What defines a city? Without question its people and nowhere is this more apt than Muscat. While in Oman, CD Traveller ventured off the beaten track to find a cross section of individuals who call the Omani capital ‘home’. The goal was to find out who they are, what they do and what Muscat means to them…
Nasser Al-Wahaibi, CEO, Oasis Tours
“I usually wake up at around 6.30am and in the office by 7.30am where I remain until 1pm. I then head home for lunch – most people in Muscat do – before returning to the office. My afternoons are spent designing packages and planning the tours that are taking place this week. Oasis’ tours are tailor made which means exactly that. We tailor make a tour to suit the tourist as an individual; after all not everyone wants to rise at 6am when on vacation to catch a bus with tons of other tourists… We say to our clients: ‘What time would you like to leave?’ We personalise our tours, but we don’t do ‘big’. We’re not into coach loads of tourists. When we do something, we do it with quality. Our custom mainly comes from Germany and Switzerland.
I usually leave the office around 8pm and will perhaps meet a friend or a client before returning home for dinner. We – my wife who is from Japan and three daughters – eat and catch up on each other’s days. The children then practise their instruments. My eldest is a flutist, the middle one plays the piano, and the youngest the violin. Together they make up the Al Wahibi trio and they are pretty famous here in Muscat. They are in demand and have played at hotels, private parties etc. There is this theory that Omanis can’t make classical music, but that’s not true. We have a competition called ‘Young Musician of Muscat’ and all three girls have reached the final; Intisar has even won it twice proving that you don’t have to be a member of the Oman Royal Symphonic Orchestra to be a classical musician. I am a very proud Dad. My house was built back in November 2004 and I designed it to contain a music room for the children on the ground floor. While they’re practising, my wife and I will discuss any issues or subjects regarding the children, but we are always in bed by 11pm.”
Aldo Bertagna, General Manager of the Oman Dive Centre (ODC)
“I’ve always been interested in watersports but I learnt quite late. I was 20 years old but diving can be an expensive sport and it wasn’t until I was 20 that I had some money. I am relatively new to Muscat having arrived at the ODC in June 2007. I worked for Extra Divers in Egypt for three years before moving to the Maldives, but I wasn’t overly happy there. I heard that there was an opening at the ODC and so after only four months in the Maldives, I moved to Muscat. Oman has been very welcoming to me and compared to Egypt, I am able to live a normal life. I was 300km from the nearest town in Egypt and so pretty much trapped in the dive resort. I live on site here, but of course Muscat proper is only 20 minutes away.
ODC’s main clientele is from Germany and Switzerland but this isn’t unusual as 75 per cent of the world’s diving market is from Germany and Switzerland. Neither the Swiss nor the Germans have access to the sea, which explains – I think – why diving holidays are so popular with them. On a typical day, I wake up at 6am and am in the office by 8am. I’ll catch up on any admin and emails until 9.30am when I’ll stop for breakfast at Odyssey – our onsite dive restaurant. After breakfast, I’ll help with the maintenance of the dive centre or occasionally lead a dive expedition – Muscat’s waters are more populated with fish than the Red Sea or the Maldives. Afternoons are spent in the office doing yet more admin work and I usually finish at around 6pm and have a quick check over the premises. Sometimes, I’ll go into town for a wander around, otherwise I will have dinner at the centre – it’s quite magical to eat while listening to the sound of the waves crash onto the shore. On my day off, I’ll perhaps go and do some shopping at City Centre mall, or else will take a trip into the desert. I have no plans to leave Muscat; I love it here and feel very at home. Compared to Europe – I’m from Italy – it’s a cheap place to live. I like the lifestyle that living in Oman affords me; you can actually afford to fill your car up with petrol and to eat out – Turkish House is a particular favourite. Oh – and then there’s the weather…”
Sultan Alabdli, lead break dancer with SNK – a popular Omani break dancing group
“I was born in Tanzania but came to Oman when I was five months old so Muscat is definitely my home. I am a break dancer with SNK (which stands for ‘Serve & Knock’) breakers. There were no break dancers in Oman before 2001. I first came across break dancing when I was in Malaysia and was so impressed that I bought the group’s DVD to show my friends in Muscat. Break dancing appeals because it is new and exciting – it’s like taekwondo (a martial art that is my other love) – only better. I held open auditions to recruit six other potential breakers and before I knew it, SNK was born. The youngest breaker is 12 years old and I am the oldest at 24. Word of mouth is our main means of advertising. We won the ‘Bring it on Bahrain 2006’ street competition, which led to us performing at shows, hotels and parties all over Muscat. We’ve also performed for four consecutive years in the annual Muscat Festival. At the moment, SNK are part time, but ideally we want to be full time breakers. So what do I do, when I am not working with SNK? I teach taekwondo which I have a black belt in. I started taekwondo when I was eight and teach it every afternoon. The schedule suits me, as I am not a 9am-5pm person. I usually wake up at 11am – I am not a morning person, although my Mum will say that I’m just lazy! I live with my family – my parents plus my four brothers and four sisters, all of whom are older than me. One of my brothers is married and his wife and two children live with us as well. This is normal in Oman. I’ll catch up on my emails, update the SNK website and have lunch – usually rice – with my family, before getting ready for my classes. Typically, I teach taekwondo from 3-7pm every day. When I have finished teaching, I meet up with the other members of SNK to practise and perfect our moves. The problem is finding somewhere to practise…we used to rent a room, but the rent became so high that we had to give this up. For the time being we practise for at least an hour every day on the beach, in parks etc but obviously it’s not ideal.
I’ll usually reach home at about 11pm and will check my emails again, before calling it a night around 2am. Friday is my one day off from taekwondo, but SNK meets seven days a week; we are very dedicated. I hope that SNK becomes a big success, but even if this happens I wouldn’t leave Muscat. I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Oman – it’s a beautiful place and everyone is so friendly and hospitable.”
Devie Eviandhini, Manager of Muscat’s Essence Spa
“I arrived in Muscat in October 2007 directly from Thailand where I had been working in the spa industry. I was in Bahrain for two years (1995-1997) and so was already familiar with the Gulf region. I enjoyed my time in Bahrain and when the opportunity to work in Oman came up, I went for it. My colleagues in Thailand warned me that I would find Oman too restrictive, but Muscat is freer than people think. Okay, so I wouldn’t walk around in tiny shorts and skirts, but nor do I have to wear long robes which is the preconception people have back home.
Most mornings, I wake up at 7am. The spa is only a 15 minute drive away from where I live, so I am usually in the office by 7.30am. I’ll check appointments and make sure that everything is okay with my staff. We have 16 beauty therapists hailing mainly from the Philippines and Thailand, although there is also one Omani. We are about to introduce yoga classes in addition to beauty treatments, so right now I am busy finalising all the details. The spa scene in Oman is still in its infancy compared to say Thailand and Indonesia, which is where I am from. In Asia, people have had massages since they were born! Our Grandmothers performed beauty rituals like body massages, wraps and scrubs on us. Beauty treatments in Asia are the norm – it’s a way of life. This line of thought hasn’t quite caught on yet over here and it will take time. Most evenings I like to do something – it is my way of relaxing and winding down after a long day at work. I am a member of a gym and try to go three to four times a week. I am also doing an online study course in spa and hospitality management with the University of California.
Unlike many spas, Essence is open on Fridays but Friday is my day off. One of my favourite things to do on a day off is to venture into the desert. Last month I went on a desert crossing – amazing! Watching the sunset over the toffee coloured sun was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen; I can’t wait to return. It was after the desert crossing that I went from liking Oman to loving it.
On other week-ends, I like to have breakfast by the beach at D’Arcy’s Kitchen – the breakfasts here are legendary in Muscat. Khargeen caffe is another favourite hangout. It’s a great place to sit under the trees and smoke shisha with friends. I have found it fairly easy to make friends in Muscat. There are lots of bars and classes such as salsa, which makes it easy to meet people – and everyone in Muscat is so friendly. That’s one of the things I like most about Muscat. That –
and the fact that it is such a peaceful place. I just wish there were a few more shops; there isn’t much choice…How long will I remain in Muscat? When I first arrived, I decided to take each day as it comes, but Muscat has really gotten under my skin. I want to discover more of Oman, to know more about the country and the people, so I’ll easily be here for another couple of years.”
Phillip Stallwood aka ‘Mr Music of Muscat’
“I wake up at 6.45am but am fortunate in that it only takes me all of 30 seconds to get to work as my apartment is in the same block as my office! I realise that this is quite a luxury. My friend and colleague Nasser (see above), is the boss of Oasis Tours and I am the director of our mirror company, Oasis Music. At the moment, it’s a small music school – we’re focusing on quality. There are a number of music schools in Muscat, but we’re the only ones that have accreditation and are registered under the government. This is important; I mean if you bought a car, you would do your research in advance, right? The same goes for music schools as the quality and expertise of the instructors varies greatly. I tend to work in the office until lunch time and then teach pretty much all afternoon in my apartment. I teach the piano, the organ, singing and music theory – whichever instrument you learn, you have to learn the theory of music. But I also wear other hats. For example I also look after the music at The Chedi Hotel, where on Saturday, Sunday and Thursday evenings, I perform as part of a jazz group. It’s very popular, and not just with in-house guests.
With a bit of luck, I’ll get home at 11pm and will turn in at 1am when I have squeezed in some family time and caught up on emails etc. Sure, it’s a long day, but you get used to it and I am passionate about what I do. I wake up and look forward to each new day – every day is different and I know I am lucky in this respect.
I came to Muscat by accident. I was the Director of Music in the UK and out of the blue, was offered a post with the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra. I arrived thinking that I would stay for a year, but have been here ever since. The weather is fabulous and I honestly can’t think of anywhere better suited to bringing up a family – I met my wife (an accountant) in Muscat and we have a 16 month year old son. Plus expatriates can now buy property, something we have taken up advantage of. Yes, Muscat is most definitely our permanent home.”