The Harmony of Conflicting Opposites
By Sami Al-AbdRabbuh
It is the most distressing periods of life that could be your best too. The period of more than one year living on a small island called Bahrain was not really the hardest experience for me, but it definitely was for many others.
Bahrain is known for the very ancient graveyards that sailors and pirates used to stop by and bury their dead bodies before continuing their journeys. I did not know how these ancient burial sites would soon relate to me. Bahrain was just a neighbor island that I used to visit to go to the cinema, or have fun during holidays and long weekends. Occasionally my family and I went there to give condolences to distant relatives.
Bahrain in its small and compact size is full of opposites that you will not notice easily, it is full of malls and hotels that some locals would never even dream to afford a meal from. Unlike many other surrounding countries, you would find the most simple and traditional conservative clothed women chatting with their liberal friends wearing Prada, Gucci, and other expensive name brands.
It was a very long list of opposites that was going along in harmony, a harmony that was enjoyable to my ear every October when an enjoyable international music festival rhymes in my ear with the mixed works of classics blending with modern, local and international flavors. It is a music that brings peaceful joy.
This harmony is stronger when almost every single person in the island gets together every Muharram month to carry on the more than one thousand year Shia’a religious tradition of reciting the heartbreaking story of the prophet’s grandson death and his family’s anguished suffering in their last journey, gathering the support of the people to stop the oppression and injustice. A full month that covers the island in black and elicits the most of people’s generosity and compassion toward each other. It is an experience that brings a special, peaceful grief.
I used to wake up in the morning every working day to work. Before my 15 minute journey between the villages to my office, I start with a view from my window. A view full of green surrounded with the music of birds of all kinds. The journey between the villages starts with a view full of little boys and girls around the streets heading to their schools in a colorful—well it is one color with white— uniforms. Then, I have to go by three different graveyards as I make my way to my office. The sounds of weeping mothers and the view of miserable faces of those who just lost their beloved ones are buried in the silence of these graveyards, or at least not anymore noticeable as they were pushed away in the past by the presence of the lively life all around. I couldn’t help but wonder: would all of this harmony of opposites ever last?
It did not. The people got to be upset of what they expressed as non-equal opportunities, oppression and detention of youth with no charges. It was the start of the Spring Wave. People went out by the hundreds to peaceful march, and thousands followed them. I was not able to understand why they would need to do that. Wasn’t that hindering the natural harmony of opposites? Or, was this the harmony itself?! People have the right to go in groups to express their demands and needs. A fact that I was not fully aware of before, but have come to appreciate and understand as long as it does not harm anyone. Well, it did not harm me! I just had to take a different route to work, plan ahead for my trips, and just avoid troubles. So that’s what I did.
What I thought was just an illusion of harmony did not continue with the early deaths of people being shot because of their involvement in these opposition gatherings. Anger got to rise and upset was growing with every single drop of blood. Shops had to close earlier than usual on the island and depression and anger were everywhere.
Everyone on the island experienced the smell of it. Even if you are hundreds of meters away from the troubles you still got the smell, or perhaps something more than just a smell; The teargas was the most irritating experience, it is a suffocating smell the comes with the breeze of the air almost every evening and make you barely able to breath, with fully burning eyes, and flaming throat and skin. My hate for that smell was like nothing else, until I heard of the little infants and children vanishing from life because of that gas. I felt the anger of a friend who had to keep his 5 year old daughter who had asthma in a shop store for hours because of the fear that letting her out onto the street under with the dense clouds of gas would put her down in a matter of a few minutes.
It was by then when I could easily hear the buried sounds of weeping mothers, I could see the angry faces everywhere, but still not yet taking away the decent smile of the humble and simple Bahraini people. The disturbing thoughts of graveyards revealing the scattered memories from the past came to life but with more anger, rage and sadness than comes with a normal funeral. The disturbing thoughts got spread from these three small graveyards to every street and home, over every ground I walk over and in every breeze of air I breath.
Getting back to the history of the island, I am not a ship captain who came to the island to bury the dead bodies of his sailors after a very long journey. But I did bury something. In this humbling experience I buried my ignorance about conflicting opposites. Now I better understand how conflicting opposites can live in harmony, and how that harmony is compromised if justice and appreciation of differences is not understood or respected.
Special thanks for my dear friend and mentor Eric Noak for guiding my English writing style. I extend the gratitude to those passionate Bahraini friends who showed me what does it mean to be joyful, respectful and humble but without losing dignity.