sand in my teacup

The real story

Out of the mouths of very rich babes

I assigned one of my classes an examination of a Tiffany ad in our class on Culture and Advertising. This is not my strong class, the ambition of these students is not to attend medical school in the UK, but rather to stay within their tidy world and maintain the status quo. These students are extremely wealthy and the candor with which they see their place in the world is surprisingly refreshing as well as informative. Few would get this insight into the wealthy young Arab woman’s mind. The ad is, obviously for jewelry, but not just ordinary jewelry, more legendary and extraordinary. Their assignment was to write a commentary on the image and the coded messages within. Right, now that you have the context take a look at this:

“Women are always obsessed with their appearance and never cease looking for accessories that would show off their charm. Besides, wealthy women are usually afraid that their partners might betray them so they care a lot about their health and looks. Since men can’t wear much jewelry, they are likely to boast about their fortunes through what their wives or lovers might wear.”

And from another paper:

“The prices of Tiffany are very high and only well off people can pay for an item from the company. Those who belong to the middle and lower classes are preoccupied with other problems, which makes Tiffany an illusion or dream. In fact, the horizon of their dreams is to own a house or new car and they spend their life struggling to buy them. However, for the high class women bringing up children and cooking are not their tasks, they are the jobs of housemaids. Their only concern is to be the prettiest and the most attractive women at parties and receptions.”

Housemaids, keeping pretty, showing off your husband’s wealth, keeping him from other women, attending parties. This is like a key hole view into another world, more akin to 18th Paris and London than contemporary reality, certainly.

That, people, is a different perspective.


Animal Farm or Animal House?

I am feeling a trifle annoyed at work. I am being mean. But the end of the school year approaches and the charm is wearing thin so to keep sane I  have decided to see the annoying facets of life here as droll rather than despairing. But, side bar,  I do need to state that I have plenty of lovely complimentary things to say, open minded, bright and beautiful students who work hard, friends who play hard, fine meals and happy afternoons on the beach. But who wants to hear about all that? These are the real stories of things that add colour to my day.

I had always thought; oh bless my small and naive mind, that teachers were the ones in charge in a school. But now that the end of the year is nigh and the impetus to work is at a low time blip, it turns out that, like Animal Farm, the kids have taken over. They talk in class, turn up when and at what time they like, howl in the hallways if something funny happens, and drop water bottles on the ground instead of making use of the bins. Tissues are consumed at an alarming pace and are often left on the desks for someone else to pick up. It is a shame they do not bring their personal servants to school with them, maybe they could also do their homework?

But there are the fabulous few. The ones who do it all right, show respect, turn up on time with work done and done well. These are the ones who want to go to the UK to study Law, Medicine, Engineering or Business and they need high marks and a competitive edge to make it. Most days I try to focus on them, my Fabulous Few and ignore the rest. But then I hear a loud hoot and howl and see an empty plastic water bottle roll in front of me and I am all cross and lost again.

Recently to mark the end of their reign at the top of the school heap, the grade 12s decided to employ all out chaos during lunch break. They set off canisters of confetti, shot sticky plasticy streamers all over the walls and banged on the lockers like prisoners granted parole. Of course everyone stood by and watched and it was well into third perriod before order could be restored and classes resumed. I am all for a bit of fun and celebration but this was just chaos and mess. It took ages to sweep up and then, 1 hour later they decided as a fun prank to do it all over again. Animal House.

We think we rule the roost but the truth soon comes clear that we are nowhere near in charge. No one can fail. This is a secret and hushed, unspoken truth, never discussed. The upper years are divided into two groups. The IBs and the NON IBs. Those that are not taking any formal exams can still gain entrance into a sub par university by waving wads of cash, so where is the need to work? And if they do nothing and barely make an effort beyond 5 scribbled lines of their final exam, who am I to block their path way to unbridled wealth and success in tea shops and Lexus showrooms around the Gulf? No one can fail. I have one student who could barely string a sentence around a page and I gave her a 61%. A 60% is a pass.

Animal Farm.


Gaps in Knowledge: Parking

It was meant to be a quick trip to the mall. With no high street to stroll along, Saturday afternoon King’s Road style, the Mall has become our de facto High street, minus the post office, drycleaners and fresh air, add the glaring lights bouncing off white marble and the mandatory mall fever that afflicts after the 1.5 hour mark. I feel like I have hit suburban heaven where the teen girls wear high heels and higher hair and carry Louis Vuitton bags and the teen boys wear too tight Ferrari brand t-shirts. I am not one for the long drawn out afternoon spent trawling the shops for whatever hits my fancy but am more of a let’s get in, buy what we need and get out sort of gal.

So here we were in the car park. And once again I was struck by the huge tidal wave of impenetrable culture about to hit me with force. Now I don’t know what went wrong, but somewhere along the line a large proportion of the Bahraini population, and an even greater share of the Saudi weekender drivers, gleaned that it was okay to take two spaces instead of one. Maybe their cars were too big, perhaps they feared someone might scratch their beloved white Lexus, or maybe they were just in such a mad hurry to get in and buy the latest Gucci purse; I was always under the assumption that the white line indicated the space intended to park between, but it seems somehow the message had transmuted to park on. For there, in abundance, were cars in every style, brand, colour and shine parked on white lines, sometimes diagonally to add some flavour but always taking two spaces instead of one. In the past we called this “parking like a Manitoban” after seeing this for the first time in Winnipeg. Now it has a new name.  After half an hour I was ready to give up and go home, it was that difficult to find a space, but I was trapped in the car park going round and round like some frustrated blind hamster promised a shiny new wheel that just didn’t work. There were many spaces, in theory, but in reality they had all been taken over by the red eyed monster of selfishness, him born from the school of “I am more important than you and therefore I need two spaces instead of one.”

This is not a rare occurrence, in fact this red eyed monster can be seen in any of the many parking lots dotted all over the island. The other day, needing to leave work for a brief 30 minutes mid day I found I was trapped by a car that had parked directly behind me, effectively blocking me in. No key was left with security, and no, they did not use the over flow parking. Blocking me in was simply easier and ensured his/her comfort.   In frustration and wonder I mentioned this phenomenon to my class of seventeen year olds.  One of my wise and gentle students told me: Miss, it is Bahrain. That is our culture. What? Really? You are defining your culture as rude?

I think more to the point, he explained, it is that they know it is rude but they just don’t care. It is the same thing with the throwing of the rubbish outside of the car window. Had I see that too?

Yes I had, I replied, yes I had. He walked out of the classroom laughing, shaking his head in wonder at my innocence and naiveté.

Gaps in knowledge: Driving

There are times when I feel as though the roof is falling in, or the rope I am clutching has finally broken free and I am tumbling feet first, falling through the air frantically trying to grab onto ledges, rocks, books, faces, anything.

There are other times when I just have to laugh. For when I am facing a huge tidal wave of culture and difference that is larger and taller than I, where the chance to push and resist seems futile, the only choice is to laugh.

There are certain gaps in knowledge here. Knowing how to drive and how to park is one such gaping hole of knowledge. They ought to erect huge billboards shouting at people in a tidy bold font to “KEEP BACK” “MAINTAIN DISTANCE” “KEEP THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE BACK OF MY CAR” all over the highways. Would it change a thing? Probably not, people are too busy texting and driving to look up and read a billboard. It is common practice here to drive as close as possible without actually climbing onto the back of a car, in some grotesque form of mechanical doggy style, while driving at 120km and simultaneously texting, drinking tea and talking to your toddler who is bouncing around the front seat without a seatbelt. In Africa it was a family of four and their goat astride a Boda boda bike, the wife breastfeeding, the goat looking nonplussed. Here it is children rattling around the car, playing with furry dice, juggling the multiple iphones and Blackberries, adjusting the veil that covers the glossy hair, just so, and seeing how far up my but you can actually drive. Everyday there are multiple accidents, most of them minor and almost all are cases of rear ending. Often you will spot a woman, black Abaya flailing in the wind, scrabbling by the side of the car for one of the phones that got tossed to the ground when she got out to “apologize”.

I think when you go to Bahraini driving school- but why stop there, I hear the entire Gulf teaches this trick,-they tell you to drive super close to the person in front so they will shift lanes and let you pass. This will go on and on and on until you reach a traffic light. This is not necessarily a problem. Red lights don’t mean stop. They mean go faster. Didn’t you know? I think it is apt that the F1 is held here, (come hell, high-water or tear gas) since the entire population seems to be practicing for it all year long. There is a speed limit, but as far as I can see, and I see a lot of people taking over police cars, it must be suggestive.

Cars are little microcosms of oneself; whether it is you or your personal Sri Lankan driver hopping over lanes, cutting people off or changing lanes half way around a round-about (also known as a Chicane) you are cocooned in your own little world, often with internet, DVD players, McDonalds and makeup mirrors without a care or thought for anyone else in the world.

It’s a little desert island all to yourself.