Bahrain’s Men in Souq


Souq is an open-air Arab marketplace. Unlike its counterpart in Dubai and Oman, the Manama souq is still traditional. No modern timber roofing, no tiled flooring, no security guards and no women tending the stores. This is a men’s world.

Too often, it is the woman who is in charge of the market: selling, buying and bargaining. For an outsider, it is surprising to see that in the traditional Arabic souq, it is the man who is in charge. He is the vendor, the tailor, the host, the merchant, and the shopper. With the profusion of sight, sounds, and aroma, it is easy to get lost in observance of the old Arab ways. Trading is in full throttle in men’s hand.

But don’t be mislead, it’s not all work for men in souq. Arabic tea and shisha (tobacco on water pipe soak in fresh fruit juice) are served at narrow alleys for them to exchange the latest news or relax with friends and meet people.

As a female, I have apprehensions on walking alone at the souq. I came in early to avoid the crowd. I was thinking that an hour is enough for me to explore the place. But after taking my first shot, I felt comfortable. I actually felt safe and ended up enjoying my photo walk for 4 hours! The oldies are friendly and allowed me to take their photos. They offered me tea (which I decline for safety reasons) and free samosas (fried pastry with vegetable filling) which I cannot resist : )

To the men in souq it is more than just a marketplace; it is the center of activities that provided the social energy required for turning business into something more personal and more caring.

And for me… the souq is the place where I felt the Arabic hospitality.