“Prosperous Days Are Yet to Come” – Bahrain

I had to comment on recent events Bahrain. They are catching the spirit of revolt from Egypt and are having large protests. When I was in Bahrain for three weeks over the Christmas holidays I did notice somethings. So far the protests have been limited to the city, especially the area around the Pearl Circle. This is a traffic intersection with a huge statue in the middle consisting of 5 curved beams holding up a pearl. Bahrain used to be a pearl producing island before the discovery of oil in the 1930s.
My sister-in-law works at an international school in Bahrain. Her school is about a 30 minute drive outside of the main city of Manama and is quiet in that area. They are in a “lockdown” situation and are not leaving the area except for essentials. They are holding classes with low attendance.

I photographed this billboard during our holiday in Bahrain. It is one of literally hundreds showing the king on all of the streets and highways in the island. Any government that has that many pictures of its leaders on billboards is trying to say something and trying to stay in control of a situation they are not. The royal family named Khalifa, came from Saudi Arabia in the 18th century and are Sunni Moslem. Most of the Bahrain people are Shiite, probably because Bahrain was a Persian (Iran) island for many years before the Khalifas took over. Iran is prominently Shiite. Driving around Bahrain, one sees in the poorer neighborhoods all kinds of Shiite flags and signs. Driving home from the city during our stay, we always saw the police stationed outside of these areas on a permanent patrol.

The Kahlifa family has a tight grip on power on the island. The main three are pictured below. They are the king in the middle (Hamad), his uncle the Prime Minister (Khalifa ibn Salman), and the King’s eldest son, Salman bin Hamad, as the Defense Minister. Nadia jokingly referred to the three as “Los Tres Ridiculos.”

During the month we were there, all of the Shiite areas had black flags and banners posted everywhere. If one of my Arabic readers could translate for me, I would appreciate it.

I don’t think it is just about power sharing and a Shiite versus Sunni conflict that is going on in Bahrain and the other countries in the Middle East. I think it is bad economies with a poor education system that is not creating enough jobs and allowing companies to compete in the global market place. Plus, a big portion of the brain power, women, doesn’t have the same access to helping these nations. They will have to figure out a way to keep their young people engaged and making a contribution to society and the economy. I hope “Prosperous Days are Yet to Come” but it will take a complete make over and time to do so.

I’ll be closely monitoring the situation in Bahrain. Today’s Wall Street Journal has an excellent analysis of the situation.

North Korea Defeats Bahrain 1-0

The VIP Section of the Bahrain National Stadium

It was certainly a different experience at the stadium last night as we watched North Korea defeat Bahrain 1-0 in an international friendly (exhibition) game in the National Stadium here in Riffa, Bahrain. The first strange thing about game was admission was free. They don’t have any tickets and do not charge spectators to enter. There were security guards at all the gates and inside the stadium, but a very relaxed atmosphere. The 10,000 seat capacity stadium was probably about 1/4 full. We had a difficult time finding four consecutive seats that were not broken. It is strange that the kingdom has such good infrastructure with roads, lights, etc, and such a poor stadium. The lights were good and the field in decent shape, but the seats, bathrooms, running track, etc. all need to be renovated. I only saw two women in the crowd, one British woman and one local in the black robes. Many fans were chewing sunflower seeds. The only items for sale were pumpkin, sunflower and other types of seeds, soda pop, and “sloppy joes” made with liver.

The game was quite boring with Bahrain trying to attack but with a lot of backwards passing and North Korea mostly playing a defensive, counter-attacking style. North Korea got the lone goal 14 minutes into the second half with a nice crossing pass to a cutting striker. The Korean goalkeeper made some nice stops, but he was annoyingly slow in retrieving the ball and kicking balls from the goal. I don’t see Bahrain getting out of their group and North Korea definitely has to step up their game to be successful in next week’s Asian Cup.

The Home Team Bahrain is in Red Uniforms

Below is the preview I wrote yesterday prior to going to the game.

Tonight I’m taking the boys to the North Korea versus Bahrain international friendly soccer game.

Both teams are getting ready for next week’s Asian Cup in neighbor Qatar. The cup features 16 teams from Asia with Australia, Japan, and South Korea as favorites. Bahrain will be grouped with Australia, India, and South Korea. North Korea will be matched up with UAE, Iraq, and Iran. It would be funny to substitute Cuba for UAE and add Venezuela to get an “axis of evil” tourney going.

Bahrain has never qualified for the World Cup. The past two cup qualifying competitions however, they lost in the final playoff leg, losing to New Zealand last year and to Trinidad & Tobago in 2006. They don’t have any players I recognize, most play in the Persian Gulf region. One guy plays on a first division Swiss team and another for a first division Turkish team.

North Korea is a more interesting team. They were in last summer’s World Cup, but lost three straight games, including a 0-7 drubbing by Portugal. The regime punished the coach by firing him and putting him on a construction job. In another article by Newsweek reporter Eve Fairbanks, she argues that the team should be banned from international competitions and discusses their star player, Jong Tae-se, a German second division player:

People who dismiss boycotts say they punish ordinary people rather than those in power, and furthermore, that cultural exchanges like orchestra tours and sports matches help dispel the sense of otherness that hangs over pariah peoples, allowing us to recognize our common humanity. Permit me to suggest that, in the case of North Korea and the World Cup, this is idiocy. Consider North Korea’s star player, the striker Jong Tae-se. A vocal and charismatic 20-something nicknamed “The People’s Wayne Rooney,” Jong has asserted that North Korea’s participation in the World Cup will do a great deal to demystify the country, win it respect and understanding abroad, and stoke pride at home. Indeed, Jong himself leads a totally normal and enjoyable-sounding life, by professional-athlete standards. He rolls in a silver Hummer, loves to snowboard, travels with an iPod and a Nintendo, and aspires to bed one of the Wondergirls—the Spice Girls of Seoul. He has also never lived in North Korea. He was born in Japan and continues to reside there, in the better-off Korean diaspora. He was the one who told the newspapers about his North Korean teammates’ quaint penchant for rock-paper-scissors. If Jong doesn’t represent the existence of Joe Ebrahim’s “dual life” in terms of North Korean society—in which a few nation-glorifying stars are allowed to pursue a capitalist lifestyle while most forage for food and dream about basic rights—I don’t know what does.

North Korea’s thrashing by Portugal means the team will not play on past their last group match, on Friday against the Ivory Coast. I suspect Jong Tae-se will manage. As for the regular North Korean fans, however, it’s not clear if they’ll be able to keep watching the Cup, thanks to a dispute between North and South Korea that affects the television signal. As for his rock-paper-scissors-playing comrades headed back to the Korean Peninsula, who knows—which is what makes North Korea’s participation in a sporting event like this one really scary. The team’s spokesman told South African journalists that the team’s one aim was to make the Dear Leader (he really said that) happy. A team whose purpose in winning is to bring honor to an inhumane regime—as South Africa’s apartheid rule was—should not be allowed a world platform to do so, particularly when its players face a dark reward for losing.

The team, except for the two diaspora Japanese ringers (Jong and another guy) were publicly shamed in a six-hour assembly. Weird! I wonder in tonight’s game if they will have any fans? I am looking forward to an interesting experience. I predict a Bahrain win, 2-1.  I’ll have photos and a match report tonight.

Birding in Bahrain


I stopped today and took some photos of the flamingos feeding in the mud flats. There were several colonies near the Sitra Bridge right outside of the capital city of Manama. They seemed quite content despite the large number of cars whizzing by them. We stopped the car and I got out and crossed through a construction area to get these images. The Bahrainis don’t seem to develop their water fronts. I couldn’t believe more people were not out watching these beautiful birds. They turned out to be Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus).

Flamingos are very cool birds. They wade through the water with their heads upside down, filtering for food. When I went down to the rocks on the shore, I could smell and see a stream of black effluent moving through the water. I wonder if this affects the birds? Reef-Egret as well a thousands of seagulls.(http://www.hawar-islands.com/) Here is an amazing web site about the bird life on the islands of Bahrain. After looking at AJ’s photos, I need to get a better lens and camera.

Bill & Owen’s First Golf Game


We ended 2010 with a round of golf at the Royal Golf Club at the Riffa View Estates here in Bahrain. Owen and I played 11 holes against my nephew Sebey and his father, Diego. We played on the “Wee Monty” course, a par-3 short course especially designed for kids.

The Royal Golf Club is a private club located in the gated community of Riffa Views where my sister-in-law Alejandra lives. To have a lush, green golf course in the middle of the desert takes a lot of money and the membership fee for a one-year individual costs over $8,000. The main course was designed by Scottish professional Colin Montgomery. We got a teacher discount and had a fantastic day of camaraderie and spirited competition. It was Owen’s first time golfing and I want to thank Diego for helping him out and inviting us for a great day out.

For the record, on the 11 hole par 33 course we played, Owen shot an 83, Bill 65, Sebey 64, and Diego 42. We lost by two points in match play, with a four-shot handicap. I’ll be watching Euro Sport later this month, when the first stop on the PGA European Tour comes to the Royal Golf Club with the Volvo Championships.

We also said goodbye to Diego last night as he flew back to Ghana. Hermes leaves this evening. We still have a few more days here. It was great to see both of them again.

Hermes, Diego and I at the City Center Food Court in Manama


Climb to the Top of Bahrain


We Did It!

Yesterday I took the kids on a summit climb to the top of Jebel Al Dukhan, which means the Mountain of Smoke. It is the highest point in Bahrain. It certainly not K2, but the kids loved it! They scrambled up the rocks and had pretend adventures. It was surrounded by oil wells and a military base so they could pretend they were James Bond spies.

I read later where the place is now off limits to tourists due to the military camp. No one bothered us however. It is December and the best weather for doing outdoor things in Bahrain. It would be sad if this area was prohibited because it is one of the few outdoor things to do in Bahrain. You can see our rental car below in the back ground of the photo of Oliver.

Kids take to climbing quite easily. I was a bit nervous on the top when Oliver approached the cliff. It is really safe however and perfect for kids. They found a bunch old tools and waste from some construction workers. I wonder why it is called the Mountain of Smoke.

Al Jazayer Beach


On our second day on the island, we got outside of Manama. We are staying in the area known as Riffa, which is one of the southern suburbs of Manama. After a morning of skateboarding on the streets of the Riffa Views gated community, we took the kids to Al Jazayer Beach. The beach is located on the south west coast of the island. We was a decent beach for kids. The water was clear and shallow, perfect for kids. There was plenty of playground equipment and the beach was generally free of litter. There were also shade structures and trees to set up a picnic area.

It was strange to see women on the beach in their full “ninja”, or black robes. The only people swimming were foreigners, besides us there was a British family. The closet the locals came to swimming, were two women getting their feet wet. I also saw a family stop what they were doing, face Mecca and pray into the setting sun. No one bothered us and we had a spirited game of beach soccer followed by rock throwing into the water. It was my first time swimming in the Persian Gulf. The water was cold and salty. It must be refreshing in the Bahrain summer. Yesterday tempertures were in 70’s.
Last night, my brother-in-law and I went for drinks in downtown Manama. We went to the Hard Rock Café and a club known as F1. The Hard Rock was exactly what they are all over the world. There were no women in the place, however, and a couple of Bahrainis in their robes and headdress drinking beer. There was a live band in the F1, playing covers ranging from Metalllica to Lady Gaga. There were close to hundred “professional” girls, mostly from China. Several approached our tables to offer their services, which we politely refused. They were charging anywhere from 100 to 300 dollars per night. It was very sad that they had to do this to make a living.

There certainly a lot of money around here with Cadillac and BMW dealerships galore and spectacular sky scrapers. I’m still trying to understand the traditional clothes of Arabs. I associated the robes with the desert, camels, and tents, not driving Hummers and walking through air-conditioned malls. I also see some Bahrainis dressed “western” and others in traditional gear. I want to know if there are certain days or occasions that they were the robes.