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
The Road Project and the Six Piasters
Upon deciding in the 1950s to pave the road that went across our villages, the government summoned people to cooperate. We were to undertake the part that stretched from “Modhiq al Najed” till “Oqibaat al Hamr in Wadi Dhala. Everybody from Miskan participated in this endeavour. The fathers would dig out big stones, and the children would move those stones away from the sides of the road till all the work was completed.
Enjoying working collaboratively, people wouldn’t be held back by exhaustion. We young people would wake up at dawn, and after prayers, have our breakfast with what was available. Before the sun rose, we would arrive at the site. We were a group of twenty men headed by Abdullah Al Kalbani, nicknamed “Ra’aí shaat”. On behalf of Sheikh Hamad bin Saif Al Kalbani, Abdullah was to supervise the roadworks, arrange for meals, and carry out all that was required for the completion of the project.
I remember once, upon feeling hungry, we, the young men, went to Said, the man in charge of food, asked him for qahwa and dates. He responded rather sarcastically, “Lick your fingers”, as an indication that we would have nothing to eat but our fingers. (It is known that people in Oman use their hands when eating). He told us to go to the supervisor, Abdullah, who in his turn, accused us of being greedy and of having no manners; or else why would we think of eating before the elders had done so?
Working for the road project was a great experience I had in my life. I felt I did something to serve my community, and was proudly thrilled for what I got in return, six piasters! It was the first pay I ever received in my life. I started thinking what I could do with it. In a context where you couldn’t actually buy much, I valued the money like treasure, and relished the thought of buying the simplest of my needs.
I recall all that with fondness. People would lovingly call each other with strange nicknames. Said, so famous for his nickname “deaf”, that if you said “Said” no one would know who you were referring to. And if you mentioned his name with his tribe there was someone else with the same name and the same tribe. If you said “Said, the deaf”, then everybody would, of course, know who you were referring to. There were other people most famous for their nicknames, like the “one-eyed”, the “goblin”, the “wolf” and the “demon”. These nicknames were so accepted that they passed down generations. Their children are still called the sons of the “goblin”, of the “wolf” or of the “demon”.