Saturday, June 27, 2015

A New Adventure in the Middle East

Once more, I have experienced something in my life I never dreamed I would experience.

Certainly, the Middle Eastern culture has offered me a myriad of experiences that have enriched and added to the spice in my life. I am loving all of it.

Saturday night was another new adventure. We attended an Iftar with over 20 of friends.

During Ramadan, two main meals are served: the Suhoor, which is served before dawn, and the Iftar, which is served after sunset.

Many Muslims spend most evenings with their family for their Iftar. Occasionally they go to homes of their friends. It is really a time to spend with family and friends showing how much you love and value them.

We know a lot of other expats without family here in Bahrain so we are having a great time inviting them to our home to share in the spirit of Ramadan.

At the end of the day, when the sun sets, the maghrib prayer starts, and the day's fast is broken with the Iftar meal. Many Muslims break their fast by eating dates before beginning the Iftar meal.

Here is my "spread" with samples of the types of foods that are eaten in the Middle East to break fast. These represent several countries because there are many different nationalities in Bahrain. Most are sweet.

I took advantage of the grocery store where they have a wonderful “date bar” with many varieties of dates.  We had 8 kinds of dates at our flat for our guests when they arrived.

Here are the dates we served:  Saudi Mabroom Dates, Saudi Safawi Dates, Saudi Ajwah Dates, Saudi Khudri Dates, Bahrain Fardh Dates, Saudi Sofry Dates, Jordan Majdoul Dates and Saudi Suquei Dates.

I put out a scorecard and asked everyone to rate his or her “favorite date.” On the scorecard I specified to not vote for their spouse. Of course, hubbie D is my favorite date.

The winning date was the Saudi Sofry date.

Living across the street from the Ritz-Carlton, every night during Ramadan we watch people coming to the Iftar tent for their evening meal.

Before sunset the cars start streaming into the parking lot. The lights come alive on the palms leading down the path to the tent and a steady stream of Arabs head in to break their fast.

Cars arriving at the Ritz Ramadan tent.

Last year I was intrigued and decided to plan an evening where I could experience a Ramadan Iftar with some of my friends.

This activity is such a strong part of the Arab culture that I felt we needed to experience an Iftar while we are living here.

It was not difficult to put together a nice group.  It seems that I am not the only person who would like to experience an Iftar.

Before we went to the Iftar tent at the Ritz, we all gathered at our flat just across the street. We enjoyed some of the traditional “break your fast” foods to go along with our cocktails.

The ladies wore the traditional jellabiya. This made for a lovely picture.

Although the guys went "western," they still looked good.
Here is our group just before sunset when we headed to the Ritz.
Yes, this is my new dress. 
We were quite the site strolling through the parking lot.
We chose to sit in the "non-smoking" area. The area filled with shisha pipes was located just to the right beyond our tables.
Coffee and mint tea waited for us when we arrived. They were delicious. 
The Italian chef made a point of brining some risotto to my table because it was not quite ready when I passed by him. It was fabulous. We have dined in the Italian restaurant at the Ritz and it is wonderful.
Salads were abundant. There was also a nice sushi assortment.
This lamb dish was similar to the mansaf we had in Jordan. It was good however the dish in Jordan was much better. Maybe the atmosphere in Jordan had something to do with that. It would be hard to beat the fun we had in Jordan. 
Deserts were a big hit.
Some of the deserts even had eatable gold flecks on them.
Hubbie D was thrilled with the gelato bar for dessert.
Of course I had to attempt a selfie inside the tent and outside.
DW and I tried but we could not capture the beautiful surroundings.
The street and walkways were all it up. 

After dinner, we strolled (stuffed and happy) back to our flat for cigars and wine. We had some wonderful conversation and finished the evening consuming DW’s Bailey’s Irish Crème. It was perfect.

Another box to check in our adventure log.  And, it was exceptionally fun to share it with some many lovely friends.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

A New Dress -- a Jellabiya

I know some of my blog readers (my mom included) are laughing at the thought of me in a dress.  I am just not a dress person.  I love pants.

However, in Bahrain ladies wear dresses a lot. A WHOLE LOT! So I am trying to adapt and wear a dress from time to time.

This weekend hubbie D and I are hosting a party at our flat. Not really a full-fledged party. We have invited 20 of our friends to an Iftar with cocktails in advance of the dinner in our flat. Iftar is the meal muslims eat when they break their fast after sunset.

You might hear me giggling here.  Iftar and cocktails don’t often go in the same sentence.

So I have been shopping for a new dress to wear.  It can’t be just any kind of dress; it is going to be a jellabiya.

This is a Bahraini woman dressed in a traditional jellabiya for her wedding.
A jellabiya is the National Dress of Bahrain although very few woman wear them unless it is for a special occasion or a National event. I am encouraging all the women coming to our Iftar party to wear Bahraini National Dress, the jellabiya -- so I am shopping for one.

Hubbie D and I went to the souq and shopped dress stores trying to find a jellabiya in teal. Here we are inside one of the stores.

Right now we are in the midst of the Holy month of Ramadan. This means that the stores are only open very limited hours.

For those of you new to my blog, here is a bit of information about Ramadan.

Ramadan (in Arabic: رمضان, Ramadān) is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During the whole month, faithful observers of Islam fast from sunrise (Sahour) to sunset (Iftar). During the fast, no food or drink is consumed, and thoughts must be kept pure.

In Bahrain it is against the law (punishable by imprisonment up to a full year) to eat, drink or chew gum in public during Ramadan. While I was online researching for this blog, I came across a news article that a couple days ago ISIS killed two young men for breaking their fast.

Followers of Islam believe that fasting helps the Muslim learn patience, modesty, and spirituality. Meals are served before sunrise and after sunset, and eaten with family or with the local community.

Here is a list of foods that muslims enjoy during Ramadan. The photos are wonderful.

During Ramadan, two main meals are served: the Suhoor, which is served before dawn, and the Iftar, which is served after sunset.

Since the Suhoor is intended to last one throughout the day, it tends to be a heavy and hearty meal. Suhoor ends when the sun rises and the fajr, or morning prayer, begins.

At the end of the day, when the sun sets, the maghrib prayer starts, and the day's fast is broken with the Iftar meal. Many Muslims break their fast by eating dates before beginning the Iftar meal.

Muslims can continue eating and drinking throughout the night until the next day's Suhoor. After Iftar and prior to Suhoor, many have a celebration called Al Ghabga.

At the end of the Ramadan month, Muslims celebrate the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, called Eid al-Fitr.

Time Magazine online has a stunning photo essay of iftars around the world. 

Our party is going to start in our flat and then move to the special Iftar tent at the Ritz-Carlton.

I have been practicing making Arabic coffee to serve when guests arrive so I can create an atmosphere of a majlis in our home.

Majlis is another significant Ramadan term. A majlis is a comfortable seating area in the home created especially for Ramadan (and sometimes on other important occasions) to receive visitors, mainly family and friends, but also colleagues and other respected members of the community.

Serving Arabic coffee or tea to guests when they first arrive is very traditional.

The majlis is not usually a permanent fixture of the house, but instead an area allocated for this purpose during Ramadan.

HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince has been making his way all over the Kingdom of Bahrain visiting the majlises of important people.

Pictures of the Crown Prince visiting several majlises.

This time of year, the newspaper is filled with pictures showing the Royal Family making visits to majlises, Iftar celebrations and Al Ghabgas.

On the Island, there are many monthly social magazines. When new issues come out next month, they will be filled with pictures of Iftar celebrations, Al Ghabgas and other Ramadan celebrations.  They will overflow with pictures of all kinds of groups celebrating and EATING.

Between Iftar and Suhoor is Al Ghabga. Al Ghabga is a meal or party that takes place after midnight. Here in Bahrain, Al Ghabgas are big parties. After the Al Ghabga guests are invited to share Suhoor, the last meal a person takes before sunrise and the beginning another day of the fast. 

Both of these meals are usually held in the first twenty days of Ramadan. For in the last ten days of Ramadan Muslims usually dedicate the later parts of the night for prayer, reading the Qur’an and getting closer to Allah.

As you can see, there is a lot of eating that goes on during Ramadan. In fact, most people gain weight even though they are fasting during the day. The holiday is filled with food and friends.

So I finally found someone in the souq that could custom make my dress. I chose the embroidery (with a paisley design - yippee!) and the color, teal. It is really pretty and I know we are going to have a fantastic time.

Outside the shop.

A seamster working on a dress.

Our weekend is filled with fun because the day after our Iftar party is our 34th wedding anniversary!  Party On!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Award of Honor and a cake to eat

I had a real shock at the last general meeting of the year for the American Women's Association of Bahrain. I was recognized as the Outstanding New Member of the Year.

Named in honor of long standing member Lynne Al Wazzan, The Lynne Al Wazzan Award is given each year to the Outstanding New Member of AWA.

I was stunned and thrilled to receive the award.  As it happened, I had chosen to sit right next to Lynne at that meeting.  She has been a member of AWA for over 20 years but doesn’t always make it to the meetings so I had taken the opportunity to sit next to her so I could spend some time visiting with her.

While I was producing the Tribute Book, Lynne’s photo came up time and time again as she was deeply involved in so many things with AWA over the years. I knew her by sight and hoped to get to know here a bit better in person.

When it was announced that I had won the award named in her honor, I was quite surprised.  We took several pictures together and she invited me to her house to visit some more the very next week.

Lynne and Brenda with the award.

DR, the current President of AWA presented the awards and here is what she said about me.  I was blushing.

“Brenda Hyde – there are only three words I have to say – Bahrain Tribute Book! This was a massive job and she did it brilliantly!  For it not for Brenda, the book would still not be published!  She put the book together when it was foundering and due to her background of being a former owner of a magazine she saved it!!  She lead the committee with professionalism and encouragement and was determined to keep a very tight deadline.  Her expertise was instrumental in the book becoming a reality.  It was a huge job on her part and she took it.  Her delightful spirit is something that was shown each time she talked about it at the General Meeting.  Her dedication, professionalism and enthusiasm is why she is so deserving of this respectable award.  Thank you Brenda for your dedication, wonderful spirit, leadership, and professionalism!”

To be recognized by your peers as having done something important is indeed a great honor. I gained so much from publishing the Tribute Book for AWA, and receiving this honor is icing on the cake. I hope that all the members of AWA realize that when you put your mind to it, we can all do extraordinary things. Just keep trying.

I was honored to get a photo of the American Ambassador, William Roebuck and his wife at the meeting.  I had met Anne before and seen the Ambassador at a distance. He is really tall.

The next week when I visited Lynne at her lovely villa in Saar, we took this photo out by the pool.

Lynne has a beautiful collection of teapots. Many years ago, she opened a tearoom with a friend. She also shared a cookbook with me that was a tribute to the tearoom. It is a treasure trove of fantastic recipes and information.

Her home has beautiful gardens and a gorgeous wrought iron fence with shapes of grapes. It is a lovely home and Lynne is an amazing woman with a myriad of wonderful life stories.

Lynne also shared something particularly special with me, a carrot cake.  She is famous for this cake. In fact, it was voted the best carrot cake in the world by the members of the AWA.

The recipe for the cake is in the book. I will give it a try someday but I bet mine probably won't measure up to Lynne's awesome cake. It was amazing.

That night, I shared pieces of carrot cake with several friends in our building where we live but saved 1/3 of the cake for hubbie D and I to eat over several days.

Later, after his third piece I decided I better wrap up the remaining cake to get him away from it or it would be all gone in only one night. UGH!

I know he likes spice cake a whole lot. It is a real treat when I bake one for him.  However, I was surprised how much he liked this carrot cake.

I started to wrap the remaining cake in plastic wrap when D jumped all over me.  “No, don’t put plastic on the cake. It will mess up the frosting. The frosting has to be just right or it changes the flavor experience of the cake.”

What is really funny is that he also told me emphatically that Lynne would agree with him. "She made such a wonderful cake, she will know what I mean about the frosting." Sure enough, I spoke to Lynne a few days later and she agreed 100%. Do not wrap in plastic, put the cake in a box.

You know, you learn something new every day. Thanks, Lynne.

Brenda Hyde

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Celebrating America's Independence Early

I know you are saying . . .

What? The Fourth of July is many weeks away!

Yes, but this year the Fourth falls during Ramadan. Ramadan is for self reflection, restraint and time with family. You can not eat, drink or even chew gum in public during daylight hours. Restaurants are closed during daylight and there is absolutely no alcohol, beer or wine sold anytime, day or night.

It is not a time when the good 'ole USA should throw a big party to celebrate our independence.

So the US Embassy in Bahrain threw a big party a few days ago celebrating the 239th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America EARLY.

In Bahrain one day every year is set aside for each country to celebrate. All the expats love to throw big parties celebrating their countries. The newspaper has pictures showing them celebrating. I love seeing all the people in native dress and the celebrations for each country.

We were very fortunate to receive an invitation to the US celebration which was held at the Diplomat Radisson Hotel in the Diplomatic area of downtown Manama.

There was a really, really big cake. The flag on the right is the Bahraini flag.

The event was very well planned and perfectly carried out.  The Embassy staff  did a great job! There was all the usual USA pomp and circumstance with a fantastic flag ceremony that, unfortunately we could not get a good view of but caught the tops of the flags.

This was as close as we could get to the flag ceremony. The ballroom was packed.

I visited with Ann Roebuck, the wife of the American Ambassador whom I had spent some time with earlier that day at the Special Olympics event. We did not get to meet the Ambassador. He was way too busy having his picture taken with hundreds of people waiting in a long line. I really felt sorry for him.

You can catch a glimpse of the Ambassador behind us in this selfie. He is shaking hands and getting his picture taken. I bet his face was sore the next day from smiling for hours. He is the one with the light colored hair and red tie.

Coke had a special booth where they would put your name on a can of coke so we had our names, and BHB and little LW's names put on cans in Arabic. Cute!

Can you pick out the names?  Me neither.

Some other AWA members were also there and we celebrated together.

I am very proud and fortunate to be an American. It was a night to celebrate and be USA proud.


First Book Given

Giving away the first copy of the Anniversary book was like giving away my first child. I had the special honor to personally give away the first copy 40th Anniversary Book at a Special Olympics event held at the Bahrain National Stadium. AWA has been sponsoring this Special Olympics event for many, many years.

I keep wondering if people who look at this book will enjoy the pictures as much as I do?

Will they be touched by the stories from other women about the impact AWA has had in their lives?

Will they realize the depth of the contribution AWA has made to Bahrain?

I have this urge to tell people who receive a copy they should think about how much all the images really say. They should see in these images the wonderful ladies that have been so much a part of Bahrain through AWA for the past 40 years.

The AWA cheering section was all lined up and ready to go.

Here we are having a great time getting ready for the awards.

DR was shy. Everytime we met I asked for a photo and she always hesitated. I snapped this one really quick so she could not protest.

DR, the longest standing member of AWA received the first book I tenderly wrapped for distribution to the world.  I know DR will appreciate our work and all the history compiled inside the book because she is such an important element in that history.  Without her help, we could not have pulled together all the information and photos showing the contribution AWA made in those early years to Bahrain.

Here is DR helping one of the athletes in a race.

DR is also a significant contributor to these efforts. She was the driving force that initially organized Special Olympics in Bahrain. She is a truly amazing woman. I am honored to have met her.

DR receiving a copy of the book along with members of AWA and Special Olympics.
Along with sharing the book with DR and the Special Olympics organization, the event was very touching.  I was honored to be asked to hand out the awards to some of the special athletes. Parents even asked for my picture with their child. I could have cried I was so moved by their kindness and love.

Some officers from the US Naval Base also came along to lend a helping hand. (The AWA Newsline editor is married to the young man in the white shirt - they just announced they are expecting their first child. CONGRATS!)

I could not help myself. I had to take a selfie with the Navy guys.  WaHOO!
The children loved the navy guys. They really beamed when they were lucky enough to have one assigned to help them. At the end, the navy officers also gave out some of the awards. They really made a great contribution to the event.

Right after we released the book, I sent a copy to a friend who helped me significantly when I first moved to Bahrain. CC was an important element in the success of our move here and she was the first person to connect me with AWA.  Here's what she wrote to me after she received the book.

Dear Brenda,

Thank you for the book! I am just starting to go through it. It is so well done. I am enjoying seeing so many good friends and acquaintances.

It seems like you have jumped in full speed. What memories we will all have. I am hoping that other former AWA members can somehow get a copy. I feel so lucky! I even see myself in several photos.

I am off to Halifax on Tuesday to see our oldest daughter and her husband. I wish M could go along, but you know, work is never ending.

We have started receiving requests from past members outside of Bahrain. I guess we will have to set up a system for shipping.  Sounds like a fun activity. I think I will volunteer.  :-)

So the book is on it’s way into the community. I am both proud and happy that it is complete. I hope it is enjoyed for many years to come.