The arrival board at Muscat Airport reports that the Biman Airlines flight arrived at 00:45 from Dhaka, Bangladesh. “Bags are on the belt,” displays the automated sign board. Then it changes to “Bags are delivered.” I tell Gary Brown that I am going to get a espresso shot at Café Nero. It shouldn’t be too long now.
Now it’s been an hour long wait. There’s no sign of the group of eight students coming from Notre Dame University Bangladesh Students and their professor, Father Patrick Gaffney. I start to wonder what could have gone wrong. I call Father Patrick’s cell. No connection. Good. It means they at least managed to board the plane in Dhaka. What’s the hold up?
It’s been an hour and half. There’s still no sign of the group from Notre Dame University Bangladesh. Something must be wrong. I am starting to worry. Visa problems? Lost baggage? Corona Virus? There’s a steady stream of Bangladeshis – all men coming for employment opportunities. They join the more than 600,000 Bangladeshi already working in Oman.
Now, I am worried. Something is wrong for sure. Gary stays. I go to seek anyone who might have any information in the wee hours of the morning.
Gary calls me. The group is here.
They look tired but excited. They act as if nothing was wrong. I ask no questions.
The next day, Fr. Gaffney tells me what happened. Upon entering Oman, disembarking passengers were required to complete a form stating from where they had traveled, their destination and contact in Oman, and their current state of health. The form was in Arabic and English. A migrant laborer had requested assistance from a student. Then another and another asked the students for help. There was no way the students could refuse. “We had to do it,” says Fr. Gaffney. The Notre Dame students remained until they had filled out the forms for everyone on their flight from Bangladesh.
For Christians and many other religious persons, love of God and Neighbor is not an optional choice but an imperative. Love of God and Neighbor are not two different loves but one and the same. In times of danger, we must choose the imperative.
The eight Muslims students from Notre Dame University Bangladesh had come to the Al Amana Centre to meet with eight Christian students from University of Notre Dame in Indiana. They had gathered virtually as part of a joint course, entitled “Holy Crossroads: Religion and Politics from South Bend to Bangladesh.” Now, they met together in Oman during spring break.
During the week they were in Oman, the Corona Virus struck with full force. Facing the closures of their universities, both American and Bangladeshi were both concerned about getting home. Oman went into lockdown the very day the group had departed Oman in the early morning hours. The evening before, I watched the students embrace and hug each other as they said words of farewell and thanks. Now the physical distance separates them again, but they continue to connect through a WhatsApp group, sharing concerns, jokes, and photos.
The Al Amana Centre is nearly deserted now. I go almost daily to the Centre alone for a couple hours, just to get out of my families hair. I poke around in the closets and the back shed, cleaning out the junk and looking for treasures from the American Mission’s past.
My forays have turned up an old slide projector and a half-dozen boxes of slides from the 1970’s. This will keep me occupied for a couple hours. I also found a copy of Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’ll read it as soon as I finished The Kite Runner that Fr. Gaffney left me. I should have plenty of time to read in the days ahead.
I hold the words of our dear friend Naima close to my heart. Since the Islamic Information Center at the Grand Mosque where she volunteers was closed she came to meet the Notre Dame students at Al Amana Centre. “Corona is only a creature. Fear the Creator.” The Creator’s only command: Love. I hold fear and love together in these days.
Peace in our time,
PS: If anyone knows where to get Camus’ The Plague as a free ebook, please send me the link.
Written by Rev. Jeffrey Bos, Al Amana Centre