I often attempt to zoom out of my reality here in Dhofar and try to see our life from a different perspective... the bigger picture. Usually these attempts are successful when I'm in another country. Nevertheless, here I am yet again on an airplane between Muscat and Salalah thinking (no, I'm not going to complain about Oman Air again ... I have faith in the new CEO).
Anyway, I was thinking to myself how odd it is to live in such a quiet peaceful country where you could almost swear there are no rules. There are rules of course, but they're almost invisible.
For months I have been unable to blog about something that has hung heavy on the hearts of all Omanis since July. Most of you know what I'm talking about.
His Majesty's health has been on everyone's minds, everyday. No one would talk about it openly but it was the topic of discussion behind closed doors. In July a cheerful message was released via the Oman News Agency informing us that His Majesty was off to Germany for his annual vacation. I thought to myself, that's odd. We're never informed of his personal holidays. Later, I recall a message saying he would be undergoing medical tests as well in Germany.
Lack of further information led to speculation. External sources (outside Oman) speculated openly and even provided details on a possible illness.
You see, in Oman we follow something called "the policy of silence". . . if we ignore problems in the press, they'll go away and won't grow out of proportion. Sometimes this policy works, other times it doesn't. In all cases, we are often unable to speak publicly about 'real' issues because of this form of censorship/self-censorship.
When it came to His Majesty's health, newspapers and reporters worldwide were openly discussing it and those of us who blog about Oman were receiving emails from journalists/curious people abroad asking us for more details, asking us to confirm whether reports on cancer were true.
It hurt us that we were unable to either confirm or confidently deny these speculations/rumors. It hurt us that we were kept in the dark. It hurt us that our beloved leader was far away in a European city for months and none of us really knew what was going on. The world was looking at Oman and all we could do was stand there awkwardly and pray for his good health. Why? Because we were a nation kept in the dark. I asked myself, why should we be? Of course, no answer.
July came and went, August came and went, September, October,... ghost royal decrees were being issued every week. From where, I wonder? Vague reports from ONA said he was following a medical program...more tests, etc. Omanis got more worried. We wanted a photo! A sign! A voice message! Anything! Just tell us he is ok. We can handle the rest.
Then, last Wednesday morning the oddest thing happened. Oman News Agency announced that His Majesty would be giving a brief speech to the people of Oman from Germany. What?!
People stopped work, schools stopped, everything stopped. People gathered around televisions waiting. It was very emotional. He appeared on the screen looking frail, but still powerful, confident, wise. My colleagues started crying. I was holding back tears. He's ok, I could hear my brain telling me... he's ok. He must be ok. He started speaking. The speech was brief, but it was enough. You could hear a collective sigh of relief across the country.
Within minutes, you could hear cheers, cars beeping their horns, songs, happiness. It was like the country had come to life. Everyone in their hearts was thinking the same thing "He's sick, but he's ok! He's fighting! He's thinking of us! He's OK!". Celebrations continue to date. Omantel even changed the ringtone to national music for the whole country. People hung flags from their balconies, people decorated their cars, mosques gave sermons praying for his safe return.
It was the oddest feeling. One minute no one can talk about his health in public, and the next everyone is out in the streets celebrating his recovery. As I mentioned earlier, Oman is an odd country.
Yes, he's in his seventies and we're all human. We all get sick and all have to deal with difficulties in life. Yes, we will all end up the same way. But you must understand one thing if you are not Omani. You must understand what this man means to us. He resembles the only form of true leadership we know. He is the only person we feel our country is safe with. He is the one person Omani trust. Did Oman promote diverse leadership over the past four decades? Not really. We have been dedicated to him as a leader and only him.
I'll tell you why. People like my family will tell you why. My father was born in a cave. He lived a primitive and difficult life until he was an adult. No electricity, no running water, no warmth, living in the mountains of Dhofar sharing his shelter with animals. At times he was very hungry. There was never enough food.
Today, he has a career, a big car, several houses, children, and a very comfortable life. No matter how happy he is now, he will never forget where he came from. People will never forget what Sultan Qaboos did for them and how he led this country from the darkness to where we are today. You need to understand that.
In March 2011 I was in London. I met an elder Englishman, a bit of a political analyst. It was the peak of the Arab Spring. Leaders were dropping like flies. He confidently said "Oh, your leader is next, believe me". I didn't get angry or defensive. I simply laughed at him and said "You have no idea what you're talking about. Sultan Qaboos is different. He's something else. There's absolutely no comparison". On my walk home through the streets of London, his words bothered me, but deep inside I knew he was an ill-informed person. Despite this, I felt like I wanted to bite his head off and defend His Majesty. But then again, did he really need my defending? He's such a powerful and wise leader. Surely the world knows this? Surely the world sees him as we do?
For 44 years this man has paved the way for our future. He had a vision. He still has a vision. The past few months have been so difficult for Omanis. We have been walking around with heavy hearts. There are no other visible leaders in Oman. There is no clear successor. We don't want a successor. Not now. Not yet. None of us, young and old, can imagine Oman without him. None of us can even begin to comprehend our reality without this great human being in our lives.
As the celebrations in the street continues, as Omani release the built-up worry and tension, I sit here on the airplane thinking about this country, my people, my leader. To those of you censoring this blog, I ask you to not harass me over this post. I am a citizen like you. I am extremely loyal to His Majesty just like you.
To those of you who have kept us in the dark over the past few months, I urge you to have faith in us as a nation. Surely we are mature enough to handle information, whether good or bad.
To His Majesty I say, .. your people truly love you. Get better, come home. We're waiting for you. We need you.
Yours from seat 11 A.