The end of the year that many are calling disastrous has arrived. True, there were natural, political and religious disasters of one kind or another. There were a lot of celebrity deaths. Life is an ebb and flow of contrasts, and Nature, left to her own devices, gravitates to balance. So, rather than focus on negativity, I feel optimistic. What happens isn’t what matters, but how we, as a human collective, respond.
Looking back on my own little microcosm, there is a similar theme. I experienced many challenges this year. I blogged about my difficulties with my letting go journey. I hinted at some of my health problems. But I am proud of myself for behaving with integrity and character, for the most part. After all, it’s relatively easy to be a good person when life is proceeding smoothly and people are good to us. Suffering, on the other hand, forces us to find our inner strength.
I have been blessed this past week with one of those rare epiphanies when apparent random and separate events collide to create deep understanding. I achieved success on my letting go journey when I wasn’t searching for answers. In fact, I had few expectations of my brief holiday in Bahrain, other than an opportunity for adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you with me to the beginning, when Mister and I embarked on our road trip to Bahrain.
As road trips go, I can’t honestly classify the drive from Riyadh to Bahrain as epic. I was excitedly anticipating what was to be my first drive through the desert and enthusiastically tucked my journal and pen in a handy spot to chronicle my observations. Heading east on a paved three lane highway, barreling along at the posted speed of 120 km/h, I asked if we had left the city of Riyadh to which Mr. Vocabulary replied, “the city limit is rather nebulous.” We continued past miles and miles of sandy landscape, broken only by the frequent spotting of camels and sheep and oil refineries. I felt like a rebel in the rubble.
Mid-way, the beige sand morphed to a warm burnt orange hue with tufts of green here and there, but soon enough it was back to the endless sea of beige. The monotony of the landscape reminded me of drives across the Canadian prairies. We passed the odd car carcass, a solitary Caterpillar tractor and, strangely, an abandoned Ferris wheel. It was all rather uninspiring.
Three and half hours later, we arrived at the Persian Gulf. I could smell the salty air before it came into view, and I found my heart skipping around in my ribcage with delight as my body absorbed the timeless peacefulness of the open air on the sea. I had an intuition that Bahrain was going to be an impacting experience and I wasn’t disappointed.
After forty five minutes of waiting in lines and going through tolls and customs booths, driving over the causeway, we arrived in beautiful Bahrain. One of the officials asked David if I was his only wife. He replied yes, to which the official answered, looking over at me, “She has a pretty face, one will do. Me, I have three wives. I sleep well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” I must admit it gave me pause to chuckle and I marveled at his cheekiness.
We got a little lost, but soon enough we were at our hotel, Le Meridian, with smiling, friendly porters offering to unload our luggage onto trolleys and park our car. I quickly stepped out of my abaya, tossing it with gleeful abandon onto the trolley and entered the hotel lobby with my Mister. The hotel was decked out in lavish Christmas decorations and the hotel receptionist, Martha, joyfully welcomed us. A feeling of freedom enveloped me and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude wash over me.
Me & Mister by one of the Christmas Trees at Le Meridian
We made reservations for the hotel’s famous Friday brunch the next day. The experience impacted me on many levels. From the moment we entered the restaurant I felt like Cinderella, it was pure magic. The entryway served as the monument to all things sweet, baked and delicious. Chefs had prepared a sensational assortment of culinary decadence. There was Santa on his sleigh being pulled by cookie reindeer, cakes and puddings, gingerbread houses, an iced snowman and a Christmas tree with bon-bon ornaments. It was a chocolate lovers heaven with at least twenty different varieties of truffles, not to mention a chocolate fountain. My mouth was salivating already and our dining experience had not yet begun.
Yes, the reindeer are cookies!
The smiling waiter with his elf hat perched merrily on his head led us past the live entertainment and seated us at our table with aplomb, plucking my napkin up and placing it politely across my lap. We were brought still water and ordered a glass of champagne. As I clinked flutes with my Mister I felt more gratitude and tears filled me eyes. Composing myself, I ventured amongst the vast array of food stations, hand in hand with Mr. Charming.
For our first course, several delicious cheeses made their way to our shared plate, including a strong and savoury blue that packed a punch, made even more delectable with the addition of a tart cranberry jam. We also waxed eloquently over the piquant and buttery French cheese, of which variety I have now forgotten. My senses of sight, smell and taste were tantalized, but something much deeper occurred for me as I felt the gift of being in connection with my husband amid the Christmas spirit all around us, surrounded by people of all cultures and religions, gathered together. In that moment, my heart-felt light and a world where peace is king and people respect one another felt possible. I wasn’t the only one with such a vision, as the following video testifies.
After a short rest and engaging conversation we moved on from champagne to red wine and decided to serve up our second course. We started at the carving station where the chef sliced us thick slices of roast turkey and Wagyu beef. In the line we made eye contact and smiled in greeting to a lady ahead of us who ended up visiting our table later on, a delightful woman named Sophie originally from Germany. We dished up small portions of savoury zucchini, parsnips and potatoes that were spicy and crisp on the outside while an observant server kept discreetly filling up our wine glasses.
Before heading for dessert, Santa Claus arrived. It was quite a hoot, as his black hair peeked out from his thin white wig and obviously fake beard all askew. No one was bothered, least of all the children, who all clamoured about him excitedly and posed with their parents for photos to mark the occasion. Everyone was festive and it touched my heart when a Muslim woman I passed by on my way to the dessert station smiled broadly at me.
Our third and final course was dessert. I did over-indulge (yes, Carol, your Oink was appropriate!) tasting at least six varieties of creamy, velvety, smooth and luscious truffles. Three hours later, stuffed, (not quite like a pig) our experience was complete and we left to explore the shops in the attached City Centre mall.
Skipping ahead, my next impactful experience was our tour of the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. My good friend Carol, and her husband Raimo, had invited us to join them. Neither Mister nor I had ever stepped foot in a mosque before, and we weren’t certain what to expect. I pulled my scarf discreetly over my blonde hair and lifted my long abaya as we ascended the steps to the entrance. We were ushered into a reception area and asked our nationalities and then asked to wait for our guide outside the shoe cubicle area.
Within minutes our guide, an Imam born in Kenya before settling in Bahrain, joined us. He was a gentle man, the kind of spiritual person for whom all of Life’s questions and answers are simple, for they are placed at the foot of God. For him, his faith was easy and pure and the path to salvation was available to everyone, including us. We merely had to make an oath that there is only one God and that Mohammed was the true and final prophet. Carol and I peppered him with questions about the role of women, about the five daily prayers, and about fasting over Ramadan. He urged us to set our minds and accept the way to a prosperous and happy life. He tried his best to convert us to Islam, but there was no judgement or condemnation expressed, only a sincere desire to provide us with an opportunity for salvation.
Me & Carol in the mosque
The mosque itself was a beautiful structure, designed in an intricate geometric configuration of shapes that exuded a peaceful quality. The walls were covered in a special local stone tile that kept them cool in the hot weather. The ceilings were so high they seemed to stretch to the very heavens themselves. The door to the main prayer area for men, which we were not permitted to enter, was a tall, ornate structure, the handle at the height of my head and almost the same circumference.
Our guide led us up the winding staircase to the gallery viewing area and place where women can pray. We engaged in further discussion about the origins of Islam and Christianity and he shared how both religions had as their common ancestor Abraham, from Israel. Somehow the story had me feeling the unity of humanity, not the division, and I was moved.
We walked around the balcony ledge, carved of ornate dark wood, and peered above at the stained glass windows and elaborate chandelier of imported lamps. The call to prayer began and we took it as our time to depart. We thanked the Imam for his time, David taking his hand in his as a sign of appreciation, and I motioned to do the same before realizing with embarrassment the inappropriateness of my action. I felt flustered and perhaps even a little angry for the first time since arriving in Bahrain with the restrictions of being a woman in patriarchal Muslim society.
My journey continued when we chose to go and see the movie Passengers. I was excited by the opportunity as there are no movie theatres in Riyadh. Even the message of the movie, which was about letting go of how we expect our lives to unfold to accept what manifests, seemed so appropriate. I could almost feel God whispering me to make the most of each and every moment.
Last, but not least, was our romantic Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cut restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mister and I walked into an elegantly decorated hostess station and were shown to the elevator before being led to our intimate booth. Our seats boasted spectacular views of the bay through floor to ceiling windows and the red and white lights of Bahrain’s National Day twinkled in the moonlight. A duo of talented musicians provided us with the atmosphere, the young woman’s sultry voice reminding me of Dido, the man strumming proficiently on his guitar.
The waiter brought us two menus, one a la carte, the other the chef’s prix fixe with wine pairings. The four-course set menu was tantalizing, but I wasn’t sure if my food allergies could be accommodated. To my delight, our smiling server returned and assured me the chef was more than happy to make whatever revisions necessary for me to enjoy his creations.
Mister & Me @ Cut
The presentation did not disappoint. The first course was prosecco with smoked salmon. Crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, it was melt in your mouth delicious. Pasta was served next, and the chef wowed me with a serving of gluten-free spinach fettucine in butter with fresh parmesan, paired with a luscious glass of Chateau de Neuf. The main was the feature and the filet mignon was a perfect cut, perfectly cooked and infused with complex but complementary flavours of earthy mushrooms, savoury mustard sauce and crispy onions. The pairing was a peppery shiraz blend that was our favourite wine selection of the evening. The finale was as impressive, with the chef preparing me from scratch a gluten free yule log of cake and cream that looked equally divine to David’s traditional fare. In addition, was an apple poached tart with two quenelles, one vanilla bean ice cream and one mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with a silky port that was not too sweet, pleasing even our picky palates. Yes, it was over the top and we both felt full of food and gratitude when we climbed into our taxi three hours later.
That night we were treated to a FaceTime conversation with our daughter and grandson. We were thrilled especially because our FaceTime has not been working since arriving back in Riyadh after Haj. It was so touching to see his cute little face, full of excitement with the magic that Santa Claus was coming to town. In the morning, we enjoyed more connection with my Mom and brother and then with our youngest daughter. I realized how far I’d come on my letting go journey, from last year when my heart was grieving our separation from family so heavily. I still missed them, but I was grateful that I had a family I loved so much to miss. I was grateful for all the Christmas celebrations I shared with them in the past. And I was present to the gift of this Christmas with my Mister in Bahrain.
The myriad of experiences I had in Bahrain combined to create feelings of such deep love, peace and joy. I left feeling full of hope for the future, enthusiastic to discover what new adventures were in store.
Feeling reflective about 2016 and wishing everyone a Happy New Year