“Is he stupid?!” the annoyed Bedu woman shouted through the window of her rusty pick up car, pointing at an illustrious camel next to the desert road, “Surely he must see that she is pregnant and if he takes flash photos, she might loose her baby!”
“No, he doesn’t know anything about camels” Kamil my Omani guide and very good friend said, “He didn’t understand that you were shouting at him.”
“But he is English” she said a bit surprised, “They know everything!”
She looked both stunned and upset at us for a moment. The finger tips on both hands were henna painted black, she had a scarf slightly covering her very dark hair, lots of golden looking armbands on both wrists and her stare was proud and free of any worries. Except for her female camel.
“You see?” Kamil said grinning when we continued our trip on the sandy and bumpy, very corrugated, desert road, “Just like the story from Africa you told me yesterday? That local people believe white people are better? And that a flash can kill the baby of the camel? This is because they are not educated. They live here, they’re people of the desert, hard and tough people, but they are not educated all of them. Then they would know what I know, I know you are not better than us!”
In that instant I was experiencing both sides of Oman, this spectacular country. On one side the very modern, educated and forward-looking state with a very proud modern Omani-people. On the other side, still, primeval Arabia, like a 1000 and a night, both romantic, harsh and stuck ancient traditions. But very proud. This reality is what makes Oman so different from its Gulf neighbours like Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and UAE. They haven’t fully bought the modern society with all the good and bad things. Sure, it has in many ways, like one directly notices when arriving in the capital Muscat, modernized the country, but Oman has also kept its great ancient Arab and Bedouin traditions. Which a visitor will be clearly aware of when doing a tour of this beautiful country. Since I arrived three days ago it has been like a dream in many ways. First we passed through the Rocky Mountain-like western Hajar Mountains, picnicked at the green and lush oasis of Wadi Ghul, passed through the antique cities like Bahla and Nizwa and crossing the sand dunes at the Wahiba Sands (Sharqiya Sands), and, everywhere, the old traditions are kept. Not only through preserving their immense forts, and mud cities of past, but mainly through the great kindness of the local people. Even though Oman has surprised me a lot with its diversity and natural beauty, it is the people I’ve met which have fascinated me. They’re free from any aggression, very service minded, kind, generous, interest and full of wisdom. Wherever we come we get invited for kahva (Arabian coffee) and dates. It is served with great dignity, sitting down the Arab way, legs crossed and one is continuously served until you shake your right hand as a sign that you are satisfied. Dignity is the word describing these meetings the best.
“Is he not married then? No children?” one old man asked, a keeper of a 200 year old tradition to keep bees, a query which is one of the most common questions I’ve always received in Moslem countries I have passed through in the world, when they find out that I have spent my life travelling and when I answered no, the old man said: “Ah, he’s lucky then, free from worries and responsibility.”
In many Moslem countries an answer like that from me would have put me in a 30 minute interrogation regarding this odd behavior. The same applies to the religious issue, which is always the main question you always get in a Moslem country. In Oman they respect your answer and don’t continue to pursue the issue even if they disagree. The Omani people are a very dignified and respectful people. So far, I am in awe over this country, its people and coming here is the best choice I have done in a long time. My Arabian dream has been awaken again and I am eager to get into Rub Al-Khali soon. Until then I will enjoy the coast of Oman and its fruits. And yes, the generosity of the people have made me put on a lot of fat again, so I guess I am getting prepared in every way.
But, yes, when it comes to camels, I am very stupid!