Bahrain and Kuwait (Where it Wasn’t Snowing Last Week)

So I got back on Saturday from my vacation visiting family and old friends in Bahrain and Kuwait.

I realize that this is not your typical vacation hot spot, let me explain: My family and I lived in Kuwait for three years in the 90s after Desert Storm, from when I was 5 until I was 8. My aunt and uncle now live in Bahrain with my triplet eleven-year-old cousins (all boys), and my mom and I used this as a great excuse to get back to the Middle East, visit with our family, and spend a few days reminiscing in Kuwait with dear friends from my mom’s past.

We had a blast. It was SO great to see my aunt and the boys in their Bahraini world. We stayed with them in their villa—that’s the style for most homes in the Middle East. They’re usually made of concrete, built a few stories high, and have flat roofs and sand-colored exteriors with windows tinted in the style of reflective glasses both to shield from the sun and neighbors’ prying eyes.

Not even an hour after we landed, my aunt had us in her car and on the way to my cousin’s Halloween party at their school on the base. My mom and I were jet-lagged zombies by that point, so we fit right in. My cousins were rockin’ in their costumes and had a little too much fun scaring us out of our wits in the haunted house :) It was a pretty awesome time.

Then over the next week my aunt and uncle were saints and drove us all over Bahrain, showing us the city—or kingdom, rather, as their Iranian landlord’s daughter put it!

We went to see the Tree of Life, a 400-year-old mesquite tree in the middle of the desert. It was pretty impressive:

Tree of LifeAnd ALSO there was a conveniently located ice cream truck right out front! A little bit of the American capitalist spirit in that guy!

We also went to several souks, or Middle Eastern markets where they sell ridiculously nice hand-woven rugs and baskets, hand-carved trunks, delicious middle-eastern-style pastries made with strange sweet spices and often pistachios, and other interesting oddities.

One night my aunt’s Iranian landlady (and neighbor!) cooked dinner for us to enjoy around the pool between the two villas. I will forever remember that as the night that ruined all other types of hummus for me. Nothing will ever be able to compare to the level of amazing height of deliciousness that her own homemade hummus reached. And then her husband brought over the lamb he’d just cooked on their grill and the experience was repeated. Best lamb I’ve ever had, and ever will.

They were also such gracious, wonderful people. Just very, very welcoming and nice. My aunt and uncle really lucked out!

After we left Bahrain, my mom and I flew into Kuwait and were forced to yet eat more delicious food. It’s a hard knock life sometimes, guys.

We stayed with good friends of my mom’s who I’ll call A. (the wife) and W. (the husband) to respect their privacy. My mom became close to them while I was a kid and friends with their kids at the American School of Kuwait. They were both such AMAZING hosts.

They picked us up at the airport after a brief snafu over our visas. (One of the gaurds mistyped my mom’s name into the computer which turned into a scary hour of the gaurds arguing back and forth in Arabic and waving around her passport while we tried to figure out what was going on and spoke helplessly in English words they didn’t understand until we finally got an officer who spoke it to help us…no big deal. Really.)

From that point on though it was smooth sailing. A. and W. drove us around Kuwait the night we arrived, just looking at the city and how much the landscaped had changed in the last 17ish years. When I was there as a kid, I remember it being all desert. Now, I hardly recognized it. A. and W. explained that there had been a big push by the Emir for landscaping over the past decade and that over a million trees had been planted. It showed. The city was lush with life, an oasis practically!

The next day, A. drove my mom and me to see our old haunts: my elementary school, the co-op where my mom used to get groceries, and our old villa where we actually ran into our former landlady who’s currently living there! She was getting into her car out front when we drove by. We stopped and she recognized my mom right away and stopped to chat and catch up! Very cool coincidence!

We got lunch at a sushi restaurant in an area of the city called the Marina that’s right on the Persian gulf (picture below):

Persian Gulf

Our table looked out onto the water and the fish tasted as if it had been swimming in it only hours before. It was basically heaven. Also, the menus were iPads. That’s right. Each table got its own iPad from which to peruse dishes. Yeah… Kuwait’s kind of a wealthy country. I mean, let’s face facts here: it’s iPad menus wealthy.

For dinner we continued with our sea theme and ate at The Fish Market, a swank restaurant where we got to pick our fish from behind the glass and let them know how we preferred for them to prepare it. And I assure you, that was every bit as fun as it sounds!

The next day, A. was sweet enough to have another friend of my mom’s (and mom of one of my childhood Kuwaiti friends who actually now lives and hangs out with me in New York!) over for coffee and cakes. And do I mean CAKES. She got these amazing cupcakes that were each miniature works of art in themselves and delicious besides! It was so great to see my friend’s mom/mom’s friend who I also remembered from the old days; it also understandably brought on a major nostalgia attack for all parties involved.

After that, A. took us to see the hotel where my family and I lived for three months when we’d first moved to Kuwait and were waiting for the villa’s construction to be complete. Then, we took a break from memory lane to go and see some new developments: their incredible malls. There was nothing like a mall in Kuwait when we lived there, now they’re stupendous and boast the most exclusive of designer brands.

Also, HUGE glass fixtures in the atriums like this one:

Glass FixtureAfter two more delicious Kuwaiti meals—one lamb and chicken over rice with some amazing sauce I forget the name of, and the other was felafel takeout, thanks for asking—we bade our incredible hosts tearful goodbyes at the airport and headed back to the United States.

It was an incredible vacation and one I won’t soon forget! Also, I may never eat again as I cannot even remember what hunger feels like and have spent the last several days in a perpetual state of being completely stuffed! Kuwaiti hospitality, it’s a killer :)

 

 

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