First of all, we are absolutely fine! Please don’t worry. Joe and I have been overwhelmed by the kind emails, tweets and messages from dozens of people; readers, friends and family – all very concerned about us.
What silly old fools we are! Of all the places to choose…the Kingdom of Bahrain! Apologies for this tardy (and NOT amusing) update, but the unrest here has almost killed the Internet making tweeting and Facebooking extremely difficult.
Old Fools’ News from the troubled Middle East
What a month! As you all know, we left our beloved Spanish village to work in the Middle East for one year, teaching at an International school. Many people had hardly heard of the Kingdom of Bahrain, then, on Valentine’s Day it catapulted to top BBC and CNN news topics.
The Muslim community in Bahrain is either Sunni or Shi’ite and most of the time they co-exist very happily. For instance, our school is Sunni owned but the Muslim pupils and staff are a mixture of Sunni and Shi’ite. This Sunni/Shi’ite mix usually poses no problem in Bahrain. However, the majority of the population is Shi’ite and unhappy that the Government is largely Sunni, arguing that the Sunnis get the best jobs and preferential treatment. Small protests flare up sometimes, with tyre-burning being the most common occurrence. (Now I understand those black, doughnut-shaped stains on the road!)
But on the 14th February, a huge anti-Government protest (mostly Shi’ite and fired up by recent Egyptian events) was organised at the Pearl Roundabout, which is about 3 miles from us. Kids in my class told me they were going to join it with their families. The protest gathered momentum and the police tried to disperse it with tear-gas and rubber bullets. One protester was killed. The next day, a public holiday for the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday, the funeral procession took place. More clashes, and more deaths.
The crowd at the Pearl Roundabout swelled to thousands, whole families arriving, many with tents.
On the 17th, we woke to hear the shocking news that the Pearl Roundabout crowd had been attacked and dispersed in a pre-dawn raid. More deaths. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers arrived. Highways were road-blocked. Our school opened but hardly any children turned up. We became accustomed to constant helicopter activity above and the wailing of police sirens.
On the 18th, there was a massive rally at the Grand Mosque and it was totally peaceful. 300,000 people turned out, and it was a joyous, flag-waving demonstration of the people’s love for Bahrain. Joe and I know, because we were there.
But it didn’t last. Another shocking attack at the Pearl Roundabout, this time the military using live ammunition on protesters. More deaths. Bahrain went to bed mourning.
So, the the little island of Bahrain has become divided. Most are loyal to the King, but few support the Prime Minister who is fabulously rich, has been in office for decades and is the King’s uncle. Protest marches occur daily, some ending in tear-gas and ugliness. The Crown Prince is attempting to open up dialogue and we all hope that the talks cure the problems before more lives are lost.
So, thank you all for your thoughts, but please don’t worry. We signed contracts to teach in the Middle East for one year, but that may well be cut short. If the unrest here escalates, and the British Embassy advise us to, Joe and I are on the next plane back to Spain… No question.
Update: The situation did worsen and the British Embassy did advise us to get out. But, being a couple of old fools, we stayed on in Bahrain. What happened next is told in my book, Two Old Fools on a Camel, published 2012.