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Monday, February 28, 2011

Across the Pond

Having been blessed to have visited and lived in several different countries, I thought that I would share with you all some of the things I have seen. Actually living amongst the people and being able to blend in allows me to not only see the world through their eyes but to experience it as well. When you're a tourist you only get to really see the surface, people won't treat you the same as if they think you're "one of them". So each Monday I will share with you a story or event that I was privileged to be made a part of along with explanations of things that you might not otherwise ever know. I hope you enjoy. If you have questions or would like to suggest a topic, then please feel free to ask or suggest in the comments section. If you have also been to some place exotic or just want to share your neck of the woods, then just grab the button and leave me a link to your post in the comments section so I can visit your world too. Thanks for stopping by.

I am from a small redneck town. Do you remember the movie Deliverance? While it wasn't filmed in my town, it very well could have been. I remember in 1995, when the first traffic light was installed at the town square by the courthouse. It didn't work. It was still just a four way stop. The traffic lights just hung there swaying in the breeze. They were like really big Christmas lights. At least that is what all of us kids called them. I didn't live near the town. I lived way out in the boonies. My closest neighbor was about a mile and half away. The streets didn't have names. If you needed directions, they would go something like this, 'You remember the Johnson place. The one with blue barn and brown dog. Dumb ass dog humped everything in sight. Yea Yea that's the place. Just turn right on the gravel just past it. Can't miss it. If you reach the Smith's, you know they have that fishing pond in the back yard. Yea, well then you've gone too far".

Jeff Foxworthy summed up our family very well. I should look him up maybe we are related. We had 8 acres of land. Our house sat on one side and my uncle's on the other side. On his front porch was a freezer, toilet (unused thankfully), a mounted deer head, and Christmas lights that were stayed up throughout the year regardless if it was December or July.

At this point you're probably wondering why I am telling you about my life with Bubba. I just want to try to give you an understanding of how unusual it is for a person like me to get out and see the big city. 99% of the people where I am from never leave. Their children never leave. It's like a bubble has surrounded the town and its inhabitants can't break free, but I did.

The first place I visited was Bahrain. It was amazing. A tiny island, but filled with excitement. So many things were the same, but so different. The first night I was there my friends asked if I wanted KFC. I looked at them in shock. "You have KFC here?" After they stopped laughing at me, they said yes and McDonalds too.

Fast food is very different in the Middle East. You see most Arabs are lazy. I said it. It's the truth. They don't want to drive to the fast food place. In order for the fast food places to make money they have to deliver. Every fast food place. KFC, McDonalds, Hardee's, Burger King. You name it they deliver. That was just the coolest thing in the world to me. It was definitely something that was not in the tourist guides.

(google images)

This is not the KFC delivery guy, but all of the delivery guys drove these type motorcycles. Only the uniform was different.  Can you imagine if the Domino's pizza guy was dressed in bow tie and vest and when he came to your door he said things like "please, thank you, and ma'am"? 

If any of you are from the south, you may remember a restuarant called Ponderosa. When I was little that was my absolute favorite place to eat. I very rarely got to eat there, but oh how I loved it. Whenever we went there, I would get the buffet and the only thing I would eat off the buffet was their fried chicken livers covered in Thousand Island dressing. Ponderosa went out of business when I was about 11. When I saw this Ponderosa I was ecstatic. We had to go there. They did not serve chicken livers. I was devistated and we never went back.

(google images)

 Another thing they don't tell the tourists is how to buy anything. Especially in the souks. Souks are kinda like farmers markets. They are open air stalls, but they don't just sell fruits and veggies. They sell anything and everything you might find in the mall. There are clothing stalls, shoe stalls, appliance stalls, movie stalls, pots and pans stalls. You name it and someone there will be selling it. If you're a foreigner, you will pay 3x the amount that locals pay. I was very lucky. I looked like a local, and as long as I didn't get into a long discussion I sounded like a local. While I am not fluent, I can speak conversational Arabic. At first I tried to hide the fact I was a "foreigner", but after going a few times I realized that while being a "foreigner" for others would make them pay double, it would get me half off. The locals were so amazed that not only did I look Arab, but that I could speak Arabic. Needless to say after I realized this I may or may not have swindled a few stall owners, and I may or may not have gone shopping with my American friends and have them point out to me what they wanted. Then I would go buy it and get it for them half off. This may or may not have happened on a weekly basis for the three years I lived there.

I lived in a small village called Jid Ali. I would walk to the local cold store. Walk to the masjid. Every night I would go up on the roof and look out over the water. The bridge in the picture above was barely visible from my flat, but if I squinted I could see it. Every night I would stand there watching the cars go by. Listening to the sounds of TV's blaring from the apartments below. Kids who would be laughing one minute then fighting the next. A silent observer watching the world from above.

I worked in Manama, the capital city. In recent days it's been quite sobering for me to see the picture above posted in the newspapers and on the televisions. I drove past it every day for three years on my way to work. On the news they talk about protests breaking out, but these protests have been going on for years. Every Friday night during the three years I was there, a protest occurred. Being the manager, I worked every Friday night. Even though the protests were occurring down the street from us, the smell of tear gas would seep into the mall. At times it would be so strong our eyes would burn and start to tear up.

My best friend also worked for the same company as me but in a different shop. On the nights it was very bad the girls from my shop and me would wait on her and her girls to close up. Then the six of us would walk to our cars together. Making sure everyone got there safely. One by one we would pull out of the parking lot. Each phoning the other when we reached home. Only to repeat the same thing the following week.

At first I was terrified, but after awhile it became routine. No different than going to the grocery store.

Since this was the first post in my "Across the Pond" series, I thought I would just give a synopsis of my time in Bahrain. In the future I will share individual events. As well as stories from my visits to Qatar, Dubai, UK, and Pakistan. I hope you all will join me as I take you for a walk across the pond.

I also wrote a brief article about what it was like living through the protests you can read it HERE


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