Black Woman in Front of Balcony

The Intrepid Expat: Joanita Kasirye [Muharraq, Bahrain]

Joanita Kasirye and her husband knew they’d one day leave the UK to experience expat life. While their timeline didn’t go exactly as plan, they eventually brought their international vision to fruition. In this interview Joanita discusses living in Bahrain, the challenges of finding community and what you must try if you’re ever in the country. 

Share your international story. Did you and your husband grow up travelling or living abroad?

I am a second generation immigrant, born in the UK to Ugandan parents, so I’ve always had a broad perspective on what home is. Growing up I travelled quite a bit throughout Europe, North America, East Africa and Asia with my family and it really gave me a sense that I wanted to experience living and working outside of England.

My husband was born in Uganda and immigrated to the UK. We met in university and bonded over our shared love of travel. After a six month work placement in Abu Dhabi we both agreed pretty early on that we wanted to live in the Middle East. At the time we were not married yet and that was the major obstacle in a move. 

What was the catalyst that took you to Bahrain? Why did you choose to move there?

We had previous opportunities to move to Dubai but the timing was never right and it actually took about four years for everything to align. I had recently given birth to my first baby and was on a twelve month maternity leave when the opportunity to move to Bahrain (for my husband’s work) came along. It was such a great offer that we accepted it blind.

I had never been to Bahrain before and he had only been there briefly for the job interview.

So I did as much online research as I could. Bahrain is considered one of the most liberal Gulf countries and has a huge expat population at around 40%, so this eased any initial fears I had. Within a month of accepting we had packed up our old lives and moved, it was a crazy whirlwind.


What was your family/families’ reaction to the decision? Is this something they anticipated or were they taken aback?

Initially it was a shock because we had talked about it for so long, they thought we were all talk! Ultimately though because we both have immigrant backgrounds and family throughout the diaspora it wasn’t too bad.

Our immediate family were supportive and really helpful when it came to moving, but they still were a little bit apprehensive as most people have never heard of Bahrain. They had the usual questions like can I drive, is it geo-politically a safe country to be in, are there Black people there?


What is your profession or career? How transferable was your skillset in Bahrain when it came to finding employment?

Previously I worked in commercial contract management in the UK. I’m a stay at home mum in Bahrain; with two young children I decided to take a career break to support my family. I’m in a privileged position as a native English speaker with a degree, so I’m confident about my job prospects whenever I’m ready to go back into work.

How have you created a community for you and your family?

To be honest it hasn’t been easy and has taken a while because I’m not working, which usually brings that instant connection with people you’re spending all day with. I have made friends through going to playgroups but wouldn’t say I’ve managed to create a community yet. It can feel quite cliquey with expats often sticking to their own home communities. People don’t always know how to place us. There is a huge American presence here, and they always assume we are American and not British.


What are some of the benefits and challenges of living in Bahrain?

There are so many benefits: the weather is beautiful with year round sunshine and as an island there are lovely beaches everywhere. This is completely different to the weather in the UK and it makes such a big difference in your mood. The exception is the summer months, which are scorching and bring dust storms.

There is a great foodie culture, with so many different cuisines and restaurants to suit all budgets.  The healthcare is also really good. I gave birth to my second child here instead of going back home and had a really positive experience.

The main challenge for me is being so far from family and friends, missing out on birthdays, Christmas and so on. Also the local currency is really strong, it takes a while to adjust to how much more everything costs compared to home. Sometimes it’s over double what I would pay in the UK.


What’s one experience someone should have visiting the country for the first time?

It really depends on the time of year. Desert camping during the cooler months, where people gather together and have barbecues under the stars, sitting around the fire and eating Bahraini food (which is delicious). If you visit during Ramadan then there are plenty of amazing Iftar buffets.

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