It has been quite a while since I last posted and intended on doing so the past two weekends, but time and energy have been in short supply as of late. But another problem has plagued me as well: what should I write about that I (and others) might find interesting beyond 2012 (assuming we make it past the Mayan calendar end date). This blog’s purpose is in part to entertain (when possible) and in part to inform and finally yesterday, I finally decided on something that might be interesting years from now: how my living quarters in Bahrain differs from what we have come appreciate (or take for granted) back home in the States.
On the surface my apartment is not dramatically different than an apartment one would find in any large city across the U.S. It sits comfortably on the fourth floor of my seven story building and has a nice balcony. There are doors with locks that make sense, a kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and a dining room. The furniture provided by the embassy is all pretty standard, and despite being a bit outdated (design name = modern colonial), it is perfectly acceptable. But, that is about where the similarities stop and the differences begin.
Let’s take a resident’s view of the apartment’s unique design (flaws). First, as you walk through the front door and take a left, you will find that you are immediately passing a smallish room, too big to be a closet and too small to be a office with a bathroom in the back. This, my friends, is the maid’s quarters. I have converted mine into a storage room cum pantry cum litter box depository. I have tried to imagine what it would be like for a full-time maid to live there and it was an unpleasant thought. My cat finds it stifling and avoids staying there for longer than a few minutes at a time. The room itself is 6’8″ by 6’2″ and has an adjoining bathroom/shower less than half that size. Larger accommodations exist in prison and RVs.
As you leave the maid’s quarters and enter the kitchen you realize immediately that the rectangle in the corner is not your momma’s refrigerator. It’s somewhere between a dorm fridge and something you would have used in the 80’s in the States before the advent of the double door mega-fridges of today. It’s not really a problem for me, but I can imagine it being a challenge for a family of four, which is what my apartment is supposed to house. There are other strange differences in the kitchen design like the fact that there is no drawer for silverware, there is a washing machine and dryer (which are one and the same; i.e. a single unit) built into the kitchen cabinetry, and there is a weird inaccessible space between the counter and the window that only my cat can find a use for (he watches birds there). Somehow loading dirty laundry into the washing machine just is not all that appetizing, so I try to do it between meals. The dining room is pretty standard in that it is a box with a light hanging down from the middle, and the living room also offers very few surprises.
That leads us to the bedrooms and bathrooms. The bedrooms are all pretty nice actually, but storage space seems to be pretty much an afterthought. There’s plenty of it for me, but if I was sharing my master bedroom with my wife then we would have little space to hang up clothing and not nearly enough drawer space. There is the same amount of storage in each room; master bedroom and tiny guest room have the same space for hanging clothes and equal cabinet/drawer space. Maybe guests in this region travel heavy and residents live light? The master bathroom has a nice bathtub which also has a shower head, but for the partition between the bathtub and the rest of the bathroom there is a clear piece of glass that does not extend more than a few feet from the wall. This means that using the shower in this bathroom is guaranteed to get your floor soaked and your ire stoked. I do like that the shower head is on a long hose that allows you to use it as a fire extinguisher if necessary. Each bathroom also has a feature that would surely frighten Americans, another tinier hose leading to a small sprayer, like you might find near your kitchen sink, near each toilet. Toilet paper holders are also close by, but in the master bathroom there is also a full-fledged bidet. It’s not as nice as the Prime Minister’s Ritz Carlton bathrooms where the toilet seat is warmed and your cleansing and drying process is controlled completely with the touch of a button on a wall-mounted remote control, but it does the trick (so I have heard).
That about covers the apartment itself, but I would be remiss to not address the peculiarities of the apartment building’s other amenities and its outdoor features. When you enter the parking area in front of the building you are confronted with slanted parking that allows you to park and exit the parking spot more easily. Great idea guys! Well, that is usually the case, but there is a fatal flaw in the developer’s design — there is no outlet. In other words their is only one way in and out of the parking lot. There is no reason why there could not have been another exit to allow the slanted parking to be useful, but where that exit would be instead has a nice curb and some thick grass (excellent irrigation systems here). So, each morning, those who park above ground must make a three to four-point turn to exit their parking spaces. Down below the building there is a parking garage, but it has been greatly reduced in size when the developer decided to install a swimming pool in the middle eliminating a number of parking spaces. The pool, which has yet to open, is surrounded by two rooms, but since it was built after the fact, it is partitioned by a wall and awkwardly straddles the two rooms. That might be a confusing image, but basically to get from one room to the other you must swim. Perhaps this was the architect’s (philosopher’s) intention to provide faux-privacy between the deep-enders and the more shallow types.
The building itself is lovely from outside, but if you live on east side of the building you cannot access the west side of the building without going down to the ground floor. Confused? I was too. When a friend told me that he lived on the same floor as me in another flat, I was never able to find the door to his residence. I found a closet with cleaning supplies, a weird door that lead into a crawl space in the wall and the stairwell, but no way to the other side of the building. Two people living on opposite sides of the fourth floor must go to the ground floor and walk to other side of the building take the elevator back up in to reach the other’s flat. These are not sprawling buildings with 30 flats on each floor; there are a total of six flats per floor…
All complaining aside, where I live is attractive, situated on the ocean on a man-made island, and full of lush vegetation. There is little cause for complaint, but there are some peculiarities and differences to the American style of living that have been interesting to discover and adjust to over time.