Manama Bahrain Visit

Little more than a year ago, I was in Manama Bahrain for three days (Nov 2009). Pleasant memories of this tiny island visit are still fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.  Yes, Bahrain is only a tiny bit of an island. See details:

 

Manama Skyline, with Pearl Tower on right

 

Capital: Manama

Area: Only 707 sq KM consists of 33 islands. The biggest being the Bahrain which is only about 55 KM by 16 KM.

Religion:  90% Muslims with about 66% Shia and 33% Sunnis.

Language: Official language is Arabic. Farsi (Persian) is also much used as majority population has origins from Iran.

Population: The population of Bahrain is only 1.2 Million (about 0.5 Million locals and 0.7 Million ex-pats).

Rulers: Bahrain is ruled by Al Khalifa royal family since very long. The family is Sunni and originated from Najd area in Saudi Arabia. But majority people are Shia with origins from Iran. Iran has been claiming since 100s of years that Bahrain belongs to her. Britain played a big role during 19th century in bringing the Royal family to power and to keep Iran away. This is the reason behind current & many previous uprisings.

Desert Bahrain

My visit here was short but very exciting. I had a friend living here with family; he happily showed me around and served a nice dinner. We did some shopping at a super market where works the officially humblest car park attendant of the world works, ic oul not meet him, he was off on that day. My shopping list wasn’t long, dates, mithai (sweets), a steam iron with a free “easy-shirt-folding-cardboard” which I managed to pack in my travel pack with great difficulty. Both of these items never worked the way claimed by the exuberant sales boy, actually never worked to be honest. Easy-fold cardboard went for recycling; the steam iron still lies in my cupboard.

Weather in Bahrain is hot & humid except few winter months. The weather was pleasantly mild during my visit though; it was November. So I enjoyed walking outside.

Room Lounge

The hotel I stayed in was one of the best I ever stayed. It was not a room but a full suite, with mini-kitchenette, dinning, lounge, bedroom and obviously a shower. My friend told that Saudis visit Bahrain with family, and they prefer such suites.

Tropical Forest in Hotel

Our customer meeting went exceptionally good. The local manager was so happy that he invited us for dinner at a supposedly 7 Star hotel. Happily obliging, four of us colleagues joined. We went there just about sunset time. The restaurant was crowded, must be really good I thought! We decided to sit outside. They had created a kind of tropical jungle on one side. The dinner was supposed to be a candle-lit one. It was so dark that it was impossible reading the menu let alone seeing each other. Waiters were carrying small torches in their pockets to help diners read the menu. And the food; it turned out to be awfully tasteless. A disappointing experience over all.

One of our colleagues had travelled straight from China. She was uncontrollably jet-lagged as if drunk. On the way back she sat in the front seat (no she wasn’t driving), and was falling forward on every touch of break. We feared she would break the dashboard, so we reclined her seat. I left the car first at my hotel; she was staying at another place. I didn’t hear of an accident next morning and the car dashboard was fine too! The journey went well I supposed. All that ends well….

King Fahad Causeway - Stretching in the Sea

We had one full afternoon free and a car with driver to explore the island. Driver being from India, could speak a bit of Hindi/Urdu and a bit of English, decided to start with King Fahad Causeway, the only road link between Bahrain and neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Opened in 1986, it is a 26 KM long bridge on the sea (supposedly the longest in the world). Actually it is not a bridge, rather a road built in the sea. There is a small island in the middle which is used for customs and immigration.

Many Saudis drive to Bahrain using King Fahad causeway on the weekend (Thursday & Friday) just for leisure purposes and avoiding restrictions in Saudia (Read my Visit to Riyadh for more). Everything is available here including alcohol, which is sad really. Saudis are famous here!! for rule-free driving.  

Customs Area in Middle - KF Causeway

We drove through Bahrain Island and reached in the middle of the King Fahad causeway. It was nearly dusk. We went up the observation tower & viewed excellent sunset. It was stunning to see lights coming up all along causeway reaching Saudi land.

Bahraini land is desert like. There is no much oil or gas here so Bahrain is dependent on Saudi and other rich Gulf states. Population is majority Shia who migrated from nearby Iran many many years back. However they are poor. Minority sunni are rich as Royal family is also sunni. Rioting is common among shia. There is unemployment issue also. For some reason Bahrain imports a lot of foreigners from India, Bangladesh, etc etc for labour & household work but do not use locals.

Bahrain Fort

We drove through rural area on the way back. Plan was to visit the famous Fort of Bahrain just outside Manama city. Constructed on a human-built mound, this fort dates long back in history. The area has signs of Persians, Portuguese & British who invaded & lived in this area in same order of time in history. Few parts of the fort looked-as-new, obviously re-built recently. There was a trench all around which would have been filled with water at times, currently used by astray dogs as F1 racecourse. You know I don’t mix with dogs, so I stayed well off track.

Qahva & Dates in Hotel Lounge

The Bahraini cuisine, as I experienced is a mix of more Arab & less Iranian dishes. An addition is use of a lot of Fish since Bahrain is an Island. I made good use of Qavha with dates, and other Arab dishes offered at breakfast and lunch at hotel.

READ my Friend’s comments / Photos who lived in Bahrain for some time.

The End..

Nigeria – Visiting Lagos part 1

“You are assigned a project in Nigeria”, my manager informed me. Nice I thought, I have never been to an African country; it will be thrilling to visit Nigeria, the biggest Black African giant. I had few Nigerian friends and I was always wondered about their culture, seeing it would be great. As usual I logged on to our company’s self-help travel website and tried to book a flight to Lagos city. It is a two minutes job normally but “You are not allowed to book to this destination as it is a high security risk area. Call our office to discuss”, a warning message appeared. So I called the advisor, explain why do you want to travel, she enquired? I told her the reason for travel. OK, if this is unavoidable then obtain your department’s manager and Vice President’s approval. Go through the company security briefing. Once all in place our senior will review your request. Only after that your flight can be booked. Hmmm… I should give it a miss I thought.

Lagos Island & Connecting Bridges

A few days of this approval that approval, security briefings, tens of vaccine injections, malaria, diarrhoea tablets, many phone calls to people who have been to Nigeria, postponing my visit few times, booking with a special security agency to escort me from airport to hotel.  The day eventually arrived and I was ready, waiting for taxi to go to airport. My mind was full of worries & thoughts. This is the only destination so far where I was a bit scared before embarking upon the journey. People who have visited Nigeria assured that I will be fine, just take the usual care as advised. One of my friend who has spent 4 years in Nigeria with family, don’t get tired praising Nigeria, they were planning to go back there for holidays….so what is Nigeria; Famous (or notorious) for scams, violence, drugs smuggling. But this is not Nigeria! It is much more than that. A rich in resources, culture, people, economic growth, a giant great nation! Only if it gets great leadership too. And it has a lot of similarities with Pakistan:

Sea View from my Hotel Federal Palace Balcony

COUNTRY:

– Nigeria takes its name from river Niger running through Nigeria. Capital is Abuja, a purpose built city. Official language is English but there more than 250 languages spoken.

– It’s population is 135 million, 8th biggest in the world, the most populous country of Black Africa, sometimes referred to as the Giant of Africa.

– Landscape is a mix of mountains, desert, plains, rivers, swamps and waterways. Weather is tropical, a bit hot & humid, and a lot of rain. Hence it has a lot of tropical trees. North part is semi desert and south is kind of green and tropical.

– Biggest city is Lagos with 18 million people. Most of Lagos is on main land but there are few islands (Victoria, Banana, Lekki, etc) which are linked to the main land through bridges. These islands are the commercial district of Lagos housing all the offices and expats. Security is much better controlled here. My office and hotel was situated here. the hotel was the most beautiful I ever stayed. Nice building, swimming pool, water slides, garden, and it was connected to beach. I could see ships passing which looked lovely, especially at night with lights on, drifting slowly across my window (photo above).

Palm Trees & Lagos

GREAT ECONOMY:

– Nigeria is rich with oil & minerals, it has approx 8% of proven world oil reserves and produces 10% of world oil supply currently.

– It is 3rd fastest growing economy after China and India according to IMF. Still 60% people live below poverty line (surviving on less than a Dollar). Reasons are all too common. Unfair distribution of wealth, and political, ethnic & religious conflicts are tearing apart the society.

– Nigeria is a deeply religious society. There are about 50% Muslims mainly in north, 40% Christians, and rest are mix.

On the Lagos Streets

UNFORTUNATE PAST:

– Nigeria has an unhappy past. In 1600s, millions of Africans fell victim to European slave trade. In 1800s, Britain defeated local tribes and united the country under its rule till 1960. Then Army took over, followed by corrupt politicians

– Elections are a nervous time in Nigeria. Serious tension, killings and rigging are common place during general elections.

Street Vendors on Lekki Island

TOP RANK IN CORRUPTION:

– Corruption is widespread; Nigeria along with Pakistan ranks no 1 or 2. One of the governors had 260 odd cars, which he renewed every year with latest model, as told by a friend. But what I could gather is, bribery is considered a bad thing, not taken as a “right” to do a just thing, as common in Pakistan.

TRIBAL LIFE:

– Nigeria has three main tribes. The Hausa in the North, Yorubas in the west and Ibo in the south. Music is part of their life. Even their church services are conducted with music & dance.             

– Tribal rituals, culture & traditions are widespread in life. One example of marriage here:

Souvenier Shop at Eco Hotel Victoria Island

WEDDINGS, FAT LADIES AND COWS:

Both Christians and Muslims follow very interesting & colourful African norms for Nigeria weddings, though old traditions are giving way to western style marriages. To start the process, the mother of the boy writes a request letter in the tribal language to the father of girl asking for marriage.

Once upon a time a British boy fell in love with a Nigerian girl and decided to marry her. Girl’s family agreed. But the trouble was that boy’s mother didn’t know a word of tribal language. She requested permission to write the letter in English but was refused. Love won and eventually father accepted a request email from the mother in English, how nice! Though boy had to pay a herd of cows in price but it was worth every cow, the groom exclaimed. He never revealed the exact no of cows though; it is bad manners revaeling the price in public.

Actually boy pays a price for the bride which is agreed between two parties in advance, not dreictly though. It is done through a 3rd party who runs back & forth until a price is settled. The beauty, weight, family & tribe determines how costly the bride would be. The price unit is cows, as it would have been cows that were paid as price in olden days. Nowadays groom pays $s but it is measured in cows. For example if a cow costs $100, and price agreed is $1000, bride price will be 10 cows.

Wedding Couple and Party in Traditional Dresses

And yes, fatter means more cows. A fat woman was considered a good bride, things are changing though. Near the age of marriage, girl was kept in a Fattening room, where she was fed forcefully by the mother. Once fully fattened, girl would proud-fully parade in the village where villagers would praise her weight and offer presents.

Anyhow a wedding in Nigeria takes place in two stages, first introduction and lastly the engagement.
The introduction ceremony is done before the wedding day, where the family of the couples are introduced to each other. Generally groom’s family members comprising of married women visit the bride’s house, with the letter asking for the bride’s hand in the marriage. The ceremony takes place with traditional dances. The groom’s family pays cows to the would-be bride’s family for accepting the letter and the guests are fed with home cooked delicacies.

Ceremony Begins - Traditional Bowing

Second is the engagement ceremony where the groom’s family goes to enquire about the final answer of the bride’s family. On final consent, the groom’s family presents the bride with the gifts consisting of traditional dress, shoes and jewelleries.

Before marriage, boy’s family would bow before the girl’s, out of respect. After the pre-wedding rituals, the couple are married. The bride waits with her face covered until she is called for the dinner. According to the rituals, the bride should reach the groom’s house first, refresh herself and wait for her groom. She would bow in front of boy’s family to show respect. The Nigeria wedding ritual ends with a reception, which includes traditional dishes and music.

THE JOURNEY BEGINS:

And then the day came when I had to leave for Lagos, I was waiting anxiously for the taxi…. To be Continued.

Read 2nd Part Here, which covers my journey with Memory Lane Taxi Driver, Armed Escort & Plane Stopping Suddenly.