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Unlike the French, the Brits do it with a smile

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Remember my less than ideal experience with the French Embassy recently? Well, we applied for a British visa, took an appointment via their website, arrived at the prescribed time in the Bahrain Financial Harbour, did the required security checks and took the lift to the 23rd floor. There we were greeted by security guards with those metal detection wands, waved them at us and off we entered a well lit and airy office with an electronic queuing system.

We sat in their waiting area and immediately noticed the complete absence of bullet proof glass and that everyone there was smartly dressed in professional looking uniforms.

Our number came up, Frances took the pre-filled documents to the assigned desk where the lady looked through 5 sets of 26-paged visa application forms, got Frances to fill a few extra required details, handed in our passports which were checked and passed along to another queue after we paid the visa fees of BD820. You have to budget for visas now as part of your holiday finances! Once that was done, we were called in turn to get the finger prints scanned and pictures taken, and off we went on our way (we had breakfast at a newly opened bagel shop on the 2nd floor, simply scrumptious! The choices they have are mouth-watering and mind-boggling too!)

We were called approximately 24 hours later via a text message informing us that the passports were ready for collection. We all got 5-year visas without any bother whatsoever!

And you know what? They didn’t require 6 months bank statements, no stamped and approved hotel booking confirmation, no issued return air tickets. All they wanted were approximate dates on which we intend to travel!

The whole experience was civil and professional.

There was no one shouting and no Napoleon-wannabe patrolling the decks shouting and denigrating everyone in sight, and no frustrated and frazzled women who have seen better days and climes residing behind bullet-proof glass pretending to be Gallic protectors of the French and larger European Nation from the hordes of Bahraini terrorists and who think that without them personally – together with their diminutive mini-Napoleon-wannabe – that the whole of Europe would crumble.

The Brits can certainly teach the French some professionalism as well as give them lessons on how to treat people in a civil manner. However, I won’t hold my breath for the French Embassy or its masters in Paris to seek those direly needed lessons in better customer-care, though.

Off to the UK, sometime soon and with pleasure!

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The Arrogance of the French Embassy

I was supposed to travel to Greece later this month to attend a Middle East Conference at the invitation of the Greek Foreign Ministry. Unfortunately for us poor souls from this area of the world who intend to go to Greece, we have to go through the hallowed and completely arrogant portals of the French Embassy first.

With my documents almost completely in order apart from a stamped letter from the hotel I am supposed to stay at, a requirement that I thought would be dismissed especially that it was specifically mentioned in the invitation letter that it is the organisers who will pay for both the tickets and hotel charges, was not a sufficient excuse for the gatekeepers at the embassy. But when it was explained to the lady behind the bullet-proof glass, she brought out another fillip in that I have to provide a company letter and commercial registration. Apparently the explanation that I was the owner and detailed six months of the company’s bank statements weren’t enough as proof of sources of funds – if that is indeed what they require – or proof of ownership, as I doubt very much that a company would hand such sensitive details to an employee.

Add to all of this that I sat in a sterile room – which contained notices in English which seem to have been translated from Arabic or French by an 8 year old with an attitude – for more than 10 minutes without knowing when I would be called even though my appointment was supposed to be 10AM, a time which I respected but seems to mean nothing to the French Embassy. Nor does time appear to be of much importance to the French Consul, M. Philippe Touieain whatever who scoffed rather abrasively and arrogantly at my complaint of having to wait for that “just ten minutes, pfah!” and demanded rather loudly to give him a valid excuse of why I withdrew my papers and expressed a wish to no longer wanting to go to Europe!

“It is the arrogant attitude of the lady behind the glass. She could have been a bit more customer friendly at least in explaining the missing pieces of information”

“Ah, it is the attituuuuude then! pfah!”

This is when yet another defender of the European Nation jumped up from behind another plate of glass vouching for her colleague in that I had the attitude problem and that I had that right form the moment I stepped into the Visa section because I had the temerity as to enquire why when my appointment was at 10AM was I not called at the prescribed time and why I had enquired – rather politely I might add – as to what the procedure was?

I suppose I should have felt rather privileged to be in their hallowed offices and that I should just sit, shut up and dream up rather beautiful French thoughts and images while whiling away the time taken from running my business or pleasure, for theirs.

I can now completely understand how the French ambassador rejected allegations made by our very own Ministry of Foreign Affairs “over the ill-treatment of Bahrainis applying for Schengen visas to Europe” but only with the proviso that the respected officials at the embassy must still be wearing rather dark and completely opaque glasses as to restrict their vision and have that abject belief that it just cannot be that their staff are actually in error! Oh mon Dieu!

What shock and horror that the peasant Bahrainis complain of ill treatment and the arrogance of particularly M. Philippe Touieain who I am sure looks at himself as the gallant Asterix who, together with his chosen cabal, protect Europe from the invading Bahraini hordes!

What is it that the lovely lady behind the second plate of glass said in parting? Oh yes: “if we had to deal with just three customers like you in a day we would be shut down.”

Well, don’t let me stop you. Shut down. I don’t think a self-respecting person is going to miss you.

You can keep your precious Europe – at least the part that you have put your hands on for some reason – to yourselves. And thanks to the French Embassy, I shall miss participating in the forthcoming conference in Athens.

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Amman

Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan, originally uploaded by malyousif.

Just arrived in Amman a few hours ago. This is a series of stitched shots from the window of my hotel room on the 20th floor which produced this panoramic vista

Quite a nice (and green!) city isn’t it? The last time I was here I got to see the city and walk up and down the streets whenever I had a chance. This time; however, I will be spending most of my time at the Dead Sea, so that should be another facet of Jordan that I am looking forward to discover.

Strange thing is; though, this is the first time ever I stay at a hotel that not only has tremendous security outside with metal detectors and x-rays, but also has a portable spectrum analyzer!

I was really surprised when the taxi stopped at the entrance and the driver rolled down his window only to get the security guy with the analyzer dangling around his neck to reach in, swab the steering wheel AND the hand of the driver! Only when the swab was tested and the machine didn’t beep were we allowed in.

Yes I feel safe in the hotel, thanks very much… but I’m not too sure about going walkabouts in Amman any more though!

update 080326: Here’s the same view taken at around 6.30 this morning without the afternoon sun spoiling the horizon.

Amman - Morning Panorama

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Mahmood’s Den Scapegoat of the moment

Mahmood’s Den Scapegoat of the moment

In keeping with the Den’s traditions, I have the honour in announcing the Scapegoat of the Moment who will have the unbridled responsibility of carrying ALL of the world’s ills on her shoulder; moreover, she will have to wear a beaming smile while doing so. Frowning and grumbling she is absolutely not allowed.

This she will do while I freeze my butt off in Washington DC and New York until my return to the homeland on March 7th.

Therefore, without further ado, I hereby announce that the Mahmood’s Den Scapegoat of the Moment to be:

bint Battuta!”

So if you wake up with a huge wart on your forehead, it’s bint Battuta’s fault; if you get food poisoning, it’s her doing; if Obama folds to Hillary, it’s absolutely bint Battuta’s doing. If it starts snowing in Bahrain at 40 degrees C, you know who is to blame; if you crash your car, you can bet that she had something to do with it.

You get the picture, I think.

My friends, go ahead and lay the blame at her feet without an atom of guilt, so let it rip and unwind, courtesy of the famed female traveller! ๐Ÿ˜€

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Washington DC here I come!

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I’m honoured to announce that I shall one of the speakers at a RAND Corporation conference, this time in Washington, DC:

Creative Use of the Media II: Washington, DC
February 28th, 2008
Location: The RAND Corporation

I’ll be staying for a few extra days in the area and will enjoy the sights and sounds of Washington, DC and hopefully New York City too.

Any pointers on what I should do and what to see will be appreciated.

I hope to connect with some friends there (BonsaiMark, Desert Island Boy, Silly Bahraini Girl – if they’re not too far away – and Steve all of whom are hopefully listening!), so if you’re in the area let me know. And Steve, I’ll be completely un-armed. I promise!

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No passports needed to visit Saudi

Bahraini ID Card

Finally, after 25 years or so of establishing the Gulf Cooperation Council, citizens of both Bahrain and Saudi will soon be able to visit each other’s country by just using their identity card rather than a passport. This will take effect in 30 days due to an agreement signed at the Interior Ministers’s meeting in Riyadh yesterday.

Thanks! That should make things a bit easier. You wouldn’t believe the number of times that I found out that I didn’t have my passport with me when I reached the border point on the causeway! Soon, I won’t have to worry about that.

One thing they could do is unify the visas throughout the Gulf so that residents in one country can easily go to another without having to go through the onerous steps of getting a recurrent visa from one country or another. For instance, we go through hell (and a lot of begging) to get our engineer a visa so he can visit our customers in Saudi.

Ah well, one step at a time I guess. As allowing citizens to travel to each other’s country has taken 26 years to achieve, to get residents to do so will probably take oooh, another 260 years. Not bad.

Incidentally, did you know that there is a page listing the lost and found ID cards on the Ministry of Interior’s website? Quite nifty isn’t it!

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Off to Amman, Jordan

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I’ll be off for a couple of days to Jordan, the first in my life! But, as I told my wife this morning, all hotel lobbies and conference halls look virtually identical, down to the smell of the cleaning solvents they use!

It’s the semi-annual meeting of the IREX advisory council.

Any idea as to who should be the Scapegoat this time?

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Yumm, good breakfast!

Some days are just special… today is one of those days, I can tell.

The alarm clock woke me up at 4.30am. I hit the snooze button a couple of times and eventually dragged myself out of bed and into the shower 10 minutes later.

Before doing that however, and as I do not use the alarm clock that often, I switched on the bedside lamp to shut the bloody thing up for good so as not to wake Frances up too early. Let her enjoy a few more minutes of sleep. That’s when I noticed that the date set on the clock was wrong, it suggested that today is supposed to be the 29th of April. Stupid alarm and stupid person who screwed up the date. I spent a few seconds fixing that mistake and reset it to the proper date. 30 April 2007. Thanks very much.

Croissant for breakfast

Shaved, showered, dressed and downstairs to bid Filbert good morning at about 5.15am. Got the paper on the way to the car and drove off to Muharraq to catch the plane to Abu Dhabi.

The drive was good and unhurried, it was early yet and not too many people on the road still. I arrived at the car parking lot and got the best slot I have ever managed to get in that place! This is going to be a really good day.

Off to the airport building and the check in computer. Unfortunately it wouldn’t accept my frequent flyer card and nicely told me that it was at fault, apologised profusely and asked me to present myself at a check-in counter, which I did after standing in queue for a short while.

“Good morning sir,” said a laid back almost smiling clerk,
“Good morning!” I replied, joyful even at that early hour, and handed over the ticket printout, my frequent flyer card and my ID.
The guy punched a few buttons and then asked me a rather peculiar question: “did you change your booking recently sir?”
Huh? “Erm, no, why do you ask” as he carried on punching keys,
“Well, it says here that you’re traveling tomorrow, but no worries I found you a seat!”
“WHAT? Whadayameantravelingtomorrow?Ididntchangeanyreservations!”
“Well sir, it says here that you’d be traveling on the 30th?”
“Yeah, so? Today is the 30th!”
(Oh God, a moron in front of me, was the look that drew on his face… smile resumed:)
“Actually sir, it’s the 29th today.”
“Ohmygod. Noway. Isn’t it Monday today?”
“That would be tomorrow sir, today is Sunday”
(muttering and feeling rather stupid) “Oh, in that case, I’ll see you tomorrow morning! Thanks my friend.”
“So shall I cancel today’s travel then?”
“Erm, yeah, thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow”

EXIT, STAGE LEFT!

Damn, how did that happen?

Ah well. Downstairs I go to a cafรƒยฉ, buy a couple of croissants and lattรƒยฉ to go and then drive back to the office… there is nothing like starting a day with a good breakfast, even if you have to drive to another island to get it!

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Goooood Morning Kuwait!

Kuwait City Panorama

It was a good show and I met with great people who I have admired for a long time. It was wonderful to put faces to name and online personalities.

The discussion was excellent, though probably too short of course to cover all the topics we wanted to cover; however, it is enough to entice the viewer to investigate blogging and maybe think of starting a blog themselves, which would be an excellent result of this program. Because of the topics discussed, I hope that the community too will be more aware of our activities and read our blogs to know us better and share in our passions and things that we choose to cover.

The program is anticipated to be aired in April. I shall let you know the actual date when the schedule is actually confirmed.

Diwaniyyat Al-Osbou - Kuwait

The topics discussed included the definition of blogging, what is normally covered in blogs, differences between blogs and forums, the credibility issue, the non-existing specific laws on internet media, how should bloggers be regarded (ie, journalists or normal citizens), how blogs affect political issues and of course how we – as bloggers – evaluate the future of blogging.

It should be a good episode and I am really glad to have taken part. Thanks to Tariq Al-Rubei and Bader Al-Fraih for organising it and inviting me to join this illustrious group.

Getting to Kuwait was a story in itself too! We were schedule to shoot the episode at 9pm so I thought there would be plenty of time to take the 4pm Gulf Air flight from Bahrain to arrive in Kuwait about 5pm. That is, if the plane did not get delayed, twice!

Gulf Air were good enough to actually contact me to tell me that the plane was initially delayed to 6.30pm, which means that I still arrive in Kuwait in plenty of time for the show, but by the time I arrived at the airport, the plane was delayed again and scheduled now to depart at 7.30pm which means there would have been very little time to get from the airport to the studio.

Fortunately it departed just after 7pm, landed at Kuwait airport at 8.10 and as I didn’t have any luggage with me I flew through immigration to be picked up by Bader and flew again directly to the station!

Diwaniyyat Al-Osbou - Kuwait

We arrived with just 5 minutes to spare. Even though it was a recorded show, the studio schedule was fully booked for last night which meant that we only had a specific period to record the show. TV cannot be delayed! Both Bader and I quickly changed at the station and were led to our seats for the recording to start.

It was worth it I think.

Thanks to KTV and everyone who worked at making this program a reality. We should have something like this done by Bahrain TV. I’ll talk to some people I know and see if they accept such an idea.

I hope the flight back to Bahrain this afternoon won’t be delayed this time.

This brings back memories of what GULF AIR actually means: Get Used to Late Flights And Incorrect Reservations!

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