Fragmentation in this once very peaceful society has affected most of us where people now base their decision on friendships on whether people are sunni, shia, pro-government, anti-government and use other bizarre yardsticks. A group of Bahraini women shed light on how the violence in Bahrain had affected their lives.
During this meeting, I met women who are formally educated whilst others are educated with life – something the best universities cannot teach the brightest students. Reluctant and a little suspicious, they still welcomed me in the usual Bahraini style with coffee, tea, juice, sweets and snacks specially prepared for our tete-a-tete. Munching away and trying not be distracted by the fresh delicacies in front of me, it became abundantly clear that the needs of all communities is very similar if not the same. We communicated in English and my weak Arabic but we understood each other. We shared jokes and laughed at proverbs that made no sense when translated into English but have such a strong connotation in Arabic like “after my liver, from my eyes, let the baker bake the bread, tomorrow after apricots”.
These women complained that their voices had been suppressed into silence and the threats from radicals were intolerable. Families were ordered to switch off lights, remove pictures of the leadership, withdraw money from banks and protest or they would face “consequences”. They said that they were too frightened to disobey because they lived in the same area. Last December, for the first time they did not put up decorations because they were given instructions not to celebrate national day in their villages.
One of them, Fatima said “I look after my house and keep it nice but if you go outside my door it is all black from burning and we cannot do anything. Our families have suffered for two years. We worry about the future and have little faith in the street violence stopping soon, but they must stop.”
Another lady Mona insists her children graduate. She said, “I cook and sell food and pickles and I also sew clothes to make extra money to buy books, I want my children to study and get a good job so that they have a secure future. We will not be here forever and I want them to have a strong mind to think for themselves. My husband works in a private company but his salary is not enough so I help as much as I can. We sacrifice everything for our children and for their future. I do not understand politics but I know what is right and wrong and all this burning going on is not good for this country, it must stop – but who will stop them?”
Another lady, Zeinab said “at the beginning, in February 2011, we agreed with the protest because we wanted the government to listen to our problems with local councilors and people in the ministry who never helped us. We would hear an announcement but then get nothing. We were tired and just wanted a voice, but then the atmosphere changed and we left them. The problem, we all live nearby and people come knocking on our doors ordering us to send our children out and even for us to go to marches. We cannot do anything so we just work and pray for a better future for our children”.
One of the ladies in Western attire, Fatima who is a business graduate and works in the government sector insisted her children do the same, “even if they want to open a business, they need to know what to do, they need skills. I worry, I don’t let them go out in the evenings and sit in groups anymore, I want them to broaden their minds and not get involved in all this violence”.
One of the quietest ladies’ Jehan said “my son loves cars and he always talks about racing with his friends, but he cannot go to the big track because it is too expensive. My son and his friends fix their own cars and are very clever, no one taught them and they have no certificate. If they can get good training, they can get a proper job or open a small workshop and I am sure they will have the sense to stop going out at night with these bad people”.
UmHussain, a grandmother joined us; a charismatic and wise woman who chuckled at my attempt at Arabic said “you are here for so many years, come to me everyday and I will teach you in one month”. This lady was a delight and as she spoke, all the women nodded in agreement.
“I am an old lady and I have had a good life in Bahrain – this is my country, my blood my life. We will not let anyone take it from us. Things were different when I was growing up, Bahrain was so small and we used to see important people all the time and we loved them so much. Since I was a little girl, when we were out and about we used to see Shaikh Salman, Shaikh Isa, Shaikh Khalifa and I even met Shaikha Hessa and Shaikha Lulwa. Now we love their children too, there is no difference for us. When this problem first started two years ago, young boys came to my house and asked me to remove pictures of our leadership, I refused and I made them leave my house. Why? When did we become enemies? I am happy with what Shaikha Sabeekha is doing for women, we need this in the Arab world and it is important that women are in government, business and strong positions in society. Men are men everywhere in the world and we must take care of our girls so that they are independent and can take care of themselves. It is our duty”.
Then she leaned closer and looked at me very intensely and said, “I ask you my dear, this dialogue – who is there? Who will listen to us? Who will understand that we do not want what those radical people want. That this is not our religion. Islam did not teach us to kill workers or attack people and block and burn roads. Who is teaching them to chant for the downfall of the government? Are these the ones who will talk on our behalf? This is more saddening for us because we are left with no voice again”.
As I left this humble home, I promised to return and update UmHussain about London and New York where she had heard the weather was very cold. She gave me the tightest sincere hug and said, “my dear, we are Bahraini, we love people to visit us, but not foreign people who will not tell the truth, be our voice to the world. Tell the truth always and God will bless you”.
As I drove off, I thought of these ladies and felt a sense of disappointment that all I had the power to do was listen and hope to spread the truth.