Explore Mikael Strandberg

Understanding the traditional ways of the Bedouin….

….is understanding the many times confusing ways to get things done in Oman. And, I am sure, in quite a few other Gulf countries as well, where the principle of Bedu democracy is alive. It is easy to forget that Oman, just in a mere 40 years, have kind of exploded out of profound tribalism in the desert to becoming a well to do modern society and one has to understand that changes take time. Every day, travelling through the bustling Muscat traffic, I am stunned at the fact that before Sultan Qaboos kicked his father out, 1970, in a peaceful coup, the country only had a few kilometers of paved road, a couple of hospitals run by American Missions, one primary school and no electricity! And there was a civil war going on at the time! What the Sultan has done for his country since than, no matter what in regards to the lack of Western democracy, (if, as we in the West sees it, our democracy is the only way to enlightenment) it is truly fantastic and couldn´t be better. Truly impressive and the Sultan should be seen as a role model in any civilization.

However, the traditional way of the Bedus is still strongly in place and that is what makes it very frustrating for somebody like myself who wants things to get done. In the way I am brought up, the Western way. Fast. Things are just not happening as fast as I would like and that is not only due to my mistakes and impatience, but also to the fact that I still don´t fully understand the power of relationships and the time (in the Western eye) it takes before one can go ahead. I am still to frustrated to understand, but I am learning slowly. Let me just give you an example what I mean, which in the Western eye, is not only frustrating, but also quite entertaining.

The other day I went to the University in Nizwa to hold a lecture….

First of all, it was set to be today the 12th, so for this reason I was kind of surprised when Talib called me 08.30 in the morning four days ago, whilst I was swimming in the ocean, saying that the lecture was due at 13.00 that day. We, P and me, ran like mad to get back to the flat, have a shower, check the lecture to its full plus the technique, so all was perfect and than zoomed off to Talib, who had initiated the contact and was seen as part of the show. We traveled with Talib in his Porsche to Nizwa, 130 km:s west of Muscat, and we didn´t even stop for lunch to get there in time.

Halwa from Oman...read more here http://www.omanet.om/english/culture/halwa.asp?cat=cult&subcat=cult2
Halwa from Oman…

The Nizwa University compound is large and have more than 6000 talibs (pupils in Arabic). We were met by an assistant at 12.45. He was the assistant to the assistant to the chancellor. He brought us through the compound into the assistant to the chancellor, an old pal of Talib. Mohammed Abdullah Said Al-Adawi greeted us heartily and we sat down on his couch nervously. I wanted to set up my lap top, check the sound and prepare. On top of that I was starving. Talib had said we would get a bite to eat before the lecture.

The University is just a stones throw away from the oasis of Berkat Al Mauz
The University is just a stones throw away from the oasis of Berkat Al Mauz

“Don´t worry” , the assistant to the Chancellor said, “We have moved the lecture till two o´clock. And students have exams today, so I don´t think many will come.”

Then he winked for an assistant to them all, a coffee server, who with great dignity poured Arabic coffe in the traditional small cups and served us sweet halwa. At that moment a female student came in. She was there to show us around the compound before the start of the lecture. Or maybe as an assistance to P, so she wouldn´t roam around the camp in an inappropriate fashion. After about half an hour, it was 30 minutes remaining before the start of the lecture and by now I knew the students had waited for an hour. In my book that was close to a disaster. They would be very edgy. Those few who were apparently there. My hunger pains got worse. I just have to eat to get energy before a lecture.

“We are waiting for you to meet the chancellor!” Mohammed Abdullah suddenly said, then we kind of moved through the campus in procession, whilst more assistants joined us….I have always wondered, whilst meeting a lot of powerful people in Oman, what do these assistants do except sit on a coach and look like the world is passing by?…..They don´t say a lot.

Bedu boy in the Sharquiya, continuing many thousands of years of Bedu traditions and democracy.
Bedu boy in the Sharquiya, continuing many thousands of years of Bedu traditions and democracy.

Due to the high amount of assistant’s in His Excellency´s room, the Chancellor, we had no idea initially who was who since Omanis all dress in the national costume, a dishdasha and turban, but eventually it turned out to be the oldest fellow. Like all His Excellency´s in Oman he was very dignified, interested and opinionated. I brought up the story about Wilfred Thesiger and his visit to the area, when he wasn´t allowed to come into Nizwa in the end of 1940, because it was such a conservative place and they didn´t like nasranis. (Christians in Arabic) Maybe I was the first explorer they had seen than? I asked.  Not the best choice of conversation… However a lot of photos was taken on all of us together in a handshaking manner. We had some more coffee and sweet halwa.

2.30 p.m, one and a half hour late we arrived in the auditorium,which was packed with students, maybe 350 of them. Talib, who was suffering from the flu and severe hunger, said we would get food after the lecture. I had absolutely no energy left. And of course, nothing worked technically so that took an additional 20 minutes, so just before 15.00 hours it all started….. with a student reading from the Quran illustrated with pictures and quatations. All hell and fire. This is one thing with promoting religion I do just not understand. Why scare, like most religions can do, of fire and hell, instead of bringing up the positive aspects of the religion? I do know that much about the Quran and its suras and hadiths to know, that there are so many other, much better choices of readings and quotations which will inspire not scare.  Being brought up myself in a society where baptists where part of life, I just dislike the selling issue of, if you don´t do as the book says, you will end up in hell.

This young, smiling man was follwed by a young lady reading my full CV.When she was over, a film done by a student followed and that point was followed by another young lady reading a poem. At 3.30 it was my turn and it started off with the professor of cultural studies, a Sudanese, who once again read my CV…

Once it was my turn, at 3.45, I was hungry, totally free of energy and the students, they had waited for two hours and 45 minutes, they had no energy left either. Or patience. It was the worst lecture in my life. The students talked, screamed, sent text messages, slept, walked in and out and when it was time for questions somebody shouted, a group of female students at the back, that they wanted to leave….it seems like these quotations of hell and fire doesn´t work too much…..well, it was the worst lecture of my life!

The lecture was finished with the assistant to the Chancellor presenting me first, than Talib, with a painting with a quotation from the Quran. Very nice gift! Many official photos was taken. When all that was over, the assistant left us in the hands of other assistant´s and 8 hours after eating breakfast we had lunch.

The punchline? Well, I went to lecture to the students because it is my mission to try to build bridges of understanding, trying to educate these young people, not to meet a lot of dignitaries, shake hands, chat a bit, drink coffee and eat halwa. It seems like at times Omanis care more for this, than the actual mission, to inspire students. As a whole it was a good lecture for me in traditional beduism!

Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said
Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said


  1. Welcome to a new world !
    I lived in The Middle-East for 2 years and this is how things are.
    Either one adopts it and live with this life-style or just dont go there.

    Cheers from Ove, Svedala

  2. I agree fully. But you need a lot of money to wait…..that is why frustration grows unnecessarily fast….just to find an apartment to live under 1300 US a month is virtually impossible…but I fully agree with your assessment. Thank you for your valid opinion. I had another one, from a friend of mine, Lena, who´s lived here for years and she said exactly the same. Either take it or leave….and that they did show me the biggest honor they could. Aahhh, life isn´t easy all the time….keep comments coming! M

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