Culture! This was today’s agenda, so we were starting Bahrain off with a bang. After settling in last night into the hotel, I was fortunate to fight off sleeping on the plane as I was able to sleep perfectly last night. After having a hearty egg and sausage breakfast at the hotel, we headed out by shuttle through Bahrain to our first destination. Traveling through the capital city Manama, it was reminiscent of Jakarta, Indonesia sans the traffic. The buildings were towering, modern skyscrapers, with contemporary designs. Our tour guide joined us and explained the history and culture of Bahrain. I was blown away that a large stretch of where we were traveling through was part of the sea until Bahrain reclaimed the land, i.e. placed land where there was once sea. It’s amazing to the vast extent they were able to add to their island. It’s true with the lack of space on the small island that eventually the only place you can go is outward. There are so many questions about this practice; is it legal internationally? How do they do it? Are they worried about rising sea levels? Why didn’t they develop the barren land to the south. Making it to the main cultural center we were visiting, Shaikh Ebrahim Center, the roads narrowed and the traffic was much more congested. Disembarking at several historical sites which were home to the royal family, we learned about the rich history. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Bahrainians all stemmed from the same royal family. Seeing many people in the narrow streets in traditional clothing; women wearing burqas and hijabs, and men with their long cloth hats, I never once felt like how I was dressed drew any extra attention. After going to one building, we visited a historical printing press room and a children’s library. The children’s library was impressive as it was tiny, but served the purpose of helping local kids with literacy. The tiny nooks where these buildings were, exemplified how to make the most out of the limited space. Through forward thinking development, we saw how some architecture projects are trying to introduce green plant life to the sides of buildings, since there is no space to build greenery on the flat land. When we finished touring the local area, we went to a coffee shop, which was extremely modern with their Swedish inspired seating. Patterned rock candy decorated the ceiling as it hung above our heads. It almost was a coffee museum as there were placards throughout regarding the rich history of coffee in Bahrain. The coffee was served with dates, a traditional fruit of the area. The coffee had a taste very unique, with coriander (I believe). After leaving, they sprinkled our hands with rose water. The group we are traveling with has been gelling wonderfully throughout the time together. The ten of us, 8 teachers and our two leads from the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce were constantly sharing different thoughts regarding global education. Making our way to the Qal’at Al-Bahrain fort, I was now heading towards my favorite place on the agenda. A UNESCO Historical Site, the building was composed of weathered sandstone bricks. The area was under the sea for hundred of years and was only recently recovered. Looking out at the sea as we walked up the ramp leading towards the fort, it was so surreal to be with fellow TOP 2015 alumni Lou again. Taking pictures throughout, we learned about the history of the temple. We took several detours into the small caves pits, eventually coming to one which was lit with gold lights on the floor, illuminating the room. Heading back with the group, we went out to a traditional Bahrainian restaurant. They served food from throughout the world and I wondered what traditional Bahrainian food is like. It apparently is more akin to Indian food. I had a rice meal called chicken biranyi. Finishing our meal, we finished the day off at the largest museum in Bahrain, the National Bahrainian museum. It was apparent that most of these places were seldom traveled when we went, even though it was a weekend. The museum was mostly empty, but was impressive due to its massive size. Reading the history of Bahrain, it was clear how much they celebrated their rich culture. Their history as a country of exporting pearls for so long is one of the major takeaways. Heading back to the hotel, I was pleasantly pleased with the first day’s activities.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.