As my Air Emirates plane (taa-eeran) hit the runway in Muscat – and I woke up from my jet-lagged 40-minute daze – I looked out the window to admire Oman for the first time.
And it was white. Everything was white. The runway, the ground, the buildings, the mountains, the other planes; everything in my field of vision was so blindingly white that I struggled to distinguish anything. Upon exiting the plane, my vision didn’t become much more distinct, but I began to understand the strange complexion of the land and air before me. Muscat (pronounced in Arabic MUS-qaht) is firmly and irrefutably a desert city, despite its location between the barren and breathtaking Al Hajar mountains to the southwest and the Gulf of Oman/Arabian Sea to the northeast. The sun, already scorching by 10am, reflects off the white sand in every direction. There are no clouds, no high buildings – the city is large, but also spread out – and the result is that the whole landscape enhances the initial brilliance of the sun, echoing off light in all directions. The vast, blinding whiteness hummed around me, an impressive welcome from this place and its desert.
Upon disembarking from the plane, I saw for the first time dozens of men in dishdashas (ankle length bright white robes worn by Omani men) all around the airport entrance and runway area. The airport – although currently under construction – is itself a robust, pearly edifice ringed by two-layers of thin columns supporting elegant white arches.
My sun-daze didn’t last too long; nine other flights arrived concurrently with mine, and I was quickly swept up in a tide of middle-aged French businessmen – double-vented blue silk suits flapping behind them as they ran – to get into line to purchase a 30-day “tourist” visa. The river of suits deposited me somewhere along the queue, in the thick of the fracas (comme on le dit), and about an hour and a half later I was granted my very own “tourist” visa. I then proceeded to customs, where I proudly conducted an entire conversation with the officer in Arabic! He was extremely friendly, and masroor (delighted) to welcome me to Oman.
Outside of customs I saw a sign with my name roundly inscribed on it in sea-green sharpie. I could barely contain my own suroor (delight) at this development, exhausted as I was from the sleepless night in Dubai airport, the blinding sun, the flowing frenchmen. Assalaamu ‘aleikum, said Mohammed, the driver from Maliha’s company who’d come to pick me up. Wa aleikum assalaam, I replied. Together we exited the airport and dissolved into the symphony of light.