Our second visit to Oman went so much better than the first. We stayed in Muscat where most of the people in the country live and had a great guide, who talked a blue streak as we drove from site to site. He said that at the end of high school, Omanis take a university entrance test and those who score high enough get a free eduction at Oman’s university or an all-expenses paid education at any university in the world. Those with lower scores are sent to tech schools also tuition free. They feel that a well educated populace is essential for the future of the country. All this education has lead to a problem, however. There are not enough jobs for all the new university grads, so any company looking to open in Oman is required to hire fifteen new graduates. Our president would approve. Women are supposed to be treated equally in this regard, although when we were in the government/big business part of the city, there wasn’t a woman to be seen.
This inequity was far more apparent when we visited the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. The mosque has room for 4,000 men to worship. Our guide said it is better for women to worship at home, but the mosque has condescended to maintaining a special area where 800 women can worship with two TV screens that broadcast the sermons of the imam. This mosque was not nearly as grand and lavish as the one we just saw in Abu Dhabi, but was opulent and impressive nevertheless. It was more low-key and dignified and in many ways I liked it better. The mixture of sandalwood and stonework showed outstanding craftsmanship. At this mosque I was allowed to wear my own long-sleeved blouse and head scarf instead of some sweaty loaner robe, which put me in a much better frame of mind.
Our guide wore traditional dress and he knew that it intrigued us, so he let us touch his robe and smell the fabric neck tassel that all men wear scented with rosewater. He even showed us what he was wearing underneath, which looked like elaborate cloth wrappings on his leg and torso. The robes are blindingly white and he said they must be laundered immediately after wearing so the desert dust doesn’t settle into the cloth. Now we know what all those women who are not outside are doing.
Although our guide used the word “president” for the current ruler of he country, the way he achieved his leadership position was a lot more like royalty. We admired paintings of his great-great-grandfather, his great grandfather, his grandfather and his father. Guess what? They all were rulers of Oman after tribal consolidation. We were allowed to photograph one of the current sultan’s palaces from outside. The flowering bushes planted outside were a nice touch, but on closer examination they all needed a good sprinkling. This guide said that besides the desalination plants, they have begun tapping into an aquifer with wells, which should keep them going for a while. Nevertheless, water is more expensive than oil. In the port we are docked next to what looks like another cruise ship. It is one of the sultan’s two yachts. He also has another palace thirty miles away.
The souk (market) here was of much more interest to tourists than the one we saw last week in Nizwah. Arabs are wonderful traders and salesmen, and as usual we found ourselves buying things we didn’t really want, because they were so charming, just as they sucked us in when we visited Turkey and Morocco. They were eager to accept whatever currency you had in your pocket and had a communal credit card machine, if you were out of cash. Ken now has an Omani hat (kuma) and headscarf and rosewater to sprinkle on his neck. The guide called it Omani Armani. And I have new covers for the throw pillows on our couch.
As we sailed away we passed some coastal resorts that looked like just the spot for a cold Northern European to veg out. We followed the coastline until dark and will be heading out to the open seas, some of them dangerous, for the next few days.