Reposted from here.
This is where I will hie off to on the 12th of August. Manama, Bahrain. I don’t know about you guys but there is just something so seductive about the way the vowels roll around my tongue whenever I’d enunciate the word Mah.Na.Mah. This will be my first time to go to any part of the Middle East region. The closest I have ever gone to the ME were the three times that we had a layover in Dubai Airport before taking our connecting flights to Turkey (2006), Kenya (2007), and Uganda (2008). And out of those three times, we only managed to get out of the airport once – just to stay for a few hours in a hotel close to the airport, in order to get some shut-eye, before we board the next flight that will take us back home to Manila.
My upcoming trip, as in most of the trips I’ve made in the last four years, is purely business. We have a three-day training event in Manama scheduled starting on the 13th. This is one of the reasons I love working for present company. My bosses and the people I work with are such fun, cool people with their hearts in the right place. I don’t think I have ever felt more at home in any company – except for that brief moment that I was working for ProSolutions (a PR company) sharing office space with a motley group of happy people such as Dinzo, Sandra, Lando, and Jay-Anne to name a few.
As customary before I go to a place I’ve never been, I looked up Bahrain on wiki to familiarize myself a lil’ bit with the country, its cultural uniqueness and the climate especially. Climate because I sometimes end up packing the wrong sorts of clothes. Like that one time we were in Jakarta. I remember Celia and I going to a press conference wearing low-cut dresses that show some generous cleavage. Obviously, it got way over our heads that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country and people, especially women, are very traditional when it comes to religious beliefs and, uhrmm, way of dressing. So the two of us were asked, but very politely, to change into something less revealing. I know, I know, that was pretty embarrassing and that’s how I have come to embrace the habit of Wikipedia. There was also this one time when I travelled to India alone. This was back in 2007. I did my usual weather/climate check and I knew it was going to be very humid when I touch down in New Delhi. So what was I wearing on the day of my departure from Manila? A very tight white tanktop, denim jeans and flip-flops – an ensemble which I thought was cool and comfortable UNTIL I reached the hotel and saw Srikanth looking all panicky, worried, and nearly throwing a fit when he saw what I was wearing. He said though Delhi is now somewhat liberated/progressive, it is still ill-advised for women to walk around in clothes that reveal too much skin especially in the dead of night. In fact, he said, teenage pregnancy and rape cases are on the rise and that’s something I should bear in mind. So yah, those two embarrassing gaffes have surely taught me to be very mindful of other people’s cultural orientation. I guess I have been too entrenched in the urban lifestyle of my native Manila where people are at liberty to wear any fabric, cut, or make of dresses outside the comforts of their homes that I often make the mistake of thinking other places are somewhat extensions of it. Or I just feel generally comfortable in my own skin – almost to a fault sometimes.
But this time, I am going to be extra cautious with my packing. Even though Bahrain is considered an open city, which means it‘s not as strict as the rest of the Middle East countries, I still think proper dressing ought to be observed. And that’s crucial because as my friends (from and outside of work) often tell me, ‘proper dressing’ is a concept unknown to me. Not that I’m a fashion roadkill or anything like that, I’M NOT. In fact, I take my fashion very seriously. And there lies the problem…because I take it oh-so-seriously, I sometimes forget that the workplace is not exactly the best place to showcase my fashion experiments. Ugh. It’s a good thing that we are required to wear our uniforms for the entire duration of the event because now I won’t have to worry about scrounging for normal-sleeved tops and dresses, which I don’t have a lot of in my closet.
So ya, barring the usual packing nightmares, I’m excited to make this trip and make the most of my opportunity to bask in the cultural distinctiveness of Bahrain…
14 August 2009. It is the second day of our event and though I’ve been here in Bahrain since the 12th, my body is still not properly acclimatized. I am a tropical baby and I thrive in humidity but, duuuuude, not when we’re talking 45 degree-temperature day in and out. Don’t get me wrong. I like Bahrain. And the fact that it is among the few forward-thinking Middle East countries gives me some comfort that I will no sooner get flagged for wearing sleeveless top and speaking a bit loudly, among others. It was also nice to see a lot of Filipinos around which makes us feel somewhat at home. But the momentary feeling of pride of being among fellow countrymen was completely obliterated when we chanced upon some hooker-type of Pinays clinging on to Caucasians of various shapes and sizes in a bar and you know that they are not in any way romantically involved. You know just by looking at them and observing their body language that money is exchanged at some point. And it’s a horrible feeling being in the same room with them especially when the people you’re with make remarks such as ‘hey, they’re Filipinas just like you aren’t they?’ and all you can do is either (a) shrug and make a caustic retort like ‘Yeah, so what? We’re not from the same mother’, or (b) pretend you didn’t hear the inquiry and just focus on your BHD 2.00 bottle of beer which in itself is so expensive you just have to swig it down to the very last drop. I know it’s rather unfair to look down on women who peddle their wares for a few more buck. They are, after all, just being a ‘lil bit more creative in ways of earning more money to put food on the family table back home. But sometimes you can’t help but feel a good amount of disdain for them especially when people make disparaging sweeping generalizations. So I’m sorry but seeing them in action just made my skin crawl a ‘lil bit and for once not very proud of my Pinay roots.
Anyway, on to more pleasant thoughts. Our event was a success by all standards. The participants came hungry for training and motivation and our roster of speakers gave them exactly that. It’s morally uplifting to see people come on the first day with a vague notion of the direction to which they want to steer their lives to eventually come out of the hall on the last day completely changed. Really, there is no telling what the human spirit is capable of absorbing – and pursuing.
If there’s one thing I regret not being able to do in Bahrain, it would be that I didn’t get to go around Manama that much. In fact, not at all. Except for the occasional lunch and dinner trips to Exhibition Road with Mar, Elson, Kenny and Ranjan (but usually with Mar), I didn’t get to see much of the place. But then again, maybe it’s a good thing as everything is ridiculously EXPENSIVE in Bahrain. I am thankful though that I don’t have a monstrous appetite for food, otherwise, I’d be begging my colleagues for scraps of food on their plates. Hahaha. Expensive as they were, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed my scoops of Baskin Robins. See how low maintenance I can be? A scoop of ice cream is enough to bring me endless pleasure even in the most trying circumstances.
15 August 2009. Our event has officially ended – in our usual noteworthy fashion. After three days of intense training sessions, we are confident that our participants are going back to their homes armed with the knowledge and inspiration they paid for to gain. There were a lot of photo-taking and I must say it’s lovely to see our speakers, our Big Boss especially, being given the rockstar treatment. Indeed, when you are good at what you do, people can’t help feeling awe-struck and fiercely loyal to you.
We were given a few hours to do as we wish and I spent mine curled under the comforter, sleeping like a baby. I was majorly exhausted! Shortly before 9PM, I was woken up by a phonecall. It was Kenny telling me that the pick-up is already downstairs, waiting to take us to Seef Mall where Boss is treating the lot of us to the movies. We watched The Hangover – an absolute lark of a movie I suggest you all come and watch it!
16 August 2009. I was to fly back to Manila at 8:00PM Bahrain time, which is around 1:00AM in my home country. I passed through the immigration with nary an incident and I took time walking in and out of Duty Free shops, ambivalent if I should pick up something for friends back home. I decided not to, again because of the cost, and also because I won’t have time to meet them anyway as I am due to fly to KL the day after I arrive in Manila. It sounds like fun isn’t it, this whole living out of the suitcase thing? Some people I know who travel even more extensively than I do are already tired of airports and jet planes and not being able to stay long enough at home to establish proper relationships or sustain them at the very least. But such is not the case with me. I’m still at that stage where I’m hungry (if not hungrier) for a substantial taste of every little portion that the world can offer; that I am enthralled by cultural differences; that I am in a way considered a citizen of the world. Okay, perhaps that’s still a bit of a stretch considering I still have a lot of countries to land my feet on and claim as my own but still…