On Oman

Continuing the discussion from Sword-wielding robber finds that store clerk also has sword:

I thought maybe I was getting too far off-topic. @ActionAbe might also be interested, but I’m not sure who else…

It was! I only got to see Muscat, though. It reminded me of the southern or central California coast, but with very little vegetation. The city (really, a string of villages or suburbs along the coast) is hemmed in by the sea on one side, and mountains on the other. Muscat “proper”, the old walled capital, is actually quite small.

Here’s Mutrah, which is the old port area and the site of a busy souq:

I came back from the souq with at least a kilo of frankincense and a few jars of bukhoor (incense made from wood shavings, soaked in fragrant oil). I haven’t been able to find bukhoor like that anywhere else (as it seems to also refer to something resembling brown sugar).

This is southern Al-Khuwair, the neighborhood where I stayed:

Most of what I saw in the city (the buildings, roads etc.) was less than 40 years old, and most of that was probably less than 20 years old. But the majority of the buildings are built in a traditional style, with a certain coat of paint (see above). But again, I was there in 2012 and I wonder how the city’s grown since.

I think women may be legally minors in Oman, but it was nothing like what I’ve read about in, for example, Saudi Arabia. I saw women driving, and they seemed well-represented in at least the government workforce (if not in, say, retail, but that seemed to be mostly staffed by expatriates, anyway). The local women wear a hijab; local men wear dishdashas (except for police or military uniforms, etc.). (I could not help but notice that younger women’s hijabs were rather form-fitting.) I had the impression that the hijab/dishdasha may, in part, serve to distinguish local Omanis from the larger expatriate population. Expatriate men and women wear whatever they’d normally wear (other than, for example, a bathing suit while running a non-swimming-related errand).

Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos, is essentially an autocrat (there’s a bicameral legislature, the majlis, but I think they mainly serve an advisory function), but my impression is that he’s rather benevolent, as dictators go.

The local Omanis seem incredibly laid back, and Muscat is very quiet, as far as cities go (honking the horn, except in an emergency, is an infraction).

I only found one restaurant that actually served Omani food; apparently when Omanis go out to eat they want something different than what they would eat at home, so there are are lot of Levantine (hummus, shawarma etc.) and Indian restaurants. It was hard to get a cup of coffee; a tall cup at Starbuck’s was “1.50” but 1.50 in Omani Riyals is about US$5.00. We were usually offered instant coffee, called “Nescafe” (whether it’s actual Nescafe or not).

We had a meeting with a guy from the UK who had been there working for PDO (state oil company) since the early 70s. At the time, he and his family were issued a rifle(?) (carbine?) for when they had to drive outside of Muscat (I guess during the Dhofar Rebellion). He was also there when Ruwi, now the commercial district, used to be the site of Muscat’s airport.


Posts like this are why I keep coming back. Thanks!


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