Sand Happens! The parking lot across from the American Embassy
When I was in Muscat in November 2010 Dan Pattarini emailed me out of the blue inviting me to lunch at the American Embassy. He said he had seen the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble perform during his senior year at the College of William and Mary, in 1995 and remembered me. Would I like to have lunch at the American Embassy? I was flattered but only a little bit surprised. Many students at W&M aim to work in the international arena and more than a few of our students have been brought up in families that work for the U.S. Department of State in the Foreign Service. I have met some of our former students at the U.S. Department of State when I have given seminars on Middle Eastern Music and Culture at the invitation of John Iskander, director of Middle East curriculum and programming for the Foreign Service Institute.
Later, Dan and I met just briefly in person at a reception hosted by Legacy International, an organization that I have worked with a few times in the past thanks to another W&M graduate Anne Elise Thomas. The reception at the residence of Richard J. Schmierer, American Ambassador in Oman, allowed me the opportunity to meet and greet several Americans working in Oman and several Omanis connected in some way or another to the Embassy and its small circle.
So when I returned to Oman in the first days of February 2011 Dan and I met at the Embassy for lunch and a long chat. Oman is Dan’s first post and he is here with his wife also a W&M graduate and who teaches at TAISM, the American International School in Muscat, and their three young kids. After graduating from William and Mary, Dan worked for Fulbright (I.I.E) several years and then went on to take the Foreign Service Exam and train for a career in the Department of State.
Dan Pattarini is a poster child for W&M. It will make him blush if I say so but I’ll tell you what he told me. He said something like:
… you know, when I was a student at W&M, I took courses from Jim Bill, Abdel Karim Rafeq and John Williams and I can discuss the Middle East with anyone from Princeton, Harvard, you name it. Although my grades might not have reflected it at the time, my education in Middle Eastern history, culture, religion, politics is on a par and with anyone from anywhere. The fact that W&M professors teach W&M students with such dedication is singular in the world of higher education.
As Dan waxed poetic on his college years, spontaneously enumerating all of the elements that distinguish a W&M education, strains of the alma mater came into my head, I straightened my posture, I felt very proud!
But last night at the celebration of America’s National Day, Dan became a personal hero as well. In July the weather is impossibly hot I am told, so the American Embassy celebrates its National Day on Presidents’ Day, February 21. This high profile event, by invitation only, is an opportunity for the Embassy to thank its many friends, among them foreign ambassadors, ex-patriots and Omanis from the business and academic community, and distinguished guests from the Omani government.
Dan, with his back to us and the guys from the Embassy security help a damsel in distress.
I followed a line of cars into a large parking area across the street from the Embassy and pulled into what I thought was a legitimate parking space . . . but then something very bad happened. The font wheels of my Nissan Altima 2011, plunged into the sand. . . an endless field of infinitesimally soft lovely, warm, grains of tan sand. Oh no, thought I, this is not good. I stopped, I thought for a moment and put the car in reverse. “vrrrrrrrr” said the car, as the front wheels spun, digging themselves deeper into the desert. Just in case you are wondering, and at this point I am sure you are, the Nisan Altima has front wheel drive. The back wheels still on the asphalt were worthless. I was stuck. I just turned the car off and left it there.
Sheepishly I trotted into the Embassy, showed my invitation, went through security and met Dan who was one of the first greeters. I told him of my situation and he laughed reassuringly and said. . . “not a problem, we can get you out, we have people here to help.”
During the reception I learned that getting your car stuck in the sand is a sort of rite of passage in Oman. Everyone laughed knowingly. Still I was a bit worried. So after about 10 p.m., when the reception was over, I found Dan who found Will, the Regional Security Officer, who in turn recruited three of his men, and we went over to my car. One of the security officers, Troy from Texas, took the wheel, put the car in reverse. But four strong men, including two Omanis from the local guard force (all of them dressed in suits and ties) could not budge the front of the car out of the sand, which seemed now to have sunk down even deeper. In fact there was only an inch or two of clearance between the bottom of the car and the ground.
“I’ll be right back,” announced Will and he went off into the dark returning about twenty minutes later with a Toyota 4×4 pickup and a chain. Within a few minutes and within a great cloud of sand my lovely rental car was extracted from the “sand doom” and rolled up on to solid ground.
Tax dollars at work?
Nice people half a world away?
Great story to tell the kids?
All of that and more.
Thank you Dan, Will, Troy and the Local Guard Force of the American Embassy and…