My welcome to Oman had begun on my flight on Oman Air from KUL to MCT, where two new friends, Omar from MCT and Sinu from COK, were more than warm and friendly.
The immigration officials were actually smiling at you. The men and women were in traditional omani dresses thus garnering your respect for their cultural adherence. ( i am partial to girls from Yangon with thanaka paste and Indian women in saris rather than western dresses, but not constructed cultural pronouncements like the head to toe covering of Malay women. Culture in context)
On arrival at Salalah (where five centuries ago the greatest of the chinese navigator Zheng He/Cheng Ho had stopped on his epic voyages), the omani official at Information did every thing to help me, ended up renting a car from Al Maha car rentals, the first of the many encounters with Keralite expatriate workers, Dilak. It was nice to be welcomed by filipino receptionists and attendants at Hilton Salalah, later on meeting other Coastal expatriates who would teach me about Tulu culture of Mangalore or discuss the recent political change in Kerala (representing Cuba I am seen as an ambassador of Communist Party of Cuba).
There is something wonderful about these filipino and sub continental workers here, first of all the best of their character is brought forth by the gentleness of the Omanis, who by far are better employers than Emirati or Qatari or Saudi, I am told. Without exception, all the people I talk to are happy to be here, even though they long for their homeland. When I showed photos of my recent visit to Fort Cochin, to Girish, the team leader of domestic services, he said: i am very happy to feel that I am home, from your words and pictures! What greater a compliment does a traveller need or get?
I also realized that the gentleness of the Omanis, their tolerance of the minorities and non muslims as well as lack of blatant discrimination of women, creates this atmosphere in which a traveller from Cuba can connect with the stories of Mangaloreans and those from Calicut, the manager of the Thai restaurant was from central part of Kerala. I adore hearing their stories, and as Laurens van der Post so beautifully recollected, writing about the San people of Kalahari (whom I had a chance to visit): I am waiting for my story to come back. I have always felt that those who loose their stories tend to drop into depression, irrational behaviour and incongruous interactions. These lovely Keralites and Filipinos have put their stories on hold, while they plan their future in their home countries, without forgetting who they are, without pretending to be something or other and as always proud of where they came from and where they might be returning.
I could have gone directly from Kuala Lumpur to London to Brussels which is my next destination, but wanted to take two days off to be at Hilton Hotel in Salalah in Oman.
It has put my heart and mind at ease.
I am grateful for the benevolent rule of HH Sultan Qaboos of Oman which is reflected in the gentleness and hospitality of the Omani people and those who work with them.