So – What’s Life REALLY Like for Women in the Middle East?

We’ve all seen women in burqas, niqabs, and abayas on the news — but how many do you actually know? And what is it like to wear one all the time?

Thanks to recent events and the advancement of IS, many people in the West see this traditional Islamic dress and cringe. But the truth is the niqab (a veil covering the head and face but not the eyes) has been around for millennia, predating the coming of Muhammad and the founding of Islam.

On my recent trip to Oman, I wanted to answer the question, “What is life really like for women in the Middle East?”

WATCH: Behind the Veil: What Life Is REALLY Like for Women in the Middle East

In Oman, they call the face mask a burqa. Sampta, a very traditional Bedouin woman, helps Froelich test it out. (Andrew Rothschild)

I’ve long been fascinated by that. I was raised in the Midwest, a part of the generation that grew up on Sally Field’s Not Without My Daughter (a movie in which Field’s character has to smuggle her daughter out of Iran because her Iranian husband will not give them permission to leave). In my hometown of Cincinnati, there were no women in burqas or hijabs, and it was completely alien to me.

Related: Did Sinbad Get This Seasick: Hitting the High Seas of Oman

As I grew up and traveled and lived around the world, I started to experience other cultures. But even when I visited places like Iraq, I still rarely had the opportunity to talk with the women behind the masks. I was never able to ask all the questions I had, like: Did you go to university? Do you date? And if you do — how? How do you socialize? Do you have arranged marriages? Can you get a divorce? Can you work after you get married? Do you have rights?

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Faten, young and middle class — very much your everyday Omani woman. (Andrew Rothschild)

Now, clearly there are some women in the Middle East who go to college and have careers; there are female politicians there, of course. But I also know that most of these women are from upper-class families, who have always been educated and tend to live slightly outside the traditional norms.

I wanted to know what everyday life was like for everyday women.

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Nawal, a fashion designer and very modern Omani woman, and Froelich. (Andrew Rothschild)

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I’ll Bet Sinbad Never Got This Sick: Life on the High Seas of Oman

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a seafaring woman.

I have a healthy respect (read: fear) of the ocean, and my stomach has an unhealthy relationship with the rhythmic motion of waves. If I even look at a boat I get nauseous.

Related: Welcome to Oman — The 2015 “It” Destination

WATCH: Did Sinbad Get This Seasick? Hitting the High Seas of Oman

The Omani coastline (Photo: Kristina Cafarella)

Dramamine works sometimes, but it usually just ensures that I sleep whenever I am on a boat. This happens even on large cruise ships. But there are times when one has to brave the sea and boats — especially if one loves history and literature and was raised on stories from “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor” and “One Thousand and One Nights.”

Related: The Burmese Boat Festival That Puts Mardi Gras to Shame

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A dramatic seascape (Photo: Kristina Cafarella)

Make no mistake — while many associate the ancient Arab world with Bedouins and camels trekking across the desert dunes, this area’s history is just as much linked to the sea as it is the desert. Since 4500 B.C. people in the area have made their living on boats. From the 8th century on, Arab traders ruled the oceans in this part of the world, with Oman as the epicenter of activity. In fact, due to demand and the expansion of the sea trade, at one time Oman was split into two — half of it on the Arabian Peninsula, which is still the country we think of today — and the other half in Zanzibar, Africa.

Related: The Live “Stock” Market of Oman — It Moos!

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Detail of a handcrafted boat, or dhow (Photo: Kristina Cafarella)

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Bored? Go Bobsledding – It’ll Put the Hair Back on Your Chest

I spent New Year’s Eve in St. Moritz — which is weird for me. I don’t like cold weather, I’m not an especially gifted skier (read: awkward-as-heck skier), and starting the new year off in a town full of famously wealthy people didn’t really do it for me. I had visions of that scene in Dumb and Dumberwhen Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels go to Aspen all kitted out… and fit right in. But, a bunch of my friends I’d met in Afghanistan the year before were all convening for a ski race in St. Moritz to benefit the Afghan Ski Challenge and I missed them. So I booked a ticket and thought, “Now what?”

Related: Avalanches, Death Threats and No Lifts. Welcome to the Most Dangerous Ski Race in the World

Cool Runnings in St. Moritz — the Most Fun You Can Have on Ice

With Florence, Henrietta, and Beatrice as the bobs run by. (Photo: Paula Froelich)

And then my pal Beatrice told me about bobsledding.

“The Swiss championships are on right now— let’s go!” Beatrice said.

“Absolutely,” I agreed.

“And then you can go for a ride,” she said. “It will be the best two-and-a-half minutes of your life — if you don’t die.”

“What?!”

“Don’t worry,” she assured me, it will probably be fine. Just try to keep your head up so you can see when you turn the bends and enter the horseshoe [the bend where you go full vertical]. It’s a bit difficult with the g-force.”

So we tramped over to the Olympia Bob Run — which has been in operation since 1904 and is the only natural ice run in the world, meaning every year the club hires people to carve the ice run, which must be done with precision as even the slightest fault means death as you hurtle 90 mph down the icy slope. Or at the very least, a lot of broken bones.

Related: Like Danger? Take the Anticarjacking Class at the Ultimate Driving School 

The manager of the Olympia Bob Run, Damian Gianola, was a good friend of Beatrice’s — which is fortunate, as guests can book rides, but they book out fast so, if you’re going to the area, call ahead. Damian got me a seat on the last run of the day and suited me up:

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Step One: Put on your face mask. Yes, it looks like I’m about to rob a store. No, I did not.

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Step Two: Pick a helmet.

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Heaven on Earth: A Hidden Oasis in the Arabian Desert

The French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”

Nowhere is this statement more apt than in Oman. The land of Sinbad the Sailor and the Queen of Sheba, Oman — with the exception of the coastline — is seemingly a never-ending desert. In the western part of the country is the Empty Quarter, with sand dunes that tower 30 stories high. The rest of the country is a rocky desert, covered in limestone and fossilized rock.

Related: The Ancient, Secret City of Bagan — the Most Zen Place in the World

Heaven on Earth: The Hidden Oasis of the Arabian Desert

The dramatic landscape of Oman. (Photo: Kristina Cafarella)

To the untrained eye, it is a barren, lonely landscape that looks as if it would not — could not — support life. But then, just as the desert becomes monotonous and unforgiving, you climb to a mountaintop, look down, and see trees, greenery, and water.

The temperature was hovering at around 90 degrees while I was driving through the Sharqiyah region, 230 kilometers north of the capital city, Muscat. The car was air-conditioned, but when we got out to hike, my lungs felt as if they were full of sand, gravel, and dust.

I soon sat down to drink some water and rest for a minute, when my guide, Qais, said, “Look over your shoulder.” And there it was — the Wadi Bani Khalid, one of the most famous oases in Oman (wadi means valley and in the valleys are oasis).

For a hot second, I could imagine what the Bedouin felt like when they saw this oasis hundreds of years ago — riding by camel for days – hot, tired, and thirsty — and then finding a slice of heaven hidden on earth.

Related: The Live “Stock” Market of Oman

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The dramatic landscape of Wadi Bani Khalid. (Photo: Kristina Cafarella)

The streams and pools of the Wadi Bani Khalid are surrounded by date palms and greenery. They were so clear that, from the position I sat in, at least a mile up, I could see through to the bottom of the pools.“Let’s go. Now,” I said.

“Absolutely,” Qais agreed. Five minutes later (by car), I was walking though a biblical scene. Because Oman used to be covered by ocean, the limestone boulders are etched with fossils. You have to watch your step, since it is slippery, and the holes in the rock are magically filled with water.

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Bartering for Cows and Goats at the Ancient Cattle Market of Nizwa

In the Middle Eastern country of Oman, in the ancient northern town of Nizwa, history comes to life every Friday as an ancient, fascinating form of banking takes place.

It doesn’t involve ATMs or bank accounts, but rather livestock.

Since the Queen of Sheba, not much has changed at the Nizwa cattle market, except perhaps the mode of transportation used to get the livestock to market. Standing in the shadow of the Nizwa Fort, hundreds of cattle traders and buyers surround a circular area. Goats, then cows, are paraded around, and a loud, lively bidding process begins.

​The Live "Stock" Market of Oman (It Moos!)

Photo: Nizwa Fort (Kristina Cafarella)

The fatter cows and goats are sold for meat and the studly ones for breeding, but most of the livestock is sold for investment.

“I will buy this goat today and then sell it for more next week,” a man called Mahmoud said of his most recent purchase, describing a physical version of what modern day traders call flipping.

Mahmoud’s purchase, an adult long-haired goat with one horn that was chewing on his pant leg, set him back $400 — but he was hoping to get $600 for it within the month.

“Then I will buy more,” he said.

Related: WATCH: Welcome to Oman: The 2015 ‘It’ Destination

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Photo: A young goat (Kristina Cafarella)

Baby goats with their umbilical cords still attached are snapped up for around 100 rials (at an exchange rate of $3 per rial, that’s expensive). Cows, because they cost more to maintain, are at least six times more.

And high-quality animals can cost more than a car.

Last week a goat sold for the rial equivalent of $6,000, my guide Qais said. “It was a breeder. But most are sold for a few hundred rials, fattened up, and sold again within a few weeks for more money.”

Related: WATCH: How to P*ss Off the Locals in Mexico

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Photo: Goats for sale (Kristina Cafarella)

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How to Haggle Like a Pro … and the Omani Designer Gautier and Kim Kardashian Ripped Off

On the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula lies an oasis of calm inside the storm of the Middle East: Oman. Named in almost every publication’s 2015 next big destinations list, and despite being perched precariously between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the sultanate is peaceful, religiously tolerant, and welcoming.

Of course I had to go check it out for “A Broad Abroad.”

I wasn’t disappointed.

Welcome to Oman: The 2015 'It' Destination

The waterfront in Muscat. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Small towns dot the country that are straight out of “The Arabian Nights.” Sinbad the sailor was from here, as well as the famed Queen of Sheba — who is rumored to have once had ownership of the Ark of the Covenant. The whole country is like a fairy tale come to life, with hidden oases around every corner. But unlike the leaders of the other Westerner-friendly country on the peninsula — Dubai — Oman’s sultan refused to tear down historical buildings and instead, upon taking power in the 1980s, focused on infrastructure (there are paved roads crisscrossing the land that are so free of potholes my cameraman kept exclaiming, “What is this? Why don’t we have roads like this?”). All new buildings are done to fit in seamlessly with historical structures.

The Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The tallest building in the country, in the capital, Muscat, is only 17 stories high, and although there are modern conveniences, outside of Muscat life goes on much as it has for more than 1,000 years.

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Two Dive Bars Every Foodie is Obsessed With in Miami

 Rule No. 1 about eating while traveling is: If you want to eat well on the road, go where the locals go. And here’s another tip: Locals don’t spend $120 a pop at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Especially in Miami.

Related: The Chic New Hot Spot of Miami: The Miami River, the Williamsburg of South Florida

WATCH: The 2 Dives Every Foodie Is Obsessed With in Miami

The thing about Miami is that it’s the home of South Beach, bikinis, and sky-high restaurant prices. But you don’t need to drop serious cash for amazing food. Check out the video above — I challenge you to not salivate! — and then check out the restaurants. Your taste buds will thank me. Trust!

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There was so much good stuff on the menu, I couldn’t order just one sandwich… And yes, i ate it all. Photo: Andrew Rothschild.

Here are the links my favorite places:

 

El Rinconcito Latino in Doral for Cuban coffee and Cuban sandwiches.

El Carajo in Miami for lunch, dinner, tapas, or just a quick snack.

Related: The Secret, Tastiest Tapas Restaurant in Miami? It’s Inside a Gas Station. No, Really!