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Notes from a
sandy country

Aimee Peters

Read Aimee's earlier
I've discovered it's not terribly easy to type and eat pistachios at the same time. I've cracked typing and drinking, you just do that in the pondering breaks, or when you feel a mozzie diving for your ankle.  Swatting and sipping is a fine art to master. But pistachios have beaten me I'm afraid. How frustrating.

We're building up to the summer here now, and it's a bit like how I imagine Eskimos prepare for winter.  Except instead of the igloos, everyone's having their a/c checked, and making sure their windows fit tightly. Some are considering buying a new car with better a/c or windscreen wipers, which are only used in the summer to get rid of the condensation from the humidity.

At 44 degrees, the heat's reminiscent of a nice baking oven, or your bathroom when you've just had a bath.  But we've got another 12 degrees or so to go before it's hot though, and that's a scary thought. I remember the heat from Saudi, where you felt your skin shrinking as it lost moisture, and you were permanently in the pool, preferring to be bleached by chlorine than fried by sunshine.

I haven't started my Arabic lessons yet. I had this agreement with the Saudi girl I work with that she'd teach me Arabic, and I'd correct her English. Except her Arabic is crap and she hates me correcting her grammar, so that plan died a swift death. She's an interesting character, if she'd just speak to me. But I think she worked out that we didn't have an awful lot in common, and I think she thinks I'm a bit odd. Can't think why.

I went on a visa run a while back. I'm completely illegal at the moment, working on a visitor's visa for the 60 days we're allowed as British citizens, before you take the visa plane to one of the gulf states which literally lands, waits for the required 40 minutes, and takes everyone back in again.

A friend and I chose to make a weekend of it though, and decided to 'see' Oman, in the 24hrs that constitutes our weekends out here. Thursday night to Saturday morning is weekend, for most people, though some get Friday/Saturday, which can really mess up your plans. It was the most amazing place I've ever seen. I'd been warned that it wasn't Dubai, it was small and provincial, and there weren't really any good places to go out. No-one told me how stunning it was.

The capital, Muscat, is basically a collection of coves where a city has grown out of an old settlement, complete with forts and palaces that date back hundreds of years. Their Sultan, or ruler, is so keen to keep the city authentic and beautiful that there are hardly any buildings over two stories, and residents get grants to paint and maintain the upkeep on their houses or offices. We went out on Thursday night, when we got there, and had a great night meeting Omanis and expats who were amazed that anyone would bother to leave Dubai to come and check out Muscat.

On Friday we drove through Muscat, and ended up at the dive club. The drive there was something straight out of one of the old Bond or Raiders of the Lost Ark movies, with tumbling russet mountains diving into the turquoise gulf, and this windy little road carving its own path through the slopes. Cate and I dived straight into the sea when we parked down at the club (which was a shack with a couple of guys hanging around waiting for the proper divers to arrive).

We were with our 'guide', a Dubai friend's uncle who has lived in Muscat for 15 years, and his partner, an Omani bedouin turned air steward. As we floated there, Jonathan waded into the sea with plastic tumblers of white wine spritzer, and lit cigarettes in his mouth. As I tried to comprehend my surroundings, I checked my watch; it was 1pm. All I could think was, 'everyone at home is at work right now, slaving away in a concrete jungle waiting for the pub lunch in three hours time'.  I got my comeuppance a couple of days later on Sunday morning at 8am, when I was in work and everyone else was safely tucked up in bed with a lot more sleep and a lazy Sunday to look forward to, but it was a great moment. Sometimes its easier to express things through what they're not, than trying to capture in words exactly what they are. People pay thousands for that kind of solitude and beauty, but just don't know about the little places, the unspoilt paradises (to run the risk of sounding like a tour guide) that are the real hideaways and luxury destinations.

That was the closest I've ever been to luxury, and we got there in a rusty jeep, across the desert. 

Think that might be all for now. I could tell you all about how I'm sitting on my balcony with a laptop and a vodka tonic, listening to the prayer call fighting the traffic for supremacy. Or about the girl I met the other night who nearly married her Emirati boyfriend of 3 years who wanted her as his second (trophy) wife, but I'll save those stories for another time. Maasalaama. Sorry, that'd be see ya.

* * *

I am the queen of doomed romance. I move thousands of miles away from London, to explore a new world, a new life, and a new culture. Then I fall head over heels for my boss' brother, who is also a client, and a friend of all my new mates. The ultimate no-go area. A few weeks later I decide to make a break and focus on something new, so I started an email relationship with a guy in London, who I won't see for at least 6 months (if it lasts that long).

I see email friendships with people you haven't met as a sort of modern version of the Bronte thing.  Single intelligent (I hope!) women searching for a way to express themselves through words, with the hope of a reply that sparks a new train of thought, or illuminates an avenue previously shadowed.

Perhaps the problem is the scare stories, that everyone has heard, of unfortunates who devote themselves to a fictional being and believe everything, to their own detriment. I may fall into this trap, I don't know, but I enjoy the risk. I'd like to think I'm more discerning than that, and as I don't have any money to promise, I don't think there's much risk of me losing out on that score.

I met this guy through a newsletter, a satirical weekly e-zine with an offshoot called 'The Flirting Thing' for people looking for just that, someone on their wavelength to banter with and pass the time. To be honest, most of us nowadays are passing the time at work, I know few people who still see it as their life. And with the advent of email, its that much easier to use this passing time as an opportunity to explore new things. If those things should result in new friends, then I personally think its time well spent. My boss might not agree though.

As I said to a friend, everything he's told me may be a lie. He sent pictures though, and writes from a work address, which makes me think there has to be some honesty in there. Call me gullible, but I believe in what he says. And if you can't use vehicles like emailing strangers to express what you think you are, or want to be, then what can you use? Its hard to break out of the mould and try a new life on, when you are stuck in your circle, your city, your life, and there is always the danger that you'll be caught out. For my part, I've been completely honest. That doesn't mean I'm divulging personal secrets, or talking dirty cos I'm not gettting any. But it feels good to say, this is who I am, these are my dreams, and this is what I believe in. And it feels good to get replies that say, I get you, I'm there too. A lot of people find it hard to turn conversations that way nowadays, and I think that's a loss.

So where does it go from here? I'm going to keep writing, and if he chooses, he'll write back. Maybe the geographical distance will curtail this fledgling friendship, romance, whatever you choose to label it. Maybe it won't. This is the third guy I've had an email thing with, and I'm still in touch with the other two. I met one, and I'd call him a friend now. The other is from New York, and currently sailing the Caribbean, which makes me horrendously jealous as at one point I was going to join them.

I fully expect to meet him someday though, and I look forward to it, as then I can really call him a friend as well. So hopefully, this one will work out as well as the last two, maybe not, maybe it'll be better. I don't know. But it beats picking people up in bars with the same old lines. Though picking people up in bars has the undeniable advantage of the chemistry test, as well as the fact that you are clearly in the same city, and could feasibly develop a relationship. But as I said, I'm the queen of doomed romance. Right now I'm happy with my new email buddy, romance, and friend.

(c) Aimee Peters 2002

Notes from a
sandy country

Aimee Peters

Read Aimee's earlier
The Sultan's Palace in Muscat