Friday, June 21: After my debacle last September in Greece, where I got to Athens but my suitcase didn’t show up for two days, I decided I would never again travel without a carry-on bag. I’m leaving in 6 days for a month in Spain and Portugal, and I determined that I would take only one suitcase. But as I can no longer ignore the need for a carry-on, I wanted to find the perfect combination. I have one medium-sized suitcase and ideally I wanted something that would sit on top of that one when I’m walking from metro or train or bus to my hotel and vice versa. In that ideal situation, the small carry-on would also have rollers and a handle, so that when the medium suitcase is checked, I can just pull the carry-on around in the airport or on board the train, or whatever.
I looked and looked for something last weekend and couldn’t find what I was envisioning. I would have bought a whole new set if I could find one that was made to fit together, one on top of the other. But, alas, I couldn’t find my dream combination. So last week, I bought a small roller carry-on from Carrefour in Muscat and brought it home, where it sat on my guest bed for a week. Though it was small, it wasn’t small enough to fit on top of my other one; neither was there a way to attach it to the larger one. During the week, I kept having visions of myself hauling two rolling suitcases through the streets of Barcelona and Toledo and Andalucia and the Algarve and Lisbon, and I didn’t like that vision one bit. I know what a pain it is when you’re traveling and have to lug around too much stuff. I don’t want to do that for a whole month!
So this weekend, my dear friend Tahira wants to go to a movie and dinner in Muscat. I tell her I’d love to do that, but I have to deal with this luggage dilemma first. She says that’ll be fine; whatever I need to do, she’ll come around with me to help sort it out. She even has a number of suggestions as to where we might look for this perfect combo.
Tahira and I have been working closely together since January. We’ve both been teaching at the university for nearly two years, but only since January, when we were both teaching Level 2 under a certain coordinator and sitting beside each other in the office, did we develop a friendship. Now I consider her a very dear friend. But honestly, today she goes above and beyond the call of duty to help me with this boring problem. I don’t even have the patience to sort out this kind of problem when it’s MINE, and I have to say if she, or anyone else, had asked me to spend my time dealing with this if it were THEIR problem, I’m not sure I would have agreed to have anything to do with it!
We leave Nizwa at 2:00 in the afternoon and when we get to Muscat, we go first to Sultan Center, a place in Muscat where I have never been. It’s just like all the big hypermarkets throughout Oman. No luck. We sit outside of Costa Coffee in a damp breeze and drink iced coffee. Then we go to Muscat Grand Mall, where the Bollywood movie we want to see, Raanjhanaa, is playing. We go to buy tickets, only to find the movie is sold out for tonight. So now, lucky Tahira and lucky me, we have hours and hours ahead of us to sort out MY luggage dilemma!
At one kiosk, we find exactly the combination I am looking for, but the carry-on bag is too small for my computer. And the price is exorbitant! We look in every shop that carries any bags at all. Finally, at Charles and Keith, I find a large tote bag that will do the trick and I buy it for 32 rials ($83)! I try to return the carry-on bag I bought at Carrefour last weekend, but as I bought it at the City Center Carrefour, they won’t take it. It seems we have to trek to Muscat City Center in Seeb.
On our way driving to Muscat City Center, down what we know to be the only main highway in Muscat, the Sultan Qaboos Highway, Tahira says, “Where are we?” We recognize the same construction detour that we came across the last time we were in Muscat when we got lost and ended up way west of Seeb. “What?” I say. “I have no idea!” Somehow we are on some unrecognizable highway heading toward Seeb with the new airport construction to our left as we head south! This is the second time this has happened to us, and we crack up laughing. I have a theory that it is impossible to get lost in Muscat because there is only one main highway and all roads eventually lead back to that highway. But for the second time, we are lost in Muscat. Well, not really lost, just thrown off-track temporarily. Because in the end, I’m right, you can’t REALLY get lost in Muscat. We end up arriving from the opposite direction to Muscat City Center. We’re here and we’re not lost, proving my theory correct. :-)
When we arrive, it seems every resident of Muscat is there. There’s a huge traffic jam going into the mall parking lot, where we sit for what seems like forever. It turns out that every store in City Center is having a sale tonight! What fun.
There’s a line at the return counter at Carrefour and I stand there trying to return the carry-on for about 20 minutes. Then as we’re walking out of the mall (sweet relief!), Tahira tells me I should check out the Samsonite store because they’re having a sale. It’s way at the other end of the mall. We trek down there where I find a good duffel bag that will work perfectly (although it has no rollers) and I settle on that for 54 rials ($140) ~ and that’s ON SALE! I now have to run to Charles & Keith at this mall to see if I can return the other bag, and they agree to let me. First I have to run to the car to get it, way at the other end of the mall, fighting my way through hordes of people. Meanwhile Tahira has taken off to go shopping at all the shops that are having sales!!
Finally, though we left Nizwa at 2:00 this afternoon, we make our way to Shang Thai at the Wave’s Almouj Marina for dinner at around 9:00. By this time, we’re famished. A huge Omani family is at center stage, occupying the entire center of the restaurant, seated around a long rectangular table. At one point they all sing “Happy Birthday” in English to one of the young men sitting at the end of the table. It’s quite a scene as, for one, it isn’t usual for Omanis to make a big deal out of birthdays. And to sing “Happy Birthday” in English is also noteworthy. This is obviously a modern Omani family, dishdashas and abayas notwithstanding.
The food and atmosphere at this restaurant are fabulous. We sit in a cushioned booth and the attentive waitress brings us prawn crackers and dip. We order appetizers for two, including spring rolls, shrimp toast, papaya salad and some kind of pancakes. I order a citrus mint juice and Tahira orders a ginger tea. Everything is artistically prepared and delicious.
Tahira orders Pad Thai with Prawns, beautifully prepared with a netted covering of eggs drizzled on top and cooked.
I order Stir-Fried Morning Glory, which is also quite delicious.
We have a lovely time, even running into our colleague Mac and his wife Latifa outside the restaurant. Even though the earlier part of the day was quite “hectic” (Tahira’s oft-used South African word), the evening turns out to be the perfect grand finale. I will miss Tahira immensely when I leave Oman. She makes me promise that when I get back to the U.S. and finally get a smart phone, I must download Whatsapp right away so we can chat.
By the time we arrive home in Nizwa, it is midnight. Thank goodness we have the day off Saturday now, with Oman’s revised weekend schedule, so I can sleep in! And now I have my Samsonite carry-on, just waiting for the final packing!