Thursday, December 1: On November 19, eight days after I return to Oman from my Eid holiday, I receive a surprise email from Guido, an Italian I met on my last day in Jordan. (Yes. His name is really Guido!) We happened to be thrown together randomly on a tour that day to Jerash, Ajloun and Umm Qais in the north of the country and we ended up having quite a nice time together. (see jerash, ajloun, umm qais and a couple of italians thrown in for good measure) Since we only met that one day, I am quite taken aback by his email:
CIAO CATHY, HOW ARE YOU? ….IF YOU WILL HAVE TIME FREE FROM SCHOOL AND OTHER …J’M THINKING TO COME IN OMAN, BEFORE END NOVEMBER-MAXIMUM HALF DECEMBER. WRITE ME ALSO THE CITY IN WHICH YOU LIVE AND THE PLAN OF YOUR WORK ..AND SEE SOMETHING, IF YOU HAVN’T BEEN, ABOUT DAMANAYAT ISLANDS. HERE IS NICE WEATHER AND TILL NOW IT’S NOT COLD…BUT A JUMP IN A WARM SEA IT WOULD BE A DREAM. …ALL THIS THINGS CAN BE FOR TWO PEOPLE….WAITING YOUR NEWS, J SEND A BIG KISS. GUIDO
I can’t help but be flattered that someone I met for just one day would make a special trip to Oman just to visit me. Of course, there is the possibility he simply wants to visit Oman and I just happen to be someone he knows here. Either way, we hit it off in Jordan mainly because of his cute and enthusiastic personality, his love of history and travel, and not a little physical attraction. I am happy to have him visit.
Despite my initial disbelief that he will actually come, he in fact does follow through, buys the ticket, and arrives on my doorstep (well, at Seeb International Airport) at the crack of dawn on Thursday, December 1.
In our email correspondence he expresses a desire to see the Damanayat Islands, some government-protected rocky islands about an hour’s boat ride off the coast of Sawadi. Rich in marine life, they’re supposed to be great for snorkeling and diving. I tell Guido I will arrange the boat trip for the Thursday of his arrival, but when I call Extra Divers at Al-Sawadi Beach Resort, they tell me that one of the Ministries will be occupying the islands for 3 days, December 1-3, for clean up. 😦 The Ministry has thus rescinded all permits for visitors to the islands for those three days. Since during Guido’s visit, I only have off the weekend of December 1 & 2, that means I will not be able to accompany him if he decides to go later during the week of his time here.
I tell him the scoop and then I make arrangements for us to take a snorkeling trip from the Oman Dive Center, a short drive from Mutrah. We go directly there from the airport, change into our bathing suits and go out in the boat at around 8:30 a.m. The boat has about 12 people on board, 8 of whom are deep-sea divers. The other four of us will snorkel. Though the weather is hot and sunny, as always in Oman, the sea is quite rough and the wind is a little chilly on this December morning.
We make a stop at a little cove and all of us jump out of the boat to explore. Guido has bought an underwater camera just for this trip and he is busy snorkeling about and snapping pictures. I realize I haven’t been snorkeling in about 24 years, since a trip to Hawaii where Mike and I snorkeled all around Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii. It takes me a little while to get into the swim of things. A big coral reef hugs the rocky coastline. We see beautiful funnel coral and blue coral, several green turtles, lined butterfly fish, regal angelfish, sergeant major fish, humbug damsels and powder blue surgeon fish, among other unidentifiable schools swimming all around us. It’s so peaceful to float above this underwater village with all its ethnic inhabitants and watch them go about their daily business. I stay mostly near the surface, but Guido is like a fish and keeps taking deep dives to capture the glimmering sea critters and turtles on his little camera.
At one point I come to a large coral formation that is like an underwater mountain. In one of the little caves made by the coral, I spy the black and white spots of a honeycomb moray eel. I signal to Guido, but I’m surprised that he backs off when he sees it. Later he tells me he was a little afraid to go near it.
After awhile snorkeling here, we all hop back in the boat and motor off to another cove where the current is stronger and the water rougher. This particular spot has interesting table coral, different from the coral at the other cove. Again, we see the same types of fish here, but this is not as relaxing because of the rough water and the current pulling us where we don’t necessarily want to go.
After swallowing a lot of water and being bounced around in the livid sea, we all climb back in the boat and head back to the Dive Center. Another boat zooms up beside us and the two drivers embark on a mad race back to the dock. It’s crazy because we’re all freezing anyway and now the water is coming into the boat as if we’re in the midst of a tempest. We’re all getting sprayed and soaked though the towels that we’ve wrapped around ourselves to keep warm. We can’t help but laugh at the crazy antics.
Back at the Dive Center we both take hot showers, get dressed and then sit down for lunch, accompanied by two good-sized carafes of red wine. The dive center restaurant, called the Odyssey, has quite a lovely setting amidst palm trees and flowering bushes and we sit and enjoy the breeze and the view. The only negative is the pounding bass of some techno music that the little palm-leaf bar beside the restaurant is playing at high volume.
I’m thankful for the wine. Especially since Guido’s English is not good. I realized it that day we met in Jordan, as he talked constantly in unintelligible English. I thought maybe it would just take some patience on my part; that if I listened carefully enough I would get used to it, learn to understand it possibly by osmosis. His pronunciation is bad and his vocabulary is very limited, and it doesn’t help that when he doesn’t know an English word, he tosses in Italian, Spanish and even German words. On top of that, because he thinks his English is good, he talks non-stop, telling long and convoluted stories about his mother, who he lives with in Genoa; the lady who takes care of his mother, Elena; his travels (with every detail such as numbers of kilometers between destinations); people he works with; his job cleaning at a big marina; his Mexican ex-girlfriend and her son who is not Guido’s. While he talks I catch only random words and phrases. I miss whole paragraphs, even whole stories, or the gist of them anyway.
Sitting at lunch, he talks and I nod. He doesn’t ask me anything about myself. I ask him questions when I can get a word in edgewise. I ask about why he didn’t marry the Mexican girlfriend, whose name is something like Chiquita. Or Chinchilla. A name that makes me think of bananas and rodents that scrounge around in the twilight. He says she came to visit him in Italy and something about how she wanted to spend money and more money, wanting to buy the most expensive things when cheaper things would do. His mother didn’t like her and was saying nasty things about the boy, whom she called “bastardo or illegittimo.” As Guido tells about this, he shakes his head, says this behavior is totally unlike his mother and she seems to have deteriorated in her old age, but what can he do? It’s his mother and he cares very much for her. He lives with her and she is ill and he pays Elena to take care of her so he can go off and travel.
Then he tells all about Elena and how she never goes out to clubs or to restaurants; all she ever does for herself is smoke cigarettes and save every bit of money she makes for her sons. He wants to encourage Elena to go out but he cannot talk her into it. She only wants to work and give money to her children.
He tells me his father died when he was 4 years old and he’s an only child and thus must be there for his mother, who fell a couple of years ago and broke her leg or hip and now is afraid to be alone. When he travels he doesn’t tell his mother he is going abroad; he just tells her he is going somewhere within the country.
So. I guess I do understand some of what he says, but believe me, it is painful. And sitting there at the Oman Dive Center, with that techno music pounding in our ears, it is really difficult to hear, much less understand, anything he says.
Still. As frustrating as he is, he is easy-going, cheerful, adventurous and a good sport about everything. I like a person who has this kind of personality, a person who is always good-spirited and happy and enthusiastic about life. So, in the moments when we are able to sit quietly, or when he’s not telling one of his painfully drawn-out stories, I feel a happy companionship with him.
After our lunch, we get in the car for a long drive to Al-Areesh Desert Camp. I already went once to this camp during the National Holiday and I adored it. I figure Guido will like it too. We drive about 2 hours from Muscat, and we arrive just after the sun goes down, too late to enjoy the sunset. We find upon arrival that the place is deserted. Last week, when I was here for the National Holiday, there were over 70 people here. But tonight there are a total of 4 of us. Guido and I, and an Omani couple. Because of this, the dinner, which is included, is a much smaller buffet than what I experienced, and we also find, much to my disappointment, that no Bedouins will be playing music tonight.
So. What will we do all evening? We sit outside and drink coffee and tea looking out over the dark desert. I could use another glass of wine, but these Bedouin camps don’t serve alcohol. Guido talks. And I listen. Nodding and nodding as if I understand what he’s saying. We eat our dinner, which only has a small array of dishes. We sit outside again after dinner and see another couple arrive, too late for dinner. Luckily they pass by us and we strike up a conversation with them. They’re on vacation from France; the man’s name is Francis but I don’t catch the wife’s name. I ask them why they decided to come to Oman and they say they spun the globe and their finger landed on Oman. I love that. They join us and though Francis speaks excellent English, a nice reprieve from Guido, the wife doesn’t speak any. She takes off for bed, but I don’t want to let Francis go. At least I can understand him! He tells us he’s a film director in France, making some movies but mostly commercials. He keeps Guido and I occupied for a couple of hours. Sweet relief.
Finally, I am tired and while Guido and Francis talk, I take off for the little barasti hut and climb into bed. I savor the sweet silence while Guido sits outside with Francis, talking man talk. I imagine Francis, frustrated, struggling to understand this Italian fellow, trying to decipher his foreign and garbled tongue.