A Day in the Life of Unexpected Coincidences

Sketch of Old Manama in 1977 taken from the alley we turned left down. La Fontaine is white building on the left in the distance. It has a round balcony. All the other buildings have been torn down now.

Bahrain is filled with the unexpected.  I never know what might happen or who I might meet.

Yesterday after yoga, I picked up Susan and drove across the island to the smaller, Amwaj Island for the market.  When I asked the guard for directions, he told me,

“Two roundabouts drive straight.  Left at three roundabout.”

After two roundabouts I came to a real intersection and saw umbrellas to my left.  The guard must have meant for me to turn at the third intersection.

We parked at The Lagoon where umbrellas were set up along the water’s edge.  As the DJ played Chammak Challo, Susan and I danced around the mostly Bahraini vendors selling mini-cupcakes, personalized towels embroidered with Fatima and Ahmed, Manchester United shirts, bedazzled abayas, plants, Lebanese costume jewelry and paraphernalia featuring the Bahraini flag and the Prime Minister.  We never found the photographer Mairi Thomas’ table and I wondered if something happened to her.

Susan and I only had 30 minutes to shop because we were supposed to meet Sensai Amr and Debbie for a Bahrain Karate Association photo shoot with local magazine, Woman This Month.  I understood the magazine was going to take photos of our karate class.

It was only after we exited the elevator at the Intercontinental Hotel’s rooftop health club that I realized our class was doing an exhibition for a women’s health expo.  Dressed in my Gi, I passed my friend Shandra who was there for socializing.  She kissed me and for some reason wished me luck.  I slid in the door just in time to bow to Sensai Amr.

Sensai Amr split us into two groups – the white robed BKA members and the Others, a rag-tag army of leotard wearing initiates.  As the TV camera focused on the anticipated action, my opponent, who was much bigger than my regular classmates, attacked me like she was on Survivor.  Despite defending myself against her flailing arms, I got voted off BKA’s debut production.

When our hour was over, Susan and I zoomed home so I could get ready for an event where I knew I would shine – the Bahrain Writer’s Circle dinner.

A holiday party should be easy, but I worried about the journey to my favorite Bahraini venue – La Fontaine Centre for Contemporary Art.   Located in the heart of old Manama, it is one of the most difficult places to get to even in normal circumstances.

My friend said “trust me, I know an easier way,” and navigated me between the new concrete barriers behind the British Embassy.  I wove through a series of dark, narrow alleys where there was only room for one car to shimmy between the parked cars on both sides.  In front of a cold store, a man waiting for his wife halted our progress.   Bumper to bumper, I tapped – beep, beep – and like a typical Bahraini, he kindly backed up.  After an unexpected left turn, we ended up right at the front door where a parking spot was waiting for us.  Amazing!

Our good fortune continued.

Visiting Poet Christopher Merrill

Visiting American Christopher Merrill stepped off his plane and arrived on time to read from two books of his poetry and his 2011 non-fiction work The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War.  Mr. Merrill is the Director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.  A very generous man, he spoke with nearly every writer at the meeting.

Gulf Daily News - Visiting poet Christoper Merrill and Oud player Hasan Hujairi

Like Mr. Merrill, my family was from Iowa.

Hasan Hujairi at La Fontaine Centre for Contemporary Art

Next, experimental musician Hasan Hujairi played the oud for us.  He described Cherry Blossoms as a fusion between a traditional Japanese song and a well-loved Iraqi tune.  He got the idea while studying in Japan and playing with Japanese guitarists.

That was interesting.  My sister lives in Japan.  And her Japanese husband played guitar with a girls’ band who sang traditional Japanese songs.

Afterwards I chatted with this talented – and charming – Bahraini musician.  Not only did he speak perfect English and Arabic, but he also spoke Japanese.  And he studied in Iowa!

December Moon over La Fontaine Centre, Manama Bahrain

I don’t know whether the eclipse last night played a part in this mysterious night of coincidences but under the December moon in Bahrain,  we proved there were less than six degrees of separation between people.  Thanks to my friend, the writer/bouncer Robin Barrett, it was a night of unexpected pleasures.

Later I read an email from Mairi Thomas.  She wrote two markets were held in Amwaj on the same day demonstrating once again I never know what to expect in Bahrain.

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