Our Old Man in Oman
Robin Usher, Oman
Dr Robin Leslie Usher PhD wrote a doctoral thesis `Jungian Archetypes in the work of [science
fiction writer] Robert A. Heinlein`, 1992. Teacher of English language and literature since 1994.
Has taught in Hungary, Poland, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Oman. Science fiction
writer, published also in Hungarian. Stories include `Out of This World`, `Ride!` she said,
`Special Angel Service`, `Valhalla for Starters` and `MAP`. Published in the British SF academic
journal Foundation, `Robert A. Heinlein: Theologist`, and the Hungarian Institute for
Educational Research Educatio, `Learning To Study`. Currently teaching English literature and
language in Oman at Rustaq`s College of Education. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Teaching as part of a course programme inside an institution of Higher learning is, by and large, a
boon to the incompetent. One is always given the least demanding module to teach, with nothing
expected of you, and even less of the students placing themselves at your disposal. Consequently,
I enjoyed my time at the College of Education in Rustaq, Oman's capital in the 17th Century
(now, of course, Muscat). Out of thirteen hours a week actual classroom time for preparing young
Omanis to become teachers of English language in Primary schools, I was given 'Report Writing',
which basically meant telling them to choose a subject and write a report - while I browsed the
internet for bondage photos .- why aren't there any? - of US popstar Lady Gaga (1986-).
There was always a questionnaire to compile as the basis for bar charts, pie charts, and
population percentiles, that is, support for the facts presented. The students would prepare a Q&A
on their subject material and then get the rest of the college to answer before using the data to
bolster their argument. I had one sweet girl write a report on the chronic insomnia she and others
suffered from and, at one point in the Q&A (which I'll always remember for her bravery), she'd
made a list of the things one could choose from as a means of obtaining sleep in what they called
'the prison' where most of the girls were boarders.
Q. How do you get to sleep when you have insomnia?
a) Drink hot milk.
b) Walk around until you're tired.
c) Do what comes naturally until the happiness comes.
Isn't that sweet? Without a word of a lie, it's true. I taught English Literature too, which consisted
of making a list of novels and essay questions about the novels. The highlight of my course for
the students was my embarassedly explaining how Joseph Conrad's (1857-1924) use of the word
'nigger' in Heart of Darkness (1899) was merely descriptive and not indicative of any offensive
intent on the part of the writer. Thanks for that Joe.
I also had a thing called Practicum, which meant squeezing onto a bus with a group of trainee
women English teachers to where they did their trainee teaching each Wednesday for a couple of
hours while I 'examined' them on their performance. I had a checklist and, the first time, I gave
everyone 100%. Mohammed Muhammad Mohammad Muhammed, the Egyptian in charge of the
course, explained that the mark was 'too high', so I asked what was the highest mark I could give?
He said that would be 94%. Thereafter all my trainees received 94% and my stock went up. I was
now perceived as a good teacher.
Bolstered by this I came to the teaching of 'Children's Literature' with great self-possession and
taught the trainee English teachers to employ rhyme as an educational tool in the classroom. My
own personal favourite is from Scotland, a ditty first heard on the football terraces but rapidly
transferred to the schoolyard where it became rich 'folklore' and was recorded by a BBC Scotland
film unit for their early evening show Up North. The lexis being taught here is, of course, the
preposition 'between' - as well as the possessive and plurals. The rest is just indispensable lower
tier Scottish football vocabulary. For those wishing to use the material as a part of one of their
classes, I am prepared to waive all copyright considerations for a considerable amount of up front
Farts between your teeth,
Farts between your teeth;
Partick Thistle v Cowdenbeath,
Farts between your teeth.
Students in some parts of the Middle East are genuinely incredulous when they hear that you
have taught both male and female pupils - as I did in 2008 in Oman (boys on the left, girls on the
right) - together! I remember sergeant Shujaa from Riyadh (who was a nurse and one of my
English language trainees in 2000 at the North West Armed Forces Hospital, Tabuk, Saudi
Arabia), saying to me that it was the seeing of women that drove men mad, that is, this was the
reason why half the population wore the sack with eye-slits, the 'abiyah'. So that our eyes can
avoid their eyes (and they're not supposed to be looking either). Well, that drives me crazy.
What one has to understand is that watching the box in Saudi Arabia is supposed to be better than
gazing lovingly into the eyes of women, but you won't find any women on teevee and even
learning English is, paradoxically, more fun than watching the box. In England we're made to feel
socially inept for watching it. Anyone who's been to Saudi Arabia knows that that's what one is
expected to do, and one isn't expected to be criticized for it. Television channels are devoted 24
hours a day to coverage of the tomb of Abraham in the holy city of Mecca. Essentially it's a black
box with gold trimmings, a bit like the Black Magic chocolate box but definitely without the
liqueurs - alcohol is forbidden or haram in Islam. I used to watch it in the expectation that it
would fold out to reveal a Britney Spears' performance of Circus (2009); but, unfortunately,
there's no more to it ringside than that. One of my colleagues recently went to perform Umrah
there, which is walking around it nine times - as a religious duty imposed upon all believers in
Islam to accomplish at least once in their lifetimes. Coverage of the box-on-the-box rises to fever
pitch during the fasting period of Ramadan when the pilgrimage to the box - or Kabaa - reaches
its culmination. My colleague 'felt nothing'. I'd have preferred to see Angelina Jolie (1975-) as
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) on my box, or played Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (1996) on my X-
Box. With me the concept of watching or playing something on the box always wins out over
watching a box - even if I'm allowed to walk around it as well.
Arabian women are generally what is considered 'modest' by their society. In Saudi Arabia the
eye slits in the one-piece coverall are indicative of where you're not supposed to look. They're
only visible because the women need to see where they're going, and many of them wear
sunglasses; which makes them look even more like fully mobile bin-liners accidentally bumping
into life. On the subject of human waste, a colleague of mine asked me recently about the giant
economy size pack of toilet rolls I was carrying. 'Do you know something we don't? he wanted to
know. 'Are we all suddenly going to go down with a mysterious bug that will cause us to spend
all of our time on the lavatory?' He was making a joke. I knew, because I could see the wood and
the nails. 'No,' I said. 'I'm full of shit.' The simplest answer is always the most truthful. My sister,
Alison, a teacher of English at a school in England, is quite modest too; but, if she said the abiyah
made some kind of sense to her, I'd tell her it was 'talking rubbish' - which it could be if it were
allowed to speak. Sadly, there is no mouth hole.
In Sudan the women's faces are uncovered but they wear headscarves to perpetually toy with; it's
like watching a sailing ship furl and unfurl its main sail: you can tell - by how much hair you're
permitted to see - how fast she'll go. At Cumbrage International Training Centres (CITC),
Khartoum, Sudan, I worked split shifts as the Academic Manager because the centre was open
from 9.00am until 9.00pm each working day. Consequently, I went back to my apartment from
1.00pm until 5.00pm - if the administrative staff didn't catch me. It was my main duty to give
'placement tests' where the level of the potential student's English abilities are determined by
means of a simple Q&A.
T I T C PlayS emenT est (version ivii) creighted by Gym Sitole pHd
Q. 'Hello, how are you?'
A. 'My Brazilians are leeching.'
Q. 'What is your name?'
A. 'You may speak with my relative for 20,000 dinar. No! More!'
Q. 'How old are you?'
A. 'Nineteen goats - very sexy.'
Q. 'Are you married?'
A. 'What nonsense you are. Is it a suggestment that I am using my seed-enticer?'
Q. 'Do you have any children?'
A. 'It is my favourite always. I eat at McDonalds.'
Q. 'What is your job?'
A. 'I am a waiter for Mohammed's restaurant in Omdurman - no! For the bus - always!'
Q. 'Where do you live?'
A. 'The rain in Spain - it is a blood-y nuisance!'
Q. 'Do you have any brothers or sisters?'
A. 'I have two impolite umbadinga beans in my briefcase.'
Q. 'What do you like to do in your free time?'
A. 'I am eating the surprisingly beautiful melon flavoured beetles.'
Q. 'What is your favourite food?'
A. 'I am swimming constantly. It is all I am doing - allegedly. I am so without the fatness that
makes men impotent.'
Q. 'Do you have any hobbies?'
A. 'For king. I am for king all the time. Every which way I am for king.'
Q. 'What is it that makes you happiest?'
A. 'Coming with my wife in the supermarket with all the smiling peoples.'
Q. If you could do anything to make the world a better place in which to live, what would you
A. Wait! It is time to feed the umbadinga beings!'
Q. 'Are you ready now to answer the question?'
A. I am in favour of World Piss. It is the best for me, my tribe, and all of the many other assholes
I do not wholly approve of.
So, at 1.00pm I should have been at liberty, after assessing several candidates for enrolment at
CITC, but there were always several more in waiting to grab me like trapdoor spiders (ctenizidae)
as I made the long walk to the exit under the noses of the frustrated would-be students - who'd
been waiting all morning for me to place them - as well as the flustered adminstrative staff who'd
required them to wait patiently and, like as not, would receive a machete in the bonce for lying to
them about the immediacy of my availability. Of course I never made it to the door and, if I did, I
never made it to the perimeter of the centre's grounds before, headscarf flapping in the sunshine,
hair flowing loosely, the speediest of the female administrators ran after me, shouting 'Just one
more! Just one more!' What would the neighbours think? I'd think.
In Oman the women constantly complain that they're unable to hear what the teacher is saying,
and you can't allude to the reason for that because you don't want to appear culturally insensitive;
but the truth is that they wrap so many layers of fabric around their head that it's a miracle they're
able to hear anything at all. Rather than explain that it's their own stupidity that has made them
deaf, one bites one's tongue and resorts to the megaphone one keeps in one's desk to deal with
T: 'GOOD MORNING!'
S: 'Speak up. We cannot hear you.'
T: 'TODAY WE ARE GOING TO LOOK AT THE CLASSIC NOVEL IN ENGLISH, HEART
OF DARKNESS BY THE EXPATRIATE POLISH WRITER JOSEPH CONRAD!'
S: 'What? Somebody put on more of the lights. The teacher says that it is dark in here.'
T: 'OF COURSE, CONRAD IS OFTEN CRITICIZED FOR HIS USAGE OF THE TABOO
WORD 'NIGGER' IN THIS CLASSIC WORK OF FICTION.'
S: 'Word? Word? What word? What is the fool talking about?'
S: 'That is a character in Winnie the Pooh you moron. Today we're looking at Heart of Darkness
by that racist pig Joseph Conrad.'
I always tell my students that I've never seen a woman, but that Nancy Ajram (1983-) and
Mariam Fares (1983-) - Arabian popstars famous for the blatant eroticism of their Britneyesque
videos - are 'very good'. 'No,' they explain patiently - and one understands Islamically - they are
'very bad'. I qualify my statement by explaining that I, who have never seen a woman, believe the
pair of them to be 'very good singers', though I have never seen them and have only heard their
voices, which I am unable to comprehend because I don't know Arabic. This stumps them. But I
have been understood - as have they.
Understanding them, of course, has its pitfalls. First you are examined to discover whether or not
you have a wife? If you don't, they then paradoxically want to know if you have children?
They're trying to catch you out, you see? If you're single, they want to know all about your
girlfriend and, if you refuse to rise to that bait (conversing about sexual relations is usualy haram
in English language teaching institutions - which they all know - because all we do is fuck
whores all day and all women who are not of Islam are whores - which they all know), they will
tell you to your face that you leave them with no choice but to assume that you're gay and that, as
everyone you'll come across during your teaching will be male, you've rapidly dug a hole for
yourself and become a pariah.
In Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, while I taught at the hospital inside the King Khalid Military City, it was
explained to me by the students that women were not taught alongside men because 'it was very
bad' and, if pushed, they would explain that what was 'bad' were, in fact, not their lustful penises
but women themselves. Women here are, therefore, what we in the West have long unconsciously
understood without feeling it in our gut - shunned. It shouldn't really surprise. You are only
allowed to marry by arrangement and it's likely that, in Saudi Arabia, you will never see the bride
before the wedding; so the appearance of any woman - before or after marriage (men of Islam are
allowed four wives and they can divorce by saying 'I divorce thee' three times) - is here
legitimately viewed as a temptation.
According to Islamic tradition each of us has a 'djinn' (spirit) that is personal to us, and it exists
only to tempt us. One has only to observe the scene briefly to understand that, whatever the
provenance of the temptation, it has been succumbed to. There are cars everywhere, and petrol is
sand cheap (the Americans may be said to have invented the car and taught the Arabs to buy
them; and for that the Arabs can never forgive them). I lived 200 metres from my nearest
McDonalds in Oman and would never dream of going there on foot. I'd have to take a taxi or be
mown down like the pedestrian I am. So I didn't go there. Equally, because of the speed of the
heavy traffic, I could only cross the street on Friday (to take or collect my laundry), which is the
equivalent of the Day of Rest in the Arab countries, when the devoted drivers are presumably
exhausted by their circular exertions and need to refuel. I often think of Alighieri Dante's (1265-
1321) Dvine Comedy (1308-1321) and, in particular of the Inferno; how interested Dante'd be in
seeing how the automotive and petroleum industries have combined to create a new circle in hell.
I like to tell my students that I have passed my driving test and am the proud owner of a clean
driving license, but I don't drive because I think cars are silly: and I do. In Sudan, as Academic
Manager at CITC, I was entitled to a company car, which was fine during the day, but at night?
No street lights. Apparently the street where I had my apartment didn't merit the local council
erecting any. Consequently, in the pitch blackness after 9.00pm clocking off time, I had to guess
where the turning to my abode loomed. After hitting several palm trees head on, steering the car
into holes in the sand and driving it into the side of dunes, I gave back the keys, telling them I'd
walk for safety's sake.
Driving into a palm and hearing the falling coconuts thumping down like gargantuan raindrops
on the car's roof, it all smacked to me of that clown's jallopy in Billy Smart's Circus Spectacular
where he yaws and gimps around while him - and bits of him and the car - fall off. When are we
going to move on from the pedal car mentality with the sticks that you have to grope at? This is
the Twenty First Century Bozo! Get me a car with push button control. Once for GO, once for
STOP, and I'll temporarily accept the need for a steering wheel - at a pinch.
Bizarrely, the name for the djinn we are all said to have as a personal tempter is a qareen, which
sounds a lot like the kind of thing you'd have in a car salesroom if you were being tempted into
buying one. I always imagine my qareen as a kind of Britney Spears (1982-) bikini-draped across
the front of a black-and-chrome Hummer. 'I prefer the voice-activated automatic flying car, pet,'
say I in my best Geordie accent while clicking my thumb and forefinger to summon the
I often see them, squealing as they careen along the street with the back end flapping around on
the black stuff like a killer whale that's come out of the sea to snap up a plump seal, only to
discover that it's stranded out of its element and has to get back into its medium quickly or be a
beached suicide. I've seen them take out thirty-foot palm trees in their careenings and disintegrate
without any obvious promptings other than insane miles per hour while, afterwards, their owner-
drivers hunch imperturbably beside the now stricken hulks speaking the necessary words of
insurance magic that will bring a tow truck and the speedy balm of garage service. One can see
that the qareen has her hands full in this business. I haven't seen so much employment since 24th
October 1987 when boxing commentator Harry Carpenter (1925-) was describing the movements
of Joe Bugner (1950-) 'beginning to careen' around the ring at London's White Hart Lane in a
desparate attempt to avoid Frank Bruno's (1961-) roight 'and.
There are, of course, deep cultural antecedents - as always. It is a part of Islamic tradition that
Allah (God) created 'men and djinn'. According to the Koran (610-632 CE) there are good and
evil djinn. These were created from fire that did not burn and the djinn cannot normally be seen.
Black magic is part of a huge subculture in Arabia based on what is required to conjure obliging
djinn, who are famed for their magical abilities. For example, the big rumour in Oman was that
old Singer sewing machines - the ones with a treadle - contained the substance known as 'red
mercury', which was highly prized amongst those seeking to manifest a djinn and these machines
were changing hands for several thousands of riyals. The figure of Star Trek's (1966-) Jean Luc
Picard on the bridge of the USS Enterprise kept coming into my mind: 'Make it sew!'
The connection between the creation of 'men and djinn' and the role of women becomes clearer
though. Djinn cannot normally be seen and neither can women (they can't drive either; the men
say so and, saying so, don't allow them to - by law). It's a little like the Christian tradition in
which God created man and, as an afterthought, created woman from his side. The suggestion is
that women are naturally invisible and not meant to be viewed. Man is self-sufficient and women
are the source of evil; witness Eve's giving of the forbidden fruit of the 'tree of the knowledge of
good and evil' (Gen: 2: 16) to Adam and their subsequent expulsion from the paradise of Eden
(Gen: 3: 23). Hence Islam's belief that it is somehow 'wrong' for women to be on view.
Effectively they become djinn once they take the abiyah upon relinquishment of childhood. They
correspond to what is known of the djinn; invisible and not normally seen. In fact this is what
men of Islam are taught; to pretend that women are invisible, even when they are present. 'They
are not there. We do not see them,' I was told by Mohammed Mattar, a married Egyptian
colleague at the Training Centre in Tabuk. They wear a cloak of invisibility. Just like the djinn!
Again I was reminded of Captain Picard aboard the USS Enterprise: 'Make it sew! Deploy
Is it then the practice of Islam to seek the creation of djinn by making their women invisible and
so creating the basis for the transformation of woman to djinn? Obviously. In the West we are
most familiar with the idea of the djinn in the bottle from the stories of Scheherezade in the One
Thousand and One Nights (9th Century) where the heroine has to entertain her king each night
with a cliff-hanger so that the vengeful ruler - disenchanted with women, having caught his wife
inflagrante delecto with his brother - remains interested in the story and won't cut her head off in
the morning - as is his wont after beheading his wife and marrying a fresh maiden each day
thereafter. From a symbolic perspective, Scheherezade is the djinn aspect of the beheaded king's
wife: the djinn 'unbottled', as it were. Which is where our psychological understanding of what it
means to unbottle our feelings in the West becomes almost prescient when it comes to
understanding the role of Shar Jehan's wife. She tells her stories - through her unbottled
'mouthpiece' - with the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, so that the king will cease his
murderous intentions toward women and accept her once again in the shape of her 'genius' -
The connection between the central theme of the One Thousand and One Nights - the beheading
of wives - and it's magical tales of the djinn, is clearly not accidental. How else would one
unbottle a djinn, except by removing the cork? Looking at the pear-shaped Arabian women as
they bustle around the shops with the black bags over their heads - and down to where one is not
supposed to suppose are high-heeled thigh-length lace-up red leather stilletto boot heels - one can
only observe that they do look well and truly 'bottled'. The men of Arabia should therefore hope
that, when it is time for their women to truly unbottle their feelings, they show as much desire to
forgive and reconcile as Scheherezade.
I remember Fawaz, a Kuwaiti student of mine in Saudi Arabia who was six years old during the
Iraqi invasion, explaining that it were better for Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) if he had been
beheaded rather than hung. He was, in effect, lamenting the refusal of the Americans to 'uncork'
the djinn and allow Saddam to enter Paradise. In Islam, Satan, that is, Shaitan, is the djinn who
refused to bow down before Man when ordered to do so by God. Saddam's hubris, in Islam, is
viewed as the result of an evil djinn taking possession of him. In short, Saddam himself retains no
blame. Hence the furore over his hanging; he should have been beheaded (uncorked) to release
him from his evil djinn.
It's a useful standpoint to be aware of; man isn't responsible for his evil acts: the evil djinn are.
Prayerfulness is therefore the key to forgiveness in Islam, and so Muslims pray at set times of the
day and night. It certainly explains the role of women as invisible - like the djinn - and bottled -
like the djinn. I suspect their men's aim is for them to remain entities in abeyance until Paradise
becomes manifest around them; so proving the contents of their bottle to be 100% good djinn.
When asked if I'm married, I always advise my students to ask my wife. On my passport it says
I'm single, but I'm always leery of the question. If I said 'no' - and they met with her - then it'd be
carte blanche as to what they decided to do to her, wouldn't it? To take a traditionally Arabic
point of view, because my wife is unseen by others - and, in my case, unbeknownst to me -
doesn't mean that she has no existence. The question becomes a trick one. As does the one about
age. 'How old are you?' they want to know. I always reply with the answer: 'This body is one-
hundred-and-seventy-four years old, and I am the oldest man on the planet,' which they pretend
not to understand and pester me for a correct answer. But imagine if, elsewhere, I'm 60 years old.
Do I have permission to live? Am I dealing with licensed hunters?
I often experience the phenomenon of De ja vu. I haven't yet been to a country or place whose
people I didn't remember having been with there before. Sometimes I can even remember things
that had happened. I came out of the Al-Jazeera International Academy in Riyadh one afternoon
to see one of my colleagues - 'Ducky' (Duckworth) - standing there. I went off to hail a taxi but
remembered that he'd been standing there on another occasion sometime in this consciousnesses
past when I had again been an English language teacher; and he'd told me: 'The next time you're
here we'll be murdering your wife.' No wonder she hides herself! All I can say is: 'Beam me up!'
Well, actually that's not all. I can also say: 'Shields up! Deploy cloaking device! Take us out of
here Mrs Usher! Maximium warp! Make it so!'
Interestingly, US scifi writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907-88), taking his cue from material to be
found in the Bible's final book, Saint John the Divine's prophetic Revelation, where we are
warned to expect the advent of a man identified with the number 666 (Rev: 13: 17-18), wrote a
novel The Number of the Beast (1980) which features a time-space machine that can access all
universes real or imaginary - and looks just like an everyday sewing machine!
The title comes from the curious fact that the total accessible number of alternate universes turns
out to be six raised to the power of six raised to the power of six, that is, 10, 314, 424, 798, 490,
535, 546,171, 949, 056. My advice to my threatened wife is to take advantage of superstring
theory (Bosonic) with its twenty six dimensions and to hide in one - or all - of them. It's okay. I
know who we are. Think of the ascending ladder of sixes as the eyes of the needle through which
the golden thread of our tale must pass in order for us to tell it. The Arabs, by the way, have their
own prophecies. Because the Jews refuse to accept a Messiah when offered one (Jesus,
Mohammed, B. Spears), the Arabs say they're waiting to embrace the Antichrist who (I'm always
one for the minutiae) will have curly hair (that lets me out) and'll begin slowly but will eventually
proclaim himself as God. Billy Crystal (5.00am 14th March, 1948-) is my guess.
I, of course, know who the Antichrist will be. After much careful scrutiny of the New Interchange
level 1 English language coursebook, I can confidently draw the reader's attention to the
'Describing People' section in Unit 3 where we are asked: 'What kind of hair does Toby sport?'
The answer? 'Toby has curly hair:' This is the one that has had knees quaking all over the Gulf.
Toby, the New Interchange cartoon. We can even determine his nationality. 'Where is Toby
from?' New Interchange has the gen: 'Toby is from Copenhagen.' No surprise there then. If our
brains can continue to contain the dangerous amount of material they're being asked to upload,
we can even glean the vital information: 'Toby is wearing jeans and a sweater.' My bet is the
devil's wearing Nike training shoes too. But that just goes without saying...
I always enjoy New Interchange, Unit 3, 'Describing People'. It gives the students the opportunity
to practice describing each other. 'Mohammed,' I begin, 'please describe, er, Mohammed.'
Mohammed begins: 'Mohammed has brown hair and brown eyes, he is wearing a thob [the white
ankle length - not see-thru - cotton shirt that all men wear in Arabia] and shoes.' Very good
Mohammed, and can you describe, er, Mohammed for us, er, Mohammed?' Mohammed begins:
'Mohammed has brown hair and brown eyes; he is wearing a thob and shoes.' 'Very good,' I crow,
'and what colour is the thob?' 'Mohammed's thob is white,' says Mohammed. 'Very good
Mohammed,' I say, 'and can you describe your brother Mohammed Mohammed for us
Mohammed?' I ask. 'Mohammed Mohammed has brown hair and brown eyes and is wearing a
white thob and shoes,' says Mohammed. Mohammed Mohammed makes that quantum leap of
insight which it is the joy of any teacher to behold: 'Mohammed Mohammed Mohammed has
brown hair and brown eyes and is wearing a white thob and shoes,' he says. We all laugh gently
together. 'And what colour are the shoes?' I ask. 'Different,' says one of the Mohammeds. We all
laugh gently together.
The advent of the Antichrist hadn't yet been proclaimed in Oman as we were still using The Old
Interchange as opposed to The New Interchange and there was no mention of the evil curly
haired Toby therein. We still had prayer time though; the great bane of the educator. I had a
student in Khartoum, Sudan, who whenever asked what he thought to be a difficult question,
would immediately leap from his chair like an electrocuted frog and proclaim a 'prayer break'. I
never demur. If a student prefers to pray for the light of illumination to fill him rather than
attempt to find and decode occult messages in their coursebooks (which is my preferred teaching
method), I am not the one to stand in their way.
Especially not in West Africa where, before important football games, armed guards are deployed
to prevent the voodoo-enslaved members of opposing teams pissing on each others' goalposts to
effect a magical exclusion of the ball during the upcoming tense occasion. It has been known for
the opposing 'keepers (in full view of the catcalling spectators) to piss on the goalposts they've
had charge of before the change of ends at halftime in the hope that this will keep the ball out too
- England goalkeeper Ben Foster (1983 -) please take note. I've tried it with the classroom door
and can claim some success. Students are ofttimes seemingly reluctant to enter in through the
piss-soaked timbers. Moreover, although the occult is a dangerous thing to dabble in, I can
vouchsafe that students will miraculously be turned away when they see the teacher pissing onto
his shoes at Knowledge's portico.
In Oman prayer time is now largely ignored by higher education. When I was there the
educational establishments were busily turfing out the redundancies of Islamic teaching. Many of
the old codgers who'd been making hay - while the sun shone on their paid capacity for being
able to find something in the Suras to cavil about - were being bottled out and told to work it for
a living. Noone who's read it would dispute that the Koran is a good book in the same way that
the bibble is; but to employ people to harp on about it for generations should smack a little of
overkill to any sane person. I've read both, and it's enough. I'm not likely ever to have any
camels, tents, date palms, tabernacles, fiery talking bushes (unless it's George or George Jr.) to
worry about, or problems with myself associated with losing a fish by the Red Sea,
parthenogenesis, or Roman spears in my vitals.
The Koran is a much smaller book than the Bible, written in verses, that is, reasonably digestible
chunks or Suras, and so there's much less to comprehend; which probably explains some of its
initial populist appeal. Like having The Golden Treasury of Nursery Rhymes as opposed to James
Joyce's (1882-1941) Ulysees (1922) to study at University. I've never met an average Muslim Joe
who has a clue what I'm talking about when I ask about 'The Cave' Sura and the journey of
Moses, Joshua and Khidr to the Red Sea. Here, however, in the Middle East, illiterate murderers
get an early release for learning the Koran by heart. Perhaps that's why you see so many people
shopping? Hell's teeth! There're kindergartens, primary, secondary, and tertiary levels to studying
the Koran. If someone is convicted of murder here it's straight in - and straight out - of prison. I,
personally, am only able to recite chapter and verse from what we call the Traci Lords' (1968-)
prayer from the 1987 video release Traci, I Love You - 'Slubglub!'