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The Unexpected Side Of Oman

By Chelsey Komor on March 19, 2013 in Other

Photo: Chelsey Komor

“Your destination, though not the subject of warnings by either the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the US State Department, is near where Armageddon might begin” and “Modesty is a virtue” – these were two of the clues that ‘The Phantom’ (a.k.a. my dad) gave our family before embarking on the surprise holiday he had organised for us all. Little did we know that discovering our Middle Eastern destination would turn out to be the first of many surprises that our trip to Oman would offer…

Picnicking in the rain – A dream day out for Omanis is to sit on the beach – or even better, in a crowded, brightly lit car park at night – enjoying a picnic in the pouring rain.

A leader who actually gets things done – Omanis love and revere Sultan Qaboos bin Said who, since overthrowing his father in 1970, has set in motion a social renaissance. In just forty years Oman has moved from having just two (boys only) primary schools, two hospitals (the largest of which had twelve beds) and ten kilometers of paved road for the entire nation, to a state of considerable wealth and accomplishment, universal education for boys and girls, and roads that Sydneysiders can only dream of.

A benign dictator who listens, really – When questioned about whether they long for a democracy, the Omani’s we spoke to felt that their government listened to them and delivered promises far better than most Western democracies. In fact, the Sultan spends months each year ‘on tour’ in seriously remote parts of the country where he invites all people to come and speak to him one on one.

Bedouin folk songs and Celine Dion, over and over – Oman skillfully maintains a balance between old and new, which owes something to the people’s cautious approach to Western influence. Our guide Salim’s one CD (which was on repeat for 14 days straight) consisted of a mix of traditional Bedouin poetry, Celine Dion’s ‘Can’t Live Without You’ and Fergie.

Women don’t have it so bad – Ibadi Muslims, who make up roughly 80% of the population in Oman, represent a moderate approach to Islam. Women are able to drive, work and attend university and all religions are peacefully tolerated. It’s the husband’s role to provide money for the entire family. According to the Islamic Information Centre guide, women can just stay at home and “be a princess”. Technically any money that a woman earns is hers to keep and spend on herself. Omani men are permitted up to four wives but most men these days choose to have only one as more than one is seen as “too much trouble”, since men must treat all wives equally as dictated by the Quran.

Freedom within boundaries – Western women are not required to wear the hijab, except when entering mosques, although conservative dress is appropriate throughout the country. When we asked one Omani woman if she resented wearing the hijab she responded: “You think we are oppressed because we wear a little cloth around our face?”

Forget chocolate, have a date – The plethora of food and spices are a foodie’s dream and melt-in-your mouth dates are the treat of choice in Oman.

The government is here to help… seriously – Every so often the Sultan randomly cancels some Omanis’ loans on a lottery basis. Omani citizens are entitled to a 600-metre square residential plot of land (for free) and the government provides seriously nice houses to many citizens, but in terms of the location, some might call it expansive views, others “the middle of nowhere”.

Unexpected ‘wildlife’- Camels in Oman are as plentiful as kangaroos in Australia, but most have owners somewhere. Donkeys, on the other hand, are wild.

Oil and water do mix – The petrol price is about 30 cents per litre, everyone has a newish car, and revenue from oil pays for multiple desalination plants that supply the country’s water and allow for farming in extremely dry inland areas.

On a final note, the people of Oman were some of the most generous, calm, patient, articulate and kind folk that I have met in my travels. Men openly hug each other and are constantly joking and laughing together, and while women aren’t so visible, they seem friendly. I would certainly recommend a trip to Oman to those who would like to experience a progressive Islamic and Arabic culture. I’ll definitely go back – Inshallah!