Tuesday, July 28, 2015

TWO OMANIS IN: forests and funerals in the land-far-and-away

Where I grew up couldn't be more different than Oman. It rains more than anything else. The sky and the mountains and hills and the coasts are often shrouded in mists, and there are great swathes of forests, some young, and some old, and ever so many trees.

I am a daughter of one forest. I grew up in a forest in the shade of a valley between two blue hills. I used to write poetry. Long haven't, but when I go back I often do. I don't know why I don't more in Oman. Arabs appreciate poetry the way that most people where I am from don't. However, there's something about a silver island where the season is always a green one and the stillness and the life in the forest that does inspire me. Or used to once.

A house of stone, a lawn of green
And the bonniest lass you've ever seen
A bush of rose betwixt
And a bed of lavender between
And the hills turned blue with shades of evergreen.

...So I wrote... trying to describe a story from childhood in verse.
The trees are the secret to the blue of the hills. The green, dark, and deep, covered in cloud, or wet damp, become blue almost. Only what is close is as it appears, a green. Sunshine might reveal their true brilliance, but having been accustomed to such great natural beauty, I admit, nothing in Oman's landscapes usually draws my breath. My love of the dust here is different, not as superficial as my appreciation of blue hills and wild roses, in the land far and away.

If someone from that place asks me, do I miss it there, I can be honest when I say, I miss almost nothing. I miss public transportation, I miss the freedom of walking, I miss running against the wind, climbing trees, shopping in antique stores, reading and bookstores, pattiseries and bakeries, eating out, dressing up, and remembering things I should leave in the past. Those are small things. To some they might account for a lot, but I can always leave them, visit them, and have them again anew.

What I do miss are our forests. And trees. And the scent of meadow lavender, wild, and the spice of  ferns and bracken underfoot. These are always with me in my mind. I can go, but close my eyes, they are before my eyes. I carry them with me.
I spent a lot of time playing in the woods as a child. Thus my childhood has an almost-fairy-tale quality to it. I know how  to trace my way back by the way the moss hangs in the trees, how to light a fire and keep warm, what to eat, what not to eat, how to make medicine and shampoos from roots and berries. I never got lost once, or was scared or cold, not while I was surrounded by trees, though I'll admit, I have a hatred for the idea of being knawed to death by bears, and have a healthy respect for the nature of big cats, for lions from the mountain stalked more than one person I know. My father is proud I guess, that I am not completely useless, despite my girly and princess'ey habits, for I can light a fire the best and not get lost. Which no one else in my family really can say, since they've all gotten lost. My sense of direction, actually horrible at real left-and-right directions, is fine-tuned in the forest. Every root, every stone, every cross-ed tree or moss hanging down, is a marker I can read. I haven't lost any of this. It is something primevil I suppose. It is in me.

...How easy would it be to lay me down
Among the leaves on the cold earth on the ground
Make my bed with sheets of forest rain
A thousand threads of silky hail
And the coming snow like feather down...

...I wrote once... I ran away once to live in the forest. I was ten or something. I didn't last the night. Sounds like bears scared me back. But I never find it cold when surrounded by trees, even if there is snow or rain. Me and the other children, used to make arrows and bows and pretend we were Robin Hood, or else superheroe versions of Robinson Crusoe. Or medieval knights, with sticks for swords, pinecones feeding sling-shots... We swore allegience to a king around the round table of a stump and played at King Arthur. I should be embarrassed to remember these things but I'm not. ...The boy made a good king and we never broke those oaths, the way we break adult promises at times...
Oman has nothing like a forest, not really. So I suppose I shant be buried in a forest now will I Jane?;)

My sister and I (and my mother and I) had an argument over death and dying and what not, since funeral arrangements were being discussed. My sister prefers a traditional burial, casket, crying, gravestone etc... and I think my mother does also, as she appears to be horrified by the idea that should I die in Oman (I likely will but who but Allah knows) my grave will be a unmarked thing in dust. "My husband can always show you which one is me," I try to reassure my mother, which does nothing of the kind I guess. I personally abhor the idea of anything left on my gravestone. Flowers would be such a mockery to senses that could no longer smell in a grave. I like the idea of being left well alone after death, having done what I was meant, trying to take nothing with me. The Muslim idea is nicer to me, than a Christian one.
My father's side of the family have the more interesting funerals. Depsite a history of faux-Christianity they always cremate (burn) their dead. I am sure it is a Viking thing we never lost. I like the idea of that, depsite being Muslim. I find it cleaner. And also much more dramatic especially if they'd let one cremate someone in an old ship, sailing away... of course they won't now will they? Darn governments. Since I can't have a boat burial, I'd love a forest one, alas also, government does object to burying someone just anywhere these days don't they? So the forest on family property where we've buried our family pets is out surely.

My father says he doesn't like the idea of worms eating him, although he figures, rightly, when he's dead, it won't matter much to him. But the idea of grave stones bothers us both.

A man that has no grave,
Shall be covered by the sea or sky.
And if his heart be right, it matters not
Where the rest shall lie.

But my father insists if he must have grave stone, make it an Egyptian obelisk, to be diffcult in the matter but appeasing enough for my sister, who fancies everything Egyptian, and always has.

I'll be buried a Muslim way. I don't think it matters to Allah that much but then, I am not educated in these matters. However, beyond burying me and praying for me, I wish if I die in Oman, no one will spend 3 days at a funeral for me. Serve no one food, waste no money, and do not visit or waste time from work or living loved ones at my expense. I find the whole process of the Omani azza taxing and pointless.

I didn't know the dead person, why should I attend the funeral? I can pray well enough for their soul at home, and I can be of no comfort to those who actually knew them and miss the deceased but by drinking and eating from their property, and that seems a waste. Life has enough waste in it, to waste much on the dead, beyond learning from their mistakes and asking for forgiveness, and any happy thoughts.

I much prefer the Irish wake. Singing, dancing, happy memories, except for a Muslim, all that singing and drinking wouldn't work now would it? But that would much more be a good time to me, after saying a prayer for my soul and forgiveness for my sins, I'd like folk to go on being happy, not wearing dull colours or being bored visiting and having to be all blah and sober. I wonder if one can have a halal, no music, no mixing, no drinking wake, and have it still turn out grand?

Somehow, with my relatives, I doubt it.

However, if I died a Muslim, the Omani-set, they should be happy.

Coming from the family I from, and the place that I from, that should be an accomplishment to make folk laugh and smile a little, even if they are sad. That should be comfort enough. Knowing a formerly fake Christian pagan such as myself managed to become and stay until death a Muslim is fascinating is it not?

I hope that is my end---after that point, I doubt  shall care overmuch.

As a Muslim, with a non-Muslim relative, making funeral arrangements is harder, it is harder for me to laugh and make light, so I'll do as they'd will me to do for them, while praying that'd change. It is Allah who opens hearts and minds, not us mere mortals, whatever free will we've got it isn't over others'. I laugh because it is our way to joke and laugh when tragedy is upon us, and hours are fixed. That's my culture, that's my way. Omanis will always find me horribly rude or shocking. Its either that or be depressed to the point of sinfulness, so I take the brighter cup and drink from its portion. I don't know a middle way.

I told my Omani husband his other wife can throw his funeral but I'll go just for the burying of him, maybe visit people who cared for him and are sad, but else, I will stay away from all that circus, and I'll make my prayers at home and cry my eyes out in peace, and then be happy as I can, doing whatever makes me happy if anything can. Time heals most wounds, but it leaves scars. I already know that. I've had that lesson meted out. I didn't die of grief, even I wanted to. Other people trying to be there for me, didn't help at all, I just had to hide. Better to cry and to laugh and be honest of it, not make as show.

He warns me people will think I did not love him then or that I do not care for them, but I told him, after he dies why should I care what other people think any more? I only do that now for his sake, because I love him. After he is dead, my honour  and reputation is, again, my own, alone, and I can do with it as I like. This makes him laugh, but I know he doesn't understand this, the way I understand the person whose funeral we are discussing of late.

My husband and I, can both hope that we die first, so none of it matters, at least not to us.
That's why forests are such magnificent places. They are so full of death and yet life goes on. It grows up from death and you can smell the dead and dying rot of the forest and it isn't sickening at all, because it is the earth that life springs from, and there's the sweetness and the spice of the life there. It is all together, and we don't try to seperate it or complicate it, like we do beyond the canopy of trees.

Some people feel forests are dark, and scary places, full of unknown sounds, and trees that make one seem so small. But I have never found that myself. There's comfort in such places of such raw nature, the warmth of the body of trees, their shelter from the rain and wind...

"You can tell stories at my funeral," my father says.

Perhaps I shall tell those gathered about the time a branch from a tree fell on me before going to take my examinations. My teacher was like, "boo hoo, a branch fell on my car and I still made it here on time." My uncle was like, "why didn't you just move it out of your way and go" when I aksed for his help moving the bloody thing. I had phoned my father from work, quite shaken that they weren't going to let me re-take my test, and he mocked me for being a silly girl upset over a branch.

Of course, when he came home, he saw the branch. It was the sze of a car, and by some miracle when it fell, I was standing between where two branches met and there was a gap. I managed to climb out with only scrapes on my face.

Forever always after that, my father remembers me as the silly girl who takes falling trees for branches. I'd like to think, that makes him proud.

My father had to cut it up with chainsaw to move it off the driveway. Neither of us mentioned that I could have died. He went to my teachers and had them allow me re-take my test. For I had only been late, not that I had not come at all. My father then cut down that tree, in revenge, and we used it for firewood for the next two years. That memory of him, cutting down that stupid tree, despite our love of forests, always makes me smile in remembrance of him.

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