A Soldier from Oman: Memory’s Nectar

From Chapter 1 With Osefar – We used to buy our food from the centre of Ibri and Khabora. My father had a camel, known as Osefar, which carried our food from the two towns. I would sometimes go with Uncle Saif Al Kalbani, and at other times my father would go alone. I remember dealing with two people, Heydar Al Lawati and Khamis Al Lawati. Nowadays it takes us less than one hour to get to Khabora from our town in a comfortable air-conditioned car. With Osefar in a convoy, the journey would take, up and down, five days, and may as well extend to seven. How striking the comparison is!
We would go to Khabora to sell our products, onion, garlic, dry lemon and honey, especially if the harvest was rich; and would come back carrying what we bought of rice, coffee, dry fish, and clothes. The transactions would be carried out either by cash or by exchanging goods. We used to plant what was called alneel and sell it in other regions.

Snake Poison Kills us Not
Leading a life open to different possibilities, we would face all manner of unexpected events in our journeys through mountains and valleys, and even in our daily farming activities. Always exposed to snakes, scorpions and other poisonous creatures, we had a kind of immunity unknown to the current generation.
Injuries would be dealt with as unavoidable but manageable destiny. The treatment would usually start with tying the part bitten rather tightly and then making a cut in the wound with a knife, later leaving a scar that wouldn’t go away. Then someone would bite the skin where the snake had attacked and suck the poison or the blood in order to prevent it from spreading. The poisoned person would subsequently be given oil, honey and some herbs. (It was believed that both oil and honey protected the belly from poison). The person who had been bitten wouldn’t be allowed to sleep for two or three days.
A person by the name of Sohail was something of a specialist in treating snakes’ bites. He would boil parts of the leaves (known locally as “veins”) he brought from palm trees. The victim would drink it and get cured. The secret of this rather mysterious, but effective, medicine Sohail wouldn’t reveal to anyone save his son. Aware that the exposure of the secret would undo its effect, he apparently appreciated what we call today the “secret” of the profession.

The Fenced Cave
In our village there was a fenced cave called “Aljawar Almojdar”. The person suffering from smallpox would stay in that cave and wash from the water next to it until he was cured, as I had been told. People would bring him food and drinking water all the way through.

Tribal Conditions (1)
Most Maskan people are from our tribe, the Bani Kalban, with the Bani Said living with us mainly in the plains. When it rained, people would leave Maskan for Maqaniyat, 30 kilometres away. The Bani Kalban would naturally live in groups and cooperate with each other in the face of any attack from other tribes, something not quite unexpected in that period of Omani history.
An interesting, though slightly funny, story would perhaps reveal this aspect of our village. I remember once a child went to a farm and climbed up a rather high palm tree (locally known as Awana). When the farm owner came and found the child at the top of the tree, he rebuked him saying, “Whose child are you?” The child didn’t reveal his father’s real name, and gave him that of another person. The old man, in an attempt to play a trick upon him, pretended he was leaving. The child began to climb down, but as he realised that he was being tricked by the old man he went up swiftly again.
The latter, fearing that the child would fall and get hurt, ran to the man whom the boy claimed to be his father. The “father” came and called up to his son and rebuked him in front of the old man; he then took him to a tent, saying to him: “Don’t worry; I won’t beat you. I’ll beat al Samma” (the mattress made of palm leaves). Both the boy and (the alleged) father executed the trick well. As the old man heard the shrieks of the boy, he called upon his “father” to let go of him, “Please listen to me. I beg you to stop beating him. I didn’t ask you to kill him. I only asked you to advise him”. (Of course, he wouldn’t allow himself to get into the tent). The “father” answered, “Let me discipline him, for he goes about vandalizing people’s properties”.

(1) For a detailed account of tribal politics in Oman see J. E. Peterson’s Oman in the Twentieth Century, Political Foundations of an Emerging State. (London: Croom Helm, 1978). Of particular relevance are Wilkinson (1977) referred to in an earlier note, and his equally important The Imamate Tradition of Oman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) (the translator).