Like many romances, this one began in Paris.
I had travelled up from Heidelberg, Germany, through miserable winter weather, with my husband. We had come for the 2012 World Arabian Horse Championship and a concurrent Salon du Cheval.
On arrival, we learned that the event was sponsored by a place called the Sultanate of Oman. I knew this was in the Middle East, but nothing more – probably some oil-rich country filled with bearded radicals and women swathed from head to foot in black. Having had troops deployed in the region since Desert Storm, my ideas about the countries and people there came largely from the nightly news.
Before reaching the main show arena, we entered a foyer decorated with an arabian theme. In one corner was a pretty woman dressed in brightly colored, sparkling clothes. A few other people stood nearby but we took little notice of the group. Smiling, the young woman offered us a bag of gifts, including some DVDs, a hat, and a noise maker. It surprised me to see a woman (1) on her own, (2) wearing pretty, colorful clothes, and (3) with her face exposed instead of being well-hidden under a burka.
It seemed very generous of the Sultanate to not only sponsor the event but also to give every person a generous gift – this event was free, included in the price of the Salon du Cheval. The encounter was brief but memorable. We often told friends about our experience with this unknown little country.
Then, three years later . . .