My wonderful wife gave me a trip to Oman for my birthday. It was kind of a last minute thing. I dropped a hint that my B’day was coming in a week, and I think she had forgotten.
Mary Ann is the designated travel agent in our house. She finds the best fares, hotels and tours like a tornado finds trailers. At first she was planning a trip to Cairo so I could check off the pyramids from my bucket list. It was going to be a five day trip. She had not requested any time off of work. She has the vacation time accrued, and her office would have been cool with it, but I wasn’t. My insecurities left over from the working world said “lets do Cairo another time.” Instead of just cancelling plans she said “we could do Muscat for a weekend”. Wow, great idea.
Muscat is the capital city of Oman. Oman is right next door. It is also another world. Yes, it is a Muslim country, but the culture is very different.So is the History. So is the Geography.
Oman is a Sultanate. The Sultan is named Qaboos ibn Said.
Qaboos took power at the age of 31 from his father with the help of a social upheaval in Oman. I wont go into the long fascinating history of the rule of the Said family (Qaboos was the 12th Said to rule) except to say that even with the influx of petrobucks, Oman was wallowing in the middle ages when #11 was replaced by #12. For instance…#11 closed the gates to Muscat at night, no one could enter or leave.
In 1970 there were only three graded roads in the entire country. There were three schools. There was not a single newspaper. No radio or television There was no civil service. All of Oman had only one 23 bed hospital. Life expectancy was 47. Qaboos had his work cut out for him. He had been educated at Sandhurst. In fact at the time he took over, in order to get a decent education, Omanis had to leave Oman. Many, most in fact, did not come back. It was a classic brain drain.
He inherited a country that had just started accumulating big bucks. Make that BIG bucks. But the country was at war with itself. The people were tired of living in the middle ages. #11 wanted no western influence in Oman. He forbid anything that could taint his world. This included cigarettes, for which the penalty was death, and he even forbid sunglasses. In the desert. No wonder the people rose up.
His son #12 started to transform the country. He brought back Omanis trained abroad to run the country. He built roads, opened schools and built hospitals. The WHO ranks Oman #8 in the world for healthcare. His desire, which has panned out, was that Omanis run Oman. They do the work, have the jobs. This has resulted in a country with a population that is 80% Omani and 20% foreigners. This opposed to the UAE which is 80% foreigners and 20% Emiratis. And now, the people can enjoy a cig and wear sunglasses!
Also, he has developed a music appreciation program. He has encouraged that Omanis learn to play music of all types, and at the present time is building an Opera House, which I am sure will be world class.
So, big petrodollars streaming in has let Qaboos develop his country and bring it firmly into modern times. He has used what is HIS money to improve the lives of his people. Literacy is at something like 90% Omanis get free medical care and an education. He gives out free land if you are going to build a house and Oman has full employment. However, with the amount of money coming into his accounts, he cannot give it ALL away.
But he does not spend all his excess income on fun and games. The following pictures are of the Grand Mosque in Muscat. I have never been in the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Cathedral. I will someday, promise. So up to now I must call this Grand Mosque the most impressive religious building I have ever seen. It has the worlds second largest carpet. It is absolutely beautiful. It has over 1,700,000,000 knots. It weighs over 21 tons. It measures over 70 x 60 meters in size. 6,600 faithful can and do use it to pray on. My photography cannot begin to capture the grandeur of this Mosque, or the carpet, or even the central chandelier. The pictures will not show you that the chandelier itself is over 14 meters tall. The area sroounding the mosqu has another 40,000 square meeter for the faithful to gather, during the highest holy days, the place is a sell out, kneeling room only.
OK, enough on history and culture. My next post will take you along on our whirlwind tour of the Muscat area. A fish auction, forts, a nice beach and Cheney’s bunker.
So stay tuned. Thanks for reading and please make a comment!