When the world starts spinning in a different direction, there’s nothing like a complete change of surroundings (and sandy shores and room service) to help put things in perspective. Just a few days after the bottom fell out of our moving plans we were able to drop everything and run off to the Middle East for our long-delayed honeymoon in Oman, a country that is about as different from the normal everyday as I’ve managed to get. I never would have imagined that I would honeymoon in the desert. Given that I don’t like the heat, I’m amazed at how often I actually find myself in the desert and how meaningful those experiences have been. In this case it made perfect sense to punctuate the story of our relationship with a honeymoon in the desert. That’s where it all started after all.
On Halloween we flew to Abu Dhabi and drove from there to Muscat, the Omani capital, where we spent the next week at the Barr Al Jissah Resort (funnily enough this is part of the Shangri-La chain, the same chain we stayed at in China, bit nicer though).
It’s hard to find the right things to say about Oman.
Oman is made up of desert, rock and more rock. It’s breathtaking rock though, beautiful undulating waves of rock that turn purple-y orange in the evening. Stark and harshly gorgeous in its way. With some oil and some natural gas, the country isn’t overly rich. It’s not enough to spawn an enormously wealthy upper class that imports guest workers from poorer neighbors to occupy the lower levels of the work force. The resources they do have are enough to bankroll the establishment of a modern infrastructure, educational and health care system and get the Omani into the high-end tourist market.
So what you get is what on the surface looks to be a culture just emerging out of the Arabian nights, when in fact on that flying carpet they also have WiFi.
The Omani still work normal jobs. If you get in a cab, it’s most likely driven by an Omani. You walk into a hotel, the manager is Omani. In Abu Dhabi you’d be hard pressed to find a native working in any position other than top management. The workers in ‘normal’ jobs are mostly from Pakistan or India. Here you’re in constant contact with the people to whom the country belongs. They’re very proud their country and are pleased that you’re there to visit. People went out of their way to be friendly and hospitable, even in situations where I expected the opposite. It is a Muslim country, but relaxed. They’re self-aware and secure, other cultures and religions don’t seem to be a threat.
The younger generation is very well educated. Everyone we encountered spoke English. Many had spent at least a year abroad, paid for by their sultan.
I’ve had this post sitting on my desktop for ages. Ive kept deleting and editing it because nothing I said seemed to do it justice. I deleted bits about American issues with the Middle East as a vacation spot (of which there seem to be many) and my own issues about the Middle East in the media (lots there too). Both had an initial effect on my perception of Oman as a spot for our honeymoon, but in the end none of it meant anything at all. The country surpassed my expectations and took me – jaded as I am – totally by surprise.
I can’t wait to go back someday. (Keep in mind – I love/hate the desert.)
This summed up the strange yet wonderful feeling of the place: when shown the sultan’s palace, Oliver asked if he really lived there now. The local guy answered after a moment of thought, “well, yes, but only until Monday. Then he’s taking a drive up the coast.”
I have no idea where Bush is on Monday. So close is the relationship between leader and people there.
Clicking on the image below will take you to the Flickr set.