This fall, Mary Herbert received the Society of American Travel Writers’ 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”? Light-hearted chaos—a heart-pumping frenzy of wild gesturing, shouting and bleating. Early in the morning, farmers and traders began to congregate in an open dirt lot near Nizwa’s main market, goats in tow. 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—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, wore Bedouin dress—long black or gayly printed robes and bizarrely shaped satin masks (burkas) that covered their noses like beaks (we were reminded of certain masks from Venice’s Carnevale). We’d never seen this type of mask before in the Middle East and learned later that each tribe has its own style.
The scene, as noisy and chaotic as the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, was surprisingly easy to navigate. We easily blended into the crowds, who were entirely focused on the livestock. In an era of pre-packaged, mass market tourism, it’s a joy to find an authentic cultural experience like one. Click here to view Mary’s winning photos.