Maher al Barwani, a self-styled, lone expeditionist, who had set out on a motorbike expedition around Africa over three years ago, taking a message of brotherhood from Oman along with him, has been stuck in Oman ever since the COVID-19 pandemic took the globe in its sway six months ago. Apart from the misfortune of being stopped short in his tracks, Barwani looks at it as a blessing in disguise because he got an opportunity to spend quality time with his family (wife and two little daughters), something that he had missed out greatly during the past three years. The joy of reconnecting with them, he says, is immeasurable, though the prospect of setting out again looms large over his horizon.
Barwani, who had initially decided to ride around world and visited some countries in Asia and Europe, in 2017 took up visiting different countries in Africa. He last arrived from Cape Town in South Africa and hopes to continue his journey from thereon as soon as the situation get better. However, he is resigned to the fact that nothing might seem conducive until sometime in 2021 and so is currently using his extra time on hand to plan his onward journey as well as reflect on his past experiences. This includes documenting his travels and travails.
“This year, I was lucky to spend Eid with my family in Oman. We had a celebration but it was nothing like what we always do with traditional fanfare. Our celebration was restricted to my own family and with my mother and sisters. We avoided visiting or inviting cousins and other relative because it is not the right thing to do with the virus very much present in Oman,” Barwani said, adding that he and his family have been taking all necessary precautions to staf safe at home.
“For me, it was easy to adopt all the new precautions since I have been following most of it on my journey. I wear a special mask, use sanitisers and avoid food and water in public places, especially during my visits in Africa as one doesn’t know what disease can suddenly fall upon oneself,” he said, however, adding that henceforth he would also have to keep safe distance from people, avoiding greeting and hugging as well as stay away from crowds and gatherings which was a favourite activity on his trips.
Barwani who has been doing his bit to popularise Oman among people in foreign countries by sharing tales and experiences with them as well as acquainting people with the culture and heritage of Oman, believes that people are friendly and hospitable all over the world. The fact that he would have to take greater care on his future trips does bother him because he has been fond of interacting with strangers and accepting their hospitality, something that would be risky hereon.
“My advice to everyone now is to protect yourselves by wearing masks/gloves, staying away from crowds, following all guidelines of the government, as well as reading/viewing on the internet and YouTube about what is happening around the world to stay protected,” Barwani said adding that he has also been briefing his own family almost everyday so that they stay safe whenever he is away on his trips.
Not sure when exactly he will resume his journey, Barwani, who is also looking out for a sponsor to fund his trip, feels that things might straighten out the world over only next year and that he would have to wait till then to carry on with his new plans. Till then, he has gone back to his old profession as a driving instructor to keep his kitchen fires glowing. Business is not so good right now, but he expects things will get better soon, once all restrictions are lifted.
“The time of coronavirus and the lockdowns has been very good for me as I got more time to spend with my family. I think, it was also the same with many people who usually spend their time outdoors with friends,” he said, adding, “The lockdown in Oman, especially during the time of Eid, was a good experience as all people were forced to stay indoors with their families; it also helped in reducing the number of infections.”