Like a soulmate, it’s so easy to fall in love with Bahrain.
I never thought my 12 days trip to Bahrain would left me with, not only high quality networks, but also a lot of insights, true friendship and deep thoughtful memories.
At first, I didn’t know much about Bahrain. The only thing I know, Bahrain is one of Gulf countries. And like most countries in Middle East, I expect Bahrain to be as ‘strict’ in Islamic rules especially for women. This is considered my first visit to Gulf country, and everybody has been telling me, Bahrain is the best introduction to The Gulf.
Amina picked me up at the Bahrain International Airport at 4am. That fact alone already shocked me. Women can go outside at 4am in the morning? When I know that they drive their own car, I become more and more surprised, “You’re allowed to drive??” – she chuckled. Bahrain is not Saudi. Later I know, Bahrain is a country with Islamic values but also very open and especially women were free and even supported to do anything they want in life.
Bahrain is a small archipelago country that often called the pearl of Middle East. The country size is even smaller than Singapore. I asked my hotel receptionist where am I exactly, and he said that I’m in Juffair. Then I said, “I thought I’m in Manama, the capital of Bahrain?”. He said, “You’re not, Madame. Manama is 10 minutes from here.” Being myself commuting for 2 hours from my home in Depok to office in Jakarta but still constantly said I live in Jakarta, I can say that I’m not in Juffair, I’m exactly in Manama. 10 minutes is not a distance, it’s a microwave timer for my noodle -_-; Anyway.
Bahrain is a country of 1,2 million people who speak good English (sometimes among themselves, Bahraini will still speak English). Half of them are expats from all over the world. It’s a melting pot and the hub of Middle East. When half of the country are foreigners, then you can guess how Bahrainis are. Yup, they’re happy religious people, constantly cracking jokes, very friendly, and have an amazing kindness and hospitality that I usually can only find in my own country, Indonesia.
The Land of Eternity
The name ‘Bahrain’ is mentioned in Quran, I notice it in Surah Ar-Rahman, it means: the meeting of two seas, salty and sweet water. There are some ‘samples’ of the ‘meeting of two seas’ near Bahrain Fort. The uniqueness of the land has made a lot of people coming to the ‘paradise’, where people trust that this is the land of eternity.
The rich history of Bahrain is really preserved in area called Muharraq. It’s the old city area of Bahrain, where we can find traditional Bahraini houses in pastel colors combined with wooden architecture with a lot of Islamic touch in it.
I found a glimpse of my dream in Shaikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa center for culture and research in Muharraq. The center was build as a forum for dialogue between people in philosophy, literature, poetry, culture and the arts.
The coolest thing was, the center has at least 10 traditional Bahraini houses around Muharraq to be used as creative center specific for the needs. For example they have The Ibrahim Al Arrayed House for Poetry, the Abdullah Al Zayed House for Press Heritage, The Mohammed bin Faris Sut Music House, there’s Iqra Children library, also Kurar house that usually used to host speakers that invited to speak from around the world. Mostly within walking distance, offer the experience of ‘old’ Bahrain for the visitors.
While walking at the narrow streets of Muharraq, my mind keep spinning enthusiastly. What I just witness in Muharraq is exactly what I want to build in Indonesia, some sort of knowledge center related books, writings, and everything in between. Now I have pictures in my head on how it’d look like, insha Allah I’ll be able to make it come true, soon!
I’ve been visiting incubators in several countries around the world but nothing prepare me for what I see in Bahrain Business Incubation Center (BBIC). The place was huge! Usually an incubation was, at most, in a size of one whole building. But in Bahrain, it’s like one whole city :|
Bahrain has vision for the future: making private sector as the catalyst of economy rather than oil and now they’re strengthening the private sector with several effort. One of them, building BBIC, incubation to accelerate businesses and setup Tamkeen to provide support in fund and many other things to support entrepreneur like training and mentoring. So far Tamkeen has injecting a whopping BD 166 million or USD 440 million for startups.
On our visit to BBIC, they also introduce a very interesting 4 phases of Bahrain Model to start a business: orientation, training, pre-incubation and incubation. And they also introduce the founder of Air Taxi. The company is one of the success stories of the incubation. By the way, Air Taxi started with $15 million fund. Excuse me while I’m crying.
Bahrain believe that empowerment in woman is a social and political empowerment. That’s why a new business incubation for women is prepared to launched this year. And they also has a Supreme Council for Women that helps Bahraini ladies in almost all aspects of their life. The national plan of Supreme Council for Women is including family stability, equal opportunities, life long learning, quality of life and knowledge hub. They created a women’s support center with website and call centre to help women. The Supreme Council for Women in Bahrain work so good that some men said they need Supreme Council for Men too :))
Like I said earlier, Bahrain as one of countries in Middle East that has been very supportive to their women. Women are free to do what they want to do in life, but also still stick to the Islamic values & principles. That’s why it’s very common to see ladies with black abaya and niqab plus shades, driving a big trucks or jeep, hang out in art gallery around the coolest block 338 with male friends talking about their next projects, or simply gather with girls talking eating salads while planning where to take their Master degree this time.
It was fortunate to me to be able to meet some of Bahrain’s prominent social media people from Social Media Club Bahrain @SMCBahrain like @AliSabkar, @AliSabbagh, and Manal Assaad @TheManalyst. They’ve been doing routine social media meetup, annually, quarterly and monthly and now expanding their events to MENA region. The number of Facebook user in Bahrain is 390,000 users and twitter 80,000 users. Small but very active one!
Also, lucky for me to meet Shaikha Lulwa Al Khalifa @lulwaalkhalifa1 , a famous Bahraini poet. We really enjoy our conversation about writing, poetry and life in general. And we tweet while we talk
High Quality Life
Before I came to Bahrain I read a lot of misleading news about the condition of the country, especially after what’s happened in 2011. International media say things that mostly not true, and make people afraid to come to Bahrain.
For 12 days, I feel safe, people are genuinely happy to see me, ladies kiss me 3 times every time we met, children playing with their parents at the beautiful park overlooking the sea and Bahrain’s skyline, eventhough all people seem to understand and talk about politics but everybody’s loving their King and Government, everybody’s enjoying their life, men love dancing to the Arab music, ladies at all age happily dance in any opportunity of only-women gathering (I love it!), free education, free health services, sport cars, big houses, handsomes and beauties, free-flow coffee (ok maybe it’s not free), high quality life… no reason to be unhappy in Bahrain.
I saw some of the protests that they’ve been talking about in media and it’s only in a form of 4 burning tires on the street with no people around. Police come to clean all the mess. I was like: a campus protest in Indonesia could be more energetic than this.
The only danger is coming from Bahraini’s food: you can get fat, fast. So many delicious food served for you. Even in our group, because breakfast can happen more than 2 times, there’s always announcement to warn us not to eat too much: “Everybody, this is not lunch!” :))
I look at Bahrain’s skyline once again before I check out from my hotel. Constructions are everywhere, the city keep on building and realizing dreams.
It’s a mixed feeling to leave this place, part of me is already staying. I remember my 10 minutes of tranquility gazing across the magical view of Hunanaiya valley from Riffa Fort, sipping my warm Gahwa (Arabic Coffee). I know when I’m back to Jakarta, this moment is the one I’m going to missed the most.
Ma’assalama, ’til we meet again.
Thank you notes
I would like to express gratitude to Good Word Society @GWSociety that has inviting us from more than 20 countries to Discover Bahrain. To Ahmed & Hassan Buhazza and their amazing mother Um Hassan, Amina Leelo, Dr. Hala, Dr. Amal, Ebrahim Ebz Akbari, Yousif Al-Meamari, Mohamed Alkayat, Shaikha Showaiter, Zahwa, Marwa, and many more volunteers that I can’t mention one by one. Thank you for your dedication to the program. And my fellow delegates, you know who you are, you’re my precious friends! Also to my lovely apartment-mates: Kubra, Elsa, Sara, love you girls, keep in touch! <3 Disclosure: I’m invited by Good Word Society for Discover Bahrain program, all opinions are strictly my own.
Ps: Thank you Um Hassan, for this beautiful Bahraini traditional dress
Discover Islam team, Amina, Eman, Verida, Fatima, and many more that I can’t mention. Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak in front of Bahraini ladies, thank you for your kindness. I truly enjoy my first 2 days in Bahrain because of you girls.
Indonesian Embassy in Bahrain, Ambassador Chilman & Ibu Ratna, Mbak Sukma, Aisha, Mbak Ratna, Julie, Rina and everyone that I can’t mention one by one, thank you very much for all the help and the opportunity to speak in the embassy and making my last day in Bahrain unforgettable.