Neither Joe nor I have driven a car in six months. Not since we left El Hoyo, our beloved Spanish mountain village to work for a year teaching in the Middle East. In Spain, our little jeep was essential. The nearest shops were half an hour away over the mountains, and we needed the jeep to collect everything; bags of cement, bricks, logs, chicken grain as well as groceries.
No, we don’t need a car here in Bahrain because the school provides the teachers with a bus to work. And Jalal, our driver, ensures that our journey is never dull. His time-keeping is appalling, but his driving is lightning-fast and creative. Every morning we are treated to a white-knuckle drive.With a cellphone clamped to one ear, Jalal is forced to steer with one hand – unless he has two cell phones, in which case steering is accomplished with his knees and elbows. And being one of the largest vehicles on the road, Jalal asserts right-of-way at all times scorning junctions and traffic lights. Our near-misses are frequent. It is not unusual for our bus to screech to a halt so that Jalal and the other driver can question each other’s parentage and call each other castrated camels amidst much arm-waving.
Half the journey to school is off-road as Jalal swings the bus violently, lurching across desert sand in a series of bone-juddering shortcuts. We teachers arrive at school pale and gibbering, ecstatic that we have survived yet another journey.
Here in the Kingdom of Bahrain, people would laugh if they saw our battered jeep. All the cars are huge, flashy affairs, mostly SUV’s with gleaming paintwork and tinted windows. From our apartment window, we see plenty of them because we overlook a four-lane road where the traffic never ceases. If Bahrain wins an important football match, hundreds of drivers parade in a loop past our apartment block, hooting, waving flags, cheering, flashing headlights and hazard lights. And when Mubarak, the Egyptian President stepped down, the road below was a cavalcade of celebration.
How different from our village in Spain where the mere approach of any vehicle attracts curiosity and the only hooting is from the bread, fish or fruit vans as they announce their arrival in the square!
My recipe of the month – (Banadoora Maqliya ma' Thoom)
Fried Tomatoes with Garlic
This tomato appetizer is great scooped up with Arabic bread.
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 small hot pepper, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons oil
2 large, firm tomatoes, thickly sliced
Mix the garlic with the pepper, salt, and hot pepper.
Stir in the parsley and put aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.
Add the tomato slices and cook for about a minute on one side, then turn, sprinkling slices with the garlic, hot pepper, and parsley mixture.
Cook for another minute, agitating the pan regularly.
Turn the slices again and fry until cooked, but not soggy.
Transfer tomato slices carefully onto a plate and serve.
Note: Don’t try to cook more than two servings at one time or the tomatoes will end up overcooked.
“a charming and funny expat tale” The Telegraph (UK)
“Weeks later you will be doing the dishes and recall some fleeting scene with chickens or mules or two old fools and laugh out loud all over again.” The Catalunya Chronicle