“It’s busy in Cholesterol Alley tonight,” muttered David, as he swung his rental car into the makeshift carpark outside the shawarma restaurant. The Toyota lined up next to BMWs, the odd Porsche and a buttercup yellow Hummer. We stepped out onto the sand, warmed by the gentle night air, and brushed off the touts trying to sell us copy watches and knocked off dvds.
We surveyed the street of fast food restaurants. What was for dinner tonight?
We were in Bahrain negotiating a contract, and had set up base in a Juffayr apartment block. We didn’t have time (or money) to eat out at good restaurants, and so grabbed quick meals at the main strip in Juffayr. Cholesterol Alley. Lined with the usual suspects – inevitable given that the US navy base is just around the corner – and a few healthier Asian and local options. Importantly, we could get decent coffee there the next morning after a busy night and never enough sleep.
Juffayr is a residential area, built largely on reclaimed land and inhabited by a lot of expatriates. It is not an attractive suburb. Far from it, as it is essentially a huge building site, apartment blocks and terraced housing. The apartment blocks are built for internal comfort, not aesthetics, with ugly exteriors built purely for function. The vacant lots where new apartment blocks will be built we referred to as deserts. Because that is what they are – only the finest white sand, even weeds don’t grow. Still, on the bright side, there is always somewhere to park your car. Cars are essential in Juffayr, even though it is small, because for much of the year it is too hot to walk. It helps therefore that it costs about 4 Bahraini Dinar (under US$10) to fill the tank of your average Toyota. The Hummer of course would cost a little more.
Living in an apartment allowed us to feel part of the community, though a feature of Bahrain is that most of the people you come into contact with are imported labour. About half the population are expatriates. Cheerful, helpful and efficient Lucci – “like Gucci” – was our friendly Philippines apartment receptionist. We had “frequent flyer” cards at the local Coffee Bean (also exclusively Philippines staff), which had a useful wi-fi service when the connection at the apartment went down, and we stocked up on snacks and drinks at the small supermarket there. The shawarma restaurant on Cholesterol Alley delivered their meals to our apartment, and the guys were soon on first name terms with the guy at the local laundry service.
Being reclaimed land, Juffayr borders the harbour of Bahrain. It is particularly pleasant there at dusk, when the temperature drops with the sun, and the air turns soft. The ancient middle eastern dhows enter the harbour after their day fishing under the new bridge, and as people return home from work they take advantage of the last hours of the sun and head for the water in their modern boats or on jet skis.
The entrance to Juffayr was my favourite part of this suburb in Bahrain. The National Mosque is magnificent, and I loved driving past it at different times of day, seeing it change in the light of the sun or the moon, and hearing the call to prayer. That added a necessary magic to the city.