Omani coffee groups started centuries before the establishments of international franchises like Starbucks where people sit on a mat under date trees with cups of the freshly brewed drinks passed around to all.
These rural coffee sittings are more than social groups. It is a place where people of the villages gather every afternoon until sundown to talk while the steaming coffee on small cups are firmly held between their fingers.
These gatherings are still around in small villages though they are fast disappearing because young people now prefer to sit in international franchises. It is a place where both men and women share their frustrations in life.
Unlike in the villages in Nizwa or Sur, people sitting in Muscat’s coffee shops, whether in the high streets or malls, have to compete with the noises of whoever passes around them. But they still find enough consolation when they outpour their problems and get listened to by their friends. So it not just about pouring out hot coffee in a cup. Coffee shops are about offloading disturbing thoughts bothering people in their daily lives.
I like coffee shops, too. But for me it is about people watching. I don’t have to say a word to get myself entertained. Everyone who passes me has a story on their faces. But not everyone can find a distraction without interacting with people and that’s where coffee shops can be a lifeline for many. It is without a doubt a place of story-telling and sharing of experience.
We normally pay a lot of money making an appointment with therapists who just sit back to listen to us. But in these coffee shops, all you have to do is buy a cup of coffee and you have a group of willing listeners around you. The topics can be from high utility bills, marriage or financial problems. Anything goes as long as they put it in the right content. The good thing is that nobody is wright or wrong. It is just the discussion that is important to them.
From time to time, I would hear a shout coming from one of the groups when emotions hit the roof. But it is always a one-off occurrence and it does not spillover to an uncontrollable level. The good thing is that in any group there is always one or two members listening more and talk less. They are the pivotal part of the ‘therapy.’
In the time of mounting mental health crisis that is threatening our well-being, these coffee groups provide excellent psychotherapy. They allow individuals to understand their mood swings and adjust to conditions around them instead of fighting them off. They go back home feeling good about the ‘session of the day.’
Although it is still too early to say that the ‘coffee shop therapy’ will drive out of business qualified professional counselors but only time will tell. But we know that they are extremely popular for people of all ages. Omani in the rural areas always knew about it because they never need a counselor to get into their brains to treating their behavioral and emotional problems. Coffee served on the mat on the ground has always been the best treatment.