I Do Not Want to Work; I Only Want A Puff

paris eiffel tower by eva the dragon 2014

Je ne veux pas travailler
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
Je veux seulement oublier
Et puis je fume

I discovered this song several years ago. Dreaming of running away to Paris, I picked up a “Paris” compilation album. In the midst of diapers and cheerios, Julia Child’s 1950s Paris seemed like the place for me. I only understood the woman when she sang,

I do not want to work
I do not want lunch
I only want to forget
And then I smoke.

Washing the dishes, I joined in during the chorus.

Fast forward a decade.

All over Bahrain were banners with a fantastic photo of a grey-haired man with a bow tie and a woman with an umbrella who obviously traveled by hot air balloon. Paired with an elegant Japanese woman – together they were Pink Martini and Saori Yuki. I had no idea what their music was but I loved the photos. My friend called and said she bought us front-row, balcony seats for the National Theater show. YEAH.

Pink Martini’s lead singer China Forbes stepped out wearing a bright green Bahraini jalabiya embroidered with silver. We were expecting a Japanese diva. In an American accent, China sang Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love. She had a fantastic voice. Wow!

“I bought this dress yesterday in Bahrain,” she announced. “I love it.” Everyone clapped their appreciation.

Thomas Lauderdale, the piano player, welcomed us and gave a little speech in Arabic, obviously thanking everyone for inviting them to Bahrain. The Bahrainis were thrilled and applauded his effort. Pink Martini was off to a crowd pleasing start.

China introduced the next song, Sympathique.

“This is the first song we wrote,” she said.

Suddenly I was back washing dishes. It was my theme-song. China was the woman who only wanted to smoke and daydream. She was my soul sister; the singer I am not.

Finally, in a long, sparkling red dress, Saori Yuki appeared moving like an elegant geisha. I have decided to adopt her graceful small steps that made her move like a mermaid. After singing Yuuzuki from their album 1969, she said,

“I was in City Center the other day and I saw a big photo of me near Shoe City. That is me? I was so surprised. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said with beautiful delicate bows.

Thomas Lauderdale introduced Uskudar as a traditional Turkish song the ALL Turks know the words to.

“Are there any Turkish people here?”

The lady sitting next to us raised her hand and hooted.

“Would you please come up on stage and sing it with us?” Thomas and China asked.

Nobody moved.

“Please all Turkish people know the words to this song.”

I reached over. “Go on, go sing.”

That was all the encouragement she needed. The woman jumped up and made her want down to the stage. She radiated pure joy as she sang and belly danced.

How do I describe Pink Martini? Excellent orchestra. China Forbes has beautiful, clear voice. Thomas and China know how to engage the audience with their jazzy songs that evoke a playful era. Pink Martini has a crowd-pleasing show.

Near the end Saori Yuki sang Puff, the Magic Dragon in Japanese.

With that, my evening was complete.

My mother took me to my first concert. It was Peter, Paul and Mary at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. The only song I remember was Puff the Magic Dragon.

 

The Majlis – Public Salam

In Arabic, majlis means a place for sitting.

In the Gulf, all important or connected people have a majlis, a ring of chairs that is opened for anyone to enter and sit with the King, the business man or the esteemed, religious leader.  Upon entering, you are expected to walk around the entire gathering and great everyone individually before taking your place at the end of the line.  One by one, each visitor gets an opportunity to chat with the host.  It is a kind of town meeting where congratulations are given, grievances are expressed or issues discussed.

Of course, fitted for a King, a royal majlis is grand.

But anyone can create a majlis.

majlis one bench by side of the road by eva the dragon

It starts with a bench set along the street or in any open spot.  Someone sits down and calls out, Salam a lay kum – “PEACE be upon you” – to the passerby.

Like Jesus in John 20:19, the receiver responds with “PEACE be with you” – Ah lay kum a Salam.

Greeting someone with PEACE clears the air of any shared negativity.  Without any animosity or grievances, a second chair appears because now there is space for a conversation.

Shlow-nik is the local greeting after Salam.  Like a mood ring, the majlis holder literally asks, “What is your color today?”

I interpret the greeting as a way to express feelings without actually calling them forth.  An unpaid psychiatrist, the listener does not have to engage in the situation.  He lends an ear and responds with haram, masha al’lah or mabruk confirming his understanding of the situation, but leaving all solutions and graces up to God.

Tea, sweets or whatever is on hand are offered because the next part will take awhile.

The conversation expands outward to others in your sphere of influence.  How your children, your mother, your father, your great-aunt, and how all the extended relatives are fairing must be addressed.  To a 21st century Westerner accustomed to getting down to business, it feels like a lot of time is wasted talking about irrelevant people.  But to the Arab, our lives are intertwined with our family, our tribe.  Meeting one is coming into contact with the entire tribe.

It is only after we understand the other’s state of mind and their current family situation and after any physical discomfort caused from hunger or thirst has been eased that we are ready to discuss Matters.

majlis with satellite dishes dragons rabbits and roosters

In the village near our house,  over several weeks, I watched a man create a majlis.  It started with two plastic chairs set up in the vacant lot across the street from his house.  An old sofa was added, then a second.  An extension cord was pulled across the street to run a popcorn maker.  A third sofa appeared and because it was summer, a large fan.  It only took a few weeks before a satellite dish was added and outdoor lights.  Despite the nearby altercations between the villagers and the police, nothing was ever covered or stolen.  It was a majlis.

Last summer in the USA, I noticed people living in beach towns created outdoor majlis.  In my grandparent’s small, Mid-Western town, the unfenced, front yard and porch was the equivalent.

A majlis can only exist where there are no walls, and someone invites you to sit in Peace.

Girls, Dogs and Gratitude

give a girl a break film video Jenny Laura dog training school mentor

Last night, during dinner with my writer-friend, I raised the issue about which medium tells a better story – writing or video.

A reader since childhood and now a writer, I cannot imagine life without printed words.  My kids’ generation, the Millennial generation, don’t know an Internet-less world.

We live in a country where public libraries do not exist and books cost more than most people’s daily salary.  YOUTUBE is free and pirated DVDs can be purchased for less than a cup of coffee.  Instagrams to family 2,000 miles away are cheaper than a phone call.  Twitter is the source for local, breaking news.

Visual and graphic communication are the future.

Inspiring stories about young women who overcome emotional and financial barriers to creatively express themselves are the topic for the GIVE A GIRL A BREAK contest.

Through video, three, young females filmmakers offer their stories both as an artistic expression of themselves as well as highlighting how a small bit of support helps other reach for their dreams.  Created in Los Angeles, these girls had access to lights, cameras, computers, actors and great locations to create their short-films.

On the other side of the planet, a smaller exhibit highlighting women and communication took place.

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Graphic communication was the focus of the EIGHT DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE exhibit in Bahrain.

Eight, Bahraini women presented their graphic design, video and digital photography projects.  They focused on life-affirming topics such as gratitude, family communications, healthy eating, and imagination and on clear communications through maps, typography, signage and even graffiti.

Milling with the audience composed of Bahrainis, Pakistanis, Africans, and Europeans, it became obvious to me that the women’s messages transcended culture.  Whether one spoke English or Arabic, the visual exhibits spoke a language everyone could understand.

ABOUT GIVE A GIRL A BREAK

team alana matching making skills

My best friend Jenny is featured as the inspiring mentor to Laura, a young woman in this film TO THE RESCUE.  Watch TO THE RESCUE and the other two finalists and vote by JULY 2nd.

Always is sponsoring Give a Girl a Break.  Three aspiring female filmmakers are vying for a Talent Grant to help them pursue a career in film.

ABOUT EIGHT DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE

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June 26-27, eight, female students at the Bahrain Polytechnic Institute displayed their third year projects.  The depth and quality of their work was evident.  I was so pleased to see how Bahraini women envision effectively engaging others using modern methods.

The Bab – Then and Now

Welcome to the Bab Eva the Dragon April 2013

Bab means gate in Arabic.

The Bab Al Bahrain was the entrance gate into old Manama’s market place.  Thirty years ago, outside the gate, there was not land for an asphalt lot with one hundred, parking spaces and pigeons.  The turquoise sea lapped around the fisherman’s harbor.  Like the rest of the world, man’s technology has literally changed Bahrain’s landscape.  Dredgers reclaimed the Arabian Gulf, extending the island nearly a half a kilometer beyond its original edge.

Clock tower downtown Manama Eva the Dragon 2013

Today, Bahrain is no longer a harbor for fishermen or pearl divers.  Pushed by the first discovery of Gulf oil in 1932, Bahrain became the Gulf’s original, industrialized country.  Oil brought Europeans who brought air-conditioning.  Air-conditioning, Bahrain’s cultural openness and the Saudi-Bahrain causeway created the right environment for foreign banks, insurance companies and the first Gulf tourism.

In 1999, we visited Bahrain and stayed at the downtown Sheraton.  Carrying my six-month old baby, I did not want to walk the few blocks to the gold souq.  I hailed a taxi cab and explained I wanted to go gold shopping.

The taxi driver said, “Madame, I know where to take you.” And he drove away from Manama.

I wondered whether or not I was being kidnapped as I felt like he was taking me out into the hinterlands.  In the distance, the Meridian Hotel sat on the ocean shore.  He turned in its direction and dropped me off at the Marks and Spencer entrance at the new Seef Mall.

“Here is where you want to go,” he informed me.  “You will find the gold shops inside.”  He was correct that the gold shops were there.  But I was looking for the souq experience and haggling with the shopkeepers.

Bab street in the old Days photo from souq

Inside the air conditioned souq today Eva the Dragon 2013

Bahrain’s several malls have threatened the old souq with extinction.  To save the souq, the government recently invested in a roof and air-conditioned the Bab’s main street.  Old-time shopkeepers were given the opportunity to be part of the new souq, but many could not afford the increased rent.

Map of Bab Al Bahrain and surrounding area

Despite the ongoing, souq arguments published in the local paper, it is fun to go down to Bab Al Bahrain.  I drove over last week while everyone else was at the Formula One.  The weather was not stifling.  The streets have been cleaned.  The parking lot car washers and taxi drivers were friendly.  Throughout April and May, the Ministry of Culture is promoting small, local businesses by sponsoring art and musical events in the “BAB”.

musician playing oud in the bab al bahrain Eva the Dragon 2013

Entering the Bab in the old days photo in souq

Don’t let the soldiers carrying machine guns intimidate you.  The Bab guards have been carrying guns for awhile.  Unfortunately, all over the world, the guns, like the landscape, have changed.

Hunting Ghosts in the World’s Largest Prehistoric Cemetery

bahrain burial mounds view from the air

Bahrain’s ghosts have been around since – well – since words were first scratched into clay.  Back in 1890, writer J.T. Bent described Bahrain’s inner desert as a “vast sea of sepulchral mounds.”

One of the world’s largest, Bronze Age, cemeteries, the Sumerians called ancient Bahrain, Dilmun, the place where no man or woman cried or felt sickness.  The legend was the neighboring countries sent their dead to Bahrain to live out their eternity in Paradise.

Bahrain burial mounds

Today, the 170,000 burial mounds are believed to be the final resting place for five centuries of island inhabitants and not the neighboring countries’ relatives.  Whether or not the dead were locals, the island still carries their ghostly memories.

Funny enough, these ghosts leave their mark on the island’s transient, expatriate population.

Writer and cultural commentator, Deonna Kelli Sayed, was one resident whose years living on the island impacted her life in ways she may not have anticipated.  Although we never had a conversation about the island’s ghosts during our writing classes, it was while living in Bahrain that Deonna became fascinated with ghost hunters.

After she and her family moved back to the USA, she literally began following the Syfy Channel’s paranormal investigators and documenting her experiences.

Paranormal obsession by deonna kelli sayed ghost hunting

Her adventures and interest in culture led to her first book, Paranormal Obsession where she investigated America’s interest in the paranormal since 9/11.

so you want to hunt ghosts by deonna kelli sayed

But her second book, So You Want to Hunt Ghosts: A Down to Earth Guide, is the one you might want to consider if you are interested in investigating for yourself whether or not ghosts are real.  The book “explains how to conduct historical research on your case, how to properly document your discoveries, and how popular media and ghost hunting TV shows have impacted the modern paranormal community.”

deonna kelli sayed american muslim bahrain ghosts

Deonna Kelli Sayed is a fascinating Global Citizen.  She talks about her first paranormal experience in New York, her multi-cultural family and living in Bahrain in this January 2013 interview on That’s Some AmericanMuslim Life.

Getting Ready for the New Chapter

November 14th will be the start of the new Islamic year; January 1st for the West; the Chinese Year of the Snake in February; but September 1st is the first day of my new year.

The end of summer vacation signals the final chapter of a yearlong story.

September begins with a week-long adjustment to the eleven hour time difference.  Between naps, suitcases are unpacked, name tags ironed into new uniforms, emails are returned, the annual closet cleaning takes place and, if I am lucky, the mess on my desk disappears.

Among the books and papers, a copy of SAYIDATY, Saudi Arabia’s Vogue equivalent, lay buried.

Thumbing through the pages, I remembered reading the magazine back in the summer of 2008.  As I poured over the celebrities and fashion exposes, I noticed EVERYONE was wearing leggings.  Even Dior’s Barbie-doll models wore them on the runways.

Silly me – for a moment I forgot where I was.

The women were not wearing leggings; the editors were self-censoring and had photoshopped the offending appendages, covering them in black.

What a change.  “Before”, every magazine that arrived in the kingdom was reviewed by a legion of men with black markers.  Photos of women used to look like this:

Or the page was completely ripped out.

The fact that photos of women with “leggings” and bare arms are allowed is progress.

Shway, shway – slowly, slowly – as we say.

Today I prayed “Please God, Continue to Bless Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, with good health and wise leadership.”

Culture, Expat Style

One great aspect of expat living in the Middle East is the number of opportunities to indulge in our  personal interests.

Unlike being in Paris, London, New York or Los Angeles where there are a lot of professional operas, ballet companies, museums and theaters, here the competition is less.   As we pursue our high-end hobbies, we find ourselves given opportunities to exhibit and perform nationally.

The expats’ summer exodus will begin this month so the various groups are packing in their culture before the year’s end.

The America Women’s Association’s Visions exhibit runs from June 13-18 at the Bahrain Arts Centre.  As is the local tradition, the ladies only morning is June 14th.  Since we are traveling to Paris and London to meet some friends, I will miss the exhibit.  Artist and teacher to many of the painters, Seana Mallen, sent me some pre-opening photos.  I hope the Louvre will make up for it.

Visions formally opened last night under the Patronage of the Ministry of Culture.  Although I got an invitation, I didn’t go as I was attending the Philip King’s 1943 farce See How They Run at the British Club.

This traditional British play made me giggle with its mistaken identities, lot’s of running in and out of doors, an old lady stuffed in a closet, a naked vicar and the 1940s villain, a Nazi POW.  The cast members are traditional expat actors – primarily British who have lived abroad for many years and are lawyers, teachers, engineers, university professors, business owners or students by day.  They ensured the show was performed despite a public scuffle within the club’s board of directors, six date changes and an entire turnover of the cast.

The program said when the original West End production opened in January 1945, the audience did not leave despite three “doodle-bugs”, V-1 Flying Bombers, exploding nearby.

The Brits are still unflappable.  Neither the actors nor the audience were fazed when a chair leg collapsed and with a loud BANG, a lady dropped on the ground.  Leaving the auditorium, assailed by tear gas, I started coughing while the men continued sitting around the pool drinking their pints.

See How They Run runs two more nights – Thursday the 14th and Friday the 15th and includes dinner.  Tickets are available at the British Club.

The boy’s piano teacher will be singing in The Manama Singers Happy Together concert.  The Gilgamesh Ballroom will echo with Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Otis Redding and Michael Jackson.

Their piano teacher will also be playing in MASK’s Circle of Life, “inspired” by the Lion King.  It’s good to see MASK survived despite last year’s front page news that the conductor and the director scuttled off the island together leaving their families behind.

Such is the circle of expat life.

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