Home away from home: South Asian vendors in an ancient Omani market | Migration

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Muttrah, Oman – The palm-lined beaches and backwaters of India’s state of Kerala bear little resemblance to the Omani mountain-ridged harbour coast where the Sultanate of Oman’s oldest market is located.

But Furqan Abdul Razzaq, also known as “Lover Boy Addu” – who adopted the nickname as the curator of multiple Whatsapp groups centred around language learning – knows how to deal with tourists in both areas.

The 38-year-old works as a vendor at Muttrah Souq, the labyrinth bazaar just outside the Omani capital Muscat, nestled near a busy port that brings in tourists from cruise ships.

Razzaq was inspired to move to the Gulf country after he met many Omanis while working as a translator for Arab tourists in Kerala, who spoke neither Kerala’s language of Malayam, nor English.

Razzaq majored in Arabic while at university in Kerala, fascinated by the Arab world and culture.

“I chose to come here,” the sprightly salesman told Al Jazeera, describing Omanis as the “best” people.

Razzaq arrived in Oman on a visitor’s visa and once he found work at the souq, his boss, an Indian investor who owns several stores in the market, sponsored him.

Nearly three years later, he is the most knowledgeable vendor, his colleagues say, smooth-talking his way with prospective buyers of the shops’ many trinkets and baubles.

Razzaq shows an engraved wooden box for sale in the one of the shops he works in
Razzaq shows an engraved wooden box for sale in one of the shops he works in [Urooba Jamal/Al Jazeera]

“I’m qualified, you know,” Razzaq explained with an air of confidence. “I can speak Arabic, I know how to deal with people, how to service them, how to respect them.”

Razzaq is just one of the dozens of South Asian vendors at the ancient marketplace in what was historically Oman’s main commercial centre, strategically located near the port that was a pitstop for ships from Europe heading to India and China.

Today, Muttrah is largely a residential and fishing area. And while tourists do flock to its bustling souq, it is very much a market for locals who shop for everything from gold to fabrics, to everyday household items.

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