It’s hard getting up in the morning before the red sun climbs over the desert horizon. It’s hard catching the bus to school as it weaves between skyscrapers picking up other sleepy teachers. It’s hard dropping the card into the clocking-in machine at school and starting to teach at 7.30 am. But it’s our fault. We chose to leave our beloved village in the Spanish mountains and come here to live in a city in the Middle East and work in an International School for a year.
If we’d stayed in Spain, life would be very different. We’d get up when we wanted to, without alarm clocks shrilling in our ears. It would be much colder, yes, but there’d be no traffic sounds, no skyscrapers. The hills would be dotted with almond blossom and the urgent ‘click-click-click’ sound of quails calling mates would echo round the valley. But here in the Kingdom of Bahrain, there are no birds to be seen except for pigeons and a few scavenging seagulls. And no trees except for ornamental ones, watered daily.Actually, that’s not quite true. Most Bahraini websites and brochures mention the Tree of Life, an extraordinary tree that stands alone in the desert. It is ancient and appears to survive without water, as rain rarely falls here in Bahrain. There is no vegetation around it, no clue as to how it survives. It’s not surprising that the Tree of Life is a huge tourist attraction.
I confess, we haven’t been to see it yet, but have spoken to those who have. Badly signposted, the Tree is hard to find and easily missed. And what a disappointment for the intrepid visitor when he finally tracks it down. There it stands, miserable and alone, with graffiti gouged into its bark, broken branches trailing the ground, litter scattered around its precious roots.
No, I don’t want to see the Tree of Life, and neither does Joe. If I went, I know I’d compare it with the thickly forested mountainsides of Spain, or the mighty oak trees and bluebell copses of England. I don’t want to see this poor tree that clings to life in the desert, maimed and abused.
And yet, despite our homesickness, the soulless cityscape and desolate sands of Bahrain have strangely endeared themselves to Joe and I. Is it the Arab children we teach, our new friends or the welcome we have been given? I’m not sure, but we were handed our ‘letters of intent’ this week, where we state whether we’d like to return for another year’s contract. Will we come back, or will we leave for ever in June? The forms are still blank; we haven’t written on them yet…
My recipe of the month – Shakshuka
This is traditionally a breakfast dish, but can be eaten any time of day.
You will need:
10 ml vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped (or green or red pepper)
1 (10 ounce) can chopped tomatoes
4 dashes hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
Pinch of salt
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in zucchini; cook and stir for 5 minutes. Mix in the crushed tomatoes and hot pepper sauce. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Make 4 wells in the tomato mixture, and crack the eggs into each well. Do not stir. Cover and cook until eggs are desired consistency, about 3 minutes for soft yolks. Carefully remove the eggs from the skillet and serve with the tomato sauce.
“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