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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

A Battle Within: Traveling Oman with Hypoglycemia - Page 3

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.



      She was devoted to her diet, and I admired her for it. However, I was purely focused on the meat. It was one of the few things that kept the monster in check. Just as we were finishing, the waiter brought three plates of roasted lamb leg sleeping on beds of rice with tomato chunks stewing in its juices on the side. 

      Before I dug in, Lamb Chop, a sock puppet from a children’s show I used to watch, popped into my mind. I remember the character annoying me, so I had no reservations about gnawing on the lamb. Jawas was already halfway done with his plate; he shoveled his right hand into the rice and lamb and dipped it into the tomatoes.  After watching Jawas, I cast aside my fork and knife and buried my right hand into my food, feeling right at home. As a kid, I always tried to eat with my hands and use my shirt as a napkin but my Japanese mother, who was thousands of miles away in Oregon, always slapped my hands when I behaved that way. 

      “Ken, you’re like a little caveman,” she would say as she laughed. She couldn’t say anything now because I was simply embracing Omani culture. I had found a loophole. As I shoveled the food into my mouth, I noticed the lamb flesh was pink on the inside, gamily scented but mildly flavored. As I engorged myself, I thought about things I wanted to do on the trip. I felt an irresistible urge to explore the desert. I felt the call for adventure, but I was worried about my hypoglycemia interfering. The heat would make me dizzy. The amenities of the city would exceed my reach. If any emergency situation flared up, such as a low blood sugar-induced coma, I would be out of luck. But I didn’t travel thousands of miles to play it safe. It was worth the risk for me.

      “Dad, I want to go to the desert,” I said. I envisioned endless highways of sand that would draw me away from the chaos of the city and unfiltered sunlight that would send me back to snow-covered Vermont with a warm body and soul.

      “I don’t know, Ken,” my dad said. A former Marine, my dad was used to adventure. But he was getting on in years.  

      “Come on, Dad. We might not get the chance to do something like this again.”

      Jawas paid the conversation no mind and continued scarfing down the meal. Usha laughed softly at our father-son exchange, as her eyes darted back and forth between us.

      “You need to eat every ten seconds,” my dad joked. “Are you going to make it?”

      “I’ll be fine,” I said, rolling my eyes.  

      “Ok, then. Whatever you want.” It was settled.

      Later that week, my caravan of four took off for the 1,000 Nights desert camp in the Wahiba Sands desert region away from the coast and into the interior of the country. Three hours outside of Muscat, at a gas station in Al Mudayrib (or El Monday Rib as we called it), we stood at a crossroads. Before we had left the big city, my dad’s boss Naseeb offered a stern warning.

      “Don’t go out into the desert by yourself,” he said. “The camp is an hour off the road where you have to drive on sand. If you get stuck, you won’t be able to get out.” 

      The thought of being stuck in the desert with only sand to eat struck me with anxiety. My heart raced; my palms began to sweat. I remembered one time when I was driving down the interstate in Vermont, my blood sugar dropped, I began to shake, and my mind grew foggy, as if I were in a drunken stupor. I pulled over to the side of the road, put the emergency flashers on, and pulled a Clif bar from my pocket, hands trembling. I always carried a granola bar with me for an emergency. I shuddered to think what would happen with no relief. Fainting, coma..., death...?  

      At the gas station, which was a modern Shell station with sand breezing across the ground, there were a few cars belonging to locals lined up. The one in the front was a black Jeep, with all the windows tinted far beyond any American legal limit. The driver, dressed in white clothes and black sunglasses, was talking to a few people who appeared to be tourists. Naseeb had said there would be people waiting to escort people to the camp, so I assumed these people were the guides. 

      Jawas parked the car, and my dad crossed the lot to speak with one of the drivers. There was no way Jawas could drive us there because there was no map or directions. It would be like giving directions to drive on a giant, blank sheet of paper. However, Naseeb had also said that the drivers make the trek a few times a day, so they know where they are going.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 23 January 2013
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