I spent last week working in the city of Muscat in The Sultanate of Oman, the third largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. It overlooks the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean, adjacent to the Republic of Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As you might expect at this time of year the weather is dry, hot and sultry and the vegetation saturated with jewel-like colours: ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz.
Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest market places in Oman and offered me a glimpse of authentic Omani culture. Amidst household goods sat gold jewellery in intricate styles, silver in striking patterns dangled and jingled, enamelled antique boxes in Omani designs. The air was heavy with the smell spices sold straight from huge sacks – Oman is the home of the ancient luxury, Frankincense – and the aromas of dried limes and cardamon. The alleys are narrow and chaotic and a maze of pathways between buildings and to avoid getting lost I took photos at every turn.
In January 2012 Muscat hosted the first international textile expo alongside Colours of Oman fashion week, filled with textiles and garments from designers everywhere. It was a display both of Oman’s eclectic and traditional qualities, but the black abaya was not featured. Oman is known for its gown-centric designs and the Colours of Oman allowed a glimpse beneath the abaya, with designers from India, Japan, UAE and Europe. The events promoted local attitudes to fashion design, encouraged experimentation with colourful fabrics, bold styles and strong patterns, demonstrating how important fashion is and how talented young fashion designers of Oman are.
I learnt many things – traditional, thoughtful, philosophical things that underpin daily life in Oman. How to serve, receive and drink Omani coffee – a light aromatic clear liquid; to know that not everyone wants to shake my hand and that to wait is a delicate art of appreciation. Attempting to say a common greeting before any interaction is always appreciated – Salam alaykum – peace be with you. I met 3 men from Muscat who called themselves the Muscateers; and learned that the covering clothes women wear provide protection for the skin against sand constantly blowing in the air; and saw a museum cataloguing the Omani history of women’s clothes with beautiful details denoting where they are from. I came away elated, refreshed and happy to have experienced something of Omani culture.