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October 2010

Bahrain Election Day

Screen shot 2010-10-22 at 9.58.05 AM  Americans aren't the only folks eagerly awaiting upcoming elections. On Saturday, Oct. 23, Bahrainis will go to the polls to vote in this country's parliamentary elections. It's only the third time elections have been held in Bahrain, which is a constitutional monarchy -- a rare gem among Persian Gulf (aka Arabian Gulf) nations.

More than 100 people including a handful of women are vying for 40 Member of Parliament (MP) seats in the Lower House (The Upper House, or Shura Council, is appointed by the ruling Royal Family). The streets of Bahrain are a sea of colors and sounds, from campaign posters, banners and campaign speeches broadcast from minarets. Many neighborhoods have election tents or outdoor theaters, where citizens can meet the candidates, ask questions and debate the issues. The world's eyes are on Bahrain's elections. It's an exciting time to be in Bahrain!

The elections have been overshadowed by recent news events in Bahrain, which I'm not going to get into here. But if you're curious, you can easily read up on the issues at Google News. For more information on Bahrain's elections, check out this informative article on BBC News.

My boss rocks!

A message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:


"Here at the State Department, I am grateful every day for the work of our LGBT employees who are serving the United States as Foreign Service Officers and Civil Servants here and around the world. It wasn't long ago that these men and women would not have been able to serve openly, but today they can because it has gotten better. And it will get better for you."

In praise of: Dubai!

DSC00172  When you're stuck on a tiny isolated spit of sand in the middle of the Persian/Arabian gulf, a feeling of "island fever" quickly sets in. Thank goodness for Dubai. 

Just 45 minutes flight from Bahrain, Dubai is a welcomed excape. Though still relatively unknown to Americans, Dubai is a major tourist destination for Europeans. Dubai is the Vegas of the Middle East, with a bit of Disney World thrown in for good measure. It's home to the world's tallest building (The Burj Khalifa, left), the world's largest shopping mall which contains the world's largest aquarium, one of the world's largest indoor ski slopes, world-class hotels, restaurants, clubs, beaches and more. It's OTT to the extreme. Everything is bigger and better in Dubai.  During my years covering the war in Iraq, I traveled through Dubai a half dozen times, and every year it seemed to double in size.

Last week, Mr. Crab returned to Dubai to attend a work conference. Mrs. Crab joined me after and we spent the weekend skiing, eating and visiting with friends. Dubai has changed alot since we were last there in 2007. Dubai now has a great metro system, alleviating the city's infamous traffic congestion. Dubai was greatly affected by the global recession but things are slowly getting back to normal.

The flight from Bahrain to Dubai is only 45 minutes, making for an easy weekend getaway. And thanks to heavy competition, roundtrip tickets are less than $150 on Gulf Air or low-cost carriers such as Bahrain Air and FlyDubai. Not surprisingly, Dubai is not cheap. Hotels, food and drink are quite expensive, though taxis and transportation costs are much cheaper than Bahrain.

Two Crabs top Dubai recommendations:

--Friday Brunch at The Westin Mina Seyahi (about $100 per person, with unlimited food and beverages and Chinese acrobats, located in a food hall as large as an airplane hanger).

--Le Meridien Dubai Airport ($120 per night. Home to nine fantastic restaurants and bars)

--Ski Dubai ($45 for two hours. Includes skis, boots, poles, ski jacket, ski pants and lift ticket. Bring your own hat and gloves; you'll need them!)

--Dubai Metro (Trains run every 5-7 minutes. About $.55 cents per ride when using the NOL top-up card).

--Jumeriah Beach Park, Dubai.  Best public beach without the pricey hotel beach admission fees. Admission about $.50 cents.

--Great lounges: Barasti Beach Bar in Jumeirah; Bar 44 and Buddha Bar at Grosvenor House; Vue at Emirates Towers; Apres at Dubai Mall (overlooking Ski Dubai); Neos at The Address Downtown Dubai (great views and atmosphere but pathetically-slow service).

Scenes from Dubai:

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In praise of: Al Dar Island

A continuing series exploring expat life in Bahrain.

When I was first assigned to Bahrain, my CDO left me a hand-written note in my welcome packet, raving about all the "beautiful beaches" in Bahrain. After three months in Bahrain, we're still asking: What beaches? 

Bahrain is an island with few beaches. Around the coast, the land simply ends in a pile of rocks and drops off into the Persian Gulf (aka Arabian Gulf). Most of the sandy beaches that did once exist have sadly been destroyed by land reclaimation projects, or fenced off as private property for beachfront homes, or for hotel beaches that are only accessible to guests. There are only two free public beaches in Bahrain, and they are not recommended. 

Thankfully for us beach bums, there's Al Dar Island -- a crescent-shaped, tiny spit of sand located about 10km off the east coast of Bahrain. On Saturday, the Two Crabs & friends packed our beach towels and sun block and headed to Sitra fishing port. There, you pay 10BD ($26.50) admission fee and hop on the water taxi for the short ride across the straits, past several oil refineries and factories to the island.  The island has been recently renovated with all new facilities including a locker room with showers and changing rooms, a small lighthouse that contains restrooms, a resident donkey named Bup, and a small restaurant/bar serving up grilled kebabs, fresh fish, Caribbean cocktails and super-friendly staff.  You can also rent paddle boats and jetskis or go on a pearl diving or dolphin watching trips. But the real attraction is the small but tidy beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas. The beige sand is soft and inviting, dropping into a cove filled with small fish and kelp forests. But be careful: the current is surprisingly strong; if you're not a good swimmer, you might find yourself half-way to Iran! Admission to Al Dar is strictly limited to only 150 people per day, so it never feels overly-crowded.

There are lots of new activites and attractions planned for the future. During our visit, half the island was closed for the construction of several beach bungalows that will soon be available for rent.  Solar panels and windmills will soon provide green power for the island.  Al Dar will also be hosting monthly beach parties with DJs and dancing. It may not be St. John USVI, but if you're in Bahrain, Al Dar it's definately worth a day trip.

A few more scenes from Al Dar:

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