Again, I want to interrupt the story of our trip for a message, this one from Queen Rania, wife of the King of Jordan. This is such an important and effective interview, I want to encourage everyone to listen to it. I have admired the King for so long but have never heard from her before. What a powerful message.
Saying goodbye to Muscat and our decadent luxury, we loaded up an SUV, and with a new driver headed up the coastline then west to the mountains and a different look at Oman.
First stop was the market in As-Seeb. On the outside were vendors selling vegetables and fruit from their trucks. While I was hesitant to approach, all these men were friendly and quite willing to be photographed. Then, inside the fish market, we were treated to fish auctions and aisle after aisle of fresh fish ready for purchase as buyer and seller haggled over the prices.
This turned out to be an excellent place to further investigate wizars and their use, since everyone pulled up the hems in their long white dishdashas to avoid getting them soiled and smelly. I found out one should not look too closely when they were sitting on flat surfaces – they were not schooled in how to sit modestly in a skirt. Hiding the family jewels was not necessarily a concern, at least in one instance, although feet were carefully tucked away so they didn’t offend anyone. Priorities. I was able to get a good photo of one classic pose; the focus of my attention was not happy to be photographed but said he was willing. He was beautiful, absolutely timeless. Unfortunately, the lighting was not good. But his is still one of my favorite photos from the trip. Notice the wizar.
After leaving the fish market, I was surprised to see that we drove past the location of the Royal Cavalry on our way out of town. Since this was a public place, I felt there would be no harm in taking a photo. The well-manicured exterior hints and the immaculately groomed grounds within.
From there, we went on to visit Nakhal Fort where we climbed endlessly while learning about Omani life and culture of the time. Here we met a whole series of gentle museum/tourism specialists who added to our positive view of Oman with their sweetness.Our guide, a former English teacher, met the first of his many students that we would run into all over the country. They had not seen each other in a long time so they did the most touching, absolutely precious-to-see social ritual of nose kissing. It happened quickly, and I was in the car so I didn’t get to photograph it. At my request, they did it again, with some embarrassment (as seen here), while being filmed (such a kind pair!), but I learned later the camera did not record it (the sun made it impossible to see what the camera was doing).
So, I am attaching a photo of a postcard instead. This is done only between men. I can’t imagine anything cuter to behold!
Heading up a wadi, we stopped at a quiet serene (except for the people) pool Ain a’Thawwarah Hot Springs. Two young girls were swimming, so I stepped out onto the rocks first, then into the creek itself. In spite of warnings to be careful, I ended up slipping on the rocks and taking an unexpected plunge. A bath did hurt, and by the time I was out of the water again, I had met a German couple from Stuttgart, which was not far from our home in Heidelberg.
The two little girls were delighted with my swim but our guide, I think, was a tad embarrassed. I suppose I had broken a million rules on the conduct of females in public. Other females past puberty were sporting black shrouds and milling discretely on the sidewalk and patio. He got over it after awhile, though. We ate our first meal in an informal, outdoor setting – we had a short power struggle over where we would sit, the men preferring the shade, and I, still soggy wet, preferring the sunshine. We compromised but putting a table half in in sun and half in shade. Afterwards, we were ready to travel up the Wadi Bani Auf, the most beautiful (they say) mountain road in Oman.
The mountains have a brown, muddy-surfaced appearance – looks a like Gaudi had been here practicing for Sagrada Family. Eventually, we arrived at our mountain camp in the Jebel Shams. It was already cold and got even colder as the sun went down.
That evening we had a wonderful talk with our guide in the campground restaurant. He was very willing to discuss the ongoing problems he had with his two wives. It seemed that wife number one, with two children, was not fond of wife number two. Number One was in Sohar in the north and Number Two lived in Salalah in the south. He also was free in sharing his experiences on his Haj – he called it his hike. It was our first glimpse into the heart of a muslim. His experience to me sounded very much like a conversion experience in a Christian church, and he was very sincere and tender in his description of his feelings about it all. I felt we experienced real fellowship that night.
After dinner, we returned to our cabins – so glad they were concrete and protected us from the winds that were by then very strong. Thankfully, I was out of the wet clothing and dressed in my warmest clothes by now. Still, I passed on a shower. Even with a little extra heater going to add to the regular heating of the cabin, it was still very cold. I would wait until we were down below in the desert, I thought. (Had I realized what was awaiting us there, I would have showered here!) So, to bed we went, staying close for warmth, and looking forward the next day.
January 5th was our last day in Muscat. The day had been added onto our trip expressly for a Folk Concert that was to take place outside the lovely National Opera. The First Royal Band was to perform traditional music, but in the end it was cancelled for “technical problems”. But, we had a fun day anyway.
Late in the morning, we took a taxi to the Opera Galleria where we enjoyed seeing the luxury shops. There was an Omani Heritage shop there selling a variety of crafts. Included among their merchandise were wizar. Our search was over! A couple of months earlier, I had brought conversation to a complete halt at a charity banquet dinner table when I asked if anyone knew what Omani men wore under their dishdashas. I guess that even for people that know me this was a bit unusual. A dear friend who had spent a lot of time in the Middle East (spy) explained a few items I might expect to find there, the most interesting of which was a thing called a wizar.
Doing a little more research, I learned that the wizar was actually Indian and had been adapted for use in Oman. It is a long piece of fine cotton fabric about a yard wide that is wrapped around the waist like a long skirt. I learned that European women loved to use them as festive table cloths. Some of their husbands enjoyed wearing them at home with a long-sleeved shirt instead of blue jeans. Well, I set my sites on buying a couple and succeeded in embarrassing any number of male shop attendants as I came in, a Western woman, inquiring about their underwear. The search had come up dry until we came to the Galleria heritage shop. The salesman there was clearly accustomed to Western women’s odd requests and didn’t blink an eye when I told him what I wanted. Rather, he opened up a cabinet to reveal a whole series of wizars of various styles and lengths. I picked out two that I liked (can’t wait to have folks eat dinner on my Omani undies!!)
Another shop I enjoyed at the Galleria sold masers, which were worn on the other end of male bodies. These were the awesome scarves wound around the head into marvelous turbans. Tom and I had bought a couple at one of the stores that failed to stock my wizars (or SAID they didn’t). I think we had paid about $120/scarf. At the Opera shop, I learned that these were on the very low end. I saw masers priced at $2500 and higher!!! The vendor was very sweet and showed me a wide variety of styles even though I had explained I couldn’t afford them but just wanted to appreciate them. We saw him later and he again greeted us warmly. Love Omanis so much!
We followed our shopping with dinner at a traditional Omani dinner at a restaurant next to the plaza on which the concert was to occur. After eating, we were shown around all the rooms and told what they were used for: among them, one more private room for couples, and another for the Sultan and his staff when they wanted privacy. The latter had a sliding door rendering the room sound proof when closed. As we left, our hands were again sprinkled with rose water.
There was a conspicuous absence of activity in the plaza, so we walked over to the main door of the Opera. It was here that we learned that the concert had been cancelled. While we were disappointed, we were downtown and had seen a huge Lulu’s department store earlier. Tom flagged down a cab and we gave him directions. This was the only time a cabbie had taken advantage of us while we were in Oman, but it was our own fault – we failed to clarify the cost of the trip before we got in. We paid at least twice what it should have been – shame on him! He was a poor representative of his country. Lulus’s reminded me of malls we used to see in Germany. I don’t remember their names. And there was a mall with similar structure in Seoul when we were there; felt very familiar. Lulu’s was lone store in a bigger mall, which we also toured.
When we were done, we again found a cab, returned to Al Bustan, and packed our bags. The next morning we sadly had to leave. We had experienced a beautiful week in wonderland, a true second honeymoon for us. Actually, a first honeymoon, after 46 years! (When we got married, our honeymoon was a drive around Lake Superior up into Canada during the last week of January.) At the hotel, everyone knew this was our last night and each was especially nice (and the cynical Susan says, tip time!). Carlton-Ritz definitely stands a head above all the others. We had had so much fun here. It was a New Year’s Celebration we would never forget and a week of bliss as we pampered ourselves, or rather, let them pamper us!
Now, back to our story. On Sunday, we had had the incredible experience of visiting the Royal Cavalry HQ and the lovely runners and jumpers at the immaculately-groomed facility in As-Seeb. We had been blessed to see General Alshahwarzi in his own habitat, surrounded by a clearly-devoted staff, and dressed in Army khakis, handsome and absolutely immaculate .
We had had photos taken, which were to remain private and for our own use only. And, General Abdi had given us lovely personal gifts, including a photo album book and history of the Royal Cavalry that I had been waiting for, to become available for purchase, for months, but it hadn’t. It was like he had read my mind. Sadly, we planned to get together one more time before we left but through SNAFUs, that never happened before we had to leave town. He had an event at the mosque with his son on our only available night, and we missed an email inviting us to dinner at Al Bustan, with the same group as before, on Friday night. We were gone anyway, two days before, and didn’t get the invitation for several days later when we came out of the mountains and deserts to Salalah. God willing, the General will be coming to our races again this year – it is a testament to Omani character that they would take an interest in our tiny little races. I continue to shake my head in wonder at this little fairy-tale kingdom.
The next morning, our cooking class was scheduled – this had to have been the funniest part of our trip. Scheduled through Ocean Blue Oman, with Clara Zawawi, owner, and Anna Palaszynska, who seems to be the General Manager, the event was to occur at Bait al Bilad, their fully restored and authentic village house on the beach of Qantab, the fishing village that lies along the Gulf of Oman, near our hotel. They also offer guests an authentic Omani dining experience, surrounded by the jebel (mountains) and the sea, but today we were going to learn to make an Omani meal ourselves.
As we hopped into our taxi, we realized we had no idea of where we were going other than the name of the village. But it was a small village, right? So we didn’t worry, though the taxi driver seemed a bit concerned. Anna had pointed the house out when she took us on the sunset sea cruise along the shores another day, so I knew in a general way what we were aiming for.
We found two colorfully dressed native Omani women sitting under a tree working, so I stopped to ask if they had any idea where Bait al Bilad cooking/restaurant might be. Actually, this was a cooperative effort since they didn’t speak English and my Modern Standard Arabic (though I worked very hard on it) was basically useless here. One of the women knew what I wanted and shouted out directions to the driver. Oh, dear . . . my only criticism of anyone here . . . to be as kind as I can, let me say she had an “uncultured voice”. Should they ever need an Omani Eliza Doolittle, however . . . or a raucous crow voice imitation for a commercial . . . .
Anna was talking with a neighbor while standing in the dusty roadway looking down the road in our direction. It may also have occurred to her that we had no idea of where we were supposed to be. We hugged and then she led us to their tree-covered, Mexican-style walled patio. We were introduced to our tutors for the day and our work began. The two village ladies were dressed in bright colors just as the two ladies under the tree were earlier.
For starters, Tom and I sat outside on cushions while they demonstrated good technique for making their very, very thin traditional bread. The bread pro would take a handful of very soft dough, bread and water only I think, and would sort of slap it lightly against a heavy, centimeter-thick metal oval that had been preheated to the point that droplets of water would run off if flicked at the surface. She made it look so easy, quickly covering the surface with thin dough without burning even one finger. My turn . . . I tried and tried but one attempt after another found its way to the reject pile. Then, it was Tom’s turn, but his sorry messes were put on the “good” pile. Blatant sexism!
I tried again and ended up laughing and crying in frustration as lumpy messes flowed from my fingertips. I vowed to buy my own pan and master this at home. (Never give up!!!) Thankfully, I have been spared further humiliation because we were far, far overweight and I couldn’t ship one home!
From here, we all went inside to prepare a hot dish and Omani doughnuts. Tom and I cut up veggies and received explanations about the spices. I was a little concerned when I saw garlics going into the mixture – I HATE garlic (a residual affect of too many years spent in Korea) – but I couldn’t taste it in the final product later (they must really put A LOT of garlic in Korean food for me to have acquired a life-long aversion to the stuff). One of the ladies again demonstrated awesome dough-taming skills as she grabbed a handful of thicker dough this time, squeezing her fingers in a loose fist until a little glob appeared in the hole formed between her rounded thumb and fore-finger. She would take a spoon each time a measured-portion of dough appeared and would cut it off and shoot it expertly into the waiting kettle of boiling oil. Never a splash. We later would find these little doughnut balls for sale all over Muscat.
Finally, we were able to eat. We had helped prepare a salad, too, and all was very prettily set on the table out in the courtyard of Bait al Bilad. By this time, a third woman was present – maybe from Sri Lanka? I forget. But she looked just like my mother did in her wedding photos. She graciously allowed me to get her picture so I could show my niece later.
The food was oh so very awesome! We left with our own set of spices and a recipe book so we could make the same good foods at home. I still may try to buy that round bread pan . . . glutton for punishment. Failure bothers me . . . it is very motivating!
This was without a doubt the most fun we had in Oman. I don’t know when I have laughed so much. I think we spent the rest of the afternoon out on the lawn of Al Bustan being served drinks as we read our books and enjoyed the sunshine, as visions of little doughnuts danced in our heads.
A children’s book may not be the best way to get an in-depth look at Islam, but it guarantees that everything will be expressed simply. My third blog entry, in this pause from describing my trip, concerns the third book I found in a bookstore entitled, “What is Jannah?” (As a side note, it is very difficult to read literature written by muslims about God because every time He is named they add apostrophes like, “glorified and exalted is He.” The flow of thought is interrupted each and every time – it is giving me a headache!
This book begins with a father (maybe?) asking a boy if he remembers reading about Adam and Eve and the beautiful Garden where they had everything they could ever want. The boy asks why God created beings who could do terrible things upon the Earth. God replys that everything that happens, whether it is good or bad, is part of God’s plan. (I have always had trouble with this idea. Christians will tell you this, too, but I think sinful persons carry out wickedness that has nothing to do with God’s plans. Rather, his plan is achieved in spite of wickedness.)
The father tells the boy that everyone who does his very best to obey God will have the chance to live forever in “Jannah” after God “brings all things to an end on the Last Day and then creates them again.” The child is then joined by another, a girl, and they ask what Jannah is, and the following pages cover the following ideas:
It is a Garden prepared for the righteous (Quar’an 3:133). They will live in the presence of God forever (Qur’an 9:21,22). People will be happy there and will have big mansions (Qur’an 9:72). The righteous will be invited in with a greeting of, “Enter in in peace and security” and all hurt in their hearts will be removed. (Qur’an 15:45-47). People will wear bracelets of gold, green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade, and will have raised thrones and comfy couches to lay on. (Qur’an 18:31) They will praise God who has removed all their sorrow, God who is all forgiving. God will forgive all their sins, and they will not have to experience either scorching heat or biting cold anymore.
I receive the mailings talking about the 29 virgins for men killed in jihad and sent directly to heaven. Indeed, I viewed one very creepy video of a slimy little mullah vividly explaining heaven, with the twenty-nine young women restored to virginity every morning so they are always ready and waiting for more sex. I wish to God I could remove that ugly vision from my mind! But this often-repeated image of heaven is an ugly vision, not the beautiful heaven that Muslims believe in. It is a great disservice to continually use this as a way to make fun of and criticize a belief system we know little about and understand even less.
I think my break from telling the story of our trip is going to include two more entries – today’s blog on Islamic Values, and a final entry about the Muslim view of heaven, as explained to Children. One of my goals in visiting Oman was to try to understand how Muslims could describe Islam as a religion of peace when we see nothing but the most despicable acts from their representatives on the news every night. And their history! Western Civilization’s experience with Muslims was always in the context of wicked and brutal war. America created its own Navy because of Muslim Pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. Down through history, Muslim nations have been the poster child for bad neighbors.
I am still grappling with this, but I am starting to better understand what is in their heads and hearts. In my last entry, I shared the 99 Names of God in the Quran. Today, I would like to share a list of values drawn from their religious writings. I wish I could share the discussion of each that is found in the little book I found. The values are as follows:
Thoughtfulness and Exploration, Appreciating Beauty, Thankfulness, Caring for others, Generosity and Sharing, Sensitivity to suffering, Mercy and Forgiveness, Fairness and Justice, Living by the rules, Accountability to God, Being Self-Disciplined and Serene, Modesty and Humility, Cultivating Brotherhood, Unity and Harmony, Willingness to lead, Learning and Spreading the Message of the Quran . . . .
All right . . . we might have a problem with that last one because historically that has been done through violence and war – convert or die. But keep an open mind to the others . . .
Faithfulness and Steadfastness, Hope and Patience, Courageous and Confidence, Seeking of Knowledge, Honesty and Truthfulness, Realism and Self-Criticism, Being a Lover of Peace, and, finally, Reflection and Spirituality.
These are the things that Muslim’s aspire to . . . it reminds me of the Fruit of the Spirit from our New Testament. Clearly, the Islamic Extremists have missed something here and there. But again – remember our loving Kansas Church: who knows what they would do if given a chance to “lovingly” evangelize the world! Nut jobs can be found everywhere. Unfortunately, the islamic ones have guns, bombs, and place no value on lives, including their own.
Several times the people we met on our trip made a point to condemn the actions of the terrorists – they don’t understand what is happening in their world either. One of our cab drivers had had his family business in Pakistan blown up by the Taliban; now he was a cabbie in Dubai trying to provide for a family back home. In addition to knowing people everywhere are being killed in the name of God, Muslims bear the embarrassment of being connected in the eyes of the world with these brutal attacks. Yes, some sympathize and support those doing the attacks, but many others don’t. I plan to try to see Muslims through their own voices, as expressed in the values above. We each are responsible for how we live our own lives only and for what we do with God, regardless of the religious label we give ourselves.
I want to take a brief break from the record of our trip to share something I ran across in a bookstore. Just before we left for Oman, there was a lot of popular debate concerning the question, do Muslims worship the same God as do Christians? As far as I am concerned, we worship one God, the creator of the universe; they do, too. Case closed. Same God, but different beliefs about how to live one’s life to serve him. Well, in a bookstore I came across children’s book written by a Canadian muslim for her child. It is called, “Who Is Allah?”
Since most of the articles I saw written and addressing this question were quite negative, I was interested to read a muslim’s explanation of God in simple words a child could comprehend. Seemed pretty good for non-muslims, too. One part of the book lists 99 names of God found in the Qur’an. I wanted to share those now. This list was prefaced with the statement:
There is no one who deserves to be worshipped except Allah . . .
the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, the Sovereign Lord, the Holy, the Peace, the Faithful, the Guardian, the Mighty, the Compellor, the Superb, the Creator, the Maker out of Nothing, the Fashioner, the Forgiver, the Subduer, the Bestower, the Provider . . .
Find anything offensive in that? Let’s continue . . .
the Opener, the All-Knowing, the Restrainer, the Extender, the One who brings to low, the One who raises up, the Honourer, the Dishonourer, the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, the Judge, the Just, the Subtle, the Aware, the Clement, the Magnificent, the Forgiving, the Appreciative, the Sublime, the Great, the Protector . . .
Aside from the British spellings, any arguments? More . . .
the Sustainer, the Reckoner, the Majestic, the Bountiful, the Watchful, the Listener, the All-Embracing, the Wise, the Loving, the Glorious, the Bringer Back to Life, the Witness, the Truth, the Trustee, the Strong, the Firm, the Patron, the Praiseworthy, the Reckoner, the Originator, the Restorer, the Quickener, the Destroyer, the Alive, the Eternal, the Perceiver, the Illustrious, the ONE, the Eternal Support of Creation, the Able, the Winning, the Promoter, the Retarder, the First, the Last, the Manifest . . .
We are almost done now . . . I find typing these titles to be uplifting and spiritually moving even as I just briefly think on each . . .
the Hidden, the Governor, the High Exalted, the Righteous, the Relenting, the Avenger, the Pardoner, the Pitying, the Owner of Everything, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty, the Equitable, the Gatherer, the Self-Sufficient, the Enricher, the Withholder, the Distresser, the Beneficient, the Light, the Guide, the Incomparable, the Everlasting, the Heir, the One who guides along the right path, and finally, the Patient.
This is the God worshipped by Muslims everywhere. Is there anything in this that would distinguish their God from ours? I think it profoundly unfair to let a bunch of ignorant terrorists define our image of Muslims. Why should, “God is Great,” (Allahu Akbar) be surrendered to a bunch of murderous thugs? Wouldn’t it be wonderful, as Christians, to be defined by the Westboro Baptist Church? Why do people pretend to know what Muslims are and believe, having never talked with them about their beliefs, and then proceed to mistrust them on the basis of our own misperceptions? Why focus on some embarrassing parts of their holy book that were written at a much different age for different people? Just as we no longer follow certain parts of our New and Old Testaments, they ignore and discount parts of theirs.
On our trip to Oman, one of my favorite moments was an evening up in the mountains when we were dining with our guide. He said he had made his “hike” to Mecca, I asked him questions about it and, finally, encouraged him to share his experience as he had confessed his sins and asked God to guide him, and be with him and in him forever. His face glowed, there were tears in his eyes when I asked if was truly personal. I feel that we had a meeting at the spiritual level. He had shared, as best he could in another person’s language, the depth of meaning this moment had for him and the change it had made in his life. It was as sincere as any sinner walking the aisle of a church after singing multiple verses of Just as I Am. I don’t know what God expects him to do with Jesus Christ; no, he doesn’t follow “our formula” but he was as sincere as any person could be in his experience with God.
I believe that God has chosen to deal with Muslims differently, just as he dealt differently with Christians than he had done with the Jews. I cannot believe that God would look at that level of love, sincerity and commitment, then say they cannot go to heaven because they had failed to follow the path proscribed for Christians. God is a just God and merciful. God gets to figure it all out in the end.
With the globe marked by evil everywhere, and with a new bombing almost everyday now, I think good people, God-loving people, need to acknowledge each other, support each other, learn to respect and love each other, and seek ways in which we can have fellowship together. It is the government’s job to find and imprison or kill wrong doers. It is God’s job to sort things out in the end. Our job is to love and try to understand, and, if peace is what we want in the world, to try to make peace in our own small part of that world.
That is the one word I would assign to all we saw today. Handsome and beautiful. The soldiers and staff, the magnificent Arabians and thoroughbreds, and the grounds of the Royal Cavalry of the Sultanate of Oman. By request, I will not post pictures here, keeping them only for private enjoyment, but the stable felt serene and would have fit harmoniously in the southwest. This was without a doubt the high point of our visit.
We were picked up at 9:30 by one of the general’s drivers in a Cavalry sedan. During the long trip across town to the seaside village of Seeb, we listened to soothing classical music on BBC. Turning off the highway at the Seeb exit, we drove along the wall of the compound to a guarded gate. Guards questioned our driver briefly and let us pass. We parked by a rose-sand colored, flat-topped building edged by pink flowering bushes. When I asked to take pictures, we were told he had to ask his Boss. Who is that? General Abdi.
The General was still in his meeting, so we were entertained awhile by his director of administrative things, served hawala, the Omani sweet made from brown sugar, and offered coffee by an Indian civilian in white shirt and pants. He stood quietly at attention when not serving – very interesting. After awhile, we were passed off to another soldier who drove us to the stable area where we met their currently-racing stock, both thoroughbreds and Arabians. Their trainer and a jockey described each mount’s achievements. Did I mention handsome? Omanis, without any doubt, won the gene-pool lottery.
After caressing, patting, and scratching an impressive collection of beautiful horses, including an 28-year-old welch pony, who had earned its way into this impressive company through years of loyal service, we visited a small but interesting museum. It was filled with gifts given to the Sultan by various governments. There were ornate saddles and other tack, and also a poster of Omani Army ranks. I have been trying to find this information and hadn’t been able to do so. I wish I could have taken a picture.
Eventually, we received a call that General Abdi had finished his meeting and would like us to return to his office. We came, shook hands, and were guided into his office. I immediately wanted to laugh – every surface was covered with horse statues that were probably gifts from everyone who had visited down through the years. Just as we did, they had searched for “just the right gift for the General.” I bet he would be delighted to receive a camel one day. Ah, no! Not a camel. We learned last night that he hates camels. (I am sure there is a good story behind that.) But at least, a present that was different and unique!
A woman was also in the room with us. She sat next to the General and was introduced as his sergeant. I recognized her from one of the DVDs about the Cavalry – she had sweetly helped one of the female riders mount her horse. I had assumed she was a mother or sister, but she is actually in charge of all the female riders. I wondered, too, if she might be with us as a sort of chaperone, so I wouldn’t be one woman alone with a group of men. I have so many questions all of the time about what happens around me! And I can’t ask them all – I wouldn’t be invited back!
After our meeting, we took a few pictures – the General looking impeccably neat. Seeing him today as the military man was so very special – he clearly is adored by his staff. How blessed we are to have met him. God is so very good.
Tonight we were part of a scene worthy of the best Dick Francis horse-racing mystery. Characters included a bloodstock agent, a jockey who had just won a big race for the queen, a beautiful, exotic female jockey representing a sultan, a British lord and lady, a Persian photographer who grew more charming as the evening wore on, a mixed group of riders ready to embark on a 300-mile, 14-day trek around the tallest mountains of a small Arab country, the American couple (clearly Tom and I) and the gracious, handsome host of it all. Does it get any better than this? We had so much fun! It felt like receptions and dinners in our last few years in the military, especially in Heidelberg -I have missed that!
It was so very good to see General Abdi again, this time in his own world, in his element, surrounded by people who love and respect him. He wore his dishdasha – very pleasantly Omani and heart warming.
We feel so blessed to have been invited to join his group over dinner tonight, the night before they launch their big adventure. To my left were the two young jockeys, across from them the bloodstock agent and the beautiful woman whom (I think) works for him. Then, we had an owner of a public relations firm that sent her to the far corners of the earth. Next to her was the vivacious Lady, The Lord being at the other end of the table. The charming Persian was to my right and just happened to be the author of a book I had been watching for – it was supposed to have come out in November but I hadn’t seen it available yet. I had even exchanged an e-mail with him. Small world. The others – the table was too long and my memory to short to keep them straight, but clearly, the General, then, was the handsome host. So much fun to draw out each person’s story as the evening wore on!
Tomorrow we will visit the Royal Cavalry, but sadly the General has a budget meeting in which he is the junior, so if it isn’t over in time, we may not see him again there. So happy to have touched base again, however. We are so blessed.
The magic continues. We ended the old year in celebration and brought in the new watching lanterns filled with hope floating out into the sea.
December 31 opened with breakfast on the patio followed by a few hours of reclining on lounge chairs on the 80-acre lawn stretched along the beach. Palm trees provided shade as we read, ate (always eating!!), and people watched. Attendants had spread towels out on our chairs, then brought us a cooler full of water bottles and served sandwiches when we were ready.
Eventually, we had to return to our room to get ready for our sunset ride off shore to get a different view of the city. I had been suffering bad-hair karma since arriving; I blame it on the mean things I have said about Rand Paul’s curls. First, my hair wrapped itself into
my own set of curls, and now, I burned it with a straight iron. No more curl problem. With tons of healing hair product, I was able to appear in public. When Anna, our contact with Ocean Blue Oman, arrived to pick us up, we were delighted to have a face to match with the name at last. Her parents, who were visiting from Poland, would join us in their own private boat, where we were later served wine, nuts, fruit, dates and water as we cruised along the coastline past our hotel, communities, fortresses, mosques and the Sultan’s old palace.
Back at the hotel again, we quickly prepared for the evening. Finally, I would be able to wear the lovely blue frock Tom had bought me way back in July in Old Colorado City just for this occasion. We took pictures by the grand Christmas tree then went out to the patio
where we were seated and elegantly served all evening. After three and a half hours of dining, we strolled out onto the lawn and found ourselves a comfortable spot to sit on a lounge chair to the side of the band. Although we could not get reservations for the beach party, we ended up with the best seats in the house – we could see everything. After a satisfying performance, preparations began for the midnight hour. People at beachside tables lit fires to warm the air in huge lanterns at their tables. On cue, these were released at the same time and floated into the air and away toward the sea. Then, we had our countdown to the new year, kissed and sang. It was all very moving and exciting – more than I could have guessed. Tired, we returned to our rooms and dropped into bed.
The next morning – today – we were awaked by room service encouraging us to get up so they could clean. Merciless thugs. We put them off an hour then breakfasted on the patio before retiring to the garden by the pool to lounge and read. We were next to a pool with eight palm-tree islands growing out of its waters. At noon, we enjoyed our three-hour New Year Brunch. So much wonderful food. I must stop!!! It was Friday, the Muslim holy day, so after eating, we rested a couple of hours until the stores would open. After, I bought hair serum to get my hair through its crisis until I get home and could have a hot air treatment. Then, we caught a taxi to the souk.
We were able to finish all our shopping. Two stores, which Anna had recommended, were especially helpful. At one, the owner explained the various qualities of pashminas and showed us examples of each. I bought two men’s headscarves from a pile we were shown. Tom took a video of a demonstration on how to wrap the scarves on a head. At another shop recommended by Anna, we were shown khanjars. Tom picked out two for our son and son in law, and one for himself, a beautiful one, silver, inlaid with gold, made after the pattern used by the house of Said. Very lovely! From other, shops we bought pashminas and small gifts, but then . . . We came to the gold market.
On both sides of a long alleyway were small shops with counter and wall cases filled with with gold jewelry – 21 and 22 carot gold, the color so rich it looks fake to a westerner accustomed to looking at our 14 carot jewelry. I cannot imagine the millions of dollars in wealth represented by what I was seeing, and not a security guard insight. Ah! And all those women we had been unable to find? They were all here in the gold souk, little black bundles lined up against the counters waiting their turns to talk with the proprietors. There must have been over 100 black-shrouded ladies of unknown ages, mostly with eyes visible only. The jewelry was sold by weight plus a charge for fabricating.
I found the shops full of women overwhelming and had decided to come back during the day when the local ladies would be at home. But then, Tom and I found an empty store and decided to go in. It proved to be a wonderful choice. The young Omani man behind the counter had gone to school in England and was both willing and able to talk about his life and customs. His father owned the shop, and he had eleven brothers and sisters. After high school – college he called it, distinguishing it from university – his father brought him home saying the university would spoil him. We bought three sets of earrings from him, one each for Jodi, Dawn and myself.
With the purchase of myrrh and amber, my shopping was complete. I would have liked a little box, but they were too big. And I had a lot of boxes. So, Tom and I climbed stairs to get a bite to eat by the market gate. There on the wall was my new favorite of the ubiquitous pictures of the Sultan. Most showed him looking benevolent, intelligent and stately. In this one, he was in a military uniform with the warrior’s strong, hawkish demeanor, ready to attack or defend, capable protector of the nation. Our taxi ride home was accompanied by something that sounded like a stock report – lots of numbers. Again we dropped exhausted to our beds.