It’s a Man’s World

May 24, 2013 24 Comments »

Nizwa souk

Watermelon and men at the Nizwa Souq in Oman

As I was marveling at the bright colors of the watermelon, eggplant, and tomatoes against the typical Omani cream-colored backdrop of souq buildings – I felt that something was ‘off’ – but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I continued to walk around the Nizwa souq (market) with our guide Zahar but since I was taking pictures I was always lagging behind running to catch up. As I looked through the viewfinder and framed up a shot – it hit me. I pulled the camera from my face and looked around once again – there were no women in this market. Not one.

All of a sudden I became quite aware of my own femininity and that of our Exodus hiking group which included 8 women. I asked Zahar why there were only men at the market. Granted – I was well aware that I was in a Muslim country, but I still normally see women at the markets doing the shopping for produce and household goods. Zahar simply said that traditionally the men did the shopping and the women took care of the children. I asked him if the women or men cooked at home and he said that traditionally the women cooked meals. So this was a first for me – a souq full of men doing the shopping.

Granted all countries are different when it comes to the role of women – it’s one of the things I like to dig into when I get to a new country. In fact Lisa Lubin just did an enlightening recent write up on Bhutan and the matriarchal role of women. Some countries/cultures are more dictated by religion than others, but the more I talked to Omanis, it appeared that in Oman the lack of women at the market was a bit of both – religion and traditional culture.

For me, one of challenges of travel is to accept the different cultures and traditions when they are pretty out of alignment with my own values and traditions. I’m not going to lie – I find it really hard at times to accept the role of women in Muslim countries, however – it’s part of travel. And I do love the Middle East – it’s one of my favorite areas to travel to as the people are so incredibly kind to visitors – but it has its challenges for me too.

Regardless – a day spent at the refurbished souqs in Nizwa and the surrounding fort is definitely worth it. There were produce stalls, butchers, pottery, date shops, gun shops (for hunting), hardware stores, tourist shops, jewelry, tailors, and there is even a live goat and cattle market held every Friday. So – if you intend to go – go early on a Friday as I can only imagine how wonderful that would be (we missed it by a day – boo.)

Nizwa Fort

View of Nizwa souq and the mosque from the top of the Fort.

Dishdasha oman

Men wear the typical Omani dishdasha robe. You could also buy them here. The tassel on the collar is to dip in perfume/cologne and stay smelling nice.

nizwa souq

Old kettles in the souq

nizwa souq

Shopping for men only.

 

Nizwa Fort

The top of Nizwa Fort used to protect from enemy attacks.

Nizwa Souq

A butcher in the Meat Souq

Oman hat

Traditional hat worn in Oman

Nizwa Souq

Men negotiating prices at the souq

nizwa souq

Pottery Souq

nizwa souq

Wandering around the shops in the souq

Nizwa Fort

Nizwa Fort

nizwa souq

Produce for sale in the souq

Inappropriate dress in middle east

Please don’t do this…

Don’t expect to see any women but tourists – and if you are a female tourist going to the souk – please, please, please be respectful and courteous and cover your shoulders, cleavage, and knees!

 

More Info:
Souqs in Oman
Nizwa Cattle Market on Friday mornings – get there early! According to others who have went – this is not prettied up for tourist viewing: there are cows and goats groaning, the faint smell of manure, plenty of flies, and working men in their traditional white robes drenched in sweat.
Nizwa Fort – Nizwa Fort Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday, 9am – 4pm; Friday 8am – 11am

Disclosure: While in Oman I was a guest of Exodus Travels on their Oman Hiking Tour as a part of a Navigate Media Group initiative. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own.

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