I stroll along the cobbled by-lanes of Adliya, observing in fascination, the cafe culture of Bahrain. The men are predominantly dressed in white thobes, and each time they flick the striped red and white gutras on their head, I am reminded of the omnipresent red and white Bahraini flag – painted on walls along walkways, displayed outside houses and cafes, and even adorning car windows. This sentiment of patriotism seems to flow throughout the country, not only in ostentatious displays, but in the pride and warmth with which the Bahraini people speak of their island nation.
Ahlan wa sahlan. That was one of the first phrases I learnt in Arabic, almost five years ago. I’ve lost touch with whatever little of this beautiful language I learnt, but that phrase has stuck with me. It is an old Arabic phrase that means, we welcome you. I landed in Bahrain without many expectations; a small city-state that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, one that not many people travel to outside of business needs. At the airport, I could hear as much Hindi as Arabic, and I didn’t realize then that with the Bahraini stamp on my passport, I was being welcomed as much into the hearts, homes, and lives of the Bahraini people, as I was into the borders of (evidently) the most liberal country in the Gulf region.