On a Saturday evening, far beyond the muffled noise of the villages of Yitti, close to the beach, are a group of people sitting in the dark. They were talking about everything under the sun including an interesting story of the jinns that inhabit the area. The sea was calm, there was no moon in sight, the temperature was just right and the faint sparkle of the stars in the dark night, millions of them, added a nostalgic touch to the whole thing.
They were all friends, some for almost a lifetime, having grown up together exploring Oman’s hidden secrets while the others were new additions to the group — expats who, in their search of adventure, found people they are comfortable to be around with. They were a good mixed of girls and guys and the conversation flowed from the real funny ones to some exaggerated anecdotes of life.
I was part of that group. And for a slow Saturday evening, I found the stories about folklores shared very interesting. They were something I was looking forward to hear — folklores after all helped shaped the minds of the people who grew up listening to them.
But the evening’s soiree is not mainly for story sharing. It was a surprise party to a man everyone in the group refers to as the leader.
On that unfrequented part of Yitti, hidden behind a lonesome island, we waited patiently for him to come. His closest friends have to lure him in and make him come in the guise that he has to resolve a conflict.
For many of the Omanis I’ve met, a birthday celebration only happens on the first year. The rest of the birthdays aren’t really celebrated at all.
With his strict warning that he doesn’t celebrate his natal day, we just organised a simple dinner — a picnic with pizzas and ice creams on the menu. It was our little way of saying thank you to him for all the nice things that he has done not only for the group but each individual whose life he has touched in one way or another.
Successfully bringing him to that corner of lightless Yitti, the dinner went well. There were hilarious moments and the laughter constantly flowed breaking the calm and stillness of the night. We shared many more stories and I listened intently well to all of it and in between plastic glasses of stale grape juice I realise something.
With a culture like mine heavily influenced by the West, birthday celebration is a default. It just makes sense that on the day that you were born, either you treat your friends and family to a good dinner or your colleagues prepare a surprise for you. It’s a must to mark the milestone — to congratulate you for completing another year and wishing you a better year or life ahead.
Even in the far corners of my home country, no matter how poor, you always have a birthday celebration — even if it meant just having friend chicken for dinner.
But not everyone subscribes to this fad and many Omanis, like my friend, doesn’t want to make a fuzz over his birthday. This has been the case even for my other closest Omani friends. To them, it’s just another day that add a number to their year and it’s not worth doing anything special for.
But every year my dilemma is always the same. How do you celebrate a birthday of a person who doesn’t want to celebrate it? What can you do to respect the wishes of your Omani friends but yet not feel bad cause they might think that you totally don’t care about them?
The answer is simple. Words have power and a simple greeting will do. But if you really want to go the extra mile, invite them for dinner on a separate date — a win-win since it’s no longer their birthday but yet you can still toast for their getting older.