Friday, May 4: This morning I take a walk down from the Corniche Hotel along the Mutrah corniche toward Mutrah Souq. I go for the sole purpose of taking pictures of the colorful souq, but of course I can never visit the souq without being tempted to buy something…. 🙂
It is already hot and muggy even at 9 a.m. Muscat is notoriously more humid than Nizwa. My little hometown of Nizwa is actually quite dry; the heat is more bearable than in Muscat, which lies on the coast of the Sea of Oman.
I come across the Al Lawatiya Mosque, with its beautiful teal blue and gold minaret and dome and its blue calligraphy-covered sign over the door. Word has it this mosque is the place of worship for the Lawati community who migrated from India more than 300 years ago.
I continue down toward the souq and then into its dark alleyways into an explosion of color & scent: irresistible textiles, frankincense, saffron, silver, shoes, vases, khanjars, treasure chests and camel bone vases.
I meander through the souq, snapping pictures and fending off the offers for pashmina shawls from the Indian vendors. I always say the same thing: “It’s too warm in Oman for pashminas!” I guess for tourists who will return home to cooler climes, pashminas are great, but for someone living in Oman, it’s just too darn hot to wear wool! The only place it would be possible to wear these beautiful scarves would be in the Royal Opera House, where it’s possible to encounter Arctic temperatures!
At one point, I buy a purple flowered lightweight cotton scarf that I can actually wear in Oman. I also buy an Indian wall-hanging with a “jolly-looking elephant” on it (these are my friend James’s words when he sees the wall-hanging later).
I happen upon a shopkeeper more interested in sending texts on his mobile than selling his Frankincense….
I make the mistake of going into the following shop, stuffed to the brim with silver, textiles, canes, pottery. You name it they have it.
I take my camera inside, where I find these cool beaded yarn strands, harking back to the hippie days of the 1960s. I ask the Indian salesman how much they are. He tells me 4 rials (~ $11). I say, “4 rials!! For one??” He says yes. I say, “Wow! That’s expensive! It would cost me a fortune if I wanted to buy a whole set of the strands to hang across a window or something!” He says, “Yes, but they’re all handmade.” “Yes, I can see that,” say I. “They’re really beautiful. But what can I do with only one or two?” I continue around the shop, taking a few more pictures, and I ask a price about something else. The guy tells me it is 10 rials. I say, “10 rials?? That’s expensive!!”
Now I have to say I don’t usually drive a hard bargain at the souq, but it seems to me that, for the items this guy is selling, the prices are exorbitant.
I say, “Well, I live in Nizwa, so….” I’m going to say, as I always do when I come to the souq, that since I live here and am not a tourist, they might consider giving me a better deal. Since I live here I can become a repeat customer. But before I can even get that statement out of my mouth, the Omani man sitting at the counter interrupts, very rudely, “If you’re from Nizwa, go on back to Nizwa! Don’t you ask any more prices in here. If you take any more pictures I will break your camera.” By then he has come over to me and is grabbing for my camera! I pull it out of his reach and say, “Don’t you dare!!” He tells me to leave the shop and on the way out I say, for the benefit of the tourists, “That guy is a weirdo!” I can’t help myself…I am so angry!! I don’t like people who try to bully me and I refuse to be bullied. I won’t stand down!
I don’t see why a shopkeeper should get angry at me for taking a picture in a shop. It’s not like I am taking the item itself with me! It’s just a picture!! What can I do with a picture? I can’t use it as a curtain, I can’t wear it, I can’t use it to hold flowers!! I can’t use it to carry things, nor can I use it to burn incense. And I certainly can’t make any money off of it! As a matter of fact, by taking a picture, and posting it on my blog, I may inspire someone to visit the souq and spend money! Novel idea!!
And why should someone be angry if a customer protests about a shop’s prices? I’m sure customers do it all the time. Is it just because I say I am from Nizwa?? Is he thinking I’m comparing prices with the Nizwa souq? Is he angry because I am a foreigner living in Oman? I honestly don’t get it!!
I leave, shaking that place and its bully proprietor off of me, and continue through the souq, where no other shopkeepers seem to have any problem with me taking pictures of their goods. Finally, after I have bought a brown and turquoise flowered tunic, the aforementioned “jolly elephant” wall-hanging, and the purple scarf, I head outdoors to sit at a table under an umbrella. I order a lime mint soda which is incredibly refreshing. I look up at the bank’s temperature sign and it says 45 C degrees (113 Fahrenheit)!!
I am hot and tired and irritable, but I try to enjoy sitting and drinking the lime mint. Sweet relief…. 🙂
After relaxing a bit, a German tour group decides to invade my table, where I had been sitting happily alone, so I leave and walk back along the corniche. I can see across the harbor to the huge incense burner on a hilltop in Riyam Park, where I will visit next.
Finally, at the end of the corniche, I pass by the Fish Roundabout, a famous landmark in Mutrah.
I enjoy my morning at the souq, but now I’m happy to get in my air-conditioned car and take a drive. A very long ~ and cool ~ drive.