We were invited to the home of an Omani friend to sample their particular way of life. Their farm in the country (desert) was very rustic but nice and homely. In fact, it was the summer residence of our host and at that time the entire, extended family were arriving for a weekend visit or an entire summer stay. We watched the Indian farm workers wash themselves under a rustic style shower at the end of the farm drive, their flimsy sarongs leaving very little to the imagination. We gazed upon the simplicity of their cooking utensils, pots and dishes drying in the sun. Then, having been shown the crops and some animals, we sampled the delights of some freshly soured milk before we entered the home of our host to experience how an Omani really lives. Traditional homes have little or no furniture, seating and sleeping is arranged on a rug with some cushions propped against the walls. Upon this particular wall to wall rug was laid some plastic sheeting and an enormous, communal bowl. Placed centrally to the seated diners, a mound of saffron coloured rice steamed and freshly picked dates were scattered at our laps. Chicken and goat pieces, having already been cooked in sumptuous sauces, were poured onto the rice. The aroma was amazing and the taste something to die for. Traditional curry in a traditional Omani home, seated with the finest of Omani hosts – it really doesn’t get any better than that. At least for me it didn’t!
Now, in a traditional Omani home the genders do not mix. There are separate living rooms for men and woman to relax in. Eating together just isn’t tolerated. As the men folk, boys and I gorged ourselves on the sumptuous fare, the wife and child, having already been whisked away to have henna tattoos and a gossip with the girls, were about to be served the same meal as I was enjoying. Now, I did mention their strict vegetarianism but apparently, chicken is not classed as meat here so when you state “no meat thank you”, that generally means chicken is alright so plonk some on my plate please. To make matters worse, the rice had been cooked in a chicken stock. Doh! Unbeknownst to my good self, the wife and child had also been shut in a separate room to the other women ( an odd arrangement that we still haven’t figured out) to enjoy their meal with no ‘meat’. Some carefully rearranged rice gave the impression that some of their food had been consumed when, in fact, the strict veggies could not touch a morsel. They managed to sustain themselves on a citrus slice (which was actually meant for cleansing the hands – and I still haven’t had the heart to tell them!). I can honestly say that, at the time, I genuinely believed they were enjoying themselves just as much as I was. I had no reason to think that they too were not on a tour of the village, visiting the communal wells still in use – several that require the whole village to attend to the drawing of water from huge constructions and vast wells; a drive down the coast to see a local beach wedding, the bride and groom running ecstatically into the crashing waves as hundreds of well-wishers sing, dance and play the bagpipes on the shoreline.
Then a drive to the local bullfighting arena; a stop at local shops to visit some relatives of our host; a visit to his new build holiday villa that will be available in a couple of months (start booking now!); a tour of the local chicken farm and the “chicken cutting shop”, which was closed on this occasion. How on earth was I to know that during all of this, a sad and lonely mother and daughter were sat in a closed room desperately trying to re-arrange rice and chicken to look as though some of it had been eaten. No! It’s not a laughing matter. However, one does chuckle, ever so slightly, at the very thought of it.
Our family unit was later reunited for a trip to the local bullfight. We decided not to visit the local zoo as this will require some careful planning, mind adjustment and a fully charged camera. The zoo is often reported but not for the best of reasons. It is privately owned and has a reputation of having somewhat dubious conditions for the animals but more on this another time.
Bullfighting in Oman is not like the classic bull fights of Spain. Here, quite literally, two massive bulls, well, fight. In a minimalist bull ring, some 60 to 70 bulls are matched against one another, head to head with sharpened horns, to battle it out for… well, we couldn’t actually find out what it was all for but there must be some reason to it all. As there is no gambling allowed and no entrance fee to pay, it seemed that the only reward was the accolade of being announced the winner but even then we couldn’t see how that was decided. We were told that a winning bull could command very good stud fees and so, that was all there was to it. The spectacle was more of a local tradition, a get together to hear the news and talk BULL.
As usual, with no Health and Safety to cramp your every desire – you could sit where ever you liked and if that meant you wanted to get up-close and personal with the bulls, then there was nothing stopping you. I’m not sure how much a couple of big bulls weigh but I suspect that when they head in your direction, no one and nothing is going to stop them.
The dirt flies up, the screeching of the ringmaster through a megaphone with an annoying siren, the snorting of raging bulls…
Closer and closer they came and if you think that much weight can’t move so fast that you couldn’t get out of the way if you had to…think again!
From the relative safety of our low level concrete stand (which would not prevent a bull from charging up and over if it wanted to) – we laughed out loud at those who suddenly regretted that ring-side seat.
Over a period of a few hours, we watched magnificent animals battle it out, locking horns, pushing and shoving, impaling and sometimes, just sometimes, causing the crowd to up sticks and run away. We chomped on sweet Indian foods, cracked our sunflower seeds and generally added to the rubbish pile that had accumulated over several weeks.
If you’ve never watched a ‘real’ bull fight then here it is, a treat just for you. At this local bull fight in the village of Barka, we filmed a few of the fights. Not a matador to be seen. No swords. No banderillas. No fancy dancing or waving of red tea-towels. No shouts of ‘torro’ or ‘jole’. Just, RAGING BULLS GIVING IT LARGE!
Just click on the link or copy and paste it into your browser. Enjoy!
All in all, lunch fiasco apart, it was a most pleasant and interesting day. There was cock-fighting on offer too but we thought we would save that delight for yet another time.
As we sit here and plan just what to do next, we can guarantee that it will be something quite unexpected.
Oh yes, the weather. Well, the car gauge was showing the outside temperature as being 52 degrees Celsius the other day. That’s 125 degrees Fahrenheit in old money. Phew! What a scorcher…