Usually when I tell someone I teach abroad, they make assumptions. When I was in China, they assumed I was teaching English. In Kuwait, the tech director at the university I attended for graduate school was more than a little surprised that I had internet capabilities. He was also surprised I didn’t live in a tent. The one assumption people get right, however, is that I’m usually teaching to a large population of ‘locals’- kids from my host country.
Except in China, where I mostly taught Korean students, but that’s for a different day.
In Bahrain, the majority of our student population is Bahraini. And if you are unaware, Bahrainis are wealthy. Very wealthy. Extremely wealthy. Many students in my school are members of the royal family, via a grandmother, aunt, or cousin. Or they’re directly related to the King (ahem, I have taught the princesses of Bahrain).
If you get invited to a birthday party by a member of the royal family, you go. Not in a scary, you-have-to kind of way, but in an oh-my-goodness-what-will-happen kind of way. The Sprout got invited to just such a party- not for a classmate but for classmates little brother… who was turning one. My introverted nature and slight case of social anxiety makes me dread these events, but this one, well, I was more than curious.
This party lived up to and far exceeded my expectations. The pictures won’t do it justice because I forgot my camera and only had my phone. But trust me when I say, this birthday party was nicer than any wedding I’ve ever been to.
I should start with the invitation, which was delivered to the house by the driver because it was too big to be given out at school. This was not a lie.
On the way to the party, we got lost. The invitation said ‘farm’ so we were looking for a farm. We called the number on the invitation and this happened:
Us: We’re lost. Are we looking for a house or an actual farm?
Them (scoffing): Uh, it’s a palace.
And so it was. There was security to get it- The Sprout’s name was on the list. Once inside, we drove around the grounds… three times… looking for parking. Once we found it, next to the private playground and in front of an amazingly grand house with a fountain in the front, we were driven back to the TENT by a golf cart. The TENT was larger than our school gymnasium. Inside was a FREE Starbucks cart, a Fudruckers, face-painting, balloon animals, a guy on stilts, a huge stage, 120 seats, a soft-play area for the babies, two buffets, and a cake that probably cost more than my car.
OUTSIDE the TENT were three bouncy castles, a four-stalled booth with carnival games, three ponies, a cotton-candy and popcorn machine, and an actual carriage. Plus, a view of two more rather impressive houses, each with their own fountains.
There were at least 150 people… let me backtrack. There were at least 150 women and children. The men were in the majlis (pronounced mehj-liss)- tents set up in the back where they can enjoy tea and, as my student just told me, ‘do the things they like to do, since they don’t enjoy the same things as the women and the children.’ If there are no men, the women who wear the hijab can be uncovered.
*Cultural faux pas: we didn’t realize until ninety minutes into the party that our friend J was the only male in the room (he’s the dad of The Sprout’s BFF). Oops. There were a group of ladies in the back of the TENT (near the Starbucks cart), who stayed in their abayas and hijabs for the whole party. Is that because J was there? Or would they have stayed covered anyway? We ran into a mom who normally wears an abaya when she picks up her kids at school- she was uncovered and showing off a beautiful sparkly dress… oops. I mean, I don’t feel that bad- it wasn’t my husband- but I wonder if it made anyone uncomfortable.
Let’s stop for a moment and talk about the fashion. The invitation said ‘farm.’ It was a bale of hay. There were references to Old McDonald. I dressed for pony rides and petting zoos. The people in the know- they dressed for the Oscars. There were women teetering in the tallest heels I’ve ever seen. They had on jewelry that might’ve cost more than the tent we were in. I thought I was at a red carpet event. And I felt incredibly under-dressed. Not that I even have anything that could’ve compared.
The mother of the young man who was celebrating his 1st birthday in such style is a Saudi Arabian princess. She was announced when she came in. Apparently, not enough people came in to appreciate her, so they announced her arrival again. Then they ushered us in to gawk at her. She was definitely fawned over and had a photographer following her around all evening.
Back to the party- it started at 4pm and it is actually cold in Bahrain right now, so when the sun started to set, we were sent inside, where the entertainment started. First, there was a dance contest. The Sprout participated. I would’ve definitely given her the award for best dancing. Then there was a bubble show. The lady blew bubbles with her hands to ‘Let It Go.’ I will not lie, it was mesmerizing. I was disappointed when The Sprout became bored and wanted to stop watching. But it was 6pm and no one had eaten…
We got Fudruckers for the kids, which the adults picked at, seeing as everyone was starving. I was hoping the buffet was going to start soon but when the announcer said they were going to have more dancing and The Sprout began having a fit because she couldn’t have a balloon which was attached to the display on the stage, it was time for us to go home. I was bummed that we didn’t get to eat and that we were missing the cake that was actually taller than me, but it was time.
On our way out, we stopped by the gift booth for our thank you gift.
Then we were driven back to our car in a golf cart and went back to our normal lives.