Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bull fights and Driving

Nizwa- Daris & Beyond.

This last few weeks have been busy ones in Nizwa.

The courses have begun in earnest which has meant that I’ve had four weeks of delivering five five hour seminars - workshops with only a couple of hours to prepare for them. Thank goodness there have been outlines and files available to read through and expand on before delivery!! Though there have been times when I have wondered if I would be able to have the resources altogether before meeting up with the course members.

Combined with a weekly trip to Ibra, a round trip of 320 km, to deliver a workshop and plan for other alternative ones, the weeks have begun to race by. There is the possibility that I may have to do a second trip each week - this time to Samail, a 120km round trip, which will add to the demands of the job. However, until that moment arrives, I’ll be thankful that I have only one long drive a week to consider.

In the weekends Joy & I have expanded our exploration of the interior of Oman as well as doing a couple of day trips to Muscat to shop for supplies and reading material that we can’t get easily in Nizwa. The trip to Muscat takes two hours which means an early morning start if we are to maximise our opportunities to shop for anything while there as the shops open at 9.00 to shut at 1.30pm and don’t open again until 4.30pm.

One week end we drove up to the Falaj Daris, a small town behind Nizwa, which supplies the water for the local irrigation systems that support the date palms and farms that run along the wadis in the area. The falaj was full of local families swimming and picnicking.

We have explored the village of Tanuf about 30 km up the road on the road to Bahla and driven the side roads around it. Tanuf is now the centre for a bottled water industry but the old mud-brick village was a centre of resistance during one of the civil wars that consumed Oman in the 1950s and, as result, was bombed by the air force.

The ruins of the old town are perched along a ridge over looking a narrow gorge that leads to a pleasant wadi crouched under the grey folds of the local mountain range.

Further up the road is the Al Hoota cave complex which we have driven up to despite that signs that advertise the caves are “temporary closed”. The caves have been closed for cleaning for a while but the complex’s museum and restaurant were open for business. The museum has a series of displays that show the geological history of Oman over the aeons and explains how the mountain ranges that dominate the country were formed from the clash of the tectonic plates millions of years ago. As well, there are displays of the fauna that inhabit the caves including an “albino” blind fish that has adapted to life in the blackness of the underground lake.

We have marked the Jabreen Castle as a must go to on a week day trip as it looks to be a lot more interesting than those we have seen in other places. Once we’ve managed to visit it during opening hours I’ll write more fully about it.

We have also driven down to Sohar, a 600km round trip, a couple of times to visit the other ex-pat trainer, Donald. This trip takes us up to Ibri then across country and through the mountains to the coast and Sohar.

The road from Ibri to Sohar is a narrow two lane one that reminds us of some of the more remote ones at home. However, it is driven by locals who often believe that to get anywhere you need to drive at 140kph and pass any other vehicle whenever it suits even if one is approaching a blind corner and one has seen that there could be a car hitting the corner as soon as one has begun the passing manouvre. It all makes for exciting driving!!!

The first time we went to Sohar we did a drive around the city to check out the local tourist sites - the Fort and Souq in particular. Unfortunately, the Fort was closed for repairs so there was no way that we could explore the site. The souq, on the other hand, was in action with countless plastic toy salesmen, jewellry stores with gold dropping from the displays in preparation for the Diwali celebrations.

This last weekend we drove to Sohar for their music festival. This visit proved to be quite exciting as we headed off to explore a fortified house / castle in a tiny village called Fazah. The fort was well restored, complete with a couple of portuguese cannon sticking out of the windows on the tower to suggest a defensive capability.

On the way back we saw a crowd and a mass of cars and trucks on an empty lot beside the road. At first we thought it was a local soccer match attracting the attention but the sight of several bulls tied to trees and the bumpers of the utes gave the lie to that belief. We promptly turned around at the first convenient round-about and headed back to what was obviously a bull fight.

The ring was formed by a ridge of sand on one side and the spectators on the other three sides. The spectators were squatting, sitting and standing listening to the master of ceremonies yelling a commentary on the qualities of the two bulls which were being led from the ring. The ring of spectators parted and a new bull, a large brown & white animal, was paraded into the ring to the praise of the master of ceremonies. A few minutes later a second bull, a squat, heavily muscled friesian, was led in from the opposite side of the ring.

The two animals were placed so they faced each other and urged to challenge each other. The first bull stood, with with its handlers beside it, pawing the ground while the second bull pulled against its handlers, reluctant to square off. After a few seconds both bulls lowered their heads and locked horns pushing against each other. As the crowd of men began cheering on their favourite bull it quickly became obvious that the friesian was matched against a far stronger animal for it began backing away while their horns were locked. The speed of the backward movement increased as the bigger bull got purchase in the sand which became a signal for the crowd to split and run to allow the bulls an escape route between the trucks and cars that bordered the ring of men.

Once the bulls had broken out of the ring their handlers rushed forwards and grabbed their tethers to hold them back from the battle and lead them to separate parts of the lot. This was also the signal that the fights were over for trucks and cars began jockeying for positions to head back to the city and labour camps and the bulls’ owners loaded their charges onto the trays of their utilities to drive back to their farmlets.

That evening we went to a concert as part of the Sohar music festival at the Sohar Beach Hotel. This was an opportunity for the mainly ex-pat community to show their musical talents to a wider audience while enjoying the early evening breezes blowing in from the sea.

While were there one of Donald’s colleagues arrived in the company of a young Omani who invited us to a family wedding celebration. It didn’t take too much persuasion to accept the invitation so we ended up in the centre of a local village where several hundred men were sitting on mats around a sandy square filled with young men celebrating the wedding with two days of dance and music before the bride and groom would be introduced to each other.

We were pulled into the swirling mass of men who were dancing a local variation of an Arabian - Indian wedding dance accompanied by drums, bagpipes, clapping and enthusiastic shouts from the dancers.

We stood and talked to our host for a couple of hours watching the dancing and the constant swirl of men coming and going from the houses around the celebration while several youths on 50cc scooters buzzed between the talkers and watchers.

The next day Joy and I headed back through the mountains back to Nizwa and the preparation for the coming week. For Joy that means preparation for her tutor group of five young Omani who want to improve their English who come twice a week to practice their spoken English and review their reading skills. She has also been approached to teach conversational English to a group of women who work at the Training Centre so she may have another couple of evenings where she is engaging with the local community.

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