Deirdre Kehoe is a teacher of Geography and Environmental Science at Dunfermline High School, Fife. She obtained a degree in Geography and Music from St Patrick’s College of Education, Dublin and trained as a secondary school teacher in Moray House, Edinburgh. She has been teaching in Scotland for four years. Deirdre is involved in the Discovering Oman project, where she is working alongside teachers from schools across Muscat. She was fortunate enough to carry out fieldwork in Oman in January this year, and we are delighted to share her story with you.

On 12th January 2018, three teachers from the UK were flown to Muscat, the capital city of Oman, for a week of fieldwork. Having entered a competition to submit a lesson plan comparing the UK and Oman, I was lucky to be selected to represent Geography teachers in Scotland. The aim of the project is to develop a series of lessons comparing Oman and the UK, aimed at the Broad General Education phase in Scotland. These lessons will be launched in the coming months and will be available online for all Geography teachers to access.

After a long flight and journey into the desert we arrived at the Outward Bound Oman desert centre in the Al Sharqiyah Sands. We spent our first day here planning our interview questions for the coming days. We finished the day off by watching the sunset in the sand dunes, followed by a traditional dinner by the campfire.

Our second day was a very inspiring one as we interviewed a Bedouin tribesman, Saeed Jabir, who worked closely with the Royal Geographical Society in 1986. We sat with Saeed for hours and quizzed him on how his life has changed since the reign of Sultan Qaboos in the 1970s. He shared stories about his upbringing in the bush and how this has changed since the introduction of new roads, meaning his children have now all been educated, some even obtaining degrees in the city. We discussed migration patterns and how his agricultural practices change depending on the season – he focuses on camels in the winter and migrates to the wadis to produce dates in the summer. Saeed also treated us to some locally produced dates and camel to eat as we chatted. We finished our evening in the desert by falling asleep under the stars.

Saeed Jabir, Bedouin Tribesman

Our third day saw us venture away from the sands and visit the village of Al Mudayrib to look at the local falaj system and see how vital this water system is for the survival of agriculture in this area. Water is sourced from a local wadi and divided between residents. After exploring Al Mudayrib, we were invited into the home of Mohamed Al Muqimi in the village of Tiwi. He greeted us with typical Omani hospitality and treated us to traditional coffee, fruit and dates. Here, we learned about the positive influence of the village wadi, tourism and the new infrastructure in their village.

On the fourth day of our research, we were brought around the coast of Muscat on a boat to note the coastal features, as well as the ever-developing coastal management strategies. Since Cyclone Gonu in 2007, new corelocs have been developed that can withstand tsunamis and cyclones. The headlands and arches were a world away from the desert landscapes we had experienced just days before.

Corelocs: New Sea Defences on the Omani Coast

We were fortunate enough to spend our fifth day learning about different geographical aspects of Oman from different companies. We visited the offices of MEDRC (Middle East Desalination Research Center) and learned about water treatment in the country, as well as the importance of desalination. We saw the plant where the desalination takes place and were given the opportunity to look at trial methods and new ways of desalinating the water. We then visited the offices of the Muscat Daily newspaper to discuss the impacts of Cyclone Gone in 2007. We obtained news coverage, and this also gave us the opportunity to speak to those who had been directly affected by the cyclone.

We concluded what was a very busy day in the BP offices where we were educated on the natural resources in Oman. We asked questions about the process of extraction, its sustainability and environmental impact and discussed the historical importance of such natural resources on the development of Oman and how they have affected relationships with other countries.

Our final day in the country included meeting the UK ambassador, Hamish Cowell, to discuss the wonderful work taking place. We then visited the Muscat offices of OMRAN to learn about urban regeneration in the city, followed by a visit to the newly developed Convention Centre and sites of construction which have already begun. We concluded our day with a trip to Muttrah, where the traditional souq and fish markets are. This area showed a mix of the new urban developments alongside the traditional communities and old housing.

Model of Urban Regeneration in Muscat

Now that we have returned to the UK, we are working on our lesson plans which are based on the ‘Big Questions’ drawn from our experiences. These lessons will be launched later this year and will be accessible online for all Geography teachers.

Oman is a Geographer’s dream, from the vast deserts to the wadis and mountains; but, until now, it has been rarely explored in the UK curricula. It is envisaged that after this project, we will have a resource which means we can share knowledge of a new and exciting country in our wonderful subject.

Dwindling Light at the Al Sharqiyah Sands