Friday, April 13: This morning I go for a walk with my camera, taking a left out of my building and wandering down a residential street to the back of Nizwa souq. It’s about a 20 minute walk each way, which is a little shorter than the distance I walk each morning on my walking trail.
I usually don’t walk this way because of all the Pakistani, Indian and Omani men and boys that stare unabashedly at an unaccompanied white female. I always feel like these men are either glaring at me (as if to say “how dare you come out here in this man’s world!”) or just staring out of curiosity. Sometimes, from the way they stare, I wonder if any of them have seen a white woman before, although Nizwa is full of white women, either tourists or expats working at one of the three colleges in town. It would be hard to miss us. Sometimes these men are friendly, but sometimes not. The Omani men are generally friendlier, but the Pakistanis usually just stare darkly as they walk by. I usually feel uncomfortable, but today I’m determined to take pictures so I just go out and act as confident as a man.
The first thing I see is a huge sprawling cemetery on both sides of the road, much like the Nizwa cemetery I wrote about in an earlier post. Gravestones are simple, uncarved rock fragments set upright in the ground, modestly typical of Islamic tradition. It really looks like some kind of moonscape, or a rock plain with random rocks tossed about. This cemetery is huge and right next to my house. I didn’t even know it was here until one of my colleagues told me about it.
I continue past the cemetery taking photos of the various Omani houses and their beautiful gates and doors. Most Omani homes are surrounded by high concrete walls and elaborate closed gates, leaving us outsiders wondering about the secret lives behind the doors. Plants and climbing vines are often seen tumbling over these walls in bursts of color, enticing us as we walk by.
After the more modern residences, I come to the old walled quarter of Al Aqr, a traditional Omani town of imposing two- and three-story mudbrick houses in various stages of decay. Many are toppling or in serious imbalance. Surprisingly I read that many of the dilapidated houses here are inhabited by the town’s huge Pakistani community, and when I walk through the town I do in fact see Pakistani men, boys and children spilling out of the doors of these houses.
What’s a shame is the trash that is so pervasive. I don’t know why, if Oman is trying to develop tourism, the government doesn’t make a huge effort to clean up these tourist destinations. Piles of rubbish are strewn throughout here and multitudes of other spots I visit, places I know are tourist destinations. If the country really wants to succeed in tourism, cleaning up the environment would be a sure recipe for success.
I continue my walk into the surrounding souq area where there are numerous tailor, barber & laundry shops. Most of them look like nothing more than holes in the wall with brightly colored signs, and most are run by Pakistanis.
Finally I come to the small roundabout in front of Nizwa Fort. I’ve been in the fort numerous times, so I just walk toward the souq, where there is always something interesting to capture on film. I sit in the square for awhile and snap pictures of Omani men walking by, on their way to take care of some kind of business.
As I walk down toward the souq, I see a large group of older men affectionately handling, inspecting and playing around with rifles. Some are sitting on a bench around a tree and I ask if I can take a picture of them. They are friendly enough to let me do so. But when I try to ask them questions about their rifles and what they are doing here, it becomes obvious that, first, no one speaks English, and second, I am an interloper among these men. Still. They are an easy-going brotherhood, having a good time and laughing, a kind of Sunday social hour.
I definitely stand out here because all I see are men everywhere. Luckily Nizwa souq is a tourist destination, so I see a smattering of tourist couples. I rarely see a woman alone like I am. But I am determined to do whatever I want in Oman despite the fact that I’m a woman. I am not going to stay in my house and be intimidated by this culture. I’m just not that kind of person.
So I continue on my merry way, walking around the mosque and trying to figure out how to get a picture of the mosque so that I can see the dome, but no matter where I go, the dome doesn’t show. I know it has quite a beautiful dome because I’ve seen it before from the top of Nizwa Fort.
Finally, I turn back as it’s getting quite hot. I walk the 20 minutes along the back road to return to my cool air-conditioned flat and stay inside the rest of the day. 🙂