A few weeks ago, while introducing me to the Bahraini blogosphere, Mahmood
Although with a blog name like that, and with a mastery of writing Arabic in English with the custom use of numbers (which I still cannot fathom) to me this person is most definitely Bahraini, might not carry the passport, but certainly carries the spirit!
First of all, let me make it clear that even though I occasionally use numbers to transliterate Arabic words in an attempt to make myself look cool, I don't want to give anyone the impression that I might be fluent in Arabic. I know enough Arabic to be able to watch al-Jazeera and sing along with 3mro Diab, but I still have a hard time giving my order for bread in Arabic to my local khabbaz.
Anyways, with all the talk
about illegal naturalizations and immigration and stuff these days, I thought I would discuss what it means to be Bahraini for me, as an expatriate "Asian" on the island. As I mentioned in my introduction
a few weeks back, I have lived my whole life in Bahrain, save the years that I spent in the US getting my higher education. My father came to this island about 35 years ago with an opportunity to leave his home and enjoy the relatively higher salaries afforded to workers in Bahrain. Back then, I am told, there was still a large requirement for cheap, foreign labour to contribute to the local economy. My father soon afterwards got married to my mother (who was not Bahraini either) and brought her to this island also. I was born in Bahrain a few years later.
Since then I've known Bahrain as my only home. Bahrain is the centre of all of my best memories. When I go abroad and people ask me where I'm from, I'll tell them that I'm from Bahrain, but I hold the passport of another country. But there certainly must be a difference between myself, and all of the other "real" Bahrainis out there. Well, yes. Every summer my parents dragged me back to the "motherland", which I hated in my youth compared with Bahrain. Such a relief it was at the end of the summer to be able to come back to a place where we could leave our doors unlocked at night, where asking for strangers for help was normal, where even hitch-hiking was not out of the ordinary. Other things which make us expats different from the real Bahrainis is that I didn't attend a school that indoctrinated me with Bahraini or Arab values. We were never taught any Arabic, or Arabic history, except for the occasional Orientalist teacher who felt the need educate as about the primitive local culture
. I also did not live with many Bahraini neighbours. As is the case with most expats here, I spent most of my life living in apartments or residential compounds populated by other foreigners.
Yet despite my separation from real
Bahraini life, there was still something I loved about the island. It is the relaxed and easy-going way of life, the tiny close community. Ask anyone that spent any part of their childhood in Bahrain and they will all reminisce their days here with a particular melancholy.
As I grew older, my love for the island grew to more than just the relatively comfortable lifestyle, and I gained a particular interest, respect and love for Bahrain's people and culture. The problem I faced was that far too often I was made to feel that Bahrainis still viewed me as an outsider. As though I did not deserve the respect that a real Bahraini might be worthy because of my brown skin colour. Far too many times have I been called a hindi
as an insult.
So, what does it mean for me to be Bahraini. Well, I don't really believe in the concept of nationalism, or the blind love for a piece of land demarcated discretely by a line. I have an association of culture with my "motherland" also, but I would never wear its flag. So it's not really the Bahraini passport that I'm after. Yes, it would be nice to have a piece of paper which would allow me to enter the country without being asked "what do you want here?" However, that's not of real significance. I'd like to be recognized as a valuable part of the Bahraini social fabric. I'd like to be treated with respect. After all, along with enjoying Bahrain's benefits, we expats have contributed alot to this country. Most of the roads and building on the island have been built by "Asians" toiling in the sun, working for ridiculous wages, in shameful living conditions.
Despite my trust in Bahrain's people, it's hard to not be somewhat wary going out and about when EVERYDAY there is a report in the newspaper of an "Asian" getting mugged and beaten up by a "gang of Bahraini youths" somewhere. Why is it that EVERYDAY we read about an Indonesian or Sri Lankan maid who runs away from work because she gets abused by her "owners", but is herself treated as a criminal for running away. I agree, that the people committing these crimes are in no way representative of Bahrainis as a whole, and that Asians are targetted because they are the easiest targets. But what disturbs me is that no one else seems to care about it when incidents like these take place everyday. The event gets lip service in the newspaper the next day, but its not often that one hears of justice being done afterwards (I know of far too many cases personally). Maybe it's asking for too much but I wish someone from the Bahraini communities would recognize that this crime and violence against Asians is getting out of hand or for one of the Bahraini MPs to stand up demand some basic human rights for foreign labourers,.. but you never hear anything of the sort. All of the political societies are too concerned with getting rid of us so that they can get jobs for "real" Bahrainis.
My point is that we are all humans. We need to start caring about everyone's problems. We live here together, and for many of us we've lived together for a very long time. If it's possible, I would like to live here and contribute towards the prosperity of this island's people for the rest of my life. But in order for me to do this I need for other Bahrainis recognize and encourage me along the way rather than hinder the process.