Laptop back and running, routine is commencing and 3limes is returning to regular blogging practices. It’s about time! Are you still there?
My trusty laptop is terminally ill and most keys have no discernible letters, but still, it is home from the IT hospital and I can once again type. How many of you thought I had donned black and gone local? No I am still here and between hammering holes into my new walls, driving proudly around the island and starting my brand new job I am alive, thriving in fact, eyes wide open and amazed.
I can’t help but compare, who wouldn’t? After two years in Uganda it is hard not to be stunned by the differences laid out before me on a daily basis and it is not just about the number of Ferraris and sparkly malls, the wide open deserts, the overbearing colour of sand, the concrete and steel architecture, the empty, long highways or the long traffic jams at 9pm. No, what strikes me now is the depth of culture here, something ancient and immovable.
Everything is different. Some simple observations have led me to see that Arab culture is concerned with good smells and tidy bottoms. Every bathroom has not only the ubiquitous hand help shower head to assist one’s personal hygiene, but also a bidet in case further washing is necessary. One hotel even has a delightful toilet that sprays warm water in an oscillating fashion followed by a gently warm heat. Some have admitted to finding this quite enthralling.The malls have more perfume shops that I have ever seen, and even extravagant, opulent silver mini trunks to store the perfume within. Men here may cover up the hair on their head but beards and side burns are groomed with some imagination and effort. Women who are draped and nearly disguised focus closely on makeup. eyebrows, and sharp heels that click away, peeping seductively beneath the Abaya. Everyone looks neat, smells divine and has paid some homage to the gods of vanity.
And yet, unless they are peering subtlety at one another, there is no flirting between the sexes, in fact no mixing at all, even after dark. This is a culture that lives at night. Traffic is intense here at 9pm, and whereas back on my ranch pajamas and TV might be in order, here it is time to go out. The night is cooler, the finest grooming is revealed and the city shines.
One evening Handsome and I slipped out after dinner, leaving Trooper and Princess in the capable hands of Friends re-runs, to a very popular and exquisite coffee shop. This was no Starbucks. Instead we were transported as the ornate menu directed us to be, to belle époque late century Paris, where plush red velvet and tinkling chandeliers reflected the chattering classes beneath. Yet in the Paris of Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge there would certainly have been Pernod, even Absinthe sipped by ladies with coquettish eyes. Here the menu was gateaux, cappuccino and fruity juices served in gorgeous tall glasses. Men sat together, some in traditional garb, in this case starched white resplendent with shiny cufflinks and headscarfs flicked up like mighty sails. At different tables women sat, adjusting their headscarfs, beautifully knotted and dotted with Swarovski crystal. There was not one mixed table, no couples, no mixed friends. I couldn’t help thinking how any Saturday night in London at 11 pm would have seen a rowdy bunch spilling out of the pub, having “pulled” some willing member of the opposite sex, who, with enough booze, might be persuaded to come over for a quick shag.
And there Handsome and I sat, the only mixed table, quietly talking, sharing a divine pistachio and chocolate mousse and sipping coffee.
There was something exciting in its foreignness and something so elegant. Where was the loud boozy laughing, the overtly sexual looks hanging over the room?
Bahrain was starting to sink in and I could now see that beneath its sandy and materialistic exterior there was tradition, deep habit, customs dating back centuries and above all, pride.