By Michelle Y. Outlaw
Salalah, the second largest city in Oman, is the capital city of the southern governorate of Dhofar and is one of only two places on the Arabian Peninsula to have a proper monsoon season, marked by cooler temperatures and prolonged periods of precipitation. The monsoon season in Salalah is called khareef—the Arabic word for autumn—and lasts from July through September. During khareef, Salalah’s brown landscape transforms into a beautiful and lush, green countryside that attracts not only locals but also visitors from around the world.
Not coincidentally, it is during this time of year that Salalah also hosts its annual tourism festival, drawing visitors from all parts of Oman and many other countries. In August, Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved the Embassy’s request to represent the United States at the Salalah festival again. In recent years, the festival has become more than just a cultural exchange opportunity; it has become a platform for the embassy to showcase its services and outreach in Oman. Embassy Muscat has seized this opportunity to promote the U.S., with dividends that will likely pay off for years to come.
The embassy team attending this year’s festival had a chance to collaborate with Omani local authorities and the festival’s organizers through many programs. These interactions allowed embassy staff to forge stronger connections with local residents and make positive strides toward influencing “the moveable middle” in Oman—those with a slightly or somewhat favorable view of the United States—the majority of whom live in and around Salalah, about 540 miles south of the capital. During a televised broadcast in August, U.S. Ambassador to Oman Marc Sievers opened the embassy booth alongside Sheikh Salim bin Ofait Al Shanfari, chair of the Dhofar Municipality. While in Salalah for the festival, Sievers took the opportunity to explore the region’s beautiful landscape and interact with locals. One stop on the ambassador’s itinerary was a visit to a local camel farm where he enjoyed fresh camel milk and viewed the green vistas of the season.
At the festival, embassy personnel from various sections staffed the booth, providing information on tourism and study opportunities in the U.S. to thousands of visitors. The embassy sponsored a series of activities, including performances by Top Flight—the U.S. Air Force Central Command band based at Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar—and visual media seminars by State Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Isaac D. Pacheco.
Top Flight performed several current hits, visibly moving the audience with each number. The group also collaborated with Oman’s own Golden Tunes band, playing a mix of modern jams along with traditional Omani drum beats. Top Flight also participated in informal cultural exchanges, traveling throughout Salalah to share dance choreography and songs with local groups.
Pacheco led a visual media seminar for communications students at Dhofar University and hosted two additional seminars for amateur and professional members of the local photography community at a nearby government building.
“The Omani people are incredibly warm and hospitable, and I really appreciate the enthusiasm they showed during my discussions about visual storytelling,” said Pacheco. “There’s a burgeoning visual media scene in Oman, and they’re really embracing a lot of the best practices that make multimedia journalism such an effective method of modern storytelling.”
Pacheco’s seminars received positive reviews from both participants and local leaders. In response to the overwhelming interest in the photography portion of his discussions, he was asked to lead a follow up photo-walk at the festival for participants who wanted additional practice with practical application of photo skills. During these impromptu engagements, Pacheco and a diverse group of photographers roamed around the fairgrounds taking photos while discussing shots and angles, lighting techniques and composition.
“Photography is a shared language that bridges cultural divides and brings people closer together,” said Pacheco. “I’m so thankful for having been given this amazing opportunity to collaborate with the talented men and women at the Khareef Festival.”
Michelle Y. Outlaw is the public affairs officer at Embassy Muscat.