The night is filled with excitement and anticipation, as families exit their cars and enter the Muscat Festival. From the dark parking lot, you are immediately immersed in a world of lights, jovial activities and the overwhelmingly delicious smell of funnel cakes, cotton candy, and popcorn. The sounds of laughter coming from the amusement rides quickly grab your attention and remind you of your youth. To my right, an epic battle begins as the buzzer signals the start of a bumper car match. The two rivals face off in a heated contest as the children try to hit the adults as hard as possible.
Walking through a throng of smiling pre-teens in Adidas shells and skinny jeans, I’m hit with a familiar site and smell, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken! Who could refuse McDonald’s french fries? As I get closer the smell of shawarma, fresh bread, Thai curries, and Tanzanian soul food become a beacon and I realize that dinner will not be such an easy choice. I press forward, dodging the street performers, vendors, and cliques of women in abayas pushing strollers and chatting with their girlfriends. All the while I’m thinking, “Wow. This is Oman.”
The yearly Muscat Festival is the Sultanate of Oman’s largest cultural event celebrating the country’s history, culture, traditional arts, and food. A cross between a night market, fair, and concert, the month-long celebration is a family-friendly event that draws people and tourists from across Oman and the neighboring Gulf countries.
Taking place every year in January or February, the festival is a perfect opportunity to learn more about Oman and enjoy Omani hospitality. Artisans are more than happy to discuss their artwork and were patient enough to entertain rudimentary Arabic. The heritage village, with its farm animals, essential oil vendors, and women selling traditional Omani street food was a chance to blend into conversations with locals and get to know people. The theatre performances and cultural exhibits with children dancing hip hop or performing Bollywood skits showed Oman’s modern side. While the men chewing sweets, talking business and politics in little groups or clapping along to the drums of the Al-Ayyala dancers, still kept Oman’s traditions in the forefront.
Instead of feeling like a party with strangers, the Muscat Festival felt like you were enjoying an evening with friends. An evening ending with an impressive display of fireworks, colors, dancing and enough music to make your chest thump. Wow. This is Oman.