It wasn’t even twelve hours after I landed that I began to fully take it in! It felt like I had just said goodbye to everyone back home to embark on my twenty odd hours of travel that would take me to my first Middle East destination – Bahrain (البحرين).
We sat at a table outside a local restaurant eating various meat cuts, using only our right hands to grab at the onions and tear away pieces from the wrap, making each bite unique. Eating with your left hand is considered rude! Occasionally I would bite into the spicy peppers laid aside for us or dip my latest construction into the bowl of fresh hummus (حُمُّص) sitting between me and Nassar (ناصِر), but I mostly focused on making sure enough meat was packed into each piece.
Nassar knew the local restaurant owner, a Persian man who spoke a few words of English. I only knew a few phrases in Arabic; “hello, thank you, good” seemed to be about as much as I could get out at the time. Nassar did most of the talking (A.K.A. translating), explaining why I was here in Bahrain. He said it wasn’t common for Americans to venture much outside of Juffair, which is where the U.S. Navy base is located. After we finished, the owner took us inside his little hut to show me how things were prepared. I was so blessed, only six hours in and I was already having such a neat cultural experience.
Bahrain is home to a large number of expats, many of them associated with the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Half of a percent of Bahrain’s 1,324,000 population is American, while over fifty percent of the population comes from abroad, primarily Asia.
I was able to take away a lot from this little exchange: a few new words of Arabic, an idea of the local cuisine, and a glimpse of the workers’ lives in Bahrain. The conditions inside the hut weren’t great, being hot and crowded, but the smiling workers were friendly and receptive to my questions. Of course this was only a small glimpse of Bahraini life, but it was the first piece of the image that I have been stitching together since my arrival.
It is important to understand that when abroad, every experience is a new chance to learn. Even something as simple as going bowling allows you to see how the local people interact with one another and to better understand their customs. I’ve been to local stores, mosques, a huge water park, the homes of friends, Ramadan celebrations… the list goes on, but I know that there is still much to do and learning to be done!
I can confidently say that I’m having a great time here in Bahrain. I feel safe and the people have been such welcoming hosts. Everyone is ready to share their culture with you, especially when you are here to learn. Sometimes you even get to share pieces of your own culture with those around you, and that always feels great. All I know is that this idea of fully experiencing Bahrain has stuck with me since arrival… and so far I’m loving it.