IF I’ve been looking a little creased of late that’s down to a weary wardrobe saga that unbelievably was set to run for weeks and weeks on end.
When the Szecowka family prepared to head back to the UK after a ‘come for two, stay for 12’ year stay in the kingdom, we’d sold everything we didn’t want to take back and the last thing we expected was to end up hastily buying any more furniture.
That all changed when I suddenly did an about-turn on the career front to join the merry ship GDNonline.
As a result I needed a few items for the unfurnished apartment I was going to move into, small enough for me to live comfortably (and cheaply, what with the fear of exorbitant electricity bills) but with an extra room for when the children returned on visits.
The good lady wife Kathryn spotted a cheap wardrobe advertised and arranged for a man with a van and his team of helpers to collect, dismantle and re-erect.
It seemed perfect but, of course, it wasn’t.
The man with the van and his team delivered the parts and said they’d come back to fix it whilst I was away in the UK with the promise that it would be done by the time I returned from my summer holiday.
Of course, when I landed back in Bahrain and made my way into the apartment, it was still in bits and pieces in one of the bedrooms. The man with the van apologised when I called him and explained that his ‘carpenter’ had misplaced the screws and brackets etc. and had himself gone back to India on vacation and would return ‘probably’ in a month.
I waited, and waited and waited a bit more. In the meantime I used the shower rail to hang my shirts as well as the doors of said wardrobe. I lost most of my trousers that had somehow hidden themselves between two of the doors piled up against a wall.
They remained fairly scrunched up and the dodgy iron I’d been left behind with didn’t seem to master the creases either. Weird really, because it badly blistered my finger when I checked to see if it was hot.
I rang the man with the van several times but I think he remembered my number and deliberately avoided answering his mobile. On one occasion another gentleman picked up his phone to relay the message that the chap was in hospital. What’s wrong with him, I asked, he has a ‘fever’ I was told.
I thought of joining him in casualty with my throbbing burned finger.
In exasperation, ‘she who must be obeyed’ called him long distance from our family home in Bristol, muttering something about ‘you need a woman to get things done’, and the man with the van and his crew promised to call round the following weekend.
So, several months after purchasing it, the merry men arrived, now with a ‘different carpenter’ and a bucket load of screws, nails and joint connectors, and set about the task of erecting the wardrobe.
There was plenty of crash, bang, walloping going on as I kept out of the way in the living room watching the football.
The match had ended by the time they reappeared and it wasn’t good news. They said they would have to go back to their base to collect some more tools. I thought that would be last I would see of them for another couple of months. But no, two returned with extra screws and nails to finish the job a few hours later.
The mighty wardrobe now stands. It will probably need a sledgehammer to dismantle when I eventually move out. The doors might not be quite level and the hanging rail on one side is at a weird height, but at the least I can place my clothes undercover with pride.
Goodbye scruffy Stanley … the smart one is back in action.
SOME people are born with an inner radar … and some people are not. Unfortunately my sense of direction is notoriously non-existent.
The only way I can remember my way around is to remember a particular sign, building or monument; head for that and I can happily go on my merry way, even if it means a detour of several kilometres compared to those who follow a more direct route.
I recall when I first arrived in Bahrain that if I spotted the Gulf Hotel sign (which at the time shone brightly from the top of the building like a homing beacon) I could find my way to the office in Hoora or the right road home to Saar.
Things went incredibly well for months until the property was renovated and out went the neon flashing symbol for a more subtle and modern look.
It was a great improvement to the property but left me lost and heading towards the Saudi Causeway instead of home for several months.
Things have not improved. Not only have I moved from the expat heartland to Sanabis but I’ve also moved offices from Exhibitions Avenue to Sanad.
This is seriously challenging.
None more so than when I set off for an appointment at the Brit Club for a gathering arranged by the British Embassy Bahrain team.
I have yet to master the ‘travel time’ required for travelling from the GDN offices to various locations on the island. Each place has its own peculiarities and I had perfected the Hoora run to perfection when you take into account the time of day, school runs, roundabouts and traffic lights, especially if a police officer has switched off the automatic sequencing to take manual control of them.
But Isa Town has its own unique challenges, I’ve discovered in recent weeks, including road ‘improvements’, numerous ministries, a driving school, roundabouts, supermarket entrances and an education zone where parents and school buses have created their own set of rules when it comes to driving and parking etiquette.
So, there was no chance that I was going to arrive at my destination on time by only allowing Google Maps’ suggested 16-minutes for the journey.
I arrived at the Brit Club just as the embassy team was packing up to go having dished out their help and advice to mostly newcomers to the island and a rather vocal number of Arab women married to Brits, who were keen to know whether they would be given sanctuary alongside their husband and kids if circumstances dictated a swift departure from the region.
The embassy team neatly side-footed such conversations offering contact details to the relevant British governmental departments but, at least, I got a nod of sympathy when I raised the issue of my British-born son being forced to return to the UK to study so that he wouldn’t be treated as an international student when it comes to university.
Having enjoyed a hearty hotel lunch with friends and a business appointment at a beach resort where the new executive chef insisted I try one of his fancy pastries, I was pretty full but noticed that there was a plethora of chafing dishes by the embassy roadshow signs.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth is always one of my favourite sayings, so I wandered over, placed a handful of salad on a plate along with a couple of Indian bhajjis.
Seconds later I was swooped on by a member of staff and told the buffet was BD6.500-a-head.
It was not a complementary stack set up by the embassy team but the tented venue’s Indian buffet being sold by the club’s Ruby Murray restaurant chefs.
That’ll teach me. Another phrase comes to mind: 'there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch' … or evening snack for that matter.
It was time for bed.
Now, I have a history of getting lost on my way to and from Um Al Hassam, as the Manama Theatre Club will bear witness by the number of calls I’ve made to producers saying ‘I’m on my way’ to review a show.
This time, I had good old Google maps on standby. Unfortunately, I punched in Sanad instead of Sanabis and arrived at work instead of home.
Mind you, it impressed my boss, Editor-in-chief George Williams, who said: “Hello Stan, back again?” as I strode purposely into the office.
Well, it’s a new job and first impressions count.
It’s just me and Brian IV … otherwise I’d be home alone in Bahrain.
The Szecowka family has relocated back to the UK so that Stan Jnr can study for his A levels at a British school and not have to pay exorbitant international fees should he wish to continue his studies at a university in his home country.
Whether or not he’d actually have ended up being treated as an overseas student if he’d stayed on for sixth form at St Christopher’s School is a matter of conjecture and really depends on who you talk to about the subject.
The rule book states that your child should have three continuous years at a school on British soil even if he or she was born in the country and it would appear some universities are sticklers and others tend to look the other way.
We didn’t want to risk it, so the family uprooted from Janabiya and moved back to the family home in Bristol during the summer holidays.
We arrived one hour after the tenants of 12 years moved out. Our house and been home to a variety of men from the Ministry of Defence, mostly senior servicemen attached to the Royal Navy. In fact the officer we met on the stairs prior to the key hand-over ceremony had spent some time in Bahrain at the new Royal British Navy facility here.
The great thing about renting your family home out to service personnel is that you can guarantee that place will be left spic and span when they leave (apart from a few dents in the walls and a broken bannister caused by sofa-shifting it appears).
Although it was practically spotless, the good lady wife Kathryn decided she wanted the place decorated and new carpets in the living room and bedrooms. No rest for the wicked this summer holiday then?
The rescued desert dog Lucky and the two mutts I’d picked up for the kids, after spotting an advert in a shop bulletin board eight years ago, arrived four hours later. We did most of the transport arrangement ourselves to cut costs, with assistance from the Animal Care Clinic in Hamala, the men from the Ministry and British Airways.
There was a dizzy spell of panicking when Kathryn misplaced the pet passports but, apart from that, everything went swimmingly well. A company collected them from Heathrow and delivered them to their new home in which they have settled in remarkably well. Lucky loves the British climate and the grass.
Fortunately for me, the container with all our possessions did not arrive until I returned to Bahrain, so Kathryn had to sort out all the boxes with Stan Jnr, ably assisted by our heavily pregnant daughter, Imogen.
I flew back to Bahrain to a new apartment without any electricity. I crashed on the bed in a room lit by street lights in the distance and awoke floating in a sea of sweat.
I was the first one at the electricity and water offices begging to be switched on after paying the deposit. I was helped to master the desk queuing system by an acquaintance who took pity on me and who just happened to have recently moved too.
So now I’m living in an apartment in Sanabis with Brian IV for company. He had been looked after my fish-sitter friend Charlie during the summer exodus.
I love that fish although I’m not sure it’s mutual as he took a chunk out of my arm as I cleaned his tank the other morning.
I’ll be flying back to the UK in November to see my new grand-daughter. Until then, keep up to date with my expat exploits in this column and by visiting www.gdnonline.com
The scales of stupidity.
Apparently, the fish came already tattooed from a supplier in Thailand and according to the friendly shop assistant, they’ll lose the flower tattoo within a year as they grow.
COUNTRY and gospel music legend Rusty Golden was sent packing back to the USA after flying to Bahrain to visit family, perform to his army of multicultural fans and American servicemen and women based with the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
After a frantic two-hour discussion with immigration officials at Bahrain International Airport he was scuppered from entry into the kingdom over ‘visa issues’.
Ministry sources suggested it was ‘collateral damage’ of a government crackdown on the vice trade at border control with victims of human trafficking previously being sneaked into the region under the guise of working in the ‘entertainment industry’.
“I’m so disappointed,” said Rusty, 60, a man who can boast five No 1 records, two of which were named ‘Song Of The Year’, a Grammy Awards nomination as well as a Songwriter of the Year accolade, and who calls Bahrain ‘his second home’.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “I’ve had to come back home but I’m so disappointed this has happened.
“I suppose I looked suspicious. I was told it had something to so with the songwriter line. I was kept outside a glass room for two hours. They told me I was not allowed to enter and to go back home.
“I may not have been looking forward to the heat but it was going to be my fifth anniversary of visiting the kingdom. I paid out a lot of money to be able to leave for six to eight months.
“I’m still packed and ready to come. If I got a call that said: “Ooops, our mistake, please come back and play that country music white boy, I would be on a flight back in 24-hours – from Nashville, via Heathrow and on to Bahrain.”
It takes him almost as long to make the trip. “It’s the lay-overs that add up to a journey of roughly between 18 and 22 hours … but it’s worth it,” he explained.
“I was talking to a guy next to me on the plane and he’s from the US state of Oregon - a Navy kid, saying he hoped there was a place in Bahrain to hear the ‘kind of country music that my daddy listened to’.
“I nearly choked up and cried because not only do I know those songs, my own daddy sang a few of them.”
When he was seven his father, William Lee, moved him and the family, mother, Frogene, and brothers Craig and Chris, from Brewton, Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee so that he could pursue his career in music as a member of the Oak Ridge Boys, a country and gospel vocal quartet.
Within six years they became one of the most popular groups in the land, selling in excess of 42 million records, including the classic Elvira, a song that’s been keeping the family’s bills paid since 1981, according to Rusty.
In 2015 the act was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame as well as being made members of the famous Grand Ole Opry.
The Oak Ridge Boys were flown over to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at the 41st US president’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. They were old friends of George H.W. Bush, who died last year at the age of 94.
In 1984 Rusty received a gold record for his song-writing contributions on the Oak Ridge Boys album Bobbie Sue.
Rusty decided to concentrate on his songwriting by signing with PolyGram Music and his songs were recorded by various country and pop stars. Also, during this time he continued working as a musician on tour, including backed actress and singer Miley Cyrus, and recording with various artists. Starting in 1994, and for years afterward, Rusty also promoted his own concerts.
During his trips to Bahrain he regularly set the stage alight at Big Texas Barbeque & Waffle House inside Best Western Plus - The Olive Hotel in Juffair, helped local acts with recording and performing guidance, as well as playing and singing at Sunday gospel services at the US base.
The visits are all thanks to extended family connections. Big Texas is owned by restaurateur Milly and logistics businessman Radford Cox, with managing partner Bryan Malone, playing an important role too.
Rusty was on the same British Airways flight last week from Heathrow to Bahrain as Stan Szecowka, editor of GDNonline, and posed for social media photographs as the aircraft circled above the Arabian Gulf, ironically on show alongside one of the performer excitedly brandishing his passport in readiness for his journey.
“Due to a mix up with my visa in Bahrain and the amount of time it takes to get a new one, it was decided the best thing to do was return home to the USA. I took the return flight back to London,” said Rusty.
On arrival in Bahrain, visitors can be issued visas for 24 hours, 72 hours, two weeks or three months, depending on their need and at the discretion of the immigration officer. Arrivals may be asked to provide evidence of onward or return travel. If they enter as a visitor they must not take up employment, highlights the World Travel Guide.
The Ministry of Interior, Nationality, Passports & Residence Affairs declines to comment on individual cases but a spokesman said: “Kindly check eligibility and review all terms and conditions related to the visa before your visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain before submitting your information and purpose of the visit.”
The Coxs are currently in the USA on business matters and to visit friends and family. Milly said: “Now, instead of a special entertainer permit, if he’s going to come back we’ll have to apply for a worker’s visa as an entertainer and, hopefully, he will not be denied entry this time.
“I’m still in America so we will arrange it when we return.”
ONE of the most respected figures in world cycling Rod Ellingworth will become team principal, Team Bahrain-Merida, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) WorldTour professional cycling team, from October.
The team, a joint venture between Bahrain World Tour Cycling and McLaren, has quickly established itself as a new force in professional cycling.
Ellingworth, 46, who has played a key role in both Olympic and World Tour cycling successes across two decades, said: “I’m delighted to be joining Team Bahrain-Merida as team principal.
“Since the team’s break-through season in 2017, I’ve been impressed by its competitiveness. McLaren’s co-ownership of the team now provides a unique opportunity to look at every area of performance with a fresh perspective – and I find this massively appealing.
“I’m also excited by the opportunity to bring my own knowledge and ideas to the team and can’t wait to get stuck in.”
His identification and development of some of the best professional cycling talent over the past decade is well-recognised. Ellingworth officially begins at Team Bahrain-Merida in October but in the interim he will be working with the team’s leadership to plan for 2020 and beyond.
Founded by Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, representative of His Majesty the King for Charity Works and Youth Affairs, Supreme Council for Youth and Sports chairman and Bahrain Olympic Committee president, the team has been supported by a number of local businesses too and cycles in Bahrain’s national colours.
The aim has been to help elevate the country into the global consciousness again, alongside the kingdom’s Formula One endeavours. The team, consisting of pro-cyclists from a plethora of countries and continents and participates in a variety of UCI events.
GM Brent Copeland continues with the team in his current role, and he will work with Ellingworth to determine the ‘most effective’ future processes and structures.
The team has had some recent successes, notably in May with rider Jan Tratnik proving himself the most skilled rider on a technical course to take victory in the prologue stage at the Tour de Romandie, as reported in GulfWeekly.
The Slovenian overcame strong competition on the opening day in Switzerland, finishing a second ahead of defending champion Primož Roglič. Tratnik took the leader’s jersey with Roglič, the best placed general classification contender in second, while reigning Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) came fifth at just four seconds down.
The triumphant Tratnik said at the time: “It was really special, my first World Tour win and my first in a Bahrain-Merida jersey!”
McLaren Group, partly-owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, is globally-renowned as one of the world’s most illustrious high-technology brands and become a 50 per cent joint venture partner in Team Bahrain Merida in December 2018.
The partnership is rooted in three key areas: technical collaboration, human high-performance and marketing and commercial services, delivered through McLaren Applied Technologies and the group’s marketing specialists.
The move signalled the continued ambition of the McLaren Group to innovate at the intersection of technology and human endeavour, and reflected the ‘collective vision’ of its Bahraini ownership to unite its investments in sport and technology through McLaren and Team Bahrain Merida.
McLaren Applied Technologies undertakes challenging projects that naturally fit with McLaren’s skills, experience and technical capacity. Competition, racing and the combination of athlete and machine are the lifeblood of McLaren’s 50-year-plus history and cycling is one of the rawest examples of all those elements coming together.
Getting former Team Sky performance director Ellingworth is considered quite a coup by the cycling media. He had worked with Team Sky since its creation in 2010, playing a part in their Tour de France victories, and also taking on several roles in British Cycling, where he left his position as the men’s national team coach last year.
Mark Cavendish is one of the many riders who has been influenced by Ellingworth with the former Tour de France winner stating in several interviews that he had learned a lot from Ellingworth … and not only about cycling. Ellingworth worked on Cavendish’s hill climbing by motorcycling up a hill and making him chase him to the top.
Following the decision by British media company, Sky UK, not to renew sponsorship, the team secured financial support from the British chemicals group Ineos, with the team thereby renamed as Team INEOS since April.
Ellingworth is currently on gardening leave from Team Ineos, having worked alongside GM Dave Brailsford since their British Cycling days, and will officially leave over the summer. He is no longer listed on the team’s website.
The 46-year-old will now go up against his old boss in WorldTour races and will find himself with similar financial backing. One source close to the squad said there were plans to apply F1-level analytics to cycling and that the squad has ambitions to be ‘the Han Solo to Ineos’s Darth Vader’.
Cycling Weekly also reported that rider Chris Froome had said losing Ellingworth would be a ‘big blow’ for the team. “Rod’s been there from the very start for me, even before the Team Sky days,” Froome said. “It is a big blow. Suddenly we’re going to miss Rod Ellingworth at Team Ineos going forward.
“We obviously wish him all the best, he’s only going to keep adding a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new team in the future.”
Delighted John Allert, the MD of McLaren Pro Cycling, and a board director of McLaren Racing, said: “Rod’s appointment as team principal of Team Bahrain-Merida underscores our determination to succeed at the top level of this great sport.
“His remarkable track record, coupled with the respect he has earned throughout the cycling community, make Rod the perfect leader for this next chapter in the team’s development.
“Despite his abundant experience, Rod’s voracious appetite for new knowledge and innovative approaches to traditional challenges perfectly complements the team ethos. We are delighted to welcome him to the team.”
TO make an impression in the highly-competitive Friday brunch scene on the island you have to tick all the boxes and add a unique touch of brilliance to the proceedings.
Jumeirah Royal Saray Bahrain has lots to offer, a picturesque seaside beach view, a stunning ambience, cool tunes played by a pretty DJ that doesn’t drown out the conversation, prompt polite service, affordable prices and a selection of tasty surprises amidst its signature dishes.
So that’s ticked about all the boxes I could think of and I’m normally pretty hard to please.
This was our first taste of the brunch experience at the latest five star addition to the Seef coast and the good lady wife, Kathryn and I were joined by my colleague Jalal Muradi who was celebrating his birthday (he’d kept quiet about that but my good friend the Whisperer had tipped me off) with his wife, Zainab.
I’d met the amiable Executive Chef Jocelyn Argaud a few weeks back at the opening of the hotel’s Ramadan tent and was mightily impressed by the cuisine and hoped one of the delights in particular would feature on the spread.
With 19 years of experience in French Michelin star restaurants and international fine dining establishments, he also boasts a royal seal of approval having dished up delights exclusively for members of a Gulf state’s royal family too, according to reliable sources.
He did not disappoint and I’ll come to that later. There was so much more to celebrate from starters to main course choices too with a live grill cooking station outside and a pasta chef and crepe creator dishing up delights inside, amongst others.
There were the expected elements too with fresh crab, king prawns and oysters on icy displays, brilliant olive bread and French mini-baguettes to soak up the sauces, a sushi bar and a salad selection featuring Arabic favourites such as Moutabel, Tabooleh and Baba Ganoush, plus European choices including a superb Seafood Salad with mussels and octopus amongst the mixture.
A retro step back in time came in the shape of a Prawn Cocktail with a modern twist by replacing the traditional slushy mayonnaise, cream, ketchup, lemon juice and Tabasco pink sauce with a jelly.
There was a standout Grape with Blue Cheese and Pistachio, perfectly presented as a single serving, with an explosion of taste as Chef Jocelyn explained. It was a combination of awe-inspiring sweetness of the fruit, bitterness of the fabulous fromage and the crunchiness of the nut. It’s all about the balance and one of those treats that simply hypnotises your culinary senses. More, more, more.
I loved the setting of the Brasserie Royale and the Palm Lounge and when I bumped into the warm and welcoming GM Spencer H. Wadama he thought chef’s cuisine combined with the location was a winning combination with the numbers of diners increasing as word spreads around the community.
With the mains, there were familiar dishes such as Chicken Biryani and Butter Chicken, alongside Braised Beef but I was particularly impressed by the fresh fish offerings, in particular a superb King Fish Ouzi, a tasty fillet placed on a bed of exotic rice, a combination I had never tried before which worked magnificently and made an interesting change from lamb, and the grilled Sea Bass was on a par.
I had to put the outside mix grill to the test too and enjoyed a couple of lamb chops cooked to perfection and the Sand Lobster was superb.
The Jumeirah Royal Saray Bahrain, in the relatively short time since its opening, has built up a fine reputation for its desserts and the choices were impressive with bite-sized Lemon Meringue, Raspberry Panna-Cotta, Tiramisu, Chocolate Brownies, fruit including a perfectly sliced and shaped pineapple display and freshly-made ice-cream in abundance … but it was the resort’s celebrated signature dessert that inspired me to recently set up the Sticky Toffee Pudding Bahrain Fan Club page of Facebook.
Jolly Chef Jocelyn made this old man weep with joy as one of the main dessert attractions were his single mountains of magnificence swimming in a sea of yumminess. With, or without a helping of vanilla ice-cream this dish is worth the brunch investment alone.
Brunch the Brasserie Way for BD27net inclusive of soft drinks or BD35net, with selected beverages. Call 77707070 for more details and to book a table. Check out Stan’s interview with Chef Jocelyn and GM Spencer by visiting GulfWeekly’s YouTube page.
A teacher handed out a small gift to students in her Bahrain class to help ease the stress before their examinations and was stunned to find out that years later one of the pupils was still carrying the good luck charm on his global travels … after a chance encounter in Japan.
Former St Christopher’s School’s head of psychology Lizzie Banks, now living in Singapore, met up with South African teenager William Perois, after receiving a photograph of him holding the treasured ‘worry doll’ whilst she was on vacation.
Worry dolls (also called trouble dolls; in Spanish, Muñeca quitapena) are small, hand-made dolls that originate from Guatemala. According to legend, Guatemalan children tell their worries to the worry dolls, placing them under their pillow when they go to bed at night. By morning the dolls have gifted them with the wisdom and knowledge to eliminate their worries.
“One of the many best things that happened in Japan was receiving an email from a student I taught two years ago,” she explained. “Attached was a photograph of the Guatemalan worry doll that I gave him before his final exam for luck!
“It turns out that he has been carrying it around in his wallet ever since and wanted me to know that it was enjoying another world adventure in Tokyo!”
Given that she was only down the road in Yokohama, a couple of days later the ‘three of them’ were reunited over a plate of Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake.
“His doll had lost an arm and his head and was all bashed in but Will was thriving!” added Brit Lizzie, 52, who is married to US Navy commander John Tinetti.
The story of the worry doll is a local Mayan legend. The origin of the Muñeca quitapena refers to a Mayan princess named Ixmucane. The princess received a special gift from the sun god that allowed her to solve any problem a human could worry about. The worry doll represents the princess and her wisdom.
William, 19, was a student of St Christopher’s School from 2015 to 2017, graduating with aspirations of becoming an actor. He said: “During my final exams, Mrs Banks gave every student in our class the small ‘worry doll’ which bring fortune and relieve stress, to wish us good luck on our exams.
“The day I got the doll, I put it in my wallet and kept it there.”
Will decided to take a gap year after graduating, joining Spartan Fitness Bahrain as a personal trainer for around six months, as well as performing small pieces of theatre around Bahrain.
“From my work, I had saved up enough money to afford my trip to Japan that I wanted to take,” he explained. “I wanted to learn and speak Japanese, as an extra skill for my acting career as well as the country and language being beautiful.
“After a lot of planning I found a school in Central Tokyo and made the plans accordingly.
“After having been in Tokyo for two months, I found myself in a Darts Bar, a very popular type of facility in Japan. Whilst paying, the worry doll I had kept on my person for nearly three years dropped out. ‘Why not email Mrs Banks?’, I thought. And so I did, with a ‘hello from Tokyo’ message.
“I was surprised to not only receive an email back within minutes, but an email saying that Mrs Banks was also in Japan and about to visit Tokyo the coming weekend!
“We organised it and met in an Okonomiyaki restaurant in Shibuya, minutes from the famous Shibuya crossing.
“Ironically, we had kept in touch after St Christopher’s, but never had an opportunity to meet and reminisce about our time in Bahrain. Yet this opportunity presented itself in the Land of the Rising Sun, by complete chance after sending a quick ‘hello’ email. Luck? Who knows?”
FRIENDS of an autistic artist living in Bahrain have rallied round to support his dream of attending a residential camp for differently-abled adults in Canada for two weeks during the summer.
Within a matter of days almost half of the cost of the adventure has been met by well-wishers after a gofundme social media page was set up for Othmann Al Attar by his family.
“I just love art,” he told his mother, Christine Gordon, an expat British long-term Bahrain resident who has dedicated her life to caring for children with special needs and received a top UK honour for her services to education and charitable causes.
Othmann – diagnosed with autism at the age of three – has always loved to draw. His mum would find him making his mark on the walls of their apartment at a very young age and quickly discovered that he was calmest with a pencil or paintbrush in his hand.
Fast forward 20 years and self-taught, naturally-talented Othmann has been showing his art to the world since family friend, Dr Sarah Clarke, discovered that he had an incredible gift for ‘up-scaling’ and interpreting small images into huge works of art, sometimes several metres high.
He is often seen working alongside other amateur and professional artists at inclusive art events organised by Sarah, founder of the Baloo’s Buddies programme at RIA Centre, an inclusive education centre that caters to the needs of students in Bahrain with special needs.
As reported earlier in GulfWeekly, the facility was set up in 1999 by singer Christine and her husband, Emad, a chemist and fellow musician. It has grown from a humble beginning with seven youngsters to an operation catering for between 70 and 140 students.
“My jaw dropped when I saw him do his first work,” explained Sarah. “He took a tiny image of the Harbour Gate’s 2017 National Day Logo and painted it on a very uneven outside wall at RIA centre – no preparation, no measurement, nothing. He completed a perfect 1.5m replica in minutes!”
Since that first challenge, Othmann has created more greatly-admired works of art at various inclusion events such as Art for Autism Awareness in April 2018, #Inclusive Team Bahrain in December 2018 and this year’s Train around Bahrain and Trash to Treasure events held at Harbour Gate, including more large works, as well as smaller intricate T-Shirt art designs.
He’s currently working as part of a team on a major new project with the working title of Arty the Autism Camel. Further details will be announced in the near future on GDNonline.
Both the British and American ambassadors, Simon Martin and Justin Siberell, respectably, have spoken of their admiration of his work and fellow artists working with him often can’t believe what they see – for someone unable to easily communicate through words, his art certainly speaks for itself.
“At RIA Centre whenever we need a poster we ask Othmann to do it – it’s a joy to watch him in his artistic zone doing what he loves best,” said proud mum and founder Christine, who in 2015 was named on the Queen’s honours list to receive the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). “I never realised quite how talented he was until Sarah pointed it out to me!”
After 23 years always at his family’s side, Christine hoped this year could be different for her dedicated and creative son. “He’s been working very hard on our behalf spreading the inclusion message through his art. We think he deserves a break from us!”
Unfortunately, the family didn’t have the financial reserves at the moment, so friends decided to step in to offer support for him to attend Belwood Lodge in Ontario for a longer spell after spending only one day at the facility last year.
He enjoyed an ‘amazing experience’ and gained so much from it. Friends and fellow artists are convinced that as he mostly communicates through art and hands-on exploration of the world, the Lodge would be perfect for helping him to fulfil his potential.
The aim of the camp is to provide an engaging, safe, open setting that offers an opportunity to make new friends, build on current friendships and develop new social skills, all while guests, quite simply, have plenty of fun.
“Happily we’re almost half way to our goal but, although his place has been reserved, they can’t hold it open indefinitely,” explained Christine. “I’ve spent the last 20 years raising money for RIA and thought now it was Othmann’s turn.”
It will cost $2,000 Canadian dollars (around BD570), plus airfare from Bahrain which is another CD$1,500 (around BD426) which includes transport to and from the lodge. Othmann’s Go Fund Me link is: gf.me/u/srgn7q and https://www.gofundme.com/for-a-special-break-from-parents.
Check out more of his artwork on Instagram: @othmannel
Stanley Louis Szecowka
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