In August I moved to Oman having previously been living in Tanzania. Many people had given me all kinds of warnings about moving to a Muslim country – no pork, no Christmas, and my arms and legs would never see the light of day again. It’s a lot different to the ideas that were projected on to my decision of a ‘new life’ in the Middle East…starting with Christmas!
I joined the Muscat Singers when I arrived in Oman, and my festive feelings began as we snag carols at the British Embassy a few weeks ago. We were joined by our invited guests as well as many families with young children dressed for the occasion in reindeer antlers and adorned with tinsel. The highlight for me was the mince pies – a real flavour to remind me of celebrating in the cool December with friends and family back in England.
I went to the Mall soon after this looking for Christmas lights to decorate my house for a party (and the inaugural TSS Theiving Secret Santa) and as I read the boxes for colour and length information, I found that I was not alone. A lady needed help…to buy Christmas lights. The labels were all in English and she could not read them. Seems pretty normal, right? The thing is, I was in a Mall, in Oman – a Muslim country, being asked for help with Christmas lights by a Muslim girl dressed in a burka…and although it seemed strange to me, it didn’t seem to feel that way to her as she wished me a Happy Christmas and went on her way to the checkout with 15m of rhymthically flashing multicoloured LEDs. In this moment I was reminded that people of all faiths and none can happily coexist in each other’s lives and I am blessed to have the opportunity to coexist with all in this special country.
Christmas festivities continued with a concert in conjunction with Muscat Brass full of the joyful sounds of Christmas, the discovery of Cranberry and Orange Jaffa Cakes (thank you M&S Food) and a very successful game of Thieving Secret Santa that will hopefully become a TSS tradition for years to come. I am actually going to go and spend Christmas in Nepal and New Year in India, but I will be taking with me many Christmas wishes from Oman – and along with them, the knowledge that cross-cultural interaction is a vital cog in the journey to humans improving their acceptance of people different to themselves.
Merry Christmas…and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then enjoy the rest of 2016 – I hope you get to spend time with friends and family – and every good wish for a happy and healthy 2017.