Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pleasure Island

Our readers in Saudi Arabia already know that Bahrain is an island kingdom about 16 miles off the coast, and the bridge to Bahrain happens to be very close to where we live! Since the Mister and I hadn't activated our multi-entry visas yet, we decided to take a day trip.

In the distance is what we've decided to call "Border Island." It's literally an island in the archipelago where you cross the border from one kingdom to another. It looks like Tomorrowland.

The Bahraini flag.

We had no idea what to expect. By the way our students and fellow teachers talk, it sounded like Bahrain was Saudi Arabia's version of Pleasure Island: women don't have to be covered and they can drive, there are movie theaters, alcohol and pork. It sounded like we could go there to get our fix of Western sins if we got a hankerin' for a beer and some real brats.

In our excitement, we just left town blindly, with no idea where to go once we got to Bahrain. So we decided to drive around for a bit and see what we could see.

I probably have a hundred of shots like this from over the course of our relationship. He's just so cute!

We dubbed this "The Red Village." We're ridiculously creative.

The first proper skyscrapers we've seen since we left the States.

After taking a spin around Manama--we think that's the least it has the biggest dot on the maps--we decided to go crazy and visit the City Center. To most Americans, the term "city center" elicits mental images of public parks, market places, and other such attractions. Nope. In Bahrain, the city center is a mall.

We had left Saudi Arabia, land of the mega mall, and went to a different mall in Bahrain. But let's not dwell on the fact. This mall has a water park, something Saudi Arabia does not have.

AND it's on the roof of the parking garage! NO ONE has that!

The name of the water park is "Wahooo." In my head, I sing it like the old Yahoo commercials at home.

As we were walking around the City Center, we saw a lot of European tourists and American faces. Bahrain is a bit of a vacation spot--tourism is one of its main industries. It struck me that in all likelihood, none of these tourists would be able to go across the causeway to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is as close as they were gonna get. I have no idea if any of them had a desire to visit, but it occurred to me that most of them might assume that since they had visited Bahrain, they were getting a good idea of what Saudi Arabia is really like.

That could not be further from the truth. By now ya'll know I love me some lists, so here is a list of the reasons why Bahrain is not Saudi Arabia 2.0.

1. The obvious. Bahrain has alcohol. Bahrain has pork. Bahrain has movie theaters. Bahrain has uncensored bookstores. Women don't have to cover in Bahrain, though many still do.

2. Bahrain is clean. One of the things that has made the biggest impression on me in Saudi Arabia is all the litter. There is trash literally EVERYWHERE! No one cleans up after themselves and it's disgusting. Children will throw trash out the car windows, and empty shopping bags are constantly blowing down the highway. The flattened left overs of someone's filafil is the road kill of Saudi Arabia.

But there was absolutely none of that in Bahrain. The sidewalks were clear. The walkways in the mall were not littered with discarded toys or straw wrappers. Yet we never saw a single janitor.

Now, the hubsy and I have been given the impression that the entire Eastern province empties itself onto Bahrain every weekend. All our students talk about is their weekends in Bahrain. The other teachers have a second home on the island. So if there are really that many Saudis on Bahrain every weekend, then you would think that the entire island would be just as trashed as their kingdom...but it's not! And since we didn't see any custodial staff, we can only conclude that 1). the janitors are ninjas or 2). the Saudis actually do know how to clean up after themselves. It's genuinely perplexing, and I think many return trips are in order to continue our anthropological research.

3. Bahrain has a dating scene. The Mister and I went to see movies during our visit, but we went to different ones. It's such a rare treat, I didn't want to spend my money going to see something I didn't want to see. He went to see The Town and I went to see The Switch (both were heavily censored, but we'll take what we can get). Because we got out at different times, I was stuck waiting for him for about an hour. That allowed for some great people-watching opportunities.

I saw people on dates. Young people. Arms around shoulders and obvious flirtation. That is totally haram in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (for those playing the home game, "haram" means "forbidden" in Arabic). We occasionally see couples holding hands in KSA, but definitely no other outward signs of affection. I felt like I was watching a typical movie theater lobby at home, but with a LOT more abayas and niqabs.

I felt so much at home that at one point I gave my husband a peck on the cheek. I immediately said, "Oops. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do that or not." I had forgotten where we were for a second.

4. Bahrain allows women to work. Ok, that's not fair. According to a news article I read recently, 15% of the women in Saudi Arabia have jobs. That's significantly less than the surrounding Gulf states, but some women do work in Saudi Arabia. But they're not allowed to work in places where they are intermingled with men. That means none of the mall stores in Saudi Arabia are staffed with women. This proved to be most annoying when I went to Sephora to buy some make up, and I was faced with asking a man for advice as to which concealer is best.

In Bahrain, the make up stores, the lingerie stores, and all the other female-centered stores all had female employees. As did every other store and restaurant in the mall. You just don't see things like that in Saudi Arabia.

5. Traffic laws are obeyed in Bahrain. We weren't forced out of our lane by a drifting SUV once. The red lights meant stop, not creep forward a few feet every few seconds until it turns green. There were no crazy speeders that blew past us on the shoulder of the road. Again, if most of Saudi Arabia is in Bahrain every weekend, and the drivers in Bahrain appear to be sane, WHY CAN'T THEY DRIVE LIKE THAT IN SAUDI ARABIA!?

It sounds like I'm hatin' on Saudi Arabia right now, so I feel the need to clarify. My husband and I are very very happy here. The people have been very welcoming, and we are absolutely loving our cultural experience. There are obviously some things that bother me about our new home, but we are very quickly getting used to them. It's just that all these little things became very obvious today when they were absent during our trip to Bahrain.

Anyway, there are more photos from our trip on my Facebook page.

Vicariously yours,


  1. That looks magical. I want to go to there.

  2. wonder if Yaser designed any of these buildings? The buildings on his facebook page look a lot like this, I thought they were mostly architectural renderings, so it's amazing to see there really are buildings that look like this!

  3. Wow, that's some mall. Thanks for sharing.