Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Dhu al-hijjah 9, 1445 H
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In the Lap of Nature, between Mountains and Plains

A Window into Contemporary Omani Literature

The following is an English translation of an excerpt from “A Soldier from Oman: Memory’s Nectar” by (ret.) Inspector-General Said bin Rashid al Kalbani:

I simply don’t know when I was born, as my father, Rashid bin Mohammed didn’t tell me. To me, the whole world was but Miskan, a village in the Wilayat of Ibri in Al Dhahirah Governorate. In those days, no one knew when they were born, as there were no hospitals to record dates of birth. People usually remembered their birth date by linking it to certain events such as deaths or the planting of a date palm. One would say he was born the day on which another person was born or some days before or after.

There is nothing in, “Said”, suggesting that my father named me as such as an omen of good fortune or happiness*. Indeed, its pronunciation, with the first letter “s” unstressed and “i:” stressed, reflects the hardship we experienced in our childhood.

My position was the third in the family after two females; destiny thus dictated I be the first male in the family. Our rural life, nonetheless, paid no heed to such hierarchies, as it didn’t really matter who came first and who last. I was raised, like the other members of my generation, in the lap of nature, between mountains and plains. Like others, I looked for a better life amidst mountains and deserts. Despite the harshness of nature, I kept cattle, hunted birds and raised honeybees.

When just two years old, I caught a rather severe disease known locally as “hamaathom”, (I don’t know the exact medical term) which almost caused my death. My condition deteriorated to the extent that my father abandoned any hope of my recovery. His despair was so severe, I was told, that he was about to lose his own life. I don’t quite clearly remember my pain, but I do feel now my father’s, unable to do anything in the face of a disease they knew nothing about except its name.

There was no medical care as such during those days, no hospitals, no clinics, except for local treatments. I was treated with a number of wasm**. With honey and lemon, I passed the first test in my life with the grace of God.

As I grew older, my father saw me qualified enough to study in the then only available educational institution, the Quranic school of Ali bin Salim al Kalbani, almotawwa***. I still fondly remember Ali al Kalbani, a great influence upon me and my generation. I learnt at his hands about religion and finished reading the whole of the Quran. The school was, nonetheless, just a tree under whose shadow we would meet. Helped with dedication by Bati bin Saif al Kalbani, Ali worked as hard as he could to educate and discipline us. At pains to make us memorise, he would go around with a stick in his hand, making sure that everyone properly recited what he had said. If a student failed to do so, he would hit him on his back with his stick.


* “Said” in Arabic means “happy” (the translator).

** An old traditional treatment whereby an expert applies a hot iron rod on the pain area (the translator).

***An Arabic word which has come to mean in the local dialects of the Arabian Peninsula a religious person, equivalent to “mullah” in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent as well as in parts of Central Asia (the translator).

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