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Thursday, June 15, 2006 

Anti-Gitmo Sentiment

While visiting a "boycott Batelco" site this morning, I happened upon this petition requesting the closure of the "detainee camp" at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo). Before I address this petition, first let me say that I am no fan of the George Bush family. They are only interested in lining their pockets with money earned by the sweat of the working class brow!

However. We are in a state of declared war, with "detainees" being held in the most logical place - Cuba. (After all, would you want these suspected violent minded people in your country?) Being in a state of war, this technically makes these "detainees" prisoners-of-war. In line with the Geneva Convention, they are being humanely treated, and have access to medical attention. Not only are they provided clothing to wear, fed three meals a day, and have a roof over their heads, but they have access to television and radio, creature comforts, and are protected by the very system they have allegedly tried to destroy.

To me it sounds more like a hotel, than a detention facility - and there's no bill to pay for services rendered when they leave. And some have been released, as they are cleared. If these same people were "detained" in other less humane countries, they'd be wearing rags, eating anything they could get their hands on (if anything), would have a hole in the floor to defecate in, and would most definitely be tortured until they confessed, named other co-conspirators, or died. Why not return them to their country of origin to rot in their own jails? You would not be treated so well in their prisons!

Why spend millions of US dollars to maintain these POWs in a more comfortable lifestyle than to what they are accustomed? Many legitimate American citizens live in the squallor of deep poverty, because money to fund the various programs designed to help our citizens has been discontinued. Why? To fund this horribly inhumane detention facility!

So I say, PLEASE sign the petition! There are much better ways to spend US tax dollars, like providing free prescription medications to our elderly, or giving our military a pay raise that is comparable to the dangers and sacrfices they face on a daily basis!

Thursday, April 20, 2006 

Let's Haggle

You've got to see this market! Here in Bahrain it's called a souk. There are different souks for different things. At the east end of Manama, is a souk for fresh vegetables and fruits. These are sold in large quantities - kind of like Sam's Club - but much fresher. Yummy softball sized peaches are just dripping with juice. Fresh dates are very soft and sweet - and cheap.

There's another souk near the Diplomatic Area. There's miles of fabrics with different textures, ready-made clothing, and mink blankets. Mink blankets are not made from animals, but they are thick, soft, and very warm. And while you're shopping, you can even get your car washed for a dollar.

Smell that? Those are spices.

Ohhh! They're quite pungent, aren't they?

Want to see the gold souk?

Just about all of it is 21k gold, and you can get any color gold you'd like, any gem stone or pearl. Like custom jewelry? If you can imagine it, the merchants here will make it for you, and deliver if necessary.


Shwarma Anyone?

Mmmm! Doesn't that smell good?

If you like wraps, you just have to try a shwarma. A shwarma is a flat bread cone, which is filled with layers and layers of paperthin slices of marinated, roasted meat. The meat can be lamb, beef, or chicken; it is marinated in yogurt and seasoning, then placed on a spit in front of an open flame. When it is done, the chef takes a sharp knife and cuts off slices of cooked meat which drop into a waiting tray below. You've got to try one. They're awesome!


The Maid

Bahrain is a dry little wisp of a country, nestled between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The waters surrounding this island nation look more like green algae, than blue water that is home to a variety of species, appears to be very shallow and is said to be shark infested. There is very little vegetation except for the date palm trees that line the highways, and large sculptures are thoughtfully positioned at roundabouts. Dirt lots separate the buildings, and are patrolled at night by homeless dogs. Cats are everywhere, fattened by the rats nesting in the dumpsters. Stray cats adopt apartment buildings. One such creature, an orange striped tom cat makes himself right at home in the French Towers Apartments building. A pakistani gentleman, staged by the door, opens the door for the cat - enabling him to come and go as he pleases.

While standing at the desk to retrieve my room key, three men entered the building behind me. Instead of waiting on me next, as it was my turn, the busy clerk waited on the men first - making me wait until all of them had finished conducting their business. By this time, I am very angry for having to wait so long for my key, and not being treated as a valuable, paying customer.

This treatment leads me to believe that women are treated as second class citizens. But I am a visitor here, and can do nothing about it. Which leads me to notice that I have never seen the face of the Bahraini women. Their faces are completely concealed by their abaya - a black outer garment covering them from head to foot. The only female faces I see are either children, or foreigners.

There is an Indian woman that comes each day to clean my room. She greets me each day pleasantly, and quickly goes about the business of cleaning my flat. She vacuums the carpet, dusts the furniture, washes the dishes, scrubs the floors, makes the beds, and even folds the clean laundry neatly, and places it on the end of my bed. All without complaining. Not even once. Not even when her mother died. She was still there, cleaning my flat, only taking the afternoon off to attend the funeral. Her hands are rough, and scarred; her face leathery from over exposure to the sun. All without complaint. It is not her way. I ask her about her family. She says her husband is sick with a bad heart - she must work to pay for his medicine, which is very expensive. We talk about my home in the United States; she tells me she would like to visit her family in New Jersey. I feel guilty that I am being paid to stand there and converse with her. I make her take the ten dollar bill from my hand.

I feel very fortunate to live in a society that allows me to come and go as I please, that treats me as a valuable person, and that sometimes cares about my opinion. I know that women in the Middle East are not so fortunate as we are in the US, and must bow down to the wishes of the men in their life. Doesn't anyone else see how hosed up that is??? Am I the only one who cares about these things?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 

Welcome to the Desert

Newt and I ran into some members of the United States military stationed at the Naval Support Activity in Bahrain (near Manama). It's really hot here - so hot in fact, that poor Newt is sweating in places he never thought possible (eww). We asked the sentry how hot it really is today, and it is 115 degrees F - no heat index. Given the extreme temperature, we figured people would be walking around in shorts and beach wear. So I asked some of the Americans why they were dressed in long pants, and stuffy shirts. They told us they have a dress code that is strictly monitored. Here is an excerpt of their regulation:

Civilian attire will present a neat, conservative appearance. Clothing will be loose-fitting and concealing. Neither males nor females shall wear shirts or blouses of sheer fabric that could be considered revealing. In concert with Arabic cultural standards, shorts are prohibited in public except when actively engaged in jogging or other sporting events. (Cutoffs and tank tops are examples of apparel not to be worn in public as liberty attire.) Shirts or ball caps with military, political, religious, heavy-metal music, or illegal drug themes or logos shall not be worn. Conservative, clean denim pants (jeans) are generally acceptable for liberty; however, personnel should be advised that some hotels and clubs expect patrons to dress more formally (e.g., coat and tie) and that hotel security personnel will not allow access to the such clubs unless personnel are properly attired. Traditional host-nation attire male attire (thobe and guttra) shall not be worn by U.S. military personnel. Traditional host-nation female attire (abaya) shall not be worn by U.S. military personnel except in areas where such attire is required, which include Riyadh and Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia. Female travelers to those areas should check with their host points of contact to determine if an abaya is required.

And Bahrain is considered to be a very liberal country in the Arab world!