We arrived in Bahrain today. This is my third country and my fourth currency (Emirati Dirham, Euros on the ISAF base in Kabul, US dollars on the multinational base in Tarin Kot and Bahraini Dinar) – I think it’s time for the Arab equivalent of the Euro.
Bahrain is an island nation, a kingdom and a city-state. It is ruled by the minority Sunni Muslims and the majority Shia Muslims are, understandably, not happy about this. We had a lot of trouble getting through customs and immigration with all of G1’s camera equipment. The Bahrain authorities are very wary of people with cameras, after some of their human rights abuses have been exposed.
We arrived on a Thursday afternoon, the beginning of the Muslim weekend. Bahrain is linked to Saudi Arabia to its west by a 25km series of causeways and bridges built on reclaimed land. Saudi men like to come to Bahrain for the weekend because it is common knowledge that “Allah can’t see what goes on across the causeway”. Women walking by themselves, or without a male escort are assumed to be prostitutes, and therefore available for Saudi men. “Force protection”* takes on a whole new meaning in this country.
The one thing that Bahrain seems to have in common with Dubai and Kabul is air pollution! The air is thick with dust and smog. All the buildings are cream or beige in colour: they remind me of giant sand castles. Development is rife in Bahrain and the buildings grow like weeds. Dusty palm trees line the major road, but otherwise there is nothing to break up this monochromatic landscape. I found this shocking when I first went to Tarin Kot, but I think I’ve adjusted to it now.
Bahrain is the site of a long standing US Naval base. They have their own cinema ($4 for a new release), childcare centre, shops, cafes, beauty salon, playground, bowling alley, ovals and newspaper! Americans deploy here for two years with their family or one year by themselves. Some never leave the base.
There are about 25 Australians working here on CTF150 – Combined Task Force 150. The command of CTF150 rotates between Britain, Pakistan, Australia and sometimes the French and Canadians. They undertake counter-terrorism operations such as tracking ships carrying narcotics from Pakistan to east Africa – a global distribution point. The Australians are particularly good at sniffing out drug dhows – more on that in tomorrow’s blog post.
*Force Protection is protecting members of the Australian Defence Force while they are on deployment. Fortunately it also extends to civilians travelling with them.