Spence Green

التكرار يعلم الحمار

I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Weekly Post

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Last week I toured Oman by car. This country exceeds the Emirates in every way (geography, culture, social decorum, history, etc.) save for financial prosperity. Below I have included excerpts from a letter to a friend. I hope the friend doesn’t mind… Look at the pictures as well.

We crossed the border around 10 intent on camping along the beach in Sohar, just two hours away. Seldom have I driven through such a desolate area; we went many miles without passing a building or any other sign of life (besides a stray donkey or two). Exhausted, we reached the beach after midnight, and found it strewn with trash and lined with fishing boats, prepared for an early start. Aimless men drifted along the road and we decided not to stimulate them. The idle mind finds great solace in peculiar phenomenon, such as two white guys pitching a stupid tent beside a mosque. The traditional town of Sinbad the sailor had managed full hotel occupancy that night, though, due to an enterprising development. A concierge, presiding over a rager (likely 100 guys and a Moroccan belly dancer), informed us that “A new business…it is coming now.” Everyone seemed most pleased, hence the rager, except for us, having received neither invitation nor subsequent accomodation. We thus slept in the car.

Yesterday, we explored Muscat, the capital, and were amazed by two things. First, the local people are among the most congenial Arabs that I have met. As far as one can generalize about a population, the are not afflicted by the insufferable arrogance caused by effortless money. Also, I am not ashamed to say that Omani men are beautiful. They have clear skin of dark bronze, lean frames, and distinctive facial features: eyes sharpened by the sun, high, punctuated cheek bones, and slim mouths set in an inquisitive smile. Should I marry one day, I will never bring my wife here.

After a long drive south this morning over dirt roads, we reached Wadi Tiwi (“Wadi” = valley or canyon in Arabic). A wadi tends to collect rain water, which causes tropical plants to grow, despite the neighboring desert. This one had emerald pools flanked by rows of date trees, wild grass, and shrubs with broad, rubbery leaves. The canyon walls, which rose severely for several hundred feet, revealed striated stone of ochre, purple, and orange. We had spent several hours at a previous wadi and were now somehow anesthetized to the beauty of this place. As we walked, I devoted my attention to kicking a rock. We continued on for a time and then a truck approached from the wadi’s entrance. Seven Arab boys filled the cab and bed. The truck slowed and I asked in broken Arabic how far they were going. I understood the driver’s response as two kilometers, though he had a thick accent. We climbed in the back with the others and continued on. None of them spoke English.

We went through several villages and then began ascending the wadi’s latter wall. The truck had not slowed, so I asked again how far we were going. This time, I heard “12”. I suppose that we could have hopped out, but what fun would that have been? The roads deteriorated significantly as we approached their village, “Meeboon”, and we bounced along like socks in a dryer. After ascending for miles, the truck accelerated down a short decline, rounded a bend and came to a halt. The village was a wonder. Concrete shacks were perched along precipices above the road. A small date farm covered the ravine to the left; the sound of running water indicated the source of this oasis in the mountains. Adults sat on the roofs of the huts and children ran about barefoot. As we climbed from the vehicle, the children immediately ran towards us, saying “Hi, Hi!” and shaking our hands. The boys that had brought us here–all students returning from school–moved quickly to their homes for lunch and a change of clothes. We were lead from one child to the next, as if a baton in a relay. Finally, a boy of thirteen and his brother lead us down the ravine toward the running water.

The thick trees gave way to a series of pools separated by waterfalls. Although at ease, we chose not to swim, which would further compromise an already disadvantageous situation. I thus retrieved my Arabic book, sat down, and started learning with these kids. It has been several years since I received a lesson from an 8 year old. After several minutes, three other boys appeared, one of which greeted us from a distance in good English. His mates followed close behind, the smallest of which produced a large, serated knife, which he gripped by the blade. I was disconcerted, to say the least. Before I could get up, he was behind me, and I thought that I would soon meet God, Osama, or both. The older boy immediately explained the weapon. It’s a date knife, he said. That boy has been working. Although still unsettled by a three foot boy with a one foot knife, I spent the next hour with these boys, learning words and hearing about their lives. We found the same driver later that afternoon and he took us down the mountain to our car. No problem.

The alarm comes not from personal experience but from my nationality and the world situation. In general, these people are more open and forthcoming than Americans. For example, if I showed up at your house unannounced, you’d likely tell me to beat it. Sometimes I lie (today I was a British English teacher), but most of the time I don’t worry. Only a few degrees separate adventure and stupidity, but the risks that I have taken thus far have resulted in the most remarkable interactions.

Written by Spence

February 26th, 2006 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Travel

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