Thursday is the end of the workweek in the Arab world. Friday is the Sabbath. The sidewalks on Souk Street (Market Street) in Al Khoud are almost empty this Thursday night.
Usually on Thursday night, the plastic tables and chairs outside the restaurants and coffee shops that line Souk Street are filled with men gathering to eat and talk. Moms, dads and kids are out shopping. Families are going from one store to another for clothes, shoes, groceries, household goods or ice cream. Cars line the streets and search for parking places.
Not this night.
You would think Omanis would be used to this. They’ll tell you that themselves. But no, they say, no one ever gets used to this heat. And no wonder. At a quarter to 10, it’s still 97 degrees. Fortunately, the humidity is low for Muscat, and it only feels like 100.
I’ve already had dinner at the Turkish Coffeeshop (all one word) across the street, the third time this trip I’ve eaten there. Shuwarma and lemon mint. They have the best shuwarma I’ve ever had. Chicken cooked like gyro meat on a spit, shaved and served rolled in pita bread with French fries and sauce. The lemon mint is just what it sounds like — lemonade whirred with fresh mint. Nothing is more refreshing on a night like this than lemon mint.
I was fine eating outside, even in that heat. I was reading and relaxing and enjoying the break. Then, some of my students came back from their outing and showed off the henna designs they got on their arms and legs. It was beautiful.
But just the simple act of talking to them made me start to sweat. Imagine that. That little extra effort to form words put me over the edge, and I suddenly had a sweat spot in the middle of my T-shirt.
I strolled down the street just because I really needed a walk. Then, I decided to get out of the heat, and I ducked into the barber shop I went to when we lived here. There are all new barbers in there now. A chair was open, I sat down, and the barber, from Pakistan or India, began.
Twenty minutes later he was done, and it looks great. Then, he asked if I wanted a face massage. I’ve never had a face massage, so I said yes.
Well, what a great invention a face massage is. He tied my now-shortened hair back, raised the head rest and lightly sprayed my face with mist from a water bottle.
He began smearing my face with a cream that had No. 100 sandpaper grit in it. And this was no gentle massage. This had action to it. He scrubbed my forehead, my nose, my cheeks, my chin, my jowls, the nape of my neck and all over again. Over and over.
He wiped it all off with a warm wash cloth several times, and started the second act. It felt and smelled a little like kiwi-strawberry Jell-O, and with the same vigorous massage, he treated me all over again.
Another thorough wash with the warm cloth, dabs of what I guess is some sort of finishing cream, orange-scented this time, a final massage to spread it around, and the tab — 2 rials 800 baisas, something just short of $8.
I step out of the air-conditioned shop and start back toward my hotel. The sidewalk is still pretty much empty.
It is a quarter to 11, and it’s 97 degrees.