• Shelley Dark

#21 let's go buy a goat


Ali's first words to us when he picked us up at 8am this morning were ‘ok, let’s go buy a goat’.

Photos of the Sultan are everywhere in Oman - in hotel lobbies, on the street, in businesses. In most of them he is unsmiling, so I liked this one at Alila. As we drove to the souq, I asked Ali whether the Sultan is married. He was once when he was younger but it was short-lived. He has no children.

He was educated in India and England, graduating from Sandhurst before joining the British army. He studied politics and went on a world trip before returning to Oman in 1964. His father immediately put him under house arrest, and didn't speak to him. I've since read that at that time, the infant mortality rate was 75%, the literacy rate was 5%, there were 3 schools and 6 miles of sealed roads in Oman. In 1970, Qaboos staged a successful palace coup. He exiled his father who made the Dorchester Hotel in London his home for the last two years of his life.

Qaboos married his first cousin in 1976 but was divorced soon after. He has recently spent eight months in Germany having medical treatment. His achievements are legendary. He's spent his life bringing Oman into the twenty-first century and Omanis speak of him as you would a loved and respected father. Now there are roads, schools, hospitals, power, water, industry, internet. He's also a man of refinement with a love of music, theatre, architecture. The cost has been a loss of personal freedoms. He enjoys a 95% approval rating and Omanis feel he was the right man at the right time.

We parked outside the souk in a huge parking area designated ‘tourist ‘parking’ and entered via the souk gate. It’s been operating for at least 800 years and has recently been rebuilt. We agreed to meet Ali again in 2 hours at a coffee shop near the entry to the fort.

With mature shade trees here and there along the street, it's a pleasant place to meet and chat.

The goat and cattle market starts very early in the morning. It’s held around a circular raised concrete dais under cover, with seating around the edge and in the middle. The animals are tied up to red painted steel pipe posts all around the perimeter. The auction had happened before we arrived.

Buyers were still inspecting stock, kneeling down to feel the feet, or the udder, or running their hands along the animal’s back as they negotiated. A great shout went up and people ran everywhere when one cow escaped her handler and charged around the outside of the ring. Someone caught her rope and she was led away by her embarrassed owner.

This young bull was the opposite - he didn't want to move at all.

There were mother goats and tiny little kids. Men were chatting after the sale. Animals were being loaded on to the back of utilities on a loading ramp.

They have such expressive faces, goats.

Patient.

Inquisitive.

Docile.

Kind.

This man was thrilled with his kid goat.

Do you think the man on the right, with a fistful of cash, looks a little unhappy with the price on the day?

When your buttons come undone, you need your daddy to do them up.

How many rials did you say? Let me see....

It's a tiring business.

But a profitable one.

The main fruit market was inside a quadrangle - dates still on the branch, date syrup in take away containers.

Pomegranates, bananas, different coloured dates, limes, all sorts of vegetables.

There's a caged bird market with budgies, pigeons, chooks. People haggling, inspecting, paying, children laughing and running away when they saw us with cameras. Most people were happy to be photographed while others waved us away good-naturedly.

A shy birdseller.

A cheery mother.

The crocheted kufi cap is unusual here.

I am constantly impressed with the colour co-ordination in clothes - the brown in his turban matches his hair colour and complexion, while the taupe picks up the colour of his dishdasha perfectly.

My favourite turban though is this red and white geometric design in a very fine fabric with tiny holes in the hemstitching.

Dishdashas come in all sizes.

A happy camper giving the globally recognised V sign.

And more.

We passed baskets, pots, spices, nuts...

It was soon time to find Ali so we left the souk via one of the massive gates leading to the fort, into the shade of fig trees outside.

Here we found not only Ali but the gun and dagger market.

Some of the guns were antique with silver decoration.

The khanjar or dagger is part of the ceremonial dress of Omanis. It's worn on the waist on a silver belt, and the style ranges from elaborate 5-ringed royal designs like this, to the plainer one below.

These days it's social taboo to draw it out of its scabbard, so we were fortunate to see them so close. The design and materials used are prescribed by government and sultan decree.

He's extolling its finer points to his buyer.

Two essentials - your khanjar and your mobile.

We were hot and thirsty and very glad to see the cold lime lemon and mint juice Ali had ordered for us at a modern coffee shop near the fort. Like a mojito slushie. Heaven.

We were at the Nizwa Fort entry ten minutes before it closed at eleven. It's a massive complex which has been rebuilt in the last few years and the maze of rooms and corridors are newly mud plastered.

If you were wanting to invade, the tower is well-secured with three or four doors with spikes where you could have boiling water or date syrup poured over you, and if you got through the door, you'd fall into a deep well via a trapdoor. At the top, around a big open space, three double-sided staircases lead to defensive positions on the walls.

The fort overlooks the mosque which was the Grand Mosque before the Sultan built a new Grand Mosque in the outer suburbs.