The Flat and Endless Desert
January 19, 2015
So, my dear photographer friends please tell me, “How do I photograph nothing?”
Nothing is what I see as I drive down the center of Oman, through the desert from Nizwa to Salalah.
Every few minutes I pass a “Camel Crossing” sign. But nary has a creature appeared. For hours and hours. For hours and hours and hours, all I see is nothing!
At a car park, I take a break from nothing. All around me, as far as I can see, the flat sand reveals nothing at all.
I look down in the sand. There’s something! Determined to use my camera, I shoot the detritus left behind by the truckers.
Finally! Finally, just up ahead, traffic is stopped at a camel crossing. And guess what? Camels! Crossing, ambling across the highway.
So, why did the camel cross the road?
As any biologist or botanist or anthropologist will tell us, there’s always something to be found in the desert. Hardy plants, bugs, a bird or two. And a gleaming white village in the distance. Time to stop, to eat and to sleep.
If I dream, will I dream about …nothing?
The highway is modern, flat and straight. And when my rental car exceeds the speed limit of 120kph, (75mph) the speed governor produces this annoying alarm, so I usually slow down.
BUT, Omani drivers in their late models SUVs or pickup trucks have no such inhibitions. 120 is a bit slow for them. Despite the radar warning signs, 140 (87mph) is more the norm. And they also have no compunctions about tail-gating at these high speeds. It’s quite disconcerting.
Omani drivers also have no problem passing a car on the right in a round-about (traffic circle)! Now that’s frightening.
And recalling my driving days in Boston, the use of the directional indicator must be considered a sign of weakness.
Driving their 20-wheelers, truckers, on the other hand, are courteous and considerate. They drive far on the right, sometimes a bit on the shoulder, to allow for easy passing. They also use their directional lights to indicate when it is safe to overtake them.
Despite these challenging driving conditions, Omanis, off the road, are friendly, kind, helpful and generous. I never feel a moment’s discomfort. Quite the opposite, in fact. I approach everyone with a smile and receive a warm welcome, usually accompanied by a handshake and a sincere greeting.
In many places in Oman, especially these remote desert outposts and towns, my complexion is an oddity. Indians, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Nepalese (guest workers) are curious and ask, “Where are you from?” When I tell them, they smile – a sincere smile tinged with expressions of respect, admiration and envy.
At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, a Pakistani truck driver invites me to tea.