Nathalie, my newest co-worker and partner in crime and I arrived in Bahrain at 8:00 a.m. We got to the hotel around 8:30 a.m. and there seemed to be a problem with our room. We had booked online and they said they didn’t do bookings online. They asked who confirmed the reservation, we didn’t know so we sat there and waited. I played bad cop and Nathalie played good cop, but the woman behind the desk was so stupid she had no idea that the lump three feet above her ass actually contains a brain that is used for thinking.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a borderless island country in the Persian Gulf and the smallest Arab state. It is a 20-minute plane ride from Kuwait. The official religion of Bahrain is Muslim. It receives more than 2 million tourists a year and it has an American Naval Base and a hopping nightlife, probably due to the fact that it is not a dry country.
After waiting and waiting at the hotel and we tried everything, getting angry, acting pathetic, claiming medical issues. Finally, we called the online booking service that said they would take care of it – we went into the bar to wait. I think it was the first time in my life I’ve started drinking at 10:00 a.m. We sat there and ate pumpkin seeds, drank gin and tonics and watched our time in Bahrain tick away. Finally at 11:00 am two and a half hours later they confirmed our room. Idiots! But it was just in the nick of time, this Saudi Arabian man had just bought us drinks and asked if he could join us at our table, we said yes, but I was a terrible girlfriend. I had to go to the bathroom and I deserted Nathalie (“Tash”). She said that he kept drawing a circle around her face and saying, “This good.”
She said she was relieved when they came in and said we had a room. I had been a bit worried and I felt the room situation didn’t bode well for our trip. So, just a note of caution – if you ever go to Bahrain do not stay at the Al Commodore, it is a hotel that caters to Saudi Arabians and the people who work there are incompetent to say the least. We only had one towel and even after asking several times had to steal extras from the cart, they didn’t clean our room once in the three days that we stayed there, not to mention we were accosted by Saudi Arabians in their pajamas.
When I booked the hotel it said close to downtown, well it wasn’t really, but it’s a small city and a small island so pretty much everything is close. We started walking toward City Center and as we meandered our way downtown the streets started to look European. We also passed a beautiful mosque.
After walking a ways we were hot and sweaty, turning the corner we saw Starbucks and headed for the cool oasis.
At Starbucks we met two Americans, Shervin and Matt, Matt had been wearing a Georgetown shirt and Tash, a Georgetown graduate approached him about information on Bahrain. They told us about a couple of good restaurants and some nightlife and also shared that the next day the Grand Mosque was open to heathens.
“Heathens?” Tash and I both looked puzzled until Shervin explained that, the sign specifically indicated that tomorrow heathens would be welcome. I wish I had gotten a picture of it. Both of them were working at the Georgetown campus in Doha, Matt in Human Resources and Shervin on his PhD. He is an Iranian American and studying the education system in Iran.
We left Starbucks to check out the City Centre hotel, I wanted to be prepared just in case we decided to ever go back. It was clean, looked like it had a great restaurant and they actually knew what the Internet was – around $75 a night depending on the time of year. We stopped in at a couple of other hotels to check prices and location. Then we stumbled in the souk or market. A lot of the shops were closed because it was a holiday, but there were still plenty of shops open, selling a ton of ketch. Dancing camels, mosque alarm clocks that play the andan, (call to prayer) and clothes all with a ton of bling, finding shirts that don’t have sequins, or beads or jewels is a major accomplishment in the Middle East. The women here love their bling. I was looking for longer shirts and I tried a couple of the less sparkly ones on, but it was still too much.
We decided the next day that we were going to the beach in the morning and the souk at night, so we decided to check out the beaches and ended up cabbing it to the Marina Club. When we got there they wanted 2 dinars to get in, but we really just wanted to check it out so we begged for 20 minutes just to look around and the guard granted it.
It was a small private beach and we hadn’t brought our swimsuits so we sat down for a drink. I talked briefly with a guy from England down from Saudi for the weekend who was getting ready to do some jet skiing and then a young 20 something Bahraini started gearing up to go wake boarding and I started talking to him. He was going out with his friend Sujay, from Indian who worked at the club and they invited us to go out with them. We were out on the boat watching Surad wakeboard and our 20 minutes was long gone. We asked about a Hookah bar that we wanted to check out, but Sujay said he would drop us at a better one, so we never ended up going back out through the gatehouse.
Sujay dropped us at Laialy Zaman we sat on a terrace on cushioned benches with a Sheeshaw or Hooka as some people call it, ate dinner and were entertained by a feral mama kitty and her kittens. As the sun went down a soft glow settled over the terrace due to pottery lamps with intricate flower designs that let light escape. We sat there and talked for hours, Tash has lived a fascinating, if not sometimes difficult life. I really admire her she is beautiful on the outside and the inside. Leaving the bar long after it was dark we made our way back to Hotel Hell to prepare for our foray into the Bahrain nightlife.
We ended up showering and laying on our beds in our towels and reading for several hours before we finally stirred ourselves, I think around 11 p.m. to venture out.
The first place we went was Rock Bottom. The clientele was mainly young American GIs and Phillipino prostitutes. Although they were young they looked like they had been ridden hard and wrung out, but the guys liked them. For the most part the GIs,
which stands for Government Issue, were very respectful to us. However one youngster came up to Tash and said, my friend and I have this game we play. He picks someone out of the room and I’m supposed to come up and introduce myself. Tash was much more tolerant than I would have been, shook his hand and introduced herself. I think he was maybe 23. Then we were trying to get drinks the bar tender had talked us into a shot called a fireball. It is some type of liquor that he lights on fire and then pours into your mouth. As it runs into your mouth it looks like you are breathing fire. In the middle of this, the GI comes back and says sheepishly, I got the game wrong, I’m actually supposed to ask you to introduce yourself to my friend. Idiot. But once again Tash was very gracious and she went and introduced herself to his friend who was either stoned or mute. By that time we decided we had enough military green and we sequestered ourselves in a corner and ordered shrimp stuffed avocado. It was delicious.
After checking out the upstairs we left to try and find JJs an English pub. We asked directions, but the people we asked were directionally impaired. However as we were wandering around lost we found this great little market. Tash immediately started checking out the rice crackers, she is obsessed with them, but it’s an endearing quality about her. Leaving the market we headed toward back in the direction we had come from, but on a different street. Walking along almost every single car honked at us. Being blond in the Arab world means enduring a log ogling. They look you up and down as if they are considering purchasing a particularly delectable side of beef. Shervin said that part of the problem is that the only view they have of American women comes from pornography and the movies, which is where they get their information about American women. That’s part of the problem; the other part is how they view women in general.
As we approached the Best Western there was an African man speaking French on his cell phone. I looked at him because he was speaking French. He got off his cell phone and said in English, “Hey baby.” I gave him my best disdainful look and said in French, “I’m not your baby!” in a tone that I hoped conveyed eat shit and die.
He looked surprised and said, “You speak French?” I replied, “Yes, but not with assholes.”
“Come here,” he grabbed at me. I pulled away and said, “Don’t touch me!” This exchange were I used every single degrading word I knew in French was observed by a group of rag tag looking men, they looked like they might be Eastern European. We entered the Best Western to ask directions to JJs.
As we were standing at the counter, a large African American leaned into our space, after being ogled and pawed at I turned around startled. He put his hands up the air as if to say, “Don’t shoot,” and then said “Sorry, I didn’t mean to get in your personal space.” He seemed nice enough so I admitted to him I was a little jumpy due to all testosterone in the air.
We introduced ourselves his name was Anthony and he was stationed at the Naval Air Base in Bahrain. We found out JJs was a 10 minute cab ride away so we decided to check out the bar in the Best Western, The Wrangler. Anthony asked if he could join us, he seemed nice enough so we said yes. Unfortunately, it was 2 a.m. and it was closing so instead we headed outside.
On the front steps I turned at the sound of someone addressing me in French, but I couldn’t understand it. It was one of the rag tag group of men who I thought were from Eastern Europe. I asked him, “Do you speak French?” He said, “No, but he does,” and pointed to a young blond that was fairly attractive. I asked him if he spoke French and he said no. I asked him what language the other kid had been speaking and he said English. “Where are you from?” “England,” was the reply. At first I thought they were just being friendly, but it seemed like they were toying with me like a cat plays with a stuffed mouse, so I turned my back on them.
A bald guy in the group, with a face that maybe a mother could love and who looked like he was a 20th generation miner who had spent too much time in the hole, made a lewd comment.
I turned around slowly and looking him up and down like he was a particularly disgusting insect I said, “I know that Arab men are complete assholes, but I thought the English would at least have manners.”
He grabbed his crotch, started jumping up and down as if he were trying to lengthen his dick, under the false impression that the size of his member was an indication of his manhood and started yelling “Fucking Americans!” over and over again.
I turned and looked at him again as if he were the foulest thing I had ever laid eyes on and said, “Didn’t we conquer your country 50 years ago?” and laughed in his face. He moved toward me screaming “Fucking Americans!” but I didn’t budge an inch. His friends dragged him across the road, as he screamed the same obscenity over and over again and I just sat there and smiled. Finally his friends got his ugly bald ass into a cab and the glass muffled his shouts.
In the meantime, Anthony the American we had met, who seemed harmless is doing everything he can to touch me. Wiping sweat off my forehead, tapping my shoulder and trying to keep my attention when what I’m really interested in is tromping what is left of the pathetic English prick’s manhood into dust. He is creeping me out and I want nothing more than to be away from anything male. I turn around to find Tash, talking with Matt and Shervin and I move gratefully into their circle and after about 15 minutes, Anthony the octopus gives up and moves on.
It is 2:30 in the morning and Tash is wide-awake because she had a cup of coffee about an hour ago. We are standing in front of the Best Western talking with Matt and Shervin, trying to decide what to do and where to go, when we discover that everything closes at 2 a.m. Shervin and Matt invite us to hang out either by the pool or in their room with a bottle of vodka and cranberry juice.
Because of the coffee Tash is going to be up for at least two more hours. I on the other hand after walking all day and being on my feet could probably fall straight asleep. We take them up on their offer; because going back to the room and me trying to sleep while Tash is hyped up on coffee doesn’t seem like a viable option.
Three hours passes with talk about our experiences in Kuwait with the Iraq program, Shervin’s experiences in Iran and Matt’s in Doha. Shervin and Matt apologize profusely for suggesting the Rock Bottom, it turns out they had gone there also and had observed some meathead GI behavior.
“Like what?” I asked.
“We were in the elevator with a group of GIs and every time an Arab got on they would say, ‘What’s up Dude!’ It was very disrespectful and embarrassing to be an American,” Shervin said. He commented that this was America’s face to the world in the middle east and we all just shook are heads on that sad statement.
Not every GI is uneducated, but I’ve heard from several sources that a lot of them come from the south, have prejudices against the Arabs and this is their first time aboard.
We talked and talked and talked. About the programs Tash and I are trying to implement in Iraq, the movie “Murderball” and the difference between Iraq and Iran. At the risk of sounding like a dumb American I was not aware that Iran is not Arab, it is Persian and they speak Farsi. In Afghanistan they are also Persian and speak Farsi. Shervin is an American of Iranian decent and he told us that Iranians shun and despise being related to any behavior that is Arab.
He spoke of the misconceptions that Americans have about Iran. Informed us that Iran has a well-educated middle class that does not buy into the government rhetoric and about women who are highly educated.
We made it back to our hotel at 6 a.m. in the morning.