What could take a British woman from running a rural British Inn with her husband to becoming a trailblazing entrepreneur, journalist and cartographer in the Middle East? The answer, ironically, is an oil embargo, which started Anne Malin and her husband Bevis on the adventure which made her a household name in the Sultanate of Oman. It is situated on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
Today Anne is known as Oman’s `mapping lady’, after years of producing high-quality maps and street guides for business, government and consumers. She was also a prolific writer in the ’80s and ’90s and has written articles on a wide range of topics for leading Middle East and international newspapers and magazines. And she is both a familiar face and voice in the nation, after many years of work on both the news and as a voiceover artist.
Yet Anne admits that she had no greater ambition than to be “the perfect wife and mother,” until the vagaries of international politics intervened, almost half a century ago. “Our Inn was in the countryside, on the border between Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, and we had people from a 150-mile radius who would pop up at a weekend to have dinner in the restaurant,” she says. “But with the oil embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia and Iran in the ’70s, first of all, petrol was rationed. And then the filling stations closed down because they didn’t have any oil to sell – so of course, our takings went down. And we decided that was it, and we put the place on the market.”
Bevis took a job in Oman shortly afterwards, but for all that Anne has come to embrace their new home, her first steps were tentative. Initially, Bevis went there, with Anne joining him for a holiday, before moving there permanently with their children in 1978. And if she admits to some ignorance about the country she was not alone – “Even our luggage went to Amman, Jordan, (they have the same spellings in Arabic and the names having a familiar ring ) because of a mix-up,” she remembers with a laugh. But I had only been here just a few months when things began to happen,” she adds. “A job came up in television, behind the scenes as a production assistant with Oman Television, and to my surprise I got it.”
Within two years Anne was made a presenter for Oman Television News, a role she held for 20 years, and in her own words, “One thing just led to another. Being on television opened up many doors’’. In addition to news broadcasts, Anne worked on a variety of documentaries and news projects during her time with Oman Television, including the global broadcasts of the 30th anniversary of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said’s accession to the throne, and various reports on Oman for global distribution. She and her husband were also appointed as commercial representatives in Oman for the International Herald Tribune.
The Mapping Lady: A Memoir of Oman, describes Anne’s first impressions of the sultanate and how she fell in love with the country – so much so that she admits to being horrified when she first saw tourists arriving. Yet ironically that led to perhaps Anne’s greatest legacy to her adopted home. “To my shock and horror I saw a tourist bus, my first tourist bus,” she says. “Rather selfishly we called Oman at that time, `our secret paradise’, and I thought ‘Oh my God this is going to change everything.’ I went to tell my husband, he said ‘It’s going to open up some time, why don’t we do something?’ So we published our first guidebook and our first Pictorial Tourist Map in 1989. There were hardly any roads then. Images surrounded the map depicting the culture. They were received very well. And then, after just our second publication, we were invited by the Municipality of Muscat, to do a map of one of the big towns for His Majesty the Sultan`s National Day celebrations in 1992. We were nervous because we were still beginners, but we were thrilled, we were very happy.”
Anne’s publications include the popular A to Z Street Guide, the Salalah Street Guide, Muscat City Map, Salalah Map & Guide, Matrah Business District Map, the Map & Guide to Musandam and the Oman Map & Guide. She has also acted as a consultant for creating new mapping publications for many commercial and government organisations in Oman, including the Ministry of Tourism, Diwan of Royal Court, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Muscat Municipality, Dhofar Municipality, National Bank of Oman, Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Shell Markets, British Petroleum and Oman Oil.
Bevis passed away in 1996, but Anne continued to work with the same zest, exploring every nook and cranny of the land, and as more and more travellers discover Oman each year, Anne’s maps have been distributed all over the world. But Anne’s love of the country has not only been about geography or cartography as they have been about a passion for the people and culture of Oman. Oman is roughly the size of the UK and diverse – from the rugged pinnacles of the Musandam mountains to the coconut-laden beaches of Salalah in the south and the Rub Al Khali desert– it is a land of surprises which always astound the visitor. Her book is an open Window into Oman.
She says: “Before I came here, I knew nothing about the country, we’d never heard of the place. I was perhaps a little hesitant. There are a lot of misconceptions about the Arab world, and Oman is so different from other places. We don’t interfere in other people’s affairs. We’re peacemakers’. The people here are so friendly. Our ruler of 50 years, Sultan Qaboos, who died in January, came to the throne in 1970 and there was nothing here – only 7km of road, very few buildings, two schools plus an American mission school in the entire country, and only one hospital. He just built the place from scratch. One of the very first things His Majesty did was to encourage women to work from the very beginning, from both rural and urban areas, and he gave them all equal rights with equal pay.’ I was surprised in 1978, to see a female police officer directing traffic on a roundabout believing it to be a male-dominated field. Oman has been voted as one of the safest countries in the world to both visit and work in. And it’s beautiful – from where I live I can visit and walk in the valleys, I can safely drive alone, even at night, there are mountains outside my window and a beach five mins away from my home.”
Anne also hopes that her book might inspire young women: “My goal in life was to be the perfect wife and mother,” says Anne. “And look what happened to me!” The Mapping Lady: A Memoir of Oman contains maps and many images to illustrate Anne’s stories.
Anne is currently seeking publishers for planned publication in 2021.