Saturday, March 07, 2009

Hockey in the Desert: "Bahrain Bill" Strikes Again, Part I

Guest blogger “Bahrain Bill” VanderClock (pictured), who filed his first report from the desert in 2006 , shares another story (with minor edits).

Bahrain
November 2008


The outside temperature is only in the 80s, so skating in the desert isn’t as cooling an experience as in September, when the outside temperature hovers around 110. The rink, which is attached to a bowling alley (with windows in between), is about half the size of a regulation rink. Half the players are local guys and can they skate! And because the ice does not evenly butt up against the boards—the corners are like ditches—stickhandling skills are a must.

One of the goalies is a high school aged kid who pays about $20.00 each way for a taxi to get to the rink. He really wants to learn and play. The other goalie is an American woman from the U.S. Navy base. This mix of people, the unique location, and the rink size: they make the game even more interesting. Then a Saudi, who has never seen an ice rink before, enters the building. He insists on having his picture taken with me and has to try on a helmet. He looks comical in his thobe (a white shirt-dress worn by most of the men in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain) and helmet.

After hockey and then the photo shoot, we all go to an Irish bar.

Everything is great until the hotels in (Mumbai) India are attacked. I’m living in a five-star hotel and although there isn’t a problem in the Middle East, India is close enough that I keep my head down for a few days.

Three days later, as the Indian situation is calming down, security suddenly shows up at my hotel. I notice that there are guards at every vehicle entrance to my hotel. They use mirrors on sticks to examine the underside of every vehicle driving up to my hotel. And they open every trunk. I wonder what’s going on, so I ask personnel at the front desk.

“Nothing.”

Clearly something is happening, and they’ve been told not to talk about it. When I get up to my floor, six security guards—three from the hotel and three that I had never seen before—are discussing, loudly, something. I ask what’s going on.

“Nothing.”

I point out that I’ve not seen a single security person on my floor prior to this and now there are six, so something is the matter. Well, fortunately I have always made a habit of spending some time with the maids, janitors and other workers who generally get ignored by the folks who stay in five-star hotels. I’ve found that these folks are great sources of information and a little time spent really talking to them can go a long, long way. In this case I get the inside scoop that all of the hotel employees have been warned not to talk.

But it turns out that a dignitary is moving in three doors down from me and will be here for a few days. There has been no threat against the hotel or anything. But the poor security guy sitting on a chair doesn’t appear to be enthused about the situation. Every time I walk by, someone is in the chair. I start saying hello and offer the sentries a Coke or whatever. All I get is a polite “no thanks” but they get to know me, which helps out on Hockey Night in Bahrain.

Stay tuned for Part II.
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