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Published: April 29th 2008
The truth is revealed - Manama, Bahrain
Just call the room number and you can guess the rest...
On the surface, the Gulf States are a wealthy land populated by modestly dressed men and women who follow conservative values. However, underneath this veneer, there writhes debauchery of a most surprising kind. The initial foray into the Gulf States was Kuwait - which might just have the world’s most inefficient visa-on-arrival system. You would surmise that with the enormous money made from oil, that some funds would have been invested to ensure an efficient airport - but alas no. The situation did not improve upon finally entering the country, for it was totally charmless - especially when compared to the warmth and vibrancy of Syria. Furthermore, the expatriate population I spoke to - mainly Indians and Filipinos - were the unhappiest lot of foreign workers I have ever encountered. Their constant complaint was of employers who always held their passport, thus locking them into an employment contract with no escape whilst only receiving a rather pathetic rate of pay.
However, there were some shining lights - my accommodation furnished me with the most comfortable lodgings of all my travels - a one bedroom apartment that exceeded all my wishes; the National Memorial Museum (or the “Not to Forget Museum”
according to the English translation) on the invasion of Kuwait provided a thoughtful insight into Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion and the subsequent brutal treatment of the local people; and the Aquarium enabled peaceful moments within an aquatic habitat. Whilst walking home from the Aquarium at dusk, I noticed a sign that read: “Thailand Institute for Sanitary Massage”. I chuckled to myself at another poor English translation, and thought it an innocent enough place. However, my subsequent experience in Bahrain made me question this initial presumption.
Bahrain was abuzz on my arrival for it was only 48 hours before the Formula One Grand Prix. I had no accommodation and so my theory of arriving in a city with no reservation prior to a large sporting event was put to the test. After a few misses, I managed to score a hit on a four-star hotel that offered me a room for far cheaper than its usual price during Grand Prix time. It was this hotel that inducted me into the lecherous underbelly of the Gulf States. The top floors of numerous Bahrain hotels are dedicated to nightclubs, and there were two nightclubs in this establishment - an Iraqi bar, and
A great view - Bahrain International Circuit
It is no wonder there is a move towards these new circuits - as their facilities far surpass more traditional racing tracks.
another one promoted with pictures of young and (mostly) attractive women.
I normally retire early when travelling, but the noise of the nightclubs reverberated through the walls of the building and made sleep difficult - so I thought to engage on a reconnaissance of the top floor to see the reason for this disturbance. I took the lift to the eighth floor and headed to the bar promoted with the women. Upon striding into this smoke-filled and noisy room, I was confronted with a stage sporting five young Russian females, clad in bikinis and diaphanous veils. While modern Russian dance music blared with a thumping base, the ladies gently gyrated and shifted from one foot to the other - it was the most pathetic excuse for dancing I have ever witnessed. Sitting around the stage were clusters of leering Arab men - complete with head attire - smoking sheeshas and drinking more than a moderate amount of beer and spirits (at ridiculous prices). It was obvious that the Islamic belief in modesty of women and prohibition of alcohol did not apply here - I was perplexed. Subsequently, I discovered that you could pay for the ladies to dance for
you - well, they didn’t actually dance for you, they still moved in their ridiculous manner, but you did have the honour of giving them some money. If you contributed enough - the lady had a tacky plastic silver tiara briefly placed on her head - to which some of the stuporous men cheered.
The Iraqi bar was something more in line with my expectations - a plump lady on stage belting out some famous Iraqi songs (is that an oxymoron?). Again, a heavy haze of sheesha smoke hung beneath the ceiling, and alcohol was liberally consumed. The singers of the evening were quite talented, but despite an absence of overt licentious behaviour, there was something odd about this place. On a table in front of the stage sat some young and attractive Arab women in western clothes, smoking sheeshas, drinking cocktails and chatting amongst themselves and on mobile phones. Occasionally, they would shuffle to the stage, where you could pay a waitress to place a garland of flowers around the neck of your chosen lady. If I thought the Russian dancing was terrible, this was even worse; for these women just dragged their feet lethargically around the dance
My wonderful accommodation in Kuwait City
It was so comfortable I rarely went sightseeting - tsk, tsk.
floor without ever lifting them. It was such a pity that I had to misfortune to witness the art of dance reach its absolute nadir.
I returned to my room and was removing the power cord for my laptop when my eye espied a tiny piece of paper on the floor - no more than a few centimetres long. Upon reading its miniscule writing, this paper revealed a list of nationalities and room numbers. Suddenly, the Arabic ladies in the Iraqi bar made sense - actually it all made sense. Here was a four-star hotel in Bahrain providing in-house prostitutes for its guests - now this indeed was a startling revelation! I rustled through the welcome pack in my room for the features of the hotel: ISD phone, satellite TV, mini-bar, room-service - but no strumpets. A tactful omission. There was also a range of Thai women to choose from - but there were none on the top floor. But then I remembered a sports bar on the ground level, and so headed down there, and sure enough - there they were. The Russian ladies were absent from this list, so their purpose was obviously only to dance. I
wonder how many hotels provide such “services” throughout Bahrain?
One short evening made me realise that my previously held opinion of the Gulf States inhabited solely by prudish people had been irrevocably altered. For regardless of the prominent culture or religion you happen to encounter on this planet; the world’s oldest and most enduring profession will always find a way to survive, even if it does not necessarily thrive.
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