This municipal worker is heading home after a tiring day’s work in the heart of Manama’s financial district.
He is obviously not bothered by the hot summer sun beating down and the noisy traffic all around him as he walks briskly, possibly towards the waiting company transport and, hopefully, a hot, fresh meal.
It is workers like this one that toil throughout the day, come hail or shine, to make our lives more comfortable, cleaning the roads and clearing them of dirt and garbage, among others.
The best part is that I am yet to come across any such worker without a smile on his face and a look of contentment that seems to defy all logic.
They will always greet you with a smile, try to exchange a few pleasantries and wish you well before going on their way.
I see them all the time on traffic signals, sometimes very early in the morning and at times, late at night, sweeping away to make sure we are in a healthy environment.
Hat’s off to these dedicated souls!
This is the humble shawarma. The anytime snack, the always meal and the forever delicacy. Costs very little, it’s easy to make and is virtually everywhere. The favourite ‘between meals’ food, or even a meal in itself, the shawarma has been a winning Middle Eastern food for many decades.
There are several varieties of this available, the most common being the “Indian” version, made by Indians (read Malayalees, from Kerala state) and the ‘Bangali’ version, prepared by those from Bangladeshi’s.
But the best, and the most authentic, is the Turkish shawarma and the on prepared by Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians.
But there’s a catch. Shawarma lovers can only indulge in the evening because these joints only start operating late in the afternoon and are ready to serve a couple of hours later.
As times change, however, it’s now available in the day at some places, giving the ‘anytime snack’ its true meaning!
A meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are placed on a spit and grilled for a long time, the shawarma is the cheapest and best food I have seen or eaten in the last decade and a half in Bahrain.
Shavings are cut off a block of meat for serving, and the rest of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate (generally with accompaniments), shawarma also refers to a sandwich or wrap made with shawarma meat. It is usually eaten with tabbouleh, fattoush, taboon bread, tomato, and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba.
It is made by alternately stacking strips of fat and pieces of seasoned meat (beef, lamb or marinated chicken) on a stick. An onion, a tomato, or a halved lemon is sometimes placed at the top of the stack for more flavoring. The meat is roasted slowly on all sides as the spit rotates in front of, or over, a flame for hours. Traditionally, a wood fire was used; but now, a gas flame is common. While specialty restaurants might offer two or more meat selections, some establishments have just one skewer.
While cooking, the meat is shaved off the stack with a large knife, an electric knife or a small circular saw, dropping to a circular tray below to be retrieved.
For me, personally, I recently had a shawarma after nearly three years, having come down with a bout of stomach infection the last time I had it. Though it was never conclusively proved the shawarma did it, I nevertheless gave it a go-by. I have taken the chance again, and so far, all is well!
To most people, this might look bizarre. A cat among pigeons! And everyone seems to be perfectly at home. I have never known cats and birds to co-exist and remember once seeing a feline ruthlessly ‘execute’ the neighbour’s pet parrot. Which led him to bring another one and that, too, was summarily taken apart.
In the not too distant past, I have sometimes seen cats and chicken together, looking for food in the same rubbish heap but they’ve always been at a safe distance.
On this Muharraq street, however, it’s all peace in the name of food. A tad bit untidy and littered but a sight all the same as the rather large cat sits patiently for its turn while the pigeons feed!
Nature has some strange sights up its sleeve!
One of Muharraq’s icons Rajab Bu Muftah is no more. He passed on a month ago.
I realised his legendary status on visiting the Old Suq two evenings ago.
On finding empty shelves and a locked door at Bu Muftah’s antique shop, I asked an accompanying friend why it was so and he told me what had happened.
“He was old, very old,” I was told. “He passed away a month ago. The entire Muharraq town gathered at his burial.”
I further learnt he had come to Bahrain from Yemen more than 60 years ago and set up a small trading business in the historic part of the island.
Business boomed and over the years, he did well, raised a family, educated his children and made sure they settled well in life.
In the last few years, too old to run around, he ran this small shop selling all kind of antiques. When they did not do good enough business, he also started selling fruits and dates.
I first saw him a year ago and he happily posed for pictures. He offered ‘discounts’ on antiques if I wished to buy some.
At first he appeared to be a stern man, not very impressed with all the attention but a brief conversation made me feel all at ease.
I did run into him a couple of times after that and we waved to each other. He seemed to be happy and content and sat at his storefront like a lord and master.
Now his shop is locked. The shelves are empty. The signboard is falling apart. All the antiques are probably locked away somewhere.
No one has any time to run his business anymore. But passersby speak about his, stop at his shop, look at the empty shelves and move on.
Clearly, a part of Muharraq, and Bahrain, has gone forever. It’s sad, but that’s life. It goes on. The wheels keep moving.
And we pass on!