My father-in-law, Hermes and I are shown above in our new Arabian outfits. We purchased these our first day in the Persian Gulf Sheikdom of Bahrain. I wore mine around the mall and received many positive comments from the Bahrainis. One gentleman fixed my head dress and two women approached me in the traditional black and raised her eyebrows (it was all I could see of them) and said “nice.”
I’ve had problems connecting to the internet, but will try to post more photos and commentary during my time here in Bahrain. Below is an introduction to the country I wrote and my Day One journal.
I am spending the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday in Bahrain. Bahrain is a small, flat, sandy island, about 3 times larger than Washington DC, located just off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. It is one of the “Gulf Sheikdoms” which are small island nation-states ruled by a separate ruling families. All of the sheikdoms are Arabs that have close ties to the Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain differs from the others in that it is considered the poor sister, when compared to Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Although it is poorer than its neighbors, it is still very rich compared to other parts of the world. Oil was first discovered on the island 80 years ago, but has now run out. They have moved to more of a service industry, they now rely on financiers, developers, retirees, and tourists which they have tried to attract. They also have a large US military base on the north part of the island which also probably brings in significant income. They host one of the races on the Formula One circuit.
It is tough at times to actually see a Bahraini on the island. There are thousands of imported workers from India, Bangladesh, China, and Nepal. They are the contractors, accountants, domestic employees, manual laborers, etc. who basically do everything. I do see Bahrainis driving really nice cars, talking on cell phones, and sitting around drinking coffee.
Compared to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is quite liberal. In Saudi, the citizens adhere to a type of Islam called “Wahhabism.” Wahhabism began in the 1700s by a puritanical preacher by the same name. He believed that Islam was degenerating and should become more strict and conservative. His family had strong ties to the ruling Saud family, as they still do today. With the influx of petrol dollars and increased communication, there creates an impossible choice for them between the fundamentalism of Wahhabism and a total Western lifestyle. The Bahrainis have done it better by being more open and accepting of foreign influences than the Saudis. The Saudis come to Bahrain to have some fun and it is sometimes known as the Las Vegas of the Gulf. It is still quite conservative here however, and you see all of women covered in black, some including the face except the eyes. I even saw one completely covered, even gloves and only two small holes for the eyes.
We are staying with my sister-in-law who works at the Riffa Views International School. Riffa Views is one of the many gated communities on the island. It is one of the most exclusive with a golf course designed by Colin Montgomery and beautiful homes. The school is spectacular with a swimming pool, tennis courts, a huge gymnasium, and modern classrooms and common areas.
Bahrain however, is not an Arizona in the gulf. They do have their issues with the royal family being Sunni and the majority of the population being Shiite. Oil has run out and with the global recession, they have taken a step backwards. It is an interesting place to have a holiday and a part of the world I’ve never been to. It is also good to know many of the locals to get an insight into the culture. I’ll be blogging from here the next several weeks.
Bahrain Journal – Day One
We are having a wonderful time! It is nice to see my sister-in-law, nephew, father-in-law and a former roommate. It is nice to be around extended family during Christmas. We are staying in the Riffa Views gated community. The desert light and landscape were a shock to my system coming from a snowy and tree-filled Belgrade. We arrived at 3:00 AM so we slept in a bit. Nadia, Marita and I went for a run about the compound and the kids played at the school.
In the afternoon we visited the Sheik’s camel farm. He owns 450 camels and the stables are open to the public. I’ve never seen that many camels before. I observed a couple of strange behaviors with the camels and if there are any experts out there, please comment on this post. The first was they would make a strange gurgling sound and a bladder of some sort would come out of their mouth like a balloon. They also spent a lot of time chewing on the knee joint of their front legs. Why do they do this? There was a large team of Indians taking care of the camels and it looked like they lived on the site in some makeshift sheds in the back. The stables are open to the public and one can easily approach the camels. In one corral, I approached a 4-day old camel, and mom quickly came over and gave me a warning grunt and stared me down. I quickly removed myself from the situation, understanding loud and clear, not to be a target of a mother’s wrath. It must be expensive to feed and care for that many camels. I wonder what they are used for? I read where they do have camel races. The camels also had only one hump, (look on google the species name and habitat)
We also went to one of the shopping malls in the city. Hermes and I bought the local traditional dress (look more up on this>) I kept it on and walked around the mall. I received several unsolicited comments from Bahrainis. They were very complimentary, even two women approached me and said “nice” when I was in the food court. One guy even stopped and helped me adjust the head dress properly, so I looked like the “big boss” who is the head of Bahrain. It felt strange to wear the outfit in public, but it also felt elegant. One carries themselves differently when dress in a robe. I was a bit tentative to do this, because I wasn’t sure it was a sign of disrespect. It turned out to be very respectful and the locals appreciated my attempt to understand and participate in Arab culture. I am not sure if I’ll get another chance to wear it. I cannot wear it in Europe or America. I’ll have to put in on a couple more times while I am here.