The sky was a hazy gray and the land a dull brown. In the vast flatlands that extended out from either side of the road, enormous excavators were loading sand into dump trucks; other trucks sent trails of dust in the air as they transported the sand to an industrial complex.
Bishkek, the capital
...his eyes fixed on what was going on just outside of the Soviet-era hospital building across the street...Every so often, orderlies would drag out the frayed, red-striped, futon-like hospital mattresses and air them out in one of the building’s courtyards. It always depressed Mark to think that a human being, a sick human being no less, had to sleep on one of those things...
The White House in downtown Bishkek was similar to the White House in Washington, DC, in that it housed the office of the president, was open to anyone willing to make a large political donation, and was, in fact, white. In the Kyrgyz version, however, it was because the Soviets had glued white-marble tiles all over its clunky concrete frame.
Kyrgyzstan's version of the white house.
Riffa was on a bit of a plateau—fifty feet or so above sea level—which was high ground for Bahrain. So when they exited the city, Mark could see the bleak southern desert sprawled out below them in the hazy distance.
Heading south out of Riffa, toward the desert and oil fields.
When I was in Bahrain, the capital city of Manama was fairly calm. Partly this was because I was there in the summer, when it was 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon. It was also Ramadan, so many people were inside fasting during the day. Outside the city, however, there were nightly street battles between Shia protestors and the police. These photos that capture some of the anger.
Before Rad turned his eyes from the bright low sun, he caught a glimpse of a bleak desert landscape and a line of telephone poles that seemed to extend out into infinity.
Oil fields appeared. Chain-link fences encircled nodding-donkey pumps that were connected to each other by tangles of pipeline. Flare stacks—tall chimneys that burned wasted natural gas—dotted the landscape. The fires at the tops of the towers shimmered in the midday sun. Random pieces of discarded industrial equipment lay baking in the sand.
Some knucklehead standing near the border of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. I took some pictures at the border crossing that Mark Sava passes, but the guards made me delete them.
One of many abandoned factories and Chinese laborers building stone retaining walls.
Bahrain is a small island nation in the Persian Gulf. It's also the home of the US Fifth Fleet. Although the majority of Bahrainis practice a form of Shia Islam, the country is ruled by a Sunni royal family. This has resulted in sustained protests and unrest since 2011.
The main island was just thirty-five miles long and some ten miles wide. The country’s culture had been defined by tact and restraint—at least until the uprising had started. While vulgar upstarts in Dubai built indoor ski areas and goofy islands shaped like palm trees, Bahrainis had built a thriving financial sector. While the Saudis to the west choked their citizens with a repressive religious regime, the king of Bahrain talked of allowing religious freedom, and even followed through on some of the talk. And while the Iranians to the north thrived on confrontation with the United States, the Bahrainis had developed deep ties to the Americans—especially to the US Navy.
View of Manama, the capital city of Bahrain.
Mark started to walk toward Panfilov Park, a weedy Soviet-era amusement park located behind the White House...They’d come to a roller coaster. The electric-green metal track was rusted, and there were big patches of dirt in between stands of unmowed grass—the Kyrgyz, originally a nomadic people, rarely bothered to waste time on an endeavor as stupid as cutting grass; that’s what cows were for.
Panfilov Park, in back of the White House.
The Road to Balykchy, followed by photos taken in and around the town.
Bahraini men lining up to pray outside of an overcrowded mosque.
All the roadside yurts that had been stocked with fresh apricots, blackthorn berries, and smoked trout during the summer had been taken down for the season. The tourists from Russia and Kazakhstan, crammed into cars overstuffed with beach umbrellas, towels, and inflatable rafts, had stopped coming through months ago.
Since I was there in summer, all the roadside stands were still there.
The US embassy was located at the southern end of Mira Avenue—a perfectly straight road lined with huge white poplar trees.
Just past a tall clock tower on the outskirts of Riffa, red signs appeared that said Reduce Speed Now and Checkpoint, Stop for Inspection in both Arabic and English. Beyond the signs, thick concrete barriers painted yellow with black arrows directed traffic into a single lane.
Below are photos of the town of Riffa, Bahrain, where the royal family lives.
Entrance to US Naval Support Activity Bahrain, which is what the US naval base on the southeastern tip of Manama is called; the entrance to the port of Mina Salman; US ship.
The causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.
The contrast between the edge of the southern desert—where little grew other than occasional patches of sad scrub brush—and the brilliant green fairways was striking...Mark turned his gaze to the row of windows that looked out over a nearby fairway. A man in Bermuda shorts was swinging a driver as his golf partner and a caddie waited behind him. It made Mark think of the band that kept playing while the Titanic was sinking.
The Royal Golf Club
Three men playing narde, the backgammon-like game Mark Sava is fond of. I took this photo in Azerbaijan, but you get the idea...
All photos by Dan Mayland
Excerpts from the novel appear in italics
Mark ran across Government Avenue, then turned down a narrow street. He was in a pedestrian-only district packed with little shops; an old part of Manama.
The area that Mark ducks into is known as the Manama souk. Below are photos of it.
Spy For Hire