Kalash the gardener rings the bell at our gate. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon. He’s come round to collect his money. I swing open the wooden door and invite him in. He gives me a quick sideways smile and begins to scan our yard. “The boss home?”
I’ve told him before, “the boss” works during the day, he’s not home till evening, but still Kalash tries. “No, he’s not home,” I remind.
“O-kay, o-kay,” he says, moving his head from side to side, in the way Indians do when they mean to say they understand.
During the week, a younger Indian man, wearing a blue and red striped polo, comes at irregular intervals to tend the yard. He rides his bike, rings at the gate and humbly enters when I open. He doesn’t say much, but repeats my “Good morning” greeting. He works steadily, the sweat dripping off his face watering the garden alongside the hose as he digs. The work is hard, especially in the heat and humidity. And before he’s finished, he’s careful to take a gigantic palm leaf and sweep the walkways, clearing the paths of fallen petals and debris. We have a broom, but he prefers working with a leaf and a dust pan–simple tools.
Kalash has finished scanning the yard and his earnest school boy gaze fixes on me, “You happy?”
I nod vigorously up and down. “Yes, I’m very happy.”
He bobbles his head from side to side with a graceful motion. “You happy,” he repeats. “O-kay, o-kay.”
We’ve discussed planting some vegetables in the previous weeks. I point to the empty dirt bed and ask Kalash what he intends to put in the ground. With an outstretched finger he points to the area in question and says, “Different, different, different, different.”
“Ahhh,” I nod with understanding, a puzzled finger on my chin. Different. I have no idea what he means. But given time, I know I’ll find out sooner or later, once everything starts to grow.
Which is to say that life is like that sometimes. You don’t always know what you’re going to get, till it takes root and pops up and then you deal with it, like it or not. Two months ago the yard was a patch of dirt, now I see possibilities everywhere. The coming season looks promising, and I don’t just mean the garden. I mean life in Oman, it’s beginning to look well… very different.
Omani National day is on November 18th and strangely I’m feeling a swell of pride for a country, who despite its warring neighbors, has managed to maintain peace in the region while benefitting from the diversity within its borders. A few weeks ago I was an apprehensive expat, unsure of how I fit in or if I fit in. Now I’m a bit mystified as to why I felt that way…how did I acquire so many fears and assumptions?
I sat in on a lecture today about Omani Heritage. I was fascinated to learn of the geographical influences that shaped (literally) the cultural diversity of today. The desert and mountains of the north separated Oman from their Arab neighbors, and with their borders open to the sea, a natural interaction developed between Africa and Asia, countries like Pakistan, India, Zanzibar and Tanzania. One of the oldest Hindu temples in the world, is in Oman.
Because this cultural diversity developed, laws were made to foster stability. The law forbids Omanis or Imams to identify a particular tribe or Muslim sect in a derogatory way. Here all Muslims are Omani. And the Omani people, unlike what I’d first imagined, are generous, helpful and kind. Just today, as I was driving in traffic, a man rolled down his window to tell me my engine hood was open. Another day, down at the beach one morning, I’d gone swimming and left my towel and sandals on the sand. When I emerged later, my things had been moved to higher ground, someone had noticed they’d get wet and kindly helped.
There is a sense here that we are all deserving of respect. Of course, there are exceptions, and it could very well be that some feel indifference toward me or even disdain, but I’m focusing on the ways I belong, searching for how I can best embrace this experience.
There are frustrations, to be sure. The other morning when I tried to exit my driveway, a car was parked blocking me. The Bangladesh passengers were waiting on their driver who had gone inside the neighboring Embassy. I waited, inconveniently, and pointed to the signs we have posted on our gate in English, Arabic and Bangladesh, NO PARKING. But still, when people see an advantage, some take it at the expense of another. Also frustrating are the mornings we find the beach littered with trash. This is especially true of Sunday morning, the Omani “Monday,” following their Friday and Saturday weekend break. Crew workers are dispatched to clean up the garbage, donning latex gloves and long sharp sticks to grab up the mess, but not before stray cats and hundreds of crows have their fill, nor before diapers and plastic bags make their way into the sea.
This past weekend I flew to Abu Dhabi to meet up with friends. It’s less than an hour’s flight. The expats living in the UAE gushed about Oman. They went on and on about how wonderful it is to camp on the beaches here, hike in the Wadis and climb in the mountains. Listening to them, I felt the way I often do when considering giving something away and a friend says, “Why would you ever get rid of that, it’s marvelous!” Indeed, Oman is marvelous, and after talking to them, I feel all the luckier for being here!
Consequently, upon my arrival back at the Omani airport, I greeted the people at the passport desk with a smile and cheery hello. They asked me if this was my first time to Oman and I found myself saying, “No it’s not. I love this place. I love coming here.” Enjoy your time, they said.
There are things I love and things I wish I could change, like anywhere, but I intend to enjoy my time, as it were, and see what takes root and what pops up. I’m sure it will be different.