The famous expectation was smashed, positively, in our encounter with the sultanate of Oman.
It’s a fact that our head is influenced by a daily bombing of information that we receive passively and ends up forming pre concepts of everything. For instance, what is the concept of the word Oman for you? For who doesn’t have the curiosity about what is outside his homeland and never did well in geography may not even know it is a country, neither its location… But what image do you have?
In my case, even after a brief research about the security level, what to do and where to stay, I didn’t expect nothing besides that image of one of the most affluent nations in the Middle East. I also had in mind the possibility of seeing a few exaggerations from the commander of one of the five remaining absolute monarchies in the planet. Still…
The truth is that being there, these feared overstates were showed to be actually a development for everyone, as everything seems to work and there is an impeccable care with the public patrimony. The pictures attest it.
Sultan Qaboos has put himself in power in 1970 deposing his father through a coup. Familiar misunderstandings… According to the UN, Oman is the country that has developed the most in the past forty years. Imagine for who arrived there from Ethiopia after having recently passed by the also monarchy of Swaziland. Both with a brazen misery.
Oman is situated just below Saudi Arabia, approximately four million people live there, out of which almost half is foreigner. His main source of income is petrol and gas, but he isn’t among the top twenty producers worldwide. For what we were able to ask, see and feel poverty does not exist. Believe it or not. We were mostly in Muscat, the capital, but we’ve walked by the surroundings and went to the old capital, Nizwa, to see with our own eyes in the countryside this dream of social equality. It’s still hard to believe, but it seems real.
A few curiosities so we can accept its veracity are: The less privileged houses we saw were noticeable only due to its failures on the painting, but they had air conditioner; You can’t see trash in the streets, only motorized dustmen hunting, literally, dirt; The city landscape is impressive with everything new, beautiful gardens, organized streets and excellent signs. With less than fifteen dollars you can fill up your car tank, what shows that at least the natural resources are fairly cheap for its owners. (It’s worth reminding an oil company called Petrobrás, for example, and a few shameful facts about her…); Public services for education and health work very nicely.
Jobs like gardener, waiter and cleaner are usually made by foreigners, majorly from very unequal countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Philippines. There are laws that protect them seriously, guaranteeing housing, health and food (subsidized by the companies). The minimum wage is legally established according to the cost of living in the country of origin. It ends up to be an amazing opportunity for these immigrants who would hardly have a change to live with dignity in their countries. The monthly salary for Philippines starts in three hundred and ten dollars, for instance, and there is still the possibility of a career growth.
Talking to them, we found out that many live in shared rooms in the place where they work, what I presumed not to be necessarily a comfortable shelter. This happens just because there isn’t practically public transportation inside the city, – unbelievable – what I only accepted as real when I could not see any in the streets.
Besides this kind of jobs, they valorise and look overseas for qualified teachers to give a good education for Omanis, academic and technical. These facts justify the massive presence of foreigners from all over the world.
There are also problems, mainly in that grey area, what I couldn’t really get to know in just a few days. There are traces of corruption, as characterless people are always around unfortunately… The ostentation is at its peak especially for new noisy cars and sad floods happen, as the city was not prepared for post climate change storms.
The majority is Ibadi, one of the interpretations of Islam. They respect other religions, accept churches in the country and the Christian Christmas is also a holiday, even not being a celebration date for them.
Polygamy is allowed, just as abortion and divorce. One fact that I’ve never heard before is that the first wife needs to approve the second marriage and also the woman with who she will share the husband. In these situations where the women cannot marry for love and end up submitted to the customs imposed, it might be an advantage having someone besides chosen by her and getting a husband free-time… With all the respect .
Something unusual is that the sultan is divorced and didn’t get married again, what intrigues me quite a lot being an leader with absolute power where polygamy is allowed. I keep the doubt about the motive and prefer not to leave my hypothesis explicit, unfortunately…
A concerning costume is that in order to preserve the family wealth many cousin marriages still happen, what increases the probability of children with genetic diseases. This protectionism is sad, as much as the ignorant preference for boys that still prevails.
Wanting to understand the reality that the tourist can’t see, I also read more about the country. Illiteracy is 13% (source: Wikipedia), human rights and freedom of speech is still quite controversy. Especially regarding this topic, is hard to find out in internet and books, but there are cases of arrests with no reason and journalists’ censure. A nebulous doubt remains in that – thriller moment… –
The sultan has total power autonomy and as authoritarian as it sounds we felt a social development vision that we haven’t seen in any other pseudo-democratic country. Therefore he has his merits, especially when we compare to nations with even more natural wealth, like Angola, that also has its “sultan” in command for more than thirty years and the country is widely poor and corrupt.
However he squanders power and proprieties. Than my dilemmas start… If the leader was capable of guarantying services, infrastructure and dignity for the life of his people, he has the right to have and use the national income as he wishes?
He has one of the five biggest yachts ever built, a pompous mosque with a colossal garden and the parliament – which is merely a consultative institution for not having power at all – looks like a gigantic fortress with wonderful brand new buildings. Does it make sense?
My first idea is that as he “solved” the country, he would have the right to do whatever he wanted with the exceeding national income. But then I remember that he put himself in power with a coup d’état deposing his own father. After that I think that the work done by the unfortunate foreigners might be an opportunity for them, but also a cheaper labour force usage. Lastly, there is still a solid human rights issue.
My preliminary conclusion might be nagging or even too utopian, but it’s mine. Disregarding the fact that this could be the case of the most conscious leader for the common good, the sultan surrender himself to the pleasures of having and has a very sensible ego for overwhelming the freedom of critic. Would it be too dreamer to think that after enhancing his tiny piece of land and water of the planet, called Oman, he could help other homelands of the same race – human – instead of prettifying more his country? I think so…
Caveat: this text is a way to share my impressions and thoughts about this experience. It is not a deep study about the country history neither a judgment about its current situation.
The most magnificent of this Omani experience is that we proved that developing the living environment nourishes generosity and good manners. Every time we needed assistance, we were kindly guided independently if it was a girl or a boy (Gabi and I), what also proves how mistaken is to accept prejudices from non-islamics who generalize an entire religion. It’s not a religious speech, just evidence that the common sense followed by many is purely due to the intentional ignorance of not wanting to learn appropriately before judging and opining.
We felt it especially when our friend Vickie Reynecke offered us a ride when she saw two lost people in the middle of the road. Her gentle attitude just saved around five hours of our day :). Even not being a local citizen, she has been living there for ten years and clearly transmits the energy from there. Besides introducing us to the city and teaching us so much during a dinner we had together with her sisters, she left a gigantically positive energy with us to believe the generosity generates spontaneous joy and hope. Gratitude Vickie!
In the end, our quest for inspirations was done through experiences in which we could live a new and different reality among many new friends.
Beyond a lot of thinking I’ve also taken a doubt in my pocket when I left: What is going to be of Oman and its four million habitants when the petroleum is over? Well, let’s not suffer in advance, isn’t it?
The thought that stays is how to find a fair social development, as we apparently saw there, while we can evolve our mind perfectly enough to understand that the addictions of the “power to have” are an artificial reality that create dependence.