Oud, Liwa and Al-Sout

Weaving through the narrow streets lined with gold shops, I said to my Bahraini friend, “I have never been here before.  Where are we?”

“This is the old Muharraq souq.  Remember when I showed you my grandfather’s house?  We are near there.  The Mohammed Bin Faris Hall is next door to my husband’s father’s house.”

“Next door” or “Near to” are typically included in the directions a Bahraini gives but they are not literal.  My experience is Bahrainis are so knowledgeable about the honeycombed streets, they find it difficult to give detailed directions an outsider needs.  If I wanted to ever find my way back, I would have take a daytime, reconnaissance trip.

Arriving before 7pm, we met some old school friends on the doorstep.  Hearing I was from California, one women became particularly interested.

“Where – in Los Angeles?” she asked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“GO TROJANS,” she yelled making her fingers into a horn.  “I went to USC.”

“So did my husband,” I told her and instantly we became friends.

My new friend insisted on showing us the recently opened Mohammed Bin Faris House Museum where the legendary Bahraini artist used to live.  Born in 1855, he recorded several Al Sout albums in Iraq and two albums in Bahrain before his death about 1946.  Looking around his one-room house, his albums did not go platinum during his lifetime.  Still seventy years later, his music continues to be played live.

At 7pm, ten Bahrainis wearing matching winter-grey thobes entered from the stage left and began setting out their instruments – a qanum, violin, oud, several drums and an electric keyboard.

“Who do you think will dance?” my friend asked me.

“It will likely be that guy,” I said pointing to the tall thin, young man who reminded me of Harold Perrineau from LOST.  “The others are too chubby to be dancers.”

Without any introduction, the singer began.  A slow song, “About love,” my friend whispered to me.  By the second song, the tempo sped up, the clapping began and then the dancing.  It was not the young Perrineau look-a-like; rather, the oldest man, a tall man of African descent with a missing front tooth began a slow, somber walk across the stage.  Soon the music inspired him.  He spun around, placed his hand on his ghuttra and jumped high off the ground then spun again.  The twinkle in his eye showed us how much fun he had before returning to his seat to help out with the percussion.

When the spirit moved him, he would get up.  As the songs continued, love song after love song, his shoulders started shimmering and his gestures grew more flirty.  He paused to pose for us, the photo-taking audience, or to smile at a friend.

“Is he doing this for show,” I asked my friend.  “Would your husband dance like him?”

“No, he is performing.  My husband would not dance like that.”

“His jumping reminds me of the African dancers we saw in Tanzania.  Is he Bahraini?” I wondered.

“Yes, but probably his ancestors were from Africa.”

I read later, liwa is a traditional African dance performed in the Gulf by people from Tanzania and Zanzibar.  Usually the al-sout was a male-only dance performed at night.

mohammen bin fares hall

The Mohammed Faris Hall is modern and formal but the audience was fluid and friendly.  Some arrived late then walked across the seats to kiss their friend hello.  Others shouted their Salams to the band when they entered.  An elderly man called out for his favorite songs.  And a woman announced in a loud voice before she led a pack of friends out, “We would love to stay with you all night, but we have another appointment.”

We did not have another appointment so continued to listen to song after song about love – “if you love me, how could you have done this to do me” and “I see your face in the water I drink”.  Finally, the topic moved from loving women to loving Bahrain.


7pm every Thursday night, the band will perform in the Mohammed Bin Faris hall.  Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, their concerts are free.  There is little parking around the hall.  It might be easier to take a taxi.

The Hall opened in April 2013 and is part of the Muharraq revitalization project.  Across the street, a new Zaffron café has opened.  It is built over an old date juice building.  The acrylic floors make you feel like your floating.  Zaffron serves breakfast, coffee and tea.


Karibu Tanzania Exhibit Opens March 2 at World Beat in Bahrain

Lena W Dajani Karibu Tanzania Bahrain 2013

Lena Dajani Karibu Tanzania Spring of Culture 2013

A Taste of Africa In Bahrain

Lena W Dajani Karibu Tanzania Bahrain 2013

During the Spring of Culture, Lena W Dajani, an artist and my friend, is having her first solo exhibit at World Beat Fitness starting March 2, 2013.

 Karibu Tanzania is Swahili for “Welcome to Tanzania”.

The beauty of Tanzania’s vibrant landscapes and people are the subject of Lena’s first solo exhibit.  Between 2008 –2010, Lena and her family lived in Dar Es Salam.  She immediately fell in love with the city, its idyllic setting on the Indian Ocean and tropical landscape.  From Dar Es Salaam, the family explored the shores of Zanzibar, sailed the Indian Ocean, and took numerous safari trips to the country’s national parks.  Traveling through the Ngorongoro Crater, Manyara, Serengeti, Amani, Saadani, Bongoyo, Mbudya and Ruaha reserves, she captured the family adventures.  This exhibit was created from her thousands of photos.

Lena was a member of Artist Seana Mallen’s Awali Arts.  Under Seana’s artistic guidance, her painting developed from a hobby to a commitment to create unique artwork drawing from her global experiences.  A busy mother, she currently works with watercolor and acrylic painting that allows her to quickly and effectively re-create and capture her impressions.

Private collectors in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tanzania have purchased Lena’s paintings.  She created a line of greeting cards and has presented her art work in several local exhibitions.

  • Bahrain International Garden Show (2007 & 2008) with the Awali Arts
  • Desert Designs, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia (2007)
  • Art House Open Studios, Bahrain (2008)
  • BAPCO’s 2012 First Annual Art competition, Bahrain (2012)

Karibu Tanzania will continue through March at World Beat.  However, if you can, on the opening day, stop by to meet and chat with Lena.  Her conversations range from Islamic art, Edward Tingatinga’s paintings, African safaris, Bali artists, high-tea in London, camping trips in Oman, Middle East politics, recipes from Gourmet magazine or family tennis tournaments in the south of France.  Her passport may say American, but she is a true Global Citizen and her art is inspired by global culture.

You can LIKE Lena on FACEBOOK.

Lena Dajani Karibu Tanzania Spring of Culture 2013

Water, Eco-Tourism and the Westerner

Restroom in Swahili, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Eco-tourism is a popular travel option now.  But one area I feel the eco-tour operators fail to educate their customers about is water and toilets.

Developing countries rely on cash-rich tourists to visit.  But to create an infrastructure that will support large numbers of tourists, finite resources such as water are shifted away from the local population to appease the nearly insatiable tourist palate.

When I moved to the Middle East, I was as guilty as most Westerners complaining about how inefficient the toilets were.  I did not know why women filled the wastebasket next to the toilet with toilet paper.  Nor did I understand the signs that said “Do Not Throw Paper Towels in the Toilet.”

To me paper towels meant the heavy type used in the kitchen or to dry your hands.  I did not realize the owners were talking about toilet paper, or toilet tissue, or Kleenex or whatever else you might call paper used to wipe our bottoms.

It was after the Sewerage Truck backed into our driveway and began to pump out our villa’s septic tank that I began to understand the bigger issue – we live in a desert.  Water is scarce.

Masai Village in Tanzania

In Tanzania where we took sneaky snapshots of tall Masai herding their boney cattle across the nearly desert landscape, their lack of water hardly affected us.  We could pay for airlifted bottles of water ported in our van’s cooler and flushing toilets in air conditioned guest rooms.  The Masai’s daily search for water never touched our experience.

At the Tarangire Game Reserve I popped into the government supported latrine before we embarked on our four hour safari.  A busload of American tourists followed me.

The modern, made-for-tourist bathrooms had several stalls, sinks, and mirrors.  The toilets had just enough water to clear the bowl.

Next door to me I heard the woman flush the toilet several times.  She came out of the stall and apologized to her waiting friend,

“Sorry I could not get the toilet to flush the paper down.”

I could not hold my tongue.  I said to her and the dozen other women waiting,

“There is hardly enough water here for the people to drink let alone flush a toilet.  Just carry your used toilet paper out with you and throw it in the trashcan.  And only flush the toilet when it is absolutely necessary.”

Coming from America where we reclaim toilet water making it drinkable again, the idea had never crossed their minds.

“Thanks for telling us,” one woman said genuinely grateful.

Why am I writing about this?

Because when I see a clean toilet bowl clogged up by a mass of toilet paper, I realize another uneducated Westerner has been there.  Is it necessary to flush the toilet after a pee?  And why throw masses of toilet paper in the bowl?  It takes two or three flushes to clear the paper and taxes the septic system.

Unlike the West where we are unaccustomed to using bidets, I believe the Arabs and the Indians wash with the water hose next to the toilets.  Then they use a small amount of paper to dry themselves and throw that in the trash bin next to the toilet.

Masai walking alongside of the highway, Tanzania

I am uncertain what the best method is, but in desert countries like Bahrain where water reclamation does not exist and 98% of the sewage is pumped just offshore into the ocean, introducing less garbage into the water system seems like the best solution.

National Geographic did a great story on “Water: Our Thirsty World” in April 2010.


Tales by Chapter

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