There we were, camping along the coast in the rocky bays north of Mirbat. It’s a great fishing area, apparently, although we had a red tide and therefore no luck. We were three at first, one Omani and two Americans, and passed a leisurely afternoon into the evening, sitting around, preparing some food, smoking the sheesha, cutting up our bait fish for dinner. Omanis don’t eat small fish, sneered our Omani friend, and even though he didn’t take bite one, he made us swear to not tell anyone we had the bait sardines for dinner. They are large for sardines, about 7-9 inches. About 10 pm 3 more people and a little dog arrived in the village about 20 km away, but in a small car, so Our Omani friend went to pick them up in the 4 wheel drive, leaving Justin and I at the fire. Since he would be gone about an hour he insisted on leaving us the gun. Of course we didn’t want it. Didn’t need it. Although both good shots, we are from cities in the Northeast, we are peace loving and refined, and neither of us could conceive we would need or use this weapon. We would just sit at the fire, what could happen?
Fortunately nothing did, then.
They came back and we ate, and sat, and had a nice evening, going to sleep around 2 am I guess. The dog is a puppy and still pretty wild. She is not easily controlled and was rummaging about in the darkness, pestering the preternaturally large and fearless cats who roamed the perimeter of our little camp, and barking a challenge at every feline she saw.
From somewhere in my dream a strange and horrid noise grabbed me and brought me out immediately. Our Omani friend was already grabbing at the flashlight and scanning the rocks. We could see the little dog laying absolutely rock-still on the ground near a couple of sleeping people, trying to be invisible. The noise was a terrifying angry screeching, like a woman being tortured from the depths of hell. Then we saw it. Perched on the rocks, about 15 feet off the ground, unbelievably, was a huge, canine looking creature, all bristles and hackles standing on end and screaming malevolently at us. It’s a Hyena! whispered our Omani friend. Look at the back going down! But aren’t wild animals supposed to leave you alone if you leave them alone? This thing was angry, obviously, and could turn aggressive at any second. With one leap it would have been upon the still sleeping (!) Mohammed. Perhaps it was the dog in our midst. The light did nothing to scare it away. It just glared and us and screamed louder, eyes flashing in the light. With one leap our Omani friend jumped up and ran behind the landcruiser and raced up the rocks straight at the hyena! I kept the light on it and the thing didn’t budge. When he was almost up to it I heard the bang and saw the flash of the gun, and only then did the hyena turn and lope off. He didn’t shoot it, just shot up in the air, but the hyena believed it I guess.
Well, hell. I have discovered that it was a striped hyena. They are generally pretty small, as hyenas go, but another friend said that one this size is certainly a witch. It looked absolutely gigantic, with all those raised hackles. I told this story endlessly, my last week in Salalah, and everyone I told was in agreement: this was a witch, or a jinn. We don’t need any convincing. Even Justin, who didn’t believe in Jinns, is convinced now. Now I have to wonder who sent it? And why? Who was it meant for and who was it threatening? And I don’t even want to know if it wore earrings.
Yeah we don’t like guns. Right. Being torn to pieces and crushed in a hyena’s jaws is better? Imagine the last sound you hear is that horrible scream--surely you'd wind up in hell by some cosmic burp. Please. Justin and I made plans to visit the arms market next morning.
If that whatever-it-was had shown up while our Omani friend was off in the truck Justin and I would have been either out in the ocean or on the rocks in the middle of it, no question! But then we imagined that such a thing could probably race across the water after us. We are still scaring each other with what ifs.
We went on another little outing, to the beaches recently opened at Fizayah. This is a drop down the mountain from the road to Yemen and it is spectacular. Kilometre after kilometer of perfect beaches, with rocks, and sand, and aggressive angry crabs (one actually chased me down the beach after I had the temerity to take its photo) and another lovely frankincense grove. This grove is unusual in that the trees grow right out the rock without even a pretense of soil. I will be back to photograph more of them in the next harvest. At the end of one of the pistes we found a beach, just about as isolated as you can get and still be somewhat accessible by car. We climbed over a small but intimidating rocky hill to get there, leaving the car back at the bluff. It’s like having your own paradise, like the South Pacific. But nowhere in the world does it get better than Oman. Seriously.
I drove to Muscat today; somehow the drive back is easier, even if quite a slog. My last few days in Oman. Muscat is a sweet and nice little city and as usual I have to decompress from Salalah. My driving skills have suffered. Salalah drivers are initially terrifying, but it becomes easier as you get used to it, and you adapt by driving the same way.
So what was accomplished? I really can’t say. I went to set up a distillery. It hasn’t happened but not for lack of trying. Concrete steps? I can’t say here either. It’s a pretty fluid and slow drip, this procedure. Everything rests on my associate at this point. I’ve sent most of the oil I made back to Enfleurage. I’ve got an apartment. I have a sponsor. I have Luban. Learned a little Arabic. Learned about genies and animals. Learned about Land Cruisers and fishing. Learned a lot about distilling frankincense. Met a lot of people. Made a few friends. Had a few dramas. Didn’t fall in love.
It’s not as far along as I was hoping, and so could be considered anti-climactic in that sense, but I’ve carved my niche, however clumsily, and it will be here for me when I return, Inshallah, for another go, soon enough. A single American woman setting up an unusual business in a Gulf Country…..perhaps I should give myself a little slack. I did okay.
N.B. many Omanis don't want their names used for anything, even just the first name, so I'll be saying "Omani friend" when this is the case.