Over a year and a half ago I said goodbye to Oman. It was with a sad, yet full, heart that I allowed myself to be loaded onto the bus and was driven several hours into Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. While I was only in Ibri, Oman for four weeks, it became a second home for me. The experience challenged my language learning skills and helped me grow as a person, both physically and mentally. My heart was so touched by the people whom I met and by the natural beauty of Oman.
My experience in Oman helped me to develop a true, personal testimony to share with those at home who are afraid of the “Middle East” and of Muslims. Omanis are kind, happy, and hospitable. They treat each other and their guests with respect. They love and honor their ruler, Sultan Qaboos, and they live their lives according to a deep tradition and Muslim faith. Everyone I met in Oman has all of my respect and admiration, and I hope that my story will help to dispel stereotypes and fear.
Oman is Oman. It can’t be simplified to be “just the Middle East” or just “another Muslim country.” Oman is its own type of beautiful and has its own unique people. This is a lesson that I did not even know that I needed when I arrived.
Omani hospitality still stands out to me as the standard by which I now measure all hospitality. When you visit an Omani home, whether for a short visit or a midday meal, the red carpet is laid out for you. They made us feel like royalty and welcomed us with open arms.
Meals are meant to be a family experience. Mothers and hosts will ask you why you are not eating more and if it is because you don’t like what is in front of you. On one occasion, one of my adopted Omani mothers stuffed a handful of fattoush salad into my mouth with her hand. Omani and Emirati families hold tradition and family close to their hearts and graciously welcome guests to partake.
I am no longer afraid to speak Arabic, even when I say the wrong thing or have to ask questions. Arabic is more than just a job guarantee, it’s a way to create lasting friendships and it opens doors to creating a meaningful dialogue despite apparent differences.
Living in Oman gave me the opportunity to create friendships, despite language barriers. My beautiful teachers and I could gossip and giggle despite broken Arabic or English. I was able to learn that I am not that much different from the women who live so far away from me.
The trip changed my life. I hope that I can change how other people view the Middle East by breaking it down for them, one country or even one person at a time. The good outweighs the bad. What’s to fear in a person who is just like you?
Ma’a Salama (With Peace), Oman. I will see you soon.
Gabriella Patti is a fourth year student studying Journalism and International Relations with a minor in Middle East studies.