“That. I need that too,” I said, mouth drooling. He laughed and poured the neon yellow lemonade from a whirring machine into a paper cup.
“500 baisa please,” he said. I handed him the exact amount, approximately $1 U.S. The shawarma sated me briefly, but now I craved something more substantial. I knew I needed to eat, a lot. I wanted the most authentic Omani meal possible, one that would keep my blood sugar in check. I had just flown in the night before, so I was still jet-lagged. I came to Oman for a week to visit my dad, who had accepted a job as a business developer in the fall of 2010. Back in Vermont, where I was serving one year with AmeriCorps, snow still smothered everything in sight so I was happy to escape to the rugged, desert country for a spring getaway. One of the first things I noticed after arriving to the nation of nearly three and a half million people was the diversity of its inhabitants. Foreigners from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and the United Kingdom all contributed to the hefty expatriate population. I had few expectations of Oman before I went there, and a diverse population was not one of them.
“I’m still hungry,” I said to my dad, a business developer from the Midwest. The four of us now stood outside of the market gazing at the harbor, which hosted commercial vessels as well as a traditional wooden ship. As I stood there, the shakes crept into my hands. “I need a big meal. I want something local.”
“What do you think, Jawas?” my dad asked.
Jawas, my dad’s driver from Pakistan, wore a cotton, long sleeve white shirt with a blue collar and pants to match every day. His thick, crow-colored mustache framed a mouth that often curled into a giant smile at the littlest things, such as finding a good parking spot. A couple of people even mistook Jawas for my father because I am half-Japanese and half-white, a combination that has left many strangers pondering my heritage. Now, Jawas contemplated the question for a moment, perhaps trying to collect the words in English, maybe deciding the perfect place to give me my first taste of a full, authentic Arab meal.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“We want you to pick, Jawas,” my dad answered back.
He tilted his head from side to side. “Arab World.”