With such an auspicious name, 18 November Street has a lot to live up to. Kate Ginn meets the residents
It might not, on first appearances, look like anything more special than an ordinary street running along the coast of Muscat.
Aside from the stirring seaside views along much of its length, 18 November Street has one thing that marks it out from all the others – its name. Chosen in honour of National Day and the birthday of Sultan Qaboos, it has the privilege of a royal connection and the patriotic feeling that this stirs.
If it comes with the weight of a certain expectation of being exceptional, driving along it doesn’t give any outward signs of pretension. For the people who live, work and play on 18 November Street, it is merely the backdrop for their everyday lives.
Like an arrow pointing straight from the new developments of The Wave, Muscat through several areas to the Ministries District, the stretch of tarmac gives a snapshot of modern Oman and a glimpse of the diverse residents who call it home.
Drive along the street and you will encounter everything from a five-star luxury hotel to cheap roadside cafes, from exclusive walled villas to modern apartments, and RO27,000 Porsche Cayennes to labourers on rickety old bicycles.
Sitting on the terrace at Costa Coffee, Mohammed Ali al Kaabi sips cappuccino looking out over 18 November Street.
“I have driven up and down this road hundreds, perhaps a thousand, times. So I know it well,” he says.
Every day, he joins the stream of cars commuting to and from their jobs up and down the dual carriageway. For the past year, Mohammed has worked for an engineering firm on 18 November Street, travelling from his home in Seeb.
Costa Coffee, next to the Sultan Center in Azaiba, is a useful spot for a break or business meeting.
“This street has a special name for Oman but it is not memorable. It could be a bit grander,” says Mohammed, glancing out to the steady flow of traffic creating a monotonous scene. It’s true that here, the street has a grey tinge. Further down, past The Chedi Muscat hotel, it seems to breathe with more colour and luxury.
While the street may not have a beating heart at its centre, the warmth in its veins are provided by venues such as Almouj Golf, various exclusive beachside clubs and Costa, a social hub for the local community.
Inside the coffee shop, Mor Guyenese, aged four-and-half, is playing games on his mum’s smartphone while they wait for his older brother to finish school nearby.
“We come in here every day,” says his mum, Nelli. “It’s nice. You get to see the same faces in here. I know those (gesturing towards a couple sitting across the way) people, they are also parents waiting for their child from school.”
Nelli moved from Hungary to Oman for her husband’s job in engineering three years ago. The young family has settled well into the expat community at The Wave complex.
“I love living here,” she says. “We have a big house and a nice lifestyle. It’s my home now. Our boys have settled well.
“At my son’s school, they have been getting ready for National Day with flags and pictures of Sultan Qaboos. The children have been singing Happy Birthday at morning assembly.”
Further down the road, Gavaskar, 23, is well into his shift as a pump attendant at the Shell Azaiba Filling Station. Dressed in his smart red and yellow uniform, he is proud to be working for Oman’s economy and serving the population. An Indian expat, he left his village behind for a better life more than a year ago. “I like it here and I like working on this street,” he says. “It’s always busy. There is always something happening, things to see.”
On the waste ground nearby, a fat ginger cat lazes in the sun. The beach in Azaiba runs parallel with 18 November Street – you can occasionally catch sight of sand through the residential buildings – lending it an almost exotic air.
Elsewhere, Adelaido ‘Onie’ Monteron, 42, is checking the deliveries of fresh stock at Greens, which sells flowers, plants and accessories. The shop front looks out onto 18 November Street.
“I love working here, it’s my passion,” he says. “We supply banks, showrooms and hotels. It’s a good place to work. There’s always movement outside in the street.”
Drive down the street from the shop and you pass a myriad of businesses, all thriving. There are garden centres, mosques, supermarkets, beauty salons and dentists, each offering a unique slice of life.
A delivery truck is outside the Automatic Restaurant, unloading Lebanese fare, while a group of labourers in blue boiler suits wait for the bus to transport them back to camp after a hard day’s work.
A car pulls up and out gets Fernando, a shop worker, who lives in a small modern apartment facing directly out onto the road, shared with friends. “It is a good place to live,” he says. “Everything is here outside the door. If I need cigarettes or water, or food, I can find it with a short walk. It is not the best part of the area but it is good for me.”
Outside the Haret Al Falafel shop, there’s a hive of activity with cars queuing for a quick snack stop and taxi drivers pulling in to grab a takeaway sweet tea in a paper cup.
“This is life,” smiles Ahmed, surveying the scene from the pavement outside his shop. “Yes, I like it.”
Further along, an expensive 4×4 pulls up and two ladies in abayas get out with yoga mats tucked under their arms. At the mosque down the road, the doors with coloured glass swing open as men pour out onto the street. Some stop for a friendly chat, passing the time of day in the late afternoon sun.
At night, the street will take on another nocturnal life. It might not have a regal bearing but it feels like the essence of Oman is captured here in 18 November Street.
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON
Thousands crowded into the plaza in front of the Royal Opera House Muscat last weekend to see the finely turned out members of Oman’s military bands. Alongside martial music, they played rock and pop favourites – from Abba to Bon Jovi. In sharp uniforms, caps and capes, the men and women of Oman’s Royal armed forces put on a tremendous show. Photos: Joe Gill