I'm writing this from the safety of Dulles International Airport in DC, because we weren't sure how safe it would be to recount some of this until we were safely out of Bahrain. Not that we were ever in any danger, but the Bahrain government takes not having a free press very seriously.
One thing I didn't write about earlier was our problems entering the country. On their visa entry form (you get your visa at the airport rather than in advance like Brazil) it asks for your occupation, and so Chad naturally wrote "filmmaker." We also truthfully put that we were there for both touring and for business for the Mawane Conference. Well, the filmmaker thing was a red-flag for their customs and passport inspection and so it took nearly an hour of waiting to get us cleared. They had lots of questions about our purpose there, and we emphasized that we were there to show a film about the US, not film anything about Bahrain. Finally, they cleared us, but it was really odd. They were nice about it the whole time, they were just really mistrustful, suggesting we should have contacted their ministry of information and stuff like that. When we told Ebrahim, Abdullah and Suha about it later, they just laughed and nodded like that's what you expect in Bahrain. We really take fro granted the freedom of the press, and it was odd in Bahrain to be reminded again and again that despite being a fairly liberal Muslim country (and a "benevolent" constitutional monarchy), they do not enjoy the same freedoms we do.
Of course, we were a bit dishonest in insisting to the passport officers that we would not be filming in Bahrain, because part of our purpose there was to put on a filmmaking workshop. That is how we spent our day on Saturday, recording interviews and footage in the village and beach at Dimistan. As I mentioned, we had five eager participants, all of whom we enjoyed very much. I think I won't write too much about them, just in case (not that I expect the Bahrain government to find my blog and track them down, but I suppose you never know), other than to say they were all great people and some of our best moments of the trip were working with them and getting to know them.
I mentioned in a prior post that reclamation is a big issue here, and that is certainly an issue in Dimistan. The village was once on the beach, but the government has since infilled the land to create new beachfront for private development. In doing so, it blocks off the coast to residents. However, Dimistan is unique because the residents successfully protest the closing of all their beach about 10 or so years ago and got the stretch of it where we screened reopened to the public, which is good, because they are also a fishing community (about 3,000 residents we understand).
After a brief explanation and showing a few tips and tricks, we decided the best thing to do would be to just get started finding residents to interview and look for an angle for our short film. Our first subject was a fisherman who was hanging out near our meet up spot. The interviews were all conducted in Arabic, so Chad and I had no idea what was being discussed. After speaking to the fisherman, we drove into the village to try to catch the tail end of the crowd at the Saturday market. We came across a gathering of older gentlemen sitting on beat-up furniture under a long makeshift tent. They were very willing to e interviewed and an animated an chaotic discussion (that Chad and I could not understand) followed. Chad operated camera 1 and the footage seemed to turn out good. We were told later that the men kept wanting to get political, but our students always tried to steer them back to talking about the beach. One of the men was a bit distrustful and (I think jokingly) suggested we were maybe from the CIA. But they were really open and engaged, so that was fun.
After an enjoyable lunch break, we went back to the beach and were able to arrange a boat ride along the coast so we could see some of the private properties along the new "reclaimed" beach front. We made arrangements with the students to meet up the next evening for the editing portion of our workshop, because the next day was Sunday, which is basically their Monday, and they all had to work.
Editing footage in a language you don't understand is a unique challenge, but with the huge help and support of Ebrahim, who is a well-trained filmmaker (trained at Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, through New York Tech), we managed to pick out some interesting clips to build a sequence around.
By the time we wrapped, we could tell many of the students had picked up a passion for filmmaking. Suha plans to utilize the footage for research purposes and Ebrahim may try to edit a short from it.Several of them have friended me on Facebook, so I hope we keep in touch.
Prior to our editing session, Chad and I played tourist during the day Sunday, visiting again Manama souk and then taking a taxi to Bahrain fort, a really interesting archeological site with 7 distinct peoples over 4,000 years (including the Portuguese for a while). We also had a couple enjoyable visits to an Irish pub near our hotel to watch some soccer.
Monday morning we met up with Suha and Abdullah for a traditional Bahraini breakfast prior to our flight. It was a very foreign breakfast to us, but tasty.
Happily our flight to Dubai was on time and we cleared customs in no time. We stored our luggage and went out for one last night in Dubai. Chad had bought a book about Dubai on his Kindle and had been reading about this neighborhood called Satwa along the coast that is soon to fall victim to demolition and redevelopment. We took the Metro down and walked over, but it seemed quieter than we expected, so Chad asked a guy walking by. He said he lived in Satwa and suggested we walk up there with him, since he was on his way home. This is so representative of attitudes we have found in the Middle East. People are soooo nice and helpful. It's like the opposite of Europe (though actually we've had good luck with finding helpful nice people in Europe too). The man was from Pakistan and working in IT. We had a nice conversation on the walk and we definitely knew when we arrived in Satwa, a very vibrant neighborhood. Perhaps the Dubai government will change their mind about razing it. The man gave us a restaurant suggestion for good Indian/Pakistani food (we have eaten a lot of south Asian while we've been here and love it), and he was spot on. After dinner, we walked around Satwa a bit and took a taxi to Dubai Mall to see the fountain show. Honestly, it was a bit disappointing, but nicely choreographed, and the mall also gave us a chance to finish our souvenir shopping and take a peak at the Dubai ice rink, Dubai Aquarium and Dubai Dinosaur. People really love their malls there, and they really trick them out. We took the Metro back to the airport and hung out until our flight home.
Coming in late to DC, we are cooling our heals and anxious to get home, but it was really a memorable and amazing trip. We love the Middle East and will certainly be back.
p.s. All the Charlie Hebdo stuff has of course been in the news the whole time we were here and the friends we discussed it with were saddened and concerned. Being here really reinforces how much violence is not the norm for Muslims, and people really just want to live their lives. I feel bad for our friends potentially facing prejudice if they visit the US or Europe. We knew this was the case before intellectually, but now knowing personally many Muslims really brings it home.