“We are the world,” I said to William Roebuck, the ambassador of Bahrain, who has had the kind of life that involves meeting royalty and making decisions about nations and once running tragically over an IED.
“We are the world,” I said. And then I wanted to crawl under the glossy embassy table and die of ‘80s-inspired, pop-song shame.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
I’m in Bahrain with a group of teachers on a fellowship with the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce. It’s pretty awesome, even factoring in the 26 hours it took to go from Danforth to Manama Ramada, which began with Delta telling me I had to carry a Hefty Hefty Cinch Sack around the airport if I didn’t want to pay the extra weight fee, and then ended with a six-hour heart-to-heart with a pro-Brexit British ex-military fellow named Richie. Richie has a terrifying physique, a sleeve of colorful tattoos, and a delightful way of giggling over whiskey at everything I say, so: fast friends. Also, his good “mate” was attacked by a barrage of monkeys in almost the exact same place in Thailand that I was attacked by one. We bonded over our Venn Diagram of rabies treatment.
Eventually we landed in Manama, which is a place I didn’t know I didn’t know how to pronounce until today. The guy from GPIC said it and I’ve been singing “Mahna Mahna” ever since, which is definitely an ear worm but a heck of a lot better than the song I was singing before, which was a version I’d been doing of “Bah-bah-bah, bah-bah-Bahrain” in my best Brian Wilson.
This blog post is starting to have a theme of badly-appropriated music. Sorry.
Anyway, woke up this morning and went directly to the mosque down the street, which is the Al Fateh Grand Mosque and the place I learned my face off! So interesting. I did a bunch of reading and research before I got here and I really hope to drop some of the better nuggets into these posts so you can feel more intellectual satisfaction than shame while reading them, but I’m still a little jet-lagged so maybe not much of that today. But fun fact: women in Bahrain traditionally wear black while the men wear white. This is not so much to do with religion but rather with the fact that for centuries, they were in a minimally-developed desert country with no rainfall and little life to sustain the kinds of plants and animals that produce things like dyes. Thus, the bi-color fashion palette. The men picked white clothing because they worked outside in the hot, hot sun and the women distinguished themselves by dressing darker. Interesting, right?
Bet you even forgot “Mahna Mahna” was stuck in your head.
So anyway: GPIC, which I mentioned before, is the Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company. If you’re ever looking for literal red-carpet treatment; an awkward, politically-motivated conversation about a president-elect whose name you’ve kinda put in the “Voldemort” category; a lunch to end all lunches; and a swag bag with an actual sealed package of pellet urea? Well, honey, get your buns to Bahrain. They underwrote our trip here and were the most gracious hosts. It makes me want to reevaluate my impression of Big Oil because they were kind and solicitous and spoke passionately about a triple bottom line that includes social responsibility and environmental stewardship as well as profit. I have a lot of respect for that kind of thinking. I’m just still reeling a bit from some human behavior that I failed to predict this week… and having a hard time suspending suspicion. If optimism can reign, though, they are a wonderful group of people and I’m grateful to have had the fish-farm tour.
The embassy was next, and I’m sorry to say that by this point, I was in a state I call the blinky-snaps. Do you know this? The zombie thing during which you blink, and then you blink slower, and then you briefly forget to open your eyes after starting to blink, but your brain somehow knows you’re in the presence of someone who hangs out with Crown Princes and so snaps your head up and eyes open with a vicious, violent start? That happened twice in the embassy, so when we went around the table with introductions and it was my turn, I said,
“Hi. I’m Carrie Foster. I teach 6th and 7th grade social studies in Portland, ME.”
“Oh!” said the ambassador, “the little ones!”
“The MEDIUM ones,” I replied with a grin, in retrospect hoping it sounded more sassy than saucy.
“Something,” he replied gravely, and that shouldn’t be in quotes because honestly I forgot what he actually said because I was so mortified by what I said next:
“We are the world.”
Goodnight, you guys. I love this trip, my colleagues here are fantastic, and the people of Bahrain have been the models of hospitality you want in any visit. I’m so excited to meet more and see more and learn more… but right now I have to go to the bed.
Tomorrow I hope that my reports are less embarrassing.