I went back and forth about whether I should publish this post or not because I don’t want to stir up any controversy. In the end I decided that it was more positive than anything else.
A great number of Americans have preconceived notions about what it is like to visit the Middle East, the beliefs and customs of people who live there, and what Middle Easterners’ opinions of Americans are or should be. I will certainly not preach about my thoughts or opinions on any of these topics, but I will relay an account of my trip to Oman, just one country within this vast region.
When Chris and I mentioned to people that we were going to Oman we received some interesting responses and questions. Mostly, “Why are you going there?”, “Where is Oman?”, “Is it safe?” and “There are mountains?”
Let’s start with the why. There were two basic reasons that we went to Oman. First, it is one of the places to which you can fly directly from Chennai. More importantly, after visiting Dubai, we were in the market for a more genuine Middle Eastern cultural experience. Dubai was great, but with the huge number of expats residing in Dubai the culture is somewhat of a melting pot.
So where is Oman anyway? It is on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, east of Saudi Arabia, southeast of the UAE, and northeast of Yemen.
[Source: World Atlas]
Oman is a relatively safe place for Americans to visit. According to the US Department of State, there have not been any attacks on Americans on Omani soil. I’d say that is a pretty good track record.
Lastly, yes, there are mountains on the Arabian Peninsula. Big ones, in fact. One of the peaks in the Jebel Shams area was about 9,000 feet high. I would definitely classify that as a real mountain.
So what was my experience like there?
When we first arrived, we were unsure if we should admit to being American. Pretty quickly we realized that would not be an issue. The most common reaction that we received was surprise; it seemed as if not many Americans venture to Oman for tourism. Almost across the board, people assumed that we were British until we corrected them. Many of the Omanis that we spoke to showed genuine, friendly interest as to why we were there and how we liked it.
Going into the trip, I was especially interested in how I would be received in Oman. I made an effort to dress modestly out of respect for their culture, but there were definitely other, presumably British, female tourists who dressed as they would dress in any other warm place. I was well received and, as far as I could tell, they were just as well received as I was.
In general, we found that women preferred to talk to/deal with me, while men tended to defer to Chris. This wasn’t a huge surprise and I perceived it as men being respectful to me (and possibly Chris as well). I got the feeling that if I were a Western woman traveling alone the men would have interacted with me as normal, at least in the context of typical tourist transactions.
Adding to my positive experience in Oman was that it was an immaculately clean country. I’m not sure what I was expecting in that regard, but there was almost no litter on the sides of the road, the water was safe to drink, and the bathrooms in even the most remote gas stations were clean. A far cry from many places that I have visited.
It was pretty obvious from the infrastructure of Oman that there is some oil money at play. The roads and highways in and between population centers were well constructed and perfectly maintained.
Also due to the oil in the region, the fuel prices were extremely low. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.20 per gallon. Very good for us considering that we drove a fairly large SUV over 1000 kilometers that weekend.
Lastly, I really enjoyed the chance to get a peek into Omani culture and the way of life there. I was delighted to find friendly, welcoming people, a safe, clean country, and a beautiful landscape in a place where many of us would not necessarily have expected all of that.