April 17, 2013

Bahrain without the politics

Bahrain supplies great weather and great hospitality © Press Association

I’ve already used this space to try and present a different view of the political situation in Bahrain – as we all know, no story is simply black and white. Nothing in life is.

This blog post has nothing to do with the political situation in the small island country, but is instead my attempt at showing you just why I fell in love with the place when I first came here in 2010.

It’s not hard to understand why a Brit would enjoy visiting Bahrain in early March (it was the first race of the season that year) – after a long grey winter, simply changing heavy skies for endless blue and desert heat would be enough to lift one’s mood.

But the warmest thing I found in Bahrain was not the temperature, but the welcome I received from the locals.

When studying world religions at school I remember learning that hospitality was one of the five pillars of Islam, but it took spending time in Bahrain to understand what that meant. I arrived in Manama somewhat nervous about what to expect – as a solo female traveller in an Islamic country, I wasn’t sure how I would be received.

I packed a cheap pashmina (bought especially for the trip), so that I could cover my head if it seemed appropriate to do so. On the advice of friends who had travelled in the Middle East – but not in Bahrain – I picked up a cheap wedding ring and wore it constantly. I packed the most conservative of my clothes, and did my best not to stand out in any way.

I needn’t have worried at all.

Every single Bahraini I met – in shops, driving taxis, or in restaurants and cafes – stopped me and wanted to talk. As a woman travelling alone, I was an anomaly. But while I had been concerned that my presence would be seen as provocative, it turned out that I was seen as an opportunity. Upon learning it was my first time in the country, I was invited into countless homes by Bahrainis who wanted me to taste their cooking, meet their families, and experience life as they lived it.

One evening, on my way back to the hotel from dinner, I got into a taxi driven by a local woman who explained that she made a point of seeking out female passengers who would be more comfortable with a driver of their gender. En route, she was horrified to learn I was staying in a hotel on my own, and invited me to spend the rest of the weekend staying at her family home, so that I would not have to return to an empty room every night.

Still Western and wary of such offers, I refused every one. But the generosity with which the invitations were issued has stuck with me to this day. Never before had I encountered such a range of warm and welcoming people keen to offer a casual tourist access to their homes, their lives, and their culture.

We all talk of culture shock as being a negative thing. But in Bahrain it was entirely positive. I regret only that I missed out on what would have been an excellent opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone.


Posted by khalid on 19/04/2013

Thank you , This is BAHRAIN , everyone is welcome here.

Posted by Hemant on 19/04/2013

nicely written and truly reflect the pleasant and welcoming nature of Bahrainis.

Posted by Pashang on 18/04/2013

Beautiful article.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker