Wednesday, January 18: Our trip to Salalah starts out optimistically. We begin our drive late in the afternoon with a plan to sleep at the Al Ghaftain Guest House, about halfway through the vast expanse of Oman’s nothingness, 860 long kilometers between Nizwa and Salalah commonly known as the Empty Quarter.
We encounter our first bit of excitement in the town of Adam, 40 km south of Nizwa. In that town, the namesake town of my youngest son, we stop to take a photo of Adam in front of a big sign: Wilayat Adam Welcomes You! We fill up the car with petrol, since we were told that any time we see a petrol station in the 860 km through the middle of nowhere, we should stop and fill up. We don’t know when the next petrol station will present itself in the vast emptiness, so we take the advice and top off the tank.
We continue on. Soon after the town of Adam, the mountains dwindle to flatlands and all we see around us is a vast expanse of plains with some scrubby bushes dotting the landscape. As we continue on, kilometer after kilometer, even the bushes disappear, and all that’s left in any direction are expanses of flat sand. Not the nice red sand and windswept dunes of the Sharqiya region, but white pebbly sand as flat as a griddle.
We take turns driving, Adam and Alex and I, and the time passes. At some point it gets dark, and we drive along in the darkness with no idea what’s around us.
This is when things start to deteriorate. Adam tells us about a link one of his friends posted on her Facebook page about Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome (Brick Walls). A mother had written in because she was told by a doctor at the Nephrology department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, that her daughter, who is mentally retarded, should not have a kidney transplant because she is mentally retarded and has brain damage.
Adam tells us the response he wrote to this girl’s posting, which was as follows: “is a human being something more than an animal? don’t get me wrong, i love and respect all life, and would never purposefully harm any life unless my own life depends on it. but that does not mean i would go out of my way, nor do i expect anyone else to go out of their way, for what seems to me to be a hopeless cause. when a horse gets a broken leg, it is usually put down. most house pets are never left to die themselves, but are put “to sleep” in order to prevent misery. why is it different with humans? are humans something more than animals? we have the technology and capacity to keep many more things alive than we do. why fight for one form but not another? i have heard when Spartans had a baby which seemed unfit, they would hurl it over a cliff. when you are hungry, do you not kill a chicken? or a cow? or a fish?
“… all of the money this family is willing to spend to save this one human, could be used to save many many more humans with less severe conditions, but do not have the money to save themselves. or, wow who would think of this, but that same amount of money could save thousands if not millions of innocent animals. also, there will be tons of money that will be spent by this family which will go into the pockets of already too wealthy pharmaceutical company owners who are nothing more than very big time drug dealers who will put out drugs which will be tested (probably on animals, many of which are caged their entire lives and subjected to horrible conditions) but probably not tested enough and then more people will be harmed by these drugs which are improperly prescribed and then more money will be spent for those annoying lawyer commercials which just tell us that we deserve more money because we took too many drugs da da da sorry i don’t know where i’m going with this any more but you see what im saying maybe a little bit? there is much more to this than this one little girl. there are many more problems in this world than a children’s doctor (who has probably saved many lives in his career) calling a little girl retarded… sorry for the rant, again, no harm meant to anyone just trying to provoke thought.”
I know my sons have radical ideas, and it’s fine with me if they want to have these ideas. But when they try to push their agenda on me, I bristle and resist. I don’t like anyone who tries to browbeat me into believing what they believe, no matter what the idea. Whatever the subject matter, religion, politics, sociology or psychology, I will resist anyone who tries to force their beliefs on me. I will listen and try to understand their perspective, but then I can choose to agree to disagree. People are certainly welcome to have their ideas, but they are just as certainly NOT welcome to try to force their ideas down my throat.
I listen to their arguments and I agree that some of their points are valid. But, as devil’s advocate, I argue the other side of this issue. I say that I believe humans are more than animals because of our cognitive and emotional development. I believe there is a food chain and some animals are meant to be food for other animals. You can look around in nature and see this. Adam says that he should show me a video of cows being slaughtered and then I won’t say animals don’t have emotions. They certainly do have emotions and know fear. They know when they are about to be slaughtered. I know this is true as all animals have that fight-or-flight instinct that is vital to their survival.
I say that pharmaceutical companies should be able to test drugs on animals so that human lives can be saved. Adam disagrees vehemently that animals should suffer to save human lives. He sees animals and humans on a level playing field; they should have the same rights and be treated exactly the same.
We move to the idea of the mentally retarded girl. Adam believes huge sums of money should not be spent to keep alive someone whose contribution to society is negligible. I say that mentally retarded people contribute to society in their own way, according to their ability. But he argues money would be better spent saving those whose contributions are larger. I say this is a slippery slope; once you start making decisions about whose lives are more valuable than others’, it will never end. You can’t quantify the value of a human life, although I’m sure society does make just such judgments.
I present to him a scenario. Suppose he gets married one day and has a mentally retarded child. How would he feel? What I don’t even get to say to Adam is this: Suppose that one day YOU are in a horrible accident and become mentally incapacitated. How would you feel under these circumstances? Should I think of any money spent saving you as a wasted resource? As your mother, should I throw up my hands and give up because the contribution you can make to society is now diminished?
Adam says he doesn’t plan to get married and neither does he plan to have any children. I say, suppose you change your mind? Suppose you decide to have children and suppose you have a mentally retarded child? He says that won’t happen to him. Then he attacks me for appealing to his emotions instead of thinking logically about this issue. “Use your brain! I can’t even believe my own mother is stooping so low and not even presenting an intelligent argument.”
By now I am pissed off beyond belief, but I decide to keep silent. This argument is deteriorating into something ugly and unbelievable, and frankly, I am not liking either of my boys right now. Now that their attacks have become personal, my blood is boiling and I fear a huge escalation. I sit silently, fuming inside, and drive through the empty, and now somewhat threatening, darkness.
Both the boys then team up and begin a full frontal attack on me, saying I don’t contribute to society because I eat meat and spend money and consume too much of the earth’s resources. I argue that I don’t eat that much meat and that I am working to simplify my life. They continue to attack and say I really don’t contribute, basically because I’m not a vegetarian like they are. I argue that I contribute in my own way, according to what I believe is important, such as educating women in the Middle East to give them opportunities and hope. They say again that I’m helping humans, and not thinking at all about animals. That’s right. Because frankly, animal rights are not my agenda, but THEIRS. They’re welcome to it, but I don’t choose it as my own.
By this time I am so angry I want to say to them, “And exactly how are you both contributing? By shrugging off your responsibility to complete your education and by refusing to work hard? By continuing to mooch off your father????” But I know the futility of making such a statement, especially with the emotions running high in this car, and I don’t say anything. I am just dead silent.
I’m sick of this discussion, mainly because I’m sick of their self-righteous attitudes, so I say what I always say when I want to end a discussion: “Whatever.” And then I am silent. The silence in the car is as thick and impenetrable as solidifying wet concrete.
We arrive finally at Al-Ghaftain Rest House and check in to our room. Tensions are still high, but Alex and I decide to go to the 24-hour restaurant for dinner. Adam says he will stay in the room. I shrug and head to the restaurant. After dinner, we return to the room. As soon as we walk in, Adam grabs his backpack and says he’s going for a walk. Then he disappears into the vast expanse of the Empty Quarter.
At this point, I start getting text messages from Mike, the boys’ father, in Virginia. “What’s going on?”
I respond: “He’s just upset bc I don’t agree with his ideas about animals being as important as humans. I’m not going to get into a 3-way discussion!”
Mike: “Let him have his opinions and let him know that you respect his opinions but don’t try to change them or argue. Just let him know you disagree and that is the way we were raised.”
Me: “That is exactly what I did and then he started attacking me personally. I really don’t need you to get involved!”
This back and forth continues with Mike sending messages to Adam and me, Alex sending messages to Adam. Alex is worried sick about his brother and begging him to please come back to the room. There are texts still coming from Mike to me and then from Adam to Mike, and I think Adam makes phone calls to Mike. I tell Mike that if Adam isn’t back in the room by 8 a.m., I will leave without him. And when I find him again, I will send him home on the next plane. By this time, I am so furious that I really want to send them both home and go back to my peaceful and quiet life of solitude.
After much phone negotiation between Mike and Adam, and Alex and Adam, I get this text from Mike: “Adam is headed back. Just give him a hug and take the first step and say you are sorry. He is a young headstrong kid. Don’t get into any more discussion. Just give each other space.”
Adam finally returns to the room, several hours after he left. He apologizes and I do too (although I don’t really know what the hell I’m apologizing for!) and we give each other a hug. I try to sleep, still furious over the entire incident; my heart is still pounding with anxiety. Our whole adventure in Oman, which up to this point has been fun and easy-going, now has a dark shadow over it. This is motherhood and family life at its worst; this is one of many reasons why I have chosen to work abroad.
I have three children. I love them dearly. But I am not cut out for motherhood. Where other mothers have these natural motherly instincts, I have to work for them. I have to pretend that they’re there and act according to how I think a mother should act. It’s always been a struggle for me to play-act this role.
I remember when I was young and thought about children, someone told me having children is like carrying around an egg with you all the time, every second of every day for the rest of your life. You have to be careful, always on guard, or the egg will crack, or worse, break open. It never ends, this role.
There is a quote from a 1950s calendar: “The first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest.” This is hilarious and oh so true! My children will always be my children, no matter what they do, no matter how old they are. Sometimes that’s a wonderful thing, and sometimes it’s simply NOT.