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
Our excitement with Wadema
In our school days, we would occasionally go on a picnic known as wadema. As and when decided by the “teacher”, we would go either to a valley or a farm irrigated by a well. Every student would bring some food. Occasionally, we would go out if someone finished reading the Quran. Relishing our out-of-school activities, either on foot or riding donkeys, we would escape by soaking up the beauties of nature, swimming in valleys. It seems that the teacher had an insight into the importance of such activities for the emotional needs of his schoolchildren.
Once on such a picnic in a farm called Tawai al Mihna, we had all we needed except for water. The plan was we would take water from a well in the farm itself. One of us saw a huge snake on a stone in the well. My friends screamed out my name, as I had an old gun, known locally as tafaq. I ran towards the well and took aim at the snake. In matter of seconds it split into two, falling into the well and polluting its water with blood and perhaps even with poison. In a spirit of joy we left that well and started looking for another farm. I must say, being the one who hunted the snake, I was the happiest of all; indeed, I was thrilled as I had succeeded with the first shot.
I took pride into the story as the news spread in our village. My skill in shooting was partly because the gun was almost always something of a companion for me. We all used to enjoy hunting birds with a gun known locally as saktun.
Chanting for Big Eid’s Moon,
From the first day of the Big Eid till the tenth, we used to go around our village chanting religious songs. One would sing and the others repeat in chorus. Here’s a part of one such songs:
Praise and Glory to Allah - We seek refuge from Satan.
Praise and Glory to Allah - We start with His name.
Praise and Glory to Allah - We enter the last days of the Big Eid.
Praise and Glory to Allah - We sing to Allah’s glory in these days.
Praise and Glory to Allah - We pass by the furnace.
Praise and Glory to Allah - He who joins not is as cowardly as a kitten.
The Altameena Chant
Altameena was a chant we recited on the completion of the reading of the Quran or often rehearsed on religious occasions. Though it varied according to the individual teacher and place, its meaning was more or less constant.
All the children repeated “Amen” at the end of each and every stanza:
Glory to God who guided us
To the Straight Path.
Glory to God, worthy of praise,
Upon the Hashemite Prophet.
This lad both read and wrote
Learnt rhetoric and letters
You fulfilled your duty
O the son of the most honourable Arabs
Strew money and gold
God gives, God bestows.
The teacher taught me
With love and care
He made me repeat, he made me rehearse.
I learnt from a grand book
May God bestow upon you Eden
And hew for you buildings.
Never forget the ink and ink pot
With them you shall remain in
Paradise with nymphs.
Some chants were sung in chorus before the end of the lessons:
No god but Allah
Muhammad is Allah’s prophet
God be merciful to the teacher.
There’s a silver pen in our hands
We write God’s verses
May God damn Satan.
Such chants we would joyfully sing, heralding our departure to home.
We started praying approximately at the age of 12. At pains to teach us how to pray, both our parents and those who brought us up would watch us rather strictly. If they sensed any negligence from our part, they would punish us by beating us with a stick. Our fathers would take us to the mosque to perform our five prayers, including even dawn prayers.
After I finished reading the Quran, my tameena was something of a graduation ceremony, but it also meant new responsibilities. I had no choice but to devote my time helping my father in the farm. I had to plant garlic, onion and herbs, cultivate date palms and lemons, raise cattle and harvest honey. I should also mention that it was my brother and friend Salim bin Mohammed al Kalbani who taught me how to find honey.
To be continued....