From a Mud Hut to a Mansion in Oman

Abdullah Al Shukely shows Steve Hartman his old home, in Oman.

In "Everybody Has a Story," every two weeks someone threw a dart at a map of America. CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman then went wherever it stuck, flipped through the local phone book, and picked a name at random. He then did a story on someone at that house.

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When CBS News and NASA launched this unprecedented project,our theory was that earthlings are earthlings - and that no matter where astronaut Jeff Williams sent me - I'd find someone who shares our basic American values.

Although honestly, we never planned on this.

The country: Oman. The city: Muscat. It's in the Middle East right next to Yemen on the Arabian Sea. The official faith: Islam. The official language: Arabic.

My dad, especially, was really worried about how I would be greeted in this country.

Fortunately, Dad, not only was I greeted with a warm smile - I was greeted with a warm plate.

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Abdullah al Shukely is a father of 10 and grandfather of three. He retired just a few months ago at the age of 60 - and is now looking forward to helping his children achieve the same level of success that he had.

But I'm already getting way ahead of myself - his story actually begins long ago and far away. To get there you've have to drive two hours outside town - to the first rock on the left - where Abdullah grew up.

Mud walls, dirt poor. Abdullah never spent a day in school, never had a dinar to his name. He's come a long way in 60 years.

Abdullah made his money in oil although not at all in the way you might expect.

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In 1971 - at the age of 21 - Abdullah was one of the first 5 locals hired by the French oil exploration company Shlumberger. The men worked as grunts, basically, with no real hope for advancement.

By 1972 Abdullah was so frustrated he organized the country's first ever labor strike. It lasted two weeks, and it worked. It opened the door for Omanis looking to better themselves. And Abdullah al Shukely was one of the first to charge on through.

Even though he had almost no formal education, in the end, Abdullah was teaching engineering graduates how to find oil. He's proud of that - but like any parent who started with nothing - he's worried that now his kids have it too easy.

"They have nothing to compare," Abdullah said. "All they know is good life."

Which brings us back to where this whole story started - Abdullah still owns the old, mud hut - and says he wouldn't sell it for all the oil in Oman.

"I want the house to stay like this," he said.

Perspective - it's the one the hardest things to pass on to your children. But Abdullah says if you repeat those old stories often enough, you can come pretty close to imprinting it on their DNA.

Thus ensuring prosperity for generations to come.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.