I’m driving slowly along the street, looking carefully at the shop names while also dodging haphazardly parked cars and wayward pedestrians darting out in front of me.
Suddenly my destination is there, on the right, and I am a little astounded that it actually exists.
I park across the street and get out of the car, heart pounding, already feeling a little ashamed of myself. My face reddens a little as I walk towards the shop. I feel as if all eyes are on me, aware of what I am up to.
The door is open and I enter, my eyes darting around quickly until I spot what I am here for. The man who works there gives me a small smile. He knows.
I walk quickly, head down, towards the little room in the back of the shop with the sign above the door.
Entry is restricted to non-Muslims only.
I am here to do what is haraam (forbidden) for most in this country.
I am here to buy pork.
I don’t know why I feel slightly ashamed. I am not Muslim so of course I am allowed to buy and eat pork in Oman.
I didn’t feel this way when I drank alcohol in Oman for the first time, but perhaps that was because it was less than a week after I’d arrived and I was at a fancy hotel with others who were doing the same.
But something is different today. It might be the neighbourhood the shop is in, crowded and full of locals scurrying this way and that. Perhaps it’s the way the tiny room with its two big freezers is isolated from the rest of the shop. Maybe it’s because the freezers are full of literally every single part of the pig, making me feel as if I am cheating by just buying my ribs and bacon. I should be eating all of it.
Or perhaps it’s because after the man puts my purchases in the bag, he then actually heat seals it so the cashier outside can be sure of not touching any of the illicit product. Muslims believe that pigs are dirty, filthy creatures (and, well, they are, but they’re also delicious) so by eating them maybe I am also considered dirty and disgusting.
I pay and dart out of the shop, quickly stashing the frozen meat out of sight in the cooler in my car.
I go from here to the Korean food shop nearby, where I am pleasantly surprised to find pork dumplings in the freezer, ready for me to take home. My Korean reading skills are a little rusty, so I read the label three times, just to be sure. Yes, these dumplings contain pork.
I suspect for a moment that the shop owners are taking advantage of the fact that the ingredients are listed in Korean, so nobody will know they are pork. My overtired mind wonders momentarily what would happen if they got caught selling such a thing. But selling pork is not illegal in Oman.
It occurs to me that if they can sell pork dumplings, the Korean restaurant here in Sohar could serve pork, as is so common in Korea itself. Then I remember.
For a restaurant to be allowed to serve pork in Oman, it must have a completely separate area for the storage and preparation of all pork products; in essence, it must have a second kitchen. What restaurant can afford to do that?
The young man working in the Korean store is Bangladeshi, and having been here much longer than I, he does not flinch at my pork dumpling purchase. So why do I feel that what I am doing is wrong?
Is it just that I’ve gotten used to not having it? Is it that I know it is haraam for most people around me? Am I just too new here, not yet accustomed to ignoring Islamic rules in order to do what I want? Am I overly culturally sensitive?
I don’t know the answers. Yes, I felt slight shame at buying pork, although I strongly suspect that actually no one cares. Maybe by next time I’ll have gotten used to the idea.
What I do know is that those ribs are going to be mighty tasty.
Have you ever done the ‘forbidden’ thing when you were visiting a country and felt bad about it, even if it was perfectly legal for you?
You may have noticed that I’ve been a little slack with this blog lately, but I plan on changing that with snippets of my everyday (and not so everyday) life here in Oman, a little more regularly. If you enjoyed this one, watch for more!
Oh, and if you’re in Oman and you want to know where I got the pork, here’s a link to the blog post that pointed me to it, with a little help from Google maps before I went. If you’re having trouble, just ask me! And for more fun, here’s a link to the Korean food store too. Scroll down for a map.
Did you enjoy this post? Feel free to pin it!