When the desert winds whip everything in its sight, we can only imagine how hard it was fifty years ago to live in Oman. Not many old folks remember now because either they are dead or the survivors are too young to remember.
I was in a marketplace in Bahla last week when the sun was overhead and the grocers were sweating profusely. I was among shoppers looking for bargain from the fruit and vegetable stalls. A tall and distinguished looking old gentleman was tugging his white beard as I walked to him. His stall was a brief affair of a weather-beaten canvas serving as a roof supported by half a dozen wooden poles.
"It is very windy today,' I told him," the sun is hot, too."
He smiled at me showing a perfect set of teeth surprisingly still firmly attached inside his mouth despite his advancing age. He must have been in his late seventies and they could not have been false because dentures don't yellow with age.
"The wind and the sun won't kill you," he said jokingly," not eating the right food will."
Has not the old man heard of a sunstroke? He has sure heard of a heart stroke because he seemed not to know about his diet. I did not argue with him so I picked my vegetables and he weighed them. As I was paying him, a huge gust of wind knocked down one of the supporting poles and one side of his stall collapsed.
A few dozens of apples rolled on the muddy ground and a carton of tomatoes came crashing down. For a moment, I did not know where he was until I heard a faint sound coming under the toppled canvas. I lifted it and he straightened up, smiling as ever.
What was there to be happy about? I think he read my mind. He said, "it always happens at this time of the year. I used to lose my temper when I was younger but now I find it funny."
As I helped him picked up the fruits, I asked him, "how long have you been selling fruits and vegetables?"
'Fifty or sixty years ago," he said without looking at me giving me an impression that it was no big deal at all.
I whistled under my breath, surprised that he could stick to a profession that many would have abandoned years ago.
"This is among few market places in Oman that has retained its old charm," he explained, "the rest have been replaced by shopping malls or some other developments."
To him, I wondered as I was picking up a squashed tomato, time had stood still. Not only he was doing the same thing but was trading in the same place since he was a youngster. He saw each and every block of flats or villas being erected around the old market sitting at his old stool under the stall. Over the years, the wind whipped it a thousand times and he would not budge. Why?
'I have the best of both worlds," he said, "I live in one life during the day and another after one in the afternoon."
His father left him a large land just three hundred metres from the market which he has sold to developers. The money has made him comfortable but he found the old pull of the market too strong. He wakes up every morning and drives his pickup to his stall and waits for his customers.
"My friends come over and I have a pleasant time with them. It keeps me healthy that way," he said.
No wonder he keeps all of his teeth. The desert winds, though harsh at times, have not kept him away from his favourite trade.