After a truly heroic 24 hours of travel – from Florida to Atlanta, Atlanta to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Qatar, and Qatar to Bahrain – I am proud to report that I am alive and well in the Kingdom of Bahrain. I’m here with a dozen other teachers on the TEACH Fellowship sponsored by the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce.
Having slept the night through, I woke up early this morning to visit the El Fateh Grand Mosque. Built in 1988 to accomodate 7,000 worshippers, it is one of the largest mosques in the world. It was truly stunning, made from teak imported from India, marble from Italy, carpets from Ireland – no expense was spared to make it a truly grand space.
The rest of the morning was spent on the campus of GPIC – Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company. It is a 160 million dollar company whose primary product is urea – nitrogen rich fertilizer extracted from natural gas. They have a strong emphasis on social responsibility, and they are one of the largest contributors to the TEACH Fellowship which has brought me to Bahrain in the first place. They showed us the plant and treated us to a tremendous feast of traditional Bahraini food. We weren’t allowed to take photos during this part of the visit, but I did manage to snatch this one of a sign hanging above a urinal in the workers’ bathroom:
I feel like I was somewhere near the middle tier.
We rounded out the day at the US Embassy. Understandably, there were steep security measures – several passport checks, road blocks, and so on… Once inside, we met with a wonderful, hospitable, and well-informed staff lead by Ambassador William Roebuck, a diplomat who has spent his careers in hotspots from Iraq to Israel. He offered a refreshingly candid account of the political situation in Bahrain, including criticisms of the current government. He also outlined the kingdom’s outsized strategic importance to the US, hosting the US Navy Fifth Fleet, which does everything from fighting ISIS to controling piracy off the coast of Africa.
I walked the streets alone tonight, after the day’s activities. In part because I was fighting jet lag, but mostly because I never rest well knowing that I’ve left some part of a new country unexplored. As the signs here say: