My trip to the United Arab Emirates was a disaster. After traveling to more than 50 countries, I never thought that I wouldn’t want to return to one of them. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, everything is money, everything is capitalized. Expensive brands everywhere, gigantic skyscrapers to let everyone know how much money they have…all of that together with the intense July heat turned my two-day layover into a big suffering. My trip across the Persian Gulf was only one of the stops that I was doing in my odyssey from Vigo to Singapore and I already thought the region was not my jam. Luckily, I decided to buy tickets to UAE’s neighboring country, Oman, with the objective of comparing both Gulf countries. What I experienced in less than 48h in the Sultanate made me rethink my opinion on the countries of the Arab countries of the Gulf region.
I think there is a dichotomy between the “straight facts” and the way in which each person or society interprets them. Oman and the United Arab Emirates is a perfect example of this. Both countries are crazy rich: oil money fills the state’s tresaury and allows their societies (especially their original citizens) to enjoy unparalleled economic stability. This is the fact, however, each country has a very different way of expressing this wealth. As I said in the previous paragraph, in the Emirates they love to show off and let everyone know how much money they have; it seems as if there is a competition to see who is the richest in UAE. On the streets of Dubai, everything comes down to money: the Ferraris, the skyscrapers, the private beaches, the luxury hotels, the large highways, the presence of international companies… However, in Oman they have chosen a radically different way of expressing their wealth.
As soon as I landed at Muscat airport, the first thing I noticed was how peaceful and not busy the terminal was. The infrastructure was new, it seemed newly built, with a beautiful decoration and an intuitive style that made it clear that its construction had not been precisely cheap. However, the low presence of tourists and the calmness of the customs staff gave me a brief introduction to what would my visit to the Arab country would end up being. No one seemed in a hurry, everything was calm in Muscat. After getting a few “Omani Rials” and taking the wrong bus, I ended up in the wrong part of the capital. I was surprised by the low amount of skyscrapers and massive infrastructure projects in the city. The streets were perfectly maintained, the buses worked perfectly, they had everything necessary for daily life…but only what was purely necessary. While in the UAE there is a collective paranoia about building as much as possible everywhere and spending money like it’s the end of the world, in Oman they didn’t seem to want their wealth to be known.
Since I didn’t want to spend more money than I had planned, I made the decision to walk to my hotel, which was at the other end of the city, about two and a half hours away on foot. Bad idea. Soon the intense 40ºC heat of the early afternoon started to melt my head. While I was walking down the middle of a freeway feeling incredibly dizzy, sweaty and on the verge of collapse, a taxi driver stopped in front of me. “Where are you going?” he asked me. I told him it was fine, that I would walk to my place, but he insisted and warned me that I could get heatstroke if I continued walking in this heat. Finally I agreed to get in the taxi, expecting to pay a large amount of money that would send my budget to the trash. To my surprise, after the ride, the taxi driver refused to accept my money. “I did it to help you, I don’t want a tourist to have a bad experience in my country!” confessed the friendly driver.
After my experience with the taxi driver and after walking through the silent streets of Muscat the next day, I finally found a possible interpretation of the dichotomy between the Emirates and Oman. While Emirati society revolves around money, Omani society gives more value to other aspects of life such as interpersonal relationships, calmness and respect for the environment in which they find themselves. Although these qualities of Omani life can only be achieved with money, it is especially curious that they decide not to “show off” and use what is fair to make a pleasant society and a beautiful country, where respect is the key word.
Thanks for reading!