November 18th is a day of great significance for the country of Oman. This is the day where they honor the triumphs of the country as whole along with the long standing commitment and work of his majesty Sultan Qaboos. The major difference between the spirit of patriotism here as opposed to elsewhere is truly the undivided and unadulterated commitment and respect for the political leadership. The thing is, here the county has always had a very unique relationship with their sovereignty. Not only do they respect him deeply, but for many, Sultan Qaboos represents a paternal figure as well. In my opinion, all of this acclaim is very much deserved. Families in a mere 3 generational span have witnessed a direct improvement in the quality of life here. Since Sultan Qaboos rose to power in 1970, he has worked tirelessly for the country’s well being, preserving the nation’s cultural resources while also securing viable economic outlets. He has single handedly built up the infrastructure to what is today, and for that the entire country is indebted to him.
The sultan’s predecessor to the throne was his father. They maintained a friendly relationship, yet their philosophies on the governance of the country were markedly different and ultimately created a major polarizing rift between them. Where Sultan Qaboos’s father believed any act of modernization would jeopardize the cultural integrity of the country from the invasion of western practices, Qaboos believed that building up these provisions was the ticket to actually preserving the culture. This is why in 1970 Qaboos deposed of his father to a nursing home in the UK for his father’s remaining years. From the very beginning, in his first speech, Sultan Qaboos highlighted the importance of universal education when he declared even if under a tree, there would be education. This was a very bold statement, considering at the time there were less than 5 schools in the entire country. Remarkably, today people can even receive their higher education domestically, which I believe is a true sign of his achievements.
For the entire month of November, in honor of National Day, the government allows a free rein of car stickers! People go crazy, creating the most over-the-top elaborate designs to decorate their cars and houses in Oman’s national hues. The highway is a blur of red, white, and green covered cars. At first glance, it even looks like some pre-Saint Nicholas Day anticipation, if you know what I mean ;), but it’s definitely not. Some people even take the liberty to stand up through the open roof of their cars cheering Oman’s praises for the entire length of the highway. There are fire works, a televised military event, and celebrations galore. At schools, most people will wear the Omani national dress or the specific dress of their tribe. Often there is a special assembly where people partake in traditional singing, dancing, and poetry recitation.
Now, national day is certainly a time of tremendous joy and pride. People are united under their mother flag in an event of great celebration. It is also true that an act of great tragedy will unfortunately have the same effect in gathering people together as a community. In times of emotional devastation, you have no choice but to stand in solidarity as well. Around this time is when I first got word of Hurricane Haiyan. I had the chance to meet my host mom’s new colleagues from work at a small get together. They had just arrived a few weeks back from the Philippines. I think it was very settling for them to have each other to talk to in such a time of uncertainty, and in a sense I think that was just as much their own national day as well, supporting eachother during the terrible devastation. In this time of great distress for them, they found common ground and solace in their home together, and sometimes that cultural autonomy and community, even if far away from home, can be a very comforting and powerful thing.