I’m not what you might call easily intimidated but when we arrived in Bahrain in the middle of the night and I was the only woman in an airport ful of Arabian taxi drivers I attempted to hide behind my Nuffield brothers, wondering how I’d survive a week in the Middle East. But I needn’t have worried, after I’d adjusted to the lack of women on the street Bahrain was easy to cope with and much more tolerant than I expected.
The heat and humidity were extrordinary, I’m pretty used to hot weather but I’ve never felt humidity like that, not even in the Kimberly in the build up to the wet. It was unbelievably uncomfortable and after having to don black robes and headscarf to visit the Grand Mosque I gained a lot of respect for Islamic women who wear these styfling robes in the heat. After speaking to them about why they cover up I still couldn’t rein my overly practical nature in enough to really understand, but they respected my choice as I did theirs and that’s all there really is to it isn’t it?
Bahrain is a major export destination for Australian products, namely mutton, cars and bauxite. My sponsor, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) were great hosts, especially Peter and Sharon who welcomed us into their home for the absolute luxury of a home cooked meal and a swim in the pool. We got to observe first hand the live sheep trade and slaughter by Bahrain Livestock Company. There is often a bit kicking around inthe media about the cruelty suffered by our livestock being exported live to the Middle East and Asia but all we saw was a professionally run livestock business where animal welfare was a priority and fully addressed.
The climate in Bahrain has changed markedly over a short space of time to become one of the most desolate places I’ve ever seen. Being a small island amidst deserts, they’ve created a micro climate change by lowering the water table enough to kill almost all the vegetation, leaving the country totally reliant on desalinated water and imported food. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, without their oil and gas they’d be in a bit of trouble. They’ve focused on becoming a financial hub in the gulf but so have a lot of places. Processsing oil from Saudi is an important industry, but it’s cheap energy that drives the country, without that they’d have no water and no air conditioning.
We flew from Bahrain to Southern India for yet another eye opener. We’ve visited silk farms and a silk research station, goat and dairy operations, dairy distributor, a coffee plantation in hills straight out of a Rudyard Kipling story and we’ve spoken with a researcher developing super bamboo for biofuel. It’s all been fantastic but visits to the local markets along the way are a highlight and best described with photographs.