The son of a farmer, and retired former Ministry of Agriculture official, young Ayoub al Oufi is cutting a little career path for himself at the amazing Salut Archaeological Park, just 40 kilometres from Jabrin. He is a pleasant and presentable young man who embodies all that his nation seeks its young men to be, pleasant, obliging, beautifully spoken in English, in addition to a smattering of French and German, immaculately attired, and demonstrating not only a significant enthusiasm for his work but a depth of knowledge of the site, and a degree of confidence that is rare in one of such tender years.
Born close to his workplace, in Bahla, and one of eight siblings, Al Oufi attended the Bilarab bin Sultan School, and commented that he even surprised himself by being, “really good at English language, and really bad at physics! I attended the Oman Tourism College, graduating five years ago with a Diploma in International Tourism Management. At that stage I wanted to continue those studies with the objective of a Bachelors or Masters Degree, however, I really needed to find a job, and after some time took employment at a travel agency.” He commented with disarming honesty then, “I learned a lot in a short time, but we all want more and better don’t we?”
So, with all the enthusiasm of youth, he applied for a job in the Diwan Royal Court and allowed himself to dream. He was astonished later to be advised that his application was successful and has led to his current role as an Administrative Assistant in Cultural Relations, at the Salut Park. “The best thing about this job,” he told the Observer recently, “is that I can learn, and be a part of the history of this site, which is revealing more of itself almost every day, and confirming the modernity and intellect within its civilisation, within our wonderful country, before much of the world was even up and awake! I get to celebrate our culture and heritage from dawn till dusk every day, and best of all, every day I get to celebrate my identity as an Omani again. I am so fortunate.”
Under his supervision and guidance, while on-site, it’s easy to forget that this is a young man in his late twenties, as his assured and ready manner, and knowledge of the site and its discoveries lead one to feel as if you are in the confident, safe custody of a veteran. He speaks with an understanding of the process of the historically significant dig being carried out by Italian archaeologists and their teams and offers numerous examples of so many different discoveries on-site, that it is clear he loves his work.
A glimpse of the ‘inner man’ emerged as we talked, with him adamant that he is unusual for a young Omani, not terribly taken with football, but instead likes a solid gym workout. He favours grilled food, having little time for ‘fast-food,’ and isn’t a tea or coffee lover either. He insists that he is not a ‘slave to his phone,’ and unusually for his generation, likes to read books, though to be honest, you can see that in his broad knowledge and impressive demeanour. He is also quite cultured and likes to read, and travel, having travelled extensively throughout Europe during a ‘whistle-stop’ tour of Germany, Austria, Spain, France, and Italy, while he has also travelled to India, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Local artist Rana El Khatib was impressed by Al Oufi’s easy manner, describing him as, “probably the son-in-law every Omani mother wants for her daughter,” and explained too that she admired his grasp of the site from its relatively recent excavation, going back to the Bronze Age. It has confirmed links to the very advanced and structured Mesopotamian civilisations, and even the supposedly mythical, definitely biblical, King Solomon. “It is coming to locations such as this that are truly inspirational and evocative,” she said, “and certainly, having a knowledgeable and enthusiastic young man of culture explain everything with such clarity, brings the ancient city to life in a very unique manner.”
Suffice it to say that the Salut Archaeological Park has a significant past, but the youthful, enthusiastic Administrative Assistant has a significant future, treading a path, in the footsteps of the explorers of the romantic past such as Abu Abdallah bin Qasim al Amani, whose deeds are probably perpetuated in the tales of Sinbad. Of the Portuguese Vasco Da Gama, the Sur based explorer’s explorer. Arguably the Arab world’s most famous explorer son, Ibn Battuta is widely chronicled, while Ahmad bin Majid redefined navigation, poetry and prose.
Ayoub al Oufi will not only be what he wants to be, a good Omani, but a ‘good’ person, with significant potential. He surely follows the dictates of prominent Omani scholar Shaikh Khalfan al Esry, who says, “Dream big, aspire high, unleash your talent; transform your talent into skills, hold tight to your values, and leave a legacy behind.” Much in the manner of the historic site for which he has a measure of custody and domain, the youthful Al Oufi is a name to ‘paste in your hat,’ for future reference, as one who could conceivably leave a legacy of his own, in years to come.