I would like to welcome Peter OchsII to our blog as a stop on his virtual book tour. I invited him to write a guest blog. I am sure you will find it interesting. I have also included an excerpt from his book, For a complete description of the book, Eye of the Sagc; click on the Amazon link below. Please give a generous response by commenting or asking questions below.
A Voice from the Sands
A Personal Recollection
September 23, 2001
For many of you who don’t know me, I am an American working as a tour operator in the Sultanate of Oman. Everybody knows me as Peachey. I design adventure tours for the local and international travel market. My company offers a variety of activities mostly focused on FITs (Free Independent Travelers): desert safaris, jebel (mountain) trekking, wadi bashing (river/river bed hiking and exploring), canyoning, spelunking, and so on.The Sultanate of Oman is on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula facing the Indian Ocean and bordering Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Yesterday I got a phone call from a person I barely knew and over 150 miles away from my office in Muscat, the capital. When I hung up the phone I felt moved in a strange way I have never felt before. Like many of my experiences in Oman, it will be one I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The caller was a woman named Aliya and she was the daughter of a Bedouin tribesman living in a tract of land on the Eastern fringe of the R’ub Al Khali, the Empty Quarter, known as the Wahibah Sands. The Wahibah is a stretch of rolling dunes running north to south and are about 120 miles long and 75 mile wide. They are situated in the province of Sharqiyah, in eastern Oman and are about a two+ hour drive to reach the northern tip from Muscat.
The Bedouins of the Wahibah are the hardiest lot of people you will ever find. In spite of living in some of the severest conditions on the face of the earth, they are quite contented with persevering under extreme circumstances. They are a generous and gregarious people, only too willing to greet a passing traveler or lend a hand in time of distress. They understand that in an environment that is so unforgiving, someone or something has to be.
The Bedouins’ life has changed drastically in the last thirty years. Most now are semi-nomadic, some living in fixed domiciles in oasis towns surrounding the Wahibah, leaving their “barasti” (palm frond) huts in the sands for more agreeable seasons of the year. They drive trucks, carry pagers and cell phones, and may even own a TV with a satellite dish. They raise camels for racing, husband livestock, dabble in farming along the oasis and hold down regular jobs as laborers, drivers, etc. By and large, however, they are still independent from the settled population: a Bedouin is guided by his own set of rules and his own priorities.
I was out in the Wahibah a couple of weeks ago doing a tour that was a little bit out of the ordinary for me. My clients were an ad agency in Dubai. They came down to scout locations for a photo shoot for an automobile ad campaign. Once they had found their locations, we came back for the shoot with production entourage in tow: photographers, models, art directors, assistants, agents, wardrobe, drivers and vehicles.
During the scouting phase we were aided by a kindly old Bedu named Hamad who effortlessly unstuck one of our clunky vehicles that managed to get stuck in the soft sand. And on completing our scouting task, we were invited to his house, a cinderblock compound in the oasis town of Ar Rakah on edge of the sands, to have coffee and dates. Here we met his wife Selmah and daughter Aliya, who spoke English and was able to translate for us and convey our gratitude for their kindness. We asked Hamad if we could use some of his camels in the photo shoot a few days hence, to which he readily agreed.
A few days later, when we finished our shoot, we received the same hospitality, this time extended to the whole crew (about 20 people), and Hamad and is family once again had us over for coffee and dates, melons and oranges. Selmah entertained the ladies in our crew, bringing out her craftwork of trinkets and jewelry and Bedouin attire. Aliya told me she knew who I was because she saw me come into the desert many times and recognized me from the trademark white hat that I always wear.
We ate and drank our fill and after profuse expressions of thanks, we continued on our way to the next location and next shoot. After the job was finished a few days later, the crew went back to Dubai, and I to my home in Muscat.
Yesterday I got the call. It went something like this:
“Hello. Is this Mr. Peachey?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Mr Peachey, this is Aliya from Ar Rakah.”
“Yes, Aliya, Salaam Alaykum. Kayf halesh? (Peace be upon you. How are you.?)”
“I am fine. Mr Peachey, you didn’t come to Wahibah after long time? Are you OK?”
“Yes, I’m fine Aliya. I have been very busy in my office and not had much chance to get out.”
“Is your family OK?” (It is customary in Arabic greetings to look after, i.e. inquire intently about one’s own family and their well being.)
“Yes we are all fine.”
There was a pause.
“Mr Peachey, the reason I call is I am very sorry for you. I am sorry for you and the American people. We heard of this tragedy and we are very worried for you.” She was of course referring to the attacks in New York and Washington.
Then it hit me. She was enquiring not about my immediate family here in Oman, but my family back home, a place which is, I am sure, too vast, too large and beyond her ken. I assured her that my family was all fine, but we were all staggering to grasp the immensity of the blow.
Aliya continued. “We don’t know why this happen. This thing is unthinkable to us. Why would someone do this? It causes us pain and we are very, very sorry.”
Her condolences verged on the apologetic, as if she felt she was at fault. I of course was at a loss for answers too. I was on the verge of tears.
I reassured her that we were all OK and when I came to the Wahibah, I would stop to see her and her family.
Before we hung up she said, “We are praying for you.”
And so it is this. I’m sending this letter out, first to my friends and contacts. And if you could pass this on to anyone you know, or don’t know, who needs comfort and love to ease us through, please note this: There are prayers coming to you from a place in the desert, in the heart of Oman, from a heart that is as big as the desert itself, from a mind that doesn’t know the meaning of hate, from a body that endures all privations, from a will that knows that God is here to guide us and help us every step of the way.
Fiy imin Allah. God be with you. May God be with us all.
PS. Update 2013
Although I have been back to Oman many times since 2001, I have not had the chance to meet up with Aliya and her family.
You can purchase the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/17nItHe and visit his website: http://ochsbooks.com
Hatcher picked his way into the new planetarium under construction. Along the entrance hall were an array of wallboard pieces, planks, joint compound, bags of nails and buckets of paint. Hatcher stepped inside a door and made his way along a narrow curved hallway and into the planetarium proper. The interior was almost complete. Some loge-style chairs sat, newly installed still covered in wrapper on their backs and seats. Hatcher made his way behind a panel to a control room. Curtiss was inside reviewing a copy of the printout code.
“Hi, Curtiss, whatcha got for me?”
“Dr. Hatcher. It’s a glitch about five minutes into the program. Let me set it up.”
“Okay. I’ll be out here.” He motioned to the auditorium.
Hatcher made his way to a seat on the aisle in the back row. He settled into the seat as the plastic wrap crackled underneath. Curtiss dimmed the houselights and turned on the globe in the center to represent the earth. The sun appeared on the western horizon and dim points of light were projected onto the dome of the planetarium.
Curtiss called over the PA. “Okay. I set the program to start. The computer timer matches up to today’s time and advances to sunset. I’m doing a manual override to cut to the audio and start from there.”
Hatcher looked on but his mind was elsewhere.
The authoritarian voice of a narrator broke the silence. Suitably spacey electronic music played in the background.
“…and we begin our journey just as it would look when the sun sets over the campus this evening. As the stars make their way across the night sky, we speed up the process to just under a minute to give you an idea of how the stars travel across the celestial plane.”
The stars began to move across the ceiling. Some of the more prominently named stars had labels that moved along with them. Hatcher nodded and blinked his eyes.
Curtiss cut in over the PA, “Okay, here’s where it screws up.”
The narrator continued, “Now we shift our position to the North Pole where Polaris appears directly overhead to see the full complement of stars that make up the Northern Hemisphere.”
The stars began shifting in unison, but quickly reversed field and moved in another direction. Hatcher didn’t see this as he had closed his eyes and was drifting off.
Curtiss broke in again. “For some reason, it settles on Canopus in the Southern Hemisphere and I can’t figure out why.”
When Hatcher heard “Canopus” he opened his eyes and stared up.
The ceiling appeared to close in on him. Canopus moved into place at the top of the ceiling and the stars now revolved around it. They started spinning faster as Canopus grew in size, extending a beam of light down to the floor illuminated by motes of dust that were now kicking up in the auditorium. The stars were now a blur, spinning faster and faster. Watching them spin made Hatcher dizzy. The wind blustered, apparently kicked up by the swirling stars moving at ever increasing speed. Hatcher stood up but was immediately knocked down between the chairs. He crawled to the aisle and made his way to the back wall. Now dust was flying everywhere. It was blinding.
The shaft of light in the center of the room was the only thing that could be seen through the dust. Hatcher shielded his head from the stinging sand that blew everywhere. Suddenly, Hatcher felt something grab his leg. The figure of a man was lying just behind him in the beam of light coming from the center of the auditorium. The figure staggered to stand against the wind. He was blown on his back to the floor. He stood up in the aisle and moved closer to Hatcher, who was huddled against the back wall. Step by step he staggered up the aisle towards Hatcher periodically losing ground to the stiff wind. The man collapsed and crawled the last few feet and reached out to grab Hatcher’s ankle again. Startled, Hatcher looked down. The man pulled himself up to Hatcher and looked him in the face. It was Farley Whitman.
“Russell! I need your help!”
Hatcher suddenly recognized an old friend.
“Farley—?! Where are you?”
“I’m here! In the desert! Help me, please!” His raspy voice choked out the words.
“Where, Farley? What can I do?”
Whitman pleaded, “In the Southern Arabian des—”
The words were lost. The wind tore Whitman away. He crashed into a row of
seats and disappeared into the maelstrom.
Hatcher screamed at the top of his lungs. “Faaaar-leeeey…!”
Curtiss looked up from his notes in the control booth. He threw a switch, jumped out of his seat and ran out. The houselights were now on. Everything was quiet. Hatcher sat slumped and disheveled in his chair with a perplexed look on his face.
“Uh… yeah. I’m Okay,” he replied.
“You were calling someone. Who’s Farley?”
Hatcher reached into his pocket and pulled out the note.
“Farley Whitman. He’s an old college friend of mine, when I was an undergrad at Princeton. Curtiss, I think I know what the problem is. Give me a couple of days and I’ll get back to you, Okay?”
Hatcher gathered his things and left the room leaving Curtiss standing alone in the cosmos.
Hatcher called back as he left the building, “I’m sure.”
The book is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.