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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

A Battle Within: Traveling Oman with Hypoglycemia - Page 2

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.



      The Al Gubrah-based restaurant Arab World featured authentic regional fare at low prices. It was one of Jawas’ favorite places, and not one known for hosting tourists. With the destination in mind, we booked it to the eatery as Jawas weaved in and out of heavy traffic at high speeds. Usha, my dad’s second wife from India and a vegetarian, joined this eclectic group. To recap, that’s one Pakistani driver, one vegetarian Indian, one American businessman from Indiana, and one half-Japanese half-American hypoglycemic tourist. 

      As we pulled into the parking lot, Jawas jockeyed for a space with another car. Backing up and pulling forward, both cars danced until two spaces finally opened. “Very good,” Jawas said with a smile. “Very good.”

      “Jawas, I want you to come in and eat with us,” my dad said.

      Jawas hesitated, tilting his head while thinking about the proposition for a moment. “Come on, Jawas,” Usha and I said at the same time. “Ok,” he finally said, laughing. 

      Once inside, we found ourselves in the midst of men. Many men, only men. Usha surveyed the room and then stepped behind my father. The smell of sweat and spices, a blend I would encounter frequently in the country, hit me immediately. Omanis in their stark white clothes filled the room. A restaurant host escorted our party of four upstairs to the family room, and I passed all the Omani men laughing and chattering as they tried to keep their conversations above the noise of traffic that spilled into the room from the open windows. We sat down into a booth with high walls where a waiter brought us a two-liter bottle of water and four plastic cups.

      The menus he handed us revealed items in both English and Arabic. There were sections devoted to chicken, beef, fish, and “meat.”

      “What does “meat” mean?” I asked.

      “It’s definitely not pork,” my dad said. “It must be lamb.”

      “Baaaa,” Jawas said.

      I laughed. Jawas’s impression sealed the deal for me. I chose “meat,” and my dad and Jawas did too. Usha had a bit more trouble. She flipped the menu over several times to find something palatable. 

      “I don’t think I’m hungry,” Usha said just before the waiter arrived.

      “What would you like?” the waiter, a middle-aged man in traditional Omani dress, asked us.

      My dad pointed to me to go first. “I will have the meat,” I said.

      The waiter looked to Jawas next, and he answered in Arabic, one of several languages he is fluent in.

      “I will have the meat, too,” my dad said.

      Usha continued scanning the menu.

      “Do you have any salad?” my dad asked the waiter.

      “No. Not really,” he said.

      My dad gestured towards Usha, and she remained silent. Her head hung low over the red scarf she was wearing.

      “She is vegetarian,” my dad said. “No meat. Even the stuff you use to cook can’t have touched meat.”

      “It’s ok. I don’t have to eat anything,” Usha said. 

      Jawas and I just sat there, watching the waiter and Usha.

      “No, you have to eat something,” my dad said. He looked at his menu.

      “Here, fruit salad. Is that ok?”

      She nodded, and her hair, black and down to her waist, swayed back and forth. On the ride over, she had been singing and laughing with my dad. Now, her face was tight.

      “None of the utensils can touch the meat,” my dad reminded the waiter. He nodded and walked off. Within five minutes, the waiter showed up with three bowls of curry-flavored lamb soup, which felt warm and grainy, and plates of vegetables featuring lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. 

      “I thought he said there was no salad,” my dad said, lifting up his plate of vegetables.

      “Here Usha, you can have my plate,” I said. Then I set the vegetables in front of her.

      “No, I am fine,” she said with a smile. 

      “No really, it’s ok,” I said. Though I had only known her a few hours, she was always to quick to make sure I was fine. “Ken, are you having fun? Do you need a tissue? Do you want some water?”


(Page 2 of 7)
Last modified on Wednesday, 23 January 2013
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