture at all as we walked through, not really sure why, but at the end he asked "I'm surprised you didn't want to take my picture and put it on facebook." If he only knew..... : )
So tired from all the exploring!! She fell asleep on the walk back to the hotel! Poor thing, since Owen was riding in the back she couldn't lay down so she put her arms up for a pillow and went to sleep! Sweet girl! I'm so thankful for the opportunity to show and teach our kids about other cultures and religions!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Taste of the Gulf"

The conference put on a great night they called "The Big Night Out- A Taste of the Gulf". We were excited that the kids and I could go with Brad!!! We were told to load the bus at 6 for the events to start at 7. Of course we thought that meant dinner would start at 7 and we were ready for it!!!! We kept waiting around and nothing seemed to be happening so we finally asked a manager at the hotel (We had to go to a different hotel for this event) and he said dinner wasn't until 9. I think Brad had to pick my jaw off the ground. I couldn't believe it!!! Why did they have us leave our hotel at 6??? The kids were starving and I wasn't sure what to do. Luckily, a nice lady a the bar gave us some chips and nuts which were great for Owen and I found a quiet spot to nurse Addyson to hold her over.

We were told there would be entertainment from 7-9 and then dinner after that, it was 7:30 with no entertainment and we were beginning to think the evening was going to be a dud.
Then we had to remind ourselves that we weren't in the US anymore and things here run a little different. I'm not sure if it is all of the Middle East but Brad has experienced this in most countries that he has traveled, they are really late and slow at getting things started. We, in the US, are always in a rush and want things done quickly and on time and when they are not we get worked up about it. Here, things start late and people aren't really worried about it. If you looked frazzled when something is taking FOREVER, they can't figure out why. So, as we were pacing back and forth, waiting for something to get started and confused as to why SEVERAL people that looked like they were suppose to be "working" were just standing around we looked like the crazy ones! : ) Those people were very laid back and you know why....because eventually it would start, and EVENTUALLY it all got started.... as you can see from the pics! : )
The kids were not crazy about any of the animals. Owen wouldn't get close and when I took Addyson up to them she cried and wouldn't take her eyes off the. Now, from far away, they loved looking at the animals!

Falconry is really big in the Middle East. If fact, a falcon can been seen on many paintings and on many other things and in many places throughout their culture. We passed a HUGE statue of a falcon on the side of the road on the way to the hotel.
Here I am getting my henna tattoo!!!
Here is Brad and his "friend" from the government of Sudan. He spoke with Brad several times throughout the conference because he is having a hard time finding a company that will come do training in Sudan and he was hoping Brad's company would be the answer! Not sure if he'll have any luck with them either! : )
Once the food was served it was worth the wait.....if you were first in line!!!!! Luckily, I jumped up first and got food for the kids and I and some for Brad to share. The thought was that Brad would go back and get the meat off the grill for us.... didn't work out so well. He waited 20 minutes in line and when he got there most of it was gone. However, there were 2 really nice guys in front of him that made a plate for me and told him to "give this to your wife."! I couldn't believe it!! Especially since when I went up to get food men were cutting in line in front of me like I wasn't even there. You just never know!!! Just like any culture, you have some good and some bad!
You can see how they have big tables set up with about 12 chairs or so per table. It was really interesting, we were one of the first ones there so we scoped out a table that was shaded from the cool wind and we put the napkins down so everyone would know those 3 seats were taken (this was when we thought dinner would be served at 7). Two middle eastern men sat at the table while we went to look around and when we came back for our stroller we made small talk. They then told us they had to go talk with friends and they never came back. Well we ended up going to watch the entertainment and when we went to our table it was occupied by 2 ladies that were fully covered and we weren't sure what to do. I said out loud, like I was talking to Brad but really wanted them to hear, that we should sit where we messed up the napkins and Owen messed up the silverware as if to let them know we had been sitting there we and we hope we weren't stepping out of line by sitting back at that table. Shortly they got up and left. Next, came 2 middle eastern men to sit at our table, they sat a few minutes and got up and left. If you are counting, this is the third set of people we have managed to "scare off". Not sure what we are doing wrong but, thankfully, the next group of guys (4 young middle eastern guys in their 20s) stayed and ate and even chatted with us!!!! We were beginning to wonder! : ) We all ate and it was SO good!!! The desserts were equally as tastey!!!!

Here you can hear the music in the background. Look at the lady make this "non bread"! It is amazing how much work she puts into one piece!!!! It was really tastey!

As they sing they dance in a circle. One of the guys that sat at our table is getting married in a couple of days and LOVES kids so he asked if he could take Addyson in the circle with him.

Owen dancing. I'm not sure if you see all the flashing or not but SO MANY people took his picture or videos of him dancing. Wonder if he will end up on YouTube!

By 11 the kids were READY to go home!!! We asked if we could get a ride home instead of waiting for the bus. They told us we should stay for the comedian, he would be really funny.....

I'm sure he was hilarious but I wouldn't have understood a single thing!!! The people that put on the conference were super accommodating and got us a ride home!!! We were really thankful for that! All in all, it was a great evening and a great "Taste of the Gulf"!!!!!