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From Author

Greg Crouch

Oman On Assignment

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From Photographer

Stephen L. Alvarez

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Stephen L. Alvarez



Field Notes From Author
Greg Crouch
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    On our last day photographer Stephen Alvarez and I decided to go back down to Taab Canyon to spend an evening with the al Ghadani family. The family patriarch, 60-year-old Mohammed Rashid al Ghadani, met us. We hiked up into the canyon to a date palm oasis at the bottom of a narrow cleft in the limestone. The surrounding walls reached about 1,000 feet (300 meters). Old stone structures arose from the bottom, and a tiny trickle of a stream ran through. Stephen had been photographing Mohammed, but they hit a lull right around sunset. At that point Mohammed went down to the bottom of the canyon. We didn't know why until he began chanting the call to prayer.
    You can't imagine the beauty of this one man's voice as it echoed up through the narrow canyon in the overwhelming silence of the Omani desert. Our Omani interpreter got up like a shot and ran down the hill to pray with Mohammed, who was dressed in a traditional dishdasha. They returned just as the full moon lifted from behind the rocks. Stephen and I were transfixed. It was an amazing experience.

    At the end of the August trip, I decided to take a bus back to Muscat from Salalah, the largest city in the southern coastal region of Dhofar. For about 16 hours I rode through the heart of the most brutal desert in the world. When you look at a map of Oman you see coastal mountains and what looks to be flat desert between the mountains and the famous sand dunes called the Empty Quarter. I expected the periphery desert next to the Empty Quarter to be scrubby like the Mojave Desert and for the real harsh desert to be the sand dunes. Was I ever wrong! It's the bleakest thing I've ever seen. It's dead flat with next to nothing growing on it. It was so empty that when Stephen and I drove across it we created a game where we'd score a point whenever we passed a living thing on our side of the car. We averaged more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) between scoring points.

    August is monsoon season in Dhofar. For about three months it rains only on the coastal strip. (It hasn't rained on the other side of the mountains in the interior desert for 20 years.) But the constant drizzle on the coastal strip transforms everything into a green paradise. Wadi Darbat, a canyon in the region, is popular with Arab tourists because it's pleasantly cool. It could be 125°F (50°C) every day in Saudi Arabia, for example, but it would be half that temperature in Dhofar. Arab tourists drive up this broad steep valley with steep walls, park their cars in a grassy spot, pull out their carpets, and literally picnic in the rain. I went up to talk to a man from the United Arab Emirates named Mohammed al-Ghurair, and he said, "You cannot imagine how marvelous it is for an Arab to see so much green."

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