The wall of heat hits you as the second set of sliding airport doors open, kicking you rudely out from room temperature paradise into the outside world. It’s stepping into the steamiest bathroom you’ve ever stepped into, and then some. Water condenses on you, leaving you feeling like you’ve started sweating already after barely a few seconds. It’s night-time, it’s 35 degrees centigrade, and the humidity is so all-consuming that it must have reached 100% and just kept on going.
Welcome to Bahrain in July.
From there it’s half an hour’s journey through Manama’s perpetual traffic jam, in a mercifully air-conditioned car, to the King Fahd Causeway and all the passport-checking, visa-stamping, fingerprint-scanning fun that entails.
When at last you emerge from customs, you are greeted by the sight of a tall, floodlit mosque tower – and next to it, only slightly taller, a pole on which reside the legendary Golden Arches of McDonalds. Perhaps there’s some important lesson there, of the global megacorp asserting its dominance over tradition and over religion. Once the last prayers of the day have been and gone, Islam closes for the night. But the drive-thru is open 24 hours.
Then on, out past the end of the Causeway, out past the orange haze of Dammam and Khobar, out onto the long snaking desert road. The glaring lights of continuous roadworks blind you, flashing arrows steering drivers away from piles of sand and rubble left folorn, dreaming of the extra lanes and junctions they might one day become. And between them all, dotted about the landscape, concrete works and desalination plants, petrol stations where the fuel really is cheaper than the water, flashing lights atop pylons and oil refinery spires in the distance.
All business here is built of the three elements of which the entire country is made: oil, heat and dust. Vary the relative quantities of these, and you will find in them the recipe for every business by the side of every motorway here beside the Persian Gulf.