A teenage state of mind
The boys are 17. School is nearly done, exams are over and most aren’t even bothering to come in anymore. But some do, maybe because their parents insisted, maybe because they are bored at home and hanging at school with their friends is preferable to staying at home with the maid.
In any case, they are in my room, sitting cross legged on a table, guitar in hand. Some are working quietly, tapping at a computer, doing some quiet work in this gentle atmosphere. The art teacher walks in and picks up the guitar. A tune is played on YouTube, music is discussed. Tea is brought in from the cafeteria. My room has become the chill room, the place to just talk, play a little music and wind the year down quietly.
Two of these boys: one is Palestinian the other is a mix of Arabian nations. One prays regularly and doesn’t drink; the other has little faith in organized religion. Despite their differences they have met on a middle ground and found a shared interest in music. They don’t judge each other and their contrasting beliefs don’t come between them. Admittedly it is hard to neglect religion in a place that is so observant but this is a tolerant place, generally, and it is easy to find friends who are accepting and ready to set aside a gap in shared beliefs.
Of course, this is not always so. You only have to step into certain neighbourhoods on a Friday afternoon and the angry face of difference is glaring though the smog of tear gas. A lot of focus has been placed by the media on the troubles here, the unfairness of a system that justifies one privileged group over another. And yes it is unfair. There are many people in jail who are too young, too innocent or too unjustified. There are too many people who get jobs because of who they are, who they know or what their last name is. But there are many other points not being made by the foreign press. First, the protesters are allowed to protest. This is not a right that exists over the bridge in Saudi or in Syria, or even China. Second, Bahrain became independent from Britain on August 15th 1971. Like many countries in the Gulf it has never been a democracy, and always had the comfort of one absolute ruler. If we could create a time line similar to Britain, for we are forever comparing the Middle East to our set of Western centric principles, then Bahrain would be somewhere back in the first half of the 20th Century. So they are not quite caught up. Change will either come, or it will turn further towards the Right and a closed society. We cannot predict. But give them a chance.
In the mean time, look at the teenagers and let’s imagine a glimpse of the future. There are those that slowly gain weight under their Thobes, talk endlessly about their new Toyota Sequoia and play cards in the rooms in their homes, reserved exclusively for men. They are 17 going on 52. Conservative in their views and behaviours, they are part of the elite and will be handed jobs in velvet lined gloves. Then there are the young angry crowd, bitter with injustice and educated in the local schools. They burn tires at the weekend and talk politics. And then there are the 17 year old boys in my room, playing the guitar and dreaming of a gap year in India or Australia. They embrace difference.
I hope this is the future.