“Camels!” Dave exclaimed as he looked outside our window. We were just about to take a nap when he looked out our window and saw a parade across the street – a celebration to honor the return of Sultan Qaboos from Germany, his good health, and Oman in general. We were tired, but went up to the roof anyway to see the parade that marked this monumental occasion.
It had been a really long day and we were looking forward to resting. Earlier, in the heat of the sun, we helped our friend at his garage sale. Although he had few customers (garage sales are basically unheard of in this part of the world and therefore not well attended), he managed to get rid of several of his possessions (some thanks to us) as he gets ready to leave Oman. Although he has made this place his home for almost a decade, his goal is to leave with no more than the allocated free 23kgs of baggage as he heads to France to enjoy retirement.
But heat or no heat, sale or no sale, this was history – history we could see from our rooftop. People, camels, and cars all lined up to enter a walled dirt field behind the mayor’s office, less than a kilometer away. Drums played, people shouted, horns honked. Here was the celebration we were looking for that seemed to be lacking earlier in the week. This occasion was too momentous to pass quietly; the country was simply waiting until Friday to really live it up.
Soon, the rooftop didn’t feel like enough; my choice was a siesta before our evening plans or to drag my body to the action. The choice was tougher than it sounds, but a friend and I mustered up the energy and made our way down to experience the celebration first-hand.
It was amazing – and luckily slow moving. We could easily walk back and forth to see the different parts of the parade. People honked and waved as us foreigners, seemingly delighted we came by to check out the action. At first I wasn’t sure if a non-Omani would be welcome, but that concern was quickly abated after hearing several shout “As-salam alaykom” (peace be upon you, their “hello”) out car windows. People asking us to take their photos. Fellow-onlookers shaking our hands and chatting. Even though I can’t really get past “kaif halik” (how are you?) I still felt bonded to people in that moment. We were all here to honor the same man, the one who modernized Oman.
Decorated cars had to remain outside as we entered the gates and moved toward a stage – the camels were allowed inside, even though I am not sure they wanted to participate. Several of the animals resisted entrance into a place where over a thousand gathered to listen to speeches celebrating the Sultan’s safe and healthy return to Oman. It was clear these beasts are more comfortable in the wide open spaces of the desert than in relatively close confines. Nevertheless, they made the event feel that much more special.
The excitement, pride, and joy were contagious. Everyone, especially the children, were draped in national pride. Scarves, pins, posters, flags all in green, red, and white. People adorned in traditional dress. Oman exhibited in every way possible. A man handed me a flag which I waved, happy to be a part of the celebration. My smile was sincere and vast.
I remain astonished regarding the national pride in this country. This would never happen in the US or in any other place I have visited. Love and appreciation for the Sultan is widespread; this sort of reverence is only granted to celebrities and athletes where I come from. I’m not necessarily endorsing politician worship for our culture, but this difference in whom we place our admiration does make me think.
For now, I will let some pictures tell the rest of the story.