Saturday, January 24, 2009

Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea...


This next bit of the blog describes the events preceding our spending 5 hours in the company of the Royal Oman Police. It was the sort of invitation we couldn't say no to...but I get ahead of myself...



The day started out innocently enough: walking on the beach, breakfast (chicken hot dogs and beans and eggs are a common offering) and setting out in Bird Car to do the things we'd highlighted in the guide book.

First I'd really wanted to take the ferry boat ride to Ayajh, a tiny ancient village with a lighthouse. I thought the kids would get a kick out of a ferry ride. We drove around the harbor dhow building area, and couldn't see anything that looked like a ferry, so I got out to ask some of the locals. Their English was better than my Arabic, but that wasn't saying much. Actually, it was saying pretty much nothing, and lots of it, though the two fishermen I talked to tried so, so very hard to help. It was really causing them pain not to be able to assist us. Finally one ran and got another acquaintance of theirs, a gentleman in pristine white robes and distinctive Omani hat, whose English was good. I'd tried boat and car-boat in Arabic, and plenty of English, and finally we figured out there was no ferry boat. He gave us alternative driving directions to the lighthouse and everybody smiled a lot.

The village was delightful, as the guide book probably said (though we weren't trusting it too much any more). Nearly untouched by the modern world, with exotic details that remind you this was a sea-going town, influenced by the cultures it encountered. The lighthouse was everything a lighthouse should be, a cream beacon on the shore, waves crashing. There's something utterly romantic about a lighthouse, and the idea of going to sea. Sur was the major port in Oman for trade with East Africa until about 1900. Imagine what that must have been like, to stand on the shores and watch the dhows sail away, to await boatloads of cargo from Africa...

Back in Sur, I had made it a goal to photograph one of the social centers for the men in the area: the Arabic coffee shop. These little neighborhood gathering places of the small strong cup were everywhere, and congregating about you saw men in Omani dress, the same long flowing tunic dishdash as in the UAE, but instead of the Guthra headdress (white, or white with red checks and tied with the black rope called an Egal) the men wear only the round Muslim prayer hat that usually goes underneath the Guthra, which I believe is called a Ghafiyah. The Ghafiyahs are quite elaborately embroidered, really striking:


Mike being a super good sport back in Muscat modeling a Ghafiyah.

Here is my sneaky shot of one of the coffee shops:

We visited the magnificent four-towered Sinesia Fort built on a hill overlooking the town and the sea. We parked and pretty soon a car came dustily up the sand and pebble road, disgorging a docent who unlocked the fort and took us all around.


Inside there was a prison (see Thomas escaping, top of this post), a mosque, and cannons. (you can see the one aimed at us if you click the photo below.)



Our intention was to then go the the Bilad Fort, and we found it, following the guidebook's instructions to "turn at the elaborately kitch villa". (These are the sort of official directions one gets. Even in Dubai. "By the Emarat petrol station," "past the Spinneys grocer" and so forth).

The villa was elaborately kitsch, and we found the fort next to a grove of date palms. There was a horrible, horrible smell in the air where we parked. There was nothing we could see to account for the stench. We could see some barrels in the shadows of one of the buildings, and wondered if we were next to a slaughterhouse or something. The odor was unbearable, and we hurried away from it to the entrance of the fort.

There we found the fort padlocked shut. As we stood there, wondering if another docent was going to show up, a local man strode up and began to make conversation with us. He had no idea why the fort was closed, gave the padlock a good tug or two for us...

It was shortly thereafter that I found myself riding in the back seat of a policeman's car...

3 comments:

dorothy said...

Too funny! I linked your blog to mine - is that ok? Love you N!

Julia said...

Way to have a cliff-hanger nat! I'm super curious about what you did to end up in a cop car. (Obviously it came out ok though, since you're writing this!)

Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

Natalie, You are going to have to write a book.
How long are you going to make us wait for the rest of the story?