It’s tempting to write about how Oman is similar to and different from other countries in the region and try to address the concerns people have expressed about gender issues and religion and monarchies and extremism and and and and…
I’m giving up on it for the moment. As I mentioned previously, we visited Muscat in February. It was interesting and pleasant, so I’ll just start there.
The arrivals hall at the airport was full of men in traditional Omani dishdashas, which look very elegant in person. It was overwhelming to see everyone wearing a garment I’d only seen in photographs of foreign dignitaries, but I kept telling myself that clothes are clothes and that I was the visitor there, and I got over it pretty quickly. There weren’t many women at the airport, and though this is probably characteristic of the men-in-public-sphere/women-in-private-sphere part of the culture, it wasn’t nearly as noticeable elsewhere. For the sake of parity in my description of the clothes, the women around town were wearing a wide range of outfits. The most common style was the full hijab in a heavy black material, though it’s hard to say how heavy it is without having handled it. There were plenty of more colorful and less covering versions of the hijab, and there were plenty of women in Western clothes as well. I was wearing jeans and short-sleeved shirts and my head was uncovered, and no one gave me a second glance.
I’ll skip the administrative snafus that characterized our (lack of) ride from the airport and various (unconfirmed) appointments except to say that shit be disorganized and apparently no one is really accountable for anything. I was too jet lagged and culture-shocked to be upset about any of it, and mostly I’m glad to know how things go so I can be prepared to not stamp my foot like a spoiled American brat, which is sometimes my first impulse. I get the sense that well-timed gifts might be more effective. Kidding! (ahem)
On our first morning, we were taken around town to look at the types of houses, scattered around Muscat, that the company provides employees. KC took this photo from one of the more scenic rooftop terraces. You can see the Gulf of Oman in the distance.
And this is me facing the mountains in the opposite direction. As you can see, all the buildings are painted white.
I’m guessing from my posture that it was windy and chilly up there, but I expect the weather to be unspeakably sweltering when we finally move.
So that’s more or less what Muscat looks like. I had been optimistic about finding a somewhat walkable neighborhood, especially because I’m accustomed to walking a lot in car-culture places, which makes my threshold for walkability pretty low. (See: Houston) But after seeing the city, I’m resigned to driving everywhere. Not to be too dramatic, but I’m glad I got the chance to prepare emotionally. I’m over it already.
After lots of meetings and one very short nap and some ill-advised cocktails, we walked along the seawall to the far end of the main drag and back. KC said it was similar to the corniche in Abu Dhabi that skirts the Persian Gulf. And we found a good shawarma shop, so he was satisfied that two of his fond memories (the corniche and shawarma) from childhood can be relived in Muscat.
More later, perhaps.