As the World Falls Down

A legend died earlier this week. This comes as no surprise, as legends — no matter how great – are still mortal. Like everyone else, they die. It may be the only time it feels like we can relate to such greatness. What’s remarkable about David Bowie’s death is that it happened peacefully and secretly. For eighteen months, the man knew he had cancer and chose to keep that fact quiet. Remarkably, so did everyone else close to him who also knew his condition. In these times of rumors, internet gossip, and major incentives to provide news, no one strayed from Bowie’s trust. It was only when he was gone that the public knew the truth and began to mourn. Each and every person that knew – from loved ones to medical providers – remained silent about the fact that a musical icon was dying. This strong and unanimous act resonates with respect for the man’s wishes and the man himself. And now the world grieves as they reflect on how much this artist and his music impacted their lives.

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Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

When I was in Oman, Sultan Qaboos was nowhere to be seen. The country knew he was in Germany because of his poor health, but otherwise an entire nation remained ignorant. What was wrong with their leader? Was he going to heal? Was he already gone? Six months went by without an appearance. Oman stayed positive but uninformed. Then, November 15, 2015, three days before his birthday/National Day, the Sultan made a television appearance letting his people know he was OK, but needed more time in Germany. The country erupted with pride, excitement, and relief. Four months later, the Sultan surprised everyone by stepping off an airplane onto the soil of his land. He was back and the nature of his illness was never discussed. Complete secrecy from his providers, the medical facility in Germany, and his advisors.

I knew a relative of the Sultan’s doctor. When this person saw the Sultan step off the airplane, it was only then that they knew their brother was back home. This doctor kept all secrets from his family to the point where they had no idea he was returning after being gone for ten months. Only the television coverage let them know. The Sultan’s secret and the man himself were granted the respect of privacy. My friend could not know the truth, because so few were permitted such knowledge. And immediate family members of the Sultan’s doctor were Omanis, nothing more. My friend was hurt by the secrecy, yet she understood why it had to be.

I wonder how many of Bowie’s friends experienced similar pain. Who knew of his cancer, and who was treated like the rest of us – left to learn of his illness only through death. A death that appeared so sudden yet was far from it. Secrets held tightly during a year and a half of suffering and creation. Bowie living long enough to create one last masterpiece for all of us – friends, family, the rest of us. Most equal in ignorance.

RIP Sultan Bowie. Thank you for shaping our lives. And thanks to those who remained silent and honored the man in the best way possible – by letting him live out his last eighteen months as he wished and letting us grieve only when it was time.

 

Celebration and missed naps

“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.

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View of the action from the rooftop

 

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.IMG_3259 IMG_3258

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.

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Cranky camels join the festivities

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.

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Heading toward the stage, flags waving

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.

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This man really wanted to have his picture taken. He is dressed traditionally, complete with kanjar (knife) and walking stick.

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The Sultan has returned!

On March 23rd, Sultan Qaboos returned from Germany, having spent the last eight and a half months (258 days, to be exact) receiving “successful treatment” for an undisclosed illness.  To celebrate his arrival in Oman that night,  people went out to their cars to drive around, honking horns, waving flags, and sitting on the window ledges pumping their fists.

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Raise the roof! His Majesty has returned.

The next day, my students said they watched the news video of him getting off the plane over and over again, He descended the steep, red-carpeted steps under his own power, not even using the railing for support. There was dancing and celebrating in their homes and on the streets. One of my students cried when she told me how happy she was.

Overall, though, celebrations were mild. The Sultan is home, but no public holiday has been declared. The school honored the event with a prayer. Then, things just seemed to go back to normal.

 

National Day and Omani Pride

Tomorrow is National Day, which is deemed as such because it’s the Sultan’s birthday. So even though November 18th is the official big day of the year, last week was a larger cause for celebration. Sultan Qaboos, who has been ill for some time now and is seeking treatment in Germany, made his first public appearance in five months. It was broadcast on television and pretty much made this whole country erupt in happiness and relief. There were honking horns, camels parading in town over the weekend, and decorations everywhere.

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The campus was decorated in Oman’s colors to honor the Sultan’s health.

 

 

At school, there was a celebration that resulted in cancelled classes and a welcome disruption of the day.

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Students gather to listen to speeches. Note the gender segregation of the crowd.

 

As an assignment, I had students write about the day’s events on campus and what they meant to them. I will let one group of students share what this all means to Oman — their passion tells the real story. All errors are “sic,” though I did edit to make it more readable:

On Wednesday when my Sir Sultan Qaboos spoke on TV, all Omani people in this moment feel very happy because they didn’t see him for a long time – roughly 4 months out of Oman. When my Sir speak to the Omani people, they went out  and some people cry when see Qaboos on TV and he is fine. In different regions of Oman, make festival for my Sir Qaboos. Also, my college make a beautiful festival and beautiful party. First, students do dirge (national ode). After that, the Dean speak about what do the Qaboos in Oman and the development in Oman. He speaks about the event (Qaboos fine). He is very happy. Next, some students speak and do some skill term on Qaboos. Then the Dean and some teachers go and see some activity. Finally, they go to party and eat some sweets. This is the beautiful day because I see my Sir on TV. He speak fluently. I hope my Sir returns to Oman quickly because all Omani people miss you and need him and Oman also need him. I hope my Sir be fine in every time and every year. I hope be in Oman every time. When Sir returns Omani people will do big festival in different region in Oman. Same in this time but a lot more. I hope be in quickly time.

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More campus decor.