By Nathan Johnston
SEVEN Korumburra Scouts and a Venturer from Phillip Island returned from Oman recently with their mission complete.
Their goal was to ‘Meet people, not stereotypes’, and they now possess a more rounded appreciation of the country and more specifically, its Muslim people.
“All you see is what is presented on the news,” said Haley Amor, one of the Korumburra Scouts.
“We went to find out for ourselves so we can make up our own minds.
“I thought it might have been more of a culture shock, but it wasn’t.
“The people are so generous and welcoming. They are the nicest people you could ever meet.”
The connection between the Korumburra Scouts and Oman was set up by Fiona Hill, who was president of the Korumburra Scouts, and is a board member of the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce.
Her vision of a cultural exchange was three years in the making, with serious planning commencing in mid-2015.
Thanks to generous sponsors, including many from Oman, the vision became a reality and the group of eight, plus five parents and two leaders, headed to the Middle East in November.
The group was made welcome for the moment they arrived.
Wearing scarves with kangaroos, they were hard to miss.
“People would call out to us from their shops, ‘Shane Warne!’, ‘Steve Waugh!’” Scout Joel Woodman said.
“The schools were amazing and the kids were so energetic and so into their studies.”
“Their hours are different to ours,” Haley said.
“They start at 7am and finish at 1pm because of the heat.”
The Scouts spent plenty of time in schools, getting to know some of the students who also performed traditional dances and songs.
All Scouting and Guiding programs are run through the schools which are split gender at secondary level.
Haley said the stereotype that all Muslim women are oppressed is false.
“Women are considered to be diamonds. They are not to be flaunted, but must be protected.
“They wear clothes that cover past the elbows and knees, but at home they wear whatever they want.
“They are also in charge of financial decisions at home. If the wife wants a new car, the husband must buy it for her.”
The group reported that the family unit and religion were crucial in Oman society.
“It’s very family oriented,” Riley Olden said.
“There’s no homelessness. No-one is sleeping under a bridge.
“The wealthier families have four or five kids, while the poorer families could have up to 20, but everyone stays together.
“Our bus driver was the 19th child.”
The bus driver’s commitment to religion was also impressive, stopping the bus, hopping off and fulfilling his Call to Prayer obligations while his confused Aussie passengers waited.
After the fourth day of the Call to Prayer, which takes place five times a day, the visitors became used to it.
They noticed that mosques are on almost every corner, in every town and village.
The heat and the barren landscape also took some getting used to.
“There are just goats and rocks and dust,” Joel said.
“When you get to the desert, the sand is like cornflour, but when you’re at the beach, it’s gritty, like crushed shells.”
It was at the beach the group had a remarkable experience that even amazed the locals.
They felt something unusual going on beneath their feet. Group leader Shirley Reeves began to sink.
“There were turtles hatching around us,” Shirley said.
“We were right on top of them and there were hundreds of them.”
Other local adventures included riding camels, tobogganing down the cornflour sand dunes and a dolphin boat tour.
They toured forts and castles and visited markets that “seemed to go for miles”.
“There was actual Frankincense, lots of gold and jewellery,” Tate Moodie said.
They visited oases and snacked on an endless supply of dates thanks to their generous hosts.
The best though was making new friends.
“One of the girls I met comes to Australia every two years,” Haley said.
“She already wants to catch up. She’s sent me a Christmas card and a birthday present and we email every day.”