At a young age, I had fond memories of a person named Atta and his family visiting our neighbours in the summer. I learned that Atta was a teacher in Bahrain and spent the holiday visiting with his brother, and possibly seeking cooler temperatures along the Mediterranean shores in north Lebanon. Like migrant birds, they arrived on time every year.
Just to be clear, the place they visited was a Palestinian refugee camp. A cluster of crowded hovels in north Lebanon – happened to be on the beach – not a summer resort along some exclusive sandy shorelines.
Atta’s children dressed nicer than us, had more spending money and flew in a plane. My best child friend, Ahmad, envied and resented them. I too was jealous of children my age who rode planes when I couldn’t afford a bus tariff. Instead of bitterness, however, I became a believer of my father’s admonishment that school was my only opportunity to grow up to be like them and ride planes.
Seven years later, my plane ride was more than four times longer than their flight. Ambitions and school took me more than 11,000km to America.
In the US, I had my second encounter with people from Bahrain. This time, they were Bahraini students attending college in Houston, Texas. Soon each of us went our separate ways. Some, like me, moved from Houston, and others transferred to new universities.
Running forward 30 years, following an initial phone interview, Bapco invited me for a personal interview in July 2005, I accepted a job offer and moved to Bahrain at the end of 2005.
About two years later, I sought and reconnected with one of those Bahraini students. Mohamed was now a high level government official – later an executive in the private business. Another was a high-ranking government official in banking, and I found out that the other two were either running a private engineering firm or were with the UN.
Unlike most expats, seeking a job was not an important factor for coming to Bahrain. I had a very successful career in San Diego where my pretax salary was almost twice for the job I accepted with Bapco. In a reverse role however, and unlike most expatriates who came to a foreign culture, I wanted to reconnect with a familiar culture.
More importantly, I wanted my children to experience life being part of a cultural majority. Individuals subjected to multi-cultural experiences in their life would most likely have a better appreciation of the world around them. Growing up in the US is like living in a desolate island insulated from the rest of the world. In a fully self-sustained realm, most Americans live their entire lives knowing very little about the world, and have almost no connections with other cultures.
What makes it even more deplorable, Hollywood depicts stereotypical images of the other, thus, amplifying the sense of ignorance among an already ill-informed public who knows of other cultures from movies, learn about religions from bigoted religious talk shows, and world politics from controlled corporate media.
Further to experiencing the culture, I hoped my children would immerse in a country where Arabic is the main language and master the language of their parents. Alas, with the ease of communicating in English in Bahrain, there was little incentive for them to learn Arabic. They possibly had known more Arabic lexicons in San Diego than Awali, thus, our first regret.
Another major motivation for moving to Bahrain was to be close to my elderly parents in Lebanon. Looking back, the last 13 years were a blessing as I was able to spend times, albeit in short intervals, with my mother who passed away eight years ago and my father who departed us five months ago. Being closer to my parents was the greatest fulfilment in my life. Living in Bahrain made it possible.
- Next: Academia, becoming a writer and breaking my introvert shell.