A Mountain Village (II)

by garrycraigpowell

Here is the Jebel Al Akhdar again–the Green Mountain in Oman, which rises to about 10, 000 feet. This village is not far from the summit. It seems incredible that anyone could eke out a living in such a harsh environment, but there are fertile patches in the valleys, and goats can survive almost anywhere. Nowadays the villagers have electricity; that means they watch television, and no doubt have access to the internet too. I’ve been feeling a certain amount of envy for the natural way of life that people in places like this lead. I know there’s a danger of sentimentalizing simpler ways of life, and of course I’m aware that rural dwellers in all countries often lead hard lives and have poor access to health care. Still, they wake every morning to silence–what a blessing that is!–and breathe fresh air, and are intimately connected to nature. Most city dwellers nowadays spend most of their lives looking at screens–you look at one when you’re working, then go home and look at more (computer, TV, smartphone) for fun. We think we’re connected, but are we? How often do we have real conversations, deep, meaningful ones, with the people we live with? In places like this, people still eat together and talk, in a leisurely way, for hours and hours. If a friend of neighbour turns up at your house, you greet him or her and invite them in.

Of course you’ve heard all this before. It just struck me, at the beginning of the year, that we might draw inspiration from people who still use their feet to get about, for whom family and friends are still very important, and who eat food they have produced, or that has been produced locally. And by the way, these people don’t carry guns, concealed or otherwise, either. There’s no need.

When you live in America, as I do, it’s hard to imagine living without fear–and yet people here tend to believe they are free. How free can you be, I wonder, if you need a gun to feel safe? How free are you if all the property is private and you can’t go for a walk in the country unless you’re on your own land or in a state or national park? How free are you if you’re forced to spend most of your life looking at screens, if the world is literally mediated for you through the media, if you have to drive everywhere? Isn’t this a foolish way to live?

I’m not romanticizing Arab countries. Anyone who has read Stoning the Devil knows that I write about the dark side of human nature there too–probably to excess, in fact. I don’t avert my eyes from the oppression of women in Arab societies (and indeed in all patriarchal societies, including our own). All the same, I think that Arabs, like Latins, have developed a more civil, more humane, more natural way of life than the Anglo-Saxons, whose focus is so intensely on work, money, material goods–Mammon is our god, whether we acknowledge him or not.

I hope that this year will bring more of us to appreciate simplicity and spirituality, to abandon violence as a way of solving conflict, both domestically and internationally–there is no excuse for the continued US drone attacks on civilian populations in Yemen and Pakistan, for example–and to deal with all our fellow human beings with respect, and if possible, with love.