Generosity: A Story from the Sultanate of Oman

Sultanate of Oman is a beautiful country. It has varieties of land. There are vast, sandy deserts where sand dunes keep changing their forms, shapes and colors in magical illusive ways. There are unending, thick oases of date-palms with natural springs of crystal clear water. It has rugged rocky mountains with awesome formations out of which rivulets of cool and clear water keep flowing down into the sandy and barren land. Muddy roads go winding through mountainous villages and towns where one is likely to meet people who are still living in the age-old culture practicing the traditional tribal customs and values. One can still see shepherds in their traditional garbs looking after their flocks of cattle in the valleys and hills. The people in rural villages still have mud houses with the classical wind towers that keep the inside of the house cool and comfortable without causing any humidity even in the worst weather. The old buildings are made of very thick mud walls that do not let the severity of the weather pass through them. The direction of the houses is such that cool breezes keep flowing through the house all the time of the day. What a wonderful natural way to live a life independent of the limitations of the modern life’s amenities.

But it doesn’t mean that the Sultanate of Oman does not have modern amenities of life. Oman is a very progressive country and is developing leaps and bounds. The main cities are linked through beautiful highways. There is electric power supply in every nook and corner. Every Omani has free excess to good quality education and health facilities. It has become a very beautiful tourist country during a very short span of over thirty odd years.

I lived in the city of Sur which is on the eastern tip of the country. Sur is a coastal town famous for traditional ship-building. The traditional professions of the people of the town were fishing and trade. It’s a place of historical importance with the ruins of ancient Portuguese forts still visible on barren hill-tops of Sur. When I was in Sur, the entire city had mud roads that would create a cloud of dust the moment any vehicle passed. However, there was a beautiful highway that ran all the way from Sur to Muscat. Now, I hear and also see in the pictures that Sur has developed into a beautiful city with five-star hotels, tall buildings and other facilities of a highly developed city.

I used to travel from Sur to Muscat sometimes on a weekend and return the next day. It was a four hours’ journey with maximum speed of 120 km/h. I was looking at the map of Oman and was happy to learn that they have built a new highway which takes a shorter route through the coastal hills. The travel time has reduced from four to an hour and half. I wish I could visit Oman one day and travel on the newly built highway from Muscat to Sur. But I still remember the adventurous 4 hours’ journey through the deserts, barren rocky mountains, beautiful valleys with streams of water and thick groves of date-palms. It was a great joy driving on that road. However, the highway had some disadvantages. It was a single carriageway with a dividing line for two-way traffic. Overtaking other vehicles needed loads of patience and concentration. There was no fence to prevent the pedestrians and cattle crossing the road that could come on the road any time. Camels crossing the road were a common sight. I often used to hear stories of some very fatal accidents happening with drivers hitting a camel. Many jokes are also associated with camel-accidents: a Omani would ask: “Is the camel dead? Instead of asking about the welfare of the driver”. One had to be very careful because a camel or sheep could walk into the road anytime.

Omanis are wonderful people. They have great regard for people who visit their country. They are very generous in showering their guest with all possible hospitality. Although I am witness to several such experiences, I would never forget one that happened while I was travelling from Muscat to Sur. It was very late at night and I was passing through a barren desert. The night was starry. We were four people in the car: I, my wife, my friend and his wife. We were chatting and enjoying the journey when suddenly I smelt smoke. The smoke started coming inside through the car’s air vents. It was summer time. I stopped the car on the side shoulder. The highway had very spacious shoulders to safely accommodate any size of vehicle. I stopped the engine and opened the hood. The belt tension/idler pulley had jammed, the tension belt had almost burned and the vehicle refused to move. All four of us were standing outside the car because it was very pleasant weather. Nights in the desert are always cool and pleasant. We had no fear because in Oman there is no crime. There are no thieves or highway robbers. What do Oman’s police do if there are no criminals in the country? This is the question that commonly comes to mind. Well, they watch the traffic. What a lovely and peaceful country! It was the scorpions and snakes commonly found in deserts, that we were afraid of.

We did not know what to do. There were no cell phones in those days. There was no city, town or village nearby. Even if there was a village nearby, we did not know which direction it was because in the desert if you lose the direction, you are gone. I only knew that the next main town was called Ibra but my guess was that even Ibra was still many, many miles away. There was no hope of any other vehicle passing through that road in the middle of the night. The desert people go to bed very early. They do all their activities in the daylight. I could not think of sending an SOS signal. The only possibility was to stay in the car and wait for the sun to rise. We were discussing all the options we could think of. Our friends were from Sri Lankan, extremely patient and supportive. They kept our faith and hopes alive while I was feeling that they were suffering because of us. They were very lovely friends we had in Oman.

The Town of Ibra

I knew that I had a friend in Ibra. But the problem was how to inform him or who could take us there. People in Oman are very helpful but how could one help all four of us if there was no place in his vehicle? After standing out for some time, we all entered the car and waited for a heavenly help. It was a situation of helplessness but not hopelessness. The car’s hazard lights were on. Time was ticking past remorselessly. Suddenly I saw lights of a vehicle in the rear-view mirror of my car. I did not get out thinking that if the person wanted to help us, he would definitely stop. The vehicle stopped behind my car. He was a tall Omani wearing dishdasha and traditional Omani turban. He was driving a new model SUV. He could speak English very well. He took some tools from his car and tried to fix the problem but it was beyond his expertise. He told me that he was an engineer working in Muscat and was going to his home-town. I asked him if he could drop us at Ibra which was also on his way; we would be able to get help. He gave me the key of his car and said:”You have family with you. Take my car and go home”. I got very embarrassed because how could I let him suffer at the cost of our safety and comfort. I said you don’t know me and you are giving me your car. He said:”You are our honorable guest. You have come here to educate our children”. I asked him what he would do in this desert if I took his car. He said that he would sleep in the sand. The guy repeated his offer. I knew through my experience of living in Oman that Omanis mean what they say. They are true to their words. I said that I would be grateful if he could drop us at Ibra where my friend would help us for the rest of the journey. Finally, he agreed to drive us to Ibra and we all got into his car. On the way to Ibra he kept repeating his offer which I very politely refused. He dropped us at Ibra where we stayed for the night with my friend. I said good-bye to the angel. Yes, he was an angel indeed who came out of nowhere and helped us out of the wilderness. Sometimes I think, “Do angels reside in heavens above or do they sometimes come in the shape of human beings to help us when we are in dire need? Nevertheless, I can never forget that particular night, the feelings of helplessness and the generosity of Omani people. Thank you Oman for your love and generosity for your guests.

Mumtaz Shah