Expat tales: Adventure in Bahrain
Bella Wallis is experiencing international flavours and adventure.
Why did you move to Bahrain?
A few years ago the chance came for my dad to take a job in Saudi Arabia, and, being up for an adventure, the whole family went along, too. Dad was working on the east coast of Saudi Arabia in the oil business, so me and my mum and brother, Braedyn, settled into life across the causeway from Saudi, in the small island of Bahrain.
What do you do there?
My brother and I attend British curriculum schools, and I guess that the education system is very similar to New Zealand because there are a lot of Kiwis teaching here. I get picked up by a school bus at 6.20am outside my front door, school starts at 7.40am and I get dropped home around 3.20pm. The schools have an international flavour, with students from nearly 100 countries. My best friends are from Ireland, Ethiopia, England and South Africa. Mixing with friends from so many different cultures has been brilliant, and has made me realise that the world is a very small place and there is much more that binds us together than splits us apart.
What do you do on weekends?
Like most expats, we live in a villa in a compound of about 50 houses. We have our own beach as we are on the seafront. Being from New Zealand we are always out and about, swimming, on the boat and jet-skis or barbecueing. The Rugby Club is the centre of the expat universe, it's a great place to socialise, eat good food, party, and play a lot of sport.
What is the shopping like?
The malls here are fabulous; one even has a water park on the rooftop. Every brand imaginable is here in Bahrain, and they have one mall which is just for very expensive designers. It is fun to walk around the souq (local market) where they sell everything from fabric to spices, watches and local Arabic tea.
What is the best time of year to visit?
The most comfortable time to travel to Bahrain is March/April or September/October when the temperature is in the high 20s/low 30s. During the summer, May to August, the temperatures rise into the 50s. We always leave Bahrain at this time as it is unbearable outside.
How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?
It's a very long journey back to New Zealand, the most convenient way to travel is with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, with only a slight delay in Hong Kong, but this trip still takes around 27 hours. We can also fly via Dubai and Australia with Emirates. We usually take the opportunity to stop over in Hong Kong and take a side trip to another country in Asia to break up the journey.
What are your top tips for travellers?
Although almost everyone speaks perfect English, we are in an Arab country, and must never forget to follow Muslim etiquette. Most Arab ladies wear the traditional abaya, they cover their head with a black scarf and some ladies wear a veil covering all but their eyes, so we always make sure we are covered up also when we go outside the compound. Driving in Bahrain is very crazy, so I would recommend that you hire a driver (which is fairly cheap) and venture out to the villages. You would have heard about the so-called "Arab Spring" that happened two years ago, this saw the people rioting and protesting, but it's calmer now and apart from the occasional wall of tyres laid out across the road and set on fire it is completely safe. The Bahraini people are incredibly friendly, and generally the political activities don't involve expats.
What's your must-do thing for visitors?
The Grand Mosque is fantastic to visit. You have to wear an abaya (provided) and will be guided through by a local person who will explain all about Muslim religion. You need to avoid prayer times which happen five times a day. Also, the Bahrain Fort is worth a visit (in the colder months). It is one of Bahrain's most historical sites. The view from the top of the fort is a bit of a contrast, one side faces old villages and the other looks at fast-rising towers and developments of Manama (downtown). The Formula 1 Track is also worth a quick visit.
What is the best way to get around?
As a visitor, the best way is to hire a driver or taxi. There is no rail system and the local buses are not very reliable. My parents drive but it can be very scary, especially on the highways where the locals turn the three-lane highway into five and it is not uncommon for a car to come right up behind you and flash their lights which means get out of my way!
How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?
Food prices are slightly more expensive than New Zealand, it is difficult to get fresh fruit, but vegetables are grown locally. Petrol is very cheap around NZ35 cents a litre! Rental accommodation is very expensive, our villa costs Dad's company around NZ$4000 a month.
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Sunday Star Times