News that demand for personal loans has fallen from BD681.3 million in 2004 to BD656.2m last year must have been welcomed with relief in many quarters - except banks of course!
Who would want to see his profits drop, even if it was an indicator of a number of things, including perhaps that people have started to realise the dangers of the vicious circle of being in debt, the futility of trying to keep up with the richer Johns, or have become so poor that no bank will risk giving them loans.
A number of banks have actually expressed their disappointment, blaming the Bahrain Monetary Agency for the fall.
While it doesn't take a genius to figure out the reason for their dismay, I find myself thinking how long will the Bahraini society continue to survive on loans, with many living way beyond their means to sustain false appearances.
Many youngsters, myself included, took the bait and reaped the short-term benefits of loans early on in their lives, only to regret it later as the repayments became a burden and one loan led to another, spanning a few decades to pay off.
I personally had to take a loan to buy myself a car at the beginning of my career, since every job demands transportation. As I climbed the ladder, I thought I needed a better car, to reflect my new status, if not my salary!
This called for another loan, even though I hadn't completed the first loan and you would assume that once bitten, I would be twice shy.
Since I had already borrowed money and was in debt, there was no harm in adding insult to injury and treating my mother to a new car too.
Well to say the truth, she deserved it and I shouldn't be bragging about it years later.
As I was already up to my eyeballs in loans, there would really be no chance for me to see the world and enjoy myself without having to borrow more money.
So a third loan sealed the deal and booked me holidays to Europe and the US, which I still boast about today - without mentioning that my travels and expenses were made possible thanks to bank loans and not my ingenuity in saving money.
Needless to say, I never enjoyed the thrill of a full salary as it was distributed as soon as it was deposited in my account, while the banks doubled, tripled and quadrupled their profit at the expense of fools like me who always think they have made a great deal, when in reality they have been taken for a ride!
* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
It is great to see common sense prevailing at last and the Doulos being allowed to sell books!
But I still cannot bring myself to understand the rationale behind the decision to allow the world's largest floating bookshop to dock at Mina Salman, but ban it from selling its books!
It was like chopping someone's hand off and giving him a pen!
What have we got against the written word? Wasn't it the Holy Quran that ordered the believers to read? Wasn't it Prophet Mohammed who instructed his people to seek knowledge?
Why was the Doulos allowed to call on us, if we were to snub it and show the rest of the world our fangs and our "great sensitivity" towards books as if they were the plague?
Why were people who read in Bahrain herded like horses to water, but denied to drink from it? It's not like we are spoilt for choice when it comes to books in Bahrain so that the floating bookshop posed a threat to local businesses.
The sad fact is that if anything, we need more cultural activities and books to encourage people to learn, expand their horizons and fight intolerance and backwardness.
Revising the decision will not eradicate it overnight, but is a step in the right direction.
A quick search on the web exposes a sad reality, not only in Bahrain, but in the rest of the Arab world.
According to the 2002 Arab Human Development Report, Arab countries produced 6,500 books compared to 102,000 in North America and 42,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Citing Unesco figures, the report says that book production in Arab countries is only 1.1 per cent of world production, although Arabs make up 5pc of the world's population.
To add insult to injury, Arabs produced no more than 1,945 literary and artistic books, making up 0.8pc of international production.
This is less than a country such as Turkey produces - with a population about a quarter of that of Arab countries, according to the report.
What a shame!
I will never forget how, after every holiday abroad, my bags were searched at Bahrain International Airport - not because they contained contraband items, but because they were full of books that made custom officers jump up and down with excitement!
The fact that the books were in English and contained very little graphics made them ponder on them longer than they would with other items, until I intervened and told them they were for my studies.
And I wasn't lying, for it was from books that I have learned more than I have at school, university and my working experience - all put together.
*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 350|
For the 40,000 families on waiting lists for government housing, there can't possibly be better news than the BD100 monthly windfall promised by the Premier.
While the amount will go a long way towards helping them meet increasing rent and possibly even afford better accommodation, I can't bring myself to imagine the costs the government would have to shoulder to meet this gesture, considering housing projects are coming up at snail's pace and the waiting lists and periods are, if anything, just increasing.
But it is a gesture, which once again reinforces the government's commitment to ensuring a decent dwelling for every Bahraini family, as stipulated in the Constitution.
Because of a lack of lands, haphazard planning, poverty, unemployment and the sad reality that there are so many dilapidated homes - which I will not bring myself to call slums - in many areas of Bahrain, it brings hope to many impoverished families which would otherwise have to continue stomaching appalling living conditions.
It is a remedial measure, which will at least help many families make ends meet and move to better accommodation.
It will be particularly helpful for the swarming families, who live like sardines in one room in an ancient family house that is too shocking, but accepted as reality in many villages and even towns in Bahrain.
BD100 a month will help them rent another shanty dwelling, which they will finally be able to call home, as they continue to wait for their promised home.
I really wouldn't want to be in the shoes of housing officials in Bahrain, for the issue is really a sticky one.
Most lands are privately owned, land prices are escalating at breakneck speed, the harsh arid desert climate is taking its toll on existing homes faster than government homes are actually being built and people are getting more and more frustrated with the long wait for a refuge, which will elevate their status from sardines to people who can at last aspire to dream of a better tomorrow.
For all the pessimists out there, who think that this gesture is another cosmetic fixture to appease the disgruntled, I say that something is surely better than nothing.
It is a laudable move that will enable the poor to breathe a sigh of relief at last.
My only hope is that the government itself deals with paying the deserving citizens their housing allowances in a transparent and systematic manner as soon as possible and not leave it to parliament or the municipal councils to fight over.
*Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Batelco is doubling its authorised capital from BD100 million to BD200m! Hurray! What does this mean to me and you and all the other consumers under their mercy?
Will it mean lower phone and Internet bills?
I doubt it, not as long as their profits are climbing steadily - despite the "increasingly competitive telecommunications environment" if I am to use the words of its chairman Hassan Ali Juma.
But let's face it, telecom companies are the same the world over and as a lucrative business, their primary concern isn't to bring you closer to your dear loved ones as much as to bring them closer to your dwindling purse.
When we first arrived in Canada, we shopped for a few weeks for the best telephone deal.
With all the promotions and competing companies that was possible, even encouraged by companies, which actually give you the chance to compare their rates with the competition.
I opted for the $25-a-month unlimited local calls mobile phone - one for me and another for my better half.
I was cursing and swearing for the first month about how much I have been ripped off for years when I now have a better deal for a much lower price. That was until the first bill came. It was a whopping $200!
Angered at being taken for a ride again, I picked up the phone and called the company, explaining in as many words as I could put in a sentence how enraged I was.
What on earth was I thinking? Did I really think I would get a deal from a telecom company?
They said there were installation charges, connection fees, a fixed amount for caller ID, charges for receiving overseas incoming calls, another few dollars for ability to access the emergency number and other miscellaneous charges I would rather not draw the attention of telecom providers in Bahrain to - and all this multiplied by two! Oops!
And before I forget, there is of course the 15 per cent tax on almost everything here, including your phone bill.
But like it or not it is necessary and without it, I frankly feel naked, lonely, insecure and vulnerable to almost everything.
It is my guardian angel and the only means in which I can get access to my family and friends with the click of a button until I get home and make myself comfortable on my sofa and log on to the Internet!
This is where a new world opens, hugs me with its open arms and throws me into the heart of my Isa Town home - where my family huddles around the PC listening to me and seeing me live, doing monkey faces and relating to them how good or bad my day went.
My one-year-old nephew Ali thinks I actually live inside the computer, which I really do, waiting for the minute my loved ones come online - when Batelco's servers are having a good day!
* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Nothing warms the heart this winter more than meeting former Bahrain residents and reminiscing about the Bahrain they knew until they left - the land of peace, calm and tranquillity and where the hospitality and friendliness of Bahrainis smothers you to death.
It fills me with pride and joy to know that Bahrain has carved a niche for itself in the hearts of all those who have passed by the Land of Dilmun and experienced life as it was in that magical oasis of peace.
"But what is happening in Bahrain now?" asked a man, who left Bahrain in 1995.
"What do you mean?" I answered, trying to sound as naïve as I possibly could without laughing.
"All the attacks on foreigners," he ventured to explain.
"It isn't that bad, just isolated incidents," I replied, trying to steer the conversation to another topic.
"And all the stabbings and armed robberies," he pressed.
"What stabbings?" I interrupted.
"You know. Locals stabbing expats!" he said.
"No, I don't. And no society is immune to crime."
All of a sudden the friendly Bahrainis have become knife-wielding vandals going about stabbing and attacking expatriates, as a part-time job or a form of recreation, I presume.
As much as such generalisations annoy me, what annoys me more is the fact that workers are being attacked and the incidents are brushed aside as if nothing had happened.
The perpetrators aren't punished simply because those victimised do not have the protection necessary to make them equal in front of the law.
Over the previous two weeks, two attacks were reported in the GDN. One involved a Nepali employee attacked by a Bahraini at Al Muntazah Supermarket in Hoora, for no reason.
The other was about an Indian driver dragged out of his minibus and punched by a local, following an accident in Salmaniya.
Would those two have been attacked had they been locals? Would the man involved in the accident punched the driver had he been a Bahraini, wearing a thobe and driving a Mercedes?
They would have thought twice, just as they should have done if they had any respect for themselves and understood the gravity of their actions and how they are interpreted by people around the world.
Violence is an unacceptable form of dialogue and as such should not be tolerated, if we are to protect the reputation of our country.
Whatever happened to reasoning, in a civilised manner?
* Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 328|| |
With Valentine's Day around the corner, there couldn't have possibly been a better time for one particular story to hit the headlines.
I can actually see men and women queuing up at pet stores, booking parrots as gifts for their loved ones.
Chris Taylor, of Leeds, England, thought his lover Suzy Collins was faithful, until their big-mouthed parrot ratted her out.
The couple was cuddling on the sofa when Ziggy the African grey suddenly sqawked: "I love you Gary".
To add insult to injury, the parrot also made smooching sounds every time the name Gary was repeated.
Ms Collins admitted that Gary was a lover she had been making hay with at home while Chris was out.
As a result, the girlfriend was booted out, along with the eight-year-old parrot, since Chris could not stand to hear him repeatedly calling Gary's name.
What really surprised me though is that Chris did not see any tell-tale signs, especially as the couple were conducting their affair at his apartment.
It must have been a rude awakening when Ziggy let the cat out of the bag, proving without doubt that parrots and not just dogs can be a man's best friend.
But there is a lesson to be learned from Chris' heartache - animals are more faithful than humans.
Having grown up in a household full of pets, I find this story amusing to say the least.
The pets we have had and still have are a source of great joy for all of us.
The parrots we have had and still have didn't create family feuds and our Persian cats were mute.
My hamsters would sometimes create a racket, but they didn't reveal anyone's secrets and my turtles, bless them, were oblivious to their surroundings. The most hilarious creature to walk into our house was the aptly-named Iguana, who made heads turn and squeamish girls scream their heads off when it as much as moved his head.
One day, Iguana decided to inspect our neighbourhood.
Before long we had our neighbours knocking on our door screaming, that our 'dinosaur' had escaped.
I wish they had done the same when one of our cats went out for a stroll.
As soon as it stepped outdoors, someone snatched it, put it in a cardboard box and went running off to sell it at the Isa Town flea market.
Amira Al Hussaini currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 293|
Doctors say that the only way to fight cancer is by early diagnosis. While they cannot guarantee a 100 per cent success rate in the treatment of all cases, the fact remains that patients whose illness is detected early fare better than those who have unknowingly suffered the disease until it was way too late.
Having said this, confronting cancer takes a lot of dedication, a strong will and an optimism to face an unknown tomorrow - whatever challenges it may bring.
It also takes the skills of a dedicated medical team, whose members know exactly what they are doing and the size, scope and implications of the vicious disease at hand.
In Bahrain, sectarianism, prejudice and discrimination are what are gnawing at our flesh, sapping dry our resources and tearing our nation apart.
Calls for a one-family spirit have proven to be a short-term balm for a cancer which is spreading by the day and which may prove terminal to the dream of a true democracy, adherence to human rights and a decent quality of life for all citizens and residents alike.
Fingers point out to one culprit when it comes to all the vices and problems at home and that is discrimination.
Every individual sees any concern or issue from his own perspective and is not ready to see the picture as a whole or to reach a compromise.
Every faction feels it is being wronged.
We seem to be at loggerheads and the future and reputation of Bahrain are far too dear to squander because of the egos and vanity of some.
When I was growing up, I had no clue what my sect was. All I knew was that I was Muslim, Arab and Bahraini - in no particular order.
My ethnic and religious background made no difference to me then, as it doesn't matter much to me today.
But society does not and never will judge me on who I am, but on who my parents are and on which part of the spectrum of ethnicities and religious ideologies they belong to.
I grew up in a truly cosmopolitan society. At school, we had Shias and Sunnis, Catholics and Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews, amongst others.
In my Utopia, we were all equal. It didn't matter what our colours or tongues were. We were all students with one goal - to get the out of school as fast and out into the world.
To be realistic, I could say the same about society at large, where people of different backgrounds are supposed to work together and co-exist peacefully.
The only difference is that real life is nothing like school. Maybe it is time they started mirroring each other.
Isn't it time to identify common goals and work towards achieving them?
|Vol XXVIII||NO. 281|
Do you miss Bahrain?" This is the question many people ask me day in, day out.
It has only been two months since I have left the home I have lived in all my life, the home of my fathers and theirs' before them.
I don't want to sound ungrateful or unpatriotic, but do you want to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
I am glad I am out of there. I am enjoying the experience of being free and independent and I am relishing my time off work, during which I can read, write, paint - or just learn to keep house.
For the first time in my life, I am learning how to operate a washing machine, a microwave and an oven, not that we didn't have those commodities in Bahrain.
On the contrary, we had all those gadgets and more, but because we were so pampered and protected by our families, everything was ready for us when we got home or rather to the "hotel", as my mother refers to it.
Being away from home hasn't hit me yet and I really don't know whether I miss Bahrain or not.
It could perhaps be because we have been adopted by Indian friends, who lived in Bahrain for 19 years.
They have been here for eight years, but still love everything Bahraini and it is perhaps down to them that we have not yet felt the pangs of homesickness.
At this point, all I'm sure about is that I miss my immediate family, my mother, sisters, brother and their children and my dear and near friends and relatives.
Life is not the same without them. I cry every time I speak to any of them - and I know it isn't because we are benefiting the telephone companies by running up high bills.
I also closely follow all that is being written about home and still get annoyed when I surf the Internet and read about some of the things happening back there.
My blood boils every time I hear about yet another demonstration or rally. I cringe when I see newspaper headlines and continue to read the same stories I have read over and over again.
But whatever the situation, whether daily occurrences in Bahrain bring me pride or shame, there really is and will never be any place like home. A home is where your heart is and not your house.
l Amira Al Hussaini currently lives with her husband in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
I am delighted that someone out there has finally woken up to the fact that what our labour market seriously lacks is WORK ETHICS.
It doesn't matter how many more millions - or even billions of dinars - we pump into training and rehabilitating our 20,000 unemployed people for jobs on the market if we don't focus on infusing this into those programmes.
The Labour Ministry has said that it will spend at least BD30 million on training Bahrainis next year and an undisclosed "lesser" amount the following year.
So far so good, because if we really want to find a solution to this mounting problem, which could grow out of proportion and cause chaos overnight, we really need to spend money.
But wasn't it only in recent history that BD25m was siphoned off for what was supposed to have been the magical solution for our unemployment problems?
The deal was that the Labour Ministry would be restructured, the unemployed trained for the jobs market and we would live happily ever after.
Whatever happened to our BD25m? I know this isn't the issue and I don't want to probe too deeply. What concerns me today is how much more do we need to spend to teach people that work is an essential part of life, that people work to live and live to work and that without something meaningful to do, a person's life is worthless?
How many more strategies do we need to draw up to teach people to wake up early, show up at work on time, take fewer days off sick and spend their hours at work doing what they are supposed to be doing - working, perhaps?
It doesn't matter if it's your first job or you have a PhD in the field you are working in; it means nothing if you have been merely keeping that chair warm for 30 years; and no one cares if you are the only one in your specialisation to have ever set foot in Bahrain.
What really matters is how professional you are in doing your job; how dedicated you are in serving your community; and how much you respect yourself and your job.
Introducing work ethics into training programmes is a sound policy, which I hope would be followed through to the end.
Let's start with the work ethics of those implementing training programmes. Their mission should be to serve Bahrain and only Bahrain. There should be no hidden agendas, no favouritism and no abusing the system for personal gain!
I hope I have made myself clear. Now get back to work!
TWO policemen are behind bars for bribery. They were caught in an undercover operation following a tip-off from a man who claimed that they had promised him a job as a policeman in exchange for money.
On the one hand, I am over the moon that the Interior Ministry has provided us with this scoop. We didn't ask them for the information. We had no inside knowledge. They supplied it voluntarily!
I don't know if this is a one-off, or whether we will get to hear about more horror stories from their closed quarters in this era of open speech and democracy.
I don't even know whether we will be given access to information and be able to tell our readers what the fate of those who abused their responsibilities towards their profession and their nation would be.
On the other hand, I am scared. Scared because we put our trust in our police force and the last thing we want to hear is that some are corrupt, take bribes and abuse the very principles of the system they are being paid to uphold.
I realise that not all people are the same. I understand that if one policeman is corrupt, it doesn't mean that all policemen are. But I also know that if there is one rotten apple in the barrel, we need to empty it, and weed all the bad ones out before we end up with a stinky mess.
While I applaud the Interior Ministry for having the courage to make this announcement in black and white, telling the whole world that it is cleaning up its own backyard, I would want to see more openness.
By this I mean, I would want them to tell us what is going to happen to those who have abused the trust placed in them.
Like any other citizen, I want to know what the punishment of those who have let the system down would be.
For it would really be a shame to announce that we do have corrupt policemen and then do nothing to show what was done to them to serve as a deterrent to others and build back some trust the system urgently needs.
Vol XXVIII NO. 179
A friend of mine called me yesterday wailing and crying.
I had thought that there was a catastrophe, or perhaps someone had died.
But no. Her problem was with a colleague of hers…who was cooking her lunch in the office during lunch break.
Before my friend knew it, she was gasping for fresh air. The entire office reeked with the smell of cooking fish. There was smoke everywhere. And the fire sirens didn’t go off, because there simply wasn’t a fire siren in the building! But we will not go on about safety in the work place now because it was no longer an office. It was a dirty old kitchen with very bad ventilation.
And what was worse, was that my friend had a business meeting scheduled in 10 minutes.
She had to cancel the appointment and evacuate the office and was still angry about the situation way into the night.
When she told me about her ‘situation’ I was simply speechless.
It took me back to the days when I was at university and had to teach in a government school for three months as part of the requirements for my Bachelors degree in English and Education.
Do you know what I saw in the teacher’s room everyday? No. This isn’t a scene from an Egyptian sit-com. It was real. The honourable teachers had their vegetables sprawled all over their tables and were busy chopping cucumbers, aubergines and lady’s fingers to name a few. Of course, they were also peeling potatoes and carrots and exchanging recipes, among other things!
What is it with people who have ZERO respect for their workplace? If the aforementioned woman was mad keen to fry her fish and eat it, why didn’t she go home to cook her offensive meal? And if those teachers were so torn between wifely duties and their teaching profession as teachers, why did they find it so difficult to make a choice?
A woman’s place is in the kitchen indeed but this is no excuse to bring the kitchen to the office.
Make up your mind woman…there are a lot of jobless people out there! Who says you are indispensable?
It's back to school again. Tell-tale signs are all over the roads in terms of cars packed with bouncing children; parents driving with their offspring hanging out of the windows; responsible parents driving with them on the front seat and even more responsible parents zig-zagging through traffic at breakneck speeds - without their seatbelts.
And we all know how annoying it is to drive along congested streets every day.
With the road planners we have in this country, I am surprised anyone gets anywhere he wants on time.
To get from Isa Town to Manama, for instance, one has to set off a good 45 minutes in advance to reach one's destination in time.
But this isn't what annoys me the most in bottlenecks. What really rattles me is the fact that I can see other drivers up close and sometimes personal.
Have you noticed how many have given up wearing seat-belts? Do the morons know that those car "accessories" are there for their protection and aren't decorative ornaments.
I was unlucky enough to be stopped by a policeman at the roundabout. Since I was the first car, I had a bird's eye view of all those driving past me. Out of the 50 plus drivers who drove past, only SIX were wearing their seatbelts.
This made me cringe. This is 12 per cent of the drivers I studied in a little over three minutes. And the policeman waving at them to move, didn't even wink. I guess he has given up.
Why am I annoyed? I wear my seatbelt and ensure that everyone who rides with me is safely fastened up in his seat.
But there is a national responsibility and a role each one of us has to play to ensure that people are aware of the dangers such reckless behaviour causes.
The police should also be tough and impose strict laws to force those careless drivers to buckle up.
If they aren't concerned for their own safety and that of their passengers, then I am sure they wouldn't mind parting with their hard-earned cash for fines.
Fine them please and fill up the Traffic Directorate's coffers. The money could go towards a fund to purchase artificial limbs for those maimed in accidents and pay bonuses to traffic policemen to encourage them to fine more drivers who have made it a hobby to break the law.
I hate alarm clocks and the person who came up with the concept to create them, those who manufacture them and all who sell them.
But like them or detest them, I have to use them - and with fervour. I have three which ring for at least an hour before I should really wake up, making a real racket, just to force me to get my sorry self out of bed to face another day at work.
Actually, all the noise they make gives me a headache - not a good jumpstart for my day or for anyone else's day in our entire neighbourhood. And yet, I wake up and sleep drive to work, everyday.
Don't get me wrong - for I am not the lazy type. I do wake up early on holidays, and am full of life otherwise, especially when I leave the office at night. It's just the mornings when I have to come to work which are difficult, unbearable and seem to drag. And that's six out of seven mornings for you out there who have the luxury of a five-day week!
It's just that not everyone is enthusiastic about getting up in the morning to go to work - and I admit I am amongst this group of disenchanted citizens. In fact, I could be named Most Disenchanted Citizen of the Year for my immense hatred of getting out of bed in the morning. I despise getting out in the summer heat and leaving my cool crisp sheets behind and I loathe leaving the warmth of my duvet to face the bitter cold of winter.
But it's a fact of life which I have to face everyday. Like everyone else who is employed, I have a choice.
If I want a job - then I better wake up early and get to work on time.
And I better work, if I want to improve my prospects in life and achieve something tangible. And I better put all my power and might into what I do, if I want to climb the ladder and make my way to the top.
If this isn't what I am up to, then why should I wake up to begin with?
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.
By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
Here's a small lesson in mathematics and a big lesson in life. There is no need to put your thinking caps on because I will take through the problem step-by-step.
Apparently, resident doctors working at the main government hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex, are being paid BD800 a month for putting up with workloads of up to 120 hours a week.
This means that they work for a phenomenal 480 hours a month on an average - for peanuts.
I am saying peanuts because if you divide BD800 by 480, the result is BD1.600 per hour - or a packet of those salted roasted peanuts. In comparison, the person who washes your car makes BD1 for roughly 20 minutes of work and a part-time houseboy may earn BD1 an hour for dusting the house and watering the garden.
People look at to doctors wherever they go and say: "Wow ! It must be great being a doctor!"
Please don't get me wrong, for those I know in the profession - my husband included - tell me it is great being a doctor.
I am saying this not because it is a noble profession, but because many of those selfless people are doing it because they believe in the cause and are putting their lives on the line to spend more time with patients and ease their pain.
What is not great about being a doctor is the meagre pay cheque at the end of the month, for no-one can ever be satisfied with not getting what he is worth.
Discussing the plight of the over-worked and under-paid doctors is timely today, when you consider the demands being made by the jobless, along with the calls for social aid for those earning less than BD300 a month.
Everyone deserves to live a decent life. Everyone deserves an opportunity to improve his/her standard of living, but to do that, they have to be equipped with the essential skills necessary to ensure a place in the job market.
If qualified doctors are putting up with a demeaning situation and accepting it with a pinch of salt, while working in silence to improve their situation and redress the balance, why are others making so much noise?
Whoever said empty vessels make the most noise was right on the mark when it comes to the current situation in Bahrain.
Instead of dealing with the jobless protests with batons and teargas, it would be ideal to sit those people down and see exactly what they want.
A detailed study of their experience, education, training and work ethics would call their bluff.
For people who want to work are more systematic, organised and patient while working towards a long-term solution.
By Amira Al Hussaini
Would you do a 90 to 120 hour week for between BD600 to BD800 a month?
I know I wouldn’t, especially if my job description sets a normal working week of 37 hours and the rest is unpaid overtime.
But for hundreds of resident doctors in Bahrain, this is a fact of life.
Imagine that’s all you are worth slogging through school for 12 years, finishing the top of your class; six to seven years of intensive study at university and a year of training at Salmaniya Medical Complex for NO PAY.
Add to this five years of being rotated from one department to another, working 36 hour shifts with no sleep or time for a decent meal and seeing up to 50 patients a day – all for a pay cheque of a maximum BD800 a month.
There is only one word to describe a situation like that - demeaning.
To add insult to injury, those doctors are not even registered as medical doctors at the Civil Service Bureau and are treated as other Health Ministry employees.
There isn’t a cadre for them, there are no hazard allowances, there is no work insurance and because of the enormous workload, many don’t even get a thank you from many of their disgruntled patients.
To rub salt into an open wound, doctors in Bahrain are actually being paid only a third of what their counterparts in other GCC countries get !
I am happy to see that the Bahrain Medical Society (BMS) is finally taking a serious interest in the situation of doctors in the country, instead of paying lip-service to their plight.
Comments made by BMS president Dr Abdulla Al Ajmi is yesterday’s GDN are encouraging and should be followed through to the end.
Although it would not redress the balance, a 30 per cent increase in salaries would be a step in the right direction.
All the doctors I know have entered the profession with one goal, to serve their nation and their people and ease the pain of patients in their hour of need.
According to Dr Al Ajmi, at least 25 consultants and other doctors have already left Bahrain looking for a better future elsewhere.
It would really be a shame to lose more, especially in a country which counts its own people as its only real asset.
Vol XXVIII NO. 99 Monday 27th June 2005
By Amira Al Hussaini
A woman is kidnapped from the street, literally wrenched from her husband's grasp. Thugs pull a girl from a car and attack her in front of other passers-by, ripping her clothes, punching, kicking and biting her.
A student is gang-raped and a 12-year-old girl vanishes, with no trace even three years on.
Armed robberies in broad daylight, illegal drugs bought and sold, drive-by bag snatches and muggings almost every day.
New York? No, welcome to Bahrain - once a peaceful oasis in the Gulf, where people used to leave their cars and front doors open and go to sleep free of the fear of crime.
Rising crime is a reality in this modern age and a threat to the national security, economy and overall development of any country.
It doesn't take a genius to figure this out, just as it doesn't take a wizard to realise that something must be done if we are to be able to sleep in peace again.
My aunt's house was robbed a couple of years ago. The thief drove his car into her garage and emptied her house - stealing everything, right down to perfume and anti-wrinkle cream.
It was obvious he was comfortable in the knowledge that should he be caught, there wouldn't be much done to him.
It was evident that he was not afraid, not worried, not the least concerned about society's protective shield - its police force.
Every day people approach us with complaints about crime and when we ask them whether they have been to the police, they shrug their shoulders and ask: "What for, what will they do?"
It is a sad state of affairs when those men in uniform no longer have the respect the job demands, as the protectors and guardians of society from all the ugly faces of harm.
There is now talk about increasing the number of policemen to combat crime. That might be a short-term solution.
But the truth is that no matter how many times you increase the size of the police force, there is very little that can be done to reform people bent on breaking the law.
For in order to obey it, they must first respect it.
Even decent people will not help the police, if they do not respect them.
So the police must now fight on two fronts, to combat crime on one and to win the respect of the community on the other.
It is high time we stopped beating around the bush and got to the crux of it.
For the sake of Bahrain, for a better tomorrow, for a safe haven for our children, please bring back respect for the law - and the men who should enforce it.
Vol XXVIII NO. 95 Thursday 23 June 2005
BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
II have had it with people who only want to see their photographs in the newspaper, whether they deserve the coverage or not. I am disgusted by some who pretend to be champions of noble causes, when all they really want is to promote their shallow selves and get some free publicity out of their sorry attempts to provide shoddy services to society.
In my career, some of my most stressful experiences have been with such publicity-seekers, who believe in their own lies and fall prey to their own propaganda.
On the one hand, they are actually doing something and as such this warrants the publicity they get. On the other, they give us so much grief and push the limits just to have their events covered and their pictures plastered all over newspaper pages - even when we know that the motives strip their attempts of any decency.
There are people who will leave no stone unturned, resorting to everything from sweet talking to threats, for some self-publicity.
I wish I had the courage to publish their photographs here and name and shame them, for the heartache they have given me over the years excuses such an extreme measure.
It is so sad to see people who are supposedly working to serve the community, eat at each other's flesh and back stab each other for no reason other than to climb the social ladder and be the centrepiece of events.
I don't know what is more sad, their total lack of understanding of the concept of community service, or their constant struggle to out do each other in being the centre of attention - even when their attempts are ridiculous, petty and embarrassing to say the least.
No matter how many times I have encountered these hollow people who try to impose themselves on the social scene, they still continue to give me the creeps.
I still can't get them out of my mind and can't bring myself to try and understand this concentrated level of malignant narcissism, especially when I see many people working silently every day to bring humanity, dignity and respect back to voluntary work.
There are several examples of people who have worked in silence to help others and bring a quality to their lives, while refusing the publicity which others take for granted for their noble deeds.
Two immediately spring to mind. One is an Indian businessman who covered the expense of a cornea transplant to save a Bahraini woman from blindness.
The other is a local company which is without fanfare footing the bill to treat Baby Khadija Ali Radhi, whose plight was reported in the GDN, for a rare disfiguring disease..
Vol XXVIII NO. 83 Saturday 11 June 2005
By Amira Al Hussaini
Why is it that we have to keep up with the Jones' in everything we do?
Can someone explain to me why Bahrain is a nation in debt, with BD1 billion outstanding in personal bank loans?
The question here is how much of this money is the size of the actual debt and how much is interest incurred by unscrupulous banks, who try to sell poor people castles in the clouds?
Also, how much of this money actually went on necessities and how much more was spent on luxuries, from cars to expensive, sprawling homes, honeymoons and holidays to exotic locations, lavish weddings and education and treatment abroad?
I personally hang up on salesmen who call asking me if I want yet another credit card, or up to 20 times my salary in personal loans, with no questions asked.
I don't need to even think about it because I know that I don't want to get sucked into a vicious circle which will tighten a noose around my neck and make me regret every fil I borrowed, once the creditors come knocking on my door.
If I regret anything, it may be the rude way I attack those salesmen, who are probably working to pay off loans themselves.
People have the right to dream and fulfil their aspirations, but taking loans to make those dreams come true is like sinking into an abyss.
I know people who are scraping the floor to make ends meet and to pay those parasitical banks their loans, topped by an interest very close to the amount they borrowed, just because they wanted to show off with a flashy car and enjoy the perks of a first-class holiday.
My heart breaks every time I see a young couple borrowing money to start their lives and I wonder who really is behind this debt culture, which is reducing people to slaves, who work and toil all day just to pay off ridiculous interest rates.
I know that waiting to achieve a dream is difficult and not many people have patience, especially when advertisements for personal loans are so tempting and are now seen on billboards in the streets.
They even intrude into your privacy in the form of SMS messages on your mobile, whetting your appetite and making you drool for what you can have instantly in exchange for a cut of your income forever after.
Loans may be an easy solution for a sticky problem which is available over the counter without the need for a prescription.
But they are a hard pill to swallow and will impose dire consequences on a young nation, which will be shackled for years paying the price of what they enjoyed for only a few hours, days or months at the most.
Vol XXVIII NO. 67 Thursday 26 May 2005
By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
Our honourable MPs continue to baffle me.
On Tuesday, parliament met to discuss air pollution in Bahrain, among other trivial matters such as our national budget, caring for the elderly and salary increments for civil servants, to name a few.
The problem is that there is so little time left and so much to discuss before they take their long-awaited summer recess, thanks to their endless squabbles on whether music concerts should be allowed or banned in Bahrain.
As a result, issues have to be rushed.
All that time wasted discussing legitimate entertainment activities, which have been approved by the state, could have really been utilised to carefully scrutinise an issue as serious as the quality of the air we are forced to breathe.
Figures issued to MPs by the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife about the quality of air make no sense whatsoever.
However, not a single MP stood up at the meeting to question what they meant.
For instance, figures for the Southern Governorate show that the level of hydrocarbons (other than methane) in the air was 686 times above internationally acceptable levels, in a year.
What the report fails to mention is how many times the level of these gases was checked in a year, to give people a clear indication of what the level of pollution really is.
Another glaring omission is the lack of any data about the levels of such emissions in the Central Governorate, which covers the heavily populated areas of Isa Town and A'ali and the heavily industrialised areas of Sitra and Ma'ameer, because "equipment to measure them has broken down".
It is a common fact that no matter how smart you are, you cannot continue to fool people all the time.
But our MPs continue to surprise us because again, they have been fooled by a few figures which they couldn't decode to begin with.
Not one of them stood up at that meeting to ask why those figures were incomplete.
They should have asked why one of Bahrain's heaviest industrialised areas has been left without checks on the level of air pollution since 1997.
They should have called for the questioning of officials who year after year have pledged cleaner production and close to zero pollution.
If that is the case, and our industry is really clean, how can it be proved in the absence of figures.
If the pollution levels in those villages were really within regulations, why are the figures being hidden from the public.
Or, are the lives of people of Sitra and Ma'ameer cheaper than others?
Vol XXVIII NO. 51 Tuesday 10 May 2005
By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
"Amira, hasn't the GDN gone a bit overboard with stories about pimps, brothels and general prostitution?"
This is an SMS message I got on my mobile from a friend the other day.
In addition to being a dear friend, the sender is also a distinguished businessman and someone whose opinions I value and take to heart.
Instead of answering him in person, I chose to respond to it here, as I am fully aware that many readers find such stories disturbing.
As a Bahraini, I am shocked every time we hear about such incidents, even though they have become recurrent themes.
It hurts every time I hear about yet another woman being terrorised by thugs or a young boy or girl's innocence smeared by some human monster who thinks he can get away with his horrible act just because nobody is watching.
I am sorry we cannot change reality and the reality is that such things occur - even in our close-knit Muslim society.
Whether we like it or not, there are children being sexually abused, women raped and young boys sodomised and keeping quiet about it will not solve the problem overnight.
The latest story we carried in the GDN is about a muezzin, the very man who calls for prayer, who made sexual advances to a nine-year-old Bahraini boy at a Hamad Town mosque.
The case was heard in court and the judge jailed the 24-year-old muezzin for two years as a punishment for his hideous crime.
Did the GDN make up this story?
The answer is NO. We did not fabricate this story. In fact, it is not the first time that such a thing has happened in a place of worship and I am sad to say that it may not be the last time because there are hypocrites everywhere - even in mosques, churches, temples and government offices.
Instead of asking a newspaper to cover up on corruption in society, let's face reality and learn how to deal with it.
Maybe then we can come up with solutions and try and educate people about their rights and their responsibilities.
Covering up horror stories happening behind closed doors is not the solution. Sticking our heads in the sand won't take us anywhere and will definitely not take such problems away.
Not reporting those stories in newspapers will not mean that such ugly crimes are not happening in Bahrain.
Instead of blaming the GDN for carrying such stories, let's take a serious look at our society and see what it is that those perverts find sexually exciting in little girls and boys who should be left alone playing with their toys rather than be subjected to such life-damaging experiences.
Vol XXVIII NO. 50 Monday 9 May 2005
By Amira Al Hussaini
I would like to applaud Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa for having the courage to call a spade a spade.
In an unprecedented move, he has called for a full and thorough investigation of misconduct and criminal activity at the General Directorate of Traffic.
Now the allegations are not the usual ones we hear about, like someone having influence over someone else to change traffic accident reports, or cancel violations before they are entered into the computer system, or even to pass someone who should have failed the driving test.
No, they are much more calculated crimes, involving heavyweights with the influence and means to abuse their power and look like the innocent flower, while they are the serpents under it.
Shaikh Rashid has ordered a probe to investigate a string of car thefts, involving traffic officials and other influential people.
They have allegedly created a web to steal cars, change their number plates and chassis numbers in traffic records, register them in the names of foreigners who are living here or have left Bahrain and then resell them in the market!
Wow! That's a cracking plan - a great one had it been masterminded by the Mafia and not by the very people employed to safeguard people's rights and protect them from such criminal activities.
It is the fact that those people were entrusted with the responsibility to protect law and order that hurts most.
Who are we to turn to next time our car vanishes from outside our home? You see, not everyone is privileged enough to have a garage with a top-of-the-range security system.
Personally, I wasn't the least bit surprised when I heard about the scandal.
What has surprised me is that the Interior Ministry has actually announced it and is taking steps to stamp such practices out once and for all.
This is a step in the correct direction and corruption should be exposed to set an example for others that such unscrupulous behaviour will not be tolerated in our new democracy.
Just as the crime was announced in public, I hope that the results of the probe will also see light in order to bring respect to a ministry whose main job is to protect law and order.
There will always be certain individuals who are corrupt and who will abuse their positions no matter where you place them, just as there are people who respect themselves, their jobs and their uniforms.
I hope that the purge against corruption at the Traffic Directorate will be extended to cover other directorates at the Interior Ministry which have not moved with the times and are not ready to embrace the doctrines of this new era!
I also wish other officials would show such resolve to stamp out corruption in their ministries.
Vol XXVIII NO. 37 Tuesday 26th April 2005
By Amira Al Hussaini
It is disturbing news that Bahrain has decided to clamp down on websites, just as the country celebrates World Book Day.
Yesterday's stern warning to all webmasters to either register their sites or face legal action, has sent shockwaves down my spine.
To camouflage a law bent on infringing on the rights of people to express their opinion with clichés like protecting public freedom and safeguarding the rights stipulated in the 2002 reforms initiated by His Majesty King Hamad, is worrying.
It makes me and many others wonder what type of democracy we want to tell the rest of the civili-sed world we have.
Do we have a real democracy, or a tailor-made one under which people can do, say or think anything they want, as long as it falls in with the official line?
Instead of taking the opportunity of World Book Day to encourage people to read and write, express themselves and expand their horizons, the Information Ministry has now appointed itself as custodian of the worldwide web (www) and has created new restrictions to a service which provides people with information and entertainment at the click of a button.
The amusing question is how does the ministry think it can monitor and control all that appears on Bahraini or Bahraini-related websites, which number anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 and which can double in size overnight?
In the cyber world, which acknowledges no boundaries, censorship or secret police, where the word pours out from the heart and goes directly to the people, how does Bahrain expect to enforce this law, particularly on websites hosted by domains in other countries ?
What signals are the authorities sending to the rest of the world about democracy and freedom of expression and human rights in this country?
How will it punish people who refuse to register their on-line diaries, especially if they are personal or frivolous, such as details on their everyday lives, or the antics of their pets?
Why is Bahrain stubbornly disrespecting its citizens and refusing them space to breathe and develop and learn to respect themselves and others in the process?
Democracy is not born overnight.
It is a long learning process and trial and error are acceptable as long as mutual respect and the will to make things work for the benefit of all are there.
Is freedom of expression just a sound bite under our own version of Bahraini democracy?
Vol XXVIII NO. 35 Sunday 24 April 2005
By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
Bahrain's rich traditions were splendidly showcased in the annual heritage festival, which celebrated old weaponry and falconry this year.
The festival, which attracts thousands of visitors from Bahrain and abroad each year, is always a great opportunity for the young and old to rediscover the country's vibrant past.
It is hosted in a mock village, especially designed to take visitors to the old alleyways, homes, mosques and courtyards which made up Bahrain's neighbourhoods before the discovery of oil and the development it has brought with it.
As we toured it, the smell of kebab and khanfaroosh led visitors to a line of women preparing the delicacies in a corner in the village.
Traditional craftsmen could be seen going about their business, preparing everyday items the way they have been made for hundreds of years, with the skills passed down from one generation to another.
It was with this nostalgia for the simple days of Bahrain of the by-gone era that I took my five-year-old nephew to the heritage festival, which ended on Friday.
Yes, it was a very successful theme, with a lot of things related to weaponry and falconry available in abundance.
We found the women preparing the traditional Bahraini kebab and the falconers posing with their birds of prey.
We saw the camel, the donkey, the pony and the horse - things which would excite any boy of my nephew's age.
But he would not be tempted to ride any of them. I tried to bribe him with a kite in the colours of the Bahraini flag.
I offered to buy him a talking parrot. I even bought him lots of trinkets... but he was adamant that he wanted to leave.
"I want to go home," he grumbled.
"Don't you like the music and the animals?" I asked.
"I do, but this is a very dirty place," he replied.
I took a deep breath and then a look around me. It was a dirty place indeed.
There was waste paper and plastic bags flying in all directions.
In fact, litterbugs were everywhere while litter bins were rare.
I wasn't surprised that my nephew wanted out.
On our way out, he pointed to the waterfront.
"Look at all the rubbish here," he said.
"Why are you bringing me to dirty places? Let's go to Seef."
So much for an educational outing to instil some pride in a youngster about his country's heritage and history!
Vol XXVIII NO. 7 Sunday 27 March 2005
BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
The phone rings. You answer the phone. So far so good. You see, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Telephone conversations can sometimes be very annoying and I have managed to get unstuck on the phone many times in the past.
I can't stand beating around the bush; I am generally impatient and genuinely have a lot of work to do. I simply cannot waste my time with niceties on the phone; I can't discuss the weather and I can't give anonymous callers a minute-by-minute account of what I did with my husband last summer.
If you are unlucky enough to answer the phone at the Gulf Daily News on any given day, here is a transcript of a typical conversation:
Me: "Hello. Gulf Daily News."
Caller: "Hello? GDN?"
Me: "Yes. Can I help you?"
Caller: "GDN..Gulf Daily News...same same?"
Your guess is as good as mine as to why this person had called the newspaper to begin with. This is a regular occurrence. We get such phone calls several times a day.
Not that I am important or anything, but I sometimes have this feeling that people wake up in the morning with an agenda - Let's make Amira's life miserable today.
Telephone conversations with people who don't know whether they are going or coming or what they exactly want are exasperating and sap all your energy, especially after a long day at work.
Here's a another conversation I just had with a caller who wanted to speak to reporter Robert Smith:
Me: "Hello. Gulf Daily News."
Caller: "This GDN?"
Me: "Yes..GDN, Gulf Daily News same same."
Caller: "Robert there?"
Me: "I am afraid he is has gone out on an appointment. Would you like to leave him a message?"
Caller: "Yes. But this is GDN?"
Me: "Yes. This is the Gulf Daily News."
Caller: "Robert there?"
Me: "No. Robert is not here. He will come back later."
Caller: "But this is GDN?"
Me: "Yes. This is GDN. Robert is not here. Can I help you?"
Caller: "But this is GDN and Robert not there?"
Me: "No. This is GDN. Robert is not here. It is very simple. Do you have a problem understanding me?"
Caller: "Why you so rude?"
Me: "Why do you keep repeating yourself so many times?"
Caller: "But this is GDN!"
It is a lost battle. Just because it is the GDN, we are supposed to know everything and put up with abuse everyday.
Phone etiquette? Another cliché which has lost its meaning in the real working world.
Vol XXVII NO. 295 Sunday 9 January 2005
By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
It's already afternoon. There isn't anything useful to do. Been to all the coffee shops, seen all the friends you can stand being around and had it with shopping and trying on clothes which don't fit.
Life is boring. Every day is a repeat of the one before it and there is no hope things will ever change.
Whether it was that knight in shinning armour you have been waiting for all your life, a promotion at work or a child to brighten up your life, divine intervention seems to have left you on the shelf, ignoring your pleads and prayers for this one more thing which will make your life complete.
But here comes Umm Mohammed, the tested and tried "fortune-teller" who can bring a smile to your face in exchange and make all your dreams come true - even those far-fetched impossible ones - for a little money.
In addition to telling you your fortune, this sophisticated woman will give you advice on how to entice and keep a man, keep your mother-in-law at bay and make sure no-one takes that promotion you have had your eyes on.
She can also make sure that your children pass at school and that your neighbour's daughter doesn't get married before yours.
Umm Mohammed (a fictional name because I wouldn't dare make the real woman cross) is famous throughout Bahrain and beyond, with loyal and regular customers travelling from around the region to listen to her words of wisdom.
She knows what's troubling you from one look at a magical assortment of rocks, sea shells, coloured stones and metals, which she shakes in a woven basket.
The assembly of those stones, their proximity to other stones and how close they are to you when she tosses the basket's contents on the floor, have the answers to the problems which keep you up all night counting sheep.
For a BD10 consultation fee, Umm Mohammed can tell you why you suffer from insomnia and when you are going to travel on your next holiday.
Answers for more important questions related to your love life, promotion at work and magic potions to ensure that you or your spouse is pregnant before the next full moon are also available, for a price that may be in the thousands of dinars.
Traditional remedies I have heard of include carrying and burying talismans, burning incense until everyone in your household, including the cat, is suffocated and drowning your bedroom with rose water!
While the story of the man who accused his wife of sending demons to his house to terrify him, his mother and his maid may have spurred a few laughs amongst readers, the belief in sorcery is so common in Bahrain, it is frightening.
Men and women who claim to be possessed and have solutions for people's miseries are found in all of Bahrain's towns and villages and practice their "powers" in broad daylight, with the full knowledge of some very influential authorities, I should add.
With mounting pressures in life, I can sometimes understand why some people could be tempted to visit the "occult" for a consultation.
I don't know whether it is a total lack of hope that drives people to such practices, or whether there really is some truth in what those people claim to be able to achieve and I really don't want to know.
Thank God I have a full-time job and so much more on my plate, I haven't had time to take this route.
The only time I went with friends out of curiosity to check it out created some disharmony in my otherwise perfect life.
The fortune-teller we had visited was adamant that my better half was at a "gathering of friends" while I was insisting that he was at work, probably surrounded by his colleagues.
She was right. I was wrong.
The end result is that I will never allow anyone to tell me my fortune again. Yet.
Vol XXVII NO. 214 Wednesday 20 October 2004
By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
For BD40 a month, a housemaid is expected to toil 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She should clean the house, cook the food, wash the clothes, clean the garden (if there is a garden in the house) and in some cases even wash the cars (almost every house has a car).
If this is not enough, she is also required to look after the children and do her madam's pedicure!
In short, she is fully responsible for running the house and ensuring that all its occupants have everything they desire - from breakfast to reading bedtime stories for the children before they go to sleep.
In return, she should not get tired or sick or become slow and sloppy in her work.
She should also not complain or nag, even if she is a woman. After all, she was brought from her country to serve and as a servant, she should not talk back and demand any rights. Any resistance to law, order and servitude as put forward by the madam and sometimes even the boss, is punishable severely.
You should remember here that for every house there are different rules and regulations. There isn't a labour law to cover domestic workers, because like women, they fall under the family's wing and as such are immune from the law or rather, the law has no power over them. No one is allowed to interfere in the way a house is run - not even the law.
Very often we hear horror stories about how housemaids are being treated like animals, shackled to slavery and misery for the duration of their stay in the region.
This may not be the case for all the two million Asian maids working in the GCC without any legal protection, stipulated by a labour law, bound by a contract and governed by a set job definition. Housemaids here seem to be a jack of all trades, robotic machines who are supposed to work around the clock with no time off for changing oil and maintenance.
A study reviewed last week by GCC labour and social affairs ministers in Kuwait shows that housemaids are subjected to many forms of maltreatment, including sexual abuse and even rape, non-payment of salaries, being forced to do 'hard' work and working long hours and at the weekend.
Not many local families approve of giving their maids days off. The argument is that they are women and women could get up to mischief if left alone. The other issue raised by many madams is: if a mother can get a day off, then a housemaid could. Very funny! It is no wonder then that many a time, children develop a closer bond with their housemaid than their mothers. Mothers can leave the home and live their lives - not the housemaids.
Vol XXVII NO. 135 Monday 2 August 2004
BY AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
Have you ever heard of the crab mentality?
It is when crustaceans climb on top of each other to reach the summit, regardless of what happens to those crushed at the bottom.
I witnessed a similar phenomena - this time involving human beings - at the Bahrain International Airport the other night.
Rows of porters, from various Asian countries, lined up the roadside, along the entrance to the departures lounge.
The minute a car pulled up, they all rushed to help unload the luggage. If the passenger was an Arab or European-looking, he got the help intended for all passengers, regardless of their colour, race and creed.
If he was Asian - Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani - he was left to fend for himself.
It was a repulsive scene which said a lot about the mentality of people here. Isn't it ironic that there is a hierarchy even in menial jobs? You are rendered services depending on who you are, what your colour is and what your race is - even by people who are oppressed and discriminated against.
You would think that those down-trodden people would at least be sympathetic towards others in the same boat. Think again.
There was an instance when a Bangladeshi worker got out of a car and started loading boxes and bags onto a trolley. As he was trying to make his way up the walkway into the airport, he lost his step and all his boxes and bags came tumbling down. The reaction from the porters - the Asians from the sub-continent turned their backs to him. It was a Filipino or Nepalese porter who came to the rescue and helped him put together all that he had toiled so many years in Bahrain for.
I couldn't stop wondering why those people behave in such a manner and look down on people of their kind. Why is an Arab or a Westerner worthy of respect and service, but not a passenger from their own countries.
Those porters are employed by the airport for the convenience of all passengers. I checked for notices and it didn't say anywhere that the passengers had to be Arab or white to be served by the porters.
Another issue that screams for attention is why is there an army of Asian porters at the airport. Have all the Bahraini job-seekers found jobs overnight?
The airport could recruit Bahrainis and train them to meet, greet and bid farewell to visitors. They would be great ambassadors, especially if taught humility and respect for people - regardless of whether they will pay them tips or not.
Vol XXVI NO. 362 Tuesday 16 March 2004
By Amira Al Hussaini
Our legendary Tree of Life is being vandalised and no one is taking any notice. With nothing much to do in Bahrain during the holidays, we decided to visit Sakhir and pay homage to the tree which is celebrated around the world and virtually ignored at home.
True to its legend, the lofty tree - which is now old, fragile, a picnic spot and a refuse disposal point - continues to attract scores of people during the weekends and holidays.
Every tourist who visits Bahrain makes it a point to visit this mysterious tree whose source of water has continued to baffle scores of scholars over decades.
To my dismay, I wasn't at all pleased with what I saw. The tiny fence put up by Tourism Affairs a few years ago has done little to fend off vandals, who still climb the tree, break its branches and pen their names on it. The mighty tree, which can be seen from miles, is now a dying shrub which is being treated in an undignified manner by many of the people who visit it.
The place is like a garbage collection point, with plastic bags flying around it and caught in its broken, dying branches.
Fat people, well past their childhood, are using its branches as a jumping castle. Those people, most of whom were foreigners when I visited the tree, should be ashamed of the way they are re-paying Bahrain for its hospitality. This isn't what we Bahrainis expect from you.
Some of the Bahrainis there weren't faring better either, driving their four-wheel drives up to the tree - like it would hurt them to park their cars a few metres away and walk up to it.
But I am losing the point here and instead of lashing out at the illiterates who are vandalising the tree, I would like to know what the authorities are doing to prevent these atrocities being committed against our Tree of Life.
Bahrain is trying hard to draw clean tourism and I don't see this possible by keeping the Tree of Life area dirty. It is one of the few, if not the only, natural attractions in this country.
Plans to set up a small museum, a souvenir shop and a guards station near the tree must have been forgotten now. This is what we have been promised by officials years ago and it is the least we expect.
Vol XXVI NO. 296 Saturday 10 January 2004
By Amira Al Hussaini
BAHRAIN University students are being treated like kindergarten children. No, I am not exaggerating. It hurts me as a graduate to lash out at the institution I spent the best five years of my life in, but the recent developments and draconian rules imposed on its students can make the most rational people lose their cool.
It is as if all the 19,000 students on campus have no families to see that they are in line and that they respect the society they are in.
The campus has turned into a junior school, where students are not free to decide on what to wear, who to hang out with and what courses to study or not.
Boys and girls cannot sit together or walk together, let alone engage in a meaningful civil conversation.
Three of my friends have had to leave the university and opt for other education opportunities after the constant harassment from 'security' personnel employed on campus to police the students and check on what they wear.
Skirts, jeans and T-shirts are out of question and long drapes and baggy clothing are in.
When I was a student, I would go to the campus wearing jeans and a T-shirt and this did not stop me from topping my class and achieving a coveted prize for my outstanding academic performance.
However, the tables have now turned at Bahrain University and to be accepted as a female student, you have to lose your identity and blend with the masses.
Many girls, including my 18-year-old sister, have opted to wear the Abaya when going to college to escape the harassment of the so-called campus police.
What century are we living in? How can we expect those young men and women to have a say in their future if they don't have a say in what they wear.
How can we claim that we are living in an era of freedom and reform when a whole new young generation is given long lists of DON'Ts which they have to abide to every living moment?
The latest new law says that no female student can enter or leave the campus in the company of a man, unless he is related to her - that is, he should be her father, brother or husband.
This means that parents have to either buy their children cars for them to be able to drive to and from university alone and perhaps contribute to the soaring number of accidents or leave their jobs and other obligations and drive their children all the way to Sakhir everyday.
The other option is to use the university transportation system, which means that students will have to leave their homes at 7am and return after sunset for the sake of two or three hours of classes daily.
The idea that a whole young generation is being herded like cattle in our national institution of education is frightening.
That there are new rules and regulations that make simple everyday human engagements taboo is despicable.
Those young people are the future of Bahrain. They have to be given freedom to study and become creative and shoulder the responsibility with us. They should be given the freedom of choice to thrive, build their personalities and take their first independent steps towards the futures which await them.
We should take their hands and guide them down the right path and not impose rules on them and mould them into unrecognisable beings with no personalities or characters of their own.
The only reason I am who I am today is because of the trust and freedom my parents gave me.
Because my family trusted me when they left me alone on campus, I learned how to weigh the rights and wrongs of life. I learned to make my own decisions and when I was wrong, I learned to face the consequences of my ill judgements. I also learned how to stand up for my rights and what I believe in. I learned all this and more during my formative years at Bahrain University.
What will my sister and her generation - who are shackled by laws and under the constant surveillance of the campus police - learn?
What will they do tomorrow when they start working and climbing up the career ladder?
Will there be campus police to check on them?