Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MY POEMS OF OMAN: My Love Was Made of Leather...and Updates on life in general

So I am back in the land-far-and-away for a Viking funeral. Weird, I know. Weirder for me. I am jet-lagged, grieving, and not hungry at all. I haven't cried really. When everyone else is crying I can't cry. Maybe when I get back to Oman I'll cry. Sometimes it takes me years. For now it is like I am floating, doing what needs to be done. I am supposed to be back in Oman, but since my work screwed up my visa, and the ROP put a valid visa stamp into my passport but not into the system originally, that made me miss my first flight and I had to catch a one-way out here, I still don't kow if I am allowed to come back on my first return fare. Waiting on that. Another stress factor I don't need.

I am trying to help manage get the estate (Omani's say heritage?) ready, because others are griveing (or are too drunk since everyone wants to finish off that heritage Scotch and vodka to manage or do a good job sorting). I gotta say, I have the most awesome cousins and my sister is doing better than I ever thought she would. And it is really weird, but since it has been such a long time that I've been away, and since then, a lot of older relatives have begun losing their memory just a bit, I am being treated like a ten-year-old girl. Which is so weird because even when I lived here my own father had no rules about how late I could stay out, he knew I could take care of myself, so that is so strange, that I am feeling more confined that I ever do in Oman. My Omani husband doesn't freak out if I go out by accident without telling him if it is to buy milk or something so it's odd... Anyways...

...So taking a break from all that, I met up with some old and good friends and we had coffee. Funny how everyone has to apolgize at first, because the first thing everyone does in the land-far-and-away is ask you if you want to go out for a drink.

So we go out for coffee and discuss our lives in different countries and find it weird that despite all the years and all the distance so many things are the same. We all finally managed to get into healthy relationships, and find work that suited our natures, and are starting to live our dreams, like travel, or family, or talents like politics, art, music, and writing. And wow, does my city now ever have a lot of male Saudi students. They pass by and do a double-take when they see a Canadian Muslim woman behind the cafe's glass window. That in itself, will never fail to annoy me. After coffee, we walk to the harbour, and the sun is shining, and everyone Canadian is enjoying the warmth, and I'm wrapped in solid wool shivering, clutching the coffee cup for warmth, alas.

Discussing relationships, we'd all come to a point in our lives where we put our feet down and said, 'this is what I deserve and I'm not taking any less', and to other people, if they didn't like it, then they could go, we'd be fine. Also, we determined we didn't trust people anymore. Not easily. Not very many people. I mean, once you are my friend, I love you forever. I am loyal forever. But if you screw with me, I don't give more than three chances. I just don't trust you again. And these days, I am suspicious of people who want to be new friends. I have to see their character exhibited by an external situation, to swear my loyalty to them in the first place.

Looking now at life, it is really odd, the people that wound up sticking by one, and the ones who slipped away. My friends asked me if I wrote poetry still, and I had to admit, I'd just gotten back into it. Below is a poem that I wrote about how my relationships have evolved, and it could go just the same for men as well, since there are an awful lot of women in this world as well, who are users and fairweather friends:


My love was made of leather
But his was made of sands that blow,
The love that wants, but what, it does not know.

The rare ration of love contained within me,
I bid him drink of it as if I'd had my fill,
So he could cross the plain and take the burning hill.

Canteen that I was, I gave him my talents and strength:
I choked on dust and drank stones,
And shrank content into a tent of skin and bones.

I would go without if he could just make it,
To whatever dream that he had, if we got there together
Through the parching winds, and blinding weather.

But his love was made of sand.
And I poured myself into the oblivion of his thirst-
But cracked, and dried, that well-skin burst.

My dreams for myself, like footsteps in the sand
Then shifted. And in his hesitation I found
The answer I was looking for, and came unbound.

If it weren't such a waste of water,

For the wasted years I would have cried,
Instead I went on walking, for my well of caring dried.

They call me cruel, for I left him alone there,
Lost in a desert of his own making, to change or die.
And I did not stop, or turn even to bid him “bye”.

A love that is made of leather
Is supple, and useful, and it even gleams with care!
But with over-use and neglect, it will show its wear.

To vain men and stupid girls, if you make woman but a canteen
To drink from, or a faithful rope to use, soon enough youll rue
The loss of a good woman, generous, unflinching and true.

If you would use, or allow the use of, the good faith of a first love
To bind her to some coward fool, as naught but a tie or a tether,
Take heed: but once in a girls life is her love made of leather.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

MY POEMS OF OMAN: Free-Climbing


The earth and stones have quit my feet
And expectations and obligations I did not meet
Threaten to swallow me whole...
...While I never lied, or faked, or stole,
And I praise God I've lived, and loved,
And could die content if pursued, or shoved-
I cannot, now, for my own vain thrill, or prideful bet
Risk the point without clamp...harness...net.
We count, three seconds clear, the fall of stones,
And to miss is sure, the dash of brains, and end of bones.
Fear seems reasonable, despite all inspired speech,
For I cannot stretch, or see, or reach
And my hands are cramped and slipping
And without harness or caribeeners clipping
Him to the wickedly distant, impossibly downwards cable
There is no place on the rockface sure or stable
For my guide to tuck himself into and latch, if I should jump,
Not a crop of stone, a gambled root, or grassy clump.
For all that terror, still I think to myself, that should I perish
It would be to light like this, as if painted by Maxfield Parrish.
So while hanging there terribly suspended
I am accounting for my life as if already ended.
I prepare to fall clear and push away-
He'll only dislocate his arm to ruin if he tries to save the day
Or fall himself, if he should try to catch, if I should miss:
I'd rather jump, than share Death's kiss.
It was I unsatisfied. I did not want to drive to the ledge
And take photos like tourists. So he brought me to the edge.
We scaled together most of the canyon of the mountain of the sun
And now, more than ever, I am certain he is the one...
For apparently he thinks of me, most high, that I can fly!
So I spend all that my nerves and strength can buy,
And thank God I can yet afford the space of a body and a boulder,
And there we lie hysterically relieved, shoulder to shoulder,
Pressed between the cliff wall and resting before the open air
While the sun sinks and my guide laughs without care,
The two of us seeking the light of stars
Caring not for bruises, cuts and scrapes, and minor scars.
And he is not mad at me that I had no wings and not enough daring,
For being trapped, and my shaking hands, and silly, scaring.
I light a fire and he cooks a can of beans,
And against that boulder our entire existance leans,
While we sleep, or eat from off the edge of a dagger.
And for all my Western bravado, and failed swagger
He insists I could have made it with gear,
That all but a handful of men don't climb free without fear,
That no woman of his country he knows would even try,
That I know the rocks, and how to well, and when not to die.
With the baying of goats below we drink our coffee and wait
Until his friends come, lower the gear, and I can demonstrate,
Passing with ease the gnarled grey trees, and gerbera,
Ascending the ravine where it is lined with aloe vera,
Weary and chastened but taking the pegged cliff-face,
Struggling to detach the clips, and out of breath for keeping their pace.
---But I don't want them to call my husband a fool,
Or say no woman from our tribe should come as a rule,
Just because I am already jittery from the other day, and weary
But in safety, I am more than capable, let them say, if that bleary.
Then it is done, and I seek the shade of the car,
And my husband thanks them for their coming, even it's far.
People will call us fools, or crazy, maybe
But I don't want them to treat me like a little baby.
And while this trip to the mountain has made me feel smaller
My love for my husband has grown, because he sees me as taller
Than what I am or have been. And for all love may fade or change with time,
What marks it true, is that it makes you more, and sees you climb.
And loving is always a free-climb without any harness or safety, or clip
And it can make an awful mess of your life if you slip.
So while some people may be content to successfully fall in love,
My love lifts me up, he holds me firmly there, and sees me rise above.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Traditional Arabian Villages and Forts: Shorfat al Nakher and Husn Alfurs

On the road up to Jebel Shams, everybody knows, there's the ruins of an old village, a lot like Misfah Al Abriyeen and Al Hamra, but from the looks of it, older. It is often called "the ruins of Wadi Ghul" but it is actually called Shorfat al Nakhar. It is alternatively known as the Persian Castle, "Husn Alfurs". I doubt the Persians actually called it that, but I am sure the locals did.

Maybe Misfah Al Abriyeen in the time the Rogan watchtower was erected, was built around the same time, but I rather doubt Misfah Al Abriyeen was called Misfah Al Abriyeen then...Although no one really knows if a formal village existed in Misfah then or if the Persians killed everyone off there before the Al Abri tribe moved up from the old Wadi village down to settle Misfah. If so, then yes, the villages have similar time-frames. If not, this village seems older. Archaeologists say it was settled in 200 AD, before the Arabs came from Yemen with the breach of Yithrib dam, and some sources date the areas current architecture to 2,500 years ago, which was close to my guesses when discussing the architecture with my Omani husband. Still, I totally need to see more than one source confirming that to be sure.
Now, I totally intend to revise this post after I do some research on it, but the corner slab stones, and some of the defenses seem to pre-date gun powder style warfare so I am going with bows and arrows, from some of the slats I saw. Will change this if I am wrong, but this would make foundations dated from the mid 12th century (like 1130s-1150s) I believe? Again, don't take me at my word. What is sure, this village was properly abandoned by the 1960s.

So apparently whoever's fort this was, the locals finally overthrew them and hated the bloody fort so much they decided to totally destroy it rather than use it. Most captured forts in Oman were re-used by Omanis, but this one, locals say anyways, no.

Still, certain casements and the old walls remain, in ruins, the stones too big to easily re purpose I suppose, if locals are wrong, and Omanis decided just to dismantle the fort to build other structures instead in more peaceful times.

We saw some cool carvings on the massive doorway support stones (kind of unique), and the carved places that would be used to grind foodstuffs. Uniquely, since many are collapsed, I saw carved masonry joint stones, which I have not seen anywhere else in Oman (any other structures that would have used them have been restored by the Ministries so I dunno). Also, windows are unique, marking these windows as defensive.

Due to the climb the other day (see my previous post) I was a little exhausted to say the least, so we only stopped up here shortly. We did see a lot of expat tourists taking photos from across the road though;). It was a little warm making the five minute trek up the dry wadi bed to the village (entered into by a farm with a white gate and Ministry sign carved off and riddled with bullet holes, beside an old mosque, under which the falaj system runs). I think early morning or 4 in the afternoon would be a better time to explore the ruins than when we went. It was a little warm.
Next time I go I will be sure to explore more, and see the fort ruins itself of Husn Alfars (we stopped at the end of the most significant wall chunk in the village itself).

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Free-climbing at Jebel Shams: not recommended, but I had an adventure

[In case you didn't know, Jebel Shams is Arabic for "Mountain of the Sun" and Jebel Shams happens to be the 2nd largest canyon in the world. It is a 2.5 hour drive from Muscat.].

On the weekend I almost climbed one of the moderately-difficult-rated climbing tracks down into the Jebel Shams canyon. I have to say almost, because I didn't make it all the way down. You see, we went down free climbing. That means, without safety gear. 
I'm told, not a lot of Muslim women do this, even with safety gear, at least not in abaya and headscarf, but, to be honest, I have never found abaya and headscarf to stop me from anything. They might make one have to be more careful and skillful, but they don't limit what I can or cannot do. People do that, culture does that...not my clothes or my beliefs. 

Anyways, this trail really does just need one guide, and a safety harness with clips to make it safe, and then the Tourism Ministry's rating for it does correctly apply. However, without safety gear it is definitely very high-intermediate or expert, as there are places you can fall to your death, and no places (points) for foot or hand grips in the rocks if you are short (like  me). I was told, by Canyon Tours and Adventures, who I did have to ring up for help in the end, as I did need safety gear to get myself off the mountain, that they didn't know of any female climbers doing it free-climbing. Good to know. So don't be like me. Use safety gear. Don't be a loser.

My husband, however, favors free-climbing, and so that's what we "crazily" attempted. This is how it all started:

"Did I ever take you to Jebel Shams?" my Omani husband asked me. "No," I said. "Have you ever gone before?" he asked me. "No," I said, This surprised him. "Why?" he asked. "I never wanted to," I shrugged. "Why?" he insisted to know. "It's not the world's biggest canyon and all the tourists do it, take pictures and stuff. That doesn't interest me." "So would you like to go camping on the beach instead?" he asked me. "No!" I insisted. "That would be boring. I want to climb." 

So he did that for me. So I love him, because not many Omani husbands give their wives credit for everything their women might be capable of, or dream of doing.

....Because I was going with my husband....I didn't hire a tour or guide company

If you are going without knowing the way, I do recommend hiring a guide. The best guide companies will only take 2 climbers per guide if your climbing level is beginner-to-moderate. I recommend the local Omani company Canyon Adventures & Tours because they're good, and local. Their phone number is (968) 9941 2660  and their facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/CanyonAdventuresTours/ .

My husband knew the way, however, and remembered the trail as easy enough (he's taller than I am), saying it should only take 10-30 minutes maximum. 

As he knows my skill level, he really thought I could do it and knew how proud of myself I would be if I did manage to do it. Of course, he forgot I was shorter than him, which makes a world of difference with free climbing, since one has to take risky jumps to catch points. Going down on this specific trail there were two points that were high-level risk for me, both in the middle. 

However, I found the first two areas easy enough. I wasn't tired or using any real muscle strength.
It was exercise, but enjoyable still at my fitness and climbing skill level, which I'd say is beginner-towards moderate for climbing, intermediate for hiking.

Also, we went later in the day, starting the way down at 4:30 pm. It is better to go earlier, but since it would take 10-15 minutes ideally (times are for intermediate-expert free-climbers or lower-level climbers with safety gear). 

The light is more incredible at this time though. The backgrounds were like a Maxfield Parish painting.
I loved the aloe vera plants growing on the mountain side. Sorry, I didn't really take more photos, but in the rest areas of the climb down I did. I didn't take more photos because from then on I had no free hands or legs. I was well and truly climbing. (If I go again with safety gear I'll be able to stop and hang there to photograph the views and nature).

At the first of the two high-risk climbs spots (for me) I did find I could use all my arm strength to support myself to slide down on the metal cable to reach the peg footholds in the mountain, but I had my husband down below me to guide my feet, and a climbing glove to keep the sweat off the sliding hand. 
Without my husband's guidance I'd never know where to aim, and would likely just slide off into the abyss. It was a 4-5 second drop down from there. Also, if I didn't have the grip strength or had been too afraid, I also would have fallen. It was a dumb risk, but alhamdulilah, no issues. From there though, I knew it was a point of no return for me. I couldn't get back up for sure, as my husband would have to be behind me to get me the grips without safety gear, and me as lead climber, I would be too short to make the jump. Probably.

Probably is not a good thing in free climbing. 
Anyways, after that was another rest point, and I was laughing (normally) still.

Another easier stretch came up, and I did fine. I bruised my knee and took a risky jump, but it wasn't frightening because there was room for failure there. There was enough space to likely catch one's self before going off the mountain.

Then came another narrow rest area. We were almost down, and it was the last part of the climb. Unfortunately for me, next up was another high risk spot. 

I could feel from my first attempt that the first peg for a foothold was too far for me. So I went back up, and my husband and I discussed it. I couldn't go back up though without safety gear. It would be just as risky that way, so I decided to try to brave it, but admittedly, I knew I wasn't likely to succeed.

I went down, following my husband's lead, but the rock face was such that he couldn't be my foothold if I truly went for the only real point on the rock. I was just too short. So I was clinging there trying to logically work out a way to do it, but there was no logical way. There was only a high risk jump that had only two outcomes. There was....make the jump and laugh like a mad woman........or fall. 

It was a 3 second drop clear down.

I tried, I really did, hanging there with just two points, my hands, connecting, and my feet just hanging there out in the open air below. 

Like that, the world spins away, and then spins up. I'm not afraid of heights really, but I am quite adverse to the idea of falling. I'm scared of being broken and dashed, for sure. And I don't like the idea of maybe taking others with me, if they dumbly tried to catch me. They'd only dislocate their arm and not save me, or fall with me. There was no catching me from that fall, if I missed the point. 

"You can do this, I know you can," my husband was saying below me.

With safety gear, yes, yes I could, I know I could. But without, it wasn't worth the risk. I know what I can't do, and I couldn't do that. Probably not, anyways.

Probably not is even worse than probably, when free climbing, turns out.

"I'm going to die," I assured him. "I'm going to die, ya Allah," I said, making fervent dua I still had the strength to climb back up. So my husband was my point (he saves my life literally at this moment that means) to get me back up, and it takes all my arm strength to get back up. 

I almost didn't, but I did, and that was the last of me. Then I was done for the day. 

I was too shaken. I literally could not control my hands. So I was laughing, and angry, and all that mess that adrenaline makes one. {P.S if you scare easy, make sure someone packs some orange juice; Omanis think Pocari sweat and Snickers are best but they're not}.

My husband got me an apple, and he called Canyon Adventures and Tours, we assured them we were fine for the night, had water, and lots of firewood, and food. They agreed to come "rescue" us in the morning. They knew exactly where we were.
Then we got some firewood together and found a solid rock between us and the cliff's edge, and decided we'd sleep there, edged against that rock so we wouldn't just roll off in our sleep.

We had a fire. Cooked a can of beans that we ate with throwing knives for our spoons, and made qhahwa (Omani coffee). Watched the stars. 

The stars were beautiful. I saw five shooting stars in the space of an hour.
We decided it was the kind of adventure that only the two of us could understand the fun of. Being stuck on a cliff, sleeping under the open sky. We were fine, and happy then. So we slept. Got cold, Got the fire burning more again. Slept again. Funny how sleep out doors in open air is always better than sleep in a bed, how two-four hours is like sleeping 8 hours at home.

We watched the sun come up but didn't take photos because we had low battery.

Then in the morning around 8 a.m. the safety gear came down and we went up. 

I totally felt like a loser, but the guys from Canyon didn't make anything of it, and were super kind. Even I am dressed like a local women and local Omani ladies don't do the kind of stuff. They even carried water down for us. Usually they take groups of 15, 2 people per guide. 

With the safety gear, the climb was actually fun again for me, even as tired and strained as my muscles already were, and how jittery I was from the day before. 

I told my husband I do want to try it again. Not this week, not this month, but again one day, with safety gear. With safety gear it isn't hard for me, and for sure I could finish it.

One way or another, I'm thankful I did try it, because it meant I got to learn my limits (which were not my courage, fitness, common sense, or daring in the end) but my height, and upper body strength and conditioning. I'm still thankful my husband thinks I am the kind of woman who can do these things, even if he thinks I am taller than I am;).