Cycling hobbyist Hamdoon Sultan reached out to us on Instagram to tell us about his recent trip to Yemen. Since we’d been championing and encouraging people to send in their stories to be featured in Oman Daily Observer’s Eyewitness segment in recent weeks, we’d been noticing more approaches like this but I felt, Hamdoon’s story needed to be made more prominent.
If you didn’t catch Hamdoon’s story — this young Omani is a cycling hobbyist who pedalled his way around Salalah but found the urge to push his limits and go beyond the border of Oman towards Yemen.
Despite warning from friends and family who were concerned about his safety and fed by news that the country is in turmoil, he didn’t listen to those warnings but instead got more encouraged to see what’s beyond the border.
And see the other side of the border he did.
Hamdoon reported of the kind people he found there, of the hospitality they extended to him, of a country no different from the one he came from — beautiful, different and contrary to what is often reported, the side he went to was relatively peaceful.
And that was why I thought his story needed to be told in a prominent way — cause his eyewitness account provided perspective.
Before I made my move to the Middle East three years back, my perception of the region was shaped by Western media. I have a limited view of this part of the world and my naive description can be summarised into three words — oil-rich, cruel and different.
The cruel part stemmed from the fact that where I come from, daily news reports are almost about war and barbarism. Every other day, we’ll hear about an overseas Filipino worker going home dead and the perception was made that the Middle East was no place anyone should go. But people still do, because countries here are rich. There was this impression that if you ever venture to this side of the world, you have everything at risk and you should be ready for the worst.
Of course, I would discover that a lot of the things that I used to know were far from the truth. That what is often in the news is not the full truth and that some things, depending on whose interest they serve, are being twisted.
In journalism school, our professors used to tell us that the way media work is that if a dog bites a man, it is a given. It is within the natural order of the world. There is nothing new there. If a man bites a dog — then there is your news which is why the bad news get their full time in the sun and our TV screens are dominated by them. The good news, however, they are swept under a rug and sometimes, they are not told at all.
Which leads me back to Hamdoon’s story.
The truth is, Hamdoon might be one of the few who got lucky who ventured to Yemen with nothing untoward happen to him. Maybe it was that he was Omani and speak Arabic that gave him a safety net. That’s the cruel part about life, we don’t really know until somebody is brave enough to go beyond and then come out alive to tell their story.
To some people, Hamdoon’s story can easily be brushed off. There is nothing new about cycling. He wasn’t breaking barriers or achieving something life-altering. But it is a story that needed to be told cause not much good has been said about the side of the world he visited.
His story of kindness will not be paid attention to by a lot of people nor will it be covered by other media outlets. The world is focused on bigger stories — things that are going wrong, the impending doom, the end of the world.
I asked for his story to be made prominent because I believe in hope and the good. I believe that everyone deserves a chance to be given a voice to share their side of the story. And Yemen definitely deserves to tell its story. At least by extension — through Hamdoon.