A trip to the souk

The smell will hit you first. It will fill your nose, whether you like it or not.

At first it bombards your nostrils. Crawling way up.

Soon, you won’t even notice it.

You, too, will have become part of this moving, breathing marketplace.

The sounds of the souk come next. A busy hum, punctuated with shouts and yells and the chinking of the small china cups that signal hot tea is only a moment away.

Traipsing through the sea of black and white cloaks, the bright light from the tunnel entrance fades away and the dim light of hanging lanterns take over.

A maze of covered alley ways are ahead.

Woven palm fronds make up the ceiling, blocking out the light and containing the heat.

Stalls line the walkways. Each impossibly small. Yet, they have a ‘Mary Poppins carpet bag’ capacity to them. Stretching back, items hanging from any and all available space, crowding in on the seller who will leap out as you pass by, similar to a sideways jack in the box.

He will do anything and everything to be the one that grabs your attention. And your sale.

Men shout at you from all directions. Buy this. Buy that. I give you better price then he will. 1 Rial! 2 Rial! You want pashmina? Frankincense? Mosque Alarm Clock? Everyone loves them!” the seller presses the button and the call to prayer sings out.

“No? Perhaps a Khanjar? He shoves a small silver dagger shaped like a J into your hand.

The man at the next stall is now in on the action. “Try Abiya. Traditional Omani Lady dress. Very nice on you.”

He drapes a long black cloak adorned with more jewels than Elizabeth Taylor over his arm. The second you linger over the beautiful fabric, two more men fly out of the same stall waving more Abiyas in front of you.

From behind comes a swirl of sweet smoke that drifts by and like a hand forces your face to turn. Frankincense burners are proffered directly under your nose. “Burner. Coal and Frankincense. Good price.”

Thin wooden walking sticks, that make a perfect whoosing sound through the air as you whack them. Buckets filled with old coins and silver pieces.

Brightly colored toys (that make piercing loud noises of a repetitive nature combined with some sort of seizure inducing flashing light), counterfeit goods, more often then not, spelt wrong. Hand made sandals, carved wooden trinkets, spices, Koran holders and stray cats everywhere (they aren’t for sale, but they add to the atmosphere so it warrants a mention)

There is no quiet place. There is no moment to stop and think.

It’s overwhelming.

Do not buy the first item you find. I’ll let you into a secret.

It’s the same stuff, stall after stall.

Do you remember in the cartoon The Flintstones, when Fred and Barney would drive to work? The background would always be - Tree. Rock. House. Tree. Rock. House. Pashminas. In the souk, it’s Children’s toys. Coffee Pots. Pashminas. Children’s toys. Coffee Pots.

When a price is offered you never accept. Don’t be afraid to walk away. The true sign of a local.

Walk far enough and you will find yourself in the middle of the city. Thrown out on the other side, where the bright light of day will be somewhat jarring.

A friendly man is selling whole coconuts, the tops sliced off with a terrifying knife. He pops a straw in and for a few basia, hands it to you. The perfect drink to cool, calm and hydrate your slightly frayed nerves.

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