Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fade to Black

Mohammed is 51. He was born along the sea on the West Coast of Bahrain in 1959. His father was a mason, and when he was young he lived in an old house with no electricity, no running water nor proper plumbing. At night in the summer his entire family would sleep in the central courtyard of their mud brick and wood home on an elevated platform to keep them from the land-crawling bugs. He tells me this in the pre-dawn hours driving his car through the neon, fluorescent and incandescent glow of ever lit Manama. He would play in the sea as a child, immersed in the waters and traditions of his culture and country.

45 or so years later he glides his vehicle into secure area of the Manama Airport and guides us through emigration. I ask him if that kind of transformation has been hard -- say on his father. He says it was unimportant to his father, and that what mattered was his ability to provide. He's still living.

On the way from lunch on Tuesday after an extraordinary conversation, one of our hosts was musing on the challenges of keeping her children on track and focused. They're 11 and 13 -- Aidan and Nathan's ages. She notes that they're very bright children and that they should be getting top grades. When her daughter comes in with a "C" she takes away her mobile. When it happens again, she maintains the prohibition. "Kids just want to be texting and on their phones all the time." Denial of technology is ubiquitous as a punishment now. I hear the same penalties in Washington, in Amman, in Santiago. Its all driven by oil.

In 15 years time Bahrain will have no more oil. "My husband and I teach our children to respect work and live modestly. So many children now here change their mobiles every month." She pauses when we talk about the oil running out, about the possibility that all this affluence, the building, the wealth, the mad consumption and the Rolls Royce barrage coming to an abrupt end. "No on knows what will happen. We have to prepare our children." She sounds like someone aware that the future is no more clear for her than it was for Mohammed's father, who could not, from the steps of his home, the sounds of the sea and the splashes of his Son echoing in his ears, predict that in one lifetime everything would change. We are in a jet-stream of change, a whirlwind of it. The world here is upended from a generation ago. It may be again a generation from now.

The sun is somewhere waking as the flight from Manama leaves the earth for the sky. The sky lightens as the land recedes. Bahrain slipping into the distance.

Fade to black.

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