Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February 12th, 2019

South to Sur

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th February, 2019

59A74439-0048-477A-81BB-FF109212357BYesterday I went by local coach from Ruwi to Sur, a town I last visited about 20 years ago. It only took two-and-a-half hours this time, thanks to the four-lane highway that now cuts through the barren black hills before joining the coast. There has been quite a bit of new construction in Sur itself since I was last here as well, but I was pleased to see that much of the old centre is more or less unchanged and the heart of the souk district is getting some covers for its alleys. Sur was historically best-known for its boat-building — great wooden dhows (or variants thereof) that would sail down the coast of East Africa and across to Bombay in British India. I visited one of the few remaining boatyards 20 years ago; local craftsmen had been replaced by workers from Bangladesh, though the techniques were still the same.

A582E31F-0913-44AC-8A34-3DFAE0799280So I wasn’t surprised today when I walked along the sweeping corniche and then round the bay to the (restored) old watchtower, to see Bangladeshis out with boats. Even though the weather at present is delightful, unlike the furnace that is summer, one sees very few locals about, unless they are driving a car on largely empty roads or else men going into the mosque in response to the prayer-call. The variety of mosques in even a modest place like Sur is quite astonishing. When I was wandering round one residential quarter this morning, a small herd of goats came running over to take a look at me, as if surprised to see a human out and about, Much of the Omanis’ lives, especially for the women, takes place within the four walls of their residences, many of which are substantial, though rarely as grandiose as those in some wealthier parts of the Gulf. The shopping mall culture that dominates social life in the other GCC states hasn’t really caught on here in the same way yet. There isn’t even a Starbucks outside of the capital, Muscat, which would doubtless dismay some American travellers. But there are countless Indian “coffee shops” and juice bars, serving fabulous fresh fruit juices, my two favourites being mango and papaya.

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