Life in Foreign
Well, here it is at long last!! I'm afraid things got crazy around here,
Generally it's very pleasant. Omanis, except for when they're behind the wheel, are courteous to a fault. As is typical of the Gulf, you rarely deal with them in the shops because non-management jobs are beneath their dignity and therefore filled by Indians, Pakistanis, or Filipino(a)s. As a woman you can dress more or less as you please, though shorts and skirts above the knee are frowned upon. That said, you won't be jailed because you appeared in them. And two-piece bathing suits are no-nos except at five-star hotels where they're tolerated.
Winters are wonderful: November through mid-March can't be beat. The coldest I've ever seen along the coast was 11 degrees C. There are some rainy days, but they're thin on the ground regardless of the season. But when it rains for much more than a half hour, there can be flooding. People and cars are often washed down wadis during rain storms. As for the summers, it's one of the hottest places on earth. We go for days in June, July, and August when the temp doesn't go below 42 or 43. And I have seen 53 (127F). But it's at its worst when it's in the low 40's with 90+% humidity, which also happens. If you wear glasses, they steam over when you go outside, and condensation runs down the outside of the windows. A sauna comes to mind.
As in the rest of the Gulf, there's very little you can't find somewhere. Every conceivable food item is available. With the collection of ethnic groups that we have, you can get virtually anything you can imagine from bottled Filipino jackfruit to Pop Tarts. You can even get jalapenos and tortillas (There's a company in Dubai that makes both flour and corn tortillas and exports them around the Gulf). Bear in mind, some of this stuff is real pricey, but it's here. It sure ain't Cairo, I can tell you! Ready-to-wear clothing is slightly more problematic because tasteful stuff is VERY expensive. However, there are great tailors around. You can have a shirt or blouse or pants or skirt copied for a bit under $10. We often buy fabric when we travel, bring it back, and have things made up. There are plenty of consumer items, too, of course, though I recommend bringing things like ink cartridges for printers. The $15 ink cartridge for my Canon Bubble-jet costs about $45 here. Paperbacks are about 4x the price I'd pay in the States. Yet things like Delsey suitcases are cheaper. I paid $90 for a bag identical to the one my wife bought in Minneapolis for $160. As you can see, these differentials vary. Oh, the current is 240v 50Hz and they use those awful, gigantic, over-designed British plugs, but lots of stuff is sold with continental European and American plugs, so you soon learn to deal with all kinds of adapters and what-not.
Restaurants: This is one of the less attractive aspects of the Capital Area. (Note I didn't say Muscat, for there's very little in Muscat itself outside of a tacky palace, a fairly nice mosque, a fort, and a few governemnt buildings.) They're mostly either ultra-expensive five-star hotel watering-holes or hole-in-the-wall subcontinental greasy spoons. We do have the whole gamut of US fast-food joints: McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Hardee's, KFC, Burger King, and Taco Bell's. KFC and Pizza Hut have proven VERY popular with several franchises each.
Bars 'n' booze: Bars are only found in 4- and 5-star hotels. Expect to pay about $3.00 for a beer. No idea what hard stuff costs. This also goes for night-clubs/discos. These, too, are limited to the big hotels. As for off-sale liquor, non-Muslims can get a "liquor license", which allows them to buy booze in an amount not to exceed 10% of monthly salary. You buy it in the local MASE shop, which reminds me of an adult bookstore in the States: painted-over doors and windows.
Movies: There's only one theater and it shows mostly Indian and Pakistani films. Western films do appear, but they're pretty brutally cut.
Videos: The Omanis haven't really accepted the notion of copyright, so there are lots of video shops that rent out pirated versions. We generally get first-run films within 3-6 months of their premieres. We saw Twister and Independence Day six weeks ago. Cost? Between $1.50-$2.00 depending on the shop, but you can keep them a week or so. No mad rush to get a film back to the viedoman here.
Books/foreign newspapers: Very pricey. Basically, you take the cover price and change the $ sign to rials -- and a rial is $2.58!! Example: The local bookshop wants $45 for a copy of Excel for Dummies... A copy of Popular Photography costs $10.
Things to do:
If you're at all outdoorsy or athletic, Oman is a great place. There's superb snorkelling and diving - the Gulf of Oman isn't quite as good as the Red Sea, but it's close. You can wind-surf and sail, too, of course. We don't get any really big surf, so that's not a real option. And if you have a 4x4, then the interior is open to you. There are zillions of wadis to explore, some of which are "wet". Or you can explore the many forts around, or just hike. Then there are the mountains. If you go up Jebel Shams you'll find a canyon that rivals side canyons of the Grand Canyon. You drive across a flat expanse, stop, get out, and walk over to the edge: it's over 1,000 meters straight down to the village of Ghul. Amazing. It's just not the same color as its counterparts in Arizona. Incidentally, some geologists theorize that it was oncea gigantic cave, but one day the roof collapsed.... The Hash House Harriers are here,. of course. And if you're REALLY into fitness, there's always the annual Muscat Marathon. Into softball, soccer, cricket, or rugby? There are leagues for all of these, not to mention a bowling alley and an ice-skating rink.
The telephone system is digital and state-of-the-art. GSM cellular service has just been introduced. A local Internet server is expected in the next few weeks. Compuserve is available via Tymnet but it's not cheap, so most people restrict themselves to e-mail only. (Figure on $60 a month, give or take.)
By and large, driving is the mode of choice within the Sultanate. There are intercity buses, which cover most of the country in some fashion or another. There are also long distance routes to Salalah, some 1000 kms away, as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Oman Air offers flights to Salalah and a few other cities. Taxi service is also available in most towns.
If you're working here, your No Objection Certificate gets you a two-year, multiple-entry visa at immigration. These are not valid for exit via land borders. Road passes are necessary if you are driving. Passports are not kept by the sponsor. Oman also issues tourist visas for two weeks. These are easily available to anyone working in another AGCC state, but not impossible to get elsewhere. They're interested in tourists, but they want rich ones. Backpackers are not exactly welcomed.
Gulf Air, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Kuwait Airways, Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania, Ethiopian, EgyptAir, Air France, British Airways, KLM, Air India, PIA (Pakistan), Thai, Indian Airlines,AirLanka, Iran Air, Saudia, Royal Jordanian and Swissair all serve Muscat. We have nonstop service to London, Bangkok, Manila, Cairo, Johannesburg, Durban, Nairobi, Colombo, plus seven or eight destinations in India. Most of these companies do not have daily service, however, and most flights to Europe will stop elsewhere in the Gulf before continuing on. KLM's flgihts, for example, all run either via Dhahran or Bahrain. Often flights stop in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. With these pit-stops, it's about 9 hours to Europe.
Generally Omani highways are excellent, and it's minimum 4-lane all the way to Saudi Arabia via the Emirates. Two way asphalted roads are also first rate. But driving leaves something to be desired everywhere. Omanis don't know what "yield" means. They like to ride your tail, flashing their lights, in order to pass -- whether it's safe or not. They'll also quite happily cut across two lanes in front of you to make an exit, or pass on the right, sometimes even on the shoulder, then cut in front of you from the left, making a bee-line for the fast lane. And they've never heard of the blind-spot, and think it's sufficient to use their mirror when backing up. NOT FUN! Still, driving is better here than it is in the Emirates or Saudi. By the way, there is one restriction on women's driving: They are not allowed to drive across the border to the Emirates, but they're welcome to fly.
You can bring both cats and dogs in with the relevant veterinary health certificates. There are very few vets here, however.
HEALTH CAREThis is provided by all employers, but the quality is spotty. We recommend finding out where your potential doctor studied. As a general rule, we don't go to anyone who studied outside the West or Japan. There are some awful quacks around. The local acupuncturist is pretty good, though, we're told. Oh, the same goes for dental care. Example horror story: the husband of a colleague was having a crown done. His temporary filling fell out, and rather than drive 40 km to his dentist, he went to a Filipino woman on campus here. She put it in, okay, but used PERMANENT cement!!!!! Caveat emptor.