The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sistas in Oman: Part I

by:  eternitysojourner

Most people have no clue about Oman.  “Where is it?”  “What’s it like there?”  “Is it in Jordan?”  If you’ve seen a map of the Arabian Gulf, you would know that Oman is cuddled by Yemen, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia - a tight squeeze, to say the least!  Having seen all of these countries, Oman is truly at the center of them all, literally and figuratively.  In Oman, you’ll find humble hospitality akin to Yemen, opulent development akin to Saudi Arabia and a thriving tourism economy akin to the UAE.  The “sleepy sultanate” has progressed significantly in the last four decades, without getting “lost in the sauce”.  Omanis know who they are, and they have customs and rich traditions to remind them.  Not overly conservative, not frighteningly progressive, but a beautiful array as varied as her landscapes.  You can truly “get in where you fit in” and find at least one Omani that reminds you of a relative back home.  While Korea and UAE seem to be most popular with women of color as of late, a few sistas met Oman and fell in love.  Hopefully, you’ll get a taste of life here through an interview with five lovely ladies who call Oman home.

Tell us about your life abroad.  Where’s home?  Where and how long have you lived abroad?

Anya:  Home for me is Philadelphia, PA.  And, of course, New York- gotta represent Brooklyn!  The journey for me has been amazing!  It started in 1997 when I traveled Ghana to go to school and to teach, and I’ve been abroad ever since.  I’ve learned about different cultures and languages.  I also have an appreciation for different religions and practices.  I love seeing the interaction between religion and tradition and how they can go hand-in-hand.
Ilwad:  Home for me?  The UK is where I grew up.  My origin is Somalia.  My family migrated to Kenya, and when I was seven, we moved to the UK; so London is the only home I know.  Even though Somalia is my home, I can’t relate to it.  This is my first trip away internationally, and I‘ve been here for six months.  It has been such an incredible journey!  It had its ups and downs, but this is my first time away from home.
“Maria”:  I’ve been living abroad for 15 years now.  Home?  I’m originally from Venezuela but home?  I don’t know.  I lost a lot of my cultural identity.  I lived in the US for ten years and returned to Venezuela but couldn’t fit in.  My friends back home have the same life- just living in their comfort zone and never experiencing different cultures, so it’s tough.  I spent a year in Venezuela trying to get out and have been in Oman for five years.  I’m 200% Venezuelan but I’m barely American by citizenship, so I’ve become so international to my own detriment.
Stephanie:  Well, I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I started living abroad in 2005.  I taught in Chiang Mai, Thailand at a K-12 school.  Then I went to Daegu and Seoul, South Korea and Istanbul, Turkey.  Now, I’m here in Oman.
Deniece:  I was born in Nassau, Bahamas and grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I’ve been overseas since 2008.  I was in Egypt for two and a half years and now Oman.  Years ago, in 2001, I was abroad in Benin through Peace Corps.

How did you end up in Oman?  Did you choose Oman or did Oman choose you?

Ilwad:  I think Oman chose me.  I knew I wanted to leave the UK- that’s all I know.  I wanted to see a different life, particularly Arab culture.  Arab and Somali culture are very similar but I can’t return to Somalia because of war.  I sent my CV to universities in different gulf countries.  I had an offer in Saudi but I thought, “No way!  I can’t drive there?!?”  Then, I heard from a university here.
Stephanie:  Well, for me, I previously worked in Istanbul and, as everyone knows, Turkey is a Muslim country.  It’s very open and progressive, so I wanted to see what life was like in a more conservative Muslim country to get a different cultural perspective.
Deniece:  I came just for work, really.  It was time to leave Egypt and people told me Oman was a nice country with nice people and that it was very “low on the radar”.
Anya:  In undergrad, I took Arabic as a foreign language, and it was one of the most difficult courses I had ever taken.  In the back of my mind, I knew I would be in Arabia. Being here has given me a deeper respect for Islam and the beauty of its practice.  I’ve lived in East Africa, West Africa, South Africa, and Asia and hadn’t done the Middle East yet.  Oman was not my first choice, Dubai was but I came because I knew someone here.
“Maria”:  I had no idea where Oman was.  I had to look on a map.  I wanted Dubai but ended up in Oman.  I thought I would just stay two years for the experience but I fell in love with the students- they’re so pure and humble.  I fell in love with the Sultan and his country.  He’s the only leader of a country that I admire.

What do you love most and least Oman?

Stephanie:  I guess for me, it’s a little too tame- too quiet for me.  There are some really pretty parts like Jabal al-Akhdar, the beaches, the corniche- it’s a pretty country and the people are really kind.  I also love my students.  They’ve been really sweet.  Some of them are extremely eager to learn and show you their work and what they know.
Deniece:  What I like most is the people and their hospitable nature. The authenticity of their spirituality is more prominent here.  I would definitely say the students too.  My current students are the best I’ve ever had.  What I like least would have to be…not enough culture for my taste.  I need more things to do, more places to go, more things to see- more cultural avenues. 

Anya:  I love the nature, the eco-tourism- it’s aesthetically beautiful.  I have a profound appreciation for Omani people.  They’re extremely congenial- very nice, extremely pleasant, and will exchange pleasantries with you.  What I love least?  Omani men.  I don’t want to generalize all Omani men but outside of Muscat (the capital city of Oman), at least!  The beeping, the staring, and looking at you with a discriminating eye.  Wearing the abaya (black, traditional gown) lessens it but I still have cars honking and slowing down.  I don’t get this in Muscat.
“Maria”:  What I love least is that everything you do is associated to your employer.  Something happened to me at 8pm one evening and by 7:30 the next morning, my students were asking me about it and I don’t like that.  What I love most are the people in general.  They have a closeness with God.  We do too but they live it and take it seriously.
Ilwad:  What I like most? The people- the way they practice their religion and how they welcomed me.  I was frightened by the mountains at first because where I come from is completely flat.  Yeah, the people may stare but I know their hearts are pure and they would never harm me.  Here, I can sleep at night and I know I’m safe.  As a young female, safety is very, very, very important to me.

Stay tuned for Part II!


  1. Wonderful article. Very informative and I love the different points of view!

  2. My favorite question is without a doubt: "Did you choose Oman or did Oman choose you?" Sometimes travel just happens that way - and what a beautiful thing. Great post!

  3. I was fortunate to interview such a great group of women! Thanks!

  4. I'm looking forward to part 2! It's great to hear all your voices.

  5. Awesome article! Anya is my cousin. Her family is so proud of her accomplishments abroad!

  6. Wonderful blog! So very helpful to get perspective from women of colour! Cheers. Are any of you still in Oman?