Under-informed on First Day of School

I studied first grade in Sudan, so my first day of school in Bahrain was in second grade. I was unfamiliar with the school system and that led to an embarrassing story that my friends still laugh about.

Of course, we had recess in school in Sudan, but I had no idea what’s the word for it in the Bahraini dialect. So, when the teacher dismissed us for recess, I just followed my classmates outside, with no idea why we were leaving. In Sudan, I had cousins in school with me who acted as guides for me, but in Bahrain, I knew no one in my school.

Before my father dropped me at school that day, he told me that he’d come and pick me up later. I didn’t know when that “later” would be, so I kept waiting at the school gate for my father at recess.

I sat on the steps leading to the gate inside the school, and every few minutes, I would get up and look outside to check if my father arrived. When I realized that I waited too long and that my father was too late, I slipped out of the school gate—without being noticed by the janitor—and walked on the direction I thought we came from. I walked and walked and walked, but I couldn’t find my house or my father anywhere.

When I realized that I was lost, I started crying. A policeman saw me and asked me what I was doing there at that hour when I was supposed to be at school (I was apparently wearing a uniform, too). I told him I wanted to go back home but my father was late. I think he told me that it was too early for us to be dismissed and took me to a payphone. He asked me to call home. I’m still surprised that I knew my house’s telephone number at that age! I dialed the number and my mom answered. I talked to her while crying. I don’t remember what she said, but she called dad and told me that he would come pick me up. This part has taken much longer than it sounds.

I don’t remember if my father picked me up from near the payphone—I remember there was a bench where I sat—or if the policeman took me back to school. In any case, I remember that I was scolded for what I did.

My father went to my class and apologized to my teacher. She was surprised by what I did (probably the first student to ever do that during her career). I think it was almost the end of the school day, so my father grabbed my backpack from my seat and took me back home.

The incident is a perfect example of the impatience and haste that characterize me.

Living with Social Anxiety

Finding out that what you’ve been experiencing is a mental condition contributes significantly to the treatment process. I went a long way in my battle with social anxiety when I realized I have it. Not to mention the fact that understanding the condition is like being halfway through treatment.

For a very long time in my life, I would feel that people are watching me whenever I’m in a public place, whether it was a restaurant, cafe, or mall. I would be too afraid to check and find out if that they actually are, so I never look back at them. My sister studied psychology in university, and she used to give me therapy sessions to help me with my anxiety and OCD. She told me that people are too preoccupied in themselves to even notice me, let alone watch me. People can feel it when you look at them, so they would look back; that’s the reason I find people looking at me when I look at them. Then, she asked me, “So what if they looked at you?” The question was accurate. Exactly! So what? I was suffering from low-self-esteem in the past, and I’m sure it was a huge contributor to my anxiety. The symptoms dragged on, and, of course, I had no idea my thoughts weren’t normal. I genuinely believed that people were watching me. Why would I ever question my thoughts or even think of analyzing them? My sister’s question was revelatory to me. I realized that it doesn’t mean anything if people looked at me, especially that I no longer care what they think, so let them look and think what they want to think.

Talking on the phone is a nightmare to me, especially when I can’t predict how the conversation will go. I would prefer traveling to meet a person than to call him or her on the phone (Nah, I’m lying. I hate traveling). I used to have telephone phobia, but now it’s much better. I wouldn’t pick up if the caller is unknown unless s/he insisted. I would be so nervous that I would give the stupidest and most irrelevant responses. Now, I hate it because most of the time I can’t hear what the other person is saying, and I would always respond with a “yes” when I said “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that” a million times already.

It’s also very difficult for me to be myself around acquaintances, especially if it was a one-on-one conversation. I’d be too pressured to keep the conversation going that I’d be too nervous to come up with topics. It’s mainly caused by the fear that I’d be perceived as boring, I believe.

I can make the most interesting story sound dull. The attention would make me so nervous I’d try to tell the story in as few words as possible. The fear that I’m boring listeners with my story really terrifies me, that’s why I always cut it short. It was so sad when I realized that most of what I say is short comments; no more than ten words, just so the attention on me wouldn’t last long.

Then, I read a book called Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. The whole book can be summarized in the title. What was revelatory to me is the fact that even the most fearless and confident-seeming people are afraid; they just don’t show it. Show hosts, stunt performers, famous boxers and wrestlers, and public speakers are all afraid at the beginning, they just choose to push away the fear and do it anyway. Fear will be there no matter what we do, so we might as well do it. I just needed to know that it’s alright to be afraid. When I realized this, I felt so powerful, and it gave me a huge confidence boost. I felt like I could do anything.

I also read another book that gave such an amazing method to deal with anxiety. Unfortunately, I read a lot of books on the topic, so I can’t remember which one it was. It says that in order for you to do something you’re afraid of, don’t think about it before you do it; just do it (Nike was giving us a therapy method all along without us knowing). Because if you contemplated it, you’re going to think of all the ways it could go wrong, and of how you’ll miss up, and all other kinds of negative thoughts that would discourage you from doing it. The negative thoughts will still be there, but you know they’re all exaggerations, and that they’re not true. So what if you messed up? It’s not the end of the world. You’ll learn from your mistakes and will handle the situation better next time. Anxiety is all about familiarizing unfamiliar situations. Once you learn how to handle them, they would cease to be a problem. I tried the method, with a pounding heart, and accomplished so many difficult tasks. Every time, I’d think, “wow! That wasn’t so bad!” I felt so brave! It was amazing!

Living with OCD

I don’t remember when exactly my OCD symptoms began, partly because I never thought they were actually a problem; I thought they were just habits. One of my earliest symptoms is the fact that I can’t do anything randomly. Everything needs to be done in a certain order or for a certain duration. I think I was either in primary or middle school when I started wearing my pajamas in a certain order: the order of rainbow colors. I still do that now, but with my t-shirts. I think it’s also part of my OCD that I bought a t-shirt of every color, so I wouldn’t have to skip any. Wow, I haven’t realized it until now. I did that very recently.

I can’t stop reading a chapter at a random place; I need to finish it. I count while I brush my teeth because I can’t brush them for a random duration. I use my hair creams based on the alphabetical order of the brand name. I can go on forever with examples.

Another symptom of my OCD is the fact that I don’t begin doing something until the time I decided to start it comes. For example, if I decided to begin studying at 1 O’clock, I won’t begin to do it until 1 O’clock, even if that meant I would just be sitting there waiting for it. Until recently, I would wait in my car for the time I need to leave for work and then begin driving. Now that I found out it’s part of my OCD, when I realize I’m doing it I stop. I’m grateful that my OCD is mild and I can control it sometimes, but other times, the satisfaction I get when I succumb to it is too strong for me to resist. I know I can resist it and that it’s controlling me, but I let it.

The contamination OCD is the worst. I developed it sometime while I was in university, because I remember I didn’t have it when I was in school.
It’s the one that was really giving me a hard time. I wouldn’t touch anything that might have germs with my bare hands. I would use my abaya sleeve to press elevator buttons, open doors, and use ATMs (I still do that sometimes). I hated everything that’s for public use, especially touch screens. They were a nightmare to me. I once went to a building with an elevator touch button; I used the stairs. I’m not afraid of sick people because I’m worried I’ll get infected; I’m afraid of them because they’re a walking bomb of germs.

My friend helped me get rid of 80% of my contamination OCD. We were at a cafe and I didn’t want to touch the menu. She convinced me that it’s not going to kill me and that I can always wash my hands afterwards. Her killer sentence was: “I would lick it to convince you.” That was enough for me. She also told me that it gets worse if I let it, and then I’d have to go to a doctor and take medication. She wasn’t trying to scare me; it’s true. So, now, there are so many things I do I wouldn’t have done in my wildest dreams before. Like opening a public door and using a visa machine with my bare hands. The one thing I can’t stop doing is disinfecting my computer and desk at work. I never know if someone else used it while I was gone, so I disinfect it every time just in case.

And, of course, crooked or misaligned objects drive me crazy. I feel like if I didn’t adjust them or align them, I’ll go mad. Sometimes, if I can’t do anything about it, I look away. Sometimes I can’t help it, I would adjust them even if it was none of my business.

I’m still struggling with cleaning already clean surfaces and objects. OCD is all about “not being sure.” “I’m not sure if someone used this while I was gone, so I’ll clean it just in case.” “I’m not sure if this was cleaned well enough, so I’ll clean it myself just in case.” Cleanliness is one of the most satisfying feelings for me. I don’t enjoy doing cleaning, but the satisfaction afterward is worth it. Seeing dusty surfaces gives me an itch, but I know if I didn’t ignore it, I’ll be cleaning all the time, which would be crazy.

I hate it when something is occupying space needlessly, which is why I hate clutter. When something is not where it belongs, it drives me crazy; that’s one reason men drive me crazy. They’re masters at leaving things where they don’t belong.

I also hate it when part of my routine is canceled or postponed because something came up. It doesn’t even have to be part of my routine; it can be any task I decided to do. I’m crazy when it comes to following the plans I set. For example, ever Friday night I watch a movie. I’ve been doing this for years. If I was busy or found out I won’t be able to do it, I’d feel so stressed and upset, as if I’ll be missing my sister’s wedding. This problem began affecting my relationship with my friends because it would constantly make me skip plans with them, just because it would change everything I was planning for that day. Now, it’s getting better; I try to control it as much as I can.

I can’t ignore notification badges in mobile applications; I need to get rid of them. If there’s a message I don’t want to read, I’d delete it just so the badge would disappear. When I can’t get rid of a badge, I would delete the application and then reinstall it; they bother me that much.

Mi viaje con español

I started learning Spanish when I was fourteen years old. I don’t remember when I fell in love with the language, but I believe it was at the same time my obsession with Spain began. I’m sure that one led to the other, though. At first, I only learned vocabulary and pronunciation. I would use the words I learned with my friends in school, and then they would spread to my classmates. I used to come up with nicknames for teachers and classmates in Spanish, so no one would know whom my friends and I are talking about (yeah, I was naughty). I was so obsessed with Spain at the time that most of my classmates knew. Whenever it was mentioned in class, they would turn to look at me and smile. When we had to do presentations on a topic of our choice, I would choose – you guessed it – Spain. It was my dream to travel there. The obsession was short lived, though; it slowly dissipated, but I never stopped loving the language.

I studied grammar years later using an application called Memrise. It is actually pretty good, but it doesn’t explain grammar in depth. After I stopped studying, I forgot most of it because I didn’t practice what I learned. So 2 years ago, I bought 3 Spanish grammar books and began my serious studying.

I really recommend them, though you need to have some background in Spanish in order for them to help

This time I decided to maintain what I learned by practicing it, so I decided to make Spanish-speaking friends. I talked to many people from different Spanish-speaking countries, such as Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Puerto Rico. I also formed some good friendships in the process. I really appreciate how helpful and sincere they were in explaining difficult aspects of the language to me. They were also very patient with me and answered all my questions without complaint. They truly restored my faith in humanity, because they were doing it so diligently even though they weren’t expecting anything in return, and it was for someone who was practically a stranger.

At first, I learned Spanish for fun, because I thought it was a beautiful language. Then, I thought I could become a translator and acquire a new skill. My boss raised my ambitions so high, saying I could become an interpreter at the UN (that’s how you’d think when you work in TV). Then, I realized that it takes me a whole minute to form a sentence of 3 words. So now I just want to be trilingual.

Thirteen years later, I’m still in B1 or B2; I keep forgetting. When I try to speak in Spanish, a listening native speaker would fall asleep. My writing and reading are much better, though. I really enjoy reading in Spanish; I feel so accomplished when I do it. Of course my reading is not perfect, but it’s good enough for me. And I know that reading well only comes with practice, so I do it as often as I can. When it comes to learning a foreign language, I believe that nothing helps more than living in a country where it’s spoken. Such an opportunity is not always available, though. That’s why some of us need to depend on our modest selves to do it. We’ll see where I’ll be ten years from now.

A Job in TV

I got my current job, which is my first, six months after I graduated from university. My friend was hired there, and they needed more employees, so my boss asked her if she knows anyone suitable for the position. When my friend told me about it, I rejected the offer. She was outraged at my ungratefulness. She said that I was handed a job on a plate of gold and I was rejecting it. At the time, I was doing a copyediting internship at a magazine company while studying for my certificate. I was doing my dream job, and I was hoping they would hire me, until I saw the publisher’s face when he was reviewing my work. He thought I was doing a writing internship; he didn’t know I was only proofreading the articles. His face said “all this time you were doing this?” At that moment, I knew I wasn’t getting a job at the company, and I was pretty sure my instructor and the designer were not happy with the extra work I was giving them reviewing and applying my corrections. Barely anyone knows what copyediting is in Bahrain. I went to different newspapers and magazine companies, but none of them care about publishing flawless material because English is not the first language in Bahrain. So I told my friend, “alright, I changed my mind. I’ll take it.”

The location of the building in which the interview was to be held is very confusing. It would be very difficult to find it without guidance, even though I asked an employee and both my friend and boss tried to guide me, but in vain. I walked for almost 20-30 minutes trying to find the building. It was a very hot day, in late August. At the end, I asked a correspondent about the building and he pointed at it, and that was how I found it! It turned out I only needed someone to point at it; phone calls can’t help.

In the interview, other than the general questions, I was given a translation test and general local and international political questions to answer. I answered most of them correctly because I studied very well the previous days. My boss said she wasn’t sure I did it because I was actually good at it or because my friends told me what the questions were (three other friends were interviewed before me), and I’m still offended by this. I can see it from her point of view, and she certainly didn’t know me back then, but I was offended that she called me a cheater indirectly. I was never a cheater in my life. The reason I knew what to study was that when my friend was interviewed, she told us some of the questions she had to answer, and at the time, we had no idea we were going to be interviewed for the same job. They weren’t even the same questions, but I had a rough idea. I don’t know if that’s still considered cheating, but I could’ve asked my friends what the questions were, and of course I didn’t.

Whether my boss thought I was a cheater or not, she hired me on the spot. All the others had to wait to hear from her (yeah, I’m proud of that). So, I finished my internship at the magazine and received my certificate. A month later, my copyediting certificate arrived, and I was officially a copyeditor. I landed two jobs in less than 2 months!

The five months after graduation and before I began my internship were the most depressing in my life. I had to deal with pressure from my family to become an English teacher (I’m an English language and literature graduate) because it was apparently the only available job, and I’m glad I didn’t listen to them. I don’t want to be an English teacher because it feels absurd to me to teach students advanced English when they barely know the basics (considering that I won’t teach primary school). Besides, I don’t like kids. Whenever a company or government institution ignored my application or rejected it, I took it personally. I attached my worth to finding a job. That’s the reason I eventually agreed to take the TV job even though I didn’t like translation. I just wanted a job.

My job includes translation, news editing, simple footage editing, and desk reports. The most challenging part about my job is finishing translation before the deadline, which is when we go on air. When a news story for the king arrives, we have no choice but to air it, no matter when it arrives. Once, a story for the king came seven minutes before the news begins. The king’s stories are the first to be aired. I translated it so quickly, I didn’t know I could type so fast. The keyboard almost smoked! I believe I wasn’t breathing the whole time and only did when the story was ready. Sometimes the news anchors get mixed up about their shifts, so they don’t show up. So, we get stressful moments like that.

The newsroom in which we work has a recording studio. So, while the news or other programs are recorded, we need to be silent or, if we need to talk to each other, very quiet. Accidents happen, though. I once accidentally knocked over my metal water bottle on the desk while we the news was being filmed. It sounded like a bomb had exploded. My much-appreciated colleagues covered for me, though, so it passed. We also work in darkness most of the time while the studio is in use. All the lights are turned off, so they wouldn’t affect the lighting on the stage. Only a blue one is kept on. And, of course, the unbearable cold. Because of the innumerable amount of machines and cameras, the temperature in the studio is very low, too low for humans to bear actually. Sometimes, it’s so cold, my fingers would be too stiff for me to type. It’s where I realized you can feel cold in your bones. I know I can wear layers of clothes, but it’s hot outside, I’ll suffocate. So, basically, we’re the only department in the ministry (or the country) in which employees wear winter clothes all year round.

Everybody thinks it’s cool that I work in TV, but you don’t see your job as “cool” when it’s your job, you know. It’s something you do every day and you’re used to it, so the fascination gradually dissolves. I wasn’t even excited about the job when I got it; I never considered it “cool.” I don’t know why. I was fascinated with the control room, though. It’s the core of production. There are so many screens and buttons and people with complicated-sounding tasks. It’s where all the magic happens. Now, being there is an inevitable and undesirable part of my job. For a certain times a week, I need to be the news editor-in-chief. I’m responsible for everything on the news bulletin. Every mistake is blamed on me because it’s part of my tasks as editor-in-chief to check all news stories and correct any mistakes before we go on air. It’s unpleasant to be in the control room because it’s where missed mistakes are discovered, corrections are made, instructions are given to be implemented on air, and fingers are pointed. Most of the time when there’s a video footage for a King story we can only see it while it’s being aired, and sometimes the script would not match the footage, so we would need to add sentences or adjust the order while on air, which is very stressful because we need to do it as fast as possible. So, basically, it should be called the “stress room,” not the “control room” because all you’re doing there is wait for a mistake to come up.

My First Extortion Experience

The longest we’ve stayed in Sudan was one year. It was back in 1999 when I was six years old. One day, I was heading back home from school with my cousin when a Bedouin boy stopped us. He was probably two or three years older than us. He demanded that we give him whatever we had in our backpacks and pockets and threatened that he would whip us with his donkey whip if we didn’t obey. I was terrified and genuinely believed that he would. I bought some treats and candy from school for my sister because she was too young at the time to attend school, and I reluctantly gave them to him. My cousin had nothing to give him and he believed her without checking her pockets or her backpack, which made me think of the possibility that I could’ve lied and got away with it, but then I realized that he might have been satisfied with what I gave him that he overlooked the matter.

The funny thing about the incident is that the same boy was a friend of one of my cousins. When I saw him at my grandma’s, I ran to my mother to tell her about what he did. He looked all innocent and guiltless that day. When my mother confronted him, he denied it, of course, and I was already embarrassed about calling my cousin’s friend a thief. I was very angry at him because of the terror he put me through and the disappointment I saw on my sister’s face when I went home that day without the candy, so I couldn’t miss the chance to get him punished or at least reprimanded for what he did. The fact that he denied it made me even angrier, so I kept glaring at him the whole time he was there, but I don’t think he even remembered me because it seemed that he was used to robbing school kids.

I still remember this incident vividly, even though I was very young, because of its impact on me. Ever since that day, I was scared of encountering him or someone else like him on the way back home from school, so I’d run back as fast as I could. I subconsciously had this fear and suspicion of all Bedouins ever since. I also stopped buying candy from school for my sister. He might not afford candy and he certainly never thought twice about what he did, but that one short encounter affected my life as kid for a very long time.

Do You Know How It Feels Like to Have an Insect Inside Your Ear?

It was around four a.m. I felt something moving inside my ear. My senses weren’t sharp enough to perceive the pain because I was still groggy. I went out to my mother in the yard and woke her up, telling her about the thing moving inside my ear; it was obviously an insect. I remember it happened to me before when I was a kid, and my grandma poured some oil into my ear, and that was all. No big deal.

As my senses sharpened, I realized that my ear hurt really badly, and I started screaming. I ran up inside again because I didn’t want to wake the whole neighborhood with my screaming (which was what my sister told me later on I must have done anyway). I did wake up everyone who was close enough to hear the screaming, though. The pain was so sharp, it felt like my eardrum was being poked with a needle. I was panicking and I started crying. I was terrified of the damage the insect might inflict on my ear. It felt like it was trying to puncture my eardrum. My aunt pointed a flashlight inside my ear because it is believed to lead an insect out, but, unfortunately, it didn’t work with mine.

Meanwhile, my mother and one of my aunts went to wake up my grandfather (my grandmother’s brother) because he owns a car and can get me to the medical center in a nearby village. When he did arrive and we went there, the doctor was out of town and wouldn’t have returned until morning. The nearest hospital is an hour away. Everyone thought it was strange that I stopped screaming and crying during the car ride. They thought I was embarrassed of my grandfather, but it was because the insect stopped moving.

It was four hours until the doctor comes back. The insect stopped moving for thirty or forty-five minutes during which people got ready to go back to bed, but soon it started the wing-fluttering, eardrum-poking dance again. By that time, the school children woke up to get ready for school and I was embarrassed of crying in front of them. My sister searched on Wikihow for how to get an insect out of the ear; it said it could be done by pouring oil into it, which was what’s usually done in this case, but I don’t remember why my family didn’t do it. The oil would kill the insect, which is what it did to mine, and so it ended my misery, though the insect didn’t want to suffer on its own and did its torturing dance for the last time. I was so happy when it stopped moving and realized it had finally died! After the oil, water was to be poured inside the ear and then I was supposed to tilt my head to the side so the insect would come out, but my mother poured very little water that it couldn’t have moved the insect from its spot at all, let alone make it come out. Anyway, my mind was still not functioning properly, because of the pain the insect left me with, to realize that at the time; I only did what I was told. I was in no state to think on my own.

After that, the story circulated all around the neighborhood, so people came to see me. My eyes were so puffy from crying, people thought the problem was with them and not with my ear! My sister told me they became slanted like an Asian’s. By afternoon, I’m pretty sure everyone in the village knew about the incident. It’s incredible how fast stories circulate in villages!

Once the medical center was open, we went. The doctor poured some bubbly medicine into my ear and told me that the insect will come out soon. However, it never did.

In the course of the next five days before I went to a hospital, everyone tried to find some way to get it out. My sister was the first to “see” it, or at least part of it, and then everyone wanted to see it too to find out what it was. The skin of my earlobe was slightly ripped open from all the pulling and stretching, and it was very painful.

By the fifth day, my ear started to hurt really badly. It hurt even more when I lowered my head, so lying down was something I tried to avoid at all costs. I believe the night of the fifth day was the worst night of my life. I couldn’t lie down because of the excruciating pain, so I couldn’t sleep. Even while just sitting up it hurt, and the pain made me quite dizzy. I believe I was the only one awake in the entire neighborhood that night. I watched the lights of the houses go off one by one. Even the boys who stay up late slept and I didn’t. It wasn’t just physical pain, it was emotionally painful, too. How could my family sleep when I was in such a terrible state? I know there was nothing they could do, but at least keep me company, soothe my pain with words, anything! Just don’t leave me suffering like that on my own!

After a couple of hours, I was exhausted. I couldn’t sit up any longer; I needed to lie down. It was painful but I had no other choice. I think I dozed off for a few minutes, and I was so relieved to see my grandmother and aunts waking up at dawn to pray. Finally, my emotional suffering will come to an end.

At about eight a.m., my aunt and I left for the hospital. It was an hour’s ride, and I was holding my ear the whole way and certainly looked in terrible pain. Once we were there, I thought I was going to lose it. Taking the appointment took forever; the doctor was late and the first patient stayed inside for too long. I was kind of embarrassed about going to a private hospital for an emergency. Well, it’s not like it was my choice, but I was the only patient who looked like she actually needed a doctor.

I can’t put into words how happy I was when it was my turn. I told the doctor about the problem; he looked inside my ear without an otoscope and said, “yup, I can see it.” I remembered the cut in my ear and how everyone stretched it to see the insect and still couldn’t. Then, he opened a drawer and took out an instrument that looked like a giant, metallic syringe, and I think I panicked a little. I was relived when he filled it with water from the sink. After that, he gave me a small metallic bowl to hold against the side of my face (so the water injected into the ear would pour into it). He injected the water into my ear; the water was so cold and it was so painful because my ear was infected. Then, he put down the bowl on the table for me to see the fungi that came out of my ear (I did some research and it turned out that before dying, this type of insect defecates and vomits before dying, which was the source of the fungi). My brain was too occupied with the pain that it had no room to feel disgusted by the fungi. The doctor repeated the process because the insect still didn’t come out in the first injection. And then, ta-da! There it was, lying dead in a pool of water and fungi: a small cockroach! I wasn’t and still not disgusted by the fact that I had a cockroach in my ear for over five days, and I still don’t know why. I think the experience as a whole was so dreadful that being disgusted by it feels ridiculous.

The doctor was very talkative, but I hardly listened to what he said because of the pain. I was so shocked to hear some of the things my aunt said he told “us” when she retold them to my family. It was like I wasn’t even there. He said that if the cockroach stayed inside my ear any longer I would have ended up with a dislocated jaw because—I’m not sure if I remember it correctly but it was something like this—the cockroach secretes a substance that damages the bones, and since the jaw bones are the closest to the ear, they would have been the ones affected. So, thank God, I went on time. Strangely enough, the morning I went to the doctor, I did feel my jaw was slightly swollen, and I even asked my mother if it was, but she said it wasn’t, probably so I wouldn’t freak out.

If a person saw me on the way to the doctor and then again on the way home he/she wouldn’t know it was the same person. I was almost grinning like an idiot that I could hear clearly (I forgot to mention that I couldn’t hear well with the infected ear) and that the pain had stopped. I didn’t see a thing on the road on the way to the doctor, but on the way back I was looking through the window and actually liking what I was seeing, even though it wasn’t more than clay houses, old shops with peeling paint, and people waiting at bus stops.

I know this might sound pathetic because it was nothing compared to what other people might have experienced, but I’ve led an easy life, so that was basically the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

Life in Sudan

I was born and raised in Bahrain, but my parents are originally Sudanese. So, all my extended family are in Sudan. We go there every couple of years in summer, which would be fall for them. Maintaining contact and good relations with family is very important in Islam; if it wasn’t for that, I would never go to Sudan. I always try to find the silver lining in any unpleasant situation. For me, the silver lining when it comes to traveling to Sudan is the fact that I get to go back home once the trip is over.

I really love my family, and I always enjoy my time with them when I visit. The problem is living there. Sudan is a poor country, so it has an inadequate infrastructure. Outside the capital, there’s only one road that leads you to your destination; it depends on the direction from which you left the capital. It’s a two-way road, without lane lines. I always think whoever drives in Sudan deserves a medal of valor. It’s a nightmare to be a passenger in a car (drivers seem used to it). In the capital, the roads are so chaotic, you keep wondering how there aren’t accidents all the time. It’s like playing Frogger and all the players are skillful gamers. Every time we’re driving to the village from the airport, my heart would be pounding the whole one-hour trip. The fear of the driver’s hitting the car in the opposite direction or vice versa is always present.
My sister and I jokingly call the road “the roller coaster.” It is so bumpy and uneven that if you drank milk before the trip, by the time you arrive at your destination it would’ve turned into butter. Some of the potholes are so bad they can give you a concussion. I don’t think it has ever been maintained since it was paved.

My extended family lives in a village that’s an hour away from the capital. Almost everyone in the village is family, which poses the lack of privacy issue. Some men are unaware of the existence of knocking. They would just barge in because “they’re family,” irregardless of who would be in the house. Our house there is still not fully built, so every time we go, we stay at a relative’s, and in almost every one of them, I found this problem. Plus the fact that I need to be wearing my hijab most of the time in case a male cousin was in the house, which is quite inconvenient.

The most hateful thing about my trips to Sudan is the “toilet.” Since they don’t have a sewage system, they don’t have toilets. There’s just this hole in the ground that is about 5-10 meters (or more) deep, where you do your business and from which cockroaches of various sizes emerge at night, which makes going to the toilet at night a nightmare. But here’s the biggest surprise: it doesn’t have a roof! So imagine having to go to the toilet at noon, with a blazing sun scorching your head, while it’s raining heavily, or during a sand storm (and they have a lot of those, and sometimes they’re pretty nasty). They can’t make roofs for the toilets because the hole is obviously unflushable, so there would no ventilation if it was roofed, and a small window won’t do either. The toilets and bathrooms are separate, by the way.

Oh, and the insects! Fall is the worst time to be around when it comes to them. Sudan is where I’ve seen the weirdest and largest insects. Sometimes you can’t walk on the floor without crushing some and can’t get into buildings because they’d all be swarming around lights.
The number of flies is unbelievable. There are so many of them that if you opened your mouth to yawn, one would surely find its way into it. You’d build muscles swatting them away from your face. In case you were wondering how flies taste, they taste a bit sour.
I traveled to Sudan 7 times in my life, but they were enough for the worst thing that’s ever happened to me to take place. It’s a story for another time.

Now, to the bright side. Before the introduction of air conditioners in Sudan, people used to sleep outside, in the yard. Their yards don’t have grass; they either have gravel, sand, or tiles. In the evening, they would take the beds to the yard where it’s colder. Before air conditioners came, I used to sleep outside, too. It wasn’t always pleasant because mosquitoes, for some reason, feast on me more than anyone else and because it sometimes rains and I have to get up and take my mattress inside. Sometimes I would be so exhausted, I would keep on lying there with the rain pelting down on me, soaking my flimsy blanket. Having the opportunity to sleep under the stars is incredible! No matter how hard I looked at the sky here in Bahrain, I wouldn’t be able to see the stars, but in Sudan, they’re so clear and close, you feel that if you reached up, you can touch them. It’s one of my favorite experiences when I travel there.

Also, I really appreciate the opportunity to go on mini adventures, like going to the sea and to train tracks. You can’t have any real adventures here in Bahrain. Once, my cousins took me to the sea, which they said was “close by.” We had to half walk and half run for 45 minutes each way (we had to run because it was getting dark). I had to walk on a viaduct with wooden steps that was about 10 meters above ground, with 50 centimeters between each step. I thought my cousins took me there to get me killed. They were crossing the viaduct so easily, they weren’t even looking down! When I reached the final step (a friend was holding my hand the whole time), I thought I was going to faint with relief.

Of course, there’s also the fact that I get to breathe fresh air and live in a clean environment every couple of years. And every time I travel there, I lose at least 3 kilograms because there’s no junk food, and my belly totally disappears because I walk a lot!

I believe that living in such a place teaches humility. It makes me grateful for the comfortable life I’m living. It also made me less judgmental of people all over the world living in similar conditions, because we don’t understand a group of people until we live among them and learn the reason behind their lifestyle. Such a life makes me feel ridiculous when I complain about mine, because it would mean the world to someone out there to live it.

The Art of Cycling / Am I Not Meant to Pet a Dog?

The Art of Cycling

When I went to the UK, my view of Hyde Park wasn’t that of “a beautiful place for a walk”; it was of “a place where I can ride a bike comfortably and pet dogs.” These were basically my two main goals for visiting it. In Bahrain, if I rode a bike in a park, I wouldn’t be very comfortable; people would still stare. While in the UK, no one would even notice because it’s nothing new (they might stare just because I’m wearing a hijab). The first time I went to the park, I was searching for bike rental locations; I walked from the north to the center and back. The second time, I walked from the north to the western corner of the south, also searching for bike rental locations. All the bike hire docks were empty. While I was on the way back to the hotel, which is a three-minute walk from the park, I found a bike rental location, a minute away from the park gate! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before! Once I overcame the shock, I walked to the rental portal and followed the instructions until I realized I had to pay by card. Could that day get any worse? I shuffled back home with my chin pressed to my chest, heavy-laden with disappointment. The afternoon of that day was my last chance to ride a bike because we were leaving the next day. My friend had pity on me and rented a bike for me, finally! I walked happily with my newly acquired temporary possession to the park.

In the park, there are certain cycling routes, and if you cycled in the “pedestrians only” ones, you must pay a fine. The closest cycling route from the gate closest to my hotel is about a 10-minute walk, so I had to walk my bike all the way. It wasn’t easy, though. The bike was big and heavy, but I was determined. Once I arrived at the cycling route, I hopped on the bike, put my right foot on the pedal, and lifted my left foot to place it on the other pedal, but I lost my balance, and my feet returned to the ground. This went on for almost 20 minutes. Before I started, I haven’t even thought of how I’ll do it once I rented the bike, and I had no idea it will be so difficult to relearn cycling. It was like I was doing it for the first time, which made it all the more embarrassing. I guess 19 years is a long time. Until now, I can’t believe how I willingly made a fool of myself in a public place, in front of tens of strangers. I think this can be inspirational. I keep thinking of how many people filmed me and made fun of me online. I didn’t really care, since I’ll never meet these people again in my life. While I was struggling to steer the bike out of the way (I stuck to the very edge of the path to avoid accidents and be as far away from the center as possible), I sometimes blocked people’s path and kept muttering apologies. Literally, every single one of them was suppressing a laugh or smiling pityingly. I still didn’t care and continued the difficult task at hand. At some point, I got the hang of it and actually paddled for a long distance without losing my balance. Once I reached the southern end of the cycling route, I turned around and paddled back north. While I was half way there, the struggle began again, which didn’t make sense. I was just doing it right! It was exactly as if I were starting all over again. A lady stopped me. She pointed out something I totally missed: I was climbing a hill! She instructed that I keep the pedal at the top and push it down with my foot, which would give me leverage to go forward. It didn’t work, though. After giving me some more tips, she wished me luck and walked away. Then she turned back and said, “You know what? I have time; I’ll push you.” I was overwhelmed with gratitude! I felt like a kid, but I didn’t care! During my initial struggle, I was expecting that someone would come and help me. When I realized that no one would, I was truly offended, which accentuated the negative impression I had of Londoners. The lady who helped me was Guatemalan. While she was pushing me, we chatted a little, and I told her I was learning Spanish, so we exchanged a few sentences in it. At the end, she gave me her email so we would communicate once I went back. The funny thing is, once we said goodbye and she walked away, I mastered the art of cycling! I paddled away, and she was cheering me, saying, “¡muy bien!” I was elated!

The exact location from which I rented the bike

Am I Not Meant to Pet a Dog?

My greatest disappointment during the trip is the fact that I didn’t get to pet a Pomeranian, or any dog for that matter. Two Pomeranians were just a few centimeters away from me and I couldn’t touch them. The first Pomeranian had reddish-brown fur. The instance I saw it, I was so overjoyed I thought I would faint. I feared my heart would burst from excitement. I was looking at my favorite dog breed walking towards me! Its owner was a very old lady, who seemed very cold; her nose was runny. It was one of the coldest days in Exeter. We were waiting at the bus stop, and she stopped to express her sympathy that we were outside in such cold weather. I couldn’t really hear or understand all she said, partly because she spoke in a very low, shaky voice and partly because I was trying to find my chance to ask her if I could pet her dog. Unfortunately, I decided against it when I realized how cold she was.

The second Pomeranian had yellowish fur, and it was quite hyper. It was actually too hyper I missed my chance to pet it. The owner was nice, though. When the Pomeranian ran too far off, she said, “maybe some other time!” After that I was so angry and disappointed I decided to pet any furry dog I saw. I glimpsed a large one a little way off and walked towards it, until I noticed what the owner was doing: she was collecting its excrement. I changed my direction and continued my walk down the road of disappointment.

Things I wish to Do Before I Die

We all have things we wish to do before we die, but do we ever make a list? To me, it feels like playing a game with quests. It gives the game purpose and makes you keep going. They can be doable or just a demonstration of your capacity for imagination within reality. I’ve created the list years ago (and I still add to it), and luckily, I achieved two of the items. Most of them are things that might be easily done by most of you, but the difference in circumstances makes them difficult to do/undoable for me.

Go to Canada. Canada is a definite travel destination for me, but my family won’t allow me to travel there for no valid reason. That’s why it’s where I’ve decided to do my master’s degree and, hopefully, achieve my dream of becoming a book editor by eventually immigrating there (sorry, mom).

See real penguins. Penguins are my favorite animals. They’re so adorable, and they have amazing family bonds. Most of them are monogamous, and the parents take turns incubating the eggs. One would leave to feed for several days while the other is incubating and protecting the eggs. Also, when the eggs hatch, the parents of some chicks would die while feeding (by being eaten by predators, for example) and they would become orphans. The mothers whose chicks had died would fight to adopt the orphaned chicks, while some human mothers throw their children in dumpsters. I think penguins have important lessons to teach humans. (And, yeah, that was one of my favorite episodes of Planet Earth!) Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I did achieve that goal when I visited Edinburgh Zoo last year. However, I couldn’t achieve the next one

Take a selfie with a penguin, because we weren’t allowed inside the enclosure, of course. It is doable, though. I can go to Ski Dubai and do just that. That’s the only reason I can’t wait to visit Dubai! And in case you were wondering, penguins stink. Yeah, even penguins have flaws.

Edinburgh Zoo

Ride a bike as an adult. I did achieve this goal as well, humiliatingly, but I did it anyway. I’ll tell the story about this one in another post.

Rollerskate. It would be very hard to find an enclosed large area where I can rollerskate here in Bahrain (because, naturally, I wouldn’t be able to rollerskate wearing an abaya, you know). I once saw a girl rollerskating in the park. I was so jealous, I almost cried. I had to leave the park.

Buy a fine miniature house. I’m crazy about miniatures, to the point that I realized I love babies because they’re miniature humans. I’m waiting until I have my own place to buy one, preferably one made by Mulvany and Rogers. I know they’re expensive, but that gives me another item to add to the list: Become so rich you can afford a Mulvany and Rogers miniature house.


Drive on a long road with no other cars and with beautiful scenery and no fear of anything making me brake suddenly (like a deer). A road like this in Bahrain is nearly impossible to find, at least one with access to the public.

Run on a field of daisies. I don’t like flowers, but I love daisies. For me, they’re the symbol of ultimate peace and beauty in nature. Until I get stung by a bee.

Pet a Pomeranian. The Pomeranian is my favorite dog breed. Very few people in Bahrain have dogs as pets, let alone Pomeranians. I’ll talk about my attempt to achieve this goal in another post as well.

Ride a flying helicopter, because I’ve already ridden a parked one. Helicopters are different from planes, because they have larger windows that you can actually see through, and you can enjoy a true flying experience because you can feel the helicopter moving. In helicopters you can come close to objects during the flight if you want a closer look, and of course it doesn’t need the space of 20 football fields to land; it can land anywhere.

Bahrain International Airshow 2016