Monday, December 31, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to the most common questions I got asked when friends learned of my destination:

Do women or you have to cover up?
Dress as you wish, but be respectful of the culture here. Omani women dress in many ways: with embroidered abaya (full length, long sleeve covering) and headscarf; jeans, blouse and headscarf; no headscarf, etc. Any way is fine, though the traditional and customary way is with a headscarf.  Below the knees, below the elbows and loose fitting seems a good rule of thumb for Westerners, certainly during business hours.  On the beach on the weekends, though, I've seen plenty of shorts and T-shirts on Westerners and the rare cropped leggings and short abayas on women.
Omani men and women working in public offices have to wear a certain outfit/uniform: women wear the abaya and scarf and men wear a white dishdasha (floor length tunic) and a sort of turban (muzzar).  A tassel hangs off the right collar of the men's dishdasha, traditionally this was dipped in perfume. On more formal occasions the men will add a sash of the same fabric as the headwrap and a long black robe, open at the front.


Can women drive?
Anybody 18 and over with a license can drive.

Can women go out alone?
Absolutely, though a young single woman wouldn't go without a brother, cousin, or other women to the movies, to a restaurant, to a party unless it were a family event.

Can you buy alcohol?
Yes, if you are 21 or older at licensed bars and restaurants, mostly in hotels. With an alcohol permit (easily obtained from the Royal Omani Police) Westerners can buy alcohol at specially licensed retail stores. Additionally, you can bring a limited amount with you when you fly into the country. There's even a conveniently placed Duty Free store on the way from Immigration to Baggage Claim!

What's the food like?
Middle Eastern (think Lebanese-style) and African and Indian influenced.  An Omani restaurant I've been to several times (Kargeen) features grilled meat, marinated meat baked in palm leaves, and a variety of flat breads.  Restaurant cuisine varies widely in Muscat, with offerings from Italian to Indian, Mexican to Chinese and several in between. Even the cupcake fad has hit here.  There are also plenty of American chains all over (Starbucks, Subway, KFC, Baskin Robbins, etc.).

Answers to the questions commonly asked by Omanis:

Where are you from?
Hamburg, Germany

Where are your parents from?
My mother is from Hamburg, my father was born in Valencia, Spain.

How is your mother doing?
Very well, thank you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where is Oman?

Almost everyone I told about my appointment asked "Where is Oman?".

View Larger Map

Oman is on the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. It is roughly the size of Poland or Kansas. The capital, Muscat, is a long skinny city wedged between the beaches of the Gulf of Oman and the foothills of the Western Al Hajar Mountains.  The climate ranges from warm in December (around 70F or 20C) to really hot in June/July (around 115F or 45C). The best time of year to visit is September through March!

Population is around 3.3 million of whom roughly 20% are foreigners, the statistics vary by website.  Many expatriates are Europeans and Americans in the oil and natural gas industries, others are from India, Pakistan and the Philippines laboring to send money back home.  These are generalizations, of course.

The full country name is The Sultanate of Oman.  It has been ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said (or Qaboos, son of Said, of the Said family) since 1970.  He is credited with modernizing the country.

Oman was long an important stop on the trade routes to and from India and down the African coast. At the height of the Omani Empire in the 19th century they commanded territory from present-day Iran down to Mozambique.  These days oil and natural gas are the primary industries, but tourism is on the rise with recreational activities in the desert, in the mountains and on and under the water. The Omani people are warm and welcoming, a trait that probably comes from centuries of international trade and relations.

The early trips

For those who don't know why I am in Oman: Last May I was hired as CEO of the Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman.  I did not, however, want to drop everything at Washington National Opera and leave right away.  I had some loose ends to tie up at WNO, in particular I wanted to get my brainchild, the young-composers-commissioning project, off the ground, so it was mutually agreed that I would start full time on Dec. 1. 

Following the trip in June for the press conference announcing both the new season and my appointment I made 4 more one-week trips for a total of 7 trips to Oman in 2012!  When I wasn't in Oman I was still conducting business via email. It was challenging not being on site full time, which is one reason I am so glad to be in Muscat for good now.

During those earlier quick visits to Oman I was able to make a little time to get around Muscat and surroundings. I drove to Sur and back (south-east tip of Oman), went to Nizwah (the old capital), up to the mountains to see the Omani Grand Canyon at 9000ft and to visit a mountain resort.  Back in town I went to the souk (market) in old Muscat, the Diving Center, and the amazing Shangri-La resort, among other beautiful hotels right on the beach. The water is pleasant all year round and the color is a beautiful turquoise blue. The people in Oman are very polite and kind, I have wonderful colleagues
 at the Royal Opera House and the theatre is amazingly beautiful.   Check it out:

More about these places and other adventures in upcoming posts.

The Muttrah Souk in old Muscat


Mountain resort

(Scuba) Diving Center

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Day 1

It’s my first official day as Chief Executive Office of the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.
I’ve already traveled here 7 times this year for a week or two at a time to transition in. I found a great apartment 2 trips ago, and got the keys during my last trip. I have a rental car for now and I’m ready to go. Pictures and stories to come. Here’s a brief taste of the area, a curtain raiser, if you will.

The announcement of my appointment in the local paper, June 2012:

What the city looks like from the Grand Hyatt hotel balcony, a fairly standard view West:

The beach mid-town, outside the Grand Hyatt where I stayed my first 7 trips:

Where I now work: