An Omani Family
Amit drives up to pick us up on the side of the highway in a BMW 5 series—by far one of the most expensive cars on Muscat roads. I raise my eyebrows; this certainly wasn’t on the menu for a budget trip. He welcomes us as we settle into the luxurious leather seats and carefully drives us home.
He guides the car into a spot facing an empty, dusty lot flanked by two ailing buildings. We make our way up an open-air staircase into a modest apartment. A young woman cooks in the kitchen and the back room consists of multiple bedrooms for Amit and his many brothers. The apartment is beyond satisfactory but still a striking misfit to the racing wheels outside.
At 31, Amit is the oldest of ten siblings: seven brothers and three sisters. Like the rest of his family, he was born in Oman’s ancient capital of Nizwá. The BMW is specifically his, as is responsibility for the apartment and home-sharing business.
Aarif is one of the younger brothers. He worked his way up from a Hyatt bus boy to an employee in the hotel’s finance department. He finds solace from his Muslim, alcohol-abstaining family in solo trips to the Hyatt’s pub after work, where he treats himself to beers and popcorn.
Ahmed is still in college but functions as tour operator. He drives us around Muscat—opera house, royal palace, fish market, lovers’ lane—and arranges our stay in Nizwá. His driving playlist: Five Finger Death Punch, Korn, David Guetta, Backstreet Boys. He speaks softly, shyly at first. He’s studying to be a submarine technician, waiting until he gets his first months-long assignment in the Indian Ocean.
Many rounds of punk, techno, and boy band pop later, we arrive in Nizwá at the family’s home on the city’s outskirts. The air is cool, the sun strong, and a smooth, warm canal breaks the silence with the subtlest trickle.
The home is idyllic, surrounded by palm trees and youngsters playing. Tiny Malik, the youngest sibling at 7 years old, puts his prayer cap on his head and stoically walks down the road to the mosque for afternoon prayers.
Thirty minutes later, Malik’s back to watch us play Caram with his sisters, Nassra, 15, and Asmath, 13.
Nassra is mature for her age, composed and eloquent. Asmath inherited her humor from her father. She is giggling uncontrollably as we play. She’s shaking violently, can’t control herself, and suddenly we all hear a loud fart. I immediately lose it. Nassra drops composure for a moment, looking sheepishly at my husband and I. Asmath, power to her, looks at us all and laughs herself into hysterics, letting the embarrassment surround her. A wonderful moment is had by all.
“Nassra, which of your siblings are married?” I ask, having already met the second eldest’s wife.
“Khalid [the eldest] is married. Esraa [eldest sister] is married, too. She lives with her husband’s family.” She pauses.
“Amit was married, but not anymore.”
I look up. “When was he married?”
“Five years ago, until a couple of years ago,” she says.
The topic is quickly diffused with another round of Caram. With one of the lowest divorce rates in the Gulf region, divorce is nowhere near as common in Islamic Oman as it is in many other countries.
The next day back in Muscat, we sit with Amit in the living room. He turns on his computer and the screen radiates on the big-screen TV.
“I want to show you something,” he says. “Everything you want in life, you just have to visualize it. You have to tell yourself that you deserve it. Two years ago, I had nothing. I was at the bottom. I had no money. I had debt. And my family didn’t help me at all. But I worked and worked. And I figured it out. I visualize what I want and tell myself, I can have this. Now I am getting everything I want.”
He pulls out a sheet of paper with strategically placed photos of various technology gadgets positioned around a living room table. He starts moving around the room, matching each object that surrounds us with the photos on the paper. Play Station, printer, laptop, speakers, DVD player, the list goes on. His plan has been carried out to perfection, down to brand names and model numbers. Carried out like a man obsessed.
“I got it all. Everything. I visualize what I want, and then I get it. I tell myself I will get it. I saw a beautiful BMW one day, and I told myself I wanted it. And then I finally got it,” he explains.
I think back to the family’s home in Nizwá—a modest home grounded in simplicity and community. Photos sitting on radiators, dinner served on a dusty rug on the floor, homework done on the unfinished, concrete rooftop. Neighbors all know one another, chatting on the way to the village mosque. Children play in the streets, looked after by everyone. Food is cooked at home and shared by all. Laughter is prevalent.
“What’s next, Amit?” I ask, wondering what his long-term plan looks like.
“I want my own house,” he says. “I want a big house, away from the center. I have this apartment, but I have to live with my brothers. I want my own big house.” He smiles.
I admire his tenacity, his drive, his passion. But I’m left wondering, when he’s sitting alone in his big house, in an entirely different financial stratum from the rest of his family, in an environment where his own parents would not feel welcome, will his fixation on endless material acquisition make him happy in the end? Where is the end? At the same time, carrying the shame of divorce and debt as the eldest son, would an alternative path be sufficient?
Amit shakes our hands warmly, thanking us for staying and asking us to please, let him know if there is anything else he can add to make the room more welcoming for future guests.