Bahrain 7 – diplomatic privilege

Another interesting day, beginning with Stephanie driving us to Windsor Castle. Not the real one of course but a palace if a princess that is somewhat reminiscent of it. We visited the harbour where a new harbour arm has been built for the fishing boats to moor alongside. It is not all that popular as the mooring fees are high. Fishermen used to just pull up on the beach. There were three dhows moored there with their Asian crew busy repairing their nets. It was all very pleasant with an attractive but massive new housing estate awaiting its residents across the bay. A strong wind blew and the sea sparkled in the morning light. Some posts sticking out of the water indicated fish traps set in the shallows.

From there Stephanie drove us through some of the villages, including Duraz which had until recently been closed off because of rioting a year or so ago. These villages are mainly Shi’a and there are signs of protest on many of the walls, now painted over, but there nonetheless. We stopped at a village bakery, and watched them making flat breads in a wood oven. We drove down little alleys with evidently quite poor housing, compared to what we have seen in much of the country. We looked over an Islamic graveyard with single stones to mark the head of the body.

We arrived at the cathedral just in time for the Communion service. A different and quite small congregation but the same service except that the Dean was preaching. Interesting to hear a different take yet again on the same Bible passage.

We left after coffee and headed for the British Embassy. Security was somewhat tight! The security level was described as ‘normal’, which seems to translate as ‘paranoid’, but perhaps that is a little unfair! Anyway they kept our passports at the front entrance and by camera and our mobile phones. We went into a very smart building and sat in the reception area to wait for the Deputy Ambassador, Muqbal. He was in a meeting which was running late. A few minutes later he erupted into the foyer full of apologies.

In the next 45 minutes, he gave us as succinct and clear an explanation of the religious and political situation in Bahrain and the British attitude to it as you could hope to receive from anyone. He talked quickly, but clearly punctuating his exposition with gales of laughter and accepting and replying to all our questions. It was obvious that we were in the presence of a considerable intellect and a man of great humanity and humour. He described himself as a Church of England Moslem and certainly he displayed a great understanding of both belief systems and their nuances.

We left with his apologies ringing in our ears for talking so much, but we left much better informed. Having been separated from my camera for all of 45 minutes I was desperate to take a picture! Outside the embassy is one of the many skyscrapers in this area. Bizarrely this has three fairly useless wind turbines strung between its two towers. The G4S security guards kindly showed me where to stand to get the best shot….which just goes to show that the company may be not up to much but some of their staff are delightful!

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We went back to the Cathedral, picked up Chris’s wife, Tricia, and headed for the British Club. This was turning into a very British day and I regretted leaving my panama at home. Chris signed us in and we joined a couple of men poolside who looked as though they had put themselves the wrong side of too many spotted dicks and jam roly-polies . We ordered lunch – fish and chips and then changed and entered the water which was quite refreshing i.e cool. I did a few lengths while Chris put us all to shame by ploughing up and down some 40 times. By now it was 3.00 p.m. and we were ravenous. The fish was battered sea bass, although I’m not sure that something may have got lost in translation as it was unlike any sea bass I have tasted. However it was very good and the chips were excellent. We followed it up with a delicious sticky toffee pud. and custard. The cost of this most British if meals was remarkably small…..about £8.00 with wine!

Back to the Cathedral where we crashed out in Susan and Norma’s flat for a while before Christine and I entered into the souk. It was getting dark and so the shops were all open and there was a bustle about the place. Christine saw a top she liked so we went into a minute shop and tried it on. The owner informed her it was for a child and offered her a voluminous version, big enough for her and her camel. We moved on and she spotted another which was slightly larger and which she could not get over her head! No matter, some judicious use of a pair of scissors would sort that out!

We wandered into the spice area and past wonderful displays of ground and fresh spices. I was keeping an eye on where we were and thought we had made a round, but somehow the street we entered the souk along was no longer there. We entered the gold jewellery area. Realising we had gone wrong we retraced our steps and found a truck had blocked the road making it unrecognisable. We squeezed down its side and walked briskly back to the cathedral arriving just as the service started, making a rather obvious entrance.

This was pretty much a re-run of the service on a Friday morning with Chris Fulcher, the Archdeacon of Exeter preaching the same sermon.

We adjourned to the deanery where a vast repast awaited us. I quailed at the prospect but managed to acquit myself well and even found room for jelly and ice cream to complete the feast. Should I warn British Airways, do you think, in case they need to take on extra fuel? Having satisfied both soul and body it was time for some mental stimulation. Dr Aizhan Sharshenova was going to talk to us about Sustainable Energy in Bahrain. She was excellent. She is a Kyrgyz who spoke impeccable English and worked for the Bahrain government as a communications expert in the department responsible for energy. Clearly Bahrain has enormous potential for solar power but it is very underdeveloped as oil is so cheap. Bahrainis have few worries about climate change or pollution in spite of being so low lying and having a high level of air pollution. However as oil has become a little more expensive and the economy is struggling a bit this may change.

It had been a long day, but again very interesting. Stephanie ran us home and after a much needed cup of tea we were glad to get to bed.

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