Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Dearest Friends,

I'm not kidding, we are!  We're off on a grand adventure -- a riverboat cruise through southern France.  The only bad part will be missing my blog friends terribly.  See you at the end of the month!


Summer was getting off to a great start!  Too bad it had to go and take a nose dive.

Good news first.  We had visitors from SSFY!  The first to show up was FM, one of the Irish engineers that we liked so much.  He had been transferred here to Bahrain, so when we heard he was arriving, we jumped at the chance to be his welcome wagon.  We gave him the grand tour of Manama, took him to a baseball game, and then to a barbecue dinner and dance at the American Club.

The next to show up was a bit of a surprise.  Remember the Three Musketeers?  The guys John started work with back in Houston, who then all went to SSFY with him?  S and A were the ones who caught malaria, and BW is the one who's now-ex-wife refused to step foot in Indonesia.  BW had not been transferred to to Bahrain, but perhaps he was scoping it out as a possibility, for he decided to stop in for a few days on his way back from a business trip to Tehran.

The biggest shockeroo came when this fellow showed up on our doorstep, but he wasn't a friend from Indonesia.  He was my sister's on-again-off-again Dallas architect boyfriend, for about fifteen years.  As it turned out, his firm had sent him to oversee the construction of some housing they had designed in Saudi Arabia, but there were some issues with his visa, so he had to leave the country for a few days.  This was before the causeway between Saudi and Bahrain had been completed, so to get from one to the other you boarded an airplane, went straight up in the air, then pretty much came straight back down.  Anyhoo, he was definitely a surprise!

On May 31st my friend BD gave me a lift to the beauty salon at the Gulf Hotel, so I could have my hair done.  That evening John and I got all gussied up (not in that outfit though -- I'd have been stoned if I'd gone out with that much skin showing!), then went to the Hilton hotel to dine on Chateaubriand and visit with the same waiters we'd dined with on our honeymoon in Singapore.  It was our first anniversary!  I couldn't believe we'd already been married a whole year.  I guess it's true, time does fly when you're having fun.  John's gift to me was that beautiful brass lamp for our entryway.  If that weren't enough, on June 2nd we got word that our air shipment was due to arrive in about five days, and all the furniture we ordered would be here around July 1st!  Happy dance, happy dance!

Two days after the shipment was estimated to arrive, John came home and dropped a bombshell.  The ship with our goods never showed up.  That meant another month of waiting, at the very least (unless we found out it had sunk somewhere).  According to my diary, I cried all through lunch.  And, oh yeah, our car was in the shop again.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Some of my very favorite photos of Bahrain are these that John took of an old palace, or what's left of it, that had belonged to the Sheikh's great grandfather.  Sometimes, if I stare at them long enough, they actually come to life for me, and I can imagine just what it might have been like to be a woman living there, in the late 1800s.  I'm usually pretty relieved when I snap back to my senses!

The Courtyard at the Center of the Palace
Looking Into the Courtyard

Part of the Living Quarters

Friday, May 13, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Here's one quick paragraph about politics in Bahrain, as it might help you to have a little background information.  In the 70's, when we were there, the ruler was Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa -- a very interesting fellow.  He came to power in 1961, upon the death of his father.  In 1970 he formed a twelve-member Council of State, to oversee the many governmental departments that he and his father had created.  That same year, after the British government announced its intention to withdraw its military forces from the Gulf, many emirs from the southern Gulf states got together to try and form some type of federation, but you know what that's like, trying to get everyone to agree on anything!  Finally the Bahraini leader gave up, and instead issued a Declaration of Independence, after which Bahrain was admitted to the Arab League and the United Nations.  The Council of State became a Cabinet, and its president became Prime Minister.  In '73, when the newly elected members of the new National Assembly met for the first time (only men had been allowed to vote), Bahrain became a democratic, constitutional Emirate.

Of course, I didn't really know much about politics back then, and as far as I could tell, it still looked like the Sheikh pretty much ran the whole shebang...well, him and his huuuuge extended family.  But maybe I was wrong.  Remember that fancy white building with the gold dome that I posted a picture of earlier?  The one I thought might have been our hotel, or possibly a mosque or palace?  Well, as it turns out, it was the Guest Palace, built in 1954,  and it was just used for state banquets and the accommodation of visiting heads of state and other notables.

Here is the Sheikh's Palace, out at West Rifaa.  It was built in 1932 by his father.  As with many of the British monarchs of old, it is a longstanding tradition that every Bahraini has the right of access to the Emir, so here at his palace he held open receptions every other day, which anyone with a petition to submit or a problem to be solved could attend.

I'm sure he did a lot of good, and cared deeply about his country and people, but there was one thing that I found very odd.  You see, the Sheikh had this beach, a private beach that no Bahrainis were allowed to use, only expats.  I thought it was pretty cool at first.  It was the nicest beach around, with lounge chairs and umbrellas, and periodically little waiters would come around and serve us Pepsi and a snack.  But then I started hearing stories about how the Sheikh was sitting somewhere above us, observing all the expats in their skimpy swimsuits, and when he saw someone "interesting", he would send a messenger down to invite them to one of his special private parties.  If he found you to be really, really interesting, you might come away from this party with an extra special, extravagant gift.  I found that hard to believe.  Of course, back then I was a total innocent, and probably would not have believed anyone who tried to tell me what was going on behind the scenes with many of our American presidents and senators, either.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The Shop Around the Corner
Dearest Friends,

One day when I was out exploring my neighborhood, I came across an interesting shop called Beaute'.  Actually, it was two shops in one, with a connecting door.  On the left was a little boutique that carried lady's fashions from Paris -- tres chic!  On the right was a "salon de coiffure."  The clothing was well beyond my budget, but what grabbed my attention was the sign in the window -- the one that said the owner was looking for an assistant!  She wanted someone with experience in fashion retail, who could speak English, handle correspondence (some of which would be in French), do a little bookeeping, and who could manage the shop when she was away on buying trips.  How perfect was that?  The job just screamed Becky Thomas Lane!  I had a degree in fashion merchandising, I'd worked in retail since I was sixteen, and I had two years of high school French!  I was born for this job.  Well, there was that pesky little business of not being able to type, but I was sure that, once she met me, the owner would decide that wasn't really important.  Get this!  Not only was it in walking distance of my house, but also, most of the time I'd only be working until noon, and I would be entitled to free services at the salon!  I jotted down all the pertinent information and ran straight home.  The next afternoon my friend BD helped me pull together a resume', and I sent it straight off.  I never even got a call from them.

After getting similar results from most every job I applied for, I finally faced the facts.  If I wanted to work, I would have to learn to type.  So, I went in search of a typing school.  I found one, too, but it sure wasn't what I was expecting!  I fully anticipated being the only American there, and I wouldn't have been surprised if I were the oldest woman there, but it never, ever occurred to me that I might be just about the only woman there!  Of course, it made sense when you thought about it.  If Bahraini men wouldn't even take their wives and daughters to a restaurant or movie theatre with them, they sure as heck weren't going to send them off to work in an office full of men, now were they?

Are any of you familiar with Alexander McCall Smith's delightful series, The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency?  Well, if you are, and you have read The Kalahari Typing School For Men, you have a pretty good idea of what my classes were like.  Every afternoon, for about two months, I'd catch a ride downtown to class, and John would pick me up on his way home from work.  After a week or two, we even went out and bought a typewriter, so I could practice at home each morning.  I couldn't bear the thought of any of those cocky young guys passing me up in class!  If only I had listened to my mother, when she begged me to take typing in high school.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Some of the Arab bread from our corner baker, which we quickly became addicted to.
Dearest Friends,

My life was so very different here, compared to what it was in Indonesia, that I don't really know where to start or how to describe it.  In Indonesia I felt isolated...insulated.  My days were very routine, and very much separated from the world around me.  Most of the time there I had felt like I was just watching, waiting.  Now it felt more like I was living.  Though the scenery was awfully bleak and desolate here, when compared to our awe-inspiring surroundings in Indonesia, I felt more a part of what was going on around me, like I finally had some say over my life.  I actually had some choices to make, instead of having them all made for me.

Funny, but until I pulled these photos out, I had forgotten that my kitchen here in Wimberley was not my first black,white, and yellow kitchen!  I covered those counters myself, with something like black vinyl contact paper -- and no, I never sipped Jack while I cooked, or at any other time!
Most of all, I loved being the queen of my own castle, with no maid, and no bevy of older, more experienced neighbors (or relatives) telling me what to do and how to do it.  I still wasn't a very good cook, but I was becoming more adventurous, more willing to try new things.  I tried making my own sourdough starter, and attempted making bread, pancakes and biscuits from it, all of which were flops, but I had fun anyway.  Best of all, when dinner was a disaster, or when I just didn't feel like cooking, we finally had some other options!

One of the more exotic places we discovered was called Omar Khayyam, and served middle eastern food.  They had this one dessert which had a tissue-paper-thin sheet of real gold leaf draped over it, and you were actually supposed to eat it!  At the opposite end of the spectrum was a British fast-food joint called Wimpy's (after that character from Popeye who was always trying to borrow money for a hamburger).  We were quite disappointed to discover that their burgers really sucked (think White Castle), but they had a counter with stools, and it was a fun place to go for ice cream or a coke.

After a while we joined the American Club -- kinda like a country club, without the pool or golf course -- and that became our go-to hangout.  They did a pretty decent hamburger, and hosted Mexican Night or Barbecue Night on a regular basis.  One of the first things I signed up for was their Gourmet Cooking Club, where a different member did a little cooking demonstration each week.  Not really gourmet, but fun.  I enjoyed being able to hang out with women who loved to cook and who's hubbies didn't all work for the same company.  Since they weren't all Americans, as it turned out, and had lived all over the world, I began to amass a very international recipe collection.

The best thing about the American Club, other than their burgers and free lending library, was that it was within walking distance of our house, which meant we could always get there -- even when our car was in the shop!

Friday, May 6, 2011


Dearest Friends,

As soon as we moved into our apartment, maybe even before, we contacted the phone company and got put on the waiting list for a phone.  Eighteen months later, when we left Bahrain for good, we were still waiting!  That meant that, each week when I scanned the Gulf Mirror for job possibilites, I had to take down all the contact information, then go to work with John to make the calls. 

We did eventually get a couple of window unit air conditioners, the tiny washing machine, and a little TV, but none of it was quite what we had had been used to back in the states -- especially the TV.  Well, the TV itself was alright, if you didn't mind rabbit ears.  It was the programming that was hard to get used to.  First of all, it was mostly in Arabic, of course.  I tried to watch a bit each day, to help me learn the language.  I wasn't very successful though, and couldn't decide whether Arabic was really, really difficult, or I was really, really dense when it came to foreign languages.  Probably the latter.

Occasionally the odd American show would appear.  I remember watching Mission Impossible now and then, and an old Shirley Temple movie.  Mostly though, we watched BBC, and wished we could get subtitles for that as well!  Eventually we developed an ear for their "dialect" of English, and that's when we really began to appreciate British sitcoms.  Several of the ones we enjoyed over there were later snatched up and remade for Americans.  For instance, our favorite -- Man About the House -- inspired the American show Three's Company, with John Ritter.  We both liked the British version best.  There was another channel that showed a lot of Bollywood-type extravaganzas, which John has always been quite fond of.  Regardless of the station or language, however, one thing was universal.  When it was time for the adhan -- the Islamic call to prayer -- whatever you were watching would suddenly disappear, and get replaced by the image of a mosque or minaret, and the warbling sound of the muezzin's voice.  Since the program you were watching did not stop running, you were completely lost when it finally came back on.

At first that was a major irritation, but later I came to appreciate it.  Despite having gone without TV the whole time we were in Indonesia, and having found many other ways to fill our time, it hadn't taken long to fall back into old TV-vegetative habits.  The call to prayer was like a wake-up call each evening.  A chance to ask ourselves, is this really how we want to spend our time?  Wouldn't it be more fun to just read together, or develop some film, or wander around the neighborhood taking night shots?  Or maybe we'll just wander over to our neighbor's little shop to get a soda and say hi, then sit on our stoop and see who comes by?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Miss Becky With Kids at Isa Town
Our first month in Bahrain was a whirlwind of activity, but once I'd cleaned everything I could clean, painted everything I could paint, sewn curtains for every room in the house, and we'd finally broken down and paid the exorbitant price they wanted for a tiny Barbie doll clothes-washer (which we had to connect to our bathroom sink with a hose to fill, then put the hose down a drain in the floor to empty), I began to wonder what I was going to do with all my free time, while John was away at work.  I hoped eventually to find a job, but wasn't sure how much demand there would be for a girl with a degree in fashion merchandising, who couldn't even type.  The only wives I'd met so far who had jobs were all working as secretaries!  Well, except for BD.

Mr. S and BD

BD was a very interesting person.  For one thing, she was the first person I'd ever met who kept her maiden name after she married, and the only person I've ever met (other than her husband S., of course) who actually got married over the telephone!  There was even an article about it in the newspaper.  She was one smart cookie.  A lot of the guys we know got real lonesome, real fast, after going overseas, so they borrowed money from the company to pay for the $1,500 one-way plane ticket to bring their fiancees over (a huge amount of money back in the 70's, but B&R only paid the fare for wives, not girlfriends!), got married there in Bahrain, then spent the next fifteen months paying off that plane ticket.  BD did some research though, found out it would be legal to marry over the phone if there were a clergy person and witnesses present, then let B&R foot the bill for her ticket over!

Anyhoo, BD had a degree in psychology, and was working at the Bahraini mental hospital.  She had lots of ideas about how I could spend my spare time, one of which was to volunteer at a home for crippled children out in Isa Town -- not a great fit for someone who will slam a book shut if there's even a hint that something bad is going to happen to a child, but I didn't really know that yet, and I figured it might be fun to go check it out and do a little exploring.  I was wrong.  It was one of the most depressing days in memory.  Isa Town alone was bad enough -- Bahrain's monochromatic version of a government housing project -- but the children's home was a real heartbreaker, and I knew I wasn't the right woman for the job.

On an interesting side note, I decided to do a little research yesterday.  First I looked up Isa Town in that old book about Bahrain that P & T loaned us.  It said Isa Town was a "social experiment", intended to alleviate the shortage of good quality, low-priced housing for Bahraini families.  In hopes that it would eventually become more than "just a bedroom community", it was equipped with a large sports stadium, an olympic-sized pool, a movie theatre, a public library, and a technical college.  Next I googled "Isa Town, Bahrain" on-line, to see how this social experiment turned out some thirty or forty years later.  Know what I found?  Main Street U.S.A., complete with luxury villas, and a street lined with everything from MacDonalds to Fuddruckers!  My, my, my, how things have changed.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Miss Becky and Mr. J at a Ballgame
Dearest Friends,

One of the biggest differences between our life in Indonesia and our life in Bahrain was the amount of time we had together.  John now had one and a half days off each week, and it was amazing what a difference that made!  We could take care of errands and chores on Thursday afternoons, or I could take John to work and keep the car if I needed to grocery shop, which left all day Friday to do fun stuff together, such as exploring the ruins of an old Portugese fort, or attending the major social event of the week -- B&R baseball games.

The Tighty Whities VS The Bare-Chested Cut-Offs
The other big change was in how each individual day flowed.  Bahrain operated on the siesta system.  Shops were open for about four hours each morning, closed from noon until three or four in the afternoon, then would open up for another four hours or so each evening.  Once we finally got our car back from it's first long stay at the repair shop, John began coming home for lunch each day (but not a siesta), and at some point we started making that our main meal of the day.  When he got home in the evening we'd have a quick, light supper, and then we could head to town if we wished.

The Main Street Leading Into the Souk
We loved exploring the hundreds of little shops, and all the winding side-streets, down in the souk.  One street would sell nothing but gold and jewelry, another was for copper and brass antiques, and a third might have all the fabric stalls.  We'd wander around in search of an ironing board, or some kitchen canisters, or a garden hose, or an area rug for the living room, and it was almost like being on a treasure hunt!  The trick was to find your way out again.  Thank goodness John has a much better sense of direction than I do.

A Side-Street in the Souk
I guess we  eventually stumbled across some blocks to set our bed frame on, for about three weeks after moving in, I wrote that I had spent most of the day draining all the water from our mattress, "fixing up the waterbed", then refilling the mattress again.  So glad we hadn't been sleeping on the floor that entire time!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Dearest Friends,

We'd been in Bahrain for about two weeks when John finally came home with a letter from one of our friends back at SSFY (the fab yard in Indonesia) -- this one from Young S.  I was ecstatic to finally be hearing from one of them, but when I noticed a strange look on John's face, I suspected the news wasn't all good. When he insisted that I sit down, before handing the letter over, I realized it had to be terrible.

Apparently SSFY had held a big going-away party for someone out at the Anyer Beach restaurant, which usually meant lots of drinking.  Then again, the road back to Cilegon was so twisty and dark at night, there being no streetlights of any kind, alcohol may have had nothing to do with it at all.  It may well have been that I & I just never even saw the big truck that was pulled off to the side of the road, until they came around a corner and plowed right into it.  He did manage to get her out of the wreckage and into a passing minibus, which took them to the nearest expat's home, but without paramedics, hospitals, or even a decent doctor anywhere nearby, there wasn't much they could do for her.

I wish the letter had ended with that, for I could have come to grips with the fact that she died.  Tragic accidents are a part of life.  Unfortunately, Young S. felt the need to share a bit more with us.  She went on to say that I's final words were on the order of "Didn't I tell you...your driving would be the death of me?"  Of course, we had no way of knowing if that was even true, but just the possibility of that -- that she may have lain such a burden of guilt upon someone she supposedly loved, knowing that it may well have wrecked him for life, and consequently, their children as well?  Well, that I have never been able to deal with, and it's one of only two things that still haunt me to this day.  The second would occur some fifteen years later, just after our return to Indonesia.