Where Everything is Possible
A five-minute walk and a skip away from the Al Amana Center, deep into the Mutrah Souq and around the corner is a cute little shop where I like to spend my days. Colors literally wind about the walls as they make up the expertly woven rugs and embroidered scarves folded neatly on shelves. Customers from German tourists to Omanis in dishdashas and abayas chatter away and feel the extraordinary fabrics as they debate which one to take home. A sweet gray, spotted cat sleeps on a stack of square pillowcases and cuddles up to the intricate designs. Further back, there is a leather desk chair with a red patterned seat cushion spinning because a man just leaped up to get some tea for his guests. Welcome to Shah’s shop, where I introduce you to the owner of that chair, Shah, and the generosity and hospitality he has taught me.
Shah has lived and worked in the Mutrah Souq for about eleven years. He is a friend of our program director and was the first local we were introduced to when we arrived in Muscat three months ago. Except, he isn’t local at all. Shah is from Kashmir and works in the souq while his family weaves and works back in his home. The spotted cat Monica has become one of his pets and is just one of many cats who linger and whine in the paths of the souq searching for scraps and sleeping in corners. Another cat named Pumpkin, because of his shiny orange fur, we call him Mushkillah (meaning “problem” in Arabic) lingers as well. As a younger cat, he lives up to his nickname by mauling the valuable merchandise and demanding attention. They have found a home in Shah’s shop. With free hot dogs for breakfast and dinner, pets from Shah and other strangers, and surroundings of luxury carpets and other linens, who can blame them for staying?
The comfort Monica and Muskillah feel is why I too have become attached to this carpet shop. But, I know that it’s not just the location that keeps us coming back. It’s the smile and the hospitality we are met with from Shah every day. The souq, which I mentioned in my “In the Neighborhood: Muscat” blog is a huge market with a maze of shops and stalls to explore. It is hard to choose who to buy items from and where you are getting a bargain, especially because most of the shop owners call me madam and sweet-talk me as they invite me inside. Shah didn’t need these extra flatteries or compliments because we knew him through stories from our Program Director Justin. He simply invited us to sit, brought us some Chai Karak (Chai means tea in Arabic— remember that next time you order your “Chai tea” at Starbucks) and began a conversation. No questions asked, he serves and loves rather than aggressively offering you trinkets probably made in China that you don’t need on your desk back home.
The invitation to sit and read on a rug in the back of his shop, come by for tea and samosas and chat, or even to ask him burning questions about Kashmir, Oman or Islam always stands. Which is part of the reason “everything is possible” is Shah’s favorite catchphrase. Aside from his afternoon break from 1-4:00pm (when the afternoon heat is so unbearable all the shops in Mutrah close), he spends almost all his time in this shop. Never once have I heard him complain. Rather, he has befriended the neighboring shop owners and devotes his time to hearing stories from us and welcoming other expats and tourists to Oman. Justin even lets his kids stay with Shah while he runs errands. They bounce around the loft/ extra stockroom above the shop and receive huge bear hugs from Shah before they leave.
I trust Shah more than I trust some of my neighbors back home. I’ve learned much from him, from how the beard of a goat turns into the lovely, soft Pashmina scarf for sale in his shop, to the political struggle in Kashmir and the sides of the conflict in Syria and beyond. His selfless giving to others, whether it’s tea or a whole meal, or simply just listening to personal struggles, renews an honest spirit of people here in Oman.
“I trust Shah more than I trust some of my neighbors back home.”
While the media has painted images of violence, pain, and mistrust in the Middle East, Shah is just one example of the need for new pictures of hospitality, peacefulness, and kindness of those who live in the Gulf. Shah too knows the media is often mushkillah when it comes to portraying the Middle East, especially in the United States. I asked him what he wants people back home to know about this community in Oman and he said, “Omani people are more tolerant and very much hospitable to other communities. Omani tribes take good care of each other which is a very good thing. Oman is all about mutual trust.” He told me this after I asked him if I could quote him in this blog to which he replied, “everything is possible. No mushkillah”.
I am so fortunate to have met Shah and to make memories in his shop. I’ve found that the more people one meets in a place, the more that place feels like another home. A couple of days ago, I bought a beautiful, blue cashmere scarf to remind me of that little home. Shah embroidered my initials and his name in the corners taking care to keep each knot straight. While I will always treasure this piece of the shop, the urge to pick up the whole shop and take it with me is strong, but impossible. However, the examples of selflessness, friendship and hospitality I can and will take with me. Thank you Shah, for your messages and your kindness.