Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad Al Khalifa (RBH)

Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad AL Khalifa or RBH as we called him, was a total Porsche enthusiast. He had owned one of the first Porsche cars in Bahrain, which was a 1975 2.7 Carrera coupe touring car. This was guards red with black interior and had the mechanical fuel injection and was a limited edition car in the mould of the 1973 Carrera touring cars.
In 1980, I had seen his car inside his garage at his family home in Muharraq. I was always visiting some friends Rob and Lynn Gregory who also lived in the same road. Rob suggested I go and knock on his door to see if he needed any help with his car, as we had not seen it ever on the roads of Bahrain. So I called at RBH’s house and asked to see him. I had never met him and after sitting in his house for thirty minutes and taking tea, he came through to see me. I asked him if we could help with any servicing work on his car and explained who I was. He said his car was fine, but I knew from Rob Gregory that the clutch was broken and hence RBH could not drive it. However I gave RBH my pager and office number and told him to call anytime.
Arabs cannot be seen to lose face and I learnt this very early on in my life in their part of the world. You never want to back them into a corner and you should keep talking your way around a problem and this will inevitable find a way for both parties to back down without being seen to. I know that a sound illogical to westerners, but it works. My asking RBH if he car needed any work or servicing had effectively put him in a difficult position and his stock reply was his car was fine. He did not want to be seen owning a Porsche that did not drive.
Some while later, I met RBH by purely by accident at the Sheraton hotel and we went for coffee together. After we talked for a while, I told him to pop by our workshop in Mina Sulman Industrial area anytime he wanted to. Well from these very early days, RBH used to get up late in the mornings and come over and sit in our office for hours at a time. Everyone knew RBH down to the cleaner and he became part of the furniture. I tried to ask him time and time again, if we could help him and slowly we agreed to collect his car and fix his Carrera clutch and got the car serviced so he could drive it again.
He then told me he wanted to order a new Porsche 930 turbo. We went through the specifications he wanted and shortly after he placed his order and paid his deposit.
RBH was very slow and nothing seemed to bother or fluster him. He sat in our office and chain-smoked, one cigarette after another. He carried a 200-cartoon pack of cigarettes around in his car and always several packets in his Thobe (Arab national dress) pockets.
I asked around and it appeared he had been involved in a serious car accident in the USA whilst studying there some years earlier. RBH father was also one of Bahrain’s first Ministers and had a very promising career until his untimely death at a young age. RBH had a younger brother Khalid and they both lived with their mother in their family home in Muharraq. It turned out later that RBH mother was in fact RAK our partner’s sister. Have I lost you yet? 
RBH was the favourite grandson of RAK father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman AL Khalifa, who was now a very old man and the only surviving senior Sheikh in Bahrain. RBH had grown up under his grandfather’s influence and they had gone hunting in Pakistan and Kashmir together some years earlier. RBH had taken on this mantle and he had a large collection of Falcon hunting birds and he used to spend a lot of his time visiting his grandfather. The old man used to sit in his garden at his old house in Jufair and watch his animals for a lot of the day talking to his visitors. He also went to the Amiri Court and sat in on the proceedings there.
I remember seeing him one day and he was sitting in the Amiri Court when the Amir walked in. The old man stood up as a mark of respect and the Amir, who always recognised everyone, saw his Uncle and waited whilst his uncle sat down. There was always a protocol problem as the Amir was always respectful to his Uncle being older and so they used to sit and stand to each other regularly, each waiting on the other. I think we lost such manners in the west some years ago.
When RBH Porsche 930 finally arrived, I asked him if he was getting a Customs Letter from the Amiri Court. All the Sheikhs could request a letter to waive the 20% customs duty. We either presented the letter at the time of import or reclaimed the duty later using the letter. RBH said no, “I will bring one from my grandfather.” This perplexed me but then he added, “It is just like a letter from the Amiri Court.”
RBH brought his grandfather’s letter in and gave it to Ghuloom who processed the import papers and attached Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman own letter and sure enough the car came through Customs exempt. Ghuloom came to me after and told me everyone was so respectful to him when he had this letter with him, and people he had known for years took on a different attitude from then on. Ghuloom showed me a copy of this letter and Sheikh Khalifa’s signature was actually a tracing of his name in ink over pencil by one by his secretary! The signature in Arabic, was the complete width of the A4 page side to side!
RBH was over the moon with his new Porsche 930 turbo and we began to spend a lot of time together. He then started coming round to my house regularly and he often ate with us.

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