It was sometime in 2012 when we received an order to go to on PCS orders to NSA Bahrain. We don’t know anything about the country except that it is in the Middle East. Due to what’s being portrayed in the media and or even in the movies, I had some preconceived notions about the middle east. One was the endless sand and sun (heat), rigorous and conservative, minimal places to enjoy, lots of angry people, and most importantly, dangerous. So, when my husband told me we would be going to NSA Bahrain as our next duty station, I had mixed emotions.
There was fear aside from the typical rollercoaster of emotions I get every time we are about to PCS (anger, frustration, sadness, stress, anxiety). The only time I ever felt it. For the most part, I could throw excitement in the mix of emotions I get but never fear except on this one. In addition to all the punches we have had to roll with, we received news that my husband’s mother passed away on day one of our pack out. So, this PCS turned out to be the most challenging move we have had to deal with.
“Family comes first” has always been our mantra, and that having the family together is of utmost importance. Keeping the focus on that allowed me to decide what we believe is best for the family, especially our children. I also managed to convince myself to keep an open mind. It may not be that bad. Besides, I always believe that every place and every situation is what I make of it.
Only six (6) months after receiving our orders, we were on a MAC flight to the Bahrain passenger terminal with a pet dog. Our flight arrived very early in the morning, so I couldn’t get a glimpse of the outside when we were landing. When we exited the aircraft, there was nothing special about the airport. It was small and didn’t seem like an international airport. Since we were on a military flight, I thought we probably landed in a unique airport for the military. Once we claimed all our luggage and our pet, we headed for the exit.
As we were walking out, I felt this hot and dry breeze blowing on my face and thought to myself that if it was already this hot in the morning (during late Spring), I could only imagine how hot it would get midday during the peak of the summer and I cringed. We were met at the airport by my husband’s co-workers. The extra hands were greatly needed and appreciated. We loaded up our luggage, our dog, and ourselves to the van and headed to our temporary quarters.
Bahrain turned out to be a pleasant surprise! I was expecting sand and camels and people covered from head to toe everywhere. Instead, I see beautiful and futuristic skyscrapers, plenty of vehicles (a lot of which are expensive and luxurious), people dressed in (to my standard) regular clothing, and water!!!
Due to some miscommunication, we were placed in a local hotel called Majestic Hotel rather than a temporary villa. Now, there were places and accommodations we’ve gone to visit later that were 4–5-star quality, but unfortunately for our supposed first week, we were put in a not-so-majestic and run-down hotel until they could iron out the mistake made.
When we walked into the hotel, everyone spoke English. That was both a surprise and a relief. Everybody was friendly and courteous. Our accommodation wasn’t fancy or majestic, however, in the couple of days that we stayed there, we developed a wonderful friendship with the staff. When the time came for us to decide to move to a different and fancier accommodation, we decided to remain there; until we found a permanent villa for the length of our stay in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
As required to all newly arrived personnel, we attended a NSA Bahrain AOB/ICR or commonly called INDOC, where we learned the dos and don’ts, off-limit areas, recommended places to live, and tips for making the most of our stay in Bahrain. Part of that cultural indoctrination was a tour which I highly recommend! In that tour alone, we learned a lot of interesting (and contradicting to what I thought) things about the country. Right then and there, all my preconceived notions disappeared.
It was not all sand and sun. We experienced monsoon season (heavy rains) and fall and winter temperatures that I had to wear the winter clothes I luckily brought. Yes, it could get frigid that people wore earmuffs! Summer can get miserable with the high humidity level, but it isn’t year-round, and homes or villas have to air-condition. The one thing I didn’t like was the sandstorm. Although it only happened once we lived there, it was challenging and a great inconvenience.
The dress code was a relief! I thought I would need to cover up from head to toe, but we can wear “regular” clothing, as it turned out. However, it is highly recommended that we dress modestly to show respect and courtesy to our hosts. I had had to wear an abaya or hijab when we visited the Grand Mosque.
During the length of our stay there, we managed to explore and discover more of what our host nation could offer. It has several huge shopping malls, grocery stores, water parks, island beach resorts, “American” restaurants, various authentic cuisine restaurants, and of course the Manama Souq, where you could shop local and regional products for a decent cost. Word of advice, though — HAGGLE! It is also best to develop a good rapport with the local vendors to get a lower price and even freebies.
We were blessed to forge friendships with other military and US civilian families and with the local people. It was surprising and refreshing to see that most love having the Americans there. Despite the very few and rare incidents of locals intentionally targeting Americans, they were most welcoming and appreciative.
Although protests and troubles popped up during the Fall and Spring times, it was still relatively safe. In the twenty-seven (27) months that we were there, we never witnessed tire burning up-close, which was a fairly common form of protesting. On the other hand, though, we were still required to adhere to the installation’s warning, exercise caution, and be mindful of our activities.
I never thought leaving Bahrain would make me sad. It had its challenges when it came to less advanced medical care (at that time); real estate and finding a villa to live in was confusing even with the housing office’s assistance and local people taking advantage of Americans by gouging prices. But our family’s experience was more than pleasant. I wouldn’t say it was great because we couldn’t take advantage of traveling to Dubai, Oman, Qatar, and even the nearby Asian and European countries – which is my only regret.
Every duty station we’ve been to are unique and special in their ways. Bahrain, however, was one pleasant surprise.
The news of a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) is always stressful and daunting; well, any move for that matter. But it does bring up a whole new level of emotions and anxiety when your orders to Bahrain would take you (and your family) to an unfamiliar and foreign country.
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Pets are a part of our family; hence, they need to be included in the planning process for any change in duty stations.