Walking Through Sandpaper -- and Other Lessons from Oman
By: Maria Robson
Whether that speck dancing on a sunbeam is an ancestor or not, there is no denying that we are all too often at the mercy of the elements. Each year the people of Oman and the Arabian Gulf Peninsula suffer through the furious duststorms of the shamal winds that sweep down from Turkey .
But one person's annoyance can be another's muse. Laughing Shamal is one writer's take on how this desert wind affected her 4-year stay in the Sultanate of Oman. With a fresh and often beguiling perspective, the shamal becomes the wizard, the screeching banshee, the humbling teacher, the Joker who, with mocking indifference brings routine, flights, ambitious projects and blinkered self-importance to total standstill , causing one to reconsider as only Nature can.
Through the 17 well-crafted and insightful poems in Laughing Shamal, we too stop and consider the universal themes of love, loss, fear, faith and renewal, as the writer guides us through an expat's experience of the desert beauty, modern upheavels, traditional charm , and personal quests through the little known country of Oman.
The seventeen poems in Laughing Shamal by Canadian author Maria Robson are the distilled offerings of journal jottings written during the four years she lived in Oman where she was employed as an English Language Lecturer in Nizwa and Muscat between 2007-2011.
The rather whimsical title summarises what is felt as the mocking indifference of the elements, in this case the yearly shamal, as it wreaks havoc on the daily lives of the residents of Oman and other Arabian Gulf countries.
Not all the poems bear the fury of the desert wind, however. On occasion, as in the haunting I didn't Know That, the destroyer becomes the shaper of delicate sand roses whose petals are etched entirely of sand.
A small gesture, a hand on the heart in greeting, a child flying a kite, a mother's grief, the elegance of a wild oryx (now almost extinct) , a student asserting independence, a flaming scarlet bougainvillae rising as an exotic bird, the ever present wafting of frankincense, the echoeing calls to prayer, love, respect, and the tragic suddenness of death are a few of the themes crafted with sensitive reflection and skilled, resonant delicacy. Nor does the work lack the romantic lure of the desert, known all too well to such explorers as Gertrude Bell, T.E Lawrence and Sir Wilfred Thesiger.
The Sultanate of Oman prefers not to share the spotlight of other Arabian Gulf countries as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, The United Arab Emirates and Qatar that often make media headlines. It prefers the understated acclaim of mediator and peacemaker, as its ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said,2016 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize personifies. Its people and architecture reflect a graceful, often elegant blend of modernity and tradition.
The people she met and places she visited in Oman made a deep impression on the author. These impressions are transformed into poems of insights gained, lessons learned, laughter, love and respect shared, somewhat like treasured sketches. Indeed, reading Laughing Shamal can at times have the pleasurable sense of going through an album of refound, sepia, sand-hued photos.