So, it's been about 2 1/2 years since I began this road to the Foreign Service and now we've finally arrived at our first post: Manama, Bahrain. Our last week in America was a complete blur, as we were so busy preparing the last few days.
On Wednesday we boarded the 11-hour flight from Washington to Kuwait, followed by a 90 minute layover, then a short flight hop to Bahrain. (And can I just say that United Business class ROCKS! Thank goodness for Mileage Plus frequent flyer miles.)
Our first impression of Bahrain came from the gleaming, modern international airport. We were met at the airport by an awesome employee from the US Embassy known as LES (Locally-Engaged Staff; previously known as FSNs or Foreign Service Nationals), who whisked us through the customs and immigration paperwork and helped with our luggage. Outside, our incredible sponsor met us and then we were escorted to our new home. For security reasons I can't really say much about it other than to say, we love our new house and neighborhood!
We've spent the past few days exploring our little island. So far we're pleasantly surprised at the amount of great restaurants, bars, pubs and shopping malls galore. Bahrain must have the most shopping malls per capita than any place on Earth, with name-brand American and European shops from H&M and Carrefour to Kenneth Cole and Virgin. And there's no shortage of familiar fast food chains including Hardees, McDonalds, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, Papa Johns and Chili's. Alcohol is mainly only sold in restaurants and bars that are attached to hotels, but the beer loving and resourceful Two Crabs have already discovered a few unsigned "off-license" liquor stores around the island. As for restaurants, the foodie Crabs highly recommend Casa Mexicana, which has a real Mexican chef and decent Mexican and Tex-Mex favorites. Also Sherlock Holmes pub at the Gulf Hotel is a nice pub with British pub grub and Guinness on tap.
On Saturday we took the afternoon to do a bit of sightseeing. We drove about 45 minutes to the desert to see the infamous Tree of Life (above) and Oil Pump #1, where oil was first discovered in the Middle East in 1932, right here in Bahrain. There is also an oil museum which unfortunately was closed on our visit. Driving in Bahrain takes some practice as people drive like crazy (but not as crazy as India) and there are hundreds of traffic circles (roundabouts); driving in Washington DC is great practice for Bahrain!
We've also explored the grocery stores. Unlike our old grocery stores in London, the Bahrain grocery stores actually carry a good selection of American food and other groceries. A few grocery stores also sell pork products in hidden "Sin Corners" in the back of the store.
The most shocking surprise about Bahrain has been high cost of living. It's an expensive place, way more expensive than Washington DC and only slightly less expensive than London. Fresh fruit and veggies are especially pricey. A pound of fresh California red grapes is $11!! And a pint of beer is about $6. The only thing that's cheap here is gasoline (about 95 cents a gallon) and tobacco (about $18 for a carton of Marlboro Lights).
Happy Birthday, America! As my first official duty as a Foreign Service Officer, I'll be working at the Independence Day embassy party. Tomorrow is my first official full day on the job as an FSO. Wish me luck.