nb:I am using the WordPress app to write this which is awful. Apologies to those who were sent a very rough draft. It should be updated now but please forgive the weird formatting going on.
Today is day 4 in Muscat and I am really enjoying it so far. Granted, I have been very spoiled by Chris’ friends who have brought us to all the most beautiful spots. We’ve used their membership for private pools and beaches, we’ve chartered a catamaran and snorkelled at a nature reserve and we’ve had drinks at one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. My life here is proving really difficult so far.
For example, I’m writing this at a Starbucks overlooking the sea. Let me show you the scene:
It’s not the most stunning photo, but you can get the gist of how hard I have had it.
Tonight – late late tonight, so late it is technically tomorrow by some accounts – we are driving out to watch sea turtles lay eggs on the beach by moonlight. Ok, as the moon is tiny right now we might have to actually bring torches, but moonlight sounds much more romantic.
The remainder of this week will be filled with visits to the mountains, a fort or two, perhaps a dip in a wadi (natural swimming pools) and a halloween event for the kiddies at the fanciest hotels in Muscat. See what I mean? It is hard not to fall in love with it a tiny bit.
My impressions thus far about Muscat (I can’t really generalise to Oman as a whole because I have only been in this small part) are:
- It is clean. Very clean. Immaculately clean. I don’t think I have been anywhere like this before. Just this morning, one of our lovely friends (and chauffeur for the week) was telling me that the dedication to cleanliness is so strong that you will get a fine for having a car that’s too dirty. And the garbage bins at their house are emptied twice A DAY. That’s clean.
It is remarkably relaxed. So laid back it’s horizontal, to steal a quote from a friend. Maybe it is because the heat promotes laziness (though it really has been a perfect temp the last few days, 30 C/90 F), but something about Muscat is just so relaxing. You might suggest that this impression comes from my totally decadent and leisurely lifestyle the last few days, and you might be right, but I think there is more to it than that. It seems to be much more cultural than environmental (if those two can ever really be separated). I suspect that the relaxed attitude might be a double-edged sword when I am actually living here. It’s great when you’re on holiday. It’s not so great when you’re trying to get something done quickly on your way to work. Still. I’m enjoying it now.
- It’s really modern and cosmopolitan. Much to my chagrin (but not my surprise), every chain that is everywhere else is here: McDonalds, Nandos, Costa, Starbucks, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Hardees (right? since when are they even in America any more?)….all that stuff. Sigh.
Also, in terms of language, Muscat is completely dual-lingual: everything is written in Arabic and English and everyone speaks English. That will change rapidly once we’re out of the city and head out into villages and things, but Muscat is remarkably accommodating with language. I am hoping to learn a bit of Arabic soon so I can converse a little, but it is nice to know that it is not an immediate and pressing necessity in order to avoid the hilarious but often awkward pidgin sign language conversations that I am used to when I travel.
On the flip side, Muscat is so metropolitan that it doesn’t actually feel that foreign really. I am occasionally reminded that I am in the Gulf when a group of men in dishdashas walk past or when a main thoroughfare is a shortcut through a gas station parking lot but that’s about it. I am really looking forward to getting out into the countryside, seeing villages, going to goat markets and eating local foods. I love that we will live in the city but we’ll be remarkably close to an entirely different world. It will feel like I am travelling every weekend and that’s what being an expat is all about. I can’t wait.
- It’s monochromatic (various degrees of tan and white) which I thought would make it feel quite dull, but it is actually really gorgeous. The buildings are lovely, and thanks to a desalinisation plant on the coast, Muscat is remarkably green. It’s a beautiful place.
- This is the Middle East. I believe that and simultaneously don’t even as I write that. It was really weird on the plane to see a flight path that cut right between Baghdad and Tehran. As a Westerner, even one who doesn’t like to interact with the news media much, I have been very influenced about what I should expect here. Granted, Oman is a different place from the parts of Middle East we are always hearing about (most people don’t have any idea where Oman is when I mention it usually), but I was expecting a lot of things to be here that aren’t here. Not for one second have I felt on edge, uneasy, uncomfortable, judged, eyed, threatened, or any of the other things that we are made to feel about the Middle East. It’s a really lovely place and the people have been incredibly warm and welcoming.
Certainly, many things will be different from being in London (I’ll refer you to the temperatures I mentioned above). I will have to get used to dressing conservatively and being more aware of my outfits – not all the time and not in all the places, but it is a new set of norms to be aware of. I will have to get used to far freer rules about driving, or just learn to close my eyes and hope for the best. I will have to dope myself up for the rides up insanely frightening mountain roads where people occasionally topple over the edge (sorry, Mom. I promise not to tell you until I’m back safe). I will have to acknowledge that there are some cultural things i am not keen on and learn to live next to them without judging or getting frustrated (although, let’s be honest, there are plenty of things I have to turn a blind eye to in Utah and London too).
But on the other hand there are so many things I will get to do here that I can’t do in any of my former homes: I will have to buy a 4×4 so we can spend our weekends driving on sand dunes and sleeping out under the stars. I will get to have a sock bonfire because I will officially be living in flip flops. I will have to buy extra memory cards to cope with all the photos I am going to be taking. I will have to make my first me-based visit to the scuba shop so I can start building up my kit. I will have to prepare a camping box/picnic set that sits in the jeep, ready to go at a moment’s notice. And I will have to get used to not calculating the cost of gas into our road trips (seriously, they charge enough to staff the stations, but to call gas anything other than free would be a joke).
Oman is definitely going to be a new adventure with it’s goods and bads, but after only four days here I can very happily say that I feel lucky the universe has decided this place will be a part of my life. I would never have thought about it on my own but man oh man (best to get that pun out of the way early on in the blog – now I never have to do it again), I am really excited to unpack my bags and call this place home for the next few years.
Postcard of the Day
As I am camped out at the coffee shop for a few hours it seemed like a good time to write a postcard too. I’m missing my cat and the recipient of this card so it seemed a fitting choice of card too. It’ll be fun to see whether it makes it back to London before I do.
Want a postcard? Send me your details here and I will send you one too!
See you next time!