Thursday, August 27, 2009


A follow-up to last week's entry on the hypnotist bandits. Apparently I wasn't the only one who enjoyed the story. Thought I'd share a cute response printed in the GDN's letters to the editor page on Tuesday (25 August):

"What a delightful story about the couple wandering round Bahrain's banks hypnotising cashiers into giving them money...Obviously things are not as they seem. It surprises me however, that they did not just hypnotise the policemen when they were apprehended. With just a wave of the hand and the words "these are not the robbers you are looking for"they could have been on their way. They could have even hypnotised the police into believing that one of their own was guilty. Personally, I think they are simply a lost family of Jedi Knights innocently trying to return to their home on the rebel base on Yavin 4. Hypnotising bank cashiers. That one's going to be hard to beat. Beam me up Scotty."

The letter is authored by a "JT Kirk" - James Tiberius Kirk? I'm no Treky, but still, the reference is not lost on me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hypnotist bandits

You've gotta love the GDN (Gulf Daily News), Bahrain's quality national rag. It's tabloid in format and tabloid in nature. The most widely circulated English language newspaper on the Island, the GDN is what the English-speaking population rely on for their daily local news fix. It frequently prints interesting (read: sensational and highly entertaining) news stories and letters to the editor - spelling mistakes and bad grammar only add to the charm of the GDN.

I must share today's GDN highlight about the hypnotist bandits:

A Bahraini bank cashier claims to have been hypnotised into parting with 900 BD (around $AD2700) by a family of robbers. The bandits apparently approached the cashier claiming they were overseas visitors wanting to exchange foreign currency. They then allegedly put the cashier under the influence of hypnosis and entranced, he handed over the cash.

I'd like to invite the bandits over to my place - maybe they could hypnotise my daughter into not watching the Sound of Music for the 654th time.

Watch this space for more GDN gems...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mango man and me

I love mangoes. Sure, Australia and more specifically Queensland is famous for mangoes but as much as I'm a fan of home-grown and Australian-made, I'm sorry to say that in my humble opinion, Australian mangoes have nothing on the varieties offered by the Indian sub-continent (mainly from India and Pakistan) which are predominantly available in the Gulf. This is a tried and tested theory (based on my own comparative study:)) Though born and raised (for most of my life) in Australia, I have a sub-continental heritage and mango-loving is in my blood. My parents love them, their parents loved them and as mangoes have been the fruit of choice in the sub-continent for a lot longer than they have been in Australia, I'm sure that their parents loved them before that.

One advantage of being here over the long, hot Summer has been having the chance to enjoy the sweet, succulent fruit - virtually on tap. To begin with, I tested out one of the major supermarket chain's "World of Mangoes" promotion, where they boasted having 101 varieties in stock. I tried a couple of varieties and although reasonably tasty and aromatic, I was sure there was something better out there waiting for me. And that's when I found my dealer, my 'mango-walla'. There he was, about a block away from my place, walking the streets, selling his wares and fuelling people's addictions. I was destined to become one of his best customers.

I met Abdul, the mango-walla one sweltering afternoon in late June, on the side of the road at the traffic lights on my way home from work. There, the lanky, dark man ran up to the window of my car with an infectious smile and two crates of "besht quality - Alfonso mangas" as he put it. It was lunch time and they looked mouth-wateringly good. I haggled with him over the price of one crate and told him that if they were as good as he said they were - I would be back for more. I was back - just three days later. And, so it went on a weekly basis. He brought, I bought.

All I know about Abdul is that he's Bengali and with the language barrier between us it's hard enough buying fruit let alone enquiring beyond that. He looks young and can't be more than 22. I guess that he must be here on some illegal visa racket. This would explain his free-lance fruit-selling and lack of a regular job. As well as mangoes, I have bought cherries from him and he has tried to sell me an unidentifiable fruit called "mish mish" (yet to find out what this is). So to be honest, he's not just a mango-walla, he's a fruit-walla. As he has been able to deliver on demand, I have him on 'speed dial' and have entered his name into my phone as "fruit guy."

Alas, our brief but fruitful ;) business relationship came to an end yesterday when Abdul called (well actually, I called him after he 'missed called me' - the system used by the tech savvy yet thrifty workers who can't afford the cost of a phone call) to tell me that there were no longer any quality mangoes on the market as peak season had come to an end. He tried to convince me to buy more cherries, but I wasn't's not the same. Maybe we'll reconnect when the next exotic fruit comes into season...but I guess pomegranate-walla doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bahrain archaeology 101

Thought I would share these pics of Bahrain Fort (also known as Qal'at al-Bahrain - Castle of Bahrain). The Fort is relatively well maintained and it's one of the things I've enjoyed seeing here. In a country that's all about new buildings and bling, it's nice to appreciate what's old. The foundations of the Fort date back to 2300 BC to the Dilmun civilization (early inhabitants of Bahrain) and since 2005, it's been on the UNESCO world heritage list. You can also catch a glimpse of the sea behind the Fort - not quite Bondi, but kind of pretty, right?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My other island home

When we were about to leave Melbourne last year to move to Bahrain, and when I started telling people about the move, a lot of our Aussie friends didn't know where Bahrain was (I don't blame them, though I am relatively familiar with the geography of the Middle East, I had to find Bahrain on the map before heading here myself!). My usual response was - it's an island and it's not too far from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (because most people have heard of Emirates the airline and a lay over in Dubai is not uncommon). The funny thing is, I still get lots of friends back home asking me "So how's Dubai?" As I said, Dubai is something familiar, a place that most people know of (even if they haven't visited it) for its grandiosity, its excess and its label as the Las Vegas of the Middle East.

Bahrain could well be described as Dubai's sleepy cousin (the ever so slightly less ostentatious one). It's relatively quiet and has a population of around 1 million - this includes the huge number of expat workers both blue collar and professional who live and work here. But, what Bahrain lacks in numbers it obviously makes up for in determination. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain has the fastest growing economy in the Arab world and, that in 2008 Bahrain was named the world’s fastest growing financial centre by the City of London’s Global Finanical Centres Index (info courtesy of Wikipedia). Impressive right? The problem is that when you're living here, it doesn't feel like 'this is where it's at' and frankly doesn't seem all that sophisticated. The majority of shopping centres are slightly dull - the best on offer are Seef Mall and City Centre. My world changed when the City Centre opened its doors late last year... Not quite Chaddy, but it will do for now. There are a few indoor play centres for kids which are of a passable standard but the outdoor parks are pretty drab (not that we can use them in the current heat of 40+ degrees celsius during the day - winter is fairly cool though and that's when you can venture outdoors on day-time excursions). Sometimes, it feels like there isn't a lot to do. In this heat, you feel like you don't have too many options and there's only so many times my daughter and I can watch all the Wiggles DVDs we brought from Australia. So at around 5pm - when the sun's about to call it a day and the heat is not as harsh, we usually head out for a play in our yard with the other children in our compound, go visit a friend or jump in the pool.

You would think that living on an Island we would be surrounded by pristine, blue water and sandy beaches. Although 'Bahrain' in Arabic means "two seas" you struggle to find a strip of beach over here, especially one that you don't have to pay for. At one of the five star hotels you can pay about 25 Bahraini Dinars per head (just under $AD80) to enjoy a man-made beach strip. There are a few locations that you can enjoy the beach - for free, but these locations are fairly rough in their appearance and they have not been developed for picnicing plus there's not really a swimming culture. When you do catch an odd glimpse of the water, it is quite beautiful in colour - a gorgeous shade of aqua.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ramadan Moon

I've been in Bahrain since June 2008 - and for the moment am (trying) to call it home. In the year that I've been here, I've come across so many stories, done so many things that I don't know where to begin...feel like I'm starting mid-way through a story:)

OK so let's start with this month, August 2009. What's so special about this month is that Ramadan starts towards the end of it. Ramadan is the name of the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar. It's the month that the Qur'an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad and for Muslims it's a month of ritual, devotion and fast. This year Ramadan starts on 22 August, but we don't know for sure until that date, as there's a margin of error and no confirmation until the sighting of the moon.

Bahrain, like it's neighbours in the region is a Muslim country but unlike a lot of its gulf neighbours is progressive in its outlook - ie, women can drive, women are relatively free to dress as they please, there are cinemas where foreign movies are shown (although all the rudey nudey bits might be edited out) and alcohol is available at hotels and restaurants (despite alcohol being forbidden in Islam). Having been here last Ramadan it was interesting to see the mood of the country change slightly - during Ramadan, the standards of decency and modesty shift a little to the right and alcohol (which ordinarily has a visible presence at the number of eateries and entertainment venues) disappears temporarily from public sight.

I don't drink, so for me, not an issue. I have a number of expat friends who have told me that they usually stock up on alcohol at home before the start of Ramadan because for them, a dry month is no fun. They say it's a case of "when you can't have something, you want it even more." The night before the last Ramadan began in 2008, my husband and I went out for dinner to a posh-ish restaurant. On the table beside us there was a group of Saudi men smoking and drinking away...indulging before the start of the Holy Month. Apparently, it's fairly common for the friendly neighbours to drive over the causeway that links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to indulge in the sinful pleasures that Bahrain has on offer - especially immediately before and immediately after the Holy Month.

Anyway, getting back to what I was saying about the change of mood in Bahrain during Ramadan - during the day time all restaurants and eateries are closed and only open after the sunset prayer (called Magreb). Eating and drinking on the streets is not legally permitted and a lots of workplaces close shop at around 3pm - so a lot of people go home for a siesta before the feasting begins at sunset. The variety of food that's on offer for the "Iftar" (breaking fast) is amazing...more on that when Ramadan actually begins!