Near the commercial harbor in Muscat is a bazaar with all kinds of shopping, restaurants and a great way to observe local Omanis in their native enviornment. During my visit to the Bazaar I saw quite a few European and North American travelers who had disembarked a cruise ship for a day visit but aside from them, it was all Omani people. Overlooking the bazaar is one of the 16th Century Portugues forts like the one that Ihad visited earlier - looking up at it I could see why the Portuguese occupiers of this city placed it here – it commanded a view of the harbor and city and could provide a watchful eye on the subjects here. I looked left and right to each of the other hills in view and each of them had a fortress as well.
The bazaar was a jumble of buildings in close proximity with other vendors set up between them and on the nearby sidewalks and between the alleyways. In the photo below some men sell fruit, nuts and dates on the sidewalk leading from the bazaar to one of the side streets. I saw all sorts of things for sale from clothing and food to internet and cellular phone services. As I walked around I felt like I had stepped back in a time machine – the way the people are dressed here has probably not changed in a thousand years. Unlike Dubai, I saw few wearing western clothing save for the German and Australian tourists from the cruise ship. As I walked around I was greeted with smiles and comments of “hello,” and I was always impressed with the friendliness of the Omani people.
I walked past one group of men who were standing around talking and drinking Chai Tea and one of them asked me where I was from. After I told him that I was from the United States he translated this to his friends and soon they were all asking him to translate for us. They had many questions for me, “Why was I in Oman,” How long was I traveling for” and “How did I like the country?” They showed great hospitality and insisted that I join them for a cup of tea (and later a second and then a third). They told me about their families and their work – it seems that they were all in the import export business and they received goods in from Asia and facilitated their transit into the Middle East; Muscat has a fair amount of sea-borne commerce.
The one man with the white hat and black diamonds (to my left in the photo) seemed to be the charismatic leader of this group of friends. He cracked a lot of jokes and talked at a rapid and animated rate. He wanted to make a joke out of everything and had all of his friends laughing and laughing. I spent quite a while with this group enjoying their company and learning a bit about the Omanis; aside from their dress, they seemed no different from people from any country in the world. I can’t help but think how someone in a western country might draw a conclusion about these men based on their dress but I found them similar to my friends back at home. Actually, they are probably a lot more friendly than most Americans.
After a while a latecomer to this group of friends arrived. It was explained to me that this little old man (blue hat, photo below) was a bit senile and they all sort of “watched out” for him. He seemed a little agitated at my presence and asked what I was doing there and my interpreter told him that I had been voted a member of the group and that he had better get used to being in my company. All of the guys roared with laughter and this seemed to agitate him some more. He told me that I was not welcome to join the group and that group and that I should leave. My interpreter had a big grin and – as he told me that the other man wanted me to leave – he then added, “Oh, he hates cameras, take his photo and watch what happens.” I resisted and all of the guys egged me on, they all chimed in Arabic and my interpreter spoke quickly in English telling me that everyone wanted me to do it.
I pulled my camera out of my pocket and the senile man began shouting and as soon as I took this photo, he leaped off of his seat and began chasing me around the bazaar. Not only the men in my group, but the entire bazaar howled with laughter. It seems that everyone knows this guy and they all thought it was the funniest thing they had seen in some time. My “new” friends held him back from getting to close and but he was furious and his face turned bright red.
After he calmed down the rest of the guys were all slapping me on the back and thanking me for giving them a good laugh. They insisted that the senile man drink a cup of Chai with me to show that there were no hard feelings and he agreed but then added that I’d better not take my camera out again.
After a while I parted company with my new friends and went in search of an internet café. I wanted to check in with friends and family and send a “hello” email. As I was looking for a net café I saw this dress shop and was immediately taken by the wide variety of colors and patterns – LOL. I took this photo and (later) emailed it to friends and family and of all the photos I took on this trip, this photo received the greatest number of comments from the women – I guess they were quite astounded with the limited dress selection. As I walked around in Oman I didn’t see women wearing any color other than black and while they did dress like the Saudis, I couldn’t help but notice that their attitudes towards foreigners was quite different. I really enjoyed the Omanis and despite the very conservative society they seemed very friendly and open to outsiders.
As the sun set I found a fabulous restaurant and had a wonderful dinner of lamb kebabs and hummus and bread (my favorite Arabic dish). In the next table there were sitting 6 college students and they inquired as to where I came from and (again) I was in another conversation with more of the locals. Of all the countries I’ve visited in the world, Oman was one of the easiest to meet the locals and to get to know them. These young men were studying everything from Law to Economics and Engineering. They were all quite interested in America and asked about what it was like to live there. They were all football (soccer, not American) enthusiasts and asked me if I had a favorite team (of course, Manchester United!). We chatted for a while and they ordered some sheesha tobacco and began smoking. If found the smell of the pipes to be quite pungent and smelled like burning fruit and tobacco (I learned later that this is exactly what it is). After dinner they all posed for a photo for me and wished me happy travels as we parted ways.
With each encounter I have with Omani people I am reminded again and again how friendly they are. Should you ever have a chance to visit, I’d recommend it with a big thumbs up – it is a wonderful country with interesting people.
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