Two Old Fools On a Camel is about the adventures of Vicky and Joe Twead, British expatriates who leave their comfortable home in a Spanish village to take jobs teaching at a private school in Bahrain.
As if drastic heat, the trials of teaching during Ramadan, lost schedules, tiny rooms, fellow teachers who range from charming to downright insane, and spoilt but lovable students weren’t enough, they also find themselves in the middle of the Arab Spring. Kept under house arrest by protests, government crackdowns, and suspicion of foreigners, they nonetheless manage to keep their spirits up in true British fashion, with humor and verve.
The book is laugh-out-loud funny in places, sobering and thought-provoking in others. From goofy parties at Bennigan’s to the author’s worry over a student caught in protest-related crossfire, from petty school politics to near-psychotic episodes on the part of another teacher, from the problems of dealing with a classroom where most of the boys have the same first name (Mohammed, naturally) to the issues of wealth, privilege, and snobbery among the student population, the emotional range is substantial.
The author manages to make it all readable and entertaining, with a dry and slightly frazzled wit. She is particularly good at character sketches, bringing personalities to life with a few well-chosen words and quotes. And if you don’t enjoy the stories, there are always the recipes at the end, including The Gin Twins’ Chuck-It-All-In Curry, and Baklava (Sent Direct From Heaven).
At times, the character sketches can be unforgiving, even a bit unkind, though they are always funny. (The author mitigates this somewhat by being every bit as willing to laugh at herself and her husband as at everyone else.) The editing very occasionally fails, as when, in the recipes at the end, they speak of that American classic, the peanut-butter-and-jello sandwich (an easy mistake to make in a British context, admittedly, since their “jelly” is our “Jell-O”, but in fact, the standard American PB&J involves jam, not gelatin). The book also occasionally foreshadows a bit too much, cutting down on the effect of later chapters by telling us what will happen too early and too often – this is less of a problem, mind you, for a nonfiction book dealing with relatively recent events than it would be for a work of fiction.
A lively and entertaining travelogue, well worth reading, with a wry and mischievous lilt to it. Anyone who enjoys colorful characters and cultural collisions will like this book, and anyone who likes to cook will enjoy the appendix.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader