One of the many things to love about life in a Muslim country is the recognition and observance of sacred Islamic holidays. Some get frustrated with the unpredictability of lunar sightings and last-minute holiday announcements but we take it in stride because 1. It’s all paid holiday time 2. This is not our homeland to criticize and 3. We have way more holiday time than we’ve ever had in our working lives. As usual of Eid observance, Urbndervish had an entire week off from work, Alhamdulillah (praise be to God). Some of our Omani friends embarked on their religious pilgrimage to Mecca while many of the expats jet-setted to places as far as England or as exotic as Ethiopia. It was tempting to do some traveling ourselves, even though we just barely shook off our latest bout of jet lag. But this year we had the great honor of introducing Oman to some very dear friends of ours visiting from the UAE. Even though we met in the US almost nine years ago, this was our first time hosting them and the most time we had ever spent with them. We rekindled our friendships, renewed our bond as traveling families living abroad, and hopefully recruited another family to Oman. Even if they don’t decide to move to the south side of the Gulf, we look forward to visiting their neck of the sand dunes very soon.
Just as Lil’ Z drifted into her afternoon nap, our friends arrived in Nizwa with their sleepy boys. With all of the children resting, we embraced and chatted about their journey from Abu Dhabi. They were anxious about the border crossing but much like we discovered earlier this year, Mazyad is the border of choice from Al Ain to Oman. A quickly prepared lunch of pumpkin lentil stew, fried plantains and dumplings was ready to be served just as the children were shaking off their sleep and getting reacquainted in the play space. Lil’ Z had a staunch policy against playing with boys at our earlier meeting in Abu Dhabi, but she’s now learning to give boys a chance. She shared her toys and activities freely and was eager to break bread with them. After our hearty meal, the sun began to set, and we departed after our evening prayers.
A light rain chased us out of Nizwa en route to Muscat, but precipitation is always welcomed in the desert–especially for our guests who couldn’t recall the last time it rained in Abu Dhabi. Working our way to Ruwi, our caravan parted to check-in at our respective hotels. We opted to return to Ruwi Hotel because of their location, service, and buffet breakfast. Surprisingly, Lil’ Z recognized the hotel room as familiar and instantly felt oriented and comfortable sleeping there. After making sure that our guests reached their hotel safely, we tucked in for the night and prepared for the next day’s itinerary.
After a colorful breakfast buffet of dhal, baked beans, paratha, fresh fruits, and juice, we made our way to Qurm to visit the Children’s Museum. On the last working day before the start of the Eid holiday, the museum welcomed us with wide open spaces and few visitors. Our children explored the exhibits freely without having to share or wait their turn.
In partnership with a sister museum in Ontario, the Children’s Museum offered opportunities for hands-on learning for youth of all ages. There’s even a small play area for under-five’s who are not as concerned about models of the solar system, making their own cartoons, or testing their grip strength. At some moments during our visit, it seemed that the adults were more engaged in the exhibitions than the children. As we approached mid-day, we headed toward Ansab to pray in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque while the little ones ran freely on the mosque grounds and in the garden.
For lunch, we decided on the Great Kabab Factory, which we hadn’t returned to since our first visit two years ago. Not because the food wasn’t delectable or the price wasn’t right but simply because we couldn’t recall where it was located. In the early months of our move to Oman, Muscat was still a maze to us. Lo and behold, the Great Kebab Factory was only a stone’s throw from my homeopath’s office in al-Khuwair. Serving both a veg and non-veg menu, the restaurant is a seated buffet, meaning that your servers bring you every available dish and you can ask for additional helpings as much as you like. Much like our first visit, Urbndervish and I were really impressed by the concept and wondered if the metered access to food results in less overeating and less waste.
Our next stop was Mutrah Corniche and Souq—one of our very favorite spots to take visitors in Muscat. Hugging the Sultan Qaboos Port, the corniche encompasses a great panoramic view stretching from the docked boats and ferries to the peak of Riyam Park. In the late afternoon, the salty mist is refreshing on your face while the sun sinks behind the mosques and stores opposite the ocean. For complete shade, you can enter the covered Mutrah Souq where all kinds of wares are sold to you in almost every language imaginable.
It’s an absolute must to leave the souq either having purchased pure Omani frankincense or leaving with its scent smoked into your clothing. As you penetrate to the center of the souq, there’s little ventilation and the heat starts to rise. The children were sweaty and weary after patiently walking the aisles with us and resisting the urge to touch every sparkly and shiny trinket in sight. We quickly finished our shopping to enjoy some refreshing fresh fruit juices outdoors en route to Riyam Park at the very end of the corniche, heading away from the port. After some run and tumble time in the grass, we retired for the evening and rested up for the next day’s journey.
To be continued…