Oman, 1983

‘Tell him to go to Misfat, all strangers want to see the beauties of Misfat,’ I shouted. ‘I’m busy with my teacher!’.

The soldier, who was about the age of my eldest son, was very respectful and patient. ‘Your Excellency, the bearded stranger has been to Misfat. He praises the beauty of its gardens, the antiquity of its buildings, the smell of lemons.’

I sighed. ‘ Its market day here in Nizwa. Surely he can stay busy observing things he is not used to: women in trousers and masks; men with daggers and guns; Toyotas in the riverbed; crates of dates; the qanats with their fish?’

 

‘Excellency, I apologise. He has seen everything except the castle. The guards told him he cannot enter the castle without a permit from you.’ This was right of course; I am the district governor and my family built this castle , one of the biggest in Oman,  centuries ago. It is a joy to me: the seven right-angles on the staircase, the bronze cannons; and even more joyous to look out at the new mosque and see the cracks already in its dome, while my 200-year-old mud walls were solid, just a few bullet-holes to show that we can repel invaders.

A view of Nizwe

A view of Nizwe

 ‘What about al-Hamra. Strangers love to see…..’

‘Excellency, he has been telling us how wonderful is the contrast between the painted iron doors of the mud walled mansions of al -Hamra, how like it is to other countries where animals live on the ground floor…

‘Enough!’.

I looked at the Egyptian, my teacher. He looked up from the English course book and said, in Arabic as always: ‘Excellency, you have a duty to these books, to set an example to the uneducated among your people. But if you have this simple duty to perform, we can stop for some minutes.’

I sighed again, sent the soldier to fetch the permits book, wrote out and signed a permit and tried to return to learning mode. I envied this bearded stranger his time looking at the glories of the part of Oman I governed, for tomorrow I take my secondary school exams in English.