It seemed so long ago yet feel like yesterday, always the same classic thing about time for me. I still remember clearly that Friday night, September 25th, 2013. My family drove me to the airport and bunch of my best friends, people who actually cared about me waited there already just to give me goodbye hugs and kisses before my departure from a hometown for quite a long time, the place that I’ve been living for exactly a year this month.
So here’s the thing with having a lot of friends everywhere: you know that there will be a lot of people who are there for you when you need them, but once you need to go or come back from a really long travel, there are a lot of people that you need to meet as well, but I love it anyway. My flight to Bahrain was actually on the October 1st but I had things going on in Jakarta, the place that I called a second home. Besides meeting with some friends, I managed myself to attend the Pre Departure Training for the Indonesian volunteers of CWY, the program that kinda had a big role of both my social life and career. Exactly on D-Day, several besties from the program accompanied me to the airport. I called my mom the second before I got to the plane and there I flew with big dreams, all the way to Middle East.
OK, despite of the really crappy service and food in Sri Lanka Airlines that I flew with, I think we’re all agree that our excitement of getting to a new place will tolerate any crazy things that happened before hand. I was even too excited to realize that people at the airport’s arrival were kinda *sorry*messy*cough*, you know, some people even were grouping and sat in circle, not necessarily at the corner, but literally anywhere they could find big enough space for them to sit on. That was pretty tacky. But whatever though, the company’s driver was waiting for me outside and in a second, I’ll just step me bare foot for the first time on the Arab land. Fancy!
The travel from the airport to my flat was pretty fun. The city looked tidy and neat but of course, it was pretty hot. I had a little bit of a jet lag because Bahrain is 4 hours behind of Western Indonesia time and went to bed right after. Yes it was a year ago. I repeat, a year ago. A year is the longest time that I didn’t see my family and best friends in person. A year is the longest time that I worked with the same company. A year is the longest time that I stay in a place without any travelling by Plane. When I woke up this morning, a year after I arrived here, there were way more new memories created that I need to share to the readers of this blog, well, if there are any, anyway. But yeah, it’s a 10 hours flight from Indonesia so of course there are way few significant difference between the cultures, the weather, the nature, and any other things that might be predictable or even can surprise you. So here we go again with the breakdown below.
1. Sunday Is The New Monday
The first thing that surprised me from the first day of work was the fact that the weekend in Bahrain, and all Middle Eastern countries are Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Friday. This happens because Friday is a big day of Moslem, it’s like the Moslem version of Christian’s Sunday or Jewish’ Saturday and there will be a prayer at a noon time which is a compulsory to be done by males at the mosque. Friday is also the day of hospitality, to connect and greet each other, so that’s why several stores are also closed on Friday. Saudi Arabia even used to have their weekend on Thursday and Friday but changed to the same day as Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, and other Arabs now. So yeah, my week starts on Sunday.
2. It Does Have Winter!
One of the most famous stereotypes of Middle East is of course that it’s all desert and hot. It might be my own mistake for not being thoughtful and stupidly thought that it would be a forever summer in Middle East, just like in Borneo where I’m from. But you know what, it’s completely wrong! It started in November and you can’t just go out without any long sleeve on. We have rainy season in Indonesia in the months that ended with “er” (September-December) but the cold is tolerable. Going out with tees and short in those months won’t be a fashion crime. I have way too many of winter clothes that I brought from Canada which could have been nice if only I brought here with me for the Middle Eastern winter. Well, lesson learned though, it’s just another excuse to shop more.
3. Multicultural (?)
You will be surprised of how plenty of locals that you can meet in the street. Seriously, when you eat in the restaurant, your waiters will be Indian or Filipino. most of other nations who live here are maybe Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and people from other neighboring countries like Persian or Lebanese. If you think that you’ll master Arabic pretty soon, you’re kinda wrong. Everyone speaks English. Bahrain is a really small Island with only 1.234.571 inhabitants and 54% of it are interestingly non Bahraini. As an Indonesian, people always mistakenly think that I’m Filipino which is sometimes really annoying. If I eat in the restaurant and the waiter is Filipino they will just talk in Filipino without any double checking. When I said I’m not Filipino they’ll always say: “Ohh, you look like Filipino.” I used to answer nicely like “Yeah, we’re both from South East Asia” or “You look like Indonesian too” but the more I got that, my answer would be like: “Well yeah, and Korean looks like Japanese, American looks like Canadian, and Kenyan looks like Nigerian.” which most of them might not really understand the sarcasm as well. Duh. I mean, it’s not a bad thing for them to think I’m not Indonesian. But yeah, I’m just too proud of my own Nation and wish that people should ask first, it will be much more polite. The other thing is that here, the word ‘oriental’ means related to Indian things, not like in any other place of the World where it refers to Chinese thing. Interesting, eh?
4. The New Vegas
Alcohol is forbidden in most of Arab countries but Bahrain took that as an advantage. They legalize alcohol, even with strict permission, so that it attracts people from neighbor countries. I call Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as the Arab Weekend where many people visit Bahrain especially from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait because they are the closest and to just have some fun. Going to the bar and club or just enjoying fancy restaurants with the best wines. These people spend lots of money for the entertainment and fashion. It’s no secret that Arabics are really wealthy. So yeah, this is kinda like The Vegas of Middle East.
5. Closet and Bidet
In western culture, people use closet and clean their genitalia and inner buttocks with toilet paper when they are done. It is also common in several countries in Europe to have bidet in their lavatory so that they can clean with water. In Indonesia, we used to have squat closet which had been changed to seat toilet in more modern houses. But all seat toilets are always accompanied by a water hose because we’re just not used to clean only with toilet paper and so that we don’t need bidet anymore. Here in Bahrain. I notice that in every single house that I’ve been, they have both seat toilet with water hose and bidet side by side. If they can clean with water from the hose, why do they need bidet anymore then? I just assume myself that it might be for washing their feet if we wanna take wudhu (washing your body parts before you pray in Islam) which I have the function to myself. So I wash other body parts in the sink and wash my feet in the bidet so that the floor will still be dry.
Those are pretty much some major highlights. Other than that are maybe just some minor details that most of us know already. But anyway, I want to mention also that the locals here are really kind and friendly. Despite of their own clashes with two religious groups, they treat expats and tourist, whether moslem or not really nicely. I have to raise two of my thumbs for their amazing hospitality.
Above all of these, this past year had been a really valuable learning and experience for me. As a person who love to see the new places and their cultures, Bahrain has contributed many things that I’m sure will be affecting my future socially and professionally. I’ve been to some cool places as well so why don’t we take a look of some pictures I’ve been in.