Cruise 2005 part 5, Bahrain
Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
7Trip End Nov 08, 2005
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Bahrain, Bahrain UAE
Sorry folks, but this one isn't going to be up to par. If you care to, you can find out why in the next travelpod blog.
Bahrain. What to say about Bahrain....
I have been to this particular port more times than I can count. I have been here on the USS Independence in 98. I have been here on the Kitty Hawk in 99 and 2000. Now here I am again in 2005. We are Americans in a region that has demonstrated it's feelings for us in many ways. There is the wonderful pre-port brief where we are warned to stay in groups of three to five people because a lone sailor may be taken hostage. We have been warned to be aware of our surroundings because of the threat of suicide bombers. We have been warned not to be near, go into, take pictures of, and avoid looking at if at all possible any mosque's. Women are warned to dress extremely modestly, and we are all warned that except in certain specific designated areas, alcohol is illegal. Again, we are forced to sign paperwork in which we acknowledge that we are aware of how we are to conduct ourselves during our upcoming period of rest and relaxation, and that we are aware of the dangers associated with the local area. Sounds like fun huh?
So, me being the old salty bastage that I am, take any off time we have to scare the crap out of the new guys who haven't been here. By the time they set foot on the liberty launch (boat that takes us from the ship to the pier because an American carrier is too big and requires water deeper than the local shipping channels), some of my little tadpoles are expecting to see the shore lined with turban wearing locals with their faces covered and waving AK-47's over their heads in anticipation of getting to kill "infidels".
They are pleasantly surprised when the find out that Bahrain is actually a very nice place to visit and very modern. There are not "terrorists" on every corner looking for "infidels", and if I had to compare it to any city in the U.S., I would have to say it is rather like a mix of Tucson and Miami Beach. The dust in the region is finer than talcum powder and it gets everywhere, even when we are miles out in the Gulf. This makes keeping the aircraft and it's movable parts clean a real bear, but it's just a part of being there.
We hit pier side on the naval supply base that we have there, and everyone heads for the few restaurants on base, or the "desert dome". The "desert dome" is an open air bar with cheep beer (U.S. Name brands), and the local Moral Welfare and Recreation comity gets some decent live bands or at the least a good DJ. We weren't allowed to leave the base the first day because of "security concerns". Roughly translated, when young "Petty Officer R. Bucket" gets his first day off work in a month, and has access to cheep alcohol, the powers that be would rather he get stupid on the base where the Navy can deal with it privately, rather than it becoming an "international incident". As is par for the course, the Navy made the right decision and we got the stupid people taken care of the first night.
Day two was our chance to hit the town. Two things happened which had never happened to me before in this port, and both left me with a lasting impression. My buds and I took a cab to the mall, (one of the authorized liberty locations), and for some reason I took my wallet out well before we reached our destination. To make a long story short, I didn't realize my wallet was in the cab until it was 200 yards away, leaving my dumb ass chasing after it. Normally, in any other country, I would have never seen my wallet, or my cash, again. Not so in Bahrain. The cab driver picked up another passenger, and the passenger gave my wallet to him. About forty-five minutes after the cab driver dropped me on the curb, he came back and found me waiting there hopefully. He returned my wallet to me and I gave him a generous tip. All ended well.
The second event that left an impression on me that lasts to this day took place a day or so later. Now, you have to understand that I have been to the UAE off and on since the late 90's. The standing of Americans has fluctuated among the local people and I have had various experiences with them. For the most part, Americans are treated with indifference. However, there have been times that I have been the subject of hate-full glares, and yes I have been spit on by people when I walked by. One afternoon, I stepped in to a little kiosk to buy some smokes. I indicated my brand to the casher, and while he turned to get them I noticed one of those lighter displays that are on every mini-mart counter in the world. You know the ones with the cheep and often cheesy "theme lighters". Well folks, this particular group of lighters depicted the world trade centers on them. I picked up a lighter and gave it a closer look. There, inside the clear plastic shell was the world trade centers. When the owner of the lighter spun the wheel and produced flame, little LED's light up inside the towers and a two pieces of plastic that were obviously intended to mimic the smoke from the 9/11 attack, rose slowly from the towers. There, in my hand was a lighter, celebrating the attack on my country that cost thousands of lives, and is in some way still taking the lives of my brothers and sisters in uniform.
I stood there, lighter in hand, trying to wrap my mind around it, and staring at nothing in particular. I noticed the guy behind the counter was a bit pale and his eyes were fixed on the lighter I held. I cold see the "oh $h&t!" look in his eyes. I am used to being one of the biggest guys in the room, and I realize that being 6'1", 240 lbs can intimidate some people. I try never to use my size in that way, and the fear I saw in this guys eyes shook me out of my mind numbing thought process. I could tell that this guy fully expected that the large, cru cut wearing American, to manually fold him into an unnatural shape and insert the entire case of 9/11 lighters into various unpleasant orifices. Yea, I'm big, and my knuckles drag the ground some times, but I have never gotten enjoyment from seeing fear in someone's eyes. Those who know me, know I'm a big, tire swinging, luggage smashing, banana eating, Ann Darrow saving, teddy bear.
What the guy didn't know is that I know is that no mater how he felt about the 9/11 attacks, I know for a fact that if he refused to sell them, his boss would fire him. I knew for a fact that he had nothing to do with the attacks. I did not consider him the enemy. The final thing he didn't know was that even though I am in the military, and ultimately our job is most often viewed as the obligation to take lives, MOST OF US view our individual job as protecting life. My aircraft does cool stuff, and I am proud to say that it's mission directly affects the lives of the friendly forces on the ground. My jet saves American lives.
I calmly put the lighter back in it's display case and paid for my purchase. There was another customer in the kiosk, who immediately started berating the clerk in the local language, pointing at the lighters and then to me. At this point I just wanted to get out of the local area and make sure there wasn't an "international incident" with my name all over it. Things like that have a tendency to spiral out of nothing with little or no effort, so I thought it best to just get as far away as I could, as quickly as I could. I made it a little way down the block when someone grabbed my arm. Yea, I freaked, but I didn't hit the guy. It was the customer who I last saw chewing the clerk a new rectum. After an ever so brief moment where things could have gotten real ugly, the guy got his point across in very broken English.
There I stood, on a dusty street in Bahrain, while a refugee from Iraq thanked me for my nations attempt to "rescue" his country. It was surreal. Whether or not I agree with what we have done, or are currently doing was immaterial. The fact was that this guy was thanking ME for giving him a chance at life. From the very halting conversation we had, combined with the mix of charades, I think he was the only survivor of his family and he was working in Dubai on a construction sight. I don't know what he was doing in Bahrain. I have personally never been to Iraq, and have never fired a weapon at anything that wasn't a paper target, or that I didn't intend to eat. I had never seen this guy before, and yet he was thanking me for what I had done. It shook me a little. What do you say to a guy who's entire family has been killed when he thanks you for saving his life, when all you did was make the jets fly so they could protect Americans?
The whole event took place in less than three minutes, but it had a lasting effect on me. I caught up with my buds and we continued enjoying the rest of the day without any international incidents.
The next day, my friends and I were to meet another friend at a hotel and take advantage of the room he rented and the pool the place offered. Unfortunately he had already left for destinations unknown, totally forgetting that we were coming to "visit". So we did what sailors do.... We found the hotel bar. That is where we ran into a group that can only be described as trouble waiting for a place to happen. My friends and I spent the last day of liberty drinking with a group of oil workers that can best be described as "four Scots and a Brit". Oh dear god. I was introduced to "pork chop in a glass" also known as Stella Artois.
Cheep sailor tip: Never, ever ever try to keep up with a group of Scotsmen and a Brit when it comes to drinking beer. That is, unless you are a Scotsman or a Brit. At one time in my life that would have not been a problem, but at the age of 35, having quit drinking heavily since 1992, drinking with this group was not one of my smartest moments. Fun as hell, but equally as painful the next day when we left port. I would love to tell you where we went, and what we did, but the facts are a bit fuzzy. I remember laughing a lot, playing pool, and I think I ate some chicken wings or something. The rest of the specifics elude me.
So to sum up my 2005 visit to Bahrain, unless you are in the military it is worth the trip. For the most part the people are friendly, the food is good, and the weather is tailor made to sun worshipers. The beaches are sadly lacking in bikini clad women, but the local yachts are fantastic. Lots of British bars and restaurants, and a majority of the locals speak English. If you respect the local customs and standards there is no reason you can't enjoy your visit and get some great shopping woven into your tours of the area. If you pay attention, there is a treasure trove of history to explore. It is a pleasant mix of ancient architecture and modern world. Be mindful of your surroundings, and be respectful and you should come home with lots of nice stories to share with your friends and neighbors.
The next chapter of this travel blog is the last for my 2005 cruise. Sorry there isn't a music video, but if you bother to read the next chapter of this story you will understand why.
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