They brought pride to the Sultanate of Oman
July 25, 2019 | 8:56 AM
by Gautam Viswanathan

Renaissance Day is a momentous occasion for all those who live in the Sultanate of Oman. Irrespective of where we all come from, all of us in the country, locals and expats alike, remember July 23 as a day on which we honour His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, whose reign has transformed the country, and ushered in an era of unprecedented development and prosperity across the Sultanate of Oman.

Inspired by His Majesty’s vision of peace, tolerance, fraternity and brotherhood for all, Omanis across the nation do follow the example he has set for the country through his achievements. At the highest peaks of the world and across the vast oceans of our planet, those who represent Oman always bear in mind that they are flagbearers of the message of peace and friendship.

Others, however, choose to spread this benevolent message through the enriching of the mind, or by helping those whose need is far greater than our own. This week, T Weekly profiles five Omanis who through their achievements have carried Oman’s message of peace and tolerance across the world.

Jokha Al Harthi

The first Omani author to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, Jokha Al Harthi went through plenty of trials and tribulations while she was writing her award-winning novel, Celestial Bodies.

That hardship shaped her worldview, made her stronger, and taught her many of the lessons that have strengthened her foundations even today.

“Celestial Bodies is set in the village of Al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada,” said a statement from The Booker Prize Foundation.

“These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional society which is slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, it tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.”

Written in Arabic and translated by Marilyn Booth, bookstores and stockists in Oman were quickly scrambling to stock copies of the book soon after it had entered the longlist for the award, and even faster once it had won the prestigious accolade.

“Celestial Bodies offers a glimpse into the colourful life of an Arab Omani family, particularly three sisters growing up at a pivotal time in Omani history,” said Al Harthi, recalling her time while she was in the running for the prestigious award. “I’ve aimed to depict lives that will resonate with many Omani youngsters while offering a relatable social image of the 21st century Oman, particularly for those less familiar with this part of the world.

“I hope this helps international readers discover that Oman has an active and talented writing community who live and work for their art,” she added. “They take on sacrifices and struggles and find joy in writing, or in art, much the same way as anywhere else. This is something the whole world has in common. Omanis, through their writing, invite others to look at Oman with an open mind and heart. No matter where you are, love, loss, friendship, pain and hope are the same feelings and humanity still has a lot of work to do to believe in this truth.”

In a joint interview with the Man Booker Foundation, both Al Harthi and Booth shared their insights into what readers could expect in the book. While Al Harthi was able to provide perspectives into the message she wished to convey and an insight into the developments Oman had made through the eyes of its people, Booth was able to share the unique challenges interpreters and translators faced.

Yes, translating words is one thing, but oftentimes, when words and converted from one language to another, the emotion that accompanies them is often lost in translation. Booth’s biggest challenge was ensuring her translation was spot on, while keeping the emotions of Al Harthi’s writing intact.

“Jokha Al Harthi brings stressful and beautiful family relationships to life within the complex political and social history of Oman,” she revealed. “And so I appreciate the novel as a deeply affective historical novel that does not flinch from difficult aspects of a national history. But I think what I like most is the use of language, or languages: the distinct idioms or sociolects of differently placed characters, the vivid use of local expressions and usages, in particular the conversations amongst women.

“I like very much that Jokha does not write for readers who do not know Oman: she does not try to explain things,” she added. “That’s a challenge for the translator, as one has to meet the reader partway, but hopefully readers of Arabic literature in translation are also willing to stretch themselves. And then there is the use of classical Arabic poetry, beautiful in the novel but an enormous challenge to the translator!”

Sulaiman Hamood Al Nabi

How does that Phil Collins song Son of man go? ‘It’s you who’ll climb the mountain, it’s you who’ll reach the peak’.

To honour two of modern Oman’s most defining days, the 23rd of July and the 18th of November, Sulaiman Al Nabi often embarks on missions to climb the highest and most difficult mountains on each of the world’s seven continents.

So far, Sulaiman has scaled five of the seven daunting peaks mountaineers dare to climb. Speaking to T Weekly on the occasion of Renaissance Day, he said, “I have the honour of representing the Sultanate on Renaissance Day. Last year, I scaled what could be considered highest peak in Europe, Mount Elbrus in Russia, and was the first Omani to reach that height. This happened on the July 23, which is on the same day as Renaissance Day.

“On November 18, I scaled Aconcagua in Argentina, which was in the year before,” he added. “I go on these adventures because I am taking part in the Grand Slam programme called Seven Summits, where I scale seven peaks in all continents in the world. When taking part in these challenges, I carry a portrait of His Majesty and Oman’s flag with me at all times.

Every mountaineer in the world dreams of completing the ‘Explorers’ Grand Slam’, where they scale the highest mountain on all seven of the world’s continents. These include Mount McKinley in North America, at a height of 20,320 feet, Mt Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America and the Western Hemisphere (22,841 feet), as well as Mount Elbrus, which forms part of Europe’s Caucasus mountain range (18,510 feet).

In addition, there’s of course, Mount Everest, which is both the tallest mountain on earth and in Asia (28,935 ft.), Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak (7,310 ft.), Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet), and the Carstensz Pyramid, which, located in Indonesia, is at a height of 16,024 feet.

“On this journey, I have conquered Aconcagua in South America, as well as Kilimanjaro in Africa,” recalled Sulaiman. “I just came back from North America, where Mount McKinley waited for me. I’ve also completed Kosciuszko in Australia. This means that I have completed five global summits. Not all of my climbs have coincided with National Day or Renaissance day.

“For example, I finished Denali (McKinley) in Alaska before July,” he revealed. “However, others such as Elbrus in Russia was completed on July 23, and some have been completed on 18 November, on National Day. Mountains have seasons as well, and so it is not always possible to finish climbing on one of these two dates.”

In keeping with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’ message of peace and tolerance, Sulaiman had a particularly fitting ideal he wanted to share with the world.

“I have a message that I hope to spread, namely the message ‘Oman is Peace, Sultan Qaboos bin Said stands for Peace’. I also want to enter Oman into the global exploration list, where we have not been entered yet,” he said. “Oman is a beautiful country with some of the most difficult mountains to climb.

“I do this work in order to introduce exploration groups to Oman, so that if you enter travel and exploration websites you’d be able to see Oman’s own website with a list of monuments and mountains,” explained Sulaiman. “This way, more people will know about Oman and visit it. This is an individual effort from me, where I am working to let people learn more about Oman.”

Nasr Al Jadhamy

While some people’s achievements are splashed all over the internet and spread across the front pages of newspapers and glossy magazines for all the world to see, Nasr Al Jadhamy is simply not interested in this sort of publicity and the fame that comes with it.

For more than 11 years now, he has been personally gathering, distributing and donating aid to those less fortunate in Africa, and a couple years ago, began helping those who had been affected by the terrible civil war raging in Yemen.

While his first trip, undertaken in April 2017, saw him take 55 tonnes of aid to the town of Seiyoun in the Hadhramawt Governorate, his sixth, and to date one of his final trips, saw him take far more: Nasr and his group of well-meaning volunteers had enough relief supplies to send 45 tonnes of material across five trucks.

While the first five of his trips were undertaken on his own, he’d partnered with the Government of Oman and the Hayya Al Ammar charity for the sixth, after being advised on the dangerous conditions on-ground for those who went to Yemen.

“Officially, we went from here to Yemen through the Omani Charity Organisation,” said Nasr. “I didn’t want to give it to anyone else, but only trusted partners, because otherwise I don’t know where these goods will end up, or who will get them, finally,” added Al Jadhamy. “The good news is that the charity organisation that they were dealing with and the one I was dealing with in Yemen are partners, so it was good for us to work together.

“I had one container of food items that has nearly 40 tonnes and two containers of clothes, which includes 5,000 sweaters for the children,” recalled Al Jadhamy, talking about his last trip to Yemen. “I had sent five trucks, and I was going be sending 45 tonnes in each truck. We also had 5000 sweaters, as well as more than 3000 blankets that were sent there.”

Asked by T Weekly about what inspired him to undertake this extraordinary journey, Nasr wasn’t afraid to speak the truth ... the images and videos he’d seen of the conflict in Oman’s southwestern neighbour motivated him to do something for his brethren across the border.

“One night, when I was sleeping, I had a dream of a Yemeni preacher named Habib Mohammed, who appeared to me and asked me why I wasn’t doing more to help my brothers,” he recalled. “I had never met him, and I told my wife about this and she said it was just a dream, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was in Dar-Es-Salaam to provide aid, and there I met a Yemeni man. God’s grace put us there and I told him about my dream. He had heard of Habib and he promised to contact him.”

But even the noblest of intentions must sometimes overcome tough obstacles: Nasr’s first journey to Yemen did see the Omani border guards allow him through once they’d heard of his intentions, but the Yemeni border guards were not so easily persuaded. He would wait there for six days, in the fervent hope that his consignment of relief supplies would be allowed through.

With no toilets or shower facilities for him, and little food to eat, Nasr knew his resolve was being tested. Many people would have given up hope and turned back, but he was made of sterner stuff. He hoped – and on some level, knew – that it was only a matter of time before his shipment of hope was let through.

“I finally told the border guards that I’d come all the way from Muscat to help the people of Yemen and if they weren’t going to let me in, I’d leave the truck here and go back, and finally, they relented after a call from the local government,” he explained. But his journey still had many dangers that lay ahead. The roads had been left pockmarked by continual mortar fire assault, and as Nasr’s truck precariously made its way forward, he could hear the echo of machinegun fire in the distance.

But in the end, after spending his first night in Yemen in a military camp, the welcoming, relieved looks on those who had waited for this unexpected bounty made all his hardship worth it.

“They told me ‘we knew Omanis were helpful, but we never expected it to come in this form,’ and to hear that was truly touching,” he said. “I consider this a part of my duty, and I travel to these places because I want to see the goods I have collected reach the people who need them the most,” he added. “In these places, there are many hardworking, knowledgeable people, but they don’t have the facilities to rise in life, so it falls to us to ensure that those who are less fortunate are taken care of.”

“You must always stick to what you believe is right,” explained Al Jadhamy. “People will always continue to make fun of you and question what you are doing, but if your principles are correct, you must ignore them and continue your good work.”

Nadhira Al Harthy

The first Omani woman to successfully climb Mount Everest, Nadhira Al Harthy became an inspiration for people all across the Sultanate, as well as other parts of the world, when she successfully scaled Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, along with a group of other Arab women.

Alongside Nadhira were three other women: the Lebanese duo of Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar, and Saudi Arabian mountaineer Mona Shahab, who braved the unforgiving, inhospitable landscape, the bitter cold and freezing weather, which often saw temperatures drop down to negative double-digit figures, and of course, the climb up Mount Everest itself, a journey that is so perilous and arduous that not all those who go up there are fortunate enough to come back down.

Nadhira had been training for her climb for almost two years, and during that time, didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone. But even the physical conditioning and mental strength she had built from within could not have prepared her for the unpredictable landscape that is Everest. A path to their next checkpoint that they had charted at night, for example, to go on in the morning, would now have to be rethought and reworked because of a crevasse that had formed overnight.

That aside, the constant fear of frostbite, the lack of oxygen, the ever-present but seldom seen crevasses, and the need to always be aware of avalanches, meant this was a journey that required plenty of determination, courage and a willingness to see things through to the end.

“Yes, dreams come true, my dream is climbing Everest, which was not announced to anyone,” revealed Nadhira, after her monumental success. “For over two years I’ve been training for this. I was very secure in myself and that my commitment to serious training and using the correct scientific methods would come with the proper results. The most important thing is how to plan for your dream and commit to achieving it.

“I also link this to my work in promoting awareness of environmental conservation through adventure sports in general,” she added. “This success is as much in thanks to the Mercy of God as much as this goes to everyone else. Thanks to my family, thank you my friends, thanks to all who helped me and stood by me. Whether others know your dreams or not, believe in yourselves and your abilities and show others your achievements and do not talk about your dreams until you achieve them.”

Nadhira and her fellow climbers’ journey to the top was documented by filmmaker Elia Saikaly, who was creating a documentary, titled The Dream of Everest, on the four women and their climb to the summit of the world.

“The world’s tallest mountain is an environ as opposite from hot, arid Oman as imaginable,” revealed Elia, on Nadhira’s character. “But Nadhirah is enlivened by the gnawing cold and high-consequence terrain of the Himalayas. In 2018, the Omani woman was on Nepal’s Ama Dablam, a 6,812-metre precipice with a reputation as a training ground for Everest hopefuls.

“When Al Harthy broke the news of her aspiration, some of her co-workers were sceptical, but most were encouraging,” he added. “Full disclosure with her family, however, was more emotional ... after training in secret for two entire years, Al Harthy had to address the concern of her parents. But they’re unnerved by the danger of the ascent, not their daughter’s gender-defying pursuit.”

Nadhira’s amazing achievement has inspired many in Oman to look up to her, and she had some words of advice to give to those who felt that social constraints and peer pressure would not offer them the opportunities to succeed.

“Your nationality doesn’t matter, neither does your gender or your circumstance,” she advised. “My hijab was never an obstacle for me, I believe the only obstacles we face are challenges that come from a weakness we have within. If we work on strengthening our mind, we can do anything.”

Abdullah Al Busaidi

On July 17, 2010, Abdullah Al Busaidi made history by becoming one of two Omanis alongside Ahmed Al Ma’mari when they sailed around the entire world. Nine years later, Abdullah is actively working to spread awareness of Oman’s maritime past, and inform people about the history of Omani sailors and how they braved the great unknown to find lands yet undiscovered, both on their own, and as guides to other sailors who sought to fill in the blank areas of the maps they carried with them.

Abdullah was one of the first graduates of Oman Sail’s first ever sailor training programme. Born and raised in the landlocked city of Nizwa, Abdullah hadn’t even seen a body of water as vast as the sea, let alone swim in it.

“I was born in Nizwa, so there is no sea, no ocean, over there, but I believe I am somehow connected to the sea. The first time I touched the sea was when I was 20 years old. The ocean is two things for human can either challenge your unlimited potential, or you can understand that you are unlimited yourself, and are capable of anything. Who you are, that is something you need to figure out yourself.

“The ocean is my first love. All of my friends really support me. My family sometimes gets angry, because they wonder why the sea is my first love. But the sea has taught me a lot of things. The first thing it taught me was patience, and if you understand this patience, you can use it in your normal life. If you are in early morning traffic, instead of being grumpy, use that time to have fun. It has made me thankful for the beautiful country that His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said has built for us. There is peace everywhere here, so there is no reason to not be thankful.”

Abdullah has since founded his own company, Baled Al Salaam (which translates into Land of Peace), in addition to being a senior skipper for Oman Sail, inspiring the next generation to take to the water, and also sails by himself, and with others, to carry the Sultanate’s message of peace and understanding beyond its shores.

Through Baled Al Salaam, he tries to share Oman’s maritime culture with people by telling the stories of Ahmed Ibn Majid, the great Arab explorer, as well as organise tours to locations that are part of Oman’s sailing history, such as the dhow shipyards of Sur, from where seamen used to undertake journeys to a wider world that lay beyond the seas.

“Having worked with tourists for nearly a decade, there is one recurring theme that each of them finds especially unique about our nation; our hospitality,” explained Abdullah Al Busaidi. “Of course, we have beautiful mountains, sea life, wadis and deserts but it is our hospitality and openness that makes our country truly one of a kind in the world.

“The peaceful mix of cultures in our nation is a recurring theme in our documentary and it will show to foreigners with less knowledge of the Middle East that there is a wonderful and safe location for them to experience the authentic Arab culture,” he admitted. “It is also something that needs to be fostered and handed over to each new generation. We hope to contribute to this by showing its importance and beauty.”

Of the 5,000 hopefuls who were drafted in to Oman Sail’s first ever sailor training programme, only six made the final cut, and Abdullah was one of them. He is now working towards his personal ambition of becoming the first Omani in history to sail solo across the open sea. But he knows that this is a journey that will need to be fulfilled one voyage at a time.

“Over the last few years I started developing a project that will further reignite Oman’s maritime heritage, inspire our future generations, contribute to social development and be an incredibly effective tourism promotion for our nation,” explained Al Busaidi. “A cinematography team will follow me for the coming months in order to produce twenty two episodes to be broadcasted on Oman TV and online in seven different languages.

“The team will document my preparations and that of my vessel, but also follow me as I show beautiful tourist destinations, our magnificent history and culture, where we tell the stories of the families that travelled across the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean,” he added. “We will conduct unique and in depth interviews of young and older Omanis and Indian celebrities to inspire our next generation.” – [email protected]

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news