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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

A Battle Within: Traveling Oman with Hypoglycemia - Page 7

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.



      We walked past the serving tables and grabbed some water and soda from a cooler packed with ice that looked like a treasure chest. Before entering the open-air room with the ground pillows, we all removed our shoes. This was exactly what I had been looking for. A cool breeze carried a few grains of sand, and I felt them stick to my feet as I sat down on a big blue pillow. To set the mood, a band of five Bedouins drifted in from the darkness and set up shop at the entrance of the adjacent dining area with all of the tables. They plucked stringed instruments, beat drums, and projected hauntingly beautiful words from their throats. I had everything I needed. Good company, adventure, and a plateful of delicious food that would keep my hypoglycemia at bay for a few hours.

      The plate mixed all sorts of colors, and the variety of spices I smelled made me salivate. There was plenty of water and soda for everyone, and, in keeping with Muslim law, no alcohol. After the meal, I was stuffed. Jawas had as much as I did, but he came back with a platter full of melon, grapes, and strawberries for dessert. 

      “Ken, have some,” he said to me, holding the plate in front of my face.

      “No, I’m ok,” I said, rubbing my stomach. “I’m very full.”

      “It’s very good,” he said, continuing to hold the plate out.

      “Ok, I’ll have some.” I washed down the platter, a perfect blend of sweet and tangy freshness. After we ate, my dad and Usha danced in front of the Bedouins. Jawas and I sprawled ourselves out across the carpet, digesting. My dad kept waving for me to join him.

      “Go,” Jawas said, laughing.

      “I’m so full. I can hardly move.” I felt like I had swallowed a watermelon whole.

      “Let’s go,” Jawas said after a few minutes of digesting. He laughed and nudged me on the shoulder several times. After no response from me, he finally just grabbed my hand.

      “Ok, let’s do it.” After a glorious meal, a celebratory dance seemed fitting. I had the energy I needed. We dashed to the other section of the dining hall, where many of the occupants had already left. Still a handful of people lingered to listen to the music and watch us dance.

      “I like this because I can just do what this guy is doing,” my dad said as he pointed to the Bedouin next to him. The man, dressed in traditional garb, lifted his knees up and down as if marching in place, with his arms at his side.

      “I can actually dance like that,” my dad said. Usha stood next to him swaying, and occasionally spinning in a circle, looking much more graceful than my dad. Jawas clapped and jumped up and down. As the music swelled into a faster beat, I pulled out the big guns. I let all the people encircle me and I pulled out the only moves I knew: footwork from boxing. I slid, jumped, skipped, and crossed my feet to the cheers of the crowd. My dad flipped out his phone and filmed my moves. Then he reached out to the crowd and encouraged more people to join us. He waved to an Omani man who was lying on a couch talking on a cell phone. The man waved back but continued his conversation. Eventually, a few people joined us, including a 9-year-old boy from Uruguay who imitated my moves. I danced with a full stomach, keeping the beast in check for one more day.


©Ken Ward




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