It’s taken me 10 years, but I’ve learned to listen to that little niggling in my gut. I used to dread it, but now I know that when I get that feeling there is typically an adventure at hand.
It started last week with a simple date night plan of going to the movies. We even picked out the movie, the theater and the time and had arranged for a babysitter. But then my husband came home from work and said calmly, “What do you think about taking a bike ride instead of going to the movies tonight?“ It was a simple enough question, and yet my gut told me it was going to be more than just a simple bike ride. And frankly, I was up for a little adventure.
However, the first potential hurdle was the fact that I hadn’t ridden a bike in a decade. We brought our bikes to Cairo ten years earlier but once we saw the traffic we never took them out of storage. Then in Kuwait, after witnessing their driving techniques, it was evident bike riding was not going to happen there either. And then in Jordan, there were too many hills and too many babies. So a few weeks ago when my husband said I should buy a friend’s bike she was selling, I scoffed a little but did it anyways. I figured, if nothing else, we could sell it before we leave in two years. And that brought us to date night.
As soon as that little worry started building in my stomach, I knew enough to just embrace it and prepare for the adventure. So I grabbed my bike helmet, my sneakers, a sweatshirt, a reflective arm band (fashionista that I am) and threw my phone in my husband‘s backpack. Then I showed my daughter and the nanny my new look and giggled right along with them.
I started with a simple ride around the compound just to make sure that the adage “it's like riding a bicycle“, implying you never forget how, was true. Apparently it is. The one issue was that I couldn’t stop giggling. There was something so delightfully fun and childish about riding a bike that I was smiling from ear to ear.
We headed out of the compound, much the amusement of the guards who did more than one double-take. My husband started by taking me down the dirt alley behind our compound. It was pitch black and paved with dirt, sand and rocks. The niggling in my stomach kept going. The little light strapped onto the handlebars was just enough to illuminate any boulders within two feet of my front wheel. I was spastically steering all the way down the alley.
But when we got to the end we were on a normal road and I was grateful for the smooth pavement and dim yellow street lights. My husband led the way and I followed him down the street, around the traffic circle and up towards the high school. There were a few cars passing us but I hugged the edge of the road where it merged into sand and all was fine. Then I heard the dogs.
I knew there were little packs of wild dogs around because I could hear them from the house at night. But suddenly I was on a bicycle moving slowly along the dimly-lit road acutely aware of dogs barking at us from the dark sandy lots but not knowing whether these were friendly “hello there, intrepid bikers“ barks or “I hate bicycles and I’m going to leap out of the darkness and be nipping at your heels any second“ barks. The niggling in my stomach started to churn.
I was going to yell up to my husband but by this point he was too far ahead of me. I also noticed that the road was narrowing and I was going to either have to ride in the lane with the cars or go around the barriers and ride on the sand and rocks. With the dogs continuing their serenade, I opted for the sand and rocks and veered off the road. I quickly got the hang of it but I was definitely moving slowly. I looked up at one point and realized I had completely lost sight of my husband. I assumed he was on the other side of the large recycling bins or up at the traffic light. Or maybe the dogs had gotten him.
I made it up to the light and saw that he was kindly waiting for me. But just as I was riding up close enough to speak, the light changed and he zipped across the road. I didn’t have time to follow him so I opted to stay on the opposite side of the road and figured we’d meet at the next light. I ended up crossing halfway so we rode together down to the next light and up around the corner. By this point, I was feeling more comfortable and was able to stay up with him.
The plan was to ride to the shopping center at Hamala Hills where we’d grab a bite or have a coffee or something. When we got there, we realized we had forgotten to bring a lock for the bikes. So we walked them into the gleaming white marble shopping center and decided to park them next to the Italian restaurant. There weren’t any other patrons around, so we choose a table right next to the bikes. By this point, I had removed my bicycle helmet and reflective gear. A very young and pretty and highly-bemused hostess came over to us and handed us the menus. She couldn’t stop giggling. My husband wandered off to wash his hands while I chatted with the hostess. In a thick Ukrainian accent she asked, “You are sporty?”
“Um, not really,” I said, pointing out the obvious. “It’s a date.“ Suddenly I realized how ridiculous that sounded. But I didn’t have any other explanation.
“Ah,” she said, obviously confused. “It is very... interesting,” followed by lots of giggles. She asked where we were from and I told her America. She walked away giggling even more. She probably now has a fairly odd idea of what Americans are like.
We ordered some appetizers and karak tea and tried to ignore the continued gigglings of the hostess. But it was quite apparent we were the talk of the town. I’ve never seen such attentive servers there before. I think everyone visited our table at least once.
Halfway through our meal, the shopping center security guard approached us sheepishly. He explained that we couldn’t have our bikes here. We needed to park them outside. We explained that we had forgotten our lock and we didn’t want our bikes to be stolen. Although crime is so low here that it’s unlikely it would happen, the New York City kid that I married could never leave an unlocked bike unattended. He would sooner leave the meal.
After a bit of back-and-forth, the manager of the restaurant came over and suggested we move the bikes over a little bit. This way they weren’t as obvious to shoppers coming in. We agreed and thanked her for the compromise. And we promised that next time, we would bring a lock.
As we finished up the meal, my husband said he wanted a picture of us in front of the shopping center’s 10-foot high Valentine’s Day decoration that was still up a week later. So we donned our bike helmets and took turns taking each other's picture. I couldn’t stop laughing. Then, to take the ridiculousness to one more level, the staff of the restaurant came out and handed us an enormous three-foot long loaf of bread. They said it was a gift for the misunderstanding about the bikes. This ensured my husband wanted more pictures of himself in front of the giant red heart, holding a huge loaf of bread. I was very grateful he brought a big backpack with him as visions of carrying a log of bread under my arm while navigating the sand, rocks and barriers, not to mention desert dogs, swam through my head.
We thanked the restaurant and reiterated our promise to bring a lock next time and pushed our bikes out into the night. We started to ride off, but then my husband stopped and got off his bike. He told me to wait as he walked over to look at some stairs behind the shopping center. The steps were clearly for pedestrians to climb over the huge gas pipelines that run parallel to the road. I knew there were multiple pipelines there and I suddenly had visions of hefting my bike up as I clambered over them. I asked my husband if there were steps over all of the pipes, but he said no, just the first one. I was all for adventure, but I strongly suggested we stick to the road and forgo this option for tonight. My husband agreed.
So, the plan remained to just ride home the same way we had come, until he suddenly veered off of the well-lit road into the dark sandy lot behind the high school. I followed him, but didn't blink as I pedaled quickly and stared intently at the bouncing handlebar light illuminating the rocks ahead of me while periodically flicking a glance up to make sure I was heading in the right direction all the while hoping that we weren’t going to disturb any sleeping packs of desert dogs. Just your basic multitasking date-night skills.
We made it through the lot and got back onto the side road without any incidents or barking. We came up to the traffic circle, and my husband suggested we stay on the road but take it all the way to the highway and back. I said sure, and just as we turned I looked up to see a huge bat flying across the night sky. He was beautiful! I rode all the way down to the highway barely looking down at the road trying to spot more bats, but he was the only one for me that night.
We rode up to the highway and back again and then rode through the back roads avoiding the dark alley this time. There were occasional cars but mostly I heard the night noises of Bahrain which included crickets and birds and distant dogs barking and the constant thrum of traffic far away.
Not ready to finish our date, we waved at the guards as we passed our compound and continued on down the road to another little shopping center. Here we turned around and headed back. As we finally pulled in to our compound, the guards lifted the gate and we smiled and waved as we rode through. I think they were still quite amused by us. And that was fine. I was highly amused myself.
As much as I enjoy the movies, this was definitely one of the best date nights we’ve had in Bahrain. I’m glad I listened to the niggling and embraced it. And next time we’ll know to bring a lock and carry a big backpack. You just never know what date nights in Bahrain will hold.