Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sheikh’s Beach

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Hamad AL Khalifa, one of our sponsor’s brothers, owned a VW Sirocco, which he had driven overland from Germany to Bahrain. Sheikh Hamad was famous within his family as he always drove to and from Germany every year via Saudi Arabia. He asked us to take a look at this VW one-day, as it was not working to well.
Bob and I took it away from his house and gave it a service and tune up. We drove it around for a few weeks as Hamad told us we could use it otherwise it would just sit in the garage.
One weekend we drove Hamad’s VW down to the Amir, Sheikh Isa’s private beach at Zallaq. Sheikh Isa was Bahrain’s Head of State and Ruler of Bahrain, called the Amir or Emir. His beach was only open to expatriates and no Arabs or Bahrainis were allowed entry, unless Sheikh Isa had invited them personally in advance. Hamad’s car had a private Sheikhs number plate on it, so it raised a few eyebrows when we arrived in it but no one said anything to us as we were allowed to be there.
The Emir’s private beach was the talk of the Bahraini community, especially amongst his own Al Khalifa Family, as all the western women wore skimpy bikinis, which you could not do, at any normal local beach in those days. His Highness, Sheikh Isa had opened up his own beach to us expatriates, which was a little paradise and escape for most westerners.
In my very early days in 1976, the beach house waiter staff offered visitors coffee and biscuits in the mornings followed by tea, sandwiches and cakes in the afternoons. This was later stopped and replaced with bottled drinks as the numbers swelled with a lot of Far East nationals arriving to work in Bahrain who were technically expatriates.
There was always talk of private parties held there at night and these were strictly by invitation only. However in the daytime it was very western with families and single people lazing around, swimming or wind surfing.
Sheikh Isa used to invite visitors to sit with him for coffee or tea and he was there most days. He had his staff give out free soft drinks all day to his guests. He was a remarkable man and once he had met you, he always remembered your face or name, even many years later.
When we finally returned the VW Sirocco to Sheikh Hamad, he asked us, “Had we been to His Highness’s beach in it?” We confirmed we had and asked if we had caused any embarrassment to him? He said no, “You only added value to his car, as it was the talk of his immediate family!”

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