Since February 14th, and the start of political protests in Bahrain, I start each day by crying. I open my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I catch up on BBC and Al Jazeera news. Then, I weep. My hands find their way to my face, and the tears become pushy enough to pass through my fingers and on to my keyboard. It is a copious type of crying, and it has happened every day since that second week in February.
I weep — openly, urgently — for there is nothing else I can do.
A country I know has become a PS3 game. It is now under martial law. Select family members have been evacuated. Personal friends are subject to tear gas and bullets. Armed foreigners patrol neighborhoods. Sometimes, the identities of those smashing cars are unknown. Blood literally stains the streets in front of innovative, newly constructed multi-million dollar high rises. I see places I know compromised by politics, and it hurts like hell.
In Bahrain, I became a writer. While there, my personal measurements changed. This island, this Bahrain, was where I started to become who I am today.
It was my home from 2006-2008. I lived in this tiny desert island in a house adjacent to burial mounds that were thousands of years old. The entire country is a burial ground, it seems. Bahrain is the heart of the ancient Dilmun civilization, and was more recently known for the exquisite pearls harvested from its coastal waters. Bahrain has been a commerce hub for hundreds of years – if not longer, and has always been a diverse island.
I passed Lulu (Pearl) roundabout almost every day. Literally. In Bahrain, a small country with the main island no bigger than Rhode Island, Lulu was very hard to miss. The roundabout is nestled beside the main highway, and awkwardly stuck between several shopping centers. Before February 14th, when Bahrainis made the site location central for political rallies, it was known mostly for its inconvenient, somewhat dangerous traffic circle.
I have just learned that the government decreed that Lulu roundabout statue be torn down. It has become a symbol of disent and political change. Apparently, the government viewed it as a threat.
As a diplomat’s wife, I became acquainted with the al-Khalifa royal family, who rule Bahrain. I also got to know everyday Bahrainis, those without a royal pedigree. I conversed and became friends with Shia and Sunni citizens. There were the Bahraini friends who lived in homes no one in the US can afford; then there were those who lived in their ancestral villages in the same house as their parents.
Many Americans think the Middle East is underdeveloped. Bahrain is filled with Starbucks, Costa Coffee (the British coffee chain), Macdonald’s, and malls that cater to a luxury market. They watch the same movies that we watch. Most speak English, and many do so fluently. Young Bahrainis have an American accent. Bahrain is not an island of sand; it is an island of educated, hardworking, creative people.
There was a theme that greeted me when I entered the country: No Sunni, No Shia, Just Bahraini. No one expected this tiny island to explode, and all because of a few bad decisions from a few key players.
NPR reported yesterday that police (or someone) fired bullets into the lobby of the International Hospital of Bahrain. “The blood stains,” the commenter said, “are still visible.” I broke down at that point. I’ve been in that lobby many times. My medical records are still there.
I follow friends on Facebook and Twitter who share of tear gas and rubber bullets in real time. This is not just a place where I once lived. I am still connected to Bahrain through family and by my own personal history. I know Bahrain. I know some of its people.
I know those in the government.
Everyday, I cry, because I know of nothing else to do.
(In Part II, I discuss how my time in Bahrain transformed me.)