Focusing on maintaining a sense of calm, I began planning for our guests. Four days before the URGENT email arrived, my knee had been totally replaced. Thankfully, I had set aside two weeks for rest and recovery – I used these free days to get things done now.
I was alternating between a drugged stupor and pain as I made phone calls and sent multiple emails trying to verify the identity and plans of our visitors. I could only walk a few steps so was limited in the territory I could cover in making arrangements. And, I still had my primary job, which was ensuring we had 150 volunteers in the right place at the right time on racing weekend.
This close to the races, there were no rooms available within 40 miles and we had no idea what special needs the middle-eastern delegation might need, or even whether they might have their wives along.
Some of our group were more than a bit skeptical – was this a scam? Worse yet, America recently had learned that ISIS had established an encampment just across the Mexican border 300 miles away – were these people even legitimate? Or, were they terrorists pretending to be from Oman? Border towns were on alert; citizens everywhere had been urged to keep their eyes open and report anything abnormal.
My concern was, how could we care for them adequately and make them feel welcome and appreciated?
Eventually, I confirmed that there were only three people coming in the Omani delegation and they would stay up in Tucson, which made things manageable. I was very sad, though, that I couldn’t host them locally and entertain them more generously. Under circumstances, it was the best that could be offered, but to this day, I still regret not taking them in and providing better hospitality.
But preparations fell into place. Friends at Churchill Downs sent us an email telling us the do’s and don’t’s for entertaining guests from the Middle East. Seats in the turf club and grandstand were arranged, and members of the Racing Committee agreed to meet the Omanis at the gate when they arrived on Saturday morning; regrettably, I had to be elsewhere to manage volunteers. A young couple who owned a local business agreed to be their hosts during their visit, resolve any problems, and ensure their time went smoothly. I purchased gifts but couldn’t find attractive gift bags on short notice. We lived 35 miles from the nearest Walmart, and, once there, I could barely have hobbled a few steps. In the end, I found embarrassing paper bags for the gifts and trusted in the generous spirits of our guests to understand we were doing our best.
With a little online research, I learned from photos that BG Alshahwarzi, the head of the delegation, was associated with all aspects of the horse industry worldwide. He was a horse person. He was also a military man. As the spouse of a full-bird colonel in the U.S. Army, I felt we could make inferences about his character from his rank. He was a seasoned “two star” so should have nothing to prove. Officers who made it to the rank of General were almost always kindly, caring, competent people, assertive but rarely arrogant or possessing a sense of entitlement. In his many online photos, the BG had a kind face and kind eyes.
We looked forward to the visit by our new Omani friends at 10 am on Saturday morning, May 2, 2015, of Kentucky Derby weekend, when our little track also scheduled its races.