Tuesday, September 26, 2023 | Rabi' al-awwal 10, 1445 H
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National Day memories through the eyes of an expat


"Feel old yet?" the Sultanate of Oman asked me today.

Many of our parents came to Oman at the early days of the Renaissance and became an integral part of the Omanis' national effort to build the country that we know today. Some of them saw the beginnings of a country separated by challenging mountains and a wide expanse of desert and nothingness ultimately growing to a nation that has become a beacon of peace and tolerance in the Middle East.

Today, Oman celebrates its 51st National Day. Proud flags and coloured led lights bedecked the streets. Fireworks will adorn the sky, the flags hoisted proud and high with the national anthem reminding everyone of the achievements that were delivered in the last half a century.

The peaceful white awakens memories of the tall buildings dotting the capital and the marbles that make up the awe-inspiring Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House. It speaks of mountain goats and fair clouds, of disdasha and white silk scarves sold not just in the ancient stalls of Muttra souq but including that of Nizwa, Bahla, Salalah and wherever souqs are a necessity in the interiors of the country. It reminds us of Al-marai milk and laban, of Al Saffa frozen food. And how can we ever forget shawarma and hummus?

Bright Red reminds me of Mwasalat trips and munching Oman chips. It's the red light on busy streets and the reflection of the neon Lulu sign on my window when in the middle of summer, it rains. It's the mesmerising beauty of the red hue of sunlight along the shores of Shatti, the red roses and the giant slides of the rose garden, and sometimes, the poignant mountains that have seen the rise and fall of villages and civilization.

The Joyful Green symbolises the fertile soils of the desert, the greenery of Jabal Akdhar and Salalah and the date laden gardens of villages not just in the mountains but even those close to the sea. It's the small shrubs fighting for life at the corners of roundabouts, and the giant baobab trees that created its own kingdom in the lush Samhan mountains.

Oman has given us many symbols that will forever remind us of the ancient beauty of the country. The silver khanjar adorning Omani men reminds us of valour and the kindness of the natives. It also speaks of the protection bestowed to those who dare to dream, to those who find a home within the confines of the Sultanate. Here, for as long as there was the Renaissance, we were welcomed and felt at home.

Those that came before us saw the era before the taxis, where weekends meant heading to Ruwi Street and vacations meant basking in the beautiful Sur beaches. We are a generation walking in the footsteps of the ancients listening to the whispered stories of every fort, of every castle, of every park. For a brief moment, may that moment be 30 years or less, we create warm memories that when it's finally time to leave, we all softly whisper, "We may not belong to Oman, but Oman belongs to us."

Just once more

Growing up in Oman, I always dread leaving.

What if I had to leave for college? What if my parents move and I can't come for vacation? Current conditions had made that a reality for a lot of foreign workers in Oman.

Even if this is not home, hearing that welcome note that in Arabic says, "Welcome to Muscat, the Sultanate of Oman, the temperature outside is 45 degrees Celsius" as the plane lands always brought a warm feeling that you are coming to a place you know.

But for those leaving, possible not to return, there's always a whispered wish of 'just once more.'

Just once more: To walk by the corniche, listening to the sea and the beautiful noise of Muttrah souq; pointing to the Sultan's ship and the Riyam Park on the way. Shawarmas with dew are an emotion, special mention to Istanbul and Camilia while we cycled to the Clock tower.

Just once more: to experience the halwa of Eid, the spectacle of the festivals, the dances, the camels and the songs of the natives. We've made many friends here and we loved and lived our best lives under this sky.

Just once more: the falafels, hummus and garlic paste and laban in summers. The Softie ice cream and walks in Ruwi and the eventual hanging out in Al Shatti. Trips to the Nizwa Fort and the turtle beaches. The Khareef season in Salalah. To see Oman lit up during national days, the flags flying proudly. Muscat festivals, the seas and sand, Al Hoota caves, Jabal Akdhar and long summers with a chance of rains.

We've made memories in Oman. The nostalgia hits with these casual photos in our gallery. We may not belong to Oman, but Oman will always belong to us. These, with bittersweet wanting, are some national day memories through the eyes of an expat.

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