Bahrain by car.

Trip Start Nov 30, 2007
Trip End Jan 17, 2008

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Flag of Bahrain  ,
Thursday, December 27, 2007

I'm writing this in Bahrain Airport, sitting in the Costa Coffee shop. It's near by gate, but it's also near the sign for the prayer rooms. Since it's 5:00 -- sunset prayer time, two different people have already asked an atheist where the prayer room is. As far as I know, the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said it's okay to pray anywhere as long as it's clean and faces Makkah, and there are further explicit exceptions made for travellers. (And the flights here all start with a traveller's prayer on the intercom, anyways.)

This devotion to religious minutae and theological debate can only come from a morning spent at Islamic facilities, I hope.

I woke up after a very late night packing; it felt more like leaving home than returning to the road, which is good in terms of hospitallity received, but not so great in terms of staying up until 3 AM.

There was a cabbie, one of Magic Akbar's brothers, to take me into Bahrain. He worked as my driver for the day, which was expensive but allowed me to get a lot in. I needed that, after my previous time in Bahrain.

The first stop, after a brief U-turn to pick up my forgotten cell phone and breezing through the causeway (my driver had the fattest passport I've ever seen -- but then again, he crosses the border probably daily), was to the tower restaurant. In the middle of the 40 km causeway, an artificial island hosts the border and passport controls for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and it has matching viewing towers with restaurants. (The restaurants are at the base of the towers, only a couple of stories up, for reasons that escape me.) The view wasn't spectacular; the tower was maybe 15 stories, and could have used a window cleaning, but it was kind of neat to see the causeway infrastructure and the towers of Manama barely visible at the horizon.

Stop two was suggested by my cousin Jana, but my driver needed a quick phone check to find the exact location of the Beit Al Qu'ran, a museum containing mostly, well, Qu'rans, of all shapes and sizes. There was a small display of a contemporary Bahraini artist, and a larger one on (mostly) contemporary Afghan calligraphy -- this one was quite impressive, indeed. The bulk of the exhibit was impressive, but after a while, something written in squiggles or an ornate book starts to look like every other. Highlights included a number of first editions of printed copies, including first editions in a number of languages; a woven rug with Qu'ranic verse on it (a wall rug, the sign stressed); verses written on grains of rice and the like, and an incredibly tiny whole Qu'ran.

Stop the third was the Al Fatah Islamic Centre; the largest mosque in the country. (This makes 3 of 4 -- for some reason, I couldn't get into the largest Saudi mosque). It was done in a little more traditional style, with rich materials (Italian marble), but less decoration than some of the others. I don't think the simplicity hurt the space as a place of worship, though. My guide was quite charming and engaging, although our tour was cut short by the call for the noon prayer -- which  saw done inside the main mosque, by a caller of some skill and melodic ability.

The fourth stop, or stops I guess, was a set of frenzied efforts running around the Bab al Bahrain, with the ultimate goal -- as I realized later to my chagrin -- of mailing garbage to Canada succesfully accomplished. After filling in the same form four times.

And finally, was the museum. The fabled museum. The closed on National day museum. We drove was up to the gates around 2, to see... the same closed sign from 10 days ago. Luckily, my driver could ask what was going on, and we were told we couldn't enter. But try again in ten minutes, maybe then. We drove down the corniche, and I went for a short scenic walk to watch rats eat garbage, then when we returned, sure enough, we drove right in. Who really knows, anymore?

The museum itself was nice enough, I guess. Decent, but not spectacular; it felt like it would have been cooler when it opened, or even just 10 years ago. There were plenty of interesting exhibits, in particular the ones on the burial mounds (Bahrain is 5% burial mound, literally by area), and the preceding Dilmah culture, but there wasn't as much explanation as I would have liked. For example, one hall was a recreation of a souq, with stalls for all of the traditional trades, but most of them just had a plaque reading "carpenter". Well, duh. I think I'm just spoiled by the wonderful reveal of the Dubai museum.

So that completes my time in Bahrain; a small country that's nice enough, I guess, but not a real metropolis like Dubai. It's trying hard, and there's plenty of construction (I have to remember the whole country has fewer residents than Calgary), but it feels like a second-class nation, I guess. But that doesn't mean it was unpleasant, by any means.

And now I'm finishing this on a turbulent late-night flight to Damascus; I have the last row in the plane, with the guy in front of me leaning back and shifting in his seat every few seconds. I hope the weapons I've armed myself with, including ear plugs, eye shades, and a new one on trial, will help me get a little sleep. And I hope I do okay, despite the complete lack of an on-arrival plan.

Sweet dreams, Kevin.
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