Muscat is a long city that runs along the coast. It does not go very far in, so the commute between neighborhoods (how the city is divided) takes much longer and feels much farther than it actually is. Because of its layout, having a car is almost a requirement to live/work here, which is really too bad because traffic accidents are Oman’s biggest problem. It has even gone to the UN looking for ways to bring down the number of accidents. From my observations, lanes, speed limits, right of ways, and all things written on signs serve more as “guidelines” rather than law. Drifting in and out of traffic at 110km and getting literally INCHES from the bumper in front of you is the norm. Driving on the shoulder (or even off-roading in an SUV to get around a traffic jam), pulling out of driveways or roundabouts without really looking, loud music and/or cell phones, and no seatbelt are all things I’ve seen in my week and a half here. I’ve also heard it’s common for drivers to flash their lights in your eyes after they’re basically in your trunk. All of this is done at very high speed, of course. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, and when 2 cars come to a stop sign at the same time, whoever feels boldest goes first. Your head has to be on a swivel when you cross the street. It’s not “look left, right, and left again.” It’s “look left, right, left, right, run looking left, run looking right and jump onto the sidewalk.”
But get this: behaving rudely is actually illegal, and Omanis take their Defamation Law very seriously. Someone could go to jail for swearing at someone or flipping the bird, etc. (One time, a girl on our program had to be flown out of the country in less than 24 hours because a police report was filed against her when she cursed out a driver who almost hit her and kicked her car tire. $15,000 in legal fees later, I guess everything turned out okay.)
Going from Mutrah in the south (where we started out) to our school (in the north) was an easy 45 minute ride during the lunch hour with a not-so-pleasant cabdriver (who somehow figured out we weren’t from around here). Cabs in Oman do not have meters; a price is negotiated BEFORE you get in the car, based on where you are and where you want to go. No one here would deny that wide-eyed college kids in Oman get the short end of the stick in all things negotiated, but overall I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job avoiding major rip-offs. Right before our 45 minute cab ride I talked to an employee at a museum who had driven a cab before, and he said for the distance we were going we shouldn’t pay more than 7OR (Omani Rials; a little less than $20). Initially our driver said 15OR, but we were able to get it down to 10, knowing that we were still getting ripped off. As our Arabic, haggling skills, and understanding of Muscat improve this will happen less and less.
Last weekend my brothers’ cousin drove us around Muscat, and I was able to see all kinds of new things: Goats blocking the road in the north, Indians playing cricket on the beach, two Brits trying (and failing) to kite surf while Omani children laughed at them, and a few souks I need to wander through. It was a fun time and gave me a chance to practice my Arabic with my cousin, who speaks more English than my brothers.
All is well here in Oman. I was able to celebrate a Packers’ victory over breakfast (raise your coffee cups), but since nobody here really cares about American football, it was a limited celebration.
Pictures to follow!