Photo credit: unknown – Source Pinterest

This morning, I found myself back in the souk in Muscat, Oman, ten years ago and all I did was open the lid of a new shower cream!

A single smell can transport you back in time in the blink of an eye – for me, the smell of fresh tarmac has me standing at the side of the road in our rural village in Kent as a child of about 7, watching the road repairers fix the holes in the road, inhaling that amazing aroma of hot tar!

But this morning, the shower cream definitely had the scent of the east!  Musky, exotic, I was back in Muttrah souk, in Muscat, the capital city of Oman, surrounded by open stalls of carpet sellers, incense sellers, spice sellers, sweet confectioners, wonderful long embroidered dresses in vivid dresses, and gold jewellery everywhere.  It was a wonderful transportation of the memory!

I was in Oman at the invitation of the Omani government to set up a European-style weaving workshop for the Omani people.  They have their own weaving heritage – the Beduoin women in the desert with their amazing weft-faced bands, carpets, tent furnishings, all made from very simple copper-pipe frame looms, and the mountain men who weave in pit looms in the summer, as well as warp- and weft-faced weavings and rug weaving – but the government had decided that they needed European looms and a weaving programme which would give them a diploma status in 2 years.  I wasn’t the first person they had approached, but the challenge sounded intriguing.

I spent 2 1/2 months in Oman, travelling back and forth to Samail, about 1 hour inland, where the weaving school was being built.  It included dyeing, spinning and weaving, and was set up next to an existing small-scale industrial unit where Indian weavers were weaving cotton undergarments.  At weekends, I was able to travel around with an Australian printer in her 4WD open jeep wadi-bashing (driving through mountain passes along dry river beds – not to be done during rains!) and exploring the mountains and villages.  It was certainly a memorable time!  My most vivid impressions are of the dust, the vast expanse of rock and the baking heat reflecting off the rock, the highly impressive ancient irrigation systems delivering amazing quantities of beautiful water direct from the mountains into quite large areas of date palms, very fast driving, having to eat rice dishes with just my right hand using my thumb to flick balls of rice into my mouth (without missing!!), destoning dates again with just my right hand, and the wonderful warmth of everyday folk who invited my father and I into their houses with such hospitality.  Oh yes and who could forget sand-surfing in 4x4s!!  And riding the camels to see the Bedouin weavers?

Fast forward 10 years and I shook my wet hair and came mentally back to our new adventure in France, bemused and amazed at how strongly our sense of smell and our histories are intertwined!  Weaving is the connecting thread holding the two adventures together, but never underestimate the sense of smell to transport you away to another world and another time!