Thursday 9 November 2023

Bahrain & Saudi Arabia - travels with my art


And then I flew to Bahrain. This was a novel trip, at the behest of Laurence Smith, who has organised some fascinating and varied jobs for me over the years (from drawing his family Christmas cards, caricaturing in Amsterdam, live-drawing a day of talks for a disability charity, to illustrating a giant mural based on the suggestions of 100 employees drawn live on a massive roll of paper). This time it was another workplace training event, for healthcare workers. And it was to be in Saudi Arabia.

I didn't advertise this widely in advance because, in all honesty, I feared Saudi Arabia's human rights record wasn't something I wanted to be associated with. Then, when you visit a country and see things first hand, you discover that most people are getting on with regular lives, regardless of what their government is up to. In my whistle stop two day visit, which took four days with travel, I met a number of doctors and professionals who all seem to love the life out here. Some were Saudis, and some from other countries. All told me about the increased liberalising of the country which may have a few years to go progress wise but, on the surface, looks familiar and pleasant. It may not seem much, but they have cinemas, women are allowed to drive and not wear head coverings, and there are no Religious Police any more. Like I say, baby steps.

Here you can (just about) see Laurence at the Ithra art museum. He was marvellous in keeping me entertained and occupied throughout Saturday. First Asim, his colleague, and I travelled in on Friday night, about which more in a moment. Then first thing Saturday the three of us went to a warehouse / lockup of Desert Designs where we had the chance to browse and buy some local artefacts. Then it was off to Ithra, which was host to an exhibition of very strong architectural work, a display by recent graduates, a good contemporary art collection, and an exhibit on the history of Saudi, and of Aramco, the company I'd be working for. From there we went to the mall, then it was off to an evening meal at an Armenian restaurant where I met all the doctors who would be leading the following day's talks.

The training day ultimately came down to two hours of talks and, on my part, lots of drawing. But the preparation took most of the day, and gave me the opportunity to churn out lots of drawing. At time of writing I still have to colour and assemble all the various components.

The travel was another story. Above you see Asim and me, in no man's land in between Bahrain and Saudi, waiting for our driver Mohammed to emerge from the police station. We were waiting over an hour for that bit. And that was only one of the longeurs which ended up making the 45 minute journey from Bahrain to Saudi take an unprecedented four hours.

I'd started Friday with an early start, driving to Purple Parking near Heathrow, then going through all the airport procedures, followed by a 6 hour flight. Which, by the way, I loved, using it as an excuse to watch movies & TV (The Flash, a Doctor Who, and the pilot of Poker Face again, amongst other things). Asim met me, and we and Mohammed hit the road.

Unfortunately, after only a few minutes on the road, something hit us. A car clipped the corner of our car at high speed then shot off before anyone could even get his number. Mohammed pulled in and rang the police. There now followed a half hour wait by the roadside for the police, who never came. Mohammed's concern was that he couldn't go back into Saudi from Bahrain without reporting this, for insurance purposes, and he needed something official on paper from the police.

When the police failed to show, we drove on and, just over the hill, passed a five vehicle pile up which rather suggested why they were too busy to deal with us. It's not impossible that the mad driver who'd clipped us went on to cause the accident we then drove past.

Whatever, Mohammed still had to report things, hence Asim and me waiting for an hour outside the Border Police office. But, with all that done, and by now over two hours behind schedule, we were surely on the home stretch.

Not so fast. Because now I had to get fingerprinted at the Saudi border, a process which involved so much waiting, for no obvious reason, that the best part of another hour was taken up. 

That done it would be plain sailing from here. You'd think. But no. Because, before they would let us go to the Fingerprint Centre, a border guard at one of the gates insisted on hanging on to Asim and Mohammed's passports. And, when we walked back to retrieve those, the guy kept us waiting, for no obvious reason, for another half hour. With all of these waits, the guys holding us up would stand around laughing and chatting, making it demonstrably clear that they were just holding us up for the fun of it. Not fun.

Four hours later, having landed at 11.30pm Bahrain time, I got to my massive hotel suite at 3.30am. We were up for breakfast by 8am and on with Saturday.

I had a marvellous and memorable weekend, and am so grateful to Laurence, Asim and Mohammed and the rest for making it happen. My return flight saw me sadly failing to watch any movies as I'd hoped. At was a 2am flight and, not surprisingly, I fell asleep as soon as we were in the air and didn't wake until we were coming in to land. Above you can see the view from my window, which has to be one of the best airline window views I've ever had.

My Books and where to get them:

Findlay Macbeth - Amazon  - Etsy 
Prince Of Denmark Street - Amazon - Etsy 
Midsummer Nights Dream Team  - Amazon Etsy 
Shakespeare Omnibus Collection (all 3 books) - Amazon

Richard The Third Amazon - Etsy

Tales From The Bible - Amazon -  Etsy 
The Book Of Esther - Lulu  - Amazon 
Captain Clevedon - Amazon
Tales Of Nambygate - Amazon  

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