Oman & Bahrain - April 1993
“At Disco Tex, Hotel Shargaz: 11:52PM – Americans, British, and French dominated the room. Some Japanese and other Asians. Europeans in the majority. Many, many more men that woman, their ages ranging between 25 and 45 – the Gulf expat workforce had to be young, strong, preferably unmarried, to survive the hard, celibate life. A few drunks. Some noisy. Some ugly and not so ugly. Overweight and not so overweight. Most of them lean, frustrated, volcanic. A few Shargaris and others of the Gulf. But only the rich, the westernized, the sophisticated, and men. Most of those sat on the upper level drinking soft drinks and ogling. And the few who danced on the small floor below danced with European women: secretaries, embassy personnel, airline staff, nurses, or other hotel staff. Partners were are at premium. No Shargarzi or Arabian women were there.” - “Whirlwind” by James Clavell.
And that is my life. That small paragraph above defines my non-ship life here in the Arabian Gulf. Every place is like that. Most of the bars are crowded. Everyone gawking at the few females. Only the hotels have dance clubs and their rules are either hotel guests or bring a date with you. Gulf Air is the only bright spot. Gulf Air imports women from England, Scotland, and South Africa to Bahrain for airline attendant training. But we are now back in Bahrain with the tender, USS Cape Cod, and another cruiser, the Horne, a destroyer, the Leftwich, and a reserve ship, the USNA Spica. So add in an additional 1000 men on the beach every night and it is not pretty.
Speaking of not pretty. Oman. Just a day before we were supposed to go up to the Northern Arabian Gulf we got word that we were going to be hosting the Gulf Maritime Conference in Oman in five days. The ammo ship, the Shasta, was supposed to do it, but her draft is too deep and she can’t get into the harbor. So off we go. Now I really had a good time last time in Oman. That was because I got off the ship then. Not now. The Maritime Conference is held semi-annually by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is all of the nations surrounding the Gulf minus Iran and Iraq. The US usually hosts it. So there we are expecting high ranking foreign officers and ambassadors. So needless to say the sweat pumps went into overdrive. The whole ship just went to work. You had to keep moving to avoid being sanded down, primed, and painted. Some contractors came in and built this huge tent on the fantail for the luncheon. Now around 1000 under that nice hot Omani sun, you are sweating so much it looks like you stepped out of the pool and it’s only 93 degrees. By noon it was just breaking 100, and they wanted a formal luncheon outside. We spent the next three days getting ready for this shindig and the ship looked really good. One night we went out to the Naval Attache’s house for drinks and stuff. The quarters are really nice and he has this cool roof which has a barbecue. You can see the Iraqi embassy from his house. He also had an extensive collection of Persian rugs and I may break the bank when we hit the UAE. After drinks at his house, we went to this really good Indian restaurant that was really reasonable. I had some good mutton curry and this strange vegetable dish that was really good.
The Navy’s compound is called the Admin Support Unit or ASU. Commonly referred to as the Alcohol Support Unit. They import alcohol there at really reasonable prices, which beats out in town where a can of beer goes for 2 dinar or 6 dollars. Do you figure every TED (typical enlisted dude) in town is there? It makes for interesting duty night when you lay bets on who’s going to be brought back to the ship by the shore patrol. We now have two shops import Bahrain that have females on them and I have seen more that my fair share of fights between them. So far we have been lucky and have not had any liberty “incidents.” Some of the ships have really bad reputations and some ships have Cinderella libs where everyone has to be back on board by midnight. That’s pretty harsh because no one goes out early here. If you don’t get off work until 8PM, then you go home, change, eat dinner, and then hit a club you are talking about 1030 PM when things start. But with duty every three days and this a working port, I’m not staying out late anyways.
Now I mentioned that Gulf Air operates out of Bahrain. The stewardesses in training live at the Gulf Hotel and are friendly, but . . . . “You’re nice enough and everything, but you hadn’t have enough money for me to talk to you.” This was said to a fellow officer at one of the clubs. We started talking to a local and he was telling us about the scam here. Some of the stewardesses work here for like four years and leave with $100K in the bank. They get paid a 100 dinar to go to a yacht party. Just to show up they get paid. The bar we hang out in at the Gulf Hotel serves them free drinks , and these Arab guys pay them 200 dinar just to talk to them, 400 dinar to leave with them. And that’s it, just leave with them. It costs more if the guy wants more. One dinar is $2.60 so 200 dinar is almost $500. Not bad money for a night of conversation. This local said the stewardess hang out with Americans and British when they want to have fun, but if the cash is low it’s time to find Achmed the sugar daddy. Whatever.
Anyways, yesterday Kevin and I went on an adventure to Shaik’s beach. The Emir is king, or Sultan, and the members of the royal family are called Shaiks. We had heard about this really nice beach that all of the westerners go to so we headed out. We took the ships van and drove 30 minutes before we got there. I didn’t think Bahrain was that big, but it is. Where the ship is in upper Manama, there is no such thing as urban planning. They throw up buildings half-hazardly, some here, some there, a nice building next to a pile of rubble. As we left Manama, we passed through some strange industrial areas and then we got to this planned community area, suburbia like, but without grass. All of these cookie cutter homes, rows and rows of them, with gravel of yards. There was a lot of construction going on and I wondered why anyone would want to live so far from town and who was going to live there. It’s not like Bahrain has his huge population growth and they are severely restricting immigration into Bahrain.
Back to the beach. We passed through the desert countryside and then all of a sudden we are passing through palm tree lined roads. The van finally stops outside of this walled compound. We get out and go through the gate into this lush, tropical rain forest type part. It’s cool underneath the trees and we were sort of awestruck so we didn’t see the guards with the machine gun coming towards us. The Shaik lets westerners use his beach, but he doesn’t like to have photos taken so the guard took Kevin’s camera. Now the Shaik’s beach house is okay. I didn’t get a chance to go inside, but from the gold gilded window frames and the marble columns and steps I’m sure it’s pretty tacky inside. And small. It would be hard to throw a party for a thousand of your closest friends and not have to spill over to the gardens, or the beach, or the pool area. The beach was really nice. The lawn in front of the beach was well tended and the palm trees provided share from the sun. I did some swimming and then laid out. I put on some 35 sunblock and only got burnt a bit. When we got thirsty, we walked under the grape vine lattice walkway to the concession stand where they gave out free sodas and stuff. It was rough.
Well I really don’t have that much news. We leave Bahrain for good on the 9th of May. We are going up to Kuwait next. We will be at anchor, but I hope to get into the city. We pull into Dubai after that on the 20th of May. I’m still waiting to hear from Johns Hopkins. I sent some money to Georgetown to reserve my spot for fall. It looks like the Reeves is going to Pattaya Beach Thailand and Hong Kong again on the way back to Pearl. Been there, done that. It looks like the flight from Milan to Washington DC is going to cost a cool thousand dollars. But Uncle Sam will pay for $950 of it. Gotta love Uncle Sam. The Tail Hook thing is out of control. Messages are flying like crazy and the carnage it’s about to being. The fall out should be interesting. Well I need to go make rounds. I’ll try to write after Kuwait.