|Vol XXVIII||NO. 156|
BY Amira Al Hussaini
My grandmother died just a few days ago. I did not go to the burial ceremony. I just couldn't bear it. I couldn't muster enough courage to see how we will all end up one day, so I stayed at home and wallowed in self-pity.
It is so hard to imagine that she has gone, that the day I once had nightmares about has come.
I keep waiting for someone to pinch me and tell me it's a bad dream, that it's not true.
She lived a simple life and left this world without much fanfare.
Though she was a grandmother to us all, she was actually my mother's aunt.
My real grandmother died at the age of 35, when my mother was young.
So when we were children, my mother's aunt took the place of granny and lived up to the role and more.
She is the only granny I have known, but she was even more than that.
She is the past that has gone, never to come back. The true spirit of Bahraini women.
At a young age, she was married off by her father to a much older pearl merchant, from a seaside village.
A few years later, her husband succumbed to bad debts and misery and eventually died, leaving her with two boys sick with sickle cell anaemia and a daughter.
They continued living in the village because in those days, that was it.
A woman's fate was sealed with marriage - wherever that took her.
Despite the terrible times, she held her head high and never once complained.
Her eldest son died just after getting married and starting a family.
Her second son died few years later and her daughter got married to a Saudi relative and moved to the Eastern Province.
My mother became a daughter to her and she became the mother my own mother missed and for us, she took the place of the grandmother who died before we were born.
She stayed in our house when we were growing up and then moved back to her real grandchildren when we were old enough to stand on our own feet.
I was the most attached to her because, to tell you the truth, I would actually sit down when told to sit, shut up when asked us to be quiet and do chores as best as I could - and I owe all that to her.
She taught me how to stitch and embroider. She would bring all this fabric out and thread of all hues and together we would stitch motifs and flowers and birds, on everything from pillow cases to my T-shirts.
Now she is gone.
She would tell me tales of the past - the Bahraini version of fairy tales - which she spiced up and altered to fit the mood and situation.
Now she is no more.
She lived to be old and deaf and her tongue got heavy with the passage of years.
Every time I saw her lately, she would ask me if I had just come back from school and whether I had finished my homework - even though I finished school 15 years ago.
I can always remember her being old. She saw her own children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, yet I would have loved for her to have hung on still longer, to see my own children yet to come.
She was there for me as a child, picking up after me, teaching me right from wrong, giving me lessons in life and opening my mind to interesting hobbies.
I owe her a lot, but the truth is that as much as she was good to me, giving me and brother and sisters her unconditional love and care, I have let her down badly.
My visits to her grew infrequent, even though she lived close to places I go to regularly.
I was selfish and couldn't bring myself to see her sick and bedridden.
It broke my heart, but as much as I loved her, I shunned her.
At my hour of need, she was all there for me... at her hour of need, I was too busy.
May Allah bless her soul in peace and may he forgive me for being the ungrateful grand-daughter I had become.
May he forgive me for being just to too busy with life to look back and care for someone who meant and gave so much.
I am thrilled to read that the Indian government is finally taking steps to safeguard the legal rights of its citizens in the Gulf.
Although it is long overdue, I seriously hope establishing legal aid offices attached to embassies will redress an unenviable situation a lot of migrant workers find themselves in when they run into trouble with the law.
Many of those workers are uneducated, poor, confused and very scared, even though they may have done nothing wrong.
They find themselves in trouble because of their own naivety or thanks to unscrupulous employers, who think they own those people because they have agreed to leave their countries and work here as their 'slaves'.
In life, there is nothing which infuriates me more than people who don't stand up for their rights.
But there is nothing much they can do when there is no one to guide them and walk them through the illogical maze of our legal systems.
The situation is simple, people cannot do much about their lost rights when they don't know what they are, to begin with.
The decision to provide legal advice to destitute workers who may land in trouble with the law because of lack of awareness, or because they have been abused, is probably the best development that has happened to address the condition of Indians in the region in a very long time.
I hope that other governments will follow the lead and develop similar schemes for their migrant workers.
It hurts me every time I see someone in trouble with the law, with no proper legal support or guidance, which invariably means that he or she will inevitably be denied justice.
The modern legal system is full of loopholes and it is only people with the wits and means to get legal advice before it is too late who get a better deal.
A few months ago, I was approached by an Indian friend to help another Indian in a situation with his 'sponsor'.
He explained the problem and I asked him to go to his embassy and complain. There was nothing I felt we could do as a newspaper, as it was an individual case.
The worker had his share of woes and the employer was ready with his counterattack, which as is the norm in such cases involve accusing the worker of stealing an X amount of money from the company.
The fact that the sponsor had extorted tens of thousands of dinars from the poor Indian since illegally renting his commercial registration in 1997, was irrelevant, because the law is tipped in favour of the influential Bahraini, who had his tracks covered.
The victim had pumped almost BD60,000 to set up the business, money which he had lost overnight following a disagreement with his sponsor, who had wanted more money out of the deal.
With no legal advice or support and the looming threat of imprisonment, the victim signed over all his rights to the sponsor, in exchange for a return ticket home!
This disgusting situation repeats itself ever so often in Bahrain.
I hope embassies will show more resolve to help their citizens, who are cheated of the hard labour and forced to give up their rights, just because there is no one to stand beside them.
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 141|
By Amira Al Hussaini
Bonus today. Gone tomorrow! Government employees got a whopping bonus this month. A whole BD200 to spend as they please, as a thank you for their dedication and hard work towards Bahrain and its people.
And the workers were delighted.
I bumped into a driver from one of the ministries the day before the bonus was announced.
He couldn't stop smiling, I felt his jaw would fall off. He was actually singing to himself with excitement.
"Is it true that we will get our bonus tomorrow," he asked, drooling all over the place.
"Yes, but it's only BD200," I replied.
"Wow! Thank you. Thank you for letting me know. Thank you. May Allah prolong your life and may all your dreams come true.
"You really are the bearer of good news. I don't know what to do, but I am so happy. It's as much as my salary. This means I will be getting two salaries this month," he said.
"But what can you possibly do with BD200?" I asked, still not comprehending why anyone would be so happy over such a small amount of money, considering it was the first time ever for all government employees to get a bonus across the board.
"I will buy a new air-conditioner for the children. All six of them are in a room without an AC," he said.
This really left me speechless. He will spend his money to buy an AC for his children's room.
After waiting for years for this dream (the bonus) to come true, he will blow it on one purchase. An AC.
But with the temperatures soaring, I am not surprised that is the only thing he wants in life right now.
Two days later, I bumped into another government employee.
"You know what I did with my bonus?" he asked me.
"You bought an AC," I ventured.
"Yes. My seven children are so happy. The old AC was making a lot of noise and wasn't cooling the room," he said.
"I even took them to ... (a junk food joint), where they all had hamburgers. They have been nagging for months. I am so happy with the bonus. It couldn't have come at a better time."
Great. I wait for years for a bonus and then spend it on burgers and an AC.
I don't want to sound ungrateful, but do you really know what I would personally do if I were to get a BD200 bonus for my work. I would flush it down the toilet. But that's me.
I expect to be paid and appreciated in direct proportion to the work I do, and I certainly am worth more than BD200!
At least I think so.
A Sri Lankan housemaid is being terrorised in East Riffa by masked thugs, who are making her life a living hell. They not only knock on her door at night but have also dragged her out of the house, in an apparent attempt to kidnap her, in broad daylight.
The two men, dressed from head to toe in black, have reportedly done this before, to a different maid in the same house and the police have been informed.
But the first woman was too terrified to stay in Bahrain and has left the country, according to a report which appeared in Thursday's GDN.
Now another woman, who has left her family and home to come and work in Bahrain to make ends meet, is being targeted by what their employer believes to be the same duo.
The fact that this is happening just a few kilometres from where I live is frightening.
This isn't my Bahrain. This isn't where I was brought up and this isn't the level of security I expect from a country which is opening its doors wide open for foreign investors and tourists.
It was only last week that the GDN reported a court case in which a Chinese cook was kidnapped, locked in a room in a villa in East Riffa for five days and beaten by his captors, who threatened to kill him unless his family in China paid a ransom of 70,000 Yuan (BD3,451).
When police finally rescued this 25-year-old victim, he was found battered, bruised and malnourished, after being left with no food and water for three days.
What exactly is going on? I fully realise that these two incidents are not related, even though they both happened in East Riffa.
But the fact that they happened in an area inhabited by families is alarming and is a big cause for concern.
If this is not all, a little bit of investigation, has uncovered a mystery which should be addressed by the authorities as soon as possible.
Figures show that 18 people were kidnapped last year.
If this was Iraq, I would understand, but Bahrain? Eighteen people? Where were we? Why have they been kidnapped and what's happened to them?
Only two were kidnapped this year until June, says the country's top policeman.
This came straight from Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, in his address to Parliament in June, when our honourable MPs discussed crime rates in Bahrain.
Before someone goes on the rampage and attacks me for being the bearer of bad news, I would like to welcome you all to the new world order.
Apparently, we are not alone.
According to the Guardian, there is almost a kidnapping a day in the UK capital, London, mostly related to the underworld of crime.
Half of all the kidnappers and victims are foreign nationals, usually from the same ethnic group.
With the bombings and kidnappings and all, please don't ask what my plans are for the summer.
So we brush off a civilisation much older than 5,000 years, just because the people who built it were infidels ?
It has taken me a long time to come to terms with remarks made by MP Adel Al Maawda when parliament discussed the historic A'ali Burial Mounds on July 17, as I find myself running to my medicine cabinet every time they cross my mind.
This honourable MP described the Dilmun Civilisation (3000BC) as "some ancient civilisation from another place and time" !
He was speaking to parliament, made up of Bahrainis elected to office by free elections by the people of Bahrain, during dicussions on whether to sacrifice what remains of the historic burial mounds for housing projects, to meet growing demand for land and homes.
This is a very legitimate concern, especially considering that there are at least 30,000 families on waiting lists for homes from the Works and Housing Ministry.
This is a very plausible cause when we realise that the prices of homes have soared to unprecedented levels, making it difficult for even people earning relatively high salaries to consider buying property in Bahrain.
I fully realise that building for the living is necessary, but our history is just too precious to allow bulldozers ravage it to please the whims of an MP who thinks nothing of those graves, other than as reminders of Bahrain's non-Islamic past.
For him, there is "no need to preserve more mounds since all of them look the same."
To add insult to injury he boasts, that he is "not proud for the country to be associated with the burial mounds."
"We must have pride in our Islamic roots and not some ancient civilisation from another place and time, which has only given us a jar here and a bone there," he told parliament.
So what does this MP think we should do with our blasphemous past ? Do like the Taliban did, when they savagely attacked the Buddha statues of Afghanistan?
Or disown our heritage because the people of Dilmun were not Muslims, because Islam has only existed for about 1,500 years?
Who are we to judge not only people living around us and to infringe on their personal freedoms and beliefs, but also those here long before us ? The way some people think leaves me gasping for air.