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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Military Wife

I had a lovely play date for moms and kids today at my friend's pool. It got my mind working so I thought I would blog. I got married when I was thirty. My previous encounters with other women took a standard course. Junior High and High School girls were as torturous as you remember. College roommates were head cases, funny beyond measure, drunk fests and peeing behind bushes that looked WAY bigger the night before (which explains the horns honking). Then came the co-workers. Teachers, female cops, social workers, dispatchers...all quite capable of being good friends (very few),mentors, backstabbers, worst enemies, mother figures, and so on. All things considered I felt my mother, my favorite aunt and my sister to be my only true allies in life. I had a rare few others that I let in regularly. It was just too hard dealing with most women.They made me tired.

This changed dramatically when Bob moved back into active duty status. Newlyweds and a new step mom, off we went to Japan. Since then I have witnessed time and again the true bonds that exist between military wives. They pick up and move, often with less than 2 months to prepare. They gently uproot the kids and pets. Before that they have gone over every school district with a fine tooth comb and repetitively check the housing market and base accommodations. Once they arrive she hunts down a new set of doctors,vet, a new church, a new hair dresser, a new playground, and the exchange or Wal-mart for new curtains, new toilet brushes, a new corkscrew, and new trash cans. She meets the priest, the CO's wife, the principle, the teacher, and the staff at the local Starbucks.

In the midst of unpacking she makes cookies for the new neighbors since they moved into the neighborhood a whole week after her. She offers to watch the new neighbors kids when the moving truck comes. Her husband asks, "what were you thinking? Don't take on so much." She swears to him that this time she is going to take it easy, not volunteer so much. Then comes the PTA, the OWC, and the church and she finds herself on committees that will strategically allow her to poke her head in her child's classroom 3 times a week. She begs donations, makes raffle baskets, makes fliers for chili cook-offs, and types newsletters. People outside of the military ask her why she doesn't work. She just chuckles to herself. They don't get it. They don't need to. She gets it, her husband gets it. Within a year she has settled in with some great ladies, swapped stories, shared wine and coffee and dip recipes. This is what she does, what we do.

I am a new mom. I just can't get the hang of nursing. I am traumatized head to toe from a 3 day labor and staples in my gut. My new friend checks on me. She is a nurse. I have known her about a month. She comes over, takes the baby, and says "go to bed". She sits with me in my percocet haze, one hand on my breast one on the baby's head. Relax, don't give up. You will both get the hang of it.We did, she was right.

Bob and I wake up to the phone in the early dawn of prom night. State trooper- Ali life flighted- fell asleep- hit a tree-she was awake and talking when they took her. I call our best friends from our Japan tour. The ones who drove from California to Virginia to see my Brigid baptized and make a promise on her behalf. The friends you meet once in a lifetime. They answer to my sobs and are out the door in 2 minutes... in my kitchen in 15. "Go be with Ali, we're praying for you. Don't worry about the kids".

I was gutting out my 4th deployment with three little ones and no husband at home. I get up. I begin to violently wretch in the kitchen sink. "mommy why are you sick?" I can't get sick, it isn't in the itinerary! So, I call my friend. She is there in 2 minutes. She takes them and says, "go to bed". She returns them in her sons clothes because they were playing in the snow. I feel better, they had a blast.

Truth be told, you would be hard-pressed to find such an ally in the civilian world. We cry together, laugh together, make fun of each other, fight each other's battles, kiss each other's kids, scold each other's kids, scold each other's husbands. We deliver bad news, we deliver each other's babies, we celebrate together, and sometimes we mourn together. Then we say goodbye, promise to keep in touch. We don't have our mothers or sisters or even our husbands at times. We have each other and that is a lot.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

09-11-2010 in Bahrain

Today we took a family field trip to the Grand Mosque for an open house that welcomed tourists and ex-pats living in Bahrain. The girls and I were sent into a dressing area where the girls and women helped us choose Hijabs and, for me, an Abiya to wear. We were given a tour, refreshments, lessons about the Mosque and Islam. We got henna paintings on our hands. The kids got balloons and juice and played games with some of the Muslim teenage girls. It was a nice day. No hate or strangeness or accusations. If the rest of the world could behave this way, we would have no wars. They opened their doors to us to let us know that the extremists do not speak for them. We entered for the same reason.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ramadan 2010

The news is disappointing. We were holding out hope that Ramadan ended last night. If so then we would sleep in and there would be no school. As it is, they have a half day before Eid Al Fitr starts on the island and the end of Ramadan is to be announced.This is a very Arabic concept. We will see, God willing, maybe maybe not, call tomorrow. Confused yet? Welcome to the fun. Ramadan starts at the order of a cleric in Mecca. He is in his little tower waiting to see the first sliver of the new moon. It is the same at the end. Then it is a three day hootnanny that will keep my kids out of school for three days passed the weekend. Our American Dept. of Defense school takes international kids and also has an agreement with the Bahraini govt. to halt school during Muslim holy days. Our holidays, however, seem to be getting pushed aside even though the school is an American DODEA school. We will put that issue aside before I really get going. You know me.

As their holiday approaches, I feel my mind wandering to another day that is burned in my memory. It just so happens that their celebrations will fall on 9-11. The Bahrain people are our allies. I know in my heart that all Muslims are not represented by those savages that slayed innocents in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. I also know that my two years here will be enriching and help me to understand the Muslim culture in it's many forms. I do feel a sense of loss that I will not be there in the states during 9-11. This stems, I am sure, from the memories of the day in 2001 when it happened. I was in Japan, freshly moved. I was in the Temporary Lodging Facility on base. Bob was settling in as bossman. We get the call in the middle of the night. TV on, stunned. It was like a bad dream. As helpless as everyone felt, there was a small part of me that kept thinking. "I should be home". As irrational as that sounds...What could I have done? nothing.

I know that the important thing is this. Even after 8 years of war and 4 deployments, I still have my Bob with me alive and whole, albeit a little more war weary. I have kept him home long enough to sire 3 gorgeous kids. He is back in the Middle East but we are with him. That seems a miracle in itself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Settling in...

Well, we can see how this goes! I decided to start a blog for my friends and family to keep track of our adventures.

As displaced as moving can make you feel, this has been baptism by fire more so than usual. Shortly after moving the family to Bahrain and getting settled in a villa, Ramadan started. You may ask how this affects the day to day life of a non-Muslim housewife and her brood. August is oppressively hot, hotter then many can fathom with the exception of our boys in uniform. It is not, thank the Lord, as hot as Iraq. Keeping that in mind, it is illegal to drink or eat anything in public after sunrise or before sunset. Not even water. The are exemptions- the elderly, children, and pregnant or nursing women. However, that will not be stamped on your forehead. It will not stop someone from scolding you or worse, getting pulled over. So we must take intermittent sips between stop lights or in parking lots while hiding and slouching in the seat. Bob says it reminds him of High School, only the can of beer is replaced with our Camelbak water bottles.

The other issue is restaurants. NOTHING is open until sundown. Then the feasting begins. Before that, there is nary a cup of coffee or snack to be found unless you are in your own kitchen.
The Iftar buffets are plentiful and offered in varying cuisines and prices. They range from grand feasts under beachfront, air-conditioned tents or penthouse restaurants for 14 BD (about $38) to a small Indian/ Chinese buffet in a little local place for 2.5 BD(about $6.50). Regardless, the food is plentiful and the traffic is frantic at sundown. Even McDonald's offers an Iftar meal, not a buffet of course.

Because of these restrictions, we have been limited during the weekend for family adventures. There are camel farms, water parks, a wildlife preserve, pottery villages, and some decent beaches. But the fact that Bob would not be allowed to drink any water (or myself with any comfort) we must bide our time.

We are happy with our new home. It is big to the silly degree and we have a good rapport with our landlord.Our part-time housemaid Najma is a blessing with all of these floors and toilets!
We had our first social gathering this passed weekend. We had a rug flop hosted by Abdul and Abdul from Oasis Carpets. It was great fun and we had a lot of people in our home! Abdul caters the event from a local restaurant. Then while the guest are eating drinking and mingling, he unloads 200 rugs into my living room. We get a lesson on the different types of rugs. There are rug regions,styles, and qualities throughout the Middle East and Asia. He sold a lot of rugs and gave out even more business cards. I think it was a fun evening for all of us.

The girls have started school at the Bahrain School in Juffair. This is a Dept. of Defense School that also takes international students. It seems to be a good school. The grounds are stunning. Lush and green unlike the rest of the island. There is also a huge swimming pool.The girls take the bus which is guarded by two armed Ghurkas (Nepalese troops). They have quickly made friends and are adjusting nicely as I knew they would.

So, considering that it took us three days to arrive, a month to find a house, and almost 2 months to get our car, I think I am doing OK. I have the book club up and running, our first meeting next week. I have met a lot of great ladies and know that this will be a very interesting 2 years. Camel sausages are a no, date syrup is a yes. Shwarma yes, Vitmo no. Rugs, sheesha, rose water,the mixed grill...yes,yes,yes,yes. The McTasty no, the chicken Big Mac yes. Any questions?