filed in Oman on Jan.22, 2009
I had an experience yesterday which was interesting to say the least. In the morning I checked out of my room and walked several kilometers to the Nizwa Fort. I could have taken a taxi, but I figured the walk would do me good. When I got back I got my bags and went out to the road to hail a taxi. Some guy pulled up to me offered to give me a ride.
Actually, I only assumed he was offering me a ride as he spoke no English and I spoke no Arabic. I was only going a short distance to the roundabout down the road where taxis would wait to take people to Muscat. Muscat is about 90 minutes from Nizwa and the cost of a taxi seemed pretty cheap from what everyone has told me.
The man who picked me up told me he was going to Muscat and would drive me there. By “told me” we sort of gestured and figured out what we were saying to each other. He had to get his car washed then we could go. His name was Fazid (I think. Again, that wasn’t totally clear).
We were supposed to be ready in 30 min, so we went to a coffee shop nearby and had something to eat. (the coffee shops here seem to be more diners or restaurants than cafes). We got some saffron rice and chicken. I offered to pay but he refused.
I must admit my American travel sense was tingling. As an American, you are raised to be suspicious of anyone offering you anything: candy, free rides, free vacations in exchange for listening to a time share pitch, or five CDs for only a penny, are all things which should be viewed cautiously. I had no idea if this guy was a serial killer or what. Then again, only a American would probably assume that someone trying to help was a serial killer….but I digress.
After two hours, the car was washed and we were ready to go. This entire ride was only going to save me about $6, so I easily could have said “thanks but no thanks” and taken a taxi, but I decided to go with it. (As an aside, all the cars in Oman are really, really clean. They give tickets for unwashed cars. Likewise, all the buildings are clean and look as if they have been recently painted.)
We took off down the very nice highway to Muscat. The Nizwa/Muscat highway is as good or better than any stretch of interstate you will find in the US. Four lanes, divided road, on ramps and off ramps, and most of the road has lighting. He put in a CD of the only music he had which was in English for me, which turned out to be some of the nastiest hard core rap I’ve ever heard. I had no idea who the artists were, but one song was from Eminem. The funny thing is he probably had no idea what they were saying.
As we were going down the road, the sun set and he eventually turned off the road. He said something in Arabic but I didn’t understand. Was he taking a short cut? Was he stopping to see relatives? Was he going to the ditch he was going to dump my dead body into? I had no clue.
We ended up going through a small town where he pulled over to buy some lamb kebobs from a vendor on the street. Again I tried to pay, but he refused any money. We pulled out again and eventually got back onto the highway.
Eventually as we got to Muscat I told him I was going to Ruwi, where I wanted to stay. I don’t know where in Muscat he was going or if Ruwi was far out of his way, but he gladly took me there, dropped me off, shook hands, and left.
Since I’ve been in the Middle East, I’ve met surprisingly few Arabs. Most of the people I met in Dubai were Indian, Pakistani or Filipino. In Oman I’ve met western tourists and here to most of the people you deal with in hotels and restaurants are Indian. Fazid was the first Arab I’ve been able to spend any time with…..and we couldn’t speak a word to each other.
In the end, he bought me lunch, a kebob, drove me to Muscat and paid for gas. He didn’t accept any money nor expected anything in return. He just picked me up off the street and drove me 160km.
When people ask me if as an American I’m scared of being in the Middle East, I’m going to tell them about Fazid. Not only is there nothing to be scared of, these are some of the nicest, most generous people you will meet on Earth.
I know that for my own limited exposure to Arab culture while I was in Dubai there were one of two reactions to me and my friends from the Arabs we meet and saw. From those that we just saw on the street but really had no interaction with there was just an air of indifference. From the Arabs that we did interact with though, they were always curtious and friendly towards us. Whether they were shop owners, waiters, taxi drivers, or just a random person we happened to end up talking to, they were always friendly and ready to help in whatever way they could. Their friendlyness also came off as much more genuin than the fake feeling southern hospitality I came to know so well during my state side travels in the navy.