Ibrahim Project, June 6: Oman, from the mountains to the sea

← Previous: Ibrahim Project, June 5: A diplomatic ascent in Nizwa

This is part of a series of posts on my participation in the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project during June 2012.

The Green Mountain

The mountain at the top of which our hotel sat is called Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar, Arabic for “The Green Mountain.” After breakfast the next morning, we explored the area. It contains various villages, one of which we walked through: Al-‘Ayn. I took a LOT of pictures that day, and you can check out my Flickr if you’re interested in seeing the rest of these (or any other) photos—but I’ll just post the highlights here.

We walked out of the hotel and were greeted by some random goats.

From left to right: Jake G., Jake M., Dillon, Talene, Sundus, and me.
Jake M., in a perfect ‘on top of the world’ shot.
This village put the “green” in The Green Mountain.
Sundus found this hidden oasis.

We spent hours walking around the mountain, which was (predictably) much hotter during the day. We ran out of water, so near the end, I was pretty much dying of exhaustion and dehydration. I’m not one to make a fuss about a little movement, and I enjoy walking around even in the heat, so I meant it when I said that I could hardly walk any further. Luckily, a man who works at the hotel happened to drive by, saw us hiking, and asked if we wanted a ride. I gladly accepted, though the others said they’d weather it out. I remember Amanda and Brian seemed pretty comfortable with this man driving me alone, which probably says something about the general safety and culture of Oman. I wasn’t used to that, however, and neither was Mark, so he accompanied me on the drive. The man was kind and courteous, like everyone else we met, including various people on the mountain. At one point we even had to cross someone’s gate to get through a village, and he let us by—no fuss. And if it wasn’t clear enough by the photos, the beauty of the area is indescribable—so, compounded by the graciousness of the people, this excursion was quite relaxing (despite the heat). After we returned to the hotel, it was time to descend back to Muscat, where we would spend our last evening in Oman.

From left to right: Mark, Talene, Aaron, Jake M., Dillon, Sundus, me, Jake G., and Brian.
From left to right: same people in the same order as the previous photo, but now with Amanda at the end.

A night by the Arabian Sea

After we returned to our first hotel in Muscat, we had time to kill before a barbecue dinner to which Maggie had invited us. The six of us had been dying to go to the beach ever since we first arrived, but just couldn’t find the time to do so—until now. With less than two hours to spare, we hurried out of our hotel and into the water.

For the first—but hopefully not last—time in my life, I was swimming in the Gulf of Oman. I hadn’t been to the beach in almost four years, and, now, here I was, in the Arabian sea. And, it was special for more than its location: the water and the sand below was extremely clean, lacking the random ‘stuff’ that floats around and sits at the floor of the American beaches I’ve been to. Swimming, wading, soaking in the sun—it was such a satisfying experience. Cue another excerpt from Jake M.’s blog:

Talene and I couldn’t get over how crazy the whole thing was. Here was a group of six college students who had hardly met each other only five days earlier, and now we were swimming together and laughing like six people who had known each other for years in the middle of the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea.

It was another moment, like that evening at Diana’s Viewpoint, where I was overwhelmed by the incredibility of my current reality.

Also, you might be wondering—what does a person wear to the beach in Oman? It probably differs in other parts of the country, but at beaches by hotels and resorts, you can wear typical bathing suits as long as you respect people’s modesty. This means no bikinis for girls or speedos for guys (you can wear those, but only if you’re okay with offending the local people and being stared at). But guys can wear their usual long swim shorts, and girls should stick to one-piece swimsuits. I wore a one-piece halter (which completely covers my chest) with shorts, and Talene, who felt uncomfortable with her one-piece that was a little more revealing than mine, wore the swimsuit with a cover-up on top. Sundus, however, actually owns a burqini (named for the burqa and the bikini), which covers all of the body, from the wrists to the ankles, and comes with a hijab that covers the head. There weren’t many other women in the water, except for some other tourists—but we were told that some Omani women like to go to the beach at night, when they can have it to themselves.

Unfortunately, our time in the water was cut short as we quickly had to dry up and head to dinner. As we drove up to the location of our meal, we noticed that it was some kind of exclusive government beach club to which we gained entry thanks to two of Maggie’s friends. We sat down at our table, which included Maggie, her husband Bill, Professor Nick Woodhouse, his wife Cheryl, and two diplomats from other countries.

The food was great—there a bunch of different kabobs prepared for us to choose from and have made fresh in front of us, as well as various salads and other dishes. But the conversation (always the most important part) was great too. Nick, whom I must thank for inviting us to this exceptional dinner, is a Professor of Endocrinology and Medicine at Sultan Qaboos University. He and his wife, like Maggie and her husband, are British expats that have lived in Oman for decades now. The Jakes and I got the chance to talk to him, and the conversation centered mostly on politics. Nick, to the Jakes’ delight, expressed huge support for the Clinton family. We talked about them, universal healthcare, and some other issues, having a pretty normal conversation. When we were talking about foreign policy, however, the tone of the conversation changed a bit. I won’t get into the details, but I’ll disclose that my words managed to make Nick say this: “I’ll tell you one thing, people are just too damn liberal these days.” The conversation continued well beyond that point, however, and he actually ended up telling me that I clearly know what I’m talking about—which I was really happy to hear. On that note, I must say that Nick showed us students a lot of respect—young people often find themselves being told by adults that they just don’t know enough about the world yet, or haven’t experienced enough, or whatever, to know what they’re talking about or to have a valid opinion. But Nick, even given our disagreements, never doubted us that way, and it allowed us to have a great conversation, actually learning from one another.

One thing I can infer from the discussion, which is also common sense, is that your country of origin can have a huge impact on the way you view history, as well as current events. The British expats in general seemed to have a particularly positive view of the role of the British in various countries, believing that Oman is a lot better off today than they would have been if the British didn’t intervene. This is somewhat true, but I think Oman is one of very few cases where British meddling didn’t turn out horribly (see: India, Palestine, their many other colonies…)—so that was probably more a matter of luck than of British brilliance. Regardless, the Brits’ help bringing the beloved Sultan to power is one of the reasons Oman and the U.K. have such a strong relationship today, and there is a huge British expat community in the area as evidence of that. It ended up being a good thing for us too, because otherwise we wouldn’t have had the lovely Maggie around to help us out. I must thank her for everything she did—our time in the country would not have been the same without her generosity (and expertise!).

This was our final night in Oman. The next afternoon, after one more short meeting, we would depart for an entirely different world: the United Arab Emirates.

Next: Ibrahim Project, June 7: Last thoughts in Oman & first thoughts in the U.A.E. →

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