Category Archives: Oman

Taking the Omani Elevator


In the lobby of the Platinum Hotel, Muscat, there are two elevators.

 Right now, the one on the right isn’t working, so the one on the left is crowded with passengers, and in amongst these very short-haul travellers – also expecting to be upwardly mobile any moment – stands myself, be-suited and sweating.

 The others crammed into this tight, yet glittering space, all work at the hotel. Thus, they are not wearing jackets and ties, like me, nor carrying briefcases, nor wearing wholly-climate-inappropriate socks and clunky dress shoes. Instead, those off duty are in t-shirts, sweats and flip-flops, those on, in thin, silky-looking jackets and trousers. They have also not just come from a meeting with the Readiness Committee of the new airport free zone, either, and in consequence, they all look quite calm and relaxed.

 As we stand stuffed together, awaiting departure, I notice that the sweat stains on my shirt have begun to join together into an aerial map of something resembling the Great Lakes, complete with salty waterways, rivuleting from my right nipple to my left breast pocket. Götterdämmerung, sweat gland style, has come in the transition from 35C street to icy, air conditioned lobby.

 But now, it’s time for greetings.

 “Hey, Ahmed!” the Indian hall porter says to the guy with a small child squeezed into the far right corner. “Late shift?”

 “Yes!” the guy replies, smiling. I realise he is the Keralan receptionist I had earlier and completely unreasonably remonstrated with when the internet went down – and at this point too, I realise that even though we are pressed close enough together to smell each others’ lunch, none of the hotel staff is going to look me in the eye.

 But now we’re off.

 “Going Up!” sparks the cheery, somehow Filipina voice of the elevator. Then, “First floor reached!”

 The doors swish open and there we suddenly see the black-robed, fully-veiled forms of two women, clutching at smartphones. On seeing us, they jolt backwards in a kind of shock. Their eyes, which seem to exert an inexorable pull on my gaze, also seem to be black – though darting and somewhat frightened-looking.

 They are women and in the lift we are all men.

 In the elevator too, all the cheery greetings and smiles seem suddenly dissolved in the heavy, fetid air.

 We wait for the doors to close again, awkwardly and in silence.

 The women too also wait, also silent, eyes now downcast.

 Finally, the doors swish shut and the women vanish, much to everyone’s evident relief.

 “Going Up!” chimes the Filipina elevator, and the conversation resumes.

 “I’m glad to see you are still here,” the porter says to a fourth man, a slightly stooping Pakistani maintenance guy, who has charge of the floor buttons, his hand being closest to them amongst the press of bodies.

 The Pakistani smiles back, slightly bashfully. “Ilhamdulil’allah,” he says. Everyone smiles. Ilhamdulil’allah.

 At the second floor, the door opens to reveal a tall Omani guy in long white dishdasha and government-service turban. The maintenance man leaves, and the Omani gets in, pressing the button for the sixth floor – the rooftop pool and restaurant.

 “A-salam walaikum,” he says.

“W’alaikum a-salam,” we all say back.

 There is a quiet though now, as we pass through the higher levels. At these, the lift starts thinning out, each passenger departing for their anointed floor.

 Indeed, only the Omani remains when my time to leave the sweat-box also finally comes.

 “Fifth floor reached!” the Filipina elevator says.

 The Omani and I nod to each other. The door opens. I leave, and then the door closes.


Live from the Crystal Suites



For the purposes of an assignment on writing about where you know, I’m going to have to pretend that this hotel is my hometown.

That’s because after journeying through some 54 different countries, the place from where I first set out has become about as vague to me as the details of some old, Jim Bean-fuelled transgression. Where was it exactly? when did travelling begin? The first holiday, or the first foreign tax bill?

But there were trees back then, I recall, and a beach. And it rained – often.

At this hotel in Oman’s capital, Muscat, there are none of those things. Instead, there’s a range of Martian-bleak mountains tight up behind, and the beach here stretches for about a thousand miles inland.

And no, there’s no rain. Almost ever.

And instead of clay cliffs gradually sloughing off big chunks into the English Channel – much to the consternation of the cliff-top local golf club – the place where I am now clings close to the feet of the Al Hajar mountains, squeezed between them and the Indian Ocean’s rolling turquoise.

I’m here in Muscat to write about Oman’s now-booming economy, courtesy of an English publisher of business guides, and for that reason, I am on my way now to meet Nidheesh Nair, the hotel’s GM.

The hotel/hometown he presides over sits amidst a tumble of houses and low-rises, rather than lining up in the long rollout of baby-boomer estates, retirees’ Dun Roamins and mock-Tudor pubs where I grew up. The smell here is of dust and rogan josh, cardamom coffee and dishdasha sweat – not chips and Sunday roasts, salt air and damp.

As the boss, Nidheesh is a bit like the mayor of my hometown – except he’s from India, rather than Bournemouth. But in any case, he is friendly, apologetic for his perfect English, and recovering from a bout of chicken pox.

“People look at my face” – it’s spotted with sultana-sized freckles – “and don’t know what to say,” he muses, as I fight back the urge to gawp. “But really, it’s quite common here, with the sun, the dust. Sometimes people even catch it twice.”

The name of our hotel-hometown is the Crystal Suites, something that conjures up an odd mix of images for me, from meth amphetamine to ‘70s disco. The latter thought is aided too by the fluctuating multi-coloured neon that traces the hotel’s name, in both Arabic and English, above its solid frontage.

I cast an eye over the newspaper on the desk. It’s open at an item on the chances of a plague of locusts hitting the nearby farms. And as for that other apocalyptic horseman, war, well, this is the Middle East.

To my surprise, Nidheesh then explains that my hotel/hometown is just six years old, rather than six hundred. The faded lack-of-grandeur of the MDF furniture in my room is more to do with the harsh Arabian air than old age.

“Life is pretty relaxed here,” Nidheesh then adds, after what seems to have been a long time. “Slow and steady.”

And then, there’s another long pause. The silence slowly suffocates the time – enough for us to lose track of what it was I’d asked, and even, what it is exactly that we’re doing here.

But eventually, Nidheesh stirs in the tepid office air and concludes: “We like it that way.”

We both smile.

I think I like it that way too.

And maybe that’s why I’m here, why it’s ok for those real ‘hometown’ memories to fade away.

Right now though, the afternoon sun is sitting heavily on the city’s chest. It’s 42C outside, no rain, no trees. Slowly and steadily, I get up and go.

Time for some more of taking it easy.

Nidheesh agrees.