few hundred meters from road 31, the backbone of the road network in Oman, is Muqshin, a small, fully equipped center with schools and a hospital (but there is no police station - if this is a fault) where new, harmonious villas are taking the place of the old houses built by the government in the 1970s for the Bedouin tribes who had to settle down to take part in the
country 's Renaissance.
A few Bedouin tents remain set up near the buildings.
The journey began when Said, our guide among the known places and the vastnesses of the
desert, left his car, a white Toyota Corolla with a cawing engine, in front of his sister's house.
With our new, sturdy and flamboyant red Hummer, we entered the desert. We arrived at a small temporary camp for camels. Now picture this: There are some guys from Said 's family, a carpet, hot Arabic coffee and about ten racing camels. Each camel has its own pole and each one wears a wraparound mesh on its muzzle and head. On the rump they have a shaped and decorated blanket. After greetings and coffee, the camel keeper picks them up and takes them for a walk in the desert, but first of all, he performs some demonstrative stunts on the back of his animal.
At sunset we are in the desert. Said shows us the field of about ten Bedouin tents between the low dunes of these fluctuating margins of the great void.
We arrive at the camp. It is almost dark. Three or four other vehicles, a pickup and a yellow
off-road vehicle also arrive, almost at the same time. Said, and some other Bedouin from his tribe, whom we had already met at the isba of the camels, begin to make fire in a rectangular metal box, which is located next to a large tent and in the center of a majlis formed by metal sofas with cushions.
There are about ten people moving around the camp. Four or five around the fire with us begin to make tea (two different types: one, the classic suleiman - black tea (sachet) and sugar (a lot) and the kushari - prepared by heating the sugar in the kettle, adding milk and powdered tea directly into the boiling milk (no water). Note that sugar and tea are measured with the lid of the kettle.
An unknown number of other people wander around the kitchen tent. A goat (which I had already noticed with anxiety in one of the pickups that arrived) was tied up nearby. Said tells us that they are preparing a Bedouin evening with goat. They are going to slaughter her.
Finally, the kid ends up in the oven and everyone gathers around the fire. A dozen or so Omanis between the ages of 20 and 40 whose names I can't remember, also because they are called with the name of their son - abu Ali, father of Ali and so on, and it 's difficult to memorize everything. They are composed, perfectly at ease and elegant as only they know how to be.
At Said 's suggestion, we begin to play a game, a "scenario" as he says.
Three of them move away and are swallowed up by the shadow cone produced by the tent. Said explains that they are the pretender to the hand of Alice, his brother and his uncle. The four of us participate in the roles of:
Alice, the bride;
Me, the bride 's mother;
Said, brother of the bride;
Musallam (the owner of the racing camels), the uncle of the bride, my brother.
Ali, the suitor and his companions return to the scene. They greet each other as if they were visiting characters and sit by the fire. Their uncle takes the floor and explains the reason for their visit: to ask for Alice 's hand. As a first condition for opening negotiations, the uncle asks, in the name of the young girl 's age, that the family of the suitor join the tribe of Alice. This condition is accepted and negotiations are opened.
The uncle tells me to ask, as the mother of the bride and first in the requests, what I want in return. I ask to hear her laugh and sing every day. I also ask 20 ostriches and 1000 bees. The young suitor carries his right fist on his heart, he accepts. Now it 's up to the uncle. The uncle asks for 100 jambiya (traditional curved knife), 100 rifles, 100 goats, 100 camels and 100 francs (old Omani currency). The young man carries his fist on his heart and accepts.
Alice wants 5 kilos of gold. The young man accepts.
It 's Alice 's turn: does she accept Alice to marry the boy? Yes.
Now the suitor has become the promised groom and part of the family, so he has the titles to ask for help. He removes the turban and throws it between us asking to give him a discount of half. Throwing the turban is a sign of submission that is made asking for help. Whoever picks up the turban promises help. Uncle picks up the turban, he agrees. The uncle picks up the turban, consenting to the discount, with the knowledge that any kind of good would still be managed by his tribe and that Alice is promised in marriage to a young man who has agreed with the heart to all the requests and who has promised to make her laugh and sing every day.
Nice epilogue of the game. It 's a great experience to relive a marriage negotiation as it was used two or three centuries ago. The setting is perfect: around us sands, tents and fire in the center.
The goat is ready and we move into the tent where a large baking sheet is brought with a bed of rice "kabuli" under the kid, with onions, carrots, potatoes and peppers. All cooked to perfection and all whole. the whole "family" sits around the meal and we are feed by offering us the best mouthfuls from the common dish. Everyone eats, we have another chat and another round of tea and then the company dissolves. We go to sleep in a beautiful tent covered with velvet and red damask.
After a beautiful night of sleep in the absolute silence of the desert in the morning we go to see the nearby oasis, beautiful with its African landscape, the camels grazing and migratory birds that descend for a stop between the source and the shadow of the acacias.