Muscat and the Mutrah Souk
Muscat (pop 1.1 million)
Sultanate of Oman (pop 3.6 million)
January 12, 2105
Clear and Warm
So, what are those piles of round, tan-brown fruit I discover here in the market? Larger than a walnut, but smooth. Smaller than a tangerine. The manager of the Ground Spices shop informs me, “Dried lemons.”
The manager senses my surprise and asks his helper to peel one for me. Dried lemon tastes like a lemon yet not so sour, with a zesty flavor, chewy consistency and a delightful, palate-cleansing aftertaste.
Just beside the shop another helper operates a grinding machine. The unique aroma of coffee is pleasant and unmistakable. We have some fun taking photos. The manager offers me a cup of fresh brewed coffee.
Earlier this morning, a very distinguished man (Indian clothing merchant) allows me to take his photo. He approves of the image on the screen and then offers me a seat beside him and orders a cup of tea for me. In a few minutes another man (Pakistani gold designer) comes along with his young daughter. We all have a lovely chat. The Indian man mentions that the girl is six. The girl corrects him and gently proclaims “seven.” I remark that here in Oman, Indians and Pakistanis seem to get along very well. They agree and add that in Oman, “everyone gets along.”
Over the years I have visited seven, now eight Muslim countries. The men and women I have met have always been genuinely warm and hospitable. Yet given the spate of recent world events, I admit to a tinge of apprehension before departing for Oman.
That apprehension soon dissipates into the sea breeze of the Gulf of Oman. Taxi drivers, shopkeepers, waiters – everyone welcomes me as a friend. (Well, at the souk gate, the guy selling mango juice is a bit grumpy.) The proprietor of the Indian restaurant is most welcoming.
In the souk, I negotiate just a bit when I purchase a very becoming red scarf. I negotiate a bit with the taxi drivers. Everything is negotiable. What is non-negotiable in this part of the world is the obligation and pleasant duty to welcome strangers.
Respond with respect and a smile, and strangers need not feel like strangers here.
Honing my negotiating skills while flashing my smile,
PS After two unpleasant experiences with airbnb.com, my home away from home in Muscat is just that, a home away from home. My room, a suite really, is spacious and comfortable. My host Safaa treats me like a member of her family. She provides food, good suggestions and “motherly” advice. Shukran Jazilan!