I was about to push my shopping trolley away when a toddler walked in front of me. It was a busy time in the mall and this little girl obviously wandered away from her parents. She must have been two and a half years of age and still on nappies. She just stood there looking at me as if to say, “No Sir, you are not going though until I say so.” I retreated my steps and made a loop to avoid her. She lost interest in me and walked in front of another shopper. I rounded a corner and saw a man and woman frantically looking around. Obviously they were the parents of the little girl. They had lost her but the girl was busy entertaining herself by giving a hard time to shoppers.
At weekends, I amused myself with wicked thoughts, the malls are like a jungle. Some people turn into wild animals as they walk very fast hurrying up to do their businesses. They forget their children, they lose their cool and some even their sense of decency. Not to mention the damage they do to their bank balance as they shop for things they do not really need.
In the frenzy of getting things done in the shortest time possible, they push their children into the crowd. They also curse each other under their breath when things get too hectic.
It is no surprise that that only last month there was a knife-stabbing incident at one of the shopping malls in the city. It all added up to the craziness of our busy and meaningless shopping schedule.
In comparison to smaller towns, cities like Muscat can be a nightmare when it comes to retail shopping. Just a short drive away in the sleepy town of Birkat al Mouz, in the foothills of the Jabal al Akhdhar, shopping is a delightful experience.
Just a couple of corner shops, an old souk and an open courtyard with a few retail outlets complete the townsfolks’ shopping experience. The amazing thing in little towns like Birkat al Mouz is shoppers and shopkeepers know each other by their names. They have a sense of belonging. Shopping is a pleasant experience and a thoroughly enjoyable one.
Unlike in Muscat, there is no pushing or the fear of losing your child in the crowd. There is also no hostility there. There are no smelly food courts that sell you something that would give you food poisoning.
If you are hungry while you are doing your shopping in Birkat al Mouz, just stop at one of the food outlets under the canvas in a courtyard surrounded by trees and flower shrubs. It is a harmonising experience having your dinner with a fresh whiff of roses in the air and the dampness of the leaves from the mango trees.
Tea or coffee are brewed fresh from the pot and the chicken smells of fresh spices. But spices are not the only commodity there. They sell vegetables and fruits picked fresh from their farms. A look at the nearby mountain of Jabal al Akhdhar would give one a hint where the fresh farm produce comes from.
Unlike in Muscat, no one is in a hurry there. Life seems to be in complete standstill, without compromising on the essential routine. No one tears down your path to kick you out of the way. They nod to each other in politeness and grip firmly your hand in greeting.
The beauty there is that everyone has a genuine interest in one another. Why should they hurry up their lives and to what benefit? They slow it down into a comfortable pace. They live their lives in their own terms not dictated by the pressure of the routine. No wonder, most of the people living in those areas have nothing but a distaste for life in the city.
Saleh al Shaibany