Back in the old days, when I was a kid, I would go to the movies in Grand Junction, Colorado. I could be transported to a distant place, watching a romance, say, about a young woman falling in love in Paris. After the movie was over, the lights would go up, and I would emerge from the theater back into the normalcy of my home town.
So last night, I watched "Broken Arrow" a movie that takes place in Utah, not far from where I grew up. It had magnificent desert photography that took me back. Then, when I emerged from the theater, where should I find myself but on a narrow, badly paved street, lined with shops selling strange foods, music, and water pipes. It was crowded with dark-skinned people, with half of the men wearing white robes and Arabian headgear, and half of the women covered completely in black. I then found my car and drove home Ė to a high-rise hotel surrounded by palm trees.
Now, which part of that was the movie, exactly?
That silly MTV clone I have been listening to has had an effect on me, too. It has a strong Indian point of view, even though it is broadcast from Hong Kong. When programs are announced, the times are shown for Hong Kong, Singapore, Bombay, and Kuwait. Itís all part of the same place, after all, isnít it? And CNN weather is a wonderful antidote to world politics. The cold fronts know nothing of national boundaries. They whip across Europe and Asia with gay abandon. I like that in a cold front.
And however exotic Bahrain might be, it is interesting to note that a day at the office is the same the world around. My first day, I began the process of learning how the plant works, and I put two young fellows to work trying to make the software we would use to support our efforts work. The plant works pretty much like plants everywhere. And the software doesnít work Ė pretty much like software everywhere.
One afternoon I climbed onto the Tree of Life, sitting there gave me a wonderful chance to brood on how comfortable I feel here. Now, I grew up with a very strong sense of my home and my place. Home, after all, consists of the set of images we carry in our heads of the places we know: The street where I played with my friends. The road to school. School itself. The back yard. All of these things together constituted my home. What is interesting is that for all my traveling since then, those things didnít go away. It is not that that home was replaced by another. It is that that home just got bigger. It now includes the streets of New York, Houston, San Francisco, Warsaw, London, and a dozen other cities and towns.
And now it includes this little island tucked away in the Persian Gulf.
Truth is, I am quite taken with this little kingdom. The island is just big enough to hold a lot of variety, but small enough to be comfortable. Many parts of it are quite beautiful. You cannot imagine the number of flowers that are growing all over Ė all neatly taken care of.
I was looking for an exotic place that was also comfortable Ė and where everyone speaks English. I think I found it.
It is certainly doing what I wanted in terms of opening up my mind some more. When we sit around at home all the time, getting our view of the world from the media, it is hard for that view not to be distorted. Twenty years ago I had the opportunity to see Eastern Europe when I had been trained to think of it as the enemy Ė and I discovered that it is not one place, but a friendly, colorful and exciting set of places. Our stereotypes of life "behind the iron curtain" were incredibly naive.
During the last ten or twenty years we have been inundated with anti-Arab propaganda. Now that vilifying the Russians is passé, Arabs play the villains in the movies, and it really is unfair.
Now I will concede that it is a little disconcerting when youíre new here, adjusting to the fact that they really are friendly. People will speak to you on the street without giving it a second thought. Because of that propaganda I mentioned, in their aggressiveness, they look sort of scary at first and you have to overcome that. But they are great schmoozers, and you donít start a meeting by diving into the subject matter. You first must discuss the weather, your children, and anything else that comes up. Eventually you will get around to work. Maybe.
But I must admit that I do find it hard to take seriously a guy wearing a nightshirt and a handkerchief on his head.
Not that our clothes are any less silly. Why exactly do we wear that dumb looking piece of cloth around our necks?
I bought a book here. It was too expensive, but it makes a very nice souvenir of the place. It is called Bahrain Memories: Glimpses of the Past, and is written by Aisha Yateem, a woman who was born and grew up here until she was seven and then went to India (near Poona) and England for her education. She returned as a young woman in 1934, and during the life that followed has seen the country move from the middle ages to modern times. It is quite a story!
The book was written with the assistance of an Australian woman, Anne Fairbairn, who herself wrote a poem about her feelings for the place. Here is part of it:
Itís not a bad trip that leaves you with a poem!