Shopping Fair

With souk-sista, friend and fellow craft enthusiast – Heba, as my guide, I recently girded up with my scarf and comfortable shoes and together with thousands of Bahraini and Saudi shopping enthusiasts, headed into the Bahrain Exhibition Center for the Shopping Experience of the Year – aka, The Bahrain Autumn Fair.

Nine Days of bargaining, cajoling, haggling, arguing, debating, but mostly, in the true spirit of  this area – charming, customers into purchasing goods from all across the Middle East and  Asia.

Seven hundred and fifty stalls of wonder…

A rolling maze of a souk,

offering pottery from Hebron, Linen from India, Furniture from Syria and Afghanistan, carpets from Turkey and Iran, shoes from Oman, wraps, throws and scarves from Pashmina, spices and incense from all over and dresses from everywhere else…

Not to be outdone by their fellow traders though, the sweetest bargains on the floor came from the Yemen Honey Sellers. These guys roll a sale off their tongue as smooth as an Ed Sheeran lyric and back it up with quiet smiles and deep brown honey enhanced eyes. With seemingly little effort they draw you into a world of desert plains and forested mountains. One is assured that in these hills one will find the most special bees that produce the most special honey, in the world, a cure for many, many aliments including  marital-bed disinterest and child bearing problems. When Sarah suggested that a taster from the ‘Only For Married’ honey pot was perhaps not appropriate, being single and all – this too was not an insurmountable problem as the honey seller himself was still single ….

Unfortunately for him his camel and saber-tooth tiger count was a little short, and anyway Sarah, while enjoying the taste and shopping sensation, wasn’t falling over herself to hit the road with a Honey Seller, … but as far as the healing power of that divinely nutty, cinnamon, gingery, spiced honey goes, those ‘charm a minute’ honey guys might be onto something; the overwhelmingly delicious, heaven on a spoon, golden liquid, is fabulous.

Loaded with honey, pottery and other bits and pieces of gorgeousness, we did eventually managed to drag ourselves away from the sounds, colour and delight of it all – relatively unscarred and before the spend got a little haram; exhausted but inspirited with the knowledge that we had helped to make a small contribution to the continuation of trade in the Middle East.

Celebrating Middle Eastern Craft, Shopping and Honey- First Quarter 2017

Dhow Adventures

Bahrain’s rich history is steeped in the pearl banks that once lined the outer edges of this Arabian Island, drawing traders to its shores. The incredibly hardened pearl divers of years gone by are now inked images in local museums and pearling, once Bahrain’s main source of income, is not much more than a tourist attraction as Bahrain trades well beyond this natural resource.

Trade seems to pump through Bahraini blood, generating the commercial and cosmopolitan hub that modern Bahrain is today…

This ecumenical feel is not new to the area…Grifford Palgrave, an English explorer and Arabic scholar drew attention to to it a few centuries back  describing a local scene as:        a a mix of strangers, settlers and locals blended together at the Market Places and Coffee Shops, the colours of India blending in with the Saffron stained vests of the Oman, the white robed  Nejed and stripes of the Baghdad gowns. The atmosphere open, with an urbane outlook, unlike the zealots and fanatics, camel drivers and Bedouins of the more closely knit and bigoted universe of Central Arabia… A Year’s Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia (1862-3)

Along side pearling, fishing was and still is an integral part of the economy, and today the fishermen go out, dawn and dusk, on various crafts,…most striking of which are the fishing dhows, once magnificent – pearl laden and in full sail, but still dramatic even though engines have now replaced sails, puffing smoke into the air as they charge off into the distance.

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From the Bahrain Yacht Club where our little sailing boat sleeps, we have watched these dhows head out just before sunset for a night of fishing.

And recently, in search of an ‘up-close’ view, we took Singapore Sling out around this time – our sightseeing interrupted briefly when distracted by the passing scene, we momentarily lost our focus and landed up pivoting on a sand bank. An appropriate amount of yelling as we pondered the 200m swim in through the passing stream of boats seemed to wright the problem along with a few fancy  moves and sail yanking from our Skipper.

A visit to the local souk for Bahrain pearls or the Manama Central Fish Market completes the trade circle where on any given day a vast selection of fresh fish, prawns, and at times oysters- sans pearls, can be purchased and cleaned, sliced or diced, “as you please Madame” –  along with the usual smiles and service that we have come to appreciate  on this busy, buzzy, trade friendly Arabian Island.

Celebrating Middle Eastern Living and Rich Trade History- December 2016

Middle Eastern High

People set up in strategic viewing spots along the roads,

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was a fairly good indication that we were on the right track,

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as we made our way towards the Sakhir Airbase to attend the Bahrain International Airshow.

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The Bahrain leg of the International Grand Prix Circuit arrives early April on the Island.
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Not being motor sport types, we haven’t taken advantage of the ‘Early Bird’ ticket sales yet…but perhaps we should –

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because until recently we had not considered ourselves airshow types either…

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The Airshow is a biennial event and one that we would not normally make an effort to attend, however living a more suburban life now without the sea on our doorstep demands new social challenges ….

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A dramatic sun set bouncing off a desert setting created beautiful light, adding additional drama to an already charged atmosphere –

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Quite Intense and even a bit emotional …

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Teams from the Middle East and beyond participate in this stunning show.

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British Aerobatic Champ, Mark Jeffries, Russian Knights flying Sukhoi Su-27’s,

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The Twisters with their Twilight Pyrotechnic Display, UAE Al Fursan flying Aermacchi MB-3 39 NAT Jets,

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Saudi Hawks flying their BAE Hawk MK 65’s,

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and the Sarang Helicopter Display Team from India in modified HAL Dhruv Crafts .

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Unclear at the time as to who or what exactly we were watching….. we were completely clear on the fact that it was all rather spectacular. IMG_9971

Celebrating Special Events in Unique Destinations – 2016 Bahrain International Air Show.  Late January 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festive Bahrain

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We arrived back in Bahrain on the 21st December after an admin trip home to South Africa, unsure what to expect as we headed towards Christmas in the Middle East. Our flight touched down in the evening and to our surprise Manama was ablaze with red and white lights.

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The 16 of Dec is Bahrain’s National Day and the Island State goes big!  Every inch of the city-scape is lit up – including the palm trees.The national colours, red and white… add to what feels like a Christmas atmosphere: This included an enormous Santa and his full crew of reindeer splashed across the side of a skyscraper! Eric pointed out this rather Christmas like theme to Anif, our driver, who insisted that these where National Day lights, not Christmas…but somehow it is hard to ignore 30 meters of the ‘Man in Red’ flying across a building..  Perhaps someone ordered the wrong box…but luckily red and white !

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The Middle East or certainly Bahrain, Dubai and Qatar celebrate the Gregorian New Year too, perhaps due to the influence of their huge expat populations?  Dubai currently holds the  number one position for ‘Place to Be’  with all number of events and rocking parties taking place on the 31st, at some seriously rocking prices.

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Since our arrival last year, Bahrain seems to have rolled from one celebratory event into the next..Shortly after landing we noticed the atmosphere warm up for Eid-al-Adha, an Islamic festival commemorating Ibrahim’s (or Abraham’s) obedience. There is a festive spirit in the air competing with the smell of goat, used by certain Southern Asian Muslim communities as a part of a sacrifice re-enactment ritual which might account for the increased presence of these creatures on the back of bakkies (pick-ups) at this time.

Eid  is rapidly followed by the Arabic New Year.  Lunar based, this date changes a bit each year and coincidences with Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – considered the largest yearly gathering of people world-wide. Along the coastline of Bahrain, little baskets of plants can be found washed ashore – a Bahraini tradition created for the children who stay home while their parents take the holy journey. The seeds, planted at the beginning of the journey, begin to sprout around the time of the pilgrims return. These baskets are then sent off in the water in the direction of the holy place with love and wishes for a safe journey back.

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While many of the Arabic Elite spend this holiday period time hanging out in smart hotels with private beaches – where you will find gorgeous young bikini clad Arabic girls racing their wet bikes – or perhaps on the tracks racing their thoroughbred camels,

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the general populous let their hair down in simpler ways…

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The water-parks and Malls are packed out and as the weather cools in the early evenings families arrive to picnic and swim.

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Boys and their toys come out to play, including a bit of horse dipping,

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and as the sun sets the families pack up and the evening crowd arrive filling up the large stretches of empty land along certain parts of the coast line as the Bahrani gather for a bit of drag racing…

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as if there isn’t enough dust already..

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And now that 2015’s final quarter of festivities has come to an end, the post season sales are on and Bahrain is celebrating yet again with a 30 day shopping festival. SHOP BAHRAIN runs from late December through to the end of January and includes an outdoor Ice Rink among the attractions and sales that I suspect give London a run…

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all of which culminate in the final blast – The Bahrain International Airshow.

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So that’s how it rolls,this side of the Gulf, come year end, and as they say: A  Very Merry Everything and a Happy Ever After…

Celebrating Festive Occasions where-ever you may be…January 2016

 

Embracing Change

2015 has been a year of change for our family. Changing homes and changing countries.

I am not sure what part of these types of process’s are more stressful – the planning and anticipation, or the actual events, none the less, here we are, settling into life in the Middle East – a far cry and distance from Chintsa East on the Southern Coast of South Africa.

The Kingdom of Bahrain – our current spot on The Rock – is an archipelago of 18 islands, many of which are  joined to the mainland by causeways or landfill.

Once a central part of the ancient Dulmin Civilization which spread across Southern Iraq and Kuwait, its name refers to ‘two seas’ – although no one seems quite clear  which two seas exactly….

With a heritage rich in pearl diving, fishing and trading, the island now offers fabulous Malls and pretty good infrastructure but is sadly lacking in quality beaches or any obvious beach pride – even though the ocean is still used extensively for fishing and recreation.

The sea is beautiful and the patches of green that have survived in between the ongoing and extensive development allude to what was once a garden island, apparently milder in temperature before the bulk of it trees were removed. In fact rumour has it that this may well have been the site or at least the inspiration for the original garden story…way back when…

Now dust and heat prevail through the scorching summers although the winters I am assured, are milder.

From pearls and trade, Bahrain discovered and moved into oil production and a new stage of  wealth. Oil transportation pipes run along side many of the highways (see the image above) and with oil came currency which in turn led to banking – now another part of Bahrain’s personality, with the Dinar rated as one of the world’s strongest currencies.

Down the road from our complex lies the 25 km long King Fhad Causeway joining Bahrain to Saudi. Since the start of the oil years Bahrain has become a haven for families of expats working in Saudi, offering what many consider a more liberal lifestyle.

Apparently around half the population currently living in Bahrain are expat, and as of yet I have still to come across anyone who speaks negatively of their experience here. Rather telling…

While Bahrain may not be shiny pearls, palms and peace- all of the time – it has provided us so far with some fascinating experiences, including extreme heat, friendly people, diverse cultures, fabulous food and insight into Arabic and Muslim lifestyles. We also get to spend regular time together as a family which makes for a much needed change 🙂

Last week I sat around a  table drinking coffee and chatting with some of the women living around us. Strong, interesting women from Germany, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, The States, France and Scotland. I came away from that experience feeling exhilarated – who wouldn’t?  I anticipate an interesting journey ahead…

For More on the In’s and Out’s of Bahrain read my friend IIka’s blog An Expat in Bahrain – A Guide to Loving Life at:  https://ilkaclune.wordpress.com/

Sept / Oct 2015 – Celebrating New Experiences and our move to Bahrain