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My Octogenarian Taxi Driver and finding Insights into Oman

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By Kevin Anthony Stoda

   Today, I received a lift by taxi from near my home to the college of technology in Salalah, Oman, where I work.  This taxi driver was 80 years old; he proudly told me.  I noted that he drove very safely and did not wear glasses.

In his life, this aging Omani taxi driver had worked as a mason, a carpenter, and as a truck driver.  This Omani lives now in Dahariz (a part of Salalah), but he had worked in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and other locations in the middle East over the decades. Over the years, he had worked normally privately for various firms, including those who do contracts with the Omani military.

 This Omani octogenarian noted that he had never gone to school. He proudly shared that he could, however, write, and he could read the Koran.  He could not speak other languages, like Gaballi or Mahri--or even English (all languages used in this region). However, it was quite clear by his driving skills and his facilities in his native language, Arabic, that the man was a capable and lucid man from whom current generations could learn so much.

In Oman, one of the ways to get to know more intimately the local population is to take a taxi and to ask a lot of questions--and listen to the driver.  Why?  First of all, by law, officially only Omanis are permitted to have the job of taxi driver in the country of Oman.  This means that when you enter the taxi, you are entering the office of an Omani--either the owner of the taxi--or an employee or friend of the taxi owner.

Second, often, taxi driving is not the only job that the driver has or has had.  That is, almost all taxi drivers either work (or worked) for a private firm, for the government, or for themselves or their families.   This means that when you enter the office or taxi, you enter a second or third office if you please.  You ask where the other places are where  the man works or worked.  Then you proceed to have a conversation about that job. For example, here in Salalah, I often get military personnel, government officers, and private contractors who drive part time as taxi drivers.  Some are from the Dhofar regions--others are from Muscat, Nizwa, Sohar or other regions of the land. I have gained insight in how fluid the overall economy is and to what degree drivers are multilingual.

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Some drivers share quite a bit.  Others are more tight-mouthed or simply less reflective.  However, most taxi drivers are insightful or simply willing to share gems about themselves, their region, their families, and their societies.  Some work as tour guides on and off--which is important here in Dhofar due to the annual migration of visitors during the Khareef Season.

One of the more interesting drivers I have met was also from Dahariz, i.e. as was the octogenarian cab driver I met today. That younger driver was not only fairly fluent in English but even more fluent in Spanish--as well as in his native Arabic dialects.  The man had gone to Spain back in the 1970s, in the era immediately after the country's destructive Dhofar Civil War ended. That man had apparently received a 4 or 5 year scholarship to study in Madrid and did quite well. This man had great insight and worked many odd jobs (including as a tour guide) but he had never taught Spanish, which is tragic because it would help a lot of young Omanis to have further access into the friends of the Middle East in Latin America and Europe. In other words, many taxi drivers have unused skills, which you may get them to share.  (I am also a Spanish teacher and this driver is the only fluent speaker in the city whom I know.  However, Spanish tourists and Spanish footballers do come here and work.)

Finally, I should note that there is a legend here in Oman that even the Sultan of the country occasionally dawns normal clothing and drives around the country in the guise of a taxi driver, i.e.  in order to find out what local people think and feel--or what foreigners in the country are thinking and feeling about the country, its present, and future.  Perhaps, you, too, will be lucky and meet Sultan Qaboos if and when you take a cab.  He probably will enjoy asking your opinion and getting insights from you. 

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http://eslkevin.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/3-big-paradigms-hol

KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)
 

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