The day was March 16, 2011. The Arab Spring was in full force. Already, regimes had toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, with protests in full swing in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and in Bahrain where I happened to live and work.
In Bahrain, the protests had been going on for six weeks, prior to this day. My friend and roommate, woke me up at the crack of dawn, about 0630am.
“They are about to start the assault…” He said to me, followed by an awkward pause as my senses were still half-asleep.
“Alright, I’ll see you on the top floor” I replied, as he went up to the forty-forth floor, while I got changed and followed him up.
We lived one block away from the Pearl roundabout, the focus of the anti-government protests, and as I peered out the forty-forth floor window, I could see dozens of Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), tanks, and thousands of troops amassing on the left-hand side of our viewpoint. Then all hell broke loose. Gunfire, tire burnings, helicopters, the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire, molotov cocktails, even a few car bombs; people running and falling, only to be followed by an advancing army armed to the teeth. Not a pretty sight at all.
Once everything was wrapped up and the government forces had shot, arrested or scared everyone away, a curfew was declared in the entire region. My friend and I did a horrible job preparing for such an eventuality, as all we had in the house was protein shakes and water (We ate out everyday near the American base for 6 weeks for when the shit hit the fan, so groceries wasn’t high on our priority list). But we had to make it to the suburb next to the American base again this morning, in this case, after the shit hit the fan.We already had emergency go bags packed. We grabbed them, our passports and went downstairs to the car. But before we got into the car, we walked outside the building (with our passports in our hands) towards the nearest police patrol, who were scattered every few hundred metres. As we approached, we told them we were Australian and American, and we need to get to Juffair (next to the American base), while we flashed our passports. “No broblem, no broplem. Go” they said in the arabic english (Arabic has no sound for P.)
We got into the car, and drove off. We took a right at the round-about a few hundred meters in front of our place, and before we knew it, there was five soldiers running at us. So we stopped the car, wound down the windows, and told them the same story we just told the earlier group of police. Except this lot of soldiers wasn’t as friendly (friendly being a comparative term here, as all the soldiers were shooting at innocent protestors not one hour earlier, who were simply demanding what their King had already promised them).
Upon completing the need of our trip, the soldier looked at the road ahead, looked back at us, and said “Good luck…” in a very sarcastic, ominous tone that gave us the goose bumps, but go ahead we had too, so we did.
For reasons I will never know, I put my passport in my pocket, as I hit the gas and drove off. Not 400 meters away, out of nowhere, eight soldiers start running at our car pointing shotguns, and screaming at us to stop. I froze for a second (though the car didn’t.) Luckily, my friend snapped me out of it with a quick smack across my chest, and I slammed on the brakes. If I hesitated for a second more, that may have been our last drive. Sitting in the parked car, we now noticed the two APCs behind the eight soldiers; one manned with a fully automatic machine gun which you would expect to see in a Rambo movie, while the other had a grenade launcher, and both manned with soldiers.
We know enough at this point to slowly step out of the car. My buddy, who had the good sense to not pocket his passport (though he looked like an all-american American so the passport was more of a formality for him) was holding it up so there was no doubt. I, however, am an arab, and without my passport in hand (nor could I reach for it without risk being shot) looked like the protesters they had spent their morning shooting. As the soldiers approached, they kept their guns trained on me, the big threat that I was, with my purple shirt, and grey shorts.
Having almost being shot at for not stopping the car quickly enough was not the end of my trials and tribulations. A strangler soldier showed up, barged past the others with his baton, and lifted it above his head, ready to strike me down. I didn’t have to freeze, I was already frozen. Nothing I could do. If I dodged it, one of the others soldiers, the ones with shotguns would pop me; stuck between a rock and a hard place as they say.
“Where are you from???” his commanding officer interjected at the last second.
“…Australia…” I responded.
“Ohh… We thought you shia brotestor… Go back…” he said, as his baton-happy soldier lowered his weapon, unhappily it seemed.
I glanced over to my right, and saw a “shia brotestor” laying on the ground with a hood over his face as he was being zip-cuffed by a soldier, then picked up and thrown into a car, and driven away. My buddy and I were allowed back into the car, and had to go home. We eventually made it out, the same way we tried the first time, though several hours later, as a friend of ours who had an uncle in the police force called us, saying if we take that same route again, everything would be clear. We took our chance and made it out, luckily.
In hindsight, and unbelievably, I am grateful for these Near-Death experiences. Not many people know how they will react in the face of death, and it may leave them with an uncertainty about how they will face the inevitable. I do know that I will face it with at least some dignity. I don’t want my last act on this pale blue dot to be of pissing my pants or begging. Not that it matters, because I’ll be dead after, but it matters while I am on this side of the great divide.
And that wraps up the somewhat self-centered, four-post series of being an atheist in a foxhole. Thank you for reading.
In other news, I just launched my author website, and I am giving away free copies of my upcoming book, Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World, to the first one-hundred people who sign up for the email newsletter on the home page. The book will be released July 31st, 2012, so make sure you are part of that first one-hundred!