Susan Al Shahri

Muscat: The Lure of the Big City for Dhofaris

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Every summer tens of thousands of Omanis from northern Oman head to the south for their annual Khareef migration. Dhofar’s lush monsoon is the perfect getaway from the soaring summer temperatures in Muscat and the interior.Local newspapers bring up the migration on a regular basis throughout the monsoon season and the Ministry of Tourism posts teams at airports to record the number of visitors going into Salalah. It’s a big deal.

However, has anyone noticed the annual exodus of Dhofaris to Muscat during the cooler months of the year? I have. Last weekend I treated myself to the spectacular South African ballet performance at the Royal Opera House with a good friend.

My weekend involved the usual shopping, a mandatory coffee at Shatti al Qurm and a brief visit to Muscat Festival at Qurum Park. The difference with this trip is that I spotted people from Dhofar wherever I went.

Muscat Festival and the major shopping malls were packed with Dhofari women on shopping sprees. Dhofari men could be seen lounging in all the cafes on the beach enjoying Muscat’s beautiful February weather.

You may be wondering how I can pick out a Dhofari in a crowd. Trust me, it’s easy. Dhofari women can be easily identified from the face veil with the eye slits, glittery abayas and their clip-on hair pieces the size of large melons.

The men are even easier to identify from the way they walk and – for lack of a better word – their swagger. Their dishdashas are usually quite long and sometimes even touch the ground. Their kummas’ (caps) are usually tipped slightly to one side and often they have a tasseled turban thrown over one shoulder or draped casually over their heads. The Dhofari accent is also very easy to identify.

So why have Dhofaris chosen Muscat as their top holiday destination? First of all families in the south can be quite large. It’s convenient to pack the whole family into a couple of cars and drive up to Muscat to spend a week or two in a rented apartment. Salalah is pretty deprived when it comes to shopping malls, cafés, restaurants, cinemas and entertainment, hence the fascination with Muscat. The capital area is a very nice place to be in during the winter.

Whenever I’m in Muscat, I use my time to catch up with friends, meet new people, stock up on treats, and pretty much indulge myself in every way possible. There’s always something interesting going on, and the newly opened Royal Opera House has given me even more reason to fly up regularly. I have been to four performances already and look forward to many more in the coming years.

As a Dhofari woman, Muscat also allows me to be anonymous if only for a few days. I relish the freedom of cozying up in a café and working on my laptop without worrying about being stared at or recognised by members of the tribe (female…. face exposed …spotted at café… chaperone-less…must report!) I’m exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean.

Dhofar is pretty conservative when it comes to women. I know Muscat and Salalah are only a 1,000km apart but they might as well be two different countries.

I do enjoy my brief jaunts to Muscat, but I’m always ready to come home when they’re over. The hustle and bustle of the big city is fine for a weekend, but I can’t imagine spending more than a week in Muscat. When the pilot announces the beginning of the descent to Salalah on the flight home, I put my book down and look out of the window to admire the view. I can never get enough of it. The moment the desert turns into smooth hills and I see the green banana plantations, palm trees and pristine beaches, my heart skips a beat. Muscat has its charms, but home is where the heart is!

This article first appeared in Muscat Daily

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