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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

A Battle Within: Traveling Oman with Hypoglycemia - Page 6

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.



      Short of another half hour, we reached the camp. The camp stood in the middle of two ridges of sandbanks running parallel to each other. It was like a skateboarding half pipe. Twenty or so tents pockmarked the camp, along with an ornate dining hall and pool on one side of the valley and an upscale rental house on the other. We were out in the middle of nowhere, this really was an oasis; but, would I have enough to eat? There was no convenience store around the corner.

      “Why didn’t they just put the camp back at the beginning of the road?” I asked.

      “Yeah, that would have made much more sense,” my dad agreed. 

      Jawas backed the car into a “parking space,” and we headed to a tent to register ourselves. I felt relieved. The staff greeted us with smiles as well as dates, Omani coffee, and moist towels. The dates, which were sticky and sweet, and coffee, which was strong and bit spicy, were traditional offerings for guests. I don’t normally drink coffee, because the caffeine sets off my hypoglycemia, but I didn’t want to offend the hosts. I sipped the coffee and wiped my forehead with the towel.

      Jawas sat enjoying his treats. He would have to drive through the desert again, by himself, and then back to Muscat. Then he would have to wake back up at 6:00 am just to come get us. “I wish Jawas didn’t have to drive all the way back,” I said to my dad.

      “Yeah, it would be nice if he could stay with us,” my dad said. “Jawas, do you want to stay here with us tonight?”

      “No, no. It’s ok,” he said.

      “You have other plans tonight?”

      Jawas shook his head. “No, no.”

      “Ok, well we want you to stay here and have a good time with us,” my dad said.

      “Yeah, Jawas, I want you to stay too,” I said.

      Usha joined in. “Come on, Jawas. It will be fun.”

      He thought the idea over. He swayed his head from side to side.

      “Ok, ok,” he said. He only had the clothes on his back, while we had stuffed backpacks, but his smile covered his whole face.

      After the snack, we left the registration tent and headed toward our tent. Later that night, after a dip in the pool and some sand sledding, it was time for dinner. At 7:00 pm, it was dark and cool, and staff provided guests with a meal in an outdoor building that housed elaborate decorations and countless pillows. 

      I walked the path to the food, which was cloaked in darkness. What would await me there? A humble dish of dates and nothing else? Would I shrivel into sand from starving and blow away in the wind? I entered the light. The staff offered a giant spread, buffet-style, and I covered my plate with chapatti bread, hummus, mixed vegetables, two types of rice, tandoori chicken, and roasted lamb. My dad and Jawas did the same thing. It was a thing of beauty.

      “I am so glad there is food without meat here,” Usha said to me. Hummus, chapatti, and curried vegetables made the plate disappear.

      We sat down at a table, but my dad wasn’t happy. He looked around at all the tables full of tourists, a mix of Omanis and foreigners.

      “I wish we could sit on the ground,” my dad said. “These seats feel too formal. I just want to spread out.”

      I was comfortable at the table, but I figured sitting on the ground could be authentic.

      “Well I saw on the other side of the food that there was a place with a bunch of pillows where you can sit on the ground,” I said. “But there was no one else over there. Maybe people didn’t notice they could sit there.” My blood sugar had dipped again, and my hands trembled. I didn’t care where I sat. I needed food.

      Without hesitation, my dad stood up and picked up his plate. “Let’s go,” he said. “We can be the first. Lead the way, Ken.”


(Page 6 of 7)
Last modified on Wednesday, 23 January 2013
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