Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ali, Sarah and I at the Grand Mosque in Muscat--we visited this morning. Technically, Ail and Sarah don't have to cover their heads, but they wanted to because Mary and I were. The sun was rather bright, that's why they're squinting! I may go back tomorrow because the visiting hours for non-Muslims were almost over by the time we arrived.

We also attempted to drive to the Lansab Lagoons, a well-known birdwatching location close to Muscat. It's supposed to be especially good for seeing raptors of all sorts. However, our information was totally inaccurate (thanks a lot, Lonely Planet!), and we ended up in a military construction zone. It was beautiful but we turned around immediately when we saw the Ministry of Defense sign. I wish they'd posted something sooner.

I looked at the Azaiba area on Google Earth--something I should have done in the first place--and it looks like the lagoons aren't anywhere near where Lonely Planet says they are. So we're going to try to go back and find them tomorrow. I'd like to see some eagles.


Ian Keenan said...

I’m curious how walking around with a headscarf makes you feel and what reactions it gets among locals and expats.

I checked and the Lonely Planet Arabian Peninsula is in the 1st Edition, has new authors, and is over 2 years old, a bad combination of factors. But part of going where few Westerners go is putting up with insufficient guidebooks!

I collect old editions, and one of my favorites is a ‘90 ‘West Asia on a Shoestring’ which has no mention of Oman, so this is new territory for them. It’s completely written by Tony Wheeler, the founder of the company, Turkey to Saudi Arabia to Bangladesh. This is what he says about Saudi Arabia:

“True, the climate can be horrible, getting in isn’t easy, there can be a lot of paperwork involved in getting around, and the social regulations tend to strike the average westerner as more than a bit draconian. And yet there is something about Arabia and something about the Saudis. It is easy to tell horror stories about the Kingdom, but they miss the true feel, the texture of the place.

“In Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam it is easy to find expatriates who have spent a decade or more in the Kingdom without making an effort to see what the country has to offer. They sit around in the evenings drinking their homemade firewater and trading tales about how they hate Arabia and the Saudis. They will tell you to the face that you are crazy for wanting to run off to another corner of the country to look at something. Ignore these people. They are beyond help and they don’t know what they are missing.”

K. Lorraine Graham said...

In Morocco, things were much easier if I wore a headscarf. The women, especially, were especially kind and helpful, and took charge of me on bus rides and at rest stops.

I'm still trying to gauge the reaction of people here. There's a large non-Muslim Indian and Phillipino population, so there are actually plenty of women about wearing t-shirts and without headscarves on.

Men of any ethnicity or religion here rarely address me unless they're asking if I need a taxi or I'm purchasing something from them. I've also not been stared at or followed the way I have been elsewhere. Thus far, people have been polite and friendly to me. But--even when I've not had my head covered, I've always had the required shoulders and ankles covered.

When I cover my head, it surprises people enough that they do stare at me--but I think more out of shock and interest than anything else. Honestly, to the men, I think I look sexier with my head veiled. To the women, I'm more fashionable.

But as I said, I'm still assesing, guaging the reaction.

I think if I lived here permanently, or if I were travelling more on my own, I'd just buy an abaya and wear it over my regular clothes most of the time. The expats are divided--some just wear an abaya when they're out. The women who've lived here a while all dress respectfully, and while people have different levels of comfort, almost all the expats I've met agree that covering up is respectful and culturally practical if you're going to live here a while--even if you morally or religiously think it's bogus.

Honestly, the real problem isn't being oogled (regardless of what you're wearing), but getting men to take you seriously. A basic example is the case of my stepmom trying to talk to the plumber. He really doesn't ever give her accurate information, he only says things to placate her. With my father, he get's straight to the point.

Oman is, I think, new territory for almost everyone, so I've no real qualms about the guidebook. What's funny is that Mary and I were half expecting to drive into a military area, and then we did!

I think that yesterday we did manage to find the lagoons--two large indentations filled with lush green vegetation--but the whole area was a construction site. They're making an entire infastructure here from nothing. I was sorry not to see birds, but driving around the site was quite interesting.

Ok, that's my comment. Dear friends. Please don't point out my spelling errors. I'm out the door.