India 2020

Sunday 2nd February

Preparing for departure tomorrow at 8.00 a.m.. This time we are visiting Rajasthan and then heading south to Kerala. We shall fly into Delhi and then to Jodhpur. Next week we shall fly to Kochi and then travel south to take a boat through the backwaters. This is very much a visit to western India. We shall try to keep this blog for those who are interested.

Ethiopia

We are about to travel to Ethiopia with Christian Aid to look at how it is helping farmers to adapt to the climate crisis. We shall be flying in to Addis Ababa and then travelling south east to Jinka (see map below). It promises to be a very interesting and inspiring trip. Ethiopian-road-map

Ethiopia is the world’s 28th-largest country, comparable in size to Bolivia. The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. The Ethiopian Highlands cover most of the country and have a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator. In the area around Jinka the climate is hot and semi-arid.

According to the IMF, Ethiopia was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, registering over 10% economic growth from 2004 through 2009. It was the fastest-growing non-oil-dependent African economy in the years 2007 and 2008. In 2015, the World Bank highlighted that Ethiopia had witnessed rapid economic growth with real domestic product (GDP) growth averaging 10.9% between 2004 and 2014. In spite of fast growth in recent years, GDP per capita is one of the lowest in the world, and the economy faces a number of serious structural problems. However, with a focused investment in public infrastructure and industrial parks, Ethiopia’s economy is addressing its structural problems to become a hub for light manufacturing in Africa.

Ethiopia’s total population has grown from 38.1 million in 1983 to 109.5 million in 2018. Currently, the population growth rate is among the top ten countries in the world. The population is forecast to grow to over 210 million by 2060, which would be an increase from 2011 estimates by a factor of about 2.5.

The climate crisis is causing serious problems in the southern regions of the country.

 

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.

 

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.