lizzie ewart-james
4 min readFeb 3, 2020


O is for Oman/O is for Oil

Did you know that Oman is the only country in the world whose name starts with O?

We have travelled in a remarkably short time from one of the poorest countries in the world, Jordan to two of the richest. Our visit to the Gold Souk in Dubai yesterday was mind blowing, so much wealth, and trinkets galore for the thousands of cruise ship passengers who love nothing better than a day of shopping. There is the biggest Mall in the world with an aquarium with sharks and crocodiles and a second one with a real ski slope. And the difference between these countries is all down to oil. I doubt there will be many Greta Thornberg fans here.

We arrive in Muscat and choose one of the less popular tours — I couldn’t stand another day in a souk being pestered to buy ‘stuff’. We get another lovely guide who like Jossi is very proud of his country, He tells us ‘We get on with all our neighbours and they are all at war with each other but not with Oman. The Sultan of Oman died the day we left on this trip so the country is observing 40 days of mourning. This Sultan was educated at Sandhurst (the British had to be in there somewhere) and sounded like a very reasonable man. He modernised the country starting free education including for girls, free health care, no taxes and he would not have any truck with war. When he died, as was the custom, he left a letter saying who he thought should be the next Sultan in the event the current Royal Family could not agree. However, he was so respected the Royal Family agreed to open the letter and go with what he thought was best. Still a bit of nepotism — he chose one of his cousins but not the one they all expected.

Our guide said when the Americans elected Trump his cruise passengers were all asking if they could come and live in Oman. Judging by the passengers I have talked to so far it is the Trump supporters who can now afford to go cruising.

He takes us to visit the Omani equivalent of a small 200 year old country manor house occupied by one large family. Men can still have 4 wives but not many do — I haven’t quite got the courage to ask him how many he has. He is keen to impress on us how emancipated woman are in Oman and certainly they are allowed to dress more colourfully than in Saudi Arabia.. He gets me dressed up in a gold head dress with a lovely blue shawl — big improvement on the drab black. The men wear long white robes but with a hat and or a turban — no tea towels here.

The men have a little scented tassel attached to their robes near their necks which they can sniff when they encounter an unpleasant smell. Now that could catch on if you have a dog. Our dog, much as I am missing him, can clear a room in five seconds. Keeping on the subject of smells, in the old days their loos didn’t have any doors. When nature called, you changed your shoes and put on a pair of wooden sandals — very like the old scholl sandals we used to wear. You clop around which tells everyone you are in there. You better not take too long! In that event I assume you would have to keep stomping. You also have to remember to enter with your left foot and leave with your right. The right foot and hand seems to be the more respectful ones. Catholics used to be called left footers in Glasgow in the more Protestant area where I lived when I was a little girl. Religion has some funny ways of dividing people all over the world. You eat with your right hand but there are some concessions for left handed people I was glad to hear. They also used deaf people to serve at meetings where they were worried about spies, Boris are you listening — that might stop all those cabinet leaks.

We went to an oasis where there was a hot spring in the rocks and you could dip your feet in the river and little fish and some not so little fish nibble at your feet. They left my fingers alone probably didn’t like nail polish but they did like my feet and it was most disconcerting to have them nibbling away and every so often you’d get quite a nip.

We have the statutory group photo. Why on earth do I have to have my picture taken with about 20 people I barely know and given the size of the ship may never see again. But it is always part of the tour. I have never seen so many clean white cars, it is an offence to have a dirty car. The houses are also white or light coloured by decree. A very important luxury seems to be a personalised number plate. It is the most prized possession above all others. Our guide says in Dubai he likes the fact that money from a sale of a number plate goes to poor people, not so in Oman apparently. Maybe there just aren’t any poor in Oman.

They have an obsession in these rich countries with having the biggest or the tallest of everything — hence the tallest building in Dubai. They had the biggest mosque in Oman until recently but now Abu Dabbi has built an even bigger one. Darn it!!

We meet a well preserved 80 year old chap at lunch who is on his own. We nicknamed him ‘Mr not averse’ He tells us that his daughter warned him about the many predatory females he may find on the cruise. He is sitting at a table with other solos and having an hilarious time and already had a date for deck quoits so, as he put it ‘he is not averse’ to the company of ladies, but is biding his time a