3.27.2014

Bahrain- herstory of a community: A`ali



Post-run euphoria.  Every day that I run is a good day.  I mean a really good day.  I can't express enough how much I really appreciate the community running track here in A`ali.  I feel so fortunate to be a part of this community.  I guess I am what is called a 'fringe-dweller' here in that... well, I'm just about the only American that lives in this hood it seems!

A`ali is just a typical neighborhood on island.  I guess most expats are lured into living downtown Manama where the city life is in full swing- as well as traffic jams.  Me, I've always liked living just off the beaten path.  Most locals are a bit... shocked (I guess is a good word to use,)when I tell them I live in A`ali.  Let's just keep it at that, but when I explain what I love about this area, they seem to get it. I'm not exactly deep in the hood here, but it is unique enough, and I do somewhat feel a part of the community.

It feels good to go to the local Lulu Hypermarket and that the meats section guys know me.  They always give me tips now on what is the best seller of the day at the Indian food counter, etc. It feels good to go to the produce section and talk story with the girls that weigh/tag my produce.  We talk about all sorts of things from how crazy it is to pay so much money for avocados, coconuts and bananas when they fall off trees practically in Hawaii, and the Philippines (where the 2 main girls are from).  They laugh and their eyes get so wide when I cry out that 4 BD is too much money to pay for 3 avocados. I've finally convinced them to stop calling me 'ma`am.'

 It feels good that the Lulu check-out people all know me and know that I always have my own shopper recycle bags that I carry with me. Whenever there is a new bagger guy and they instinctively reach for the plastic, the checker always says to them, 'oh no she has her own bags.' I always proudly announce at that point that in Hawaii plastic bags are banned EVERYWHERE.  This seems to be met with shock from everybody.  Seems a shame actually.  Now the bagger guys know me enough to stop going to get a cart for me so as to carry my groceries out to my car in.  They are still amazed that a women will just up and carry 3 heavy bags.

The gym I go to, at Al Areen, has a community spirit as well.  I've got my own little set-up going there- which is easy to do because not many people are ever there when I'm there.  When I step through the doors, the front desk girls always know to turn on the sauna and steam rooms so they will be hot in 1 hours time.  The fitness guy, Mort, is usually roaming around the building offering me tips.  Most times he has a client and so we all chat together intermittently on fitness elements.  They talk about wishing to do yoga and I comment on wanting more free weight work. It is always a pleasant exchange. The place is pretty big and I always have the entire upstairs room to myself  to do my yoga routine.  As well, the area is a great place to run.  There is no crazy traffic nearby.  There is a bit of construction work going on, but my main concern is cars.  Imma just say it and get it over with: most people don't have good driving habits here... There, done. Next...

The highlight, the real highlight though of my existence here in Bahrain is the A`ali Walking Track in my hood.  I simply adore this place.  This is community.  This is the heart of the matter! I still have yet to have a conversation with anyone there, mostly due to me running when I'm there.  I suspect it has a lot to do with just me being different perhaps.  I just mean to say that there are some cultural norms here and that I have to accept those.  This is, of course, a generalization and there are stories within stories- as with everything.

What makes me feel so good though is that everybody is there just doing their thing.  Everybody is there for their health.  Some families bring their children and walk with them, or roller-blade, etc. Most are holding their cell phones, or talking on them.  There are quite a few groups of men or women walking together.  There are always people in the center on the monkey bars and doing calisthenics.  I have to admit, though, that I am the only person doing yoga there.  I always try to find a tree or somewhere out of the way to do so as I don't really wish to stick out so much.  

I have 2 favorite restaurants thus far: Ric's Kountry Kitchen (diner in Juffair) and Pan Asia in Adliya.  I really don't go out to eat much so I know there is much to explore in this area.  If I could afford sushi, I would frequent those spots but as it is I'm here on a grant and there is not much money left over to enjoy the high life. I have my occasional splurges but I generally cook at home.  As well, most the food I buy is organic, and that is a pretty penny to spend here, as elsewhere in the world.  It's shocking what I pay for yogurt with live acidophilus cultures. There are organic stores on island, but you are definitely paying for it.  My favorite, Nature Valley, is next to Xerox downtown.  The first Saturday of the month the man gives a 10% discount on food so I always show up at that time so I can buy my Ezekiel seed bread and black licorice, etc. I'm almost embarrassed to say it but 3 loaves of the Ezekiel bread is 15BD (40 US$). Now, that would cost $24 back home in Hawaii but still... Ugh. It hurts being a conscious eater... Hurts so good I suppose :)

My wish list? Okay, here goes: I would like to find a beach community here!  I desperately need to get hooked up with this.  I mean, what's an island girl to do? This is a pickle: living on an island that has (nearly) no beaches... So, if anyone has any ideas on how to deal with this, please do divulge!  There is this resort I want to check out, but it comes with a price- as does all the other 'beaches.' Alas...

More wishes: more volunteering on archaeology digs here. Bahrain's history, or prehistory, when it was known as Dilmun, is just fascinating.  I've actually met quite a few old timers with stories to tell.  This is magical as these meetings are quite random.  I had 2 such last month at the monthly Bab al Bahrain festivities.  My new incense seller guy just happened to have a picture in his phone of his father posing with a Danish archaeologist in the 1950's. It was incredible.  I showed him the pictures in my phone of the site I volunteered at this past season, the A`ali Royal Burial Mounds.  It was an incredible moment for both of us- 2 complete strangers, yet linked.  I love this.  Earlier in that evening, at another shop, another old timer was talking to me and he mentioned that every day there is an old man that comes to the coffee shop directly across from his shop and he is a historian.  And then my incense guy separately told me the same thing not 1 hour later!  So, back I go to Bab al Bahrain this Saturday evening for my MEPI coffeetalk (this week we are discussing Bahrain history) where we and indulge in local legends and oral histories.  I must say that I do really enjoy this place!

To sum up, life is good.  I'm happy, healthy and moving forward in life all the while looking back to the past.  Last but not least, if any Bahraini's know of a good tailor, I'm looking to get some things made. Drop me a note if you can.