Muscat is a much larger city than Salalah, but without the shiny skyscrapers of other gulf cities. It sprawls for a long distance between the mountains and the Sea of Oman.
I was told there are limitations on number of stories allowed in new buildings, keeping the scale and appearance uniform. Oman is a sultantate, governed for the last 42 years by Sultan Qaboos, who is generally liked by the people. All citizens receive free health care, as well as free education through college. There is no income tax. Both oil reserves and a strategic location for shipping ports provide the economic basis for the population of slightly over 3 million.
Images of Sultan Qaboos are everywhere – here, in the hotel lobby.
In Muscat, I was scheduled to present a performance in a large mall, which I presented bilingually, as a number of English speaking Indian families were present.
Some surprising available choices and interpretations of western culture in the mall:
I am so happy to have been put in touch with Omani puppeteer Azza Al Badi. She has had puppetry training from a touring puppeteer from Jordan, and has a volunteer troupe who present shows to adolescents and adults on social issues that the government may not address, such as HIV/AIDS awareness. The Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER) is a groundbreaking and comprehensive youth-to-youth initiative. We met for an evening in their rehearsal space for a short performance, an improv session, and discussion circle. Azza envisions placing puppetry centers all over the country, with educational teams for community outreach. I greatly admire her work and look forward to keeping in touch.
I also presented a show and played with the puppets in the children’s wing of a large hospital.
A traditional Omani meal at a restaurant. Each family is seated on the floor in their own private room. The delicious food is traditionally eaten with the fingers. The red dish is a curry, not spicy at all, and the meat is soaked in spices, then slow roasted – both served with rice.
Part of the extensive seafood display in a market.
My generous host from the embassy, Sami Al Kharusi, went out of his way to show me around, and to explain many aspects of the Omani culture.
Three teacher workshops at the embassy (one was added due to demand). I love doing the teacher workshops. The teachers have so much fun creating stories and puppets together. And they always surprise themselves in the variety of finished presentations. These teachers were very full of ideas in how they could use the process in their classes. Most were English teachers. It is not permitted to display photographs of women’s faces, hence the camera angles.
My last evening in Muscat, I took a taxi to Mutrah Souq, the old traditional labyrinthine market, selling traditional Omani clothing, Indian silks, Turkish pottery, frankincense from Salalah, and many other items from various countries.
A beach in Muscat, on the Arabian Sea – frequented by some swimmers, and lots of soccer players.
So, my overall impression of Oman is that of a very peaceful and fascinating country. Majority Muslim, the country does not have the turmoil of other countries in the region. The population is diverse, including people of east African roots. Swahili and various other languages are spoken, besides Arabic. Ordinary citizens do not have guns. Crimes such as burglary or murder are rare. I was told it was no problem for me to walk alone in the city, just advised to be in by 11:00p.m. There is a wealth of natural beauty. And the people are open and friendly. I still do not understand the Muslim cultural division between men and women. However, if I needed directions while walking, it was easy to recognize and ask directions of Indians, who, from my experience, do not have that cultural separation, and also, are very likely to speak English. I would gladly return to Oman, to learn more!
My huge plane to come home – double decker! Must have carried near 1,000 people!