Marilyn helps run the Phoenix Group in Oman, a group helping expats get settled in the country.
13 May 2014| Last updated on 18 September 2017
We caught up with Australian expat Marilyn Lehamann about life in Muscat and her very cool group that caters to female expats moving to Oman, The Phoenix Group. Marilyn is new to Oman, but has lived in the Middle East many moons ago. She tells us about life here, settling in and the many benefits of the Phoenix Ladies Group.
SEE ALSO: Phoenix Ladies: A Group for Expats Living in Oman
Tell us briefly about where you are from and a bit of history.
I am from Western Australia and have been in Oman for eight months. Many years ago, too many to count in fact, I lived in Bahrain where I worked as a flight attendant for Gulf Air. I had a wonderful time in Bahrain and was delighted to come back to the Middle East.
How did you find yourself in Oman?
My husband is an electrical engineer and was very keen to come to the Middle East having heard about the tremendous growth in his area of expertise which is primarily oil and gas. He loves the challenges, enjoys the culture (and the food!) and hopes, as I do, to remain here indefinitely.
What’s the best thing about living here?
Well I think the warm weather which of course we are used to coming from Western Australia. The amazing landscape, which we are very keen to explore more of, and the general friendliness of the Omani and expat people we have met. I notice a great change in all countries of the Middle East since my flying days so many years ago.
Can you tell us a bit about the Phoenix group and your events?
The Phoenix Group was established by another lady from Western Australia, Carol Duckett and her friend Yvonne Medhurst just over a year ago. Carol has now returned to Australia but the group continues to grow and gain members and sponsors.
Our main aim is to provide friendship and a ‘soft landing’ for people new to Oman. It is very daunting when you arrive in a completely new place and know absolutely no one. We are trying to use your web site to connect with people before they get to Oman so they will at least have a contact to ask for assistance.
"We have coffee mornings all over Muscat at least once a week"
We have numerous events. We have coffee mornings all over Muscat at least once a week; we arrange visits to interesting places such as museums, the souk at Muttrah, camel races, visits to various cultural activities and often mystery tours which are very popular. We can provide transport, or for those who wish to drive in Oman here we travel in convoy. This really helps with driver confidence.
The group is small enough that when you arrive for coffee you don’t have to make that long walk into a room full of complete strangers. Someone is always around to welcome you and introduce you to other people.
SEE ALSO: Fancy a coffee? Head to one of the Phoenix Group's coffee mornings!
What is the most difficult thing about moving to Oman for a woman; can you tell us any challenges that you may face.
For me it was finding my way around and learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road! There is not a lot of traffic in Perth and it flows at a fairly restricted pace along with definite rules which are very well policed. It is quite different here but I have adapted and feel confident now even though there was a time when I thought I would never reach this stage. The Phoenix Group helped me a lot with driver confidence among other things. I went in convoy everywhere and then I occasionally used other members as passengers, just for practice. They all survived and still drive with me.
I think people with children face other obstacles. Schooling needs to be addressed, after school activities, medical and dental providers – the list is long and unique. Finding accommodation is a priority. Phoenix can help with most things. If one person doesn’t have an answer someone else will or we will find out for you. Some of our members have been here for years and are great repositories of knowledge.
Is it easy or difficult to make friends if you are a stay at home mom or if you don’t work, or is it the same for both working and non-working women.
I am in the category of empty nester non working woman. My children are in Australia and New Zealand along with my small granddaughters. I had worked for most of my life when we came here and the change was initially wonderful – no rushing off to be anywhere at a given time. Unimagined luxury! However, that soon palled and just when the walls were closing in I discovered Phoenix. In some ways I think that women with school aged children or even little ones, who attend nursery, would find it easier than other groups. Children have a way of making friends and taking you with them.
Everyone here was new once and they all remember it well. All these people want to make life easier for you than it was for them, so if you just make the first step, like contacting Phoenix, the next step is easier as there will be someone to call on or just hold your hand, metaphorically speaking, for a while.
Are there any popular places that expat women frequent in Oman?
Coffee shops and there are lots and lots of them! There are also spin classes, aqua aerobics, numerous gyms, golf, photography clubs – too many to mention. We are about to start a new book club as some members suggested it would be a good idea.
"Everyone here was new once, and they all remember it well"
What advice could you give to someone who is planning to move to Oman, what should they bring or prepare for?
Prepare to be flexible! Oman is not a big city in Europe but it is a vital and fascinating place and you can live here very happily. You can get pretty much whatever you need here most of the time. Maybe some brands of food are not always available but there is generally a substitute. The various schools have an excellent reputation and follow a diverse range of syllabi, so worrying about education is not necessary. Medical and dental services are excellent and the hospitals are first rate.
I would also counsel people to be aware of their clothing especially during Ramadan. You should always have loose clothing that covers you arms and legs. This type of clothing is comfortable and practical to wear in the heat. Be conversant with the cultural mores of Omani society and be respectful. The Omani people are very friendly and helpful and you are, after all, a guest in their country.
What is your absolute favourite place to go to in Oman?
There are no absolutes, just lots of fascinating places. Al Sifah is up there with the best. It has a wonderful seafood restaurant right on a white sandy beach and overlooking a perfect blue sea following a scary wonderful drive through the mountains. The mountains here are unique as they are predominately rock with little or no green vegetation. Absolutely awe inspiring! Nizwah souk at the dawn goat market is worth a mention and Sur is another place I love. I am sure, in a month or so, I will find something else to tell you about that is equally wonderful.
When you go on holiday, where do you go? Fave holiday destinations?
My husband and I are about to go to France for two weeks. We will stay in the south and drive as far as Italy in one direction and Marseilles in the other. We are taking an apartment in Apt where we plan to visit the markets and hope to include a trip to Marseilles for the bouillabaisse (my husband) and Grasse for the perfume (me) I lived in Monte Carlo before I was married, so I am keen to revisit the area and share all things French with my husband.