I woke up abruptly from my nap. All of a sudden I heard the faint sound of clapping, screaming, and drumming from the window. My host parents were not home, so it was just my friend, Caillean and I. Running to the nearest window, I tried to discern what all of this commotion was about. There were about 5o+ people outside, all dressed in bright patterned frocks. A group of men were huddled in the center talking very loudly. I was under the impression this was some sort of procession as people were slowly moving up the street from one house to the next. I looked down to see my friend peering through the gate, and out of my own curiosity I rushed down to meet her and take a closer look.
When I got to the front gate, I asked if she knew what all this was about. We were both pretty confused, as this particular area is generally on the quiet side of town. Holding the end of the parade, women in shawls of red and black stripes and fluorescent green and fuchsia flowers were making their way up the road. The music started to fade out and we had about 45 seconds to make our minds whether we should follow. If we went, not only would we be crashing this gathering and disregarding all basic courtesies and socially acceptable behavior in the US, but also we would be joining a mob of total strangers. However, there was something so enticing about their laughing, singing and screaming that was drawing us forward. We did some quick calculations beforehand. Being that there were two of us, we had some safety in numbers. In case of emergency we would be less than a kilometer from our house. Our decision was made. I grabbed my flip-flops, threw a camera over my head and rushed out the door.
We followed their voices up the road to some old bathhouses. Here, we were at the face of the mountain. Some men stood next to a fountain outside, waxing their cars. They were definitely confused, but eager to discover why we were there. A few of them started whistling at us, but given the nature of the culture, we tried to stay close to the side walk. As we walked closer, other men in shorts and more casual robes were playing a very rhythmic African beat. It sounded a little similar to some Caribbean arrangements I had heard in the past. After tossing the drums around, someone started playing with the tempo and picking the music up to a fast paced danced beat. People were jumping and swinging their arms, gyrating there hips back and forward to the music.
The women were singing along as well in the back. They were all covered up, but there were very few abayas. Most of the women wore patterned cotton shifts with a matching shawl over their heads. A few little girls in the center were holding baskets of flower petals. Every once in awhile they would take a big handful of petals reaching their arms up and tossing them into the air so that we were all dancing in a mist of dissipating flowers. Everyone was looking over at us in the corner, and I kept hearing “ingleezi” being strung into their conversations. They were smiling at us a little bashfully that is and laughing at our situation.
Finally someone walked up to us and offered some bread and halwa, a mashed date and honey paste. They told us they were celebrating the birthday of a one-year-old girl, and the entire town and extended family had come out to help with the festivities. They invited us to stay and offered me to take pictures. People were welcoming us with open arms, and wanted to talk to us whether a 30 second conversation in Arabic or some longer explanation in our native tongue.
We went over to meet the birthday girl. She had large black eyes and curly dark hair formed into small braids and ponytails. She was full of smiles, though it wasn’t clear she was even aware it was her birthday. Her hands and feet were dyed amber with beautiful paisley swirls of henna.
Eventually after some type of chanting or performance, people began to congregate back together. This time everyone was dancing and cheering as we walked down to the center of the village. They had put down some brightly died straw mats to cover the cement. Using wooden pillars and some left over green fabric, they made a make shift wall to line the space. We all slowly flocked inside for further festivities. The bagpipes began to play and the drumming started up again. A man was popping his chest with each breath, his arms swinging by his side folding them in an out. Even brothers and sisters were dancing stepping and kicking to the music. Somebody whispered to us that all Arabs play the drums, but this style was specific to Oman and the gulf because of their close vicinity to Africa.
Eventually we heard the word “halas” (finished) and people started packing up. We were invited back at 9:00 pm that evening, but unfortunately were unable to attend. I am so happy I was able to dispel my fears and participate in something so spontaneous. I happen to enjoy taking risks, that is if it involves festivities and dancing count me in.