Live to Drive Another Day
There are four main roads in Muscat, running more or less an east west direction, parallel to each other. Hugging the coastline is November 18th and to the south is Al Sultan Qaboose (pronounced Caboose), named after the revered Sultan. It zig zags from the Royal Police Stadium to the Airport and takes you most places you need to go. 23rd of July is a few degrees inland from there, a less assuming thoroughfare, running into the Muscat Expressway—the road I take to get to my kid’s school. With an American license I can drive, but in 60 days from arrival, I’ll need to register officially, do the paperwork and get a photo ID. I need to figure it all out, but right now I’m busy just driving. Lucky to be alive, I’d say, after going the wrong direction on a three lane freeway.
It’s easier than you’d think to make THAT mistake, especially if you’re used to turning left to go left and forget to turn right to go left. There are “slip” roads and “fly overs” and exits going one way then sharply banking the other. I liken driving in Oman to reading Arabic, it’s right to left when reading, and driving feels much the same way.
I was grateful to the cars honking behind me when I went the wrong direction, of course the arrows helped too, THREE TRAFFIC ARROWS POINTING DIRECTLY AT ME!!! The median was too high to Evel Knievel with my rental, so I swerved into the turn lane, waited for a couple of cars to pass, then peeled around James Bondesque style. I don’t know how I managed it, to be honest, that time of day is usually heavy with traffic, but thankfully I live to drive another day. Inshallah.
Yes I do have a GPS, but I only know how to program it to go home. On the upside, I can get as lost as I want and feel reassured of seeing my husband and kids again. Addresses are all but useless here, even ambulances don’t rely on them. Landmarks are more helpful for locating places. If you know the name of the mosque you live by, you can generally find your way from there. Taxi drivers don’t know addresses either. So you have to know where you want to go or fughetaboutit. Here’s the Grand Mosque. One of the largest and most stunning Mosques in all of Oman. This I can find.
I would be a lot less nervous about driving if there weren’t traffic cameras at each intersection and along all major roadways. Drive too fast and you’ll see a Flash Bam KABoom! (Really it’s just a flash). It means you got a ticket and if you try to leave the country they will detain you at the airport until the bill is paid. (That’s one way to collect revenue.) The other thing that slightly terrifies me is the possibility of running a red light. Not that I make a habit out of this, but if do you happen to zip through unawares you’ll pay a hefty fine and spend a couple of nights in jail. (Not on my, “Things To Do in Muscat” List).
Driving and getting lost is, however, on my “Least Favorite Things To Do,” list. I question my sanity each time I move to a new country and have to find my way around all over again!! Again? Why? WHY?!? Why do I do this? And then I go on a drive and get lost and see a camel. A CAMEL!! And I go, OK, getting lost is fun!! And I remember my favorite quote…A good day is a good day. A bad day is a good story. So it’s all good. It’s ALL good!!
It’s super great and getting better, cause I found a Facebook page called, “Where Can I Find In Muscat?” I asked the “Group” where I could get a good haircut, an essential first step when moving, and they responded to my plea. Gorgeous Hair. I found it driving there my first try! Nicky, the owner, trimmed my fringe (bangs to us Yankees), and gave me a new lease on life. She understood my fine, straight hair and more importantly, understood ME. For a few blissful moments I felt normal, something I haven’t felt much these past few weeks.
Most of the time I feel very aware of being different, the odd one out. I’m a white lady with short hair and jeans, an anomaly, a westerner, one of THEM. I feel looks of indifference. I’ve learned not to go around smiling my big ol’ American grin at people. Instead I’m a shy Mona Lisa, with a mysterious upturned lip. Gauging the crowd. It’s what you do instinctively.
I’ve been told by many long time expats, Oman is very safe. It is true. You can walk around at night. Even if you are alone, and a woman, you won’t have to worry. But feeling safe isn’t the same as feeling comfortable, or normal for that matter. And maybe getting lost on the map, with three arrows pointing in your direction, is a lot like feeling lost in life. Lost on the inside. It’s frightening and confusing when suddenly everything you know has changed. But here’s the thing…when you’re world changes, look for the camel. It’s there, you just have to keep searching, keep discovering, one mini life expedition at a time. I’ve been lost before (many, many, many times), and I’ve always found, getting lost is the first step to finding your way back home.
To every sojourner who journeys, the path is yours to make.