Bahrain 9 – All good things……

We were shattered last night and slept well into the morning. Luckily there was no rush as the only appointment we had was with Stan from the Gulf Weekly at 11.00. After breakfast Christine and I made a start on packing and then walked up to the Janabiyah burial mound field, which we’d past a few times without having an opportunity to visit. It is a very impressive collection of 18 mounds, 5 of them large chieftain mounds. They date from around 2,000 B.C.E. And consist of burial chambers built of stone blocks and covered with loose rock and sand. At this time Bahrain was flourishing economically, trading in copper,pearls, lapis lazuli, coral, beads and turtle shells. The graves reflect this prosperity.

While we visited this site, Susan and Norma paid a brief visit to the camel farm with Chris. We reconvened at Venice Gardens and met Stan, the editor of The Gulf Daily News who wanted to hear a little about our visit and take a photo. It turned out that he knew Barry Peters, the editor of the Bury Free Press, so we took a photo of Christine and I holding Bury tea towels and bags!

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Some of the group went swimming while the rest of us slobbed out and read and chatted. Then it was off to a delightful Arabic restaurant. When we arrived it was full and there were clearly people waiting for tables. We went upstairs and it was the same story. I happened to go into an area where tables were set in alcoves behind curtains and a waiter immediately offered me a table for eight! Naturally we took it! The curtains are so that women can unveil in the privacy of the booth where only their famil6 would see them. We ordered mezze and enjoyed a variety of delicious dishes and bread. Some of us also had pomegranate juice which was unfortunately sweetened. It was a really good meal and we came out feeling replete.

Once back in Venice Gardens we said goodbye to the cathedral contingent and settled on the settees for a read of the book and whatever might follow.

We awoke around 5.00 p.m. and after a cup of tea, Stephanie drove us out to the Son et Lumiere at the fort. It was a lovely evening but with a cool breeze and I was glad of my pullover. The fort looked stunning under the floodlights with the city skyscrapers behind it. We settled on our seats and were joined by the others. We had just got comfortable when we were told to follow a man to another area where the first part of the show would be displayed. This lasted all of 4 minutes and then we were taken back to our seats for the main event. I’m not sure what the point was other than to give us an opportunity to trip over a rock or disappea4 down a hole on the journey. Still the Lumiere was superb. The Son was O.K. although it was narrated by an American with an apparent 60 Marlborough a day habit. His voice was so gravelly you could have made concrete with his spit. However it was a lovely event and well worth seeing.

We parted company with Chris, Susan and Norma afterwards and the three of us walked around the outside of the fort. Then Stephanie drove us to Le Chocolate, a wonderful upmarket patisserie. She treated us to coffee and cake. I had a chocolate and nut tart to die for. It was worth every single one of its multifarious calories.

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Then it was back to Venice Gardens and packing. We sit poised at the end of this wonderful trip, ready for the British cold, but still enjoying the Bahrain warmth….and I’m not just talking air temperature here. We have met so many wonderful people on this visit and been overwhelmed by kindness. There is a thriving Christian community being salt and light to all around them, but it is also a thriving multi-faith community. Yes, there are political issues between Sunni and Shi’a and between the rich and the poor, but we have felt that there is a genuine desire to sort these out and progress has been made. No country gets everything right and heaven knows the U.K. certainly hasn’t as the recent U.N. Report has shown. There is no doubt that Bahrain is an enlightened beacon in the Gulf and one can only hope that others in the region may learn from it.

 

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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!

 

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.

Bahrain 6 – of camel calves and kings

A leisurely start to the day. Breakfast and then a stroll to the Royal Camel Farm. I say stroll, but actually a gallop is needed to get across the dual carriageway without becoming a Bahrainian statistic.

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The farm, however, is an oasis of calm. Camels always give off an air of having all the time in the world and a look of disdain for the rest of us hurrying about. They also give off a very profound smell of camel, no doubt very appealing to other camels but less so to the rest of us. Eau de camel is not likely to be in Chanel’s range I fear, although it would be quite expensive as camels rarely give out any ‘l’eau’, preferring to conserve what they have.

 

The farm belongs to the present king’s brother, I think, whose father was very keen on it and spent a great deal of time here. Camels are a sign of wealth and are bred largely for that reason, although they can be raced and even eaten. We passed down the rows of females and stopped in front of a mother and calf. The young one was 10 days old. Other young camels lay out in the sun.

 

The males are much bigger and are tethered so that they can see the females who are all behind a fence. This mus5 be rather frustrating for them and may  account for the large depressions left  in the mud when they get up and move away.

 

We wandered through the working area of the farm looking at the donkeys and bulls  which are used to pull carts. Darshon seemed to know everyone we met, chatting away to them in Hindi. One of them kept a large number of chickens and rabbits as a sideline. His niece, recently back from the Punjab and now studying hard for her exams, joined us for the rest of the morning.

In the distance we could see the king’s palace as we walked through lines of date palms which fringed fields of aubergines and tomatoes. There were a variety of fruit trees including some we didn’t recognise. There were some mango trees but many have died because of the increasing salinity of the water supply. When the piles were being sunk for the King Fahad Causeway the water table was breached and sea water entered. It was a delightful walk with a cooling breeze and butterflies dancing around us.

We arrived home and went for a swim in the compound’s pool which was lovely. The water was cool and refreshing, but shelved to over 2 metres rather quickly. We splashed about at the shallow end then lay out in the sun. By the time we returned to the house Darshon had cooked us a delicious lunch of prorahata with yoghurt and pickle.

We crashed out afterwards and then Christine and I walked to the local shopping mall. We got a bit lost but eventually found our way there, largely courtesy of a drive-through (thru!) McDonalds whose golden arches shone out in the night sky like a carbuncle on the face of an angel. We ascended the escalator and walked in the open air along a parade of shops. It reminded us of Bury St Edmunds as it was mostly coffee shops. However there was a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop and I was dragged in by my dear lady wife and forced to buy a double scoop with extra nuts. Christine, ever diet conscious, went the whole hog and had waffle, cream and caramel sauce. We sat under a waxing moon in the warm night air and stuffed our faces.

Our journey home was quicker thank goodness and we had a brief rest before dinner and then sat and chatted for the rest of the evening. Just as well…..a busy day tomorrow.

Bahrain 5

This morning, it being Friday, saw the start of the weekend here in Bahrain, so of course we went to church. Holy communion at the Cathedral on a Friday seems a bit weird but it was a lovely service at which we were made very welcome. The sermon was preached by the Archdeacon of Exeter and there were a good selection of hymns. Tea and a delicious cheese stuffed bread (manakish) were served as we mingled with other members of the congregation.

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Then we were taken south towards the middle of the island for lunch at the BAPCO Club (Bahrain Petroleum Company). This was a buffet of unbelievable proportions! We sat at round tables and then went off to collect mounds of delicious food. We even had a glass of very palatable dry white wine. I chatted with David, an insurance man, about life in Bahrain and then staggered back to the buffet for a range of desserts. I shall probably be charged extra for the flight home! At the end of the meal Archdeacon Christopher and his wife, Ann, spoke briefly and Susan gave a brief outline of what Christians Aware is all about.

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It was a very pleasant, extended (and distended!) lunch. As we left the air show was in full swing and we stood outside the club watching a display team rather like the Red Arrows wheel across the sky and colour it with coloured smokes. We drove to the local church at Awali where there seemed to be some sort of Indian Catholic family fun day in full swing. As is the case with St Christopher’s, Christians of all denominations seem to use the building.

We drove through the BAPCO compound past rows of large detached bungalows which are homes to the oil and gas workers. Then we headed along the main road towards the air show. To our right was a large area of ‘desert’, open ground comprising rock and scrub where people in their hundreds had parked up to watch the show for free.

The road was heavily congested so we moved slowly along getting quite a good view ourselves. Apparently this area is used for recreation at weekends when many come out here in the cool of the evening to barbecue and share family time and enjoy the cooler night air. Many in Bahrain live in apartments with no gardens, so this is the place to get out into the relatively fresh air.

Leaving the air show behind us we headed for home, past a large area of ancient burial mounds and massive, but attractively painted, modern estates of houses. Everywhere there is building and the desert is disappearing. However the government is doing its best to preserve ancient sites. We stopped at a shopping mall close to the compound and looked around. An inclined travelator took us up into the mall where there a range of shops including cafes with outdoor seating. We went into a moderate sized supermarket which was very well stocked and had a fabulous bakery. Noticeably, the ‘pork section’ was screened off!

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Back at the house we had time for a short nap before returning to Manama and the cathedral for a Tamil service. Every room in the cathedral complex was in use with sounds of worship filtering out through the doors. Ours was not very different from a standard C of E service and was conducted in a mixture of Tamil and English.  We were made very welcome and Stephen, himself from southern India, gave the sermon in both languages.

After the service we had a chance to talk with many of the congregation while eating Indian delicacies from a local bakery and drinking chai. Most of the people I spoke to had high paying jobs in banking, civil engineering, or the hospital. This was not a congregation of slave labourers! They were delighted when we spoke of our visit to southern India and how much we had enjoyed it.

Stephen drove us home and we sat and talked with Stephanie and Darshon before hitting the sack at about 10.00. No rush tomorrow as we have a ‘free’ day.

Bahrain 4 – matters military & No 11

We rose early. Not easy as we were tired. Stephanie made porridge for herself and Christine and I hit the Weetabix. Duly fortified we were on the road by 8.30 to pick up the others by 9.00. We were actually early at the base, but Christina, the American chaplain was punctual and we entered the security system. Basically this meant handing in our passports and being given a badge toshow we were visitors. Much like getting into a primary school these days. Photography was definitely off the agenda. We don’t want the Iranians or Russians to know there is a Taco Bell on base now do we?!

We went to Christina’s office and she showed us briefly around and gave us each a ‘popsicle’. For those, like me, unsure of what one is, it is a long stick of flavoured ice, like a lollipop but with a simpler design. Mine was pina -colada flavour and was delicious. Christina then talked about her job which she is clearly very passionate about. Apart from facilitating services for a range o& different denominations and faiths, she also is a counsellor for those who are having problems. She has the rank of Lieutenant, but can get to see the top brass pretty much whenever she needs to.

The air con. was beginning to bite, so before hypothermia started to set in Christina suggested a jaunt in her golf buggy. Nothing makes you feel more  like an American president than a ride in a golf buggy! We were a little cramped at the back, but it was fun. We passed along a range of pretty muc( identical buildings, whic( Christina seemed to identif6 with ease, then over a bridge to the more recent part of the base built on reclaimed land. I’m not too sure if we were meant to be there, but let’s just say our badges came off in our hands and we swept past the checkpoint and out onto the quay side. There were a range if minesweepers in and in the distance a large destroyer. We also had a good view of the British enclavevwhich was in some sort of security lockdown – probably something to do with Brexit.

Back on the other side, Christina parked the golf cart and we strolled through the medical centre to the Nex. Nothing gives an edge to your appetite like the contemplation of disease in others. The Nex is a shopping centre and food mall. Anything that you can get in America you can get here – including chlorinated chicken. We settled for some excellent salads and coffees and then adjourned to the Officers’ Club to eat them and to talk more about life as a chaplain. We were joined by Mark, a chaplain on the much smaller (of course) British base and he and Christina submitted to our interrogations.

i have to say that I have a renewed respect for what military chaplains do as a result of the morning and particularly our chat over lunch. Mark made a plea for greater support and understanding for military chaplaincy within the Church, and I feel it probably needs it. This is not the place to go into details, but if Christians should be wherever people are, offering help and support and God’s love then they should be in with our troops, and the military is a tough place to be. I came out with a real admiration for what these people are doing.

A 14 year old boy with poor eyesight signed us out of the base. Bless him he was probably 18 but that was clearly a secret known only to his C.O. and his mother. Being close to any American holding a gun makes me uneasy, and so it was with relief that I passed out through the door into civvy street. From the base we took a taxi to the Cathedral. The meter clocked up 4 BD but somehow we were charged 7- presumably because it was a Thursday and there was an ‘r’ in the month? Or might it have been that we were clearly very stupid white Christians? Either way we paid and went up into the very pleasant flat where Susan and Norma are staying for tea, biscuits and a chill.

Chris popped in to say that his wife, Trish, had had her knee op. and was now home. Christine expressed an urge to catch the bus back to where we were staying so Chris kindly phoned the man who set up the Bahrain bus company to ask advice. I think his advice was really, “take a taxi” as it would take over 2 hours and involve 2 changes.  Christine had the bit between her teeth however, so we wrote down the bus numbers and other tips and I silently prayed.

We left our travelling companions and headed for the souk. Unfortunately it bein* only 3.00 p.m. much of it was closed. However we wandered amongst shops with beautiful fabrics and fragrant spices, before choosing one at random to buy 200 grams of mixed fruit and nuts. The real reason was to get some change for the bus, but ove4 the next three hours the mixture was to prove an invaluable source of energy.

After visiting the City Centre Mall,  with its array of eateries and tourist trash shops,  so that we could use the loos, we found ourself at a bus stop. We needed a number 10    or possibly an 11. We waited….and waited. Then a number 10 pulled in and we tried to buy a ticket to Gefool. “No….number 11 is what you need”. We waited again…no sign of an 11. We tried another no. 10. “No, you need a number 11”. Over the next twenty minutes buses of every conceivable number came past but no number 11. It was beginning to feel like lottery night!

In the end, I put my foot down, “ If one does not come by half past four, we get a taxi”. At 28 minutes past a number 11 arrived and we gratefully boarded it’s air-conditioned magnificence. Three lousy stops later we were back on the street waiting for an X3. Twenty minutes later we were still there. By now my lung capacity had reached an all time low thanks to the heavy traffic and the added extra provided by the large number of buses that were not number X3 which had pulled away from our stop. Eventually our bus came in and we headed for Badaiya.

By now it was dark, so it was hard to see where we were. Luckily the driver knew and gave us the heads up when we reached our destination. It was overtaxing for him as it was where the bus terminated. Another wait, this time enlivened by the small of horse dung from some sort of mounted police  barracks behind us. There was also a police establishment in fron5 of us but that didn’t smell of anything…..not even fear.

Our bus duly arrived but our pleasant driver did not seem to understand that we wanted to be dropped by the camel farm. Shaking his head he left the bus and promptly locked himself out. Faced by a driverless bus with its engine running it was tempting to see if I could find the camels without him. However his banging on the door and rather pitiful face on the other side of the door persuaded me to find the button on the dashboard that would let him in. I opened the bakdoors first and as he made a bid to get to them closed them again. Then I opened the front door and he ran back jumping on board, before th3 game really got going. Oh, well, we set off and I was relieved when he turned onto the direction I thought we should be heading. Strangely he decided after about three stops to leave the bus again. A second lockout ensued, but this time I took pity on him and let him back in straight away, although he could have done with the exercise.

The camel farm duly materialised and we dismounted onto an area of mud and stone next to a dual carriageway packed with rush hour traffic. Somehow we made our way across and strolled into Venice Gardens a mere two and a half noirs after leaving Manama. What a sense of achievement!

Stephanie’s husband Darshon had arrived back from Saudi and was in the throes of cooking us a deliciou# Indian meal. We tucked in with gusto (not the name of their cat) and then, after helping to wash up we retired to our room. Herself is breathing heavily beside me, alas not with lust, but catarrh……still we are in the Gulf! (Think about it). Tomorrow is church, lunch and other delights. Goodnight!

 

Bahrain 3

It was a struggle to rise at 8.00 a.m., but somehow we managed it, lured by the thought of another good cup of tea. After breakfast, Stephanie drove us to the cathedral (St Christopher’s) where we met up with Norma, Susan and Chris. It was the start of a fascinating day. The cathedral is small, but charming, with beautiful windows. Chris outlined some key points to us. Firstly it is built just across the road from what is called, ‘The Police Fort’, a large police compound run by the Ministry of the Interior, which I hope I never have to see from the inside!

In 2011 Bahrain had its own version of the Arab Spring, with largely the majority Shi’a community participating. The Pearl Roundabout became the focus for demonstrations. It has since been dug up and removed. At that time the cathedral was cut off because of its proximity to the Police Fort and many of the congregation were pulled out by their companies anxious for their safety. Tyres were burnt, teargas was used, arrests were made. Since then Sunnis have been imported to swell the ranks, particularly in the security service industry, so that the Shi’a/ Sunni split is now closer to 50/50. There is still tension and unease in some areas. However the Christian Church has never been threatened or surpressed. It has good relations with the Royal Family who are keen to reach out to different religious communities…..but possibly not so much to the Shi’a?

Chris outlined the history of Christianity in Bahrain starting with a pre-Islamic Nestorian community through the American Reformed Evangelical missionaries that came  in the 1890’s to the building of the cathedral in 1953  – when it was actually just a church. The present congregation is a cosmopolitan mix and somewhat transitory as people come and go as contracts finish or service personnel are posted. At present there is a growing Kenyan community. It is a lively place with a lot happening. It works with other churches and there are strong ecumenical links. There are also links with other faiths. On Christmas Day a Shi’a band plays at the end of the service for example. There is one other church on the island at Awali. There is a Seafarer’s Centre (Seaman’s Mission) and string links with the US and Royal Navy Bases. (more on that tomorrow!)

After a cup of coffee, we set off for the Ahmed Al-Fateh Islamic Centre with its enormous and very beautiful mosque.

The mosque was built between 1984 and 1988 and can accommodate 7,000 worshippers. Inside the floors are covered in Italian marble and Irish carpet, both with geometric patterns in them. In the main prayer hall is an enormous chandelier made in Austria surrounded by numerous handblown glass lamps made in France. The whole effect is stunning. We had to wait for the end of midday prayer so I headed off around the outside of the building. The sunlight on the warm stone is very pleasing.

We picked a guide (or vice verse if you like) and we’re brought inside the main prayer hall, our toes enjoying the deep pile of the Irish carpet. We were then taken to a sort of teaching area and asked to sit down. There then followed a fascinating half hour as our guide explained the main points of Islam and we looked st the similarity and differences between that faith and Christianity. There is so much we have in common, but we seem to part company over the Trinity, which Dean Chris and I agreed they don’t really understand. Goodness knows I think many of us don’t find it an easy concept, so I think they can be forgiven! Our guide was excellent and was very happy to take questions. Only after she finished were we allowed to take photos. Rather prosaically the dome is made of fibreglass!

From the peace and quiet of the mosque we headed off through the hectic Manama traffic for lunch in an Indian vegetarian restaurant. It was excellent. We all had a Thali – a range of small dishes – all cooked without onions or garlic. Delicious, and all for about a fiver.

Chris then drove us out to the fort which is an archaeological site on the coast. We visited the museum first if all. This is situated in a very modern concrete building and is a model of how to lay out a museum. Cleverly you begin at the lowest stages of the excavations – the Dilmun civilisation dating back to two thousand BC and then rise up through the layers to the Portuguese fort of the C15th century onwards. Explanations were clear, detailed, but not too detailed.

The short walk to the fort took us past springs which emerge on the beach and presumably were the one of the reasons why the fort was situated here. The other main reason was the natural harbour. The sun was beginning to set as we approached the fort and it all looked rather beautiful. There was a stark contrast between the archaeological remains and the modern cityscape in the near distance.

I wandered off off on my own and took pictures of the exterior of the fort before wandering in. There were no explanation boards which was a pity, but the walls and arches were very atmospheric in the evening light. The whole site is one large tell and the most recent fort dates from the C16th and was built by the Portuguese as a trading centre for pearls. The Portuguese were ousted by the Persians in 1602 and eventually, in 1782,they were driven out by the Al Khalifa family who rule today. The fort was eventually abandoned.

We left the site at sundown, passing some rather bizarre large4 than life wasps or bees which gave me quite a buzz!

That evening we went to a home group by an American ex-baptist called Angel. We were made very welcome in the apartment of Fozia and Nathan who were S. African ex-pats. We were plied with delicious food and orange juice before getting down to the study on ‘Judges and Kings’. A Bible Society video and booklet provided the core and there was some discussion. At the end, Angel, larger than life in every sense, very kindly drove us home. A devotee of gospel music we were accompanied on our journey by heavenly choirs and rather excited soloists singing with great determination and vigour. Verdi’s Requiem it wasn’t! We fell into bed and sleep very quickly.