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