Two Old Fools on a Camel (Bahrain)

map of Bahrainby Victoria Tweed

When I (blog author) was an ex-pat English teacher in Tokyo, I noticed that my fellow gaijin teachers could be divided into some broad categories:

  1. the lecherous loser (25%)
  2. the weird loner (5%) and
  3. the men and women who were just there to make money (70%).

 

  1. The lecherous loser inevitably goes to an Asian country because:
  • his repulsive grooming habits and/or complete lack of social skills mean that girls back home “look at him like he’s all covered with ants
  • Most of Asia still has a White fetish
  • he has an Asian fetish and
  • no matter how badly he treats Japanese women, the sad truth is that he’s still better than a Japanese man. (By better I mean less chauvinistic.)

2. The weird loner isn’t fixated on sex or Japanese women, but is still a square peg in a round hole. Nice enough, just a little…off. Like the guy who is obsessed with collecting Hi-Chew candy wrappers and always wants to buttonhole you at parties and drone on about it.

3. The normal working ex-pats come from many countries. At my NOVA school they were from Britain, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.

Manama City

Manama, the city where Vicki and Joe lived.

The Ex-Pats of Bahrain

Grandparents Victoria Tweed and her husband Joe are Brits living in Spain. They decide to go to Bahrain to fatten their bank accounts before retirement. They sign on to work at the American Specialist School (ASS). Yes, this is its real name. Before long the Tweeds encounter:

1. Hali-Barry, the lecherous loser. American. So nicknamed because of his awful halitosis; he refuses to eat mints or go to the dentist. Ick. Hali-Berry pesters the women teachers, and has a hide like a rhino when it comes to getting the message that “she’s just not that into you.”

2. Brent, the weird loner, also American. He is the Adrian Monk of Bahrain: refuses to shake hands with the students, accepts their papers and homework with the bare tips of his fingers, muttering “Dirty, nasty, dirty, nasty”. But Brent’s weirdest tick is his obsession with writing down people’s names. When he first meets Joe, he asks how he spells his name! J.O.E. (hello?) And he gets in trouble at the school because he spends 40 minutes out of each class asking the students their names and how to spell them, and writing that down. Even though he has the same pupils every day.

(It was a little surprising to me that the other teachers in the book just think he’s’ weird, rather than recognizing some of the obvious flags of OCD or autism, and trying to help.)

3. The normal teachers include Hawa, from Malaysia, a soft-spoken woman who doesn’t allow herself to be bullied by parents or the administration, several Lebanese, a Canadian high school principal, lots of Americans, and a kid from Boise, Idaho who is obsessed with floating down the Boise river on inter-tubes. (Believe me, this is perfectly normal in Idaho.)

The Students

StudentsVicki is teaching 6th Grade English (as a Foreign Language). As you might expect of spoiled rich kids who arrive at school in Mercedes. Austin Martins, and Porsches, the Bahraini students are unruly. But the little wildebeasts can be endearing too. One day they make a “new student” out of extra clothes and dub him “Gorg Washingtun”. Vicki plays along with the joke. Their essays were some of my favorite parts of the book. Straight A-student Fatima (a girl whose overbearing mother makes the teachers’ lives a living hell) always has correct essays. The boys in the class, well, not so much.

  • Fatima: There were various potted plants in the room.
  • Ahmed: My computer has a various.
  • ***** (virus)
  • Fatima: The seal was wet and sleek.
  • Cheeky Mohammed: My sister like to play hide and sleek.
  • ***** (seek)
  • Fatima: The little fairy waved her magic wand.
  • Mustafa Kemal: If you want to go across the water jump on a fairy.
  • ***** (ferry)
Queen Margrethe

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

Examples of the students’ bad behavior:

The high school students go on a field trip to a monument where a nicely-dressed older lady sees them and walks over to say a kind “Hello.” The students start mocking her rudely and the shocked and offended lady is whisked away by her people. Vicki later finds out that the lady was Queen Margrethe II of Denmark!

The kids, and even some of the school staff blatantly cheat–like the photocopy man who sells test questions–so it’s obvious that cheating in school is not frowned upon in their culture the way it is in the U.S.

And when Vicki makes her kids write to pen pals in Grade 6 in England, she herself gets a rude surprise:

“Mees,” said Mustafa Kamel. “Mees, give me another! This one says his father is a fisherman! He is poor, Mees!” 

I was shocked, but Mustafa Kamel wasn’t the only one to complain.

“Mees, this one’s father is a chef!”

“Mees! This one has no car!”

I reprimanded them severely. In fairness, it wasn’t their fault. They’d been raised to consider themselves superior to poorer people. They were also blatantly racist, and the very mention of India had them scornfully wobbling their heads and laughing.

Most Bahrainis have Indian servants. Ugh. And speaking of racism, the school tells the teachers they are not to mention Israel, ever. It has been omitted from the curriculum, and teachers must act as through it didn’t exist. In addition, the history teachers must never refer to the Holocaust, as the government does not recognize that it ever happened. One of the Lebanese teachers, Mohammed, is kicked out of the country during the Arab Spring, because he “looks like a terrorist”, although the American and British teachers are allowed to remain.

It’s too hot for kids to play outside, so they go the malls and spend money.

The Arab Spring

Demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout before they were attacked and the monument bulldozed

Demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout before they were attacked and the monument bulldozed

Vicki and Joe survive the bloodbath in Bahrain, which includes peaceful protesters gunned down, tear-gassed and beaten with police batons as they sleep at the Pearl Roundabout less than 2 miles from the Tweed’s home. They follow the Twitter posts claiming that the Bahraini army is targeting doctors and nurses, and preventing ambulances from reaching the Pearl Roundabout. They watch as Saudi Arabian tanks roll across the causeway (the Bahraini and Saudi royal families have intermarried). They watch as the Pearl monument is demolished and one by one, parents pull their children out of school and ex-pat teachers flee the country. Still, they stay.

Vicki and Joe learn that education for the islanders is free, as is health care, and there is no income tax. When riots erupt in Tunesia, the King hands out $2,600 to every Bahraini family out of his own coffers, hoping to stave off trouble. It doesn’t work.

Problems in Bahrain include:

  • The 70% Shia majority being ruled by the Sunni minority
  • All the good jobs being handed out by the King to his relatives and friends
  • Human rights abuses
  • Staged “we love the King” demonstrations by children at the ASS, filmed by a director and then presented on TV as “news”

Rating

This was a quick, easy and excellent read. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The only strange bit was that the author includes a lot of recipes…interesting, but they are all from a “Nadia” who is never mentioned in the book. Nadia comments on a lot of the recipes and one note says that she “won the MasterChef competition”. ???

Since this book is the 3rd Old Fools Book, I can only guess that Nadia was mentioned in the first two, which are about Spain.

Anyway, this is a book and I writer I would highly recommend. Five helpings of the eggplant dish Sheikh al-Mahshi, which “Nadia” says is known throughout the Arab World as “the King of the Stuffed Ones.”

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