Thursday 12 January 2012: Secret Garden, Bahrain-style
The other day while out walking Gypsy I passed a gate between two compounds that I have passed many, many times before. It has a circular red 'No Entry' traffic sign on it, but it is always propped open. Made from palm fronds, it sags slightly and dustily, giving the impression that no-one would actually care a jot whether you entered or not. So, in the gathering gloom, Gypsy and I passed through the 'No Entry' gate and found ourselves in a sort of avenue formed by the walls of two housing compounds - one of which is rather smart, featuring large, terracotta-coloured villas with traditional Bahraini wind-towers, while the other is distinctly run-down with grey, concrete houses that look rather drab and depressing.
We set off in the dusk down the avenue towards the palm trees up ahead. On either side, trails of bougainvillea and other trees and plants hung over the walls from the gardens of the villas beyond, giving the place an unexpectedly lush appearance. At the end of the avenue, a large plot of land opened up on the right into a typical Bahraini "Bustan" or farm, with neat plots of herbs and vegetables under cultivation beneath the canopy of mature date palms. A couple of labourers squatted in the dusk, finishing off their work for the day in the last of the light. Gypsy and I poked around for a bit and, as we turned around to head home, I noticed that the full moon had risen, fat and golden, framed perfectly by the branches of the trees overhead.
As a result of the abundant fresh water from underground springs and aquifers, the Budaiya area where we live on the Northern coast of Bahrain was once famed for gardens like this. It was green and verdant and as such was the preferred residential area for wealthy Bahrainis and Europeans. There are still plenty of these farms around and this remains a 'green' area when compared with much of Bahrain, but sadly in the past 20 years or so the water table has dropped dramatically and many palm trees have died off. Natural springs have dried up and many of the spring-fed pools where Bahraini lads learnt to swim as children are a thing of the past, replaced by modern, chlorinated swimming pools.
I'm not sure if the reasons for the drop in the water table are entirely understood, but contributing factors are thought to be increased demand for water due to the spread of urbanisation within Bahrain; and also the damming of the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Turkey and Iraq, whose headwaters are thought to have fed the aquifers which flow under the Gulf and feed the freshwater springs around Bahrain. The name "Bahrain" actually means "Two Seas", which may be explained by the country's position as an island surrounded by both salt sea and freshwater, undersea springs. Back in the days when pearling was Bahrain's main source of income, pearl divers out at sea would know the location of these freshwater springs on the sea-bed and dive down to collect fresh drinking water in goatskins (I think I have absorbed this information by osmosis as it seems to be coming back to me as I write this - started out this blip not having a clue what I was going to say!). Today, as in many parts of the planet, severe shortage of fresh water is the biggest threat facing the Arab world.
Today, I read a delightful blip by Ceridwen about The Secret Garden, which made me think of our walk the other day. I decided to go back and blip it this afternoon. Also, I've become enchanted by the journal of a new blipper, TussockTales, a dog who doesn't think he'd like Bahrain very much as he hates getting sand in his paws - so I thought he might quite like to see that not quite everything in Bahrain is covered in sand (although to be honest, now that I look at it, I see that this path is actually fairly sandy!)
Thank you all for your lovely comments and all the stars on my stallion blip yesterday! It made the Spotlight which was very exciting for me and I've never had so many stars before. Big thing to live up to now :)