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The International Writers Magazine: Secret Lives

A dive bar in Bahrain
• Leroy B. Vaughn
I was doing a one year contract in Qatar in 1999. Six months had gone by and I had not been able to take my leave, due to a manpower shortage. My supervisor came to me one day and told me that I would need to go to Bahrain for one day, in order to keep my visa status in Qatar.


It was a short hop, about twenty minutes once we got in the air from Doha, Qatar to the airport in Bahrain. From the air, I could see grass, something that was not found often in Qatar.

Bahrain is a tiny island country and the capitol city, Manama is about a ten minute taxi ride from the airport.
I had no idea how I would spend twelve hours in another Muslim country. I had only met one other person at work that had been to Bahrain. He had been there one month earlier, for the same reason I was going.
His big trip had consisted of visiting a U.S. Navy ship that was in port, and purchasing a canned ham from the ships commissary. The small canned ham didn’t last long as it was promptly confiscated by Qatari customs when he returned to Doha after his one day trip.

I breezed through customs. I had nothing to declare and all I had with me was the clothes I was wearing, some money and my passport. The customs agent looked at my Qatar visa and waved me through without a single word being said.

I found a currency exchange and asked a young Arab woman at the exchange about a taxi and if she had any suggestions on what I could do on my day trip to her country. She showed me where to go for the taxi, but could not offer any suggestions about daytime entertainment on her Island.

The taxi driver suggested that I go to the souk or market place in Manama, the capitol. He said there were a lot of good eating places and lots of shops to look around in.

After a ten minute ride, he dropped me in front of a stall that sold colorful t-shirts and the usual made in Taiwan or China souvenirs that are found in souks all over Qatar. I walked around for several minutes, comparing Bahrain to Qatar. My first impression was that Bahrain did not appear to be as strict as Qatar, when it came to women’s dress codes.

As with all of the Gulf Countries, the majority of the population is made up of what American G.I.’s like to call third country nationals or T.C.N.’s for short. There are Arabs in Manama, but the majority of the people there appeared to be Indians, Filipino’s,  poor Muslim’s from all over the Middle- East and Africans.
I spent about an hour browsing through the tiny shops and stalls in the souk, before I spotted a restaurant that looked clean and had a menu that offered western style food posted on the window. I went inside and sat down. In the middle-east, it is not unusual to find men eating alone, probably due to the fact that there are so many guest workers in Gulf Countries.

The waitress brought me a menu and I was surprised to see pork dishes offered in the restaurant. This was my first clue that Bahrain was not a typical Muslim country.

After a nice shrimp lunch, I strolled back outside and looked at a donkey cart that was tied to a post. A poor Arab man was loading the cart, when a well off Arab man walked up to him and stuffed a small wad of money into his pocket.

When I told some of the guys about this back in Doha, I was told that it was a Muslim tradition for well off people to help the less fortunate Muslims.

I walked down a street and saw something that I had never seen in Qatar, a public bus. As the bus drove past me, I noticed a neon sign flashing across the street. From where I was standing, the sign looked like it said “Bar”. I walked closer and the sign did say bar. It also had a large golden anchor under the word bar. A Filipina wearing a very short skirt and high heel shoes sat in a chair next to the door.

For a moment, I felt as if I were in Singapore or the Far- East.  I walked towards the door and the pretty little Filipina opened it and invited me in. I was not wearing sun glasses and I could not see anything as she guided me into the bar. I stopped as soon as the door shut behind us and told her I had to wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Once my eyes adjusted, after about thirty seconds I could see that it was an honest to goodness old style dive bar.

A pretty but stocky Indian woman wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt met me at the door and took over guiding me into the bar, while the Filipina went back outside to scout out new drinkers.

I found a nice little table for eyeballing people at the end of the room while the full figured bar girl went for my beer. This was a real treat. I had been in Qatar for six months now and the strongest drink I had during that time had been near beer, imported from Holland.

The cold beer tasted good and the people watching was excellent.  Besides the pretty Rubenesque Indian, there was another Indian bar girl. She was good looking also, even if she was at least eight months pregnant. I was the only westerner in the place. There were a few African oil field workers and Indian men, but the drinker that really interested me was an older Arab man that was wearing the tradition outfit worn by Arab royalty.  

I asked the waitress about the man and she said that he was an Arab Prince. Wasn’t it strange, that he would be in a bar drinking whiskey I asked. She told me no, not for Arabs. They would have their drivers bring them to Bahrain by crossing the King Fahd Causeway that connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. They would spend the day drinking and then be driven back to the Kingdom.
“Allah cannot see across the waters,” She told me as she asked if I wanted another beer.

While she went for the beer, the pregnant woman turned on a large screen television that was attached to the far wall of the bar. Most of the patrons started watching an old Mexican cowboy movie. The movie was dubbed in, in an Indian dialect, but was a real hit with the patrons.

Having been in the Gulf for several months now, I knew that Mexican movies and soap operas were very popular in India and on Indian cable TV.  If you are a TV fan, you will get used to Indian TV in Qatar.
The girl came back with my beer and made small talk while she kept her eyes on the other customers. The nice thing about this girl was that for a bar girl, she was not pushy. She probably didn’t expect much in tips from the working stiffs that came into the joint, and she was not one of those buy me a champagne cocktail sipping bimbos that you would see in the States.

The pregnant woman gave her some kind of hand signal from across the room and she checked my beer to make sure I was OK.  I watched her check the other tables and then she met the pregnant woman at the bathroom door. There was only one bathroom and the girls had to cover for each other when one of them used the restroom.

I looked at my watch, when I saw two African women walk into the place.  It was five in the afternoon and I noticed that the crowd was starting to change. Business men were replacing the workers.
The African women didn’t stop in the room that I was in. They went to the back where the bar was.
I decided to take a peek at the bar. It was a typical bar, with a thin Indian man serving the drinks. The African women didn’t order anything. They took a seat at a little table near the bar. Within a few minutes, the backroom, where the bar was located began to fill up with women in evening wear.

At the corner of that room, I noticed a stairway and a woman walking upstairs with a customer.  This was not just a dive bar, it was a bordello also.   I thought that this was very unusual for the Middle-East.
Running a bar in a Muslim country was probably risky enough, but I didn’t think the local citizens would tolerate prostitution, if they knew what was going on there.

I was on my third beer, trying to take it easy on the frosties, when a character that looked like a pirate/cowboy walked into the dive, saw me and immediately headed for my table.
“Are you from Qatar?" He asked. I couldn’t figure if it was a wild guess or what. It couldn’t have anything to do with the way I was dressed. I had on a pair of tan jeans, a white long sleeve shirt and work boots.
He asked if he could join me and I said sure. I played the guessing game with him and asked, “Are you from Yemen?”
“Yes, how did you know?" He asked. I told him I could tell by his tribal headdress. Other than the headdress, his outfit was totally crazy.
He had on a pair of bell bottoms that must have been sold originally around 1975. He had an oversized shirt that looked more like a woman’s blouse and a motorcycle chain made into a belt. His wore patent leather boots with a zipper in the side and to top it off he had a big thick porno style moustache.

We shook hands after he introduced himself. He asked what I was doing in Bahrain and I told him I was just in the country for the day, to renew my visa, He asked what kind of work I was in and I told him I worked in the oil fields in Qatar. He did not believe me, as he took my hand and examined it.
I couldn’t fool him.  My hands were soft and not all beaten up. I didn’t have any broken finger nails and the ones I had were clean and trimmed.
“I do work in the oil fields. I’m an office clerk”, I said after he finished his examination of my hand.
He knew that I was lying. Almost all office working in the Gulf, are Indian males. I stuck to my office worker story anyway, telling him I supervised an Indian crew of office workers.  

He looked around making sure no one could hear us. Then he asked if I wanted to buy some marijuana, or hashish. I told him I don’t use that crap and he needed to get away from me now.

He told me to relax as he pulled his police credentials from his pants pocket and showed it to me. He was an undercover narcotics agent, working the area. He asked me what I really did for a job and I told him that I was working for the U.S. Army in Qatar.
“You used to be a police officer didn’t you?"
“That’s right,” I replied as I stood up and shook hands with him. I looked at my watch and told him I needed to head for the airport.
© Leroy Vaughn Feb 2013

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