On one of the burning hot summer days, my youngest brother stepped on a thorn. The thorn was brown, woody and sharp. My poor little brother couldn’t walk for more than a week. As usual, women visited my brother and poured their various experiences or I could say superstitions on my mother’s head. My mother tried a number of traditional treatments; she blended green leaves of *shakher with salt but it did not work and she also put the white liquid of figs’ leaves on my brother’s foot, but his foot turned in red so it was useless too. Those traditional treatments obviously represented the women’s knowledge, skills, and practices based on various theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to the Omani culture, used to maintain health. There are various types of such traditional treatments in Oman and *al-wasem is one of them. In the past, when someone got sick, the family would ask for the person who knew how to use al-wasem to come and see the patient. The person would bring an iron rod about the size of a pencil which was heated until red and then it’s pressed into the flesh for 2-3 seconds at the appropriate place to treat the patient’s diseases.
“Nothing, has worked on this stubborn thorn,” said my mother with tearful eyes.
We wereall helpless and stared at each other, thinking of a way to help my brother. An idea came to my mind and I said it quickly to my mother:
“Mom, why don’t we cut his foot with a knife and get out the thorn?”
“Do you want to murder your brother?” My mother opened her mouth weirdly, “get away from here.” She stared angrily at me and her eyes were red. A shudder went through my whole body. I did not have any intention to kill my brother. I ran away to the garden thinking that she had spoken from a broken heart not meaning what she said.
I climbed a palm tree until I reached the top. I was not afraid at all. It was fun to be up high, I could see what our neighbors were doing. The wind came and played with me. She danced in zigzag movements. The palm tree waved to the wind and moved its hands left and right. I could hide there forever, no matter of the weather. I remembered exactly when my grandmother advised my cousin, who was not good in his studies, to drink the urine of frogs in order to be smarter and how we went looking for one, but thanks to God we did not find one. And how she warned us from killing spiders or destroying their nests because she believed it could cause poverty. Also, when my brother was born, my mother slaughtered a cock and took its blood and spread it all around the house. Our house was new but it looked dirty as if a storm of mud had splotched it. These superstitions drive me to craziness. It was amazing how old women had these thoughts.
“Where did she go? Sara! My mother wants you. Where are you?” My sister yelled loudly.
Oh! What should I do now? Paranoia prisoned my heart. My heart was pounding fast. I was nervous. Was my mother going to spank me? Fears flew around my head like birds flying around a spring of water. I slid down using the palm-tree leaves to reach the ground fast. It was fun. When I entered the house, I found my mother sitting next to my brother. Her face was pale because she had not slept well. Black circles were around her eyes. When she saw me, a tiny smile appeared in her face, perhaps in relief.
In a hurry she said “Sara! Go and catch a frog.”
“A frog? But mom … you said__”
“Take an old knife and cut off the frog’s skin.”
In a hurry and without thinking, I ran out to the garden. I had to obey my mother because I did not want her to be angry at me again. I would catch the fattest frog in the garden in order to take off a big amount of its skin. My mother thought frogs’ skin had the ability to treat my brother’s foot. I was driven by curiosity to learn, was frogs’ skin useful in treating some diseases? Some scientists interested in frogs, have apparently found proteins in their skin which can be used to treat diabetes and stroke, and help transplant patients by regulating the growth of blood vessels. I did not know that before, but my mother wanted to treat my brother’s foot and no-one had discovered if there was any possibility of getting a thorn out from foot using a frog skin.
Kamis – my second brother- came along with me. He admired my courage in not being afraid of frogs. We went together and we searched in different places.
“I’ve found one. I’ve found one.” He hopped about like a frog, yelling.
“It is thin. There is no skin on it. Let it go.”
Three hours passed and finally we found a lovely big frog. It was a toad. Toads are part of the frog families but fatter.Frogs and toads in general don’t migrate. They only hide themselves from the cold, dryness or heat. Some of them live in water while others prefer to live in humid places and hidden in holes in summer. And when rain comes, they hop out from their holes.
Asking Kamis to bring the old broken knife, I held the frog for ten minutes. He passed it to me and he asked me to slaughter it like men did to the bull at Eid. I was definitely not going to do that. I would just take off the skin and let her go in peace.
“Does this toad have babies?”
“No, they don’t. My father said that frogs come from the sky. They landed in our gardens in rainy days;” I explained “and then they hide in holes under the date palms.” This must be some superstition which I’d got from my father of frogs because they hid during summer and in rainy season they made a lot of noise. Many ancient cultures associated frogs with rain because of the noise they made when rain fell down. And the word fräg,frog“frog” in Hindi means cloud5. There are many other animals which have been associated with superstition like cats. People in Oman associated them with jinn and dark magic. They believe that a black cat with no shadow is a wizard or a witch. And if a black cat sat next to you while you were eating your dinner, you had to feed it because it might be a witch or a wizard not normal cats and if you did not feed it, it would eat you. Old women also believe that a snake was once an arrogant woman who had been punished by God who turned her into a snake that would creep forever.
My brother held the toad. He was very happy. I could not cut the frog skin easily because it was watery and humid. The skin was dark green with some black spots. When I started cutting the skin, a foul smell spread everywhere. It was not the smell of human blood because the frogs’ blood is different than ours. It contains nucleus which other mammals don not have. It smelt like green algae. The toad hopped away from us. We screamed and we caught her again. When I finished, I gave my brother the skin and he ran to my mother. I took the fat toad but it was not fat anymore. Half of its body had been taken. I put it on the ground and I felt sorry for committing a crime against the poor toad. It was alive but not naturally. She hopped while crooking “Gero, Gero” in her way. I think the toad was very angry and I did not blame her. We were cruel and selfish. My mother put the skin of the frog on my brother’s foot and tied it up with a rag. The day passed and the thorn remained in my brother foot.
At night when dinner was served and we all gathered around the plate. They put out some food on a separate small plate for me and that mean I had to eat alone. My sister looked disgusted at me and said, “How are you going to eat with your hands? You’ve touched a frog!”
“It is not my fault. My mother told me to do that.”
I took my plate and went out to eat alone, regretting for harming the innocent toad. I was wondering why I was different from my sisters who were afraid of frogs and insects. Even though frogs looked like small ugly elves, they were nicer than my sister. The next day, my brother was taken to a hospital and doctors operated him to remove the thorn. I woke up earlier that day thinking why I had to hurt the poor toad and after all they took my brother to the hospital. I ran out to the garden to see if the toad was still alive. I lay on the ground. I wept.
“Erogerog,” the toad said. I felt glad to see her alive. I wiped my tears swiftly with my hands. I sniffed happily to see her trying to live her life as normally possible. I promised never to touch nor hurt frogs again.
*shakher : a tree that grow in hot places
* al-wasem : burning with fire