Did you know that in Oman, if you run a red light, you can face a fine of 500 rials (about USD $1300) and four days in jail? Yup. They take their red lights seriously here.
This is just one of the many, many things I’ve learned about life here in Oman. I’ve been in Sohar for two weeks now. I’m adjusting, slowly, and will be really settling in and doing more exploring as soon as my home is ready to move into. I can’t wait for that. But in the meantime, here are a few of my first impressions of Oman.
Some traffic laws are quite harsh, others less so. Using your phone while driving will get you a fine of 300 rials and up to 10 days in jail, but everyone seems to do it anyway. A speeding ticket only costs 10 rials (approx. USD $26) but they won’t stop you until you’re at least 10km/h over the limit, which is already 120km/h on the highway. The fine goes up with your speed and at around 180km/h it might be 50 rials and a night in jail. On the other hand, I was also told that if you’re stopped by the police, it’s probably just because they want to chat!
Omanis drive fast and somewhat aggressively, and all over the highway a bit. They turn and change lanes without signaling, cross the centre line, and pull out in front of me without warning. They come up behind me and stay close until they can pass or I get off the road. There are speed bumps everywhere that are not always really visible. A small child ran out in front of me; thankfully I was going quite slowly. I’m learning that I can’t let my attention stray for even a minute when I’m on the road.
And yet the special ‘learner’ cars are everywhere. I can’t even believe how many people seem to be learning to drive in this town. You’d think they’d be better drivers with all the learning that is going on.
People are super friendly and helpful. My coworkers have all gone out of their way to help me out, understanding that moving here is a huge adjustment. As soon as word got out that I was looking for a place to live, random people from throughout the college started trying to help. My new landlord tells me that anything I want to do to the place, I can; it’s my house now. And yesterday a friendly Canadian that I met just two days before spent 7 hours with his pickup helping move my furniture!
Omani hospitality is one of those where they offer food and drink constantly, and you can’t say no. In my first week here my boss took us all out to his camel and goat farm in the desert for a barbecue, and after a chicken leg, a lamb kebab, and a rather large kofta I still was given yet another piece of chicken, despite my protests that I couldn’t possibly eat it. So I ate it. Another day I was told that I needed juice, no arguments accepted. And I think every day there has been food at work; baklava or pastries or fresh homemade donuts or birthday cake (mine!). Just maintaining my weight is going to be difficult, never mind losing a few pounds!
Almost every Omani is Muslim, and mosques are everywhere. Surprisingly, I’ve barely noticed the calls to prayer, except when they play them in the supermarket. I am getting used to things getting done Insha’allah (God willing), which means patience is key here. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to speed up the process when Allah is in charge.
Sohar is quite spread out. Aside from a few areas there’s a lot of empty space and I can imagine the future construction filling these in as people discover what a nice place it is.
It’s dry and dusty but there are surprising amounts of green in Sohar. Trees and palms are everywhere, but you also don’t have to go far to see dry brown scrubland. And being next to the ocean, the air is quite humid, so that every time I go outside I have to wait a few minutes for my glasses to unfog.
It’s hot, but everything is air conditioned so it’s not unbearable unless you’re forced to be out in it, which you never really are. In fact the other day at work I was so cold that I had to go outside to warm up! They do tell me that a few weeks ago it was much hotter though, and that at the hottest time of year if you are wearing metal earrings and get in your car (which has been sitting in the sun) the earrings will heat up enough to scorch your ear before you can get the air conditioning going enough to cool it down. Crazy, right?
I’m getting used to covering up; at work it’s legs and chest completely covered and arms covered to the elbow, with shorter sleeves ok outside of work. A scarf has become my constant companion, always by my side ready to cover up my upper chest and neck as soon as I step out of the car. I might be erring on the conservative side, but I’m still finding my way with clothing here, testing out various items to see what I’m comfortable in.
So those are just a few of my first impressions of Oman; two weeks’ worth of my thoughts and questions answered. I’ve only just begun exploring and learning about this place so I’m sure I’ll have more to tell you soon!
So tell me, what do you want to know about Oman, Sohar, living here, or what I do? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer in a future post!
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