Yes, I'm still alive and well! Some family from abroad are visiting me right now so I've been busy with them. Many thanks to those who contacted me to make sure I was in good health. I promise that next time I'll let you guys know beforehand if I'm going to be absent.
Anyhows, I've been showing my family around Bahrain these past two weeks doing the regular tourist thing. While driving in the car two days ago, my cousin asked me "so what's so special about Bahrain anyways?". For years I've been telling my family and friends abroad about how Bahrain is such a great place to live and how the people are so good-natured. In the few days that my cousin got to spend on the island, he didn't see any of that. He pushed me on it, and it made me think more honestly about why I hold this place in such high regard.
I had to agree with him that the people he had observed and interacted were not amazingly friendly or anything. I realized that I am more attached to the memories of the people I had when I was younger; when if you got a flat tyre, strangers would stop on the side of the road and insist on helping you change it; when salesmen would bring you a chair and a cup of tea, even if you were just there to browse; when hitch-hiking was considered absolutely safe and normal. But things have certainly changed since those days. It seems to have become more and more rare to come across people who have still maintained that tolerant, friendly and extremely helpful frame of mind, especially towards foreigners.
Although there are many ways that one could analyze this change, if you ask me I would attribute it to the change in employment and lifestyle trends. Traditionally, Bahrain has been a very important trading point for the region, so the people, particularly the traders, had to maintain good relations with others. Not to suggest that their behaviour is purely selfish, but rather I imagine that this is how the tradition of friendliness towards others was started, and later it just became part of the culture.
The situation today however is that most people are employed in office jobs (especially in government offices) that don't require each of them to personally interact with (let alone maintain good relations with) foreigners. So over time I feel that the tradition of openness towards others is slowly eroding away. That doesn't mean it is obsolete, but it's just not as common among today's younger generations as it was a while back.
Well anyways, later that same day I took my cousin to the Diraz beach to have a cup of tea as the sun set. And sure enough, we came across a fine gentleman who showed my cousin what Bahraini hospitality is all about. He was an old man (pictured above) from Barbar selling snacks and drinks out of his beat up station wagon on the beach. As soon as he realized that my cousin was visiting the island he insisted on giving us some free tea to go along with the chick peas we had just bought. He then opened up a spare folding chair for my cousin and gave up his own chair for me to sit down while we ate. We chatted with him for a while, myself addressing him in my broken Arabic, and him replying to us in his broken Urdu and English. Before finally leaving I tried to give him some money for the tea, but he refused. We playfully fought for a while, each trying to have our own way, but in the end I had to give in so as not to insult him and accepted his free hospitality. A true gentleman he was.
I had mixed feelings on the way back. On the one hand I was rather saddened that people of his kind have become so few today compared to how it was when I was younger. But I was also quite relieved that there are a few his kind still around.