"You know why this is?" Asi asked. I shook my head. I was expecting him to tell me that the car was possessed by jinn. "It is because of the magnetic field," he proudly announced.
With no other explanation, he turned on the engine, and we continued our drive up to Jebel Samhan, the tallest mountain in Salalah, avoiding the camels and cattle that continually crossed the road. Asi told me he had previously worked in Qatar. The money there was better, but Asians were treated like slaves. He liked Oman. People here were poorer, but treated Asians with greater respect.
The next morning we drove westward along the beautiful, jagged coastline before ascending up Jebel Qamar, the Mountain of the Moon. Frankincense trees grew among the ragged rocks. Beyond lay the Empty Quarter -- an expanse of endless desert leading into Saudi Arabia and Yemen that had once attracted intrepid travelers such as the British explorer and travel writer Wilfred Thesiger. Asi snapped photos on his smartphone, which he immediately sent to his wife in Kerala. He told me that they were newlyweds. It had been an arranged marriage. His family had sent photos of her, he had liked them, and he had paid a visit home to marry her a few months earlier. He was going to bring her to live in Salalah, where he was allowed to rent -- but not buy -- a place.
"What happens if you find out that you don't like each other?" I asked.
Asi turned to me, saying sharply: "That is not our culture. We are not like in the West. We have different expectations. The marriage will of course work."
He quickly moved the discussion to new technological developments such as driverless cars and trips to the moon. He told me how his father had lived a life similar to that of his grandfather -- but how now, thanks to modern technology, his own life was very different than his father's. Before I left, Asi made me promise to return to Salalah during the khareef season from July to October, when warm rains turned the landscape green.
I flew back to Muscat, where I explored more of the city and spoke with Omanis. Khaled, in his mid-30s, had once worked for the sultan, and he spoke of the sultan with great respect. He told me that the sultan was very popular among Omanis due to his care for his subjects. In 2007, he told me, a storm had flattened much of Muscat. The sultan visited the damaged sites and assured people that they would receive help.
Khaled told me it is unclear who will succeed the sultan, as he does not have any children. Khaled said the sultan had put the name of his proposed successor in a white book, which will be opened by the family after his death. If the family agrees with this name, then this person will be the new sultan. If there is no consensus, then they are supposed to find a different candidate they can agree on.