When we were about to leave Melbourne last year to move to Bahrain, and when I started telling people about the move, a lot of our Aussie friends didn't know where Bahrain was (I don't blame them, though I am relatively familiar with the geography of the Middle East, I had to find Bahrain on the map before heading here myself!). My usual response was - it's an island and it's not too far from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (because most people have heard of Emirates the airline and a lay over in Dubai is not uncommon). The funny thing is, I still get lots of friends back home asking me "So how's Dubai?" As I said, Dubai is something familiar, a place that most people know of (even if they haven't visited it) for its grandiosity, its excess and its label as the Las Vegas of the Middle East.
Bahrain could well be described as Dubai's sleepy cousin (the ever so slightly less ostentatious one). It's relatively quiet and has a population of around 1 million - this includes the huge number of expat workers both blue collar and professional who live and work here. But, what Bahrain lacks in numbers it obviously makes up for in determination. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain has the fastest growing economy in the Arab world and, that in 2008 Bahrain was named the world’s fastest growing financial centre by the City of London’s Global Finanical Centres Index (info courtesy of Wikipedia). Impressive right? The problem is that when you're living here, it doesn't feel like 'this is where it's at' and frankly doesn't seem all that sophisticated. The majority of shopping centres are slightly dull - the best on offer are Seef Mall and City Centre. My world changed when the City Centre opened its doors late last year... Not quite Chaddy, but it will do for now. There are a few indoor play centres for kids which are of a passable standard but the outdoor parks are pretty drab (not that we can use them in the current heat of 40+ degrees celsius during the day - winter is fairly cool though and that's when you can venture outdoors on day-time excursions). Sometimes, it feels like there isn't a lot to do. In this heat, you feel like you don't have too many options and there's only so many times my daughter and I can watch all the Wiggles DVDs we brought from Australia. So at around 5pm - when the sun's about to call it a day and the heat is not as harsh, we usually head out for a play in our yard with the other children in our compound, go visit a friend or jump in the pool.
You would think that living on an Island we would be surrounded by pristine, blue water and sandy beaches. Although 'Bahrain' in Arabic means "two seas" you struggle to find a strip of beach over here, especially one that you don't have to pay for. At one of the five star hotels you can pay about 25 Bahraini Dinars per head (just under $AD80) to enjoy a man-made beach strip. There are a few locations that you can enjoy the beach - for free, but these locations are fairly rough in their appearance and they have not been developed for picnicing plus there's not really a swimming culture. When you do catch an odd glimpse of the water, it is quite beautiful in colour - a gorgeous shade of aqua.