A famous musician superstar and his brother are in the country, and have been here for a good few weeks now. So far, their host has been taking them out to the top end restaurants, the 5-star hotels and resorts, the modern shopping malls, and so on. Being here even for a few weeks, this is pretty much the only side of Bahrain that they've seen; a modern, upscale country, full of rich people, high class hangouts, and luxury cars.
I meet up with them once every now and then, and so far they've seemed to enjoy the country. After all, it's not every day you stay in a country full of lavishness where everyone (apparently) seems well-off, and everywhere you go is modern.
I caught a sort of yearning for something though, through one of their converstions. Although a great life, something about it felt fake; all the restaurants, the cars, the opulent life was nice, but there was no real substance behind it. Something was missing.
The conversation drifted off to the fact that not everyone in Bahrain lived like that, and actually far from it. A good percentage of the Bahraini population haven't even visited some of these restaurants they go to every day, as they cost way beyond what they can afford. Some don't live in lavish buildings and drive fancy cars. No, there was another reality behind what appears to be a land full of prosperity and affluence. They didn't believe it at first, until I promised to take them for a tour around the real Bahrain.
It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Living a life full of luxury and money can make you forget who you are, where you came from, and whats important in life. If you allow yourself to be immersed in it, it can drag you so far away from reality that you don't realize what the real world around you is like.
Friday night, I passed by their place. Although the musician didn't feel like going out that night, his brother wanted to grab a bite to eat; however, he was sick of the same classy gourmet food all over again, and wanted something different. I had the perfect solution; tikka.
He didn't know what it was, so I explained; small marinated pieces of meat, grilled over charcoal with warm, traditional bread. Moreover, we wouldn't be eating in a top-class joint, but rather the scene would probably be sitting outside on an old wooden table, on cheap plastic chairs, in an old neighbourhood with little, if any, big-shots around. I told him to ditch the designer shirt and pants, the expensive accessories, and just wear something simple. He did, and we went on our way.
Before long the scenery he was used to started to change; from modern buildings and fancy cars, driving into downtown Manama brought worn buildings, some with peeling paint, and others seemingly on the verge of collapse (they weren't about to though, they just looked that way). The fancy coupes and 4x4's he was used to were replaced by ailing vehicles and economic autos, and the bright lights he was accustomed to were substituted for flickering yellow street lights, and dimly lit signboards from the various shops around.
Something was differnt about this neighborhood though; we got to the restaurant and had a seat. Our table was basically on the side of the pavement, and behind us, the unpainted wall of an old building. As we sat, we saw some children running around, playing, shouting to each other in joy. One of them seems to have just gotten a bicycle, as a gift, perhaps, and they were all running around behind it, taking turns to ride. There were different people walking past us, each one different and varied in his own way, some talking to each other, some quiet, some loud. The occasional cat strolled by, giving us a quick glance before they went on their way. One even sat next to my friends feet and curled up (probably waiting for the left-overs from our dinner).
Someone came to take our order and smiled as he greeted us; his smile was different from those of the classy restaurant attendants, who greet you because they have to, not because they really felt glad to see you. This guy, although a weathered 50 or 60 year-old, laughed as he talked, had a sparkle in his eye, and somehow took a sort of authentic joy in welcoming us. The smell of the charcoal grilled food was whetting our appetite, and as we waited impatiently for the food to come I asked my friend what he thought; "This feels real", he said.
He loved the setting, he enjoyed the atmosphere, and when the food came, he loved it even more. He made me promise to take him to more 'traditional' spots like this, and wanted to genuinely see and feel the real Bahrain.
My pleasure :)
PS. Khalid from BahrainiDrivel actually posted up a review about this place a while back. To read more about it and to see some pix of what the place looks like, click here. Trust me, a review worth reading!