Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Welcome Home

This was published by the LA Times.
A Bittersweet Return to an Unfamiliar Homeland
After 25 years of yearning in exile, a Bahraini fears he won't find peace on the island. But his daughter is determined to make the nation her own.By Megan K. Stack, Times Staff Writer
MANAMA, Bahrain — The father and daughter get lost a lot. He can't remember the sleepy streets of this tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf, not after so many years. As for her, she never knew them.They sit side by side in the darkness of their little Honda, the brake lights of passing cars washing their faces in red. Their eyes quiver over gates and signposts. They are looking for a landmark.

"Isn't it back the other way?" Hussain Ali asks his daughter. "I think … " begins 23-year-old Batoul, then falls silent. It's yet another moment of disorientation for a family that has lived through a quarter of a century in political exile.In the long years since Hussain Ali was arrested, beaten and told to leave Bahrain for criticizing the rulers, he has drifted from one foreign land to the next; pushed a fake passport over immigration counters; killed cockroaches in cheap apartments. He raised his children on dreams of a lost homeland, a place where they would be drenched in sunshine and cherished by a family they hadn't met.Between this father and daughter lives the hope and yearning of exile, and the struggle of generations of Middle Easterners to change — or just make peace with — their homelands. Hussain is afraid that Bahrain will break his daughter's heart, but he's willing to watch her take the risk.
A new king, Sheik Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, came to power in 1999. He offered amnesty to political exiles. With talk of elections and a new constitution, the king held out the promise of reform — that sweet and elusive notion that taunts this region like a mirage. So the Alis came home. Or so they thought. For Hussain, 52, homecoming has brought heartbreak. He is haunted by memories of lost days, angered by a sense that he's been defrauded.Now he wonders whether he should stay, or give up on Bahrain. His wife couldn't take it here; she has already returned to Canada. But the father and daughter are sticking it out, sharing a room in a relative's house and soaking in the politics of the place.
Earlier this evening, they attended a raucous seminar on corruption and government confiscation of land. The angry crowd cursed the ruling family, "Khalifa, go from here!" Batoul sat pertly, and took careful notes. Her father brooded."I'm not convinced this is enough. Seminars, sitting and talking," he says in the car on the way home. "This government has to go to hell."
All her life, Batoul has been told she belongs here, and it seems impossible to disappoint her. She finds beauty everywhere — in the drabbest streets, the dirtiest cats, the flattest light of a desert noon. "I don't stay because I like it," Batoul says. "I stay because I have to. It's my country, bitter or sweet."Her father just keeps driving through the darkness.
The Alis are Ajam, literally non-Arabs or foreigners, a word used to describe Bahraini Shiite Muslims whose bloodlines stretch back to Iran. Although Ajam families have lived in Bahrain for generations and Shiites are a majority in the country, they have had to fight for passports, housing and job opportunities. Even today, discrimination lingers. Hussain was 26 when he ran afoul of the ruling Sunni Arabs. He wrote a newspaper article criticizing discrimination against the Ajam. After that, he says, he was promptly arrested, interrogated and badly beaten. His wounds festered and left him hard of hearing. After weeks in prison, he was given a temporary travel document — like many Ajam, he had no passport — and warned to flee. He stole away when the house was empty; he wanted his family to be able to say, honestly, that they didn't know where he'd gone."When the plane takes off, you give that last look to your country," he says. "I thought maybe it would be four or five years."He falls quiet, and looks at the floor. When he speaks again his voice is husky."
There were demonstrations then," he says. "Everybody had hope that things would change … " He trails off, clears his throat and blinks. He landed in India, found work showing Arab tourists around and bought a forged Saudi passport. He was lonesome, so he called a girl he'd known in Bahrain and asked her to marry him. She was 16 years old. He told her the truth: He didn't love her yet, but he would. She agreed and flew to India, where the couple signed a wedding contract. There was nobody to celebrate with them, and no money for a honeymoon. They went out to breakfast and began their life together.
Batoul was their firstborn. Their second daughter was scalded in a running bath one dreary afternoon. She suffered third-degree burns all over her body and died in her father's arms. They buried her in India, heavy with a grief as solitary as their joy."
The important thing about weddings and funerals are the people who come to be with you, in happiness and sadness," Hussain says. "Nobody came to us." Every six months or so, his mother would call from a series of pay phones. She'd talk for a few minutes, then hang up and move to another telephone, terrified of catching the attention of security agents. She was always circumspect, always said the same thing: "No news." "You couldn't even talk to her, she just cried," Hussain says. "Sometimes I'd send a message and say, 'Don't do these things anymore. Better I don't hear from you.' "
When the family flew to Montreal in 1985, they had nothing but a $100 bill. Hussain applied for asylum, and they lived on welfare. For years, they scraped for food while Hussain studied telecommunications at night school. When their apartment building burned down on Batoul's seventh birthday, Hussain held his daughter and told her it was an enormous candle lighted just for her.
"My dad says, 'I feel guilty that I did this to you,' " she says, remembering the years of hardship. "But I say, 'No. You made me a fighter.' " At 9, Batoul began to wear a head scarf, encouraged by her mother. The hijab isolated her from her classmates. She was beaten up, kicked in the back, taunted by older boys.When she bared her head for gym class, the barrier melted away. She'd shoot baskets and joke with the other girls, but the camaraderie was short-lived. "As soon as I put the scarf back on," she says, "nobody would talk to me." One day, her math teacher blocked her in the classroom doorway. "You're not coming to class until you take that garbage off your head," he told her. She lost her temper, and heaved her textbook at him. She still refers to high school as a "catastrophe."
Meanwhile, Hussain finished his degree, landed a white-collar job and moved the family to a big house in Ottawa. College was better than high school, but Batoul still felt at sea. She got married, then divorced. She dropped out of college, Bahrain glittering in her imagination."I wasn't satisfied with my life there at all," she says now. "Nothing worked out the way I wanted. I wanted to go home."
The Alis finally made it back to Bahrain in 2003. When they landed, so many people had crammed into the airport that it looked as though somebody famous had arrived. Family members pressed them with flowers, chocolates and money folded into tiny flowers and butterflies. "
You're hugging, you're crying, and you don't even know why," Batoul says. "You feel you're bonded by blood."Hussain was being reintroduced to his brothers, his sisters, the neighbors. "My brother was 5; now he's 32," he says. "I was thinking, 'Who's that guy touching my sister?' and he said, 'I'm her husband.' Things like that."
He found his childhood home destroyed, his bank accounts vanished. His father had publicly disowned him to ease pressure from the government. His wife and son grew disillusioned and flew back to Canada. Batoul went too, but came back this year. "My parents had a certain idea and memory about things," she says. "As wise as you are about life, when it comes to personal things, you can be a child."
Unemployment is rife, but Hussain has found work as a supervisor at a shipyard."What I'm making here, my son can make in a part-time job," Hussain says. "My lawyer came to visit and said, 'Hussain, what are you doing here?' "But there's Batoul. He believes she'll stay."She tells me, 'You grew up in a family. When they tell you "uncle," you know who it is. You played barefoot with your cousins.' She's missing it all the time, like a hug."But she chafes a bit against her conservative family. She misses wearing pants. When she tried to go to the skating rink, her relatives wrung their hands. "It's only for Russians," they told her.
She has found a job as a secretary in an insurance firm. She hasn't made many friends, but she insists that's all right. When she has a quiet minute, she drives to the shore. There, on the outer margins of the land she has claimed from her parents' memory, she looks at the water and tells herself she is home.

Friday, February 17, 2006

hypocricy

I do not sympathise with terrorists at all. But hating terrorists should not be an excuse to lose our values. The world is calling upon the United States to do something about Guantanamo Bay... and its a very strong argument when new torture pictures start floating around coming from abu ghraib.

Now I find the United States to be very hypocritical in this area of concern. Here they are trying to spread democracy in the region through many different military and non-military channels.. and to crown this new era of democracy in Iraq, namely, they insisted on having Saddam in court.. tried like anyone else... now thats good.. I love that... now can you practice what you preach and have the 500+ prisoners in Guantanamo Bay stand before an independent courtroom, not a military branch? Because right now... what you do and what you say are two different things.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Good service

I was at an insurance company the past couple of days sorting out some issues, and I was very impressed with their customer service level. I decided to list what are, in my opinion, the best and the worst performers in Bahrain.

Cheers:

1- Ahlia Insurance: The staff is very friendly and cooperative. I asked them for favors out of their job description, and they were more happy to do it. They are very enthusiastic also. If there is one drawback, I noticed that they have somewhat weak product information. The staff had difficulty pricing premiums and different policies got them kind of confused, but over all, very good service.

2- MTC-Vodafone: They are very friendly on the phone and in the store. Their shops are colorful, and their environment is youthful... that gets you relaxed right from the start. Their payment system is kind of wierd... they cut you off as soon as you reach a low limit faster than you can say reconnect.

3- Gulf Hotel: The staff in different functions is very professional. The health club staff are very close friends of mine... and the waiters and bartenders in the hotel are good too.

Jeers:

1- Ahli United Bank: Customer service at its worst. The knuckle heads at the customer service desk are so confused they don't know whether you were coming or going! One time I asked them how long it took them to process a loan knowing that my salary account is with them, I have no other commitment, and my employer is A rated. They said "roughly one month." I don't have an account with BBK and they said they'd do it in less than a week. I have endless stories with AUB... I applied for an internet account around July or august.. still didnt recieve it.

2- Batelco: Their customer service reps just have that "fuck you, what are you gonna do about it?" look on their faces. Hell.. they were the only company in the land.. they can cut you off and you couldn't call and tell anyone about it... Are you thinking of complaining? Oops.. your internet and phone lines have been cut off by mistake.. we'll send our technicians in a silver jubilee celebration.

3- Geant: I mean we're fine with the fact that most of their stuff is crap anyway.. but not willing to accept it is kind of an area of concern. They won't refund their underpriced crap.. I mean everyone knows that if a TV costs less than a pair of boots.. it can't be any good.. Not only that.. the place is WAY understaffed... you can easily wait for a good 30 minutes until someone attends to you.

Disclaimer: please do not sue me

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Abu Hamza is in the big house

Yesterday Abu Hamza got convicted. In case you're wondering why he looks like that, the first day he had his shiney new hook on, he was so comfortable with it that he forgot it was there at all... later that afternoon his eyelid was itching.. OUCH! Should've used the left hand, shaikh abu hamza.. but thats another story...
This is the Itenerary:
Guilty of 6 charges of soliciting to murder
Guilty of 3 charges related to "stirring up racial hatred"
Guilty of 1 charge of owning recordings related to "stirring up racial hatred"
Guilty of 1 charge of possessing "terrorist encyclopaedia"
Not guilty of 3 charges of soliciting to murder
Not guilty of 1 charge related to "stirring up racial hatred"
Now, my area of concern is this guy didn't start yesterday.. in fact.. he was found directly connected to an attack back in 1999 (They're so much now I honestly can't keep track.) Why did the British government look the other way for so long? I am under the impression that if it wasn't for the july 7th bombings, one eyed jack over here would be shooting Danish cows down.
Abu hamza was wanted in Egypt and Yemen for multiple counts.. in EGYPT & YEMEN!! THE MIDDLE EAST IS SICK OF HIM...doesn't that kind of tell you something? Fanatics like him (Saad Faqih & Co) found a warm bed in the UK for a long time... its about time the British government dropped this stupid policy of letting in terrorists as long as their activities are offshore. Its a bad political bargaining strategy that led to bad things.
Here are some facts:
-UK police had interviewed Abu Hamza during 1999 over alleged involvement in terror plots in Yemen, but no charges were brought.
-A police search of the mosque in 2003 led to the discovery of forged passports, CS gas, knives and guns and it was closed down.
-he will be eligible for parole in 2008. (Thats in two years.. you think he'll learn his lesson in two years?)
-Following his arrest, more than 3,000 audio cassettes and 600 videos were found of speeches intended for wider distribution. To go with it, "a terror manual - an encyclopaedia of Afghani Jihad - found at his west London home listed Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty as possible targets for an attack."
- Abu Hamza was a nightclub bouncer in Soho.
Offbeat: I found a new blog called "Blame it on Bahrain."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Where have all the cowboys gone?

I have a right to eat Danish cheese and butter and milk and chocolate and all these nice little things... why are some governments banning them? Good people of \"We have a right\".. I have a right to buy Danish stuff... don\'t you agree? Or does your effort only focus on pushing the last call at the bar an hour later?

Liberals in Bahrain and beyond.. I am disappointed with you! I didn\'t talk about this story for a couple of days just hoping against hope that you might wake up and say something.. but the only thing you came up with is \"Oh well we can ask them nicely and they might apologize.\" NO ONE NEEDS TO APOLOGIZE! Someone made fun of Islam.. just make fun of him back... make fun of his religion... make fun of his mother... just please.. don\'t kill him and don\'t take away my cheese.

You can go to a Danish court and file a lawsuit against the guy himself... although the judge is gonna have a laugh and pass the file into the fireplace.. but that\'s something you can do.. but how can you punish the whole country of Denmark, and everyone that enjoys their fine products? And the liberals are standing there like posts.

Long story short... no one needs to apologize... and the liberals should have used this opportunity to explain what freedom of speech is to people that find this concept challenging.