What I love when I travel: feeling surprised.
And when after a month touring the different countries of the GCC, I landed in Muscat, the whole vibe suddenly shifted.
No more skyscrapers, no more cranes on the horizon, no more construction noise in the background, but a sudden sense of peace and serenity infused in the everyday life.
With a population of only 4 million inhabitants and a leader beloved by its people for his progressive thinking, the country embodies the sense of peaceful coexistence, interfaith understanding and tolerance that is so drastically lacking in many parts of the Middle East, and let’s say the world.
It feels like bumping into an ovni, an undiscovered gem still preserved from the ongoing surrounding conflicts.
My local hosts from the Young Arab Leaders organization took great pride in explaining to me how Oman’s diplomatic skills have positioned the country as a privileged location for peace talks as the current ones around Lybian leadership or achieved the miracle to be friend with Iran and Saudi Arabia at the same time…
Within this peaceful atmosphere, a few women took it to themselves to ensure that the young generation is not sleeping on its laurels and passively waiting for the oil and gas income to feed them quietly all life long.
They badly want to shake the status quo and foster creativity among their fellow citizens.
One of them is Fatma Bahwan.
When I first met Fatma, she was dressed in a beautiful abaya she designed herself.
“I found this fabric one day and I just decided to add a personal touch, something more fancy so I did it myself.”
And off she went. Same with the Lounge Oman, a cosy two-story coworking space dedicated to young Omani creative entrepreneurs that just celebrated its one year anniversary on April 19th.
“I love to build human capacity and enrich people’ lives with the set of skills they have but often don’t realize. Our vision is that we want everyone to do great things and we believe that we are all extraordinary beings and therefore we are able to achieve anything, all we need is the right environment and the right people to guide us through and that’s exactly what we do here at The Lounge on a daily basis.”
On the same page is Rym Aoudia, a young powerhouse who is now running Knowledge Oman, the leading knowledge-sharing and social innovation community platform in the country, at the same time as being news anchor at Oman TV & Radio.
Rym is just passionate about social innovation, creative enterprises, and inspiring others to grow and live their highest potential. When I met her, she was deeply involved in capacity building and facilitating sessions in youth empowerment, personal development, creativity and innovation, or entrepreneurship.
“Oman has been my home for the past 15 years. I’m a woman, of Algerian background, have lived in various countries, and I’m blessed that I have been able to bring out my talents and gifts in Oman to be of service and grow.”
Their energy is contagious and you can feel that below the surrounding serenity lays a strong power. And the best illustration of it is definitely Nasra Al Adawi, a discrete no BS woman who admitted not being so keen to speak in public only a few years ago.
Now she grabs the mike with confidence and is a strong advocate for the more underserved populations of her country. Far from the fancy neighbourhoods of Muscat, her trajectory is spectacular. As Fatma, coming from an humble or rural background, she has paved her way to the sunlight no matter what the environment was saying.
Nasra is now an accomplished author and poet, who published three books aimed at spreading awareness about cancer. She is a partner in Tawasul, one of the leading social enterprises of the country, and trains civil society organizations all around the country.
“On personal level, I learnt that making a difference is not about labels and showing off. It takes more work of being first a human being who cares for others as success and appearance can easily distract you from really making the difference.”
And a last woman who is definitely not here to show off is the dynamo Lamya Al-Haj, one of the leading woman in the STEM omani ecosystem, simultaneously holding a PhD of Structural and Molecular Biology, teaching at Sultan Qaboos University, researching on biogas alternatives to oil, and running inspiring talks on her spare time to motivate the young generation.
“I want them to aim high and dream big. I want them to question everything and to avoid taking things for granted. Sometimes I purposely tell my students something wrong to train them to dare questioning me.”,does she say with a large and warm smile.
For Lamya, who would love to see a ministry dedicated to youth, or even imagine a young minister of happiness such as in the neighbouring UAE, rising the leaders of tomorrow to be daring and open-minded is more important than ever.
So if you are looking for an inspiring travel destination, you know where to go!