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

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Gone Tribal……

Mark Twain wrote:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

People need to travel – for the sake of those they share their space with,

because it opens up our world,

and helps build confidence,

enriching our interpersonal relationships through shared experiences.

For the record, these bags contained all personal items, school books and musical instruments for an extended stay. Still tough for Eric though who always travels with carry-on only no matter the distance – to be fair to ourselves we did follow suite when we traveled from the Middle East to Sri-Lanka – showing huge restraint, mind you!

My personal preference, when it comes to exploring the planet has always been to plant a few roots, rather than take a 7 in 7 style tour…..Sharing a space in the village provides a hands on experience that I believe cannot happen on a ‘back-pack/fly-by’.

Whether attending junior high in Texas, packing fish in Iceland, counselling kids in the Catskill’s, serving cocktails on the Greek Isles or playing ‘house’ along the shores of East Africa, my travel experiences have helped mold me.

And now back ‘on the road’ my style – I am immersed in yet another set of cultures, different from my own – and far from the place I call home.

It has been an amazing experience to travel again and share the experience of travel with my kids and through it I have watched them grow in many positive ways, as they have had to cope with saying goodbye and saying hello – dealt with international arrivals and departures, overnight flights, odd looking cuisine, the fluidity of expat culture and very different currencies, cultural beliefs and rituals..and they are, I believe, open-minded, nonprejudicial and are certainly not bigots –

But don’t for a moment be fooled into believing that it is all happy, fun, glam filled days of games, travel-play, sight seeing and smooth sailing…

Packing up and saying goodbye to those you love and the space you consider home is no easy task.

And while I am grateful each and every day (although deeply heart-sore that the situation exists) that we are not being forced into traveling on foot with whatever we can manage to carry on our backs – as ours is a privileged and protected experience – it still has aspects of physical but mostly emotional rigor and it takes courage to walk into a new environment with your happy-face on, your head held high and your hand outstretched – and if you don’t, the result is real loneliness…

So there are plenty of positives that result from experiencing beautiful, interesting and different places, and tapping into the tantalizing taste of something new, along with the momentary escape from one’s current reality: and who doesn’t need a piece of that every once in awhile??

But there is perhaps the biggest positive of all…

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and that is the deep appreciation of what you have left behind – which perhaps is only realized through distancing oneself for a while,

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and the joy felt when you return to your people, whoever they might be..and realize that you, too, have a tribe……

October 2016: Celebrating the rigor of travel and the love of home.

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