Omani dates are the best in the world, we thought. We were sitting on the floor of the majlis of an Omani house in old Nizwa. In front of us, on a cloth covering the carpet, fresh fruits, dates, tahini and tea.
“First we offer the dates”, our host said. “Then the fruits, then the tea, and again the dates. That’s Omani hospitality“. When we arrived in Nizwa, we didn’t expect we would sit the day after in this house with Ali and his brother. Coming from Salalah, we had taken the bus to cross the 800 kilometers of desert that separate the South from the North of Oman. In the middle of the 10-hour drive, the bus had stopped for a break. When the door opened, the heat of the desert came into the bus like coming from a hair dryer. I stepped outside. The flat and white desert was everywhere around us. In front of me, a sign indicated “Salalah 470 km”, “Muscat 560 km”. We were really in the middle of nowhere!
The bus arrived in Nizwa at 5pm leaving us in the middle of a road interchange in the outskirts of the city. With our Omani style and our heavy orange backpacks, we decided to settle in a nearby petrol station to think about a place to stay for the night. We had sent a few Couchsurfing requests but none of them had been successful. There was a hotel not so far away, but we were reluctant to sleep there as it would have been the most expensive night of our trip in the least expensive hotel of the city. 61 € per night for a room in a small Omani city, more expensive than a room in Paris.
After a while at the petrol station, looking for nice people to stop and talk to us, we had to realize we were not attractive enough to interest people. So we went to the nearby hypermarket to buy some food for dinner and maybe someone would be intrigued by us and would host us to know more about our story. It was like this French TV show where a man travels around the world and gets invited, or rather invites himself, to people’s house. He has the nerve to come to people and ask them frankly if he can stay with them. And sometimes they accept, more or less against their will. Anyway we were too shy to invite ourselves in someone’s house.
After buying some food in the brand new hypermarket, we sat on a bench under the air conditioning to eat. There, three men came to us. They told us they had seen us with our backpacks and Omani style and they were so envious that we travel and have time to relax on a bench. We thought “well we’re not so relaxed, it’s 8pm and we don’t know where we’ll sleep tonight”. But before we could ask them if they knew a solution for us, they said they were on holidays in Nizwa. It marked the end of our faith to find someone to host us for the night. So we decided to go to that hotel we had seen not so far away to enjoy our 61 € room.
The next day, we had a reply from a Couchsurfing host. He couldn’t host us but was happy to show us around the city. That’s how we met Ali. First, he invited us for lunch in his beautiful house in the centre of old Nizwa. His house is a typical Omani house. The majilis is the first room at the entrance of the house where guests are welcomed. It is a big room with carpets and sofas all around the room. Female guests can go anywhere in the house, but males can only access the majilis. So we had tea there with Ali and his brother. Then, for lunch, I ate in another room with the mother and the wife of Ali, while Alex ate with Ali and the other men of the family. We had a very good time with them. I laughed a lot with Ali’s mother who didn’t speak English and showed me that I needed to eat more. The way of eating is also different from our European way. The rooms floors are all covered with carpets that make homes feel very comfy. To eat, people put a large cloth on the floor, they sit on the floor around it, and eat with their hands. No cutlery! The food is served in one big plate and everyone eats from it. This is much more convivial than our way of eating!
After lunch, Ali brought us to a beautiful village near Nizwa, with very ingenious irrigation systems. After that day of getting on so well together, he invited us to stay in his house for the night! So we slept in the majilis, which is also equipped with its own bathroom, where he put mattresses and blankets on the floor.
The next day, we went with Ali to the Nizwa bazaar and to Nizwa castle. Ali knew so many things about the history of the castle, he perfectly guided us all around it!
After one last cup of tea, we left Ali and his family. His mother carefully arranged my head scarf around my head to cover a hair strand that was visible. We hugged each other and promise we would see each other again. Surely we will not forget the good times we spent with Ali and his family, a perfect example of Omani hospitality.