An Omani Village Emerges from Isolation Forty percent of the world's oil exports travel on tanker ships from the Persian Gulf, through the narrow Strait of Hormuz. Until recently, a small Omani village on its banks appeared to have been forgotten by the modern world.
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An Omani Village Emerges from Isolation

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An Omani Village Emerges from Isolation

An Omani Village Emerges from Isolation

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Forty percent of the world's oil travels on tanker ships from the Persian Gulf through the narrow Strait of Hormuz. On the banks of this important international waterway there sits a small village named Kumzar, which until recently appeared to have been forgotten by the modern world.

NPR's Ivan Watson traveled by boat to Kumzar and sent this postcard.

IVAN WATSON: There are no paved roads to Kumzar. Until recently, the only way to get here was to travel several hours by boat, past the arid cliffs of Oman's Musandam Peninsula.

(Soundbite of boat engine)

WATSON: There is hardly any vegetation along this rugged coastline but the sea is teeming with life. On this trip, flocks of seabirds hunting for fish among schools of leaping tuna.

(Soundbite of boat engine)

WATSON: Fishing also feeds and employs most of the 3,000 inhabitants of Kumzar. You could almost sail past their tiny village without noticing it because it's little more than a cluster of stone huts, tucked into a narrow canyon between two mountains. In the 100-degree midday heat, there's little activity in the unpaved streets here, aside from goats climbing on the rock walls of the canyon.

(Soundbite of goat)

WATSON: The liveliest place in town is the school. And a bunch of girls and boys in white uniforms sit in the comfort of an air-conditioned trailer, studying their English books.

(Soundbite of noisy children)

WATSON: The teacher here is Abdul Kadr, a 22-year-old, with a warm smile who wears a long beard, white robes and a turban. He says there's not much to do in Kumzar at night.

Mr. ABDUL KADR (Teacher, Kumzar): Here? Nothing. Nothing. Although we have two restaurants and three shops, that's all. And have two mosques, if you want to (unintelligible).

WATSON: But Abdul Kadr forgets to mention the small, concrete shelter at the edge of town, which looks like a bus stop. Passengers wait here for the helicopter, which on Mondays ferries residents back and forth from the provincial capital.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

WATSON: When the chopper arrives, women, wearing colorful dresses and veils fitted with brass faceplates, spill out of the aircraft carrying shopping bags. The helicopter service is pretty impressive for a village that didn't even have electricity until about 15 years ago.

Ali Suleyman works at Kumzar's small power plant. He strolls along the beach wearing sunglasses, talking into his cell phone.

Mr. ALI SULEYMAN (Employee, Kumzar Power Plant): (Speaking foreign language)

WATSON: The Omani government is starting to help isolated rural tribes like this one, he says. We have electricity, telephones and purified water now. That's made life a lot easier.

Kumzar's geographic isolation may have helped the local language survive in a country where the majority of the population speaks Arabic.

Unidentified Man: (Arabic Spoken)

WATSON: Kumzar is a mix of Arabic and Persian with some borrowed English and Portuguese adopted from the European sailors who've traveled for centuries to the nearby Strait of Hormuz. In a few weeks' time, most of the village of Kumzar will be deserted. Residents will make an annual migration to the provincial capital. There they put down their fishing nets for a few months and help the locals harvest dates.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Kumzar, Oman.

(Soundbite of music)

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