Oman is famously known for its flowing wadis, scenic treks and of course the opportunity to experience the desert life first hand and yet, the most amazing thing about this country are its people and their traditions. The Omani people are known worldwide for their warm welcoming dispositions and their eagerness to share their home, culture and traditions with visitors starting the very moment they land at their doorstep. Jasmina, a Croatian national who has been living in the Sultanate for the last 2 years made a point to share with her family the hospitality she had been experiencing here during their surprise visit to Oman.
Ahmed al Jaabri, an Omani with a keen interest in exploring and travelling and sharing with tourists, visitors and the world the beauty of his country, The Sultanate of Oman. Throughout his journey, he has crossed paths with people from all across the globe like Germany, France, Japan, Spain, Poland and many others.
He says, “what I like about Omani people their smiling faces and their eagerness to share their unique culture with visitors, and most travellers to Oman will have at least one story of remarkable local hospitality”.
But this trip was not a story about adventure, perfect shots or sweating victories, but a learning moment, broadening minds and souls as they experienced the real sense of Oman — It’s people, their culture and their traditions.
“Late December, my family decided to surprise me and come visit Oman and me. Although they had previously visited, this country has so many things to do, see and experience and every time you visit, you discover something new and interesting” said Yasmina.
She added, “Even though it is winter here, the temperatures here are more like summertime in Croatia, so for my family to come here and experience the nice weather compared to the below freezing temperatures there was very pleasant for them.”
Yasmina has recently met Ahmed al Jaabri and his crew, the Oman Outdoor Adventure organisation that is comprised of a group of outdoorsy hiking enthusiasts. It was then that Ahmed introduced the idea of experiencing the Omani life and welcomed her to join his family and get to know and understand their way of life. Yasmina, who is an avid traveller without hesitation agreed and she shared with us, “having travelled quite a number of countries and met so many nice people, so I immediately said Yes! Thank you! It would be a great opportunity!”
Ahmed al Jaabri and his family were no strangers to opening up their home to tourists as Ahmed had previously invited other visiting families into his home to share with them his culture and lifestyle. Yasmina, who has now been living here for a couple of years was well aware of the hospitality of the local people, took this opportunity to show her family and surprised them with the offer made by Ahmed — A unique first-hand experience of the famously known Omani hospitality.
On Friday morning, after the customary dolphin watching trip — Yasmina and her family arranged with Ahmed to meet at his cousin’s home in the beautiful beachside homes in Yiti.
Yiti is where Ahmed grew up and the area of Oman where his family has lived for many generations. Although they have since moved, they still come back to the place they grew up in and many residents of the area continue to live where their ancestors first settled. “I hope the beauty of Yiti stays as it is, secluded and quiet with donkeys all around”.
At noon, the Croatian family reached their hosts home where they were welcomed by a young lady doing henna — a paste that stains the skin is used to draw intricate designs on the feet and arms for special occasions. On this day, the special occasion was their visiting guests.
Fascinated, the women of the group settled around the young lady waiting to have henna done on their arms. Jasmina said, “Just in a few minutes amazing drawings showed up on our skin. It is a work of art that she is doing without any template. I am always amazed how people can draw so fast beautiful patterns. I have been in some beauty salons in Muscat and I can always admire such craft and expression of beauty…”
The paste is applied using a cone, depending on the area covered by the drawing, these expert women only take 10 to 15 minutes to draw each design and once drawn, is left to dry for 20 minutes. Once dry, the crusty paste is scrubbed off and left behind is a warm orange intricate design. Although almost amber when it is first seen, the colour develops over time and gets darker in the following hours. By the next day, the design is dark and beautiful and all the small delicate designs become vibrant.
Once the ladies had their henna done, the hosts sat the guests down in the traditional Omani lunch/dinner setting — on the floor.
Lunch was elaborate, on the floor served was a delicious variety of fried fish, chicken curry, rice and salads. A completely new experience that is very different from the usual, Yasmina shared that, “It was a little bit challenging, but we had done it before, so this time was not so bad. A little bit of laughter later, we have done our best. We finished with cup of tea and Omani coffee (qahwah) served in small cup. ”
After their scrumptious lunch, the group then went to another house. Ahmed’s sister, keen to share her heritage with the lovely guests displayed in her home an array of artefacts, old and new that are an integral part of her and her people’s daily lives.
The use of naturally made mats and food covers, a practice that is widely seen to this day is not only the perfect way to keep their crafts and traditions alive but also better for the environment. Yasmina, happy about the continued use of these products, said, “Mats for serving and covering the food made of dried cod which nowadays is replaced by usage of plastic one which makes me very sad. It became a big environmental issue in all countries and I hope it will be recognised as a big problem as soon as possible to preserve still untouchable nature of Oman. I could see all these things in museums in Oman but to see a house like this was a new experience. I always admire when local people respect their history even they live a modern lifestyle.”
As a final hurrah, the Omani women displayed their festive traditional clothes and offered to the visitors a chance to adorn these brightly coloured garments. Yasmina explained, “These dresses were handmade, with so many colours and some of them very glittering especially for wedding parties. Ladies helped us to dress up and we looked so different from our usual appearance. Of course, to have final brush up, they perfumed us with rose water and some special scents!”
And like all good things, this excitement filled day also had to come to an end. As we left, the ladies of both groups hugged. This bittersweet moment marked the start of a friendship, the guests left with full stomachs, rose scented and memories that may never be matched. Happy & content, this is the Omani hospitality that they had heard so much about, and it truly stuck true.
“I could not wish a better day for my family to spend in Oman than this, thanks to Ahmed and his family! I hope more visitors will have this opportunity to get to know kindness and simplicity of Omani people.” Said Yasmina.