Bahrain 8 – of ships and shops

A fairly leisurely rise and breakfast before Rev. Stephen collected us, with Susan and Norma and we headed across the islands to the port in the far west. We passed large gas powered power stations, dry docks, cranes and expanses of reclaimed land. Security was once again tight. We had to leave our passports and were issued with passes. We then watched a short video on a computer screen in the office. This forbade any use of mobile phones and ended with a mobile phone number to ring if we got into difficulty!

Stephen drove us along the quayside where there were a number of ships moored. There was also a great number of military vehicles that had clearly just arrived on shore  – possibly from an American ship called ‘Liberty Peace’! The Mission to Seafarers is right on the quayside and provides a whole range of services for sailors. There is a kitchen, a relaxation area with table tennis and pool tables, an internet area, a small library, a shop and washrooms. The complex is continuously manned. Stephen visits ships as well, to talk to the crews and offer help and support.

The building was donated by the port authority and us only a few years old. The Bahrain International Seafarers Society was set up in the 1980’s to provide help and support for seafarers and now raises money, much of it through the church to help crews that have been abandoned by their ships’ owners. Some crews may not get paid for months and are destitute and so need food to be bought for them. One case in which 14 crew members have been abandoned has gone to the Bahraini courts who are about to auction the ship so that the crew can be paid and returned to their home country.

Back through security and we returned to the cathedral. Chris took us to a local craft centre where some highly talented people are creating some beautiful works of art as well as some items for sale to tourists. However it is not much advertised and so we were the only visitors. The first workshop we visited was a woodcarver’s making some very beautiful sculptures. He was in the middle of carving some a text from Gilbran in Arabic. When I admired it, he said that he was only fooling around with it. His real profession was as a musician and thus was just a hobby! To have two such skills made me very envious. We visited other workshops and then went into the shop. The items were often beautiful, and not overly expensive. We purchased a few gifts and then walked up the road to an Indian restaurant for a very tasty lunch. I have never had rose water in a Biriyani, but it seemed to work!

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We went back to the cathedral and chilled out for a bit in Susan and Norma’s flat with some chocolate digestives and tea. At about 3.30 a political officer from the American Embassy arrived to talk to Chris and we were invited to meet him. He was a charming, quietly spoken American from Denver, Colorado who was charged with writing reports on inter-faith relations, labour relations and trafficking in Bahrain. He said that Bahrain had recently been upgraded to Tier 1 for the work it was doing to try to prevent trafficking. This meant it was meeting minimum standards and certainly had more protection in place than other Gulf countries. There was a refuge for trafficked workers, a flexible work permit and a national referral mechanism if trafficking was suspected. However he said that while Bahrain had an excellent record for inter-faith tolerance , reports tended to be negative because of the political issues between Sunni and Shi’a communities.

Earlier Christine and I had asked Chris if he could book a taxi to take us to the National Museum, so at 4.45 we went out into the car park to wait for our ride. By 4.55 there was no sign of a taxi so Chris phoned the company and learnt that the taxi was waiting outside the American Reformed Church not far away. He pointed out the mistake and we waited. 10 minutes later there was still no sign, so Chris phoned again. This time the taxi was outside the Sacred Heart R C church, nearer but not near enough. Chris checked that the despatcher knew where the cathedral was and we waited again. 10 minutes later, Chris phoned again. This time the despatcher admitted that she wasn’t sure where the taxi now was. Chris cancelled it, but made sure there would be one waiting for us at the Museum at 7.45. As luck would have it a very pleasant Malaysian man had turned up for a confirmation class which Chris had had to cancel and he kindly offered to take us to the Museum. So off we went.

Unfortunately, just as all Christian building look alike to taxi drivers, so all large government buildings looked alike to Julian, our Malaysian friend. He dropped us off at the Cultural Centre by mistake. The security guard was very helpful and pointed us up the road and a short walk brought us to the very impressive National Museum.

This museum is a model of how to lay out a museum if you have an interesting story to tell and a great deal of money. The entry fee was £4 for both of us. We entered a vast hallway off which were three galleries on the ground floor and three galleries above. We started with the graves in which are a remarkable collection of urns and sarcophagi, many with skeletons inside as well as some beautiful grave goods including some exquisite jewellery. The centre piece were two reconstructed grave mounds.

From there we went into galleries that traced the history of Bahrain in a very informative and entertaining way including a reconstruction of an old souk and some recreations of traditional life. It was superb. We broke our tour with a trip to the cafe where we had an excellent cappuccino, a couple of slices of cake and a conniption! The bill came to the equivalent of £16.! This is clearly how they finance the museum! After completing the top floor we walked to the entrance where our luxurious taxi was waiting.

Gratefully we sank back into the upholstered seats and let him whisk us away to the American Reformed church. Oh dear! Never mind, he acknowledged his mistake and drove on triumphantly to the Sacred Heart R C church. We thanked him and said we could walk from there. But he would have none of it, and we a degree of elan and a belief in ‘third time lucky’ delivered us with a flourish to the cathedral gates. A tour of the Christian establishments and all for 4BD!

Tomorrow is our last day and we are taking it relatively easy as we depart at 2.15 a.m. on Wednesday morning!

 

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