The streets of Baniyas smelt of henna.
The scent wafted from the beauty parlours above Baniyas souq the night before Eid Al Fitr, where hundreds of women and girls were adorning themselves with henna in the hope and expectation Eid would begin a few hours later.
In the final hours of Ramadan, the spirit of Eid takes hold of the souq. It is the busiest night of the year for traditional markets.
Eid is a multi-day marathon of visits to family and friends, near and far. That is why, when others shopped for sweets and new kandoras, or readied themselves at the barbers, Naif Al Rashidi stood in the Baniyas souq looking at two sturdy canes.
“For my father,” he explained.
His father had reached an age where Eid can take a toll. For elders, only a visit in the flesh will suffice and the sunrise to sunset visits are as much a feat of physical endurance as social grace.
Naif’s seven-year-old son, Musallam, eyed storefront displays as they walked through the market before sunset. He would be back in a few days with eidiya, money given to children to mark the holiday. Musallam’s heart was set on a new scooter.
People rushed past the Rashidis to Abu Saroor, the Omani halwa maker. In the front room of the sweetshop, employees Abdulla and Talal passed heavy bowls of the sticky sweetmeat to customers who had wisely placed orders in advance.
In the back room, men stood over copper vats stirring a brew of rose water, cardamom and brown sugar.
“Without sweets, Eid isn’t sweet,” said Talal, an Omani from the coastal city of Sur. He expected sales of at least 300 kilograms on Monday alone.
Eid preparations are, by necessity, last minute. The haircut must be crisp, the henna fresh, the cardamom and coffee at its most fragrant.
But a question lingered over the souq. Eid begins when the new moon is seen by the moon-sighting committee, who gathered at the country’s highest summit atop Jebel Hafeet. But if no crescent is sighted, another day of fasting lies ahead. So on Monday evening, nobody knew whether or not the next day would be Eid.
Opinion at Al Firdous Salon was split.
“Eid will be tomorrow,” said one man.
“After tomorrow,” said another.
“It’s 50-50,” said a third.
Regardless, they prepared.
The men of Abu Saroor planned to work until 3am and were committed to work an extra day. “Praise be to God, if there’s money in it, I’ll be working,” said Talal.
In the henna salons above the souq, women sat on cushions in crowded parlours, arms and feet spread as henna artists moved between them. Two or three women attended each customer. If an outstretched limb was bare, a beautician would be there a few seconds later to decorate it with henna.
At streetlevel, Salem Al Baraiki collected the new kandoras he had ordered from Al Kashka Corner Gents Tailoring.
“There’s got to be new kandoras for these are the days of Eid,” he said.
His family had erected two tents outside a relative’s home, one for men and one for women. They would prepare a dinner of kabsa, a meat and rice dish flavoured with cardamom, cloves, saffron and black lime.
Mr Al Baraiki and his eight siblings host the “small” family gathering in turns. “Just the closest family,” he said. “Only two or three hundred.”
The sun descended, shoppers rushed home for iftar, shopkeepers locked their doors, the mosques filled and the streets emptied. It was a momentary stillness. Within an hour, the mayhem had returned. Women wandered the souq covered in wet henna paste, children carried heavy pots of Omani halwa on their heads and in their arms, fathers prayed for patience while looking for parking.
Then, at last, news came from Jebel Hafeet and celebrations became official: Eid had come.