It's hard for me to say if this feeling of normalcy comes from a few years spent in the Middle East now or the extraordinary nature of Oman. Either way, it occurred to me that YOU might not understand the extent to which my experiences in no way match up to many of the sterotypes about the Middle East and Westerners and Women specifically.
So here we go.
I do not have to cover my head in Oman. Most local women do - more than any country we've been so far - but it is not the law and Western expats do not cover. I dress modestly (no tank tops, super short sleeves or shorts) and do not feel more uncomfortable walking down the street here than I would in D.C. or New York.
I walk about freely by myself and there are no driving restrictions placed on women here. I make the work commute like everybody else. Sure there are areas of town that I wouldn't go to by myself, but that is true for almost any city.
I feel incredibly safe here. There is virtually no violent crime in Oman and I hear very few stories of petty theft. I'm not naive about some of the regional threats, but Oman has managed to maintain peace, order and safety to an incredible level.
I am free to worship with my Christian congretation each week. The government of Oman has given land to Christian churches throughout Muscat and, for the region, is remarkably tolerant of other faiths. The Sultan has had some pretty inspiring things to say about tolerance and Islam. In a Muslim country I am free to practice my religion.
I do not have to claim to be something other than American. I have never, not once, had a bad experience in the Middle East after telling someone I was American. (I was spit on by a little boy at the Kalendia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah once, but I could have been a moon person for all he cared - he just wanted me to buy his gum.) It usually comes out after we've talked for a little bit and by that point we've both established that we are humans first with more in common than not. Any kind of potential political conflict is pretty much swallowed up in the person to person exchange. I've had someone in almost every country say to me a version of "We can disagree with your government's policies and still like your people." The first time I heard that in Jordan it kind of blew my mind. I'd accepted the narrative that They don't like Us and perhaps We shouldn't like Them and hadn't even thought to approach politics, nationality and identity with such nuance. It was a good lesson to learn early on.
And on to the desert...
Yes, Oman has a desert and camels are a big deal, but it also has mountains and many miles of fantastic beaches and clear springs that gush down deep canyons and through Oasis'. White sand beaches are not what you think of when you imagine the Middle East, but that's exactly what I'm talking about. And it's not just Oman that's different. Every place we've been in the Middle East has defied stereotypes in some way or another.
So that's all, I guess.
|Junn Island, part of the Dimaniyat Island chain off the coast of Oman|