Taking Candy From Strangers
Just another night at the souq
While visiting Muscat, Oman, I spent my last night in town at the Mutrah Souq ("souq" basically = market in an Arab city). I had rented a car for the duration of my stay and was trying my best to find a parking spot, though even on a Sunday evening the streets were packed. After circling my destination for 20 minutes, I decided to investigate a small strip of space with a painted curb. I pulled in, got out and began my research - walking up and down the length of the painted area, rereading the signs half a dozen times. It was still unclear. Frankly I don't remember if the signs had any English on them so let's assume my "rereading" was more "staring blankly at some Arabic words". A car pulled in right behind me and the occupants exited with a confident air that just screamed "we believe this is a legal parking spot." I approached the driver to confirm my suspicions, said hello in Arabic and then made gestures to the sign and curb indicating my confusion. Luckily the driver spoke a bit of English and was friendly. He and his friend were intending to grab a bite not too far from where we were standing so he suggested we exchange numbers and assured me he would call if the cops showed up because he was NOT sure we could park there.
Leaving the souq about an hour and a half later, I get a call. One of the friendly strangers was calling to invite me to dinner as he and his friend were leaving their first stop; of course I said yes. We met up at our parked cars, I got some stuff out of my rental, locked it up and hopped in the backseat with these two strangers I had just met. They were Iranian and on vacation too and just about the sweetest guys you could imagine. The backseat had bags of sweets and pistachios from their native country which they generously shared. Later that evening when we finally parted ways, they refused to let me go without accepting a stash of their foreign candies.
Of course there was a moment, after I locked up my own rental car and closed the door on myself in theirs, that I considered the possibility I may be on my way to getting sex trafficked in a foreign land, but my stranger-danger sense is pretty good and I quickly pushed the thought out of mind. I focused instead on the reckless driving style of my hosts and the thrill of the unknown; the whole night and many possibilities spread out before me.
It was a whirlwind of conversations I couldn’t understand, delicious snacks, random stops and high-speeds as we drove through Muscat, Arabic club music blasting. We met up with the sister, brother-in-law and baby nephew of one of my kind hosts before going off in search of some famed restaurant, the exact name of which seemed to be a mystery to all.
The driver and I communicated the most as he spoke a bit of English, his passenger friend spoke only Farsi and a bit of Arabic, though “communicated” is a bit generous. We relied heavily on Google translate to pick up the slack of our broken and spare knowledge of each other’s languages. As de facto partners that evening, it was together that we stumbled upon an underground, and surely illegal, bar for Muslims. Arriving at a nondescript building, my new partner was sure the restaurant we searched for was in the lower level. We confidently made our way downstairs only to discover a depressing scene of men sitting by themselves at small tables surrounded by empty beer cans, bad music playing softly and bad fluorescent lighting overhead. We looked at each other briefly with “oh shit” in our eyes and immediately turned and left.
After that strange scene, it was decided that our search would be called off and we would dine instead at the Intercontinental Hotel on the coast. And so it was that I found myself eating Thai food in a Polynesian restaurant with four and a half Iranians within the country of Oman. Oh and did I mention there was a salsa band?
My point is, I took candy from strangers and it was the best trip I ever had.