Earl Huband (Oman 1975-78) worked for the Oman Ministry of Education. During his first two years, Earl taught 1st – 6th year English 4th–9th grade) in Bukha, a small Musandam fishing village in the northern part of Oman, near the mouth of the Persian Gulf. During his third year, Earl worked in Salalah, the capital of Oman’s southern district, splitting his time between teaching English and serving as assistant to that region’s Chief English Inspector. The following are a few of the 28 poems he submitted.
The Journey from the Interior
Airborne over the Batinah plain,
we skirt the coast en route to Bukha,
a small Musandam fishing village
near the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth
of the Arabian — not Persian —
Gulf: these Arabs never say Persian.
This Sky Van, this bumblebee of planes,
this flying buzzsaw bears the number
nine — one — one emblazoned on its wing.
We’re bound to land in a gravel field
about the size of a needle’s eye.
Our pilot — this rough but debonair
sky cowboy — must thrive on scaring hell
out of unsuspecting Volunteers.
God help us as we zoom down between
the peaks of these forbidding mountains.
He tells us that Bukha has no roads,
that the only way in and out is
in this abominable Sky Van,
or days by dhow to the nearest town,
beyond the local national line.
I and my parachute are green — green!
A Village Initiation Rite
“Sabaah al-khair,” the emissary
greets us. “Sabaah an-noor,” we reply,
emerging from the Sky Van’s belly
into the heat of the landing strip.
Our landrover, roaring, spews gravel.
Lurching, we rumble past a building,
largest in the village. “Mustashfa,”
our guide points out, smiling. I look blank.
“Hospital,” Sally whispers, hissing.
My ears redden in the noonday sun.
The jeep grinds to a halt. We enter
the local education office.
“Ahlan wasahlan” — “Welcome, welcome,”
booms the voice behind the largest desk.
“Ijlis, ijlisu” — “Sit down, sit down.”
Sitting. Talking. So many voices,
so many faces, the sweat trickling
around the backs of my ears, burning. —
What? What? What? — I hardly have a clue,
and I’ve pledged to live here for two years!
A Primer on Global Awareness
“Mister Earl, this is Mister Musa.
He’s the new geography teacher.
He is Sudanese. From the Sudan.
You know where the Sudan is, of course.”
“Yes, of course. The Sudan. Africa,
isn’t it? To the west of Egypt.”
“Aha! — Musa, it would seem that Earl
is not so good in geography.
Perhaps tutoring can be arranged. —
Your schools do teach geography, no?”
Remarks Overheard by Accident
“Salim, my friend, my soul is troubled.
When I heard they were sending him here,
I was afraid that this would happen.
They promised me I would continue
to teach some of the English classes,
that he’d be the English Inspector.
Now they tell me he’ll teach all of them.”
. . . “Yes, of course his English is better.
But I’m a professional teacher.
I know how to instruct these children.
He is young. He lacks experience.
The children take advantage of him.
It is not good for school discipline.
These Volunteers America sends
to educate the rest of the world,
they are so naive, so innocent.”
. . . “No, my friend, I have no choice in this.
If I make trouble, they will find out
I am from Palestine, not Jordan.
They will send me home. What can I do?
I am a teacher. I teach English.”
Understanding the Village Terrain
From the west ridge above it, Bukha
spreads out in the bed of the wadi
beneath the Musandam’s ancient peaks,
those desolate, bare-rock, mountain walls.
The narrow gravel runway bisects
a barren chunk of the river bed,
cut off by the mountains at one end,
the other blunted by hot beach sand.
At the harbor’s edge, the small jetty
curls like a thumb out into the bay,
protecting the boats of the village.
A mile across the bay lies Jadi,
the smaller village, the closest source
of well water still sweet, fit to drink.
Joining the two, a tenuous strip —
barely passable by landrover —
abuts the base of the Musandam.
I swim from the end of the jetty
back along the Bukha waterfront
where the children play in the water
in front of the handful of small shops.
One day, after swimming, I pass by
a fisherman working on his boat.
I ask, “What if I should try to swim
across the bay, Bukha to Jadi?”
He turns and stares across the water.
“As you wish. But something will eat you.”
A Tale of Concern for One’s Fellows
After a fine evening meal, we sit,
the expatriate Arabs and I,
on the porch of the teachers’ quarters
late into the night, telling stories. . . .
Nodding toward the village, Esah says,
“Mister Earl, do you know this story?
Once upon a time there was a man
whose home was falling down around him.
This man spent his time trying to fix
all the other homes in the village.
“No? This is your story, Mister Earl —
the story, I think, of your Peace Corps.”
A Special Religious Observance
Ramadan — literally, “hot month”.
From ramad, “the state of being parched”.
This year it’s living up to its name.
I’m not Arab, but I do teach here,
so I must not eat or drink at school
for the sake of my students. Thank God
the school days are shortened in this heat.
A punishing day — I grow dizzy.
The school’s stern, hawk-nosed old janitor,
devout Muslim that he is, leads me
into an inner room, prepares me
tea. I drink, thankful, feeling guilty,
knowing he’s watching. From where I kneel,
I look up into his eyes. He smiles.