Travelogue: Until Next Time

by Christine McSwain & Emma Stough

May 9-10

It’s hard to believe that our trip to Bahrain has come to an end. Our final day in the country, we got up nice and early to head to the souk (marketplace) for a delicious Arabic breakfast and shopping. The market was a vibrant array of goods—spices, clothing, jewelry, candies. The highlight was the Hussain Moh’d Showaiter Sweets, where we tasted Bahraini halwa, a jelly-type candy with cashews soaking in the syrup—a treat so delectable that a box of it came all the way back to the United States with us!

Next, we returned to the University of Bahrain to conclude our two-day workshop. Students shared poems they had written based on our prompts and their work truly came from the heart. It was gratifying to watch and listen to these students read their name poems, a decidedly personal work to share. The students were a little more reluctant to share their stories aloud, so Professor Lott offered to read them to the group himself, revealing the writer at the end of the work. This exercise was particularly interesting in its structure—750 words which included a list of colors, textures, nouns, verbs, and an opening line which the students decided on collectively in our first session. Watching these students hear their work read aloud and praised for the things they were doing well was amazing to watch.  Two students admitted that this was their first time ever writing a story, and to have given them this opportunity to try something new—maybe something they were afraid to do before—and watch their pleasure and excitement as we encouraged them to continue, to be unafraid of writing, was a reward that defies description.

After the workshop, we adjourned to a classroom to snack and chat with the workshop attendees, some of whom included our students. It was a joy to end our time at the University in this way, just talking about writing and life. These students have evolved from familiar faces through Skype into what we hope will be lifelong friends. It was such a privilege to meet them in their element, and to watch as they grew in their writing. Telling our students goodbye was incredibly difficult, but we all promised to stay in touch and to never forget the bond we created through this program.  We look forward to a continuous and evolving community of writers at the University of Bahrain and across seas.

Our last session at the University was quite special. We met with a foundation English class with students who were just beginning their studies in English. Their teacher informed us of their amazing progress in the language, having started the semester writing 25-word essays and ending their class with writing 250-word essays. The students were shy about writing poetry in English at first, but once they warmed up to the idea they were surprised at their own abilities. During our session, each student wrote a cinquain and began work on a second poem.  Seeing these students express themselves through poetry despite their limited experience with English, was incredibly fascinating and proved just how unifying it is to write from our hearts, no matter what our native language.

Late on the 9th, we departed our hotel a final time for Bahrain International Airport. And finally, after a long long day of travel—to Frankfurt, then Charlotte, then finally Charleston—we arrived in the United States. To have been given the opportunity to travel to this beautiful country and meet so many wonderful people was one we will appreciate our whole lives. Our students told us again and again, “Don’t forget us.”  We doubt we ever could. Thank you to Haneen, Zaynab, Maria, Eman, Kawther, Zahra, Hafsa, Nayla, Aimen, Batrishia, Batool, and Maryam: you welcomed us into your country and made us feel at home. You’re all incredible writers and we can’t wait to hear about the beautiful things you all do with your talents!

Thanks also to Bret Lott: we are so grateful that you made it possible for us to have this incredible experience. It has allowed us to grow as students, writers, future educators, and—perhaps most importantly—as human beings.

Thanks to those of you that have followed along on this international journey! We have enjoyed writing to you.

Until next time—
Christine & Emma