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Arabic coffee shops are a popular place for locals to hang out, upscale Arabic cafes now attract tourists and foreign residents

 

After he finishes tying them all, he goes and sits with his legs inside a pit in the ground. Then with his hands and feet, starts interweaving threads cross-wise using a small shuttle. It takes him a couple of hours to weave a one-metre cloth which he then sells for two Bahraini dinars (about US$5.30). But Abdul Redha does not do it for the money - his wrinkled face says it all: weaving is his life.

Mirza, our guide tells me that this is a dying tradition. "Young people are no longer taking up weaving. It is too much of a hard life for little money." But Abdul Redha is never alone - friends call all the time, and a cup of Arabic coffee is always at hand.

Coffee shops are very popular in Bahrain. They are the equivalent of pubs in the West, if such a similarity can be drawn. The coffee tastes more like Rosemary water and has a strangely refreshing effect in such a hot climate.

It's the first week of March and the temperature is already 24C. "This is winter for us. We feel cold," says Mirza. "Summer is one huge heat wave. We have a law in this country - whenever the temperature goes up more than 50C everybody stops working and goes home."

The more I saw of the island, the more I became convinced that the secret of its age-old success lies with its people. The country embraces Islam but is the least socially conservative of Arab nations. Beer and wine are served in many restaurants. Although many Bahraini men wear the thobe, the white floor-length shirt-dress, just as many wear western clothes. The same goes for women. They are free not to wear the abaya, the all-covering black cloak which just leaves their faces visible. So why do many women still wear abayas? Fatima, 25, a henna beautician has the answer to that.

"It often depends on how liberal your husband's family is. My husband's family always want me to put it on but when I go abroad with my mother I just wear jeans and sweatshirts."

We talk about religion and how their men can marry four wives. Does your husband have another wife, I ask her. Her eyes light up with laughter: "He'd better not - he knows I would kill him!"

While she's skilfully applying henna on my hands, members of her family come and sit next to us on the cushioned floor of the living room - shyly at first, and after a few minutes they bring in a banquet of sweets and coffee.

It's impressive how the Bahraini people go out of their way to make you happy. On our last day, Mirza took us to film an abandoned beach just as the sun was setting. He left us to set up our equipment, and then 20 minutes later we saw him coming back with a pure breed white stallion. "I'm sure this would look good". The scene was just too perfect - we were wrapped around a crescent of white sand lined with palm trees as the stallion galloped into the sunset horizon.

This must be the Garden of Eden.

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If you want to learn to speak Arabic, Bahrain is a great place to do it. Most locals speak Arabic and English, and will be happy to help you polish your skills.

 

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