Sunday, 25 November 2012

More tales from Oman

We reached Muscat in the dark. The outside air was warm when we climbed off the coach (I love this part of the world at this time of the year!) The coach we travelled on from Dubai (Deira) to Muscat had stopped in Oman to pick up a young woman, carrying her baby under her arm, two bulging bags, and two suitcases on wheels...She sank down exhausted onto the seat behind David and me. I offered to hold her baby for her while she recovered. The baby was very smiley; in fact, I never heard him cry the whole time we were with her. She told me his name was Altan, meaning gold. She came from Kazachstan; the baby's father, it later emerged, was Nigerian. I never learnt her whole story, but what she told was enough to raise many questions for me: where had she met her husband, why had she wanted to marry hime, how long ago was it, why had she decided to become pregnant? She told me they had been travelling in Arab lands for about three years, presently in Oman where she had a resident's permit valid until ealry 2013. The baby had been born in Muscat in May (I saw his birth certificate, complete with Omani stamp; half in Arabic and half in Russian). She said her husband (who was apparently studying at an Omani university) had hidden her passport and that of his son, so she was now waiting for a new one to be issued via her Embassy. I phoned her embassy in the morning and they knew her story. I also phoned the Netherlands embassy to see if there was any place equivalent to Shelter, where she could take refuge until her passport arrived from Kazachstan. There wasn't, and since she isn't a Dutch national, her only recourse was through her own country's embassy. She was clearly afraid her husband would find her. But there seemed to be nowhere she could go. We paid for her night in the hotel, and then (alas, faute de mieux!) left to keep our appointment; we had to catch a bus to Nizwa, where we would be met by a driver who would take us up to Jebel Shams resort (about an hour's drive from Nizwa). So I left Sulu with her baby in the hotel. Happily, it was run by a kind and wise Indian. He and I know so many stories like Sulu's. Young mothers, women of all ages, whose husbands beat them. I sat in the bus to Nizwa, pondering about the extra mile... and sad unfinished stories.

At Jebel Shams resort
Nowhere like it in the world. At first we couldn't locate our driver in Nizwa. But a very kind local Omani listened to the instruction on my mobile phone and led me at a spanking pace from the bus stop where David and I had been dropped, to the large carpark beside Nizwa's Friday Suq. And there we found our four-by-four. By then the sun was setting. I am so relieved we drove up to Jebel Shams in the dark. I was pretty scared when we drove down in the daylight, two days later. It was quite a long way, the road zig-zagging higher and higher, the air growing chiller. Finally we reached the sandy plateau where the resort is built.
It consists of small one-storey chalets and tents, has a swimming pool and a dining room. Paved paths facilitate movement across the sand (!). There is a children's playground area. And despite the cattle grid, the over-friendly goats trip across (who's that crossing over MY bridge?...) and leave their droppings discreetly on the crazy-paving pathways.
There is a row of chalets, with windows facing west. To watch the glory of the sunset. Westwards lies the desert.

In the picture above you see David reading about travels in Afghanistan, while waiting in Jebel Shams...
There are many possibilities for adenturous expeditions while staying here. David and I chose to do the so-called Balcony Walk. Alone and unaided. It was quite an experience... sheer drops from the narrow stony path; not always clear which track to follow -- but fortunately very clear stripes in the colours of the Omani flag, painted onto the rocks to guide us. And scary as it was at times, it was worth every heartbeat! Most of the time very quiet, the occasional crow's cawing, or the wind in the trees below. Then silent once more. Only our footsteps crunching on the rocky path.
It took us about two-and-a-half hours to reach the abandoned houses and the terraces where formerly people had cultiavted subsistence crops. We sat down to enjoy our lunch -- and lo! from afar the goats appeared. Billy, Nanny and Kiddyo. They were extremely friendly.

But we did manage to shoo them away. And set off to retrace our steps. This time I looked in the other direction (that is, to my right and away from the sheer drop..) and steadfastly watched David's ankles pacing onwards through the sandy dust...
We reached the landmarks we had passed on our outbound journey -- the small cairns marking the halfway point, the covered wooden table and benches.

And here I am, somewhat painful feet, but elated!
What is it about the rocky mountains, memories of where I was born, maybe? More following...

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