Time was a scarce commodity in San Diego: long days at the office – at times before sunrise, returning late, and spending early evenings at home reviewing work correspondence and contracts. Professional advancement took precedence over personal matters, family, postgraduate studies, writing, reading, health... etc.
Moving to Bahrain in November 2005 put things back on the right track. But not before treading the rutted travails of adjusting to the new life.
In the MBA Global Management programme, we studied the five steps to adapting to life as an expatriate. My first three stages for a transition to the new life in Bahrain folded into one. I had no honeymoon illusion; the cultural shock was insignificant for someone with an Arab and Muslim background, and the initial adjustment was no different than changing a job.
Mental Isolation or stage four of adaptation was, however, the most profound. Having no social life in Awali, I was semi-recluse. Other than work, I had a few acquaintances and almost no friends. The free time I longed for in the US had turned into a curse in Bahrain. Leisure time became physically draining and mentally taxing.
In the Global Management programme, we learned that in order to achieve emotional equanimity, expats must establish a new routine in their host country and keep busy to avoid cogitating over negative thoughts. In my case, reading and writing were an escape to salve the gruelling mental ordeal to pass stage four of an expat living.
Nevertheless, the serendipity of time came to be a blessing in disguise as I experimented into the idea of writing a book. Having had no clue where it would lead me to or how it would end up, I adopted the pantser writing style interweaving together a maze of ideas. The project grew eventually into a historical biography. Two years later, I signed my first book contract with a UK publisher.
Along with the book, I completed the PhD thesis and received Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership and Executive Management in 2011. About the same time, I wrote a weekly column in the Gulf Daily News. Before Bahrain, I wrote intermittently in the San Diego main newspaper but never had the time or energy to write on a regular basis. Looking back, had I not come to Bahrain, I’d have never dreamt of having the time to write books (two published) and could have given up on my PhD. These two pinnacle professional fulfilments made possible in Bahrain.
In the meantime and while my wife and children established their social network, writing had inadvertently reinforced my solitary lifestyle.
Being middle of the way introvert and throughout my early life, I have almost always felt like an outsider. Maybe because I lived the first eighteen years of my early life in a Palestinian refugee camp, or it could be because of the social and the political fabric of Lebanon, I couldn’t help but think of myself as a person who was not part of anything larger than the camp.
I discussed those feelings at length in my book Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America where I wrote in part: “I always felt like an outsider, apart from when I was inside the camp . . . Whether those feelings of being unwanted reﬂected the reality of life or were just part of a psychosomatic self-torment, these beliefs were true to me and have shaped my own perception toward life outside the camp.”
Therefore for a person who is admittedly an introvert, the hermit life or stage four to adapting to life as an expatriate in Bahrain was the toughest and longest. It took more time, and a friend with tenacity and resolve to lead me into the fifth and final stage.
Next: Bahrain acceptance and integration