A Wedding in Mussandam
As one approaches the north-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the terrain changes from flat to mountainous. These are desert mountains, not high enough to have seriously green summits or regular snow, but they make a nice change from the uniformly flat area around Dubai.
When I got to Masafi, I called Dibba, and was told to wait at the clock tower. My host picked me up and drove me to Mussandam, which is actually part of Oman. Since we were in an expensive Land Rover, no one asked any questions as we crossed the international border.
My host drove me to his villa where a large party had been invited to see the Westerner, and a lively conversation in Arabic took place around and about me. Westerners aren’t seen all that often in the native parts of Mussandam.
After a bit more than an hour, lunch was served, chicken mandi, which means chicken and rice. They set a huge plate in front of me, containing as much as I normally eat in a week. I had to share with two other people, but still…
Then we went to a Mussandam Wedding.
First, we had to pick up my host’s young son, and then we had to go to where the men were gathering. From there, we all went to the wedding site. A large party armed with an arsenal that would make Lucy Liu or Rambo think they were most inadequately equipped with ordnance was determined to make as much noise as possible.
Some had traditional, single-shot, bolt-action rifles. Others had Kalashnikovs, AK-47s, RPGs, and IEDs. People without guns had battle-axes or swords. Small boys were tossing swords in the air and catching them as they came down, and all the time people were shooting in the air. Several men were beating out a rhythm on traditional Arabic drums. It was like the soundtrack to an old western (complete with tom toms), mixed with ‘Guns of Navarrone.’
I do not understand the physics of shooting a gun into the air. Some authorities say that, as it falls back to earth, the bullet picks up all the velocity and penetration ability it had when it first left the muzzle of the rifle, so that being beneath it is identical to being directly in front of the rifle’s muzzle as the rifle is fired; others say that air resistance slows the bullet to the point where it cannot break the skin. I personally prefer that someone else conduct research into which of these competing claims is correct, someone at least two kilometres distant from wherever I happen to be. This, however, was not an option presented to me during the wedding.
We straggled into an air-conditioned tent, though the air-conditioning was inadequate to cool a tent in the 43-degree heat. As we entered, most people removed their shoes. There was another long period of talking in Arabic, after which a plate of food with enough to last for at least a week was placed before me. My companions began to dip bread into a sweet substance that was either from bees or from dates. I was overstuffed from lunch, but the host (I think) insisted that I eat (in Arabic, of course). Then, after about ten minutes, the tray of food was removed.
After another half hour, we left the tent. I have no idea how, or if, one is supposed to find ones own shoes, or if the custom is to just take any pair lying outside the tent, and we wandered among the men who continued to discharge more ordnance than the Allies on D-Day while the tom-toms continued to beat and small boys continued to throw swords into the air, as high as they could manage. So far, I had seen no one of the female persuasion.
About we’d spent about two hours at the wedding, we returned to my host’s villa, where he showed me my room where, he said, I could sleep for the next few days.
Unfortunately, the A/C in my room in my host’s villa was elderly, and the room was in the mid 30s.
There was another problem. My wealthy aunt once took my mother to Europe, and my mother was shocked to find that most restrooms only provided toilet paper that was a) exorbitantly priced and b) had the texture of an hedgehog’s back. When she returned, my mother warned me to always take my own toilet paper when travelling. She did not warn me about the places east of Europe, places like Mussandam, where the prudent (Western) traveller must take not only his own toilet paper, but also his own toilet.
I decided I was ready to return to Dubai. My host was very disappointed, but I was directed to the huge SUV of someone ‘driving to Dubai.’ We actually drove back to the wedding. This driver went around the back way, where I actually saw a couple of women, completely covered in black as they dashed between their vehicles and the women's tent.
The trip to Dubai was not to take place until the wedding was over, i.e., after several more days, a period referred to in Arablish as ‘about ten minutes.’ The shooting and other celebratory explosions were still going on, and showed no sign of any letup.
I walked until I found a cab, but, since the cab wasn’t a Range Rover, we had to go through customs at the border. The entire return to Dubai was quite complicated when compared with the ease of getting from Dubai to Dibba.
I finally got home at 11:30 p.m.
The ‘project’ I was supposed to work on was a bit of stereotyping. My host just wanted me to visit and enjoy Arabic hospitality for a few days, but assumed all Westerners are avaricious money grubbers who would only consent to a visit of several days if the prospect of money were dangled before them.
He didn’t realize that money is not required to persuade me to come to Dibba to enjoy a good mandi, nor did he realize that no amount of money could persuade me to stay in a place without Western plumbing.