Sunday, December 06, 2009

Omani Mountain Barbecue

Abdullah is opening the charcoal bag, while Mr Trail Safety watches, photo by Richard Gassan.

“I forgot the cooking pot”

We silently considered our situation. Camped out overlooking the epic Jebel Shams Gorge in the Omani Hajar al Ghalb, we were up a very long dirt road from the last village. We pondered the options. Pasta was out, now we were looking at a rapidly fermenting bread, dates, some hard cheese, and maybe some other goodies.

The loaf was sliced, I had some of the hard cheese, while Richard smeared honey on his slice. We’d make it. The wind was cool and steady, and deathly cold by Omani standards.

Looking around, there was a family camped several hundred yard away, a merry fire blazing in the draw. Behind us was a dome tent, and a RAV-4.

We began to hear male voices joking in Arabic. We both began to wonder if they were going to spend the night drinking and breaking shit, but it was too early to tell.

“May I ask you men a favor?”

We looked up to see one of our Omani neighbors.

“Would it be possible to heat up some water, as one of my friends is very cold?”

Richard and I laughed. We told him that we’d love to help, but we forgot the cooking pot, and only had an espresso pot to make coffee.

“I’m Abdullah, but you can call me Joe”

We replied that Abdullah was workable. Abdullah smiled, we chatted, and he invited us to join him for a fire. And so we did.

Abdullah, Younis, and Haddad come up from Muscat to camp out. They were going to build a fire to barbecue some chicken. Looking at the scenario, I suggested the best place might be a shallow rectangular trench in the rocks overlooking the edge of the gorge. They liked that idea.

Younis began to build a fire, but it was long on flung matches and petrol from a plastic bottle. Finally, debating cultural sensitivities, I suggested that perhaps I could help them. The Omanis looked at each other, Richard laughed, waved his hand and told them “don’t worry, he’s a complete fire-bug”. They said OK, and I went to work.

Within several minutes, the fire was going, but I still didn’t see where they were going to BBQ. Abdullah went to the car, came back with a woven plastic feedbag full of charcoal. Now we’re talking. I fed these into the fire, and a half-hour later were the beginnings of a charcoal bed.

All the while we were discussing the merits of Bluetooth, African women, Oman, Arab pop music, Baluchi cuisine, heat, and how cold they were going to be when bedtime rolled around.

Meanwhile Younis had produced a chicken, sectioned it, rolled it in a spice-blend, wrapped them in tinfoil and laid them on the coals. Just before the chicken was done, they wrapped some flatbread in foil, and they went on the coals.

“Here, join us…”

Delicious! The sky was lightly overcast with a full moon, and the deep crevasses of the Jebel Shams were implied behind us. The ruddy red coals were rejoined by the original aromatic log we’d pulled off it earlier. We were also joined by five or six shaggy Omani goats that appeared out of the darkness, wandering through the campsites, looking for anything edible.

Chicken bones went into the fire, and we all were lost in our respective thoughts. As we cleaned up, we invited the Omanis for morning coffee before they left. We all said good night, and made for our campsite.

The next morning dawned, with more goats, followed by raggedy children, and then an elderly woman selling trinkets. They moved on over the ridge, back towards their village several click away, down off the road, on a flat pan in the mountains.

The Omanis popped out of their tent, and we got a cheery “Good morning!” from Abdullah.

“Hey guys, don’t leave without having coffee!”

“We were cold…were you?”

“Not really, just comfortable” I’d been on an Ensolite pad and 3-season bag, sleeping more or less fully dressed and fuzzy hat. Richard had an air mattress, quilt.

The espresso roared into the pot. We poured shots into their plastic cups. We clicked cups, and drank up. Their eyes bugged a bit at the strength, I don’t think they drink it like that, but didn’t mind.

Eventually, we parted, and they waved a cheery goodbye as they headed down the mountain. We stayed for a while longer, taking pictures from various points on the edge of the gorge. Indian families came up from the Jebel Shams Rest House just over the ridge to look, take pictures, and enjoy themselves.

Driving slowly down the mountain road revealed amazing vistas in reverse; towering buttes, sawtoothed ridgelines, villages with soccer pitches surrounded by steep dropoffs, school-bus stops shaded by matted shelters, all defined by harsh clear light.

1 comment:

seawallrunner said...

larry this is a great story - v