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The Small Joys of Bahrain

October 15, 2010

The ever-surprising Mohamed Abdulla Isa, despite surely having had enough of Fred’s and my company at Tabreez the other night, showed us yet another face of Bahrain this morning. This time we rendezvous’d for breakfast at a little Bahraini restaurant called Maseela. It’s near the entrance to the Manama souk, and consists of a number of tables in the alley outside, as well as an indoor family area.

For those not familar with Bahrain, I should explain that the Bahrain weekend is on Friday and Saturday. So this morning was the equivalent of Saturday in the West. Since I arrived in Bahrain I’ve got into the habit of going to the excellent Friday Brunch at the British Club – in terms of the volume of food, a serious assault that usually requires me to take to my bed for the afternoon to recover.

So Maseela was a welcome change. A traditional Bahraini breakfast consists of a number of small dishes – scrambled egg with tomatoes, chicken liver with potatoes, a runny lentil dish and a spicy mince stew. All eaten with the inevitable flat bread straight from the oven that was blazing away on the other side of the alley.

The reataurant was thronged with families and groups of men meeting for a chat – a truly social occasion. Mohamed is a man with many friends, and every so often an acquaintance would stop by to say hello. Fred, Mohamed and I were joined by another Fred, who was over for the weekend from Saudi Arabia.

We then set off for a wander round the souk. Fred One was looking to add to his new collection of Afghan seals – beautiful latticed silver objects about two inches across with a stone seal mould (agate, jade and lapis lazuli) as the centerpiece. The seal images are carvings of horses or other animals, or Arabic inscriptions. The same shop sells Islamic coins, which is an interest of mine, and a host of other good stuff.

Having made the necessary purchases, we followed Mohamed to another eating place deeper in the souk. This is a tiny shop which has been open for 50 years. Inside there’s room for about five people standing up. Most people eat from there outside in the street. We sampled the food – a plate of potato fritters served with a very tasty chickpea sauce. Apparently the man who owns the shop has built a sizeable propoerty portfolio, all from the takings of a tiny outlet in a backstreet. A prime example of patience over the instant gratification urge of today’s business ethos.

What was originally planned as a breakfast get-together was turning into a full morning’s outing. Mohamed’s pleasure in showing us his Bahrain was matched by ours at experiencing it. We went on to a shop that sells herbal water – remedies for indigestion, headaches, diabetes and a host of other complaints. The herbs are all locally grown, and the produce is known throughout the Gulf. One of the lesser-known local industries – a throwback to the days when the country had an abundance of spring water and large fields of date palms. Much of that water is gone now, sucked away by the increasing population and the industrial plants that have sprung up on the island over the past thirty years. But the herbal business remains.

Then on to Bahrain Fort, an ancient structure that dates from the Dilmun civilisation  around four thousand years ago. There’s a new museum at the Fort, which boasts Sumerian tablets, Dilmun seals and Persian figurines, tetradrachms from the time of Alexander the Great (who visited the island – then called Tylos- on the way back from Afghanistan), Parthian pottery and artifacts from the days when the Portuguese established a bridgehead into the region. Next to the Museum is a cafe looking out over the sea that’s growing in popularity – a great place to visit as the sun goes down over the Gulf.

We rounded off the tour with a visit to a couple of a couple of old houses – now derelict – which reminded us that before the days of tower blocks and apartments, most people on the island lived a life of simplicity.

A great three hours exploring parts of Bahrain that I’m ashamed I’ve not taken the time to visit before. All through the generosity of a man who clearly loves his place of birth, and is more than willing to share its delights. Many thanks, Mohamed.

From → Middle East, Social

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