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Thursday, April 4, 2013

From Abyssinia to Arabia: An Interview with Sinke Wesho

By:  eternitysojourner
Credit:  Nashwah Safiyullah

At a recent graduation for the Sultan Qaboos College for Teaching Arabic in Oman, I watched proud students retrieve their certificates after two months of language immersion.  Amidst the largely Australian group, a warm chocolate face stood out amongst them.  Like most of the others, she too is a Deakin University student, but the winding tale of how she ended up studying Arabic in Oman is a bit more colorful than that of her peers.  In this interview, Sinke Wesho shares her experience as an Oromo Ethiopian studying in Oman and the memorable encounters she will not likely forget.

Where’s home for you?

Home for me is different places.  Wherever my siblings are is home for me, and currently, home is Australia.  Kenya is partially my home because I lived there for eight years since I was nine.  Those two places are home, but I’m naturally from Oromia [part of current Ethiopia], which is where most people would call home.

What brings you to Oman?

Learning the Arabic language, and it’s the best thing to ever happen to me.  I enrolled in Arabic classes when I started at my university three years ago, and Arabic was offered as a course.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn a second language because International Relations is my major.  I wasn’t sure I would come to Oman until I got my Australian citizenship. 

Would you recommend Oman as a place to study Arabic?  Absolutely.  Maybe because it’s my first experience studying abroad and I haven’t seen any better. Oman is so peaceful and the people are very generous and friendly. It has really changed my perceptions about the Middle East. It's really astounding to have a stable country in the middle of all the chaos that surrounds it.

I think Oman is a really important place to learn Arabic.  I’m not so sure about learning with the society because of their dialect, and we’re studying Modern Standard Arabic at my college.  It’s really brilliant.  The teachers start from the basics and it’s really intense and helpful.  I would definitely recommend it, and Oman’s a great place to live.

Most Ethiopians in Oman are here as domestic workers; how do you feel being here as a university student? 

I feel really privileged.  I appreciate the fact that I’m Oromo Australian because it gives me this appreciation that I’m a student here, and I’m learning someone else’s culture.  But when it comes to being a domestic worker, it’s not that it’s a bad job or not good, suitable, or preferred; it’s just that the way people treat domestic workers in this particular part of the world makes me feel even more privileged than the domestic workers here. I treat any job to be a good job, as long as it's benefitting me or helping me survive, but I do not appreciate how maids are treated in this part of the world due to color and wrongly perceived social status.

How have you been received as a woman of color? 

I don’t really know how to answer this particular question. It’s really hard to know if I’m treated well because I’m Australian or have Australian friends. I am not sure if it is because I am a guest here and Omanis highly regard their guests. However, one day, I was at an occasion; sitting in a group with my Australian friends and some ladies greeted everyone and passed me by. On many occasions, I would be ignored and its difficult to force yourself onto others, so I was happy to be by myself while my friends would be taken aside for photos or contact exchange.  Being distinguished from the rest is not good and such actions did not go well with me. I was not certain if that treatment was because I’m Black or because I’m not Omani. I would be ok if it was a one-time incident but when it’s repeated, I start to question.

I do comprehend that there is a degree of distinction between housemaids and their employers but, if I am not appreciated for what I do and not respected for who I am, then there will be some friction. This is where respect for humanity is breached and I have become a witness to this. Workers and people of color are sometimes considered inferior, much like the Martin Luther King era where being Black meant inferiority. It is so direct that it makes me question how these people survive years of working for their employers in this part of the world. Recently, I made it to Dubai, a beautiful and magnificent space. I had been very curious about the treatment of workers there, particularly the Ethiopians who are housemaids in most households and the stories are the same. However, I met someone who works in the Ethiopian consulate and deals with this issue, and his account is that there is some sort of system that protects the workers in Dubai.

Any tips for other women of color considering travel abroad?

Do it!  Be secure in who you are and be knowledgeable.  It’s important to know what other people think of you but more important to know what you think of yourself and to not let others underestimate you.

Do you have plans for future travel?

Definitely.  Traveling has been one of my wildest dreams since I was a child. 

Credit:  Jack Baldwin


  1. Thank you, for the insight into this country. I'm sorry to hear that you've experienced such treatment at times from people there that actually make you question their behaviour based on skin colour. If they themselves treated you that way based on skin colour they will find the same treatment elsewhere. As karma will turn around and bite them back. Continue on your journey and keep having such great adventures.

    1. What I find most strange about experiences like this in Oman is the reality that I've seen and met Omanis in every hue possible. There is so much diversity in appearance here but maybe there's still a line drawn between local vs. foreign. ?