I have been traveling in The Sultanate of Oman for almost ten days, and the only words I can remember in Arabic are A SALAAMU ALAIKUM, and SHUKRUN, and even then, I butcher the pronunciation. PEACE BE WITH YOU is the common greeting of the day, whether it is morning, afternoon or evening. SHUKRUN means thank you, and although many Omanis say the word "thank you" in English, they really appreciate an attempt by foreigners to speak their language. My ear is not accustomed to the guttural Arabic sounds. When our driver referred to the village of Bahla, I was sure I heard the letter T and not the letter B. And the throaty sounds are impossible to duplicate, no matter how hard I try. If a word begins with a KH as in Khasab, one of the villages we visited in Musandam, the K is silent, so the name of the town is pronounced HASAB. Also the number 5, which is spelled Khamsa, is pronounced hamsa. The only word I recognize in Arabic script is the brand name of the bottled water I've been drinking every day. I have no idea what the brand name is, but I now recognize the script.
At the same time, our guide, Kamil, also struggles with the English language. While his pronunciation is reasonably easy to understand, the circuitous nature of his sentence structure can be a challenge to follow. In our language, we might call it digression, but Kamil eventually comes back to the starting point without any prompting from us.
Much of our time, since leaving the capital city of Muscat, has been enjoying the extraordinary scenery of the multi-color Hajjar Mountains, the verdant green wadis, and visiting a few of the 500 ancient forts scattered throughout the country. The Omani forts played a major role in the history of Oman. And the restored castles, like The Jabreen (also spelled Jabrin, Jibreen, Gabrin, Gabreen), which dates back to the 17th century, are magnificent too.
For thrills we experienced a downpour in the WADI BANI KHALID, drove through a sandstorm on our way to spend the night at our Nomadic Desert Camp, slept in an authentic Bedouin hut, and talked to a Dhow builder, who was part of the 2005 Smithsonian exhibit on Oman, which was the motivation for our visit here.
At the Women's Market In the Bedouin town of Ibra, I was surprised to hear a female voice call out to me. The woman was selling a few cheap trinkets, plastic bags of safety pins, scented bar soap and Head and Shoulders shampoo in her tiny stall. "I learned to speak English in college where I received my degree in human resources," she said. "Until I find a job with a big company, I'm trying to make a little money for my family since my father is retired, and I have five younger brothers and sisters." She said she was 26 years old and had no plans to marry until her career was underway. Her English was excellent, and she even used the word "differentiation" when she answered my question about parity in salaries between a man and a women who are both in HR. She assured me she would be just as competitive, and that her salary would be the same as a man's. I wanted to take her photo but like most of the women in Oman, she declined. I gave her my BIKER CHICK website, and asked her to send me an email.
Some times it is easier to ask personal questions of our drivers when there are only three of us riding in one of the Toyota 4X4s. I made a huge faux pas when I asked a younger unmarried driver if he had a girlfriend. I was quickly informed that single Omani men and women do not date. When a man feels he is ready for marriage, he keeps an eye out for a woman whom he likes the looks of. She might be the daughter of a family friend, or someone with whom he has a family or friend connection. For example, our guide, Kamil, saw a woman in his friend's office. He told his friend he wanted to meet the woman's family, which he did, and the marriage was arranged. When I asked one of our older married drivers about birth control, he quickly answered "No, No, No," but then he mentioned that "if a woman uses birth control, she is giving her husband permission to find a second wife."
One man I met told me that Muslims never drink alcohol. The next day another Muslim man told me how much he loved Heineken beer. Not everything is the way it appears.
Tomorrow we begin our drive up the Western Hajjar Mountains and Jebel Sham, the highest peak in Oman at 3000 meters. Our lodging will be at The View Camp, so if the scenery is anything like the photographs we've seen, the views should be spectacular.
The Adventure continues.