Posted by Christy Purnadi
This semester, I’m interning with the Department of State in Dubai at the US Consulate. However, because I’m only here for 12 weeks, I am on a tourist visa. A funny thing about the UAE is that you can stay with no problems for 30 days on a tourist visa, but the moment you overstay, the fines rack up. I basically needed to leave the country and come back. Since Oman is just next door, I decided to visit, taking a bus to Muscat from Dubai.
After exploring Muscat Friday night, I hailed a taxi and headed back to the hotel. I chatted with my taxi driver about Oman and the culture. He asked me if I wanted to see the Grand Mosque (the biggest tourist attraction in Muscat) to which I replied yes. He told me that he could come pick me up the next day sometime between 8-11 as that was when the mosque was open. He gave me his number and told me to contact him for a pick up time.
Well the next morning, I woke up and looked for information about the Grand Mosque on my phone and realized that it was open from 8am-11am. I don’t know where I got the idea that it was open until 11pm, but it was already 9. I needed to get going if I wanted to see the Mosque. I texted to taxi driver, asking him to come get me.
I quickly got ready, checked out, and waited in the lobby.
“Hey, did you call a cab?” A woman in her 40s or 50s called out to me. I rushed out. It turns out that she also wanted to go to the Grand Mosque and was waiting for a taxi cab. After waiting a couple of minutes for a no-show, she decided to join me. Our taxi driver asked if we had any head coverings or abayas to which we shook our heads. “No worries! You can borrow my daughter’s!”
In the car, I chatted more with the other woman to find out that she was from the States and was traveling the world as a pilates instructor, possibly the most unconventional career I’ve heard of!
We arrived at the Grand Mosque and put on our abayas and head coverings.
I expected our taxi driver to just drop us off, but he joined us and acted as a tour guide, telling us little tidbits and showing us great photo ops.
At the end of walking around the mosque, we got complimentary dates and tea. After telling them that we were from America, we were ushered into a room where they started a conversation about Islam. As I looked around, there seemed to be other Westerners. It was really interesting to see locals start conversations with Westerners to help combat Islamophobia.
I completely enjoyed myself, asking question after question, but my traveling partners seemed keener to get going. So I reluctantly said goodbye, though it sparked an interest in me to better understand Islam.
On the way back to the car, our taxi driver unexpectedly announced that we would be having lunch with his family. This is probably something that would never happen back in the States, but when in Oman, do as the Omanis do.
Proud to show off his culture, the taxi driver took us around to see different picturesque sites. He showed Oman to us, and we stopped at different sites giving us an overall tour of the city.
Afterward, we went to his home – a very quaint place with an open courtyard and rooms surrounding the area. We had lunch with his daughters in their room, and we asked about the food (which was absolutely delicious), their thoughts on living in Oman, and their aspirations. At some point, one of the daughter’s pulled out her phone and showed us a snap from one of her friends. “Oh! You guys use Snapchat?” I asked her. “Everyone has Snapchat and Instagram!” My traveling companion, who was probably 35 years older than me, didn’t know what Snapchat was. It was interesting trying to close the generational gap, as an American girl teaming up with an Omani girl, by explaining what Snapchat was. It was a moment that struck me: I realized just how globalized we are and how the generational gap is sometimes larger than the cultural gap.
Though it was for just a day, Oman taught me so much about kindness and hospitality. Although we made an interesting group: an Omani taxi driver, a traveling pilates instructor, and me – an American intern, we finished the day as friends with shared experiences and a bond that will hopefully last a lifetime.