It's Friday prayer in Manama's Adliya neighborhood, and the voice of an angry imam blasts from the loudspeakers of nearby mosque. Looking to watch the Australian Open on TV, I hop into a cab and head north to a bar in Hoora. I pass on my destination to the driver, a Bahraini in traditional Gulf Arab dress of thobe and dishdasha, and we're off.
“Would you like to watch TV?” he asks. Well, sure, but whe....Now I see. There are screens on the back of the headrests in front of me, and another in the driver's center console, where the radio should be. He pushes a button and the bass blasts in stereo sound. Akon appears onscreen with Snoop and a gaggle of writhing hotties. “I wanna F**K you!” says Akon.
Does he get sports in this thing? I start fiddling with the buttons below the monitor, trying to change the channel. “It's a DVD!” he says, turning to smile at me.
I see. So this supposedly conservative Muslim cab driver is playing a DVD of raunchy hip hop and rap videos for his mainly Western clientele. Brilliant. Except that he's been sucked in: minutes later, while Shakira's hips are telling grave truths, his eyes dart back and forth between screens -- windshield, video, windshield, video. Somehow, we make it to our destination.
As I pay him, a question comes to mind: the videos might improve his tips, but considering Manama's unpredictable drivers, how long will the salad days last?
Later that afternoon I get into another cab and the driver offers some of Manama's earthly pleasures. “Would you like a woman?” he asks. “Very nice, you get everything – massage, shower.”
One thing's for sure: these are not Osama's Muslims.