Sickness and Stereotypes: A Chaotic Weekend in Oman
My weekend in Oman didn’t get off to a great start. First, my climb to the top of Jebel Shams, the tallest mountain in Oman, accompanied by my fellow exchange students, involved a few hiccups. One quick stop to admire the majestic mountains led to an unfortunate encounter with a herd of goats. Standing over 3,000 meters above our starting point, I was already filled with panic and anxiety from the altitude. So I decided to bond with the goats — petting the poor things, feeding them apples, and snapping an obligatory selfie with one to absorb much needed fresh air.
There is nothing worse than spending all of the travel money that you saved up on costly medications that are way cheaper back home.
In an attempt to calm down from being further terrified by the heights, I sat on what I thought were tiny rocks, but were actually goat feces. Sadly, my one-on-one time with the goats and their surroundings led to a month-long throat infection and a lifetime of goat phobia.
This was the last thing I needed — a goat disease with no health care coverage and a ton of schoolwork from my semester abroad. Although I never figured out if it was a respiratory infection or the result of my weak immune system, my ill-fated meeting with the goats taught me to always be prepared to face the worst. We all have to take risks when travelling, but we don’t always have to face them head-on.
For me, the correct way to battle health issues is to research in advance, to seek immediate treatment when possible, and to stay in contact with a reliable source to ensure safety. Pack the allergy medicine you think you don’t need, the vitamins mom keeps buying, and even the birth control you use sporadically, because no matter how much it says on the internet that something is available, chances are, they aren’t. There is nothing worse than spending all of the travel money that you saved up on costly medications that are way cheaper back home.
I struggled with identifying as an Asian American woman while maintaining a confident attitude about myself throughout my travels in the Middle East, but I found that Oman presented the most difficult hurdle to face. My limited crash course in Omani culture weeks into my Middle Eastern adventure only taught me that Arabs like to live it up at night, smoke hookah, sip tea in beautifully crafted glasses, and chat away while sitting in home-style cushions. It was a scene straight out of a Bedouin film, except that I was about to walk into an uncut segment.
All hell broke loose then, and my Arab friend, as well as my abroad adviser at the time, yelled at the top of his lungs, “Get off! Get off right now!”
After our conquest of the Jebel Shams, my exchange program went on to explore Oman’s nightlife and settled on a lively outdoor hookah lounge to try some exotic flavors and tea. Sweet black tea with mint leaves is still my personal favorite to this day. As soon as I entered the outdoor hookah lounge, however, I raised alarm and confusion on the faces of many local Arabs. Apparently, the sight of women publicly sitting with men and smoking hookah is a rare sight in Oman.
The situation escalated when I had to sit on another girl’s lap because our group was too big to fit in the provided seating. All hell broke loose then, and my Arab friend, as well as my abroad adviser at the time, yelled at the top of his lungs, “Get off! Get off right now!”
I was surprised at the time, but I learned later that same gender interactions such as these are deemed unnatural in certain social settings, which puzzled me because men linking their fingers together to show friendship and affection was acceptable. What I also did not realize at the time was the presence of Asian prostitutes in Oman, and how it had tarnished the reputation of tourists and outsiders in the area.
Word to my fellow travelers, don’t be hypersensitive to the misconceptions thrown at you, since you don’t want to be caught in a situation where nothing you say can exempt you. But always, always remember to stand your ground. Sexual assault and harassment happen anywhere you go, but that shouldn’t deter you from travelling as long as you remain aware of yourself and your surroundings.
What I also did not realize at the time was the presence of Asian prostitutes in Oman, and how it had tarnished the reputation of tourists and outsiders in the area.
I don’t mean to bash Oman. My short-lived weekend in Oman did not give me enough time to fully take in the gorgeous scenery and the colorful culture the country had to offer. Aside from my unfortunate goat encounter, I did get to walk around the morning market in Nizwa, which was full of cattle traders bidding at top speed, second only to Wall Street bidders. A cattle even playfully slapped my hand when I went in to pet it, thinking that I was a fly. I know, I know, I should have learned my lesson from the goat mistake, but I couldn’t resist touching its muscular and glossy skin.
Next time you travel to the Middle East, let your wanderlust take you carpooling to the lesser known countries. Just remember to be wary of goats.