A calendar hangs on the kitchen wall here in our luxury apartment in the city of Manama, Bahrain. It is a mass of arrows, untidy notes and spidery scribbles, but the eye is drawn to the thick, black lines created by marker pen. This is how Joe and I cross off the days until the end of our year’s contract, and our return to Spain.
There are no more protest marches here in the Kingdom of Bahrain as they are now forbidden. Anyone breaking this law is imprisoned and severely dealt with. However, pro-Government demonstrations are encouraged, even within schools. Posters plaster every spare space of wall, whether inside classrooms, in school corridors or on the outside walls. Students’ work is removed from bulletin boards and replaced by posters. The posters are massive photographs of either the King, Crown Prince or Prime Minister smiling benignly upon their subjects.On appointed days, both students and teachers are encouraged to come to school wearing red and white, the colours of the Bahraini flag. Most do, and those who prefer not to, remain at home for the day.
Tables are set up in the playground. At playtime, the children are encouraged to sign their names in huge books laid open invitingly.
“What is that book?” I ask a ten year old pupil.
“Miss, you write your name and your phone number in there, Miss, if you love the King,” he replies.
TV cameras are invited into school. The cameramen direct the children, asking the teachers to lead the chant, “Up, up, Khalifa!” (King) and to surge toward the camera when beckoned. Obediently, everyone performs. The kids wear enormous smiles on their faces and frantically wave their posters of the King and Bahraini flags. They are having a wonderful time; this is much more fun than lessons.
Joe and I stand on the sidelines, watching, bemused.
Time marches on. We’re nearly at the end of our contract, and will soon be booking flights back to Spain. We’ve grown very fond of the Kingdom of Bahrain, but the beliefs and politics are still hard for us to comprehend.
Yes, we’ve been given a very decent salary, a luxurious apartment and we live in great comfort. But would we prefer to be in our crumbling, ancient house with its leaky roof, high in the Spanish mountains? Yes. Most definitely…
Do join me on Facebook to find out how we’re coping, day to day.
My recipe of the month – Basboosa
A traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with semolina and yoghurt
250g (1½ cups) semolina
125g (½ cup) caster sugar
250g (1 cup) low fat plain yoghurt
125ml (½ cup) vegetable oil
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
3 teaspoons baking powder
375ml (1½ cups) water
375g (1 to 1½ cups) caster sugar
6 whole almonds, split in half
In a medium bowl, mix together the semolina, sugar, yoghurt, oil, coconut and baking powder. Set aside for 30 minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the water and sugar. Bring to the boil , stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Spread the semolina mixture into the bottom of a 23 x 30cm baking dish. Slice into squares or diamonds, and place an almond half onto each piece.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until light brown. Switch the oven setting to grill, and grill until the top is golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oven, and pour the cooled syrup over the hot squares. Serve warm.
“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