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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

A Battle Within: Traveling Oman with Hypoglycemia

Written by Ken Ward
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      A deep rumble shook me to the core. Not a good sign in the Middle East. The smell of exhaust clung to migrant sand particles as the high sun filtered through dust clouds to the ground. Heat wrapped itself around me. My head spun, and the rumble shook me again. My arch-nemesis had stalked me all the way here: hypoglycemia.  

      My condition, which I was diagnosed with my first year of college, still puzzled me. My case of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, attacked me all day, every day, making me feel shaky, dizzy, and lightheaded. The only way to tame the beast was to feed it.

      I stood at the entrance of the Mutrah Souk (also known as Muttrah Souq), a marketplace in Muscat, Oman with my dad, his second wife, and our driver. The venue, which had been at the same site for hundreds of years, overlooked the Mutrah Corniche, the largest natural harbor in the world. Omanis—the men dressed in long, often white gowns and flat, circular hats, and the women in long headdresses over loose-fitting pants—milled among foreigners in and out of the market. 

      Feeling my blood sugar plummeting, I stumbled to the nearest food vendor. At the food stand, a sweaty, middle-aged man with a big knife stood next to a big hunk of hanging lamb. At that point, the man looked better than a supermodel to me. “I want that,” I said as I pointed to the big pile of meat. “Yes, of course,” he said as he began shaving the meat to create one of the most wonderful things on earth: a shawarma. This particular sandwich was crafted from shaved lamb meat, tomato, cucumber, and a yogurt sauce wrapped in a pita. The salty, earthy meat complemented the tartness of the yogurt.

Aluminum foil cradled this hand-warming bundle of joy. As the man bestowed this gift from the heavens onto me, I noticed something equally beautiful behind him. 

      “That. I need that too,” I said, mouth drooling. He laughed and poured the neon yellow lemonade from a whirring machine into a paper cup. 

      “500 baisa please,” he said. I handed him the exact amount, approximately $1 U.S. The shawarma sated me briefly, but now I craved something more substantial. I knew I needed to eat, a lot. I wanted the most authentic Omani meal possible, one that would keep my blood sugar in check. I had just flown in the night before, so I was still jet-lagged. I came to Oman for a week to visit my dad, who had accepted a job as a business developer in the fall of 2010. Back in Vermont, where I was serving one year with AmeriCorps, snow still smothered everything in sight so I was happy to escape to the rugged, desert country for a spring getaway. One of the first things I noticed after arriving to the nation of nearly three and a half million people was the diversity of its inhabitants. Foreigners from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and the United Kingdom all contributed to the hefty expatriate population. I had few expectations of Oman before I went there, and a diverse population was not one of them.  

      “I’m still hungry,” I said to my dad, a business developer from the Midwest. The four of us now stood outside of the market gazing at the harbor, which hosted commercial vessels as well as a traditional wooden ship. As I stood there, the shakes crept into my hands. “I need a big meal. I want something local.”


      “What do you think, Jawas?” my dad asked.

      Jawas, my dad’s driver from Pakistan, wore a cotton, long sleeve white shirt with a blue collar and pants to match every day. His thick, crow-colored mustache framed a mouth that often curled into a giant smile at the littlest things, such as finding a good parking spot.  A couple of people even mistook Jawas for my father because I am half-Japanese and half-white, a combination that has left many strangers pondering my heritage. Now, Jawas contemplated the question for a moment, perhaps trying to collect the words in English, maybe deciding the perfect place to give me my first taste of a full, authentic Arab meal.

      “I don’t know,” he said.

      “We want you to pick, Jawas,” my dad answered back.

      He tilted his head from side to side. “Arab World.”


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Last modified on Wednesday, 23 January 2013
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