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 the 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, and tailors, and there was 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.)
Discover the food of Lebanon
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!
Souqs in Oman
Nizwa Cattle Market on Friday mornings – get there early! According to others who have gone – 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, 9 am – 4 pm; Friday 8 am – 11 am