England and Oman BFF

If American is the natural, begotten child of England, then Oman is its beloved adopted child.  I don’t think treaties usually bring tears to our eyes, but one between England and Oman in 1800 touched my heart.  It reads,

“ . . . the friendship of the two States may remain unshook till the end of time, and till the sun and moon have finished their revolving career.”

Young Queen.jpgWhat a statement of faith and commitment between states.  A relationship that started with mutual interests has continued even until today.  England had its hand in helping  His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the current ruler, peacefully overthrow his predecessor, his own father. At the time, Sultan Qaboos was 29 years old.  Queen Elizabeth would have been about 44 years old.

In 2016, the Queen will be celebrating her 90th birthday with a huge four-day birthday bash.  Included among the many performers selected to entertain the Queen and 7000 guests will be the Sultan’s own Royal Cavalry.

In researching Oman, I reviewed many, many photographs, and one of my favorites was taken of the Queen during her 2010 visit to Oman.  In this photo she is greeting the Sultan, and her face is filled with such joy and Queen Today.jpggenuine affection (she is blushing like a school girl!), I began reflecting on the close friendship they must have had over the years. They shared almost a half a century weathering political storms. Now, they each are aging monarchs at a stage in their life when they can look back on all the good they have each accomplished.

As I looked at the two of them together, I had to wonder what their relationship had been like.  I wondered . . . the queen was still very young and beautiful in 1970, when Britain helped raise the Sultan to power.  Did she have any special feelings at the time for the gentle, swarthy young ruler?  However it began, Oman and Britain today remain best friends forever, nation to nation, and monarch to monarch.


100th Anniversary of Horse Racing in Sonoita

Sonoita Races 2015 001Sonoita Races 2015 004

DennyOn Saturday morning, May 2, 2015, everyone was ready for our visitors. The parking attendants had prepared a special parking spot in front of Pioneer Hall, where we could be sure their car would not make an unplanned trip into Mexico.

When our Omani’s arrived, a phone call would go out to our racing committee members who would leave whatever they were doing in order to greet them.  They then would be in the hands of our Racing Committee Chair for a tour of our museum, and after that in the hands of our volunteer host couple.

After ensuring that everything seemed to be going according to plans, I returned to my post to meet my volunteers, making sure they were present and knew where to go and what to do.

Susan and Omani BG copy


Our friends needed to leave after the third race, so it was planned that I would meet them on the track to receive a gift they had brought with them for Sonoita’s 100th Anniversary.  Because of the crowds, I used my walker to hobble out to the track.  Tom followed along in case I couldn’t maintain my balance in the loose, uneven soil.

General Alshahwarzi then presented us with a lovely statuette in honor of our 100th Anniversary.  The rains began immediately and the gift was swiftly carried away to the offices and locked in the museum showcase for safe keeping.

Since our Omani’s were leaving immediately, we said our goodbyes, exchanged hugs, and mumbled promises about meeting again. So, this, then, was the story of how we were touched by a little nation on the other side of the world.  While they were merely making a delivery, we bonded with our guests and their country.

For me, this was the beginning of my love affair with Oman.  It has led me to research the web and assemble a comprehensive collection of books on the history, culture, politics, personages, religion, and language of Oman.  I habitually wake up for a couple of hours during the middle of the night and research the web on whatever topic I am pursuing at the time.  Unfolding the mysteries surrounding Oman has been fun and fulfilling.  I have learned to love the largely-unknown and unappreciated country.

And now, in 34 days, we will board an airplane for the Gulf and meet Oman and its people in person for the first time.

Dinner and an Invitation to Visit Oman

A call came in on Thursday, I think, before the races, requesting a meeting at my home or in a restaurant for coffee on Friday night, the evening before the first day of racing to “discuss any matters that will be beneficial to both our organizations in the future.”

The president of our association and his wife, and another well-travelled couple were happy to help me welcome our guests.  I needed support because in my drugged stupor, I couldn’t always hold two thoughts together much less carry on a good conversation, and I was very tired – weary to the bone tired.

We and our friends met at the restaurant and waited for our guests.  After a day of preparation, someone said they could really use a glass of wine.  Well all agreed, but out of courtesy to our guests would abstain.  Eventually, we received a call that the Omani contingency was in town and needed directions to the restaurant.  Several of us went out into the parking lot to wait for and to greet them after they had parked.

All exited the car, and I walked forward to meet BG Alshahwarzi, greeting him with As-salaamu Aleikum.  Much to my surprise (and forever-after-secret delight) he dropped into a full bow – not a stiff little half bow like General Abdi.jpgthe Koreans make, but a fluid, graceful full bow straight out of Tales of Arabian Nights.  Our friends from Churchill Downs did not tell me what to do in this situation!  It made an awesome first impression and I was thoroughly charmed.  A display of honor, humility, and respect was the last thing I expected from our distinguished guest.  With that one act, he opened my mind and heart to his world.

Now, several months later, I know much more just who the General is, and I am truly humbled to have been honored by the person I have discovered him to be.  Had I known more about him then, I would have been too intimidated and shy to enjoy our meeting.  As it was, his show of respect was totally disarming and very charming.

As we ate and talked throughout the evening, he showed little courtesies and kindnesses that made us feel more at ease.

During dinner he suggest that December would be a good time for us to visit Oman, and that we would have plenty of time to arrange the visit.  While my initial thought was that we could never afford a trip like that, the seed was planted.  Before breaking up for the evening – they still had to drive back to Tucson – the General gave Tom and I each a bag of gifts.  So generous of them again.

I had enjoyed the evening and was ever thankful for our friends that came to welcome out guests with a show of Arizona hospitality.  Tomorrow our races would begin.

Planning for the Omani Delegation

Oman Flag

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 Abdi.jpgindustry 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.

The Omani’s are Coming!

As I shared in an earlier post, my first encounter with Oman was brief but memorable.  We often told friends about our experience with this unfamiliar little country.

Then, three years later . . .

As a member of the Racing Committee for the upcoming 2015 Sonoita Horse Races, I was responsible to help find my share of sponsors. We were celebrating our 100th Anniversary and wanted the races to be very special.  Four years before, in 2011, the State of Arizona had cut off all funding for horse racing.  Racing continued at our local track only through the hard work and dedication of hundreds of volunteers.

Remembering Oman’s generous support of the World Arabian Horse Championships in Paris, and the many gifts given to all visitors, I sent a letter to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. I invited him to join us in supporting horse racing in southern Arizona.  I hoped he might sponsor a race or perhaps send a small gift to auction or sell.

Time went by.  I received responses from nine of twelve fund-raising letters I had sent out, but nothing at all from
Oman.  Well, it was a long shot, I thought.  Then, on April 19th, twelve days before the races began, came an email from Oman marked “URGENT”.  It said:   ” . . . it has been decided that our Commander of the Royal Cavalry, Brigadier General (BG) Abdul Razak Alshahwarzi . . . will be attending your special event . . . .”

I was struck with awed disbelief.  This gracious little country on the other side of the world would be sending a delegation to the 100th Anniversary of our Sonoita Horse Races!  What a wonder – what a delightful turn of events! I was tickled, I was amazed.  While working, amused smiles alternated with utter disbelief – what a very funny situation we were in!

In my personal life, I had begun struggling with boredom with our life along the mexican border. I missed moving around the world with the U.S. Army.  For the last year, because of a leg injury, I had been unable to hike or ride my horses.  I had been awaiting a complete knee replacement.  I actually had prayed for some adventure in my life.   I think God has a sense of humor, and in this case, He gave me a gift that keeps on giving – questions to answer, avenues to explore, mysteries to solve regarding Oman’s history, people and culture.


Oman Emblem.jpg

Who was this little nation?  Who were these people who would take time to visit our little border town? My curiosity was piqued.   I was hooked!  My next six months would be consumed in my new research interest:  learning about and trying to understand this little country and its people.

We Meet . . .

2012 World Arabian Horse Championship
2012 World Arabian Horse Championship


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 . . .