Blonde in Bahrain
A little bit about Bahrain, a tiny island in the middle of the Middle East, opposite the bridge to Saudi Arabia. I had landed in Bahrain six weeks earlier on a flight from Sri Lanka, at the height of summer, when temperatures hovered somewhere around 114. Though I was far from adjusted, I had already learned a thing or two about driving in the Middle East. Driving in Bahrain was a lot like driving in South Italy, only more interesting.
Unlike Italy, the face of the terrain is always changing. Sand is transported from the sea and entire land masses seem to rise on the horizon overnight. One day there is an exit ramp; the next day there isn’t. Sometimes you faithfully follow a perfectly paved road only to discover it ends abruptly at the edge of a giant sand bowl. One gets used to the constant disarray of construction posts and detours; so that it is almost frustrating when one is replaced with a beautifully paved road leading to an impressive underground thoroughfare. It doesn’t seem all that uncommon for drivers to run red lights at full speed; or to surf the outside of the car, gripping onto the overhead rack. The average daily commute may come to a crawl on account of checkpoints, tire fire demonstrations, or maybe a car has exploded somewhere in Juffair.
One afternoon I made a trip to the dentist; a fairly straightforward and short drive to the Seef district. I came to an unexpected halt in standstill traffic just beyond the Juffair exit. Waiting somewhat impatiently, I watched as a stream of vehicles veered into the curb lane and turned three lanes of jammed traffic into four. A small, weathered sedan somehow managed to get past the guardrail and could be seen kicking up dust while driving parallel to motionless traffic on a red brick pedestrian walkway.
A normal person might have been irritated. I was intrigued, and wound up joining the parade of illegal lane jumpers myself. My victory was short-lived, however, and I came to another abrupt halt. I watched as four-wheel drive vehicles nosed their way around road barricades and drove through dirt ditches while motorbikes weaved about in an ever-present cloud of dust and unspeakable heat.
I had the air conditioning on full blast, pointed directly at my face, and still I could not tolerate the added warmth of my fastened seat belt or the fabric of the car seat. I sat on the edge of my seat, blinking at the air vent like a kid staring into the wind. Finally, I made my way out of the maze that was Prince Khalifa highway and navigated my way to the Seef exit. I came to a stop at a red light, Seef dental in sight. I was at a major intersection, waiting in the far right lane. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a car careened into view from the far left lane, crossed over and turned right directly in front of me. At the red light. I wasn’t even mad. I was impressed. This was Bahrain.