In our little mountain village in Spain, children rule. They run wild in the streets, get up to all sorts of mischief and are regarded as little angels by their doting parents. And they are. Joe and I have always found Spanish kids to be delightful, polite and charming.
So when we signed our contracts to teach for a year in an International School in the Kingdom of Bahrain, we wondered how different the kids would be in the Middle East.
Well, their life-style is certainly different. In Spain, kids’ lives are governed by the seasons and their huge families. Fiestas, football, grape pressing, endless summer weeks romping in the village, the beach, Christmas… all important times for Spanish children. Here in Bahrain, the children we teach come from wealthy families. They have every material possession, are looked after by maids and brought to school by drivers. It’s too hot to play outside, there are no nice beaches and leisure time is spent in the city malls.Surprisingly, Arab kids love football too, and support teams like Manchester United, Arsenal and even Barcelona. The long summer break is usually spent traveling with their families. Many have already visited Europe and America.
English is their second language, and their dream is to be accepted into an American University. However, like kids all over the world, only a small proportion are actually motivated in school. Homework is rarely produced, class discipline can be a struggle and cheating in tests has been honed to a fine art that often leaves Joe and I breathless. While his back was turned, one quiet little mouse of a girl erased her grades from Joe’s open gradebook and substituted much higher ones. My eleven year olds write spelling test words on their ankles. Some girls conceal cheat sheets in their hijabs (head veils) and it is rumoured that the school computer is frequently hacked and grades changed. We roared with laughter when one student accidently handed Joe his cheat sheet along with his Physics test. When caught, they apologise profusely and swear they will never do such a thing again…
In spite of this, progress along the school corridor is slow as each boy wants to shake hands. “Mr Joe!” they exclaim, clapping him on the back as though they haven’t seen each other just 15 minutes ago. “How are you?”
The kids are full of fun and mischief. Last week they set up a fake student in my classroom, propping up a dummy in school uniform in an empty chair. For some reason, they called him ‘Jorge Wasington’ and ‘Jorge’ took an active role in the lesson. I made sure he was given the same vocab test that day, and turned a blind eye as his paper was completed by his ‘friends’.
I’m given gifts daily; bookmarks, candy, ornaments, board markers, red pens. Joe is plied with chocolate and cookies.
So, are kids in Spain and the Middle East very different? That’s the surprising thing… They’re not! Yes, these Arab kids are much more sophisticated, but, like Spanish kids, they are still funny, friendly, naughty, generous and a joy to be with.
My recipe of the month – Kabsa
(Chicken & Rice Skillet)
You will need:
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 chicken, cut up
1 large onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup tomato sauce or puree
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 medium carrots, grated
grated peel of 1 orange
3 whole cloves
2 cardamon pods or 1/2 tsp. ground cardamon seeds
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup long-grain rice
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup toasted, sliced or slivered almonds
Melt butter or margarine in a large skillet. Add chicken pieces. Sauté until onion is tender. Stir in tomato sauce or puree. Simmer over low heat 1 minute to blend flavors. Add tomatoes, carrots, orange peel, cloves, cardamon, cinnamon stick, salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute. Add broth. Return chicken pieces to skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer over low heat 30 minutes. Stir rice into liquid between pieces of chicken. Or remove chicken, stir in rice, then return chicken pieces to skillet. Cover. Simmer 30 minutes longer or until rice is tender. Garnish with raisins and almonds.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
From “Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines” by Rose Dosti
“a charming and funny expat tale” The Telegraph (UK)
“Weeks later you will be doing the dishes and recall some fleeting scene with chickens or mules or two old fools and laugh out loud all over again.” The Catalunya Chronicle