How not to do a business trip

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, beautiful people,

In lieu of a better researched blog post (which is not about sex), I want to tell you about my recent business trip to Oman for a conference my company was organizing.

It was my first ever business trip and I’m not ashamed to say, I was FREAKING OUT.

I performed with the UAE’s first ever improv troupe, Improv Revolution mere hours before I was supposed to get on the plane.

I gotta say, I think I let my comedy brothers and sisters down. Somehow I wasn’t feeling the love that night. Anyway, it’s cool. You have good nights and bad nights.

At around 3:30 in the morning, I met my colleagues in the airport, sleepily nursing their Starbucks, surrounded by trolley bags. We trudged to the check-out counter. Only to be informed, sharply and decisively, by FlyDubai staff, that I, as a mini-female Sri Lankan, cannot travel to Oman without a visa.

Racism and sexism at the same time.

That’s pretty impressive.

Needless to say, excrement had hit the airflow cooling device. My colleagues flew without me. I had to somehow make it there, even if I had to crawl.

My father (my sponsor) and I visited the Omani consulate. Apparently, it was a combination of my Sri Lankanness and my daughter-ness that had stopped me at the airport. A sweet-faced man with a colorful turban and a heavily pregnant young lady did some creative and mystifying diplomatic miracles to help me on my way. Nicer public officials I have never met in my entire life. After some manic running around and some dozing in the hot noonday sun, I got my visa and booked my flight to Oman.

I finally flew out sometime in the evening. To say my nerves were shot would be understatement.

I must have looked a pathetic sight lugging my very light trolley bag up and down the plane stairs because three gentlemen asked if I needed any help. Without even thinking, I said no and politely said I could manage. I wonder if I peed all over their chivalrous instincts, something I think is very lacking in dudes (who are obviously not gentlemen like these gentlemen were). Was my instant reaction the result of feminism gone wild or the fact that I was travelling alone and a little nervous?

Anyway I got to Oman and I walked out into the arrivals area. I was greeted by a wall of what I think were South Indian faces. My first thought: Kerala, which I visited last year for a close family friend’s wedding. Exiting the airport, I was greeted by a rush of humid air. My second thought: Colombo airport in the monsoon season.

Eventually I located the driver who was supposed to drive me to our hotel. Him, I allowed him to take my bags and open my door for me. He told me about the historical significance of the places we were passing through. Souks. Museums. Opera houses. Banks. As we drove through Muscat, my mind raced trying to make comparisons. Sharjah? Deira? Satwa?

At regular intervals, a McDonald’s, Hardees or a KFC would raise its neon fist in salutation. Good to know some things never change. I’m reading Fast Food Nation at the moment, so maybe I’ll think differently about that soon.

The conference passed in a whirlwind of delegates, interviews, long corridors, presentations, ballrooms and business cards. It surprised me to learn that even the most technical of industries have in-jokes.

After two very long days, my colleagues and I drove to the airport around dusk. I was tired, but somehow I knew Allah (SWT) was smiling on me. This was probably why. 

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Isn’t it incredible?

It’s strange how a place can feel strange and familiar at the same time.

Some things were just the same as they would be in Dubai. People sat on chairs outside mosques talking. Women walked briskly around the corniche in shalwar kameez and sneakers, their dupattas tied around their waists. Little kids roved in miniature street gangs. The roads wound and speed limits were surpassed.

But some things were very different. For one thing, there was no traffic. There didn’t seem to be much stress. The Omani locals seemed to wear more colorful headgear than the Emirati dish-dasha I’m used to seeing. There were mountains, lakes and lagoons everywhere. Coffee shops were entitled simply “Coffee shop”. Groceries were entitled somewhat confusingly, “Seller of Foodstuff”.

It was a whirlwind trip, but I want to come back one day Insha Allah. Maybe walk rather than drive this time. Maybe I’ll have a coffee at one of those ‘coffee shops’. Pray in one of their beautiful mosques. Catch an opera at the opera house – if it’s finished by then. And then maybe finish my evening with a Happy Meal. Because I’d probably be pretty happy by that time. Content, at the very least. Insha Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

Sabina.

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One thought on “How not to do a business trip

  1. I hope u will let men do their part of carrying ur luggage around next time. If it has to be sexism.. let it be fair 🙂 And u shud visit Musandam, if u enjoyed Oman, u will simply enjoy the mysticism and serene of the valleys and open blue sea there!

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