We pulled into Bahrain unceremoniously and with the promise of three things in our head.
1. Good food
2. Wifi and
I had duty the day we pulled in and I was unable to leave the ship, so my impatience was evident on the second day as I was geared to go and explore, not just get the scoop from second-hand information. I hadn’t really walked outside and it truly hits you like a wall, the sweltering heat that is. Instantly your clothes start clinging to you and sweat starts beading everywhere. After leaving the ship, we took the bus to the main U.S. naval base since our ship was on the American Bahrain base, and from there we are able to go anywhere.
We had big plans to go to the main Souq which is the huge shopping area in the center of the city where they sell gold, rugs, and pearls, the 3 biggest items in the area. I was with L and J, two of the other officers from my ship, and our intentions were to just take a cab and get dropped off. While walking through the NEX (Military shopping plaza) and stopping to get ice cream (I mean seriously who doesn’t get ice-cream immediately) L ran into a friend from her last ship in Japan who is on a PC (patrol craft) crew out of Norfolk deployed to Bahrain. What are the odds?! After talking with him for a few minutes he offered us a ride. We accepted.
(This picture was obtained from google images)
He drove us all around the city to the main Souq and along the way he explained some of the traditions and culture. We passed the Mosque which is a huge centerpiece for the city and where everyone goes to pray. Outside there is a huge poster of the king. He is on everything around here… Buildings, money, even soda cans. We passed the palace and down the road is the houses that the Queen and princesses live in as part of the harem. N said that a few months back when he first deployed over here there were 2 neighborhoods fighting and you would often see groups of men in jeeps with AK-47’s patrolling the area. One time they had to go through a road block and there were tank’s on the road for protection. All of the bad areas are marked by black flags on the tallest building, telling all U.S. Military members to stay away.
Bahrain is to the Middle East as Las Vegas is to America. All of the surrounding countries are alcohol free (well except none of the states are alcohol free. haha.). When we stopped in Jedda we found out very quickly that alcohol is illegal there. So, everyone travels from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain because they feel that it is perfectly acceptable to drink. Most of the women are covered from head to toe in black and only their eyes show, but not all women.
We went to the Main Souq and when we parked in the parking lot, 4 or 5 Indian children ran after us and they brought a bucket and sponge. They wash your car whether you want them to or not and when you come back outside they demand to be paid. It is very odd. I also found out that the people from India are the lowest ranked on the scale in the middle east. We shopped for a long while. Lacey and I bought floor pillows which are these huge woven pillows that you stuff and put on the floor, which reminded me of a similar pillow from my best friends house when we were growing up. Then I looked at all the silk. Luckily I am not a big gold fan at all, so it was easy to pass all of those shops by. I did buy a 18K white gold ring with a Bahraini pearl in the center. It’s very simple but it was a little expensive because Bahrain is not allowed to couture any pearls, they are all real.
After we shopped there, which was practically our whole evening, we went to American Blvd. a street which is right outside one of the back gates to the Navy base which has many American restaurants and some middle eastern style ones as well. We chose sushi! J and I got the chef’s special and it was A LOT of sushi, all of it was delicious. We stuffed ourselves. Then we got dropped off back at the base and drank a few beers before heading back to the ship. Unfortunately here, under the strict liberty policy we have Cinderella Liberty every night which means it expires at midnight.
On the second day I went with the pilots and L. We were picked up at the base by a rug guy that one of the pilots friends knew well. It is quite funny how the military gets hooked up. We were taken to his shop in his land cruiser and there, Dieter (one of the pilots) was on a man hunt for some rugs. He went through hundreds and his bartering skills are untouchable. He has the face of a rock when he’s trying to make deals. He would have made his wife proud. He also was a very serious bargainer which I’m sure my mom could admire. The rug guys were very funny and making us laugh and Dieter was stone faced and kept saying I want these rugs, but only for the right price. Abdul treated us well and Dieter got two rugs, which they packaged and made ready to ship. You always know where the great places are to go because on the outside of the door were all kinds of navy stickers and patches and when you walk inside there are all of these signed pictures of ships and squadrons. While there, the XO and CO of one of the submarines that are also in port came to have a look at the rugs. I asked the Captain if I could bring my division over for a tour since I had never been on a commissioned submarine. He said absolutely, anytime. I don’t know if he knew it, but I was serious!
There’s one big outdoor square relatively close to the rug shop, that sells alcohol at the restaurants and the rug place was just across the street, so we went over and ate at a very nice very delicious restaurant which sold buckets of Budweiser. All of this middle eastern food with a nice cold bucket of Budweiser… Yum. After dinner we took a taxi to the main Souq to get fitted for suits. Now if there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that Bahrain is famous for their expertly made very cheap suits. The main Souq is a bunch of outside shops all strung together which was similar to Jerusalem but much more open. We went in and I decided to get a blazer made with my own lining and french cuffs and I had it made in wool cashmere all black and 2 buttons. It was under a hundred american dollars!!! Airboss got 2 suits made, linen pants, 4 shirts, and an extra jacket. All of that was only about $350 dollars and so worth it. The place was packed. Almost military, we keep so many people in business over here. They also had all kinds of coins and patches. Its like leaving bread crumbs for the next group to follow. I also forgot to tell you that 2.75 BD = 1 American Dollar which is not so good of an exchange rate.
Afterwards we took a taxi back to the base and caught the bus back just in time. I checked in at 11:57PM… Just 3 minutes to spare (liberty expired at midnight, cinderella’s curse!).
TO BE CONTINUED…