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Spring Has Sprung


While I haven’t been able to locate the dastardly song-bird, my son is driven up the very same tree by his niece and two-neighbor girls, perhaps in response to a juvenile form of the same vernal imperative.

(. . . a brief and spontaneous post to keep NQR alive; rendered in apology for and acknowledgment of the term papers that still mire me in their convoluted and painful production.)

While it takes a rather heartless observer of the world to have very much at all negative to say about spring (other than incessant gloomy, rainy weather, mud in all its various forms, the effects of pollen on one’s allergic rhinitis, etc. etc.) one specific complaint must be aired here.

A love bird has decided to perch, every morning at 4:10AM, in the branch of a tree adjoining my second story bedroom window.  The bird emits a lovely, syncopated warble, mellifluous, the perfect harbinger of the forthcoming rising of the sun.  But this occurs far, far too early in the morning and far, far too regularly.  One would like to open one’s bedroom windows on a cool spring evening, to fall asleep to distant thunder and the gentle patter of nighttime rain.  But one does not like to wake at 4:10AM thereafter.  One does not.

I’m sure the bird is lovely.

I’m absolutely convinced that this time of year the impulse to sing sweetly from the top branches of my tree cannot be mastered in his heaving little breast.

I’m sure my early-morning curses and ill-wishes for the creature’s courtship are ogre-ish to the extreme.

But this bird is NQR, the very definition.


Kharijite Rhetoric

The following remarks by the Kharijite (an early heretical sect of Islam) rebel Abu Hamza al-Mukhtar b. ‘Awf were given as part of a sermon in Mecca during his fight against the Ummayid Caliphate, approximately 746 CE.  Amazingly (and definitely NQR) they were preserved in Sunni sources because of the strength of the rhetoric, even though the comments greatly disparage the Sunni Ummayid caliphs.  In this year of campaign invective it might be nice to see that other peoples have engaged in character assassination, perhaps even more effectively than we Americans now stomach.  And it is interesting to note that the Sunni historians had such a sense of aesthetic value that they’d record a sermon like this, even though it clearly damns the Ummayids!

PS.  This is excerpted from Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds’ book “God’s Caliph.”

PSS.  The really good stuff is toward the end of the sermon, so keep reading.

Abu Hamza’s comments:

The Prophet's Mihrab, or pulpit, the approximate spot from which Abu Hamza may have delivered his sermon (although, back then, it wouldn't have been so gilded).

1.  O people! The Messenger of God used neither to advance nor to draw back save with the command of God and His revelation. [God] revealed a book to him and made clear to him what he should undertake and what he should guard against, and he was in no way confused about His Religion….

2.  When the Muslims put him (Abu Bakr) in charge of their temporal concerns, He fought the apostates and acted by the kitab and the sunna, striving, until God took him to Himself; may God’s mercy be upon him.

3.  ‘Umar took charge after him.  He proceeded according to the mode of conduct of him who had gone before him . . .

4.  Then ‘Uthman took charge.  For six years he proceeded in a way which fell short of the mode of conduct of his two companions.  Thereby he annulled what he had done earlier, and passed on his way.

5.  Then ‘Ali b. Abi Talib took charge.  He acted in a proper manner until he established arbitration concerning the book of God and had doubts about His religion. [Thereafter] he did not achieve any goal in respect of what was right, nor did he erect any beacon for that.

6.  Then there took charge Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufyan, who had been cursed by the Messenger of God and was the son of one so cursed.  He made the servants of God slaves, the property of God something to be taken by turns, and His religion a cause of corruption.  Then he passed on his way, deviating from what was right, deceiving in religion.

7.  Then there took charge his son Yazid, part of the curse of the Messenger of God, a sinner in respect of his belly and his private parts. He kept to the path of his father, neither acknowledging what ought to be acknowledged nor disavowing what ought to be disavowed.

8.  Then Marwan and the Banu Marwan took charge.  They shed forbidden blood and devoured forbidden property.  As for ‘Abd al-Malik, he made al-Hajjaj an imam of his, leading to hellfire.  As for al-Walid, he was a stupid fool, at a loss in waywardness, abusing the caliphate with benighted senselessness.  And Sulayman, what was Sulayman?!  His concern was with his belly and his private parts.  So curse them, may God curse them!  Except that ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was from them:  he had good intentions but did not act upon them; he fell short of what he intended.

9.  Then there took charge after him Yazid b. ‘Abd al-Malik, a sinner in whom right judgement was not perceived . . . Two items of apparel were woven for him and he wore one as pants and the other as a shirt.  Then he sat Hababa on his right and Sallama on his left and said, “Sing to me, Hababa; give me wine, Sallama.”  Then, when he had become drunk and the wine had taken a hold on him, he rent his two garments, which had been acquired for one thousand dinars on account of which skins had been flayed, hair shaved off, and veils torn away; he took what he spent unlawfully and wrongly.  Then he turned to one of the girls and said, ‘Surely I shall fly!’  Most certainly!  Fly to hellfire!  Is such supposed to be the distinguishing characteristic of the caliphs of God?!

10.  Then squint-eyed Hisham took charge.  He scattered stipends about and appropriated the land . . . and you said, ‘May God reward him with good.’  Nay!  may God reward him with evil!  He was miserly with his wealth and niggardly in his religion.

11.  Then the sinner al-Walid b. Yazid took charge.  He drank wine openly and he deliberatly made manifest what is abominable.  Then Yazid b. al-Walid rose against him and killed him:  God has said ‘So We make the evildoers friends of each other for what they have earned.’ Then Marwan b. Muhammad took charge and claimed the Caliphate.  He abraded faces, put out eyes, and cut off hands and feet…

12.  These Banu Umayya are parties of waywardness.  Their might is self-magnification.  They arrest on suspicion, make decrees capriciously, kill in anger, and judge by passing over crimes without punishment . . . These people have acted as unbelievers, by God, in the most barefaced manner.  So curse them, may God curse them!

(Please note, the Kharijite opinion of these Caliphs is a minority opinion in Islam.)

An Original Odor

A few, a very few roadside hotspots have the power to ‘attract’ (or repulse) a traveler via smell alone.  This is one.  And its perfume (in comparison to Western notions of soapy, sometimes fake, cleanliness) provides a very compelling moment of NQR.

Fishermen heave at the drying tarps to roll up their catch.

In the Musandum Penninsula of Oman, just south of the city of Khasab, we drove past a beach where local fisherman had been drying their catch, millions upon millions of small minnows.  The smell from the beach was absolutely rancid, but the process itself proved to be fascinating and ingenious.  It involved the close cooperation of somewhere around twenty fishermen, each with separate boats, separate nets, separate small Toyota trucks used to haul their equipment, but with one shared, central task:  drying the fish.  The collective activity of these men, their cooperation rather than competition, speaks to a totally different cultural expectation than our capitalism.  Certainly they are all in it for profit, at some level, but the ties of kinship and mutal support that likely drive their cooperation are certainly alien to the western idea of how work ought to be performed.

Late afternoon shade falls over millions of dried minnows.

The fishermen were very clever in placing their drying mats.  In full sun during the height of the day for maximum drying benefit, the shadows of the nearby cliffs fell toward and then over the mats at just the same time as the sardines reached an acceptable level of dryness.  This allowed the fishermen to work in the shade, a vigorous hour of activity rolling up mats, whacking fabric to dislodge stuck fishies, creating huge piles of sardines.

While, admittedly, the process employed many modern conveniences — toyotas, synthetic plastic tarps, fiberglass hulled boats with diesel engines — an element of the primordial process remained:  the fish whacking sticks themselves, usually pieces of driftwood found on the beach.

Plump sheik displays his handy fish-whacker.

If it weren’t for the smell, I might have been tempted to jump in and assist!

One Hundred and One Nights

Just received via overnight package two advance copies of the finished, published version of my novel “One Hundred and One Nights.” They came as a wonderfully-timed birthday present gift from my editor at Little, Brown.

The cover captures the essence of the main character, a little Iraqi girl named Layla.

It’s been a long process, shepherding the book to this point, a process that couldn’t have happened without the confluence of tremendous good luck, good circumstances, and grinding effort.

In the category of good luck, I must mention how fortunate I was to have a couple stories originally published by Storyglossia quickly anthologized by Dzanc Press in back-to-back editions of “Best of the Web.”  From there, I was doubly lucky for Jon Sternfeld, of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, to contact me and ask if I might be able to write a novel similar to the stories he had read in those anthologies.

After bantering around a few ideas with Jon, I settled down to sketch out “One Hundred and One Nights.”  The process (here is the beginning of the GRIND) took a full year, writing during lunch breaks as I studied the Arabic language at the Defense Language Institute.  Eventually, 500 words at a time, I reached a point where I had put flesh on a very, very rough skeleton of a first draft.  Jon signed up to represent the novel and, after several thorough and complete edits/revisions under his guidance, he found it a home with Little, Brown’s imprint Back Bay Books.  Here, again, more good luck:  being pared with an editor (Vanessa Kehren) who took the book through several more important iterations of review and polishing and whose good ideas now pervade the novel to such an extent that it really should be considered a group effort, Buchholz-Sternfeld-Kehren.

And, as for the good circumstances?  There I must credit my work in the military, first as a Civil Affairs Officer in Safwan, Iraq, and now as a Foreign Area Officer learning more about the Middle East, both experiences which have provided the waft and the supporting weave in which to stitch something I hope will convey a certain measure of reality while also invoking a bit of empathy for the people of the village of Safwan, Iraq.

A further bit of fortunate circumstance — taking my family with me this last year in Oman and throughout the Middle East.  They not only enlivened my days, but provided space for me to write and inspiration for me to write about.  I think “One Hundred and One Nights” reflects a little bit of them, my father feeling for my children especially which comes streaming out between the seams as the character Abu Saheeh slowly unravels his story.  My family might say that living with someone who is trying to write/edit a novel is Not Quite Right but, without them, I would have been lonely, empty, and only resonating with the sort of hollowness that haunts Abu Saheeh in the beginning of the tale.

Please help me spread the word about this book!  It will ship to bookstores (and ship from Amazon both as a hardcopy and as an eBook) starting in December!  I’ll return to normal NQR blogging with most of my posts hereafter, though occasionally some exuberance, some note about especially great things going on with the book, may bleed over into this forum.

Thank you for your patience with my exciticism.  I hope, if you do read the novel, that you find it both enjoyable and meaningful.

Expatriate Picnic Secrets

So, two options if you want to go to a REALLY nice beach in Oman:

1)  Stay at the Shangri La Barr al-Jissah Resort, with a sea-cave arch in its front yard and a private cove among three different ‘tiers’ of resort complexes (all visible in the picture on the main page of the resort’s website, link provided here at no additional cost).

. . . or . . .

2)  Pay one of the local fishermen who wait on shore, after finishing their morning trawl, to take expats out to the equally private and much less expensive cove immediately opposite the sea arch.

Same waves.

Same water.

Same sand.

Same sun.

Cocktails are, unfortunately, best kept within the confines of the resort, in deference to local predilections.

Going rate to hire a boat from Qantab Village to take a group out to the hidden cove?  Negotiable, but usually somewhere around 10 Omani Rial (about 26 USD).  Going rate to spend the day at Barr al-Jissah?  I wouldn’t know.  And that’s the NQR of this post . . . all of us expats creating a cottage industry of taxi-boats through nothing more elaborate than our own penny-pinching!

A boatload of expats shove off for a short trip around the peninsula to the 'hidden cove'