This fall, Mary Herbert received the Society of American Travel Writers’ (SATW) Gold Award for her photographic essay on the Friday goat market in Nizwa, a centuries-old city in northern Oman that was once the country’s capital in the 6th and 7th centuries. The judges included the photography director at National Geographic Traveler, NASA’s chief photographer for 30 years, and the former photography editor at the Washington Post. Needless to say, she was thrilled!
Now, we know you’re wondering, “What’s so interesting about a goat market”? This event is an authentic, cultural gem unknown to most people in the West. Farmers and traders arrive from miles around in early morning and bargain nonstop for some 2 hours. From the time we arrived, we were thrust into a frenzy of bargaining, gesturing and bleating. The goats’ owners trotted their prized animals around a small circular track, stopping occasionally to let interested parties examine teeth, pat bellies and bend back ears. The crowd included men, women, grandfathers and grandmothers, and even small children. The men were dressed in traditional white or beige robes (dishdashas) and perky embroidered caps (kumas); women, who mostly stayed on the perimeter, came in Bedouin dress—long black or printed robes and bizarrely shaped masks (burkas) that covered their noses like beaks. (We’d never seen this type of mask before in the Middle East and learned later that the styles vary by tribe.)
The chaotic setting, comparable to the New York Stock Exchange floor, was easy to navigate. We easily blended into the crowd. No one paid any attention to us, so preoccupied were they with getting the best deal of the day. In this era of pre-packaged and often predictable mass market tourism, authentic experiences like this are a pleasure to discover.