(EDITOR'S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton is traveling to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the fifth installment.)
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton is traveling to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the fifth installment.)
By Susan Hamilton
For the News Tribune
OMAN - There was something fascinating about going further and further into the desert. Of course, we were getting farther and farther away from civilization; the dunes kept getting higher, and signs of life as we all know it were getting more scarce.
Occasionally we passed a camel, a goat, an encampment, but otherwise, the desert appeared stark and lifeless. Stopped at the top of a high dune for photos, the lifeless desert assumption was further betrayed by the tracks of local wildlife. I have to admit, the simplicity of dunes, horizon, and sun was bewitching.
The only way to reach the interior of this desert region was by four wheel drive. Before we left the road, our driver had to deflate the tires a bit. This was necessary in order to provide a flatter surface on the sand and more traction. The dunes are constantly shifting. The shift is subtle, but visible to the naked eye if one watches closely. There is a light, gentle breeze which cools the warm air. I hadn’t noticed a breeze since we left the coastline, but of course there was nothing in the desert to obstruct the wind.
Everyone in our group was shocked by our desert accommodations. We expected our camping experience to be rustic; however, this was anything but rustic. This was glamping! The name of our camp was 1,000 Nights Camp. There was even an in- ground pool, yes, I said pool in the middle of the desert, a restaurant, goats, camels of course, and some Arabian Oryx- a large breed of antelope which is now endangered in this region of the world. What I have yet to see on this trip is a dog. They just don’t seem to be a popular pet here.
I mentioned this to Achmed. He shook his head and explained that dogs are considered impure animals in this part of the world. This is not an attitude that is reflected in the Qu’ran, although it is a prevalent belief. He explained that the Qu’ran actually says all animals are God’s (Allah’s) creations, and it is every human being’s duty to protect and respect Allah’s creations. Achmed explained further that many in this part of the world just don’t believe that dogs are pets to be kept indoors since dogs are social creatures. People in this area want indoor pets so they choose not to have them.. Achmed explained many people are ignorant about the law and interpretation of the Quran passages that deal with animals and this often leads to neglect and abuse of dogs in particular. Recent laws against animal abuse in Oman have done much to reduce this problem. I was pleased to hear this because I love all animals. I’m especially partial to dogs, of which I have three.
Once everyone checked in, we loaded up and drove to the top of some high dunes to watch the sunset. I couldn’t imagine that it would really matter whether a person watched the sunset from the ground or the top of a dune. The vehicles had to be parked about three-quarters of the way up the dunes. Walking the rest of the way up those dunes was not fun. Imagine trudging through shin deep mud because that is about how far one sinks down in the sand with each step. It’s quite a workout. Hmmm…workout idea?
The sunset is the same from either position, right? Wrong! There is something magical about sitting on top of the dunes watching the sun go down and the stars come out. It’s quiet, and peaceful. I could almost understand why the Bedouin would prefer this to a faster pace of life. Time just seems to stop, that is until Achmed reminded our group that “Time is running from us.” The workout to reach this pinnacle was well worth the reward. None of us were ready to leave when we were beckoned. If I have one complaint about this trip, it’s that we don’t always have as much time to absorb and reflect on experiences in the moment.
The camp fixed a buffet of traditional Arab foods from the region. At this point we were very familiar with what we would encounter. There is no pork consumed in Oman. Islam considers pigs to be impure animals because they eat pretty much anything and wallow in their own filth; therefore they are not considered suitable for human consumption. The principle meats consumed here are lamb, chicken, beef and fish. They are grilled individually or skewered. Salad and fruit are consumed with every meal, as is some variety of rice. Each area we visit seems to add some variations on these staples, but we have learned what to expect. Meals are never a disappointment.
Most of us were tired by nightfall. The trip to the desert was long, and like a thief in the night, the heat has stolen our energy. Our tents do not have air conditioning, but each one did have a high powered fan and windows we could open. While it did cool down in the evening, we were all acclimated to air conditioning at this point in our journey, so for some it was difficult to sleep. We did have elevated beds in our tents, which was a nice surprise, but most found the combination of heat, camel hair mattresses, and pillows made it hard to rest. I slept well despite both.
There was no WiFi which meant our phones didn’t work, and we had no TV. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the lack of electronic stimulation was a great sleep aid for me. If you haven’t tried it recently, or before, get outside, unplug, and enjoy nature. Our planet is so diverse, our country is diverse; heck, West Virginia is diverse. Go on an adventure: explore.