What a sad month… As you all know, Joe and I left our beloved Spanish village to work in the Middle East for one year, teaching at an International school. Many people had hardly heard of the Kingdom of Bahrain, but then, on Valentine’s Day it catapulted to top BBC and CNN news topics.
I’m just an expat, and would never presume to pass an opinion on the politics of Bahrain. Forgive me if I over-simplify matters; this is just how one old fool outsider understands it. All I know is that Joe and I have grown really fond of this little island, and the events of the past month have really shaken us.The Muslim community in Bahrain is either Sunni or Shi’ite and most of the time they co-exist very happily. For instance, our school is Sunni owned but the Muslim pupils and staff are a mixture of Sunni and Shi’ite. This Sunni/Shi’ite mix usually poses no problem in Bahrain. However, the majority of the population is Shi’ite and unhappy that the Government is largely Sunni, arguing that the Sunnis get the best jobs and preferential treatment. Small protests flare up sometimes, with tyre-burning being the most common occurrence. (Now I understand those black, doughnut-shaped stains on the road!)
But on the 14th February, a huge anti-Government protest (mostly Shi’ite and fired up by recent Egyptian events) was organised at the Pearl Roundabout, which is about 3 miles from us. Kids in my class told me they were going to join it with their families. The protest gathered momentum and the police tried to disperse it with tear-gas and rubber bullets. One protester was killed. The next day, a public holiday for the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday, the funeral procession took place. More clashes, and more deaths.
The crowd at the Pearl Roundabout swelled to thousands, whole families arriving, many with tents. (See pic)
On the 17th, we woke to hear the shocking news that the Pearl Roundabout crowd had been attacked and dispersed in a pre-dawn raid. More deaths. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers arrived. Highways were road-blocked. Our school opened but hardly any children turned up. We became accustomed to constant helicopter activity above and the wailing of police sirens.
On the 18th, there was a massive peaceful rally at the Grand Mosque. 300,000 people turned out, a joyous, flag-waving united demonstration of the people’s love for Bahrain. Joe and I know, because we were there.
But it didn’t last. Another shocking attack at the Pearl Roundabout, this time the military using live ammunition on protesters. More deaths. Bahrain went to bed mourning.
So, the the little island of Bahrain has become divided. Most are loyal to the King, but few from either side support the Prime Minister who is fabulously rich, has been in office for decades and is the King’s uncle. Protest marches occur daily, the University invaded, highways blocked, protesters and police injured. There is tear-gas and ugliness. The Crown Prince is attempting to open up dialogue and we all hope that the talks cure the problems before more lives are lost.
So, thank you all for your thoughts, but please don’t worry. We signed contracts to teach in the Middle East for one year, but that may well be cut short. Today there is talk of the Saudi army arriving to help take back control. Brits and Americans have been advised to stay at home. Our school is closed. If things escalate, and the British Embassy advise us to, Joe and I are on the next plane back to Spain… No question.
Do join me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/VictoriaTwead) to find out how we’re coping, day to day.
P.S. At this point, I usually include my Recipe of the Month. I’m sorry, I just don’t have the heart for it, I can’t think about food. Forgive me. I only hope that my next column is filled with good news and ends with a delicious recipe as usual.
PPS 15th March 3.00 pm. The King of Bahrain has just announced a State of Emergency (martial law) for the next 3 months. I have no idea what the future holds for Bahrain or Joe and me.
“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