Tag Archives: culture

Red and white all over

I have seen patriotism, I have seen national pride and I have seen flag waving. The Royal Wedding in England, July Fourth, Canada Day or Bastille Day, St Jean in Quebec; I have experienced them all. But there is something just a little bit different about National Day here in Bahrain and I am not sure I can pin point what it is. Perhaps it is the meshing of love for a country with unflagging love for a King, or maybe it is the unfailing and unquestioning pride in this small land at a time when it is feeling bruised and vulnerable. Perhaps it might be the linking of national pride with religion so that the three tong image of King-Quran-flag makes for some very impressive symbolism.

Yesterday at school I heard the national anthem sung twice. I saw videos of the King in full military regalia, I saw old film clips of tanks and salutes, pearl divers and oil pipe lines. I heard poetry in Arabic and the King’s name said over and over again with a love normally reserved for close family. I tasted food that tasted of Cardamon and rose. I saw a blur of red and white as flags were waved with unceasing passion.

And I saw all forms of national dress from 3 year old boys, proud in their mini Thobe, fidgeting with long head dress, to tiny girls wearing sparkling Jalabiya. The Jalabiya is gorgeous traditional dress worn by women and comes in many forms; long, short, brocade or sequinned, flowing with swaths of silk and chiffon. Normally they come in the colours of jewels or flowers; emerald, ruby, fuchsia, lime or shimmering pearl.  I was loaned one by a student and flowed around in it all day, by the end of which I had discovered by new found personal style. I felt part princess and part Endora and decided that I would need to pop off to the Souq to purchase one of my very own.

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Bahrain

Coffee and Wine

Going out for a coffee is not a simple thing here. Yes there are the Starbucks and the Costas, and these are always busy. There is even an annual barrister competition, if that is any indication of coffee seriousness.

But there are also the cafes where attendance requires some embellishment, normally of the large sun glasses, glittering head scarf and fabulosa heels variety. We wandered into one divine cafe where the scene, at 10 am on a Sunday morning resembled a post Paris fashion show. The men wore their heaviest watches and silkiest Thobes, but it was the women of the towering heels and reddest lips brigade who really shone. The perfume mingled nicely with the warm almond croissants and roasted coffee beans. With an iphone in one hand and a blackberry in another, it was hard to pick at the ‘Oeufs aux fines herbes’, and carry on a conversation with a best friend at the same time, but they managed.

Maybe it is because this is, by and large, a dry society that coffee is taken so seriously.

Handsome wore a F1 fluorescent orange cap and shorts.  We felt decidedly underdressed.

Then it was onto the next stop: the liquor store. Now, I’ve mentioned before that alcohol is permitted in Bahrain, and in fact some Saudi’s depend on it, but it is not readily available You can’t find a beer or bottle of wine in a super market, nor in a “cold store’ the equivalent of the Quebec depanneur or the corner store. There is no Off License, nor SAQ, nor LBO. I thought Quebec was funny with its rules about where you can buy wine or not and the hours that it is open, or not.  But then I had never been to a liberal country in the Gulf.

Well here it is a whole different story, and one that often comes up as dinner party conversation. “ Where did you find that,” and “ you said how much? I am going tomorrow!” and “ they have that here now”? So far, as much as we can discern there are three shops that sell alcohol and they are not advertised. One is in a hotel, ( with a drive through featuring tons of Saudi plates), one is on a compound and can only be accessed through a sliding sheet metal door or Mondays and Thursdays between 1 and 3 pm. And the third is this one:

Inside it feels like a clandestine affair. There are shifty Indians with bloodshot eyes clutching whisky and fistfuls of crumpled cash. There are the odd expats, scanning the aisles for something new and cheap. There are the newbie expat dads waiting in line for their special discount card that is given out on a whim. Everything is paid for and wrapped in dark bags lest they be seen by a passing opinionated Muslim.

Everything is over priced and falls somewhere between ‘dep wine’ ( ask a Montrealer) and ridiculous vintage French stuff for the people who never look at price tags.

Like those ladies in the coffee shop.

1 Comment

Filed under Bahrain

What I am learning

Having taught in International schools with their diverse populations for some time, and before that in Montreal with its gentle mix of cultures I have never, until now taught in a school with single ideology. Now my class is full of students of one faith, one culture, one nationality and one common background.  At times it unnerves me, sometimes I am surprised but most often I am quietly jealous of their sense of belonging.

There are things that are certain. Every Friday they will gather with their whole family at the grandparents’ house for a lunch time meal.  Every summer they will leave Bahrain and visit London or the States. Every weekend they will see the same friends and family that they have been seeing for all the weekends of their lives. Each school day they will come and sit beside a friend they have known since kindergarten. They will probably leave for university but then almost definitely return to live close to family. They will marry someone they know, or who is at least known through association.  Each day, at some point, maybe for some during school in the prayer room, maybe for others later in the privacy of their home, they will pray. But for all religion is not only a quiet focus in their lives but a central source of purpose.  During one of my outside duties I observe a number of students, certainly not the majority, but a handful, walk over to the prayer room, remove their shoes and enter for about 5 minutes. And I am always surprised. That they take time away from their already short lunch break, that they find comfort and solace in the simple act of homage and that religion shapes the structure of their days.

My own prejudice led me to believe that living amongst a singular ideology would cause single
mindedness, therefore closed mindedness. But in the majority of cases that is not true. Of course there are some who live with a naïveté that borders on precious. In the words of one student:  “for the high class women bringing up children and cooking are not their tasks, they are the jobs of housemaids”. They are all comfortable; struggle is not in their vocabulary. They have sense of us vs. them, they are deeply proud and protective of their Arab culture and hate the way the Western media portrays them and ‘gets it wrong.’

But there are many who struggle with the daily injustice they see before them, who are thinking and critical young adults, more aware than many I taught back in Montreal. They have an awareness of their culture that rests within the certainty off all it offers them.

Often I feel I am the student. But isn’t that the way real teaching should be?

3 Comments

Filed under Miss Teacher

Some fine art slotted into my party weekend.

Last night I attended an Art Exhibition. It was part of a long litany events that this weekend has planned for me, starting with a surreal but decadent parents only school event that involved dressing up circa James Bond Casino Royal and gambling with chips that didn’t actually involve any real money. So we could have all the thrill of losing money and none of the pain. This event was followed by an impromptu Karaoke circle that saw 40-somethings singing “Every Breath You Take” at the top of our lungs. Those holding the mikes got to feel like real rock stars. The rest of us just bellowed from  slouched positions on the sofa or our swaying dance in the corner of the room. What was remarkable was that for the length of at least one song, maybe two we were all in exactly the same place and moment in time, singing the same song, feeling the same thing. Like going to church must feel, it was strangely unifying and a whole lot of fun.

Saturday I stumbled over to a meeting feeling sort of rough, blamed more on the lack of sleep than the quantity of imbibed drinks, and then had one of those long blissful afternoon naps. By the time I got to the Art Show I was foggy but awake, at least. The Art show was supposed to pre-ceed a costume party ( Halloween is paid a token nod in this part of the world) but being over the age of 25 I can only handle 2, not 3 parties in a weekend and it seemed easier to go out for a quiet dinner than run home, change into a sexy cowgirl, and then hit the party. Talking to strangers takes a lot of effort and dinner with friends was just so pleasant.

Back to the Art Show. It featured the work of 13 Ugandan artists and some pieces were very good and very tempting. There were three artists that I particularly liked, pushing aside the predictable African Women images and African Animals paintings. It is comforting to know that artists are creating, feeling, celebrating and expressing themselves over here. And even better to know that thanks to the organizers of this event, they are selling art and making a living. Being an artist in a country where art is seen as an indulgent bit of fluff on the side cannot be easy.

I love this painting of Masai Warriors and goats. It is by the quite wonderful David Kigozi. I had the fortune to meet and compliment him last night but sadly due to the diminutive quatity of funds in my bank account compared to the  high cost of this painting I left the show without it.

And also without this. I love the Rooster.

 

I am going to start saving for a David Kigozi.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Kampala

Finally back to words: On City Walking and Beauty

I haven’t written much these last few weeks. I have immersed myself in the fictional world of London, fictional because in a matter of some days I will leave central London where I have played and return to the real world of life, hard work and Kampala days. I have had my fill of the Great Shiny West and have had the wonderful opportunity to re connect with old friends, family and even a school teacher who I had not seen since I was 14!

Walking in a city has been a true highlight, as has been making full use of London transport and British Rail. As my pictures hopefully showed I have always looked up, around and under to see what delights London has offered. Occasionally I came home and wrote about it, especially after a very special 3 days in Amsterdam. But nothing but photos could be published until now. So here below are some Great Shiny West thoughts.

There are few things I enjoy as much as walking in a city. I am not the treadmill sort, but give me a city with windows and people and architecture and I can walk for hours. Amsterdam is the perfect walking city and during my 3 days there I walked most of it. And if I stopped for a glass of wine, a Manchego or goat cheese salad or even a few hours passed happily in a coffee shop, then I was even happier. Everything that I had been missing about the Great Big Shiny West was satisfied in those three days. The city is not only beautiful but I have never seen a population of more attractive people. Yes, they are mainly young and on bikes, and yes I had just come out of a severe drought in the eye candy department, but even so, this is a city of very good looking people. Even the waiters and taxi drivers and ticket sellers at the museums are well turned out with a dose of style.I actually assumed that our taxi driver was a guest our hotel when I saw him adjusting his tie in the hallway mirror. He was dressed in grey trousers, a while linen shirt and a positively pink tie. Men in Amsterdam are not shy to don pink socks, a linen jacket in a shade of lime or trousers rolled up at the ankles. The girls have exchanged jeans for simple frocks that flip just suggestively when they ride their bikes. Lipstick and flowing locks are de rigueur.

I need the pretty, the beautiful, the art, the man made architectural icon. I studied History of Art and consider myself an esthete. I have always considered that there is no need for anything functional to be ugly. In fact there is no need, at all, for the ugly. And this is not a question of money, rather one of attitude and consideration of ones environment. In Kampala recently, on a small street I saw a house with flowers in pots all along the line marking where the house ended and the next one began. As I looked, I realized how rare it was to have taken that decision to beautify the living area. I also realized how much I had taken for granted that every body did that.  Uganda is abundant in physical beauty. I have  a hard time with the lack of man made beauty. For those naysayers who ask “ who has time to worry over aesthetics when we are just surviving?” I say first look at look at India and second no one in Kampala is starving.

Leave a comment

Filed under Great Big Shiny West

Photo # 15. Grandeur 1000 years old

The Spirals of Parliament against the backdrop of a perfect sky.

1 Comment

Filed under Great Big Shiny West, Photography

Photo # 7. Wild Sculpture

A wonderful melange of the old and new. This series of sculptures is in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Art.

2 Comments

Filed under Great Big Shiny West, Photography