The little man took my pants at about 10:30 this morning, and I was stranded. He left me with his shorts, but they were too tiny and I wasn’t able to get them closed or even find one hole on the belt to latch them up part way. I figured I would just pull my shirt down and try to make it to my car, but after taking three steps toward the exit, I realized there were people everywhere. And I looked a mess and creepy – like some low budget version of the Hulk wherein a Japanese school boy turns into a big, fat, middle-aged white guy. The clothes don’t rip, they just pop open and squeeze his thighs.
I went back inside. I was wearing dress socks and shoes and had pulled my shirt down for the most modesty I could muster as I stood in the lobby of the restroom looking at CNN on my phone. I realized people might think I was photographing them with it, so I moved as far away from the actual bathroom as I could without going out into the public area. To pass the time, I read the news. I learned of the latest school shooting in Colorado. Everyone said the kid looked so normal. An Omani man entered the restroom and gave me a smile that wasn’t as much friendly as amused. I, on the other hand, didn’t look normal. I looked like the love child of Eddie Munster and Barney Gumble, the drunk guy from the Simpsons. I dropped my head quickly back to my phone, trying to look nonchalant.
Then I saw an article with the breaking story of a thwarted terrorist attack in an airport in Kansas. The man said it was his duty to kill in the name of Allah. “I feel so guilt ridden sometimes for knowing what’s required of me but yet doing little or nothing to make it happen,” he had told an FBI informant. The irony wasn’t lost on me that I was reading that story in the restroom of a mosque and that the walls around the courtyard just a few meters from where I stood sheltered in the shadows were engraved with homage to Allah. The grounds of this place, from the flower-fringed lawns and courtyards of bubbling fountains, to the graceful white corridors dotted with colorful hand painted tiles, vibe with something different – something much more gentle. “Those who do those things in the name of Islam don’t really understand true Islam,” the lady at the reception center had told me on my first visit here as she poured more coffee into my tiny cup.
I thought of last week’s field trip and our picnic at a park on the side of the highway as we stopped for lunch. A group of our ten year-old boys excused themselves and gathered at the edge of the lawn to pray. Other students lowered their voices out of respect but kept chatting quietly as they finished their lunches in the shade of the trees. To them seeing different faiths practiced is a normal thing. All these kids play football at recess with Christians, have birthday sleepovers with Hindus, work on a research project with Muslims, and laugh so hard with Agnostics at lunch, that milk comes out of their noses. They are so used to diversity, homogeneity seems otherworldly to them.
I stood and watched a group of tourists enter the mosque grounds through the doorway at the edge of the courtyard, and I thought about how they must feel. For so many of them, it must be like they are crossing over the threshold into mystery. All come with their biases shaped by Hollywood, CNN or BBC, and by their life experiences. Many have never had a Muslim friend before. But I think that most are here with at least a reasonably open mind.
In my experience, the farther off the beaten path you go, the travelers and adventurers who have walked the road to get there are usually people who value difference, appreciate variety, and like the rub of life that happens where cultures collide. I know that I came to this country much like these people, much like the little man who has my pants. I came with questions, I had some answered, and I formed others. I realize that we are all works in progress and that our thoughts and opinions form and reform every time we have a new experience. I now have more Muslim friends than I’ve ever had, and I have experienced the compassion of gentle people wearing abayas and dishdashas, others with red dots and ashes on their foreheads, and others who don’t believe in any God. We don’t all agree on everything, but that’s okay. Maybe we should hang out more often and talk about this stuff, or laugh until milk comes out of our noses – Maybe we should take a moment to walk in someone else’s pants.
The little man was true to his word and in about five minutes he had returned with my jeans all cinched up around his stick man waist. From there down they hung like cheap curtains. “Thanks, man,” he said, tugging at the material trying to keep it from dragging on the ground. “Can I pay you 5 rial? Are you sure?” he asked before I even had a chance to decline his offer.
“No, man, that’s alright.” We switched clothes.
“It turns out I didn’t even need long pants to go to the outdoor parts of the mosque,” he said, “only for the main prayer hall. I could’ve just poked my head in there instead of troubling you,” he said. “It was beautiful, though, so thanks.”
I put my sunglasses on as I left the bathroom for the parking lot hoping the people in the courtyard wouldn’t recognize me as the same guy wearing tiny pants who had been lurking in the shadows of the mosque restroom.
Has a stranger ever asked you to lend them your pants?
I logged into the wifi and got this message:
Dear Customer, you can now start enjoying Caribou Café Wifi. Your username is gprvidmb and your password is 44695212. Your purchased plan is valid until 30-11-2013 Nawras – Get closer.
Thanks for the kind words, but I’m not “enjoying” the internet as you suggested I might do. I’m working on report cards which sucks and is dumb and makes me wish that instead of being a teacher, I could sell pencils in the Ruwi Market at a little wooden table with one wobbly leg. I would sell blue and yellow ones, only. I wouldn’t sell red ones – just blue and yellow and they would all cost the same amount, but if you buy like maybe ten of them, I’d give you two for free. If I know you, I might just tell you to take one free even if you only bought one, but most likely you’d buy more than one because you’d see my beard stubble and the graphite hand stains and you’d feel a little sorry for me. But don’t feel sorry for me, because at least I’m not doing report cards.
I’m doing report cards. So far I’ve finished about two-thirds of them and a mocha coffee cooler, and a chicken and cheese sandwich, and two cups of mint tea, and about 5 wifi cards that Milton gave me because I asked him and because I’m a regular customer, so don’t ask him, because you’re not a regular customer.
Nawras, I like my job. Don’t get me wrong. But I like the other parts of my job. The parts where I get to listen to my kids’ writing and make smiling noises because Jason says something like “my hands are rough like the rusty edge of a leaf” or Maria’s character is “staring down beyond the metal frames of the window, to the emptiness of the hollow streets of Moscow”. Besides writing, I love math because fractions are not fun, but I like making them fun. I love it when kids who usually hate math cheer when it’s math time. I love that they pay me to read to the kids about Aslan the King of Narnia and that some of them cried when Aslan died and cheered when he came back to life and shook his mane.
Nawras, you are right when you say “Get closer”. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? In the end we just want to belong somewhere – belong to something and to someone. The Narnia kids were transformed not because they got cool gifts like swords and potions, or even because they were made leaders over the other creatures in Narnia. They were transformed because they were accepted by Aslan, because they were loved. Even Edmund and he was a real jerk for the first half of the book.
I like my job because I get to accept my students and teach them to accept each other. I put Edmund in the front row, because he has a hard time controlling his wandering mind, and every now and then he annoys the others, but we all love him anyway. My kids get it most of the time, that we are all Edmund and that we all just need a little patience and grace. Because really, we are all on the same path, just walking and trying to figure stuff out.
Nawras, I’d better get back to my report cards. Thank you for your interwebs and your kind and accommodating Wifi that rains on us all no matter who we are. I can’t avoid the inevitable any more. Back to the grindstone.
When they do storms here, they don’t play around. Storms mean business. We knew rain was coming, but I did not expect golfball sized chunks of ice falling from the sky. This week I’m filling out forms for my insurance company to collect for the multiple dents on my hood and roof of my car. Here’s a video from the evening. Notice the crazy cloud of swirling windy devil rain that blows in from nowhere at about 20 seconds on the video. What you can’t see off-camera is someone’s awning blowing by at 30 feet off the ground and several wooden chairs blowing down the sidewalk. What you can see is me turning in fleeing like a little schoolgirl back into the safety of my house.
I know I’ve been posting a lot about Red Bull lately. You’ll have to forgive me. But that just goes to show how much a part of my life it has become. Last weekend was incredible, shooting the preliminaries in Oman. But this weekend, my blogger friend, Andy, and I were invited to Dubai to watch the regional drifting finals. This time, I didn’t go as photographer, but as “journalist” of sorts. Instead of sweating on my camera grip, I was eating spring rolls and pasta in the media/VIP section. It’s amazing how much of the event I miss when I’m shooting. I catch it in flashes of 1/250th of a second. At times I don’t even really know who’s ahead or behind, who had a bad or good run. This time was different. We weren’t even allowed to take photos during the event, so that allowed me to focus on the action… and the spring rolls.
(All photos courtesy of the Red Bull Content Pool)
The event was set at the World Trade Center with the Burj Kalifa, the world’s tallest building, framed between two glass towers right out in front of us. The skyline was accented by the movement of floodlights. The scene was quite stunning, really. And thousands of car fans who had been attending the Dubai Motor Show for the last several days, were in attendance.
Although all the competitors were top class drivers, it was obvious from the beginning that a few stood out above the others. Their maneuvers were tight and precise, and they were able to work the crowds by hitting difficult transitions at higher speeds, revving their engines, and kicking up huge clouds of smoke with their tires. The best drivers seemed to risk more by hitting seemingly precarious speeds while still maintaining control during maneuvers.
Of course, Andy and I were rooting for our two Omani finalists. When the final four were announced, the Omani driver who was first in the Oman preliminaries, Ali Al Bloushi, was among them. He ended up finishing third while Jad Himo from Lebanon won the contest, followed by Othman Al Takriti from Jordan in second place.
We were grateful to Red Bull for the invitation and happy to be able to cheer for our local champion.
Abdo Feghali and some other Red Bull athletes thrilled crowds with their performances, as well.
I started the photo shoot this weekend at the Opera House thinking it might give us some interesting graphic elements to work with for our background. Abdo Feghali, champion rally car driver and holder of the Guinness Book‘s world record for “longest drift”, was to be the subject. I was really lucky to have Brian’s help. We got there about an hour early and had the chance to set up lights and test settings ahead of time.
Abdo got there and we were able to pretty quickly hit several backgrounds around the location.
A few more shots, the briefing, and some waiting. And then things went loud and steady for the next 3 hours. The highlight was going out onto the track while Abdo was driving and perching up on top of a one-meter-tall, wooden cable spool while he drifted in a complete circle around me. His bumper was literally like 2 feet off the spool. Here is one of the resulting images from that vantage point.
Here are some more pics from the day.
How much better can it get than a driving contest where you’re judged by the amount of smoke your tires make, the rev of your engine, and the cheers of the crowd in addition to your driving skills on a narrow, tight-turned track. Drifting is coming to Oman and is brought to us by Red Bull.
You free this Saturday?
It’s all happening at the Oman Automobile Association on Saturday, November 2nd at 2:00PM. The Automobile Association is located on the service road that runs along the Sultan Qaboos Highway between Ghala and the Golden Tulip Hotel near the airport.
Here is the Red Bull bulletin: (Arabic info at the bottom of the page)
Adrenaline-fuelled drift shows on the map for the fourth season of Red Bull Car Park Drift in Oman
Oman qualifier to be held in Muscat on November 2nd
Oman is gearing up for the Red Bull Car Park Drift Oman qualifier for the fourth consecutive year, and will showcase some of the most phenomenal drift performances in the region.
Earlier this year, qualifying rounds kicked off across the region in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia opening a whole new season of heightened challenges. Oman is the final stop before the regional final which will be held in Dubai on November 8th at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
The Oman qualifier will be held at the Oman Automobile Association and is the perfect opportunity for motorsport lovers and drift fans to enjoy a hands-on experience of high speed and excitement. This year local championship competition will take place at 2:00pm on Saturday, November 2nd with several extraordinary rounds of exhilarating shows to crown the King of Drift. After the tremendous success of the past three years, two Oman representatives will be selected this year for the regional finals.
Preliminary rounds will take place the previous day, on November 1st to select the best of the Omani elite drivers to battle over the drifting title. Registration to compete in the event is open until October 28th.
Last year’s local competition saw Mohammed Al Asmi retained his crown as The King of Drift, for the second consecutive year and compete in the regional finals in Jordan.
This event is in partnership with the Oman Automobile Association, and sponsored by Chevrolet, Total, Bridgestone, Nawras, Merge 104.8 and Al Wisal 96.5.
Before turning into a break through motor sport in the Middle East, the concept of this motorsport originated in Japan during the 1970’s based on the idea of competing in parking lots.
I’ll be out there taking pictures this Saturday. Come out and join me. It’s sure to be a fun day.
Here’s a direct link to the Red Bull information page
And if you want to drive, but you’re not into burning out the tires on your car, Red Bull has some karting and motocross video games here: http://games.redbull.com/mea/en
تصفيات “ريد بُل كار بارك دريفت” في مسقط في 2 نوفمبر
تستعد سلطنة عمان للتصفيات الإقليمية لمسابقة “ريد بل كار بارك دريفت” التي تعود للسنة الرابعة على التوالي لتقدم أكثر عروض السيارات روعةً في المنطقة. وكانت المسابقة جالت في وقت سابق من هذا العام على بلدان عدة في المنطقة بينها البحرين ومصر والأردن والكويت ولبنان والمملكة العربية السعودية، في موسم جديد من التحدي المتزايد ستشكل السلطنة المحطة الأخيرة من تصفياته، قبل النهائي الإقليمي في مركز دبي التجاري العالمي في 8 نوفمبر.
وتشكل هذه البطولة التي تنظم في الجمعية العمانية للسيارات فرصة مثالية لعشاق رياضة المحركات وعروض الانجراف لاختبار السرعة والإثارة.وتقام المنافسة المحلية هذا العام يوم السبت الموافق 2 نوفمبر وتتضمن جولات استثنائية عدة من العروض المبهجة لتتويج ملك الإنجراف. وبعد النجاح الهائل على مدار السنوات الثلاث الماضية، سيتم اختيار ممثلين اثنين من السلطنة هذا العام لخوض نهائيات دبي.
وتقام الجولات التمهيدية في اليوم السابق للحدث المنتظر، أي في الأول من نوفمبر، لاختيار الأفضل من بين سائقي النخبة العمانيين للتنافس على لقب البطولة، علماً أن التسجيل للتنافس في هذا الحدث مفتوح حتى28 أكتوبر.
وقد شهدت المنافسة المحلية العام الماضي احتفاظ محمد العاصمي باللقب للسنة الثانية على التوالي وهو نافس في النهائيات الإقليمية في الأردن.
ويقام هذا الحدث بالشراكة مع الجمعية العمانية للسيارات وبرعاية شفروليه وتوتال وبريدجستون والنورس، وميرج 104,8 والوصال.
وتجدر الإشارة إلى أن مفهوم هذه الرياضة قبل انتشاره في الشرق الأوسط، بدأ في اليابان خلال سبعينيات القرن الماضي، مرتكزاً على فكرة التنافس في مواقف السيارات.
another poem from this summer written while camping on the beach in Southern California
And catching only slightly on the manzanita leaves
The fog bank hangs his head and lumbers on
The seagulls as the wind lulls stretch their alabaster wings
And ride the offshore breeze until they’re gone
The applause of pebbles peppered by the tides upon the shore
adds treble to the rumble of the seas
and humble souls find soothing in the moving of the waves
proving where there’s thunder there is peace
“Perhaps I’ll take some classes or start selling real estate,”
said Thomas as he settled down to eat.
“This mundane life is killing me; I’ve so much more to give,”
he mumbled as he stuffed his mouth with meat.
He chewed each mouthful fourteen times, the way his mother taught
and shuffled to find footing for his feet.
“But first a nap,” the vulture said, forgetting all his dreams.
He burped and wiped the corpse off of his beak.