Truth be told, I considered bailing out of this whole Abu Dhabi affair before it began. Let’s face it, I’m not the hot-shot fearless traveler I was in my twenties when I hitchhiked around East Africa in a miniskirt. I have a child, and grandkids. I worry about the health of everyone around me, including my mother and my stepmother and sister and brother and their kids. The following thought crossed my mind more than once: Maybe I should stay in the US and go to Medical School.
So there we were, a month and a half ago, about to board the Qatar Airlines flight in New York. My heart was racing. This is it, I told myself. Last chance to abort this mission. Instead, I took an Ativan and walked on the plane. Obviously, I am glad I did. Abu Dhabi has opened up a brave new world.
But fear came calling again as David and I were boarding our flight to Muscat. We were going to Oman by ourselves, without Allan, with no idea of what it was like where we were headed. Even David turned to me and said, “I don’t think we should we go.” Honestly, I felt very vulnerable.
What if we get sick and we’re alone in Oman? Why didn’t I book a four-star hotel so people would look after us? What if the plane crashes or gets shot down? Why am I living in THE MIDDLE EAST? I want to go home.
I reached for my Ativan prescription.
Mid-reach, I made a decision. STOP with the catastrophic thoughts. STOP looking for strength outside yourself. Besides, the Ativan won’t keep the plane in the air or bad things from happening on the ground. For the first time in 5 years, I decided to fly without medication. I stopped my fears from my own insides. Or at least proceeded in spite of them. I’m too old to go to Medical School anyway.
The payoff was profound. Our few days in Oman were some of the most rewarding of my entire life.
The second day, the brother (Faisal) of our original driver (Muhammad) went with us to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, an absolutely stunning piece of architecture. Non-muslims are allowed to visit in the mornings before 11 a.m. During the ride over, I realized the lower part of my forearms weren’t covered by my shirt, so I ripped the sewn-in cuffs on the sleeves to make them longer. I wrapped my scarf around my head as best I could. I hoped my attempt at humility would suffice.
As we walked into the entry of the Grand Mosque, Faisal suggested that I go into the coffee shop and ask the ladies to help me cover my hair and head properly. He also walked up to me and buttoned the top button on my blouse. (Sort of an intimate gesture, but done with all due respect.)
The ladies in the coffee shop told me to tuck all of my hair down the back of my shirt, and then proceeded to wrap me in keeping with the custom. There was a lot of smiling. They liked that I was happy to be respectful. I was happy that they were taking care of me.
Faisal, David and I toured the Grand Mosque with mucho gusto. The entire structure, including side walls, arches and minarets took six years to complete. The handmade Persian carpet in the main prayer hall is said to be one of the largest in the world. The carpet covers an area of 4,200 square metres and weighs 21 tonnes. (Some of the carpet is covered in blue carpet for walking tours.) I simply could not get a picture to do it justice, so trust me when I say that it was BREATHTAKING. I think I need a Nikon.
On our way out of the grounds, Faisal suggested we stop in one of the corridors and taste Omani coffee. Inside a small side room, we were treated to dates and coffee with cardamom. Even David was allowed to taste it out of respect for the culture. (His first cup of coffee!)
Meanwhile, a very regal man talked to us about the tenants of Islam. We discussed religion and war and love and peace and God. It was a very special conversation–the details of which are meant for those who were in the room.
The man asked us where we were from. When we answered Burlington, Vermont, the other family in the room stared at us. They hail from Burlington, too. But are living in Saudi Arabia. We immediately exchanged emails.
At 11 a.m., sharp, Faisal ushered us to the exit. On the way out, I realized we were walking past a long line of hibiscus in full bloom. As you may know, my dad loved the hibiscus flower and we spent some of our last visits together marveling over the blooms.
On the way to the airport on our final day in Muscat, I called our first driver Muhammad (who’d arranged for his brother Faisal and cousin Said to drive us when he couldn’t) to thank him for everything.
“Nancy,” he said. “You have filled up my heart. When you come again, I will take you to meet my entire family. You will be a guest at our home for a meal.”
Muhammad, Said and Faisal have replenished something in me. Restored my belief in humanity, as well as myself.
And their country?
Oman renews my faith in the world.
P.S. We arranged for Allan to fly in on day three (from Bangkok) to enjoy the last evening in Oman with us, and U.A.E friends, at the Oman Diver Center.