Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Akal: Food

Here’s a little bit on the food related aspects of living here:

-We eat with our hands. Always. Especially rice which we eat a lot of in Oman. You collect it in your hand into a little ball and push it into your mouth with your thumb. It’s actually really fun, but it becomes necessary to watch your hands both before AND after eating. 

-We eat on the floor. Unless I'm in a restaurant, I have not eaten at a table the entire time I have been here. We’ll lay out a little rug meant for eating and then a plastic sheet over top with food placed above that. We’ll all sit in a circle around the food, legs crossed. I’m starting to get pressure sores on my ankles.

-Plates and cups. Sometimes we have our own, but it’s completely normal to share plates and cups. Plates more so. Especially rice when guests are over. We’ll put it on a big serving tray and everyone will eat from it, grabbing little bits as we go. With dips like hummus, dal, or fasulia (beans), sometimes we have our own plates, but many times, it’ll be together share with at least one other person, using bread to pick it up.

-Tea. We make tea every morning and every night with milk. After lunch, it’s always with just sugar (no milk). Lunchtime tea is only made sometimes in our house but always with guests. My family really likes to have it with bread. Crunchy bread especially. Chapati and spread cheese is also a favorite. Sometimes they’ll fill a bowl with really thin, Omani bread like tissue paper and fill it with tea. Eat it that way. I'm not usually a fan, but it is what it is. 

-Spread cheese and jam sandwiches are a must.

-Pita bread (khubaz lebnani here) and spread cheese with “Omani” chips (taste like barbecue chips) is practically a national food. Like peanut butter and jelly national except the people I've met are more vocal about it. Maybe it's more like mac and cheese. My family told me to take Omani chips back with me. J

-Rice is for lunch every day without fail. There is no question. In my house at least, but I've been told it’s common elsewhere throughout Oman.

-Yogurt is used everywhere. It’s not like the yogurt we eat most in the US. That’s considered a dessert in Oman and elsewhere I've been in the Middle East. They have yogurt without sugar but with salt instead. I personally like it mixed with rice; that’s really good. It's so popular to drink here, though. For my birthday, my family made me "ice cream" popsicles with this yogurt. It was so kind and much appreciated, but still very difficult for me to resist refusing. 

-Here there is a huge influence from both East Africa and India, so there’s a lot of food from each. The background of the family speaks to what's eaten in the home, but many restaurants are either Zanzibari or Indian. My family is Indian/Omani, so food is more oriented that way. It wouldn’t be likely to have Zanzibari food. It’s really interesting about East Africa, though. Oman used to be a mini empire stretching from Oman all the way to the coast of East Africa. It didn’t stop until the British came and said otherwise.

-Lunch is the main meal of the day. Sometimes the only meal of the day. 

-Spending time with family is really important. On the weekends, weather permitting (it’s been raining for two weeks now, so it hasn’t been possible), we’ll go out with our food and meet the family at the park for picnics. We usually go at night after the sun has gone down and the park is always so full of people.

-They don’t have much kanafeh, a personal favorite I found in Jordan/Palestine. I would recommend looking it up. It's definitely worth a search and even a trip to Dearborn. Shaami (the northern region of the Middle East) food just generally isn't found in Oman. Stuffed vegetables like Kuseh. Shwarma. Things just aren’t the same as they are in the north. So many things are different. It should have been easy to guess before I came, but if there is one thing I've realized in being here, it is that different parts of the Middle East vary in many many ways. In food, in dress, in custom. 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Al-La7ja: The Dialect

For those of you who don’t have quite as strong of a background in Arabic, there is one basic thing that you need to know. Arabic is a crazy, crazy language. The trick does not come merely from learning it. It doesn't come from the alphabet. You can pick that up rather quickly. It's not just difficult because it comes from a different language family from English. It comes from those moments where you feel like you might actually finally be getting the hang of it and realize you still can’t use it.

Arabic has a million different dialects. So many that are so incredibly varied that I’m so surprised that they still consider them all one language. It’s ridiculous. The people from the Sham (Jordan/Syria/Lebanon/Palestine) can’t understand Omanis. Saudis can’t understand Meghribis (Moroccans). No one can understand Moroccans. Within a country there can be a dozens of significantly different dialects. Despite the smaller size of many of these countries, it's possible that many can't understand their fellow compatriots. Most people studying Arabic learn FusHa, or the standard Arabic which no native speaker speaks. It’s comparable to using Latin a few decades ago. Some people can understand you if you try to speak it, but even then it’s mostly with the more educated people.

These differences include a complete change in vocabulary. A change in grammar. And at its simplest, a change in pronunciation. The most well-known in the Arabic speaking world is changing the letter jiim (a soft j as in the word "genre") to giim (a gutteral g as in the word "goodbye"). This is very characteristic of the Egyptian dialect, but Omani dialects similarly vary. So I’m frequently called Magi, Magen, Meji, Mejan. In addition, my family, being from Sur, a town further south along the coast, change another letter, qaaf (a letter without an accurate English equivalent), to a giim pronunciation. Already struggling to keep up at times, I find myself translating letters as people speak around me. The word “wajid,” used here as katheereh/katheeren or “a lot/too much,” can be pronounced “wajid,” “wagid,” or “wayyid.”

Then there’s grammar. The first thing I learned about the Omani dialect was that “b” added before verbs indicate the future tense. For example, saying you will study ("adros" is the present tense conjugation) is “badros.” In the north in countries like Jordan and Palestine where I've studied before use “b” in their dialect, too, but it’s used as a PRESENT tense marker. Then in FusHa, they don’t use it at all. I find myself constantly switching between all of these conjugation rules in my speech. 

In questions, Omani dialect uses "mu" as "what." "What are you doing would be translated as "mu batsawee."

In Arabic, possessive articles are added to the end of words. In standard Arabic, the feminine possessive for affix "you" is "-ki." In Shaami dialect (the northern dialect), it's "-ek." Here in Oman, though, the feminine possessive for “you” is “-sh” As an example, asking “How are you?" goes from “Keif Haluki” in FusHa, to “Keifek” in the Sham to “Keif Halish/keifish” in Oman.

Vocabulary differences have led to some interesting learning experiences. One night, I was out sitting with family, and my host mom turned to me and told me to “dreesheh bindi.” I had no idea what she was saying. Part of me wondered if she was speaking Hindi (She’s Indian and we always have communication problems. She speaks Arabic, Urduu, and Hindi). My host brother’s wife just kind of laughed and translated. She meant “sakri shubak” which means “close the window” with “dreesheh” meaning “window” and “bindi” meaning “close.”

I still have no idea how it came up so much, but the first couple of weeks, I used the word for “cat” quite a bit. Surprising to me, the word varies a lot across dialects.  In FusHa, it’s “qateh,” but I like the word in Shami a lot, “biseh” or “bissus” as the plural. Here it’s “sanureh.” It's proved to be a very good word to know with all of the stray cats roaming around. For a beginning Arabic learner, talking about cats becomes a very wonderful conversation starter.

And so many other words I’m just beginning to pick up. For so long I thought that my Arabic was terrible. I could understand next to nothing. It’s still not the best, but these crazy dialects are definitely partially to blame. Realizing this, my self-confidence bas been slightly restored J

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A Night at the Opera

In Oman, the world runs from connections. You are who you are and you do what you do because of where you’re from and who you know.

I’ve apparently met the right people. Through a crazy line of connections, I met a particular pair of kind, interesting, and important people. After a night of enjoyable conversation, they invited me and a friend to the Royal Opera House this past weekend.

Constantly being surrounded by abayas and dishdasha, going to the opera was a bit of a shock. It has been a while since I saw a gathering with so few dressed in typical Omani dress code. A handful still dressed that way, but the audience was largely foreign and other Omanis make different fashion statements. Unaware at the time of what was appropriate, a friend lent me a dress of her own. 

The opera house is very new. I believe it was built in the last few years. It’s beautiful, though. Very impressive. There was a lot of controversy when it was being built, though. Many of the Musqati (the people from the capital) were in favor of it, but the outer dakhiliya people from the interior were very against the construction. Many believed that there were better ways to spend the money. People don’t pay taxes here, but the Sultan’s spending affects the whole country. 

We almost didn't make it. We found a ride at the last minute and rushed to the center of town. We walked into the opera with just seconds to spare before the doors closed.

Being here without a car has made me appreciate driving so much more. There are so many places to go, but without a car it's nearly impossible to go. You can't meet people, and those you do know become weighed with the "responsibility" to drive you around. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Attaqs mumtar: Rainy Weather

Rain. It really is absolutely wonderful. I know that people talk about going out dancing in the rain, and I’ve jumped in a fair amount of giant puddles in my day, but I’ve gained such an appreciation for it here.

Oman isn’t in desperate need for water. I'm not sure how, but there a giant reservoirs below the city and they are pumped up though certain points. Little trucks drive around the city, bringing water to the houses to pump through the pipes. Our water guy comes every day. We use about 50 gallons? Washing clothes is normal, dishes, hands, showers. I do close to what I would do in the US. Obviously conserving water is still important, but there isn’t a dire shortage. The interior may be different. It likely is. 

The weather really is different, though. To preface, Oman's climate is extremely varied as one crosses over the mountains from the desert to the sea. There’s even snow on the top of the mountains at times. It still gets SO hot, though. And so humid. The entire summer is 50 degrees Celsius day and night (115ish F), but really, it’s likely much hotter. The government is required to call a national holiday for any weather over 50 so it very, very rarely goes over that. I’ve been told that showers are nearly impossible in the summer except for the middle of the night or very early morning for fear of burning yourself. So the rain we've been experiencing these past few weeks offers quite a change. The "cold" weather is spoken about with just the same happiness, although I don’t think they’re ready for Michigan winters. Cold weather here is about 65 F. 

At this point, though, I may be more excited for the rain than others. I just had a nice little conversation with my host dad about the storm last night that I slept through. He had been laughing at me while I had been running in the drizzle in front of our porch. A little while after the rain stopped, I headed back into the house. Minutes later he called me back to the porch where he is sitting doing work to show me the rain that started to pour again.

Further south in Oman on the other side of the desert, the Dhofar region maintains this miracle-esque rainfall throughout the summer. Unlike the north with only periodic rainy weather, the rain continues to pour throughout the season. A dreary desert becomes a tropical, rainy, misty, and green paradise. It's not as flashy as nearby Dubai, but the region attracts many tourists and is even believed to be Bountiful, paradise, for many Mormons. People of all sorts swarm in by the thousands, multiplying the population of the tiny town every summer/fall. Heavy rainfall and scores of camels populate the region.

Now in my home, as I hear little rumbles of thunder, and hear glops of rain hit the tile outside of our home, I can’t help but to smile just a little bit. It's just another day in Oman. :)

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Other Side of Things

As I sit here in this little coffee shop in Salalah (a city in Southern Oman, which you all will have the opportunity to hear about another time), I can’t help but to think about what it means to be here. Here in Oman.

I haven’t really said much in this regard, but as some of you may know, this trip has been a bit of a struggle. There have been multiple bumps and bruises along the way with drama that seems to persist. At times it’s worse than others, but life continues on.

So many times when you hear about study abroad trips, people cannot stop talking about how wonderful it is, how many experiences they’ve had, how much they’ve grown and learned. And in many ways, they are great, but you don’t typically hear about the struggles along the way. Some are harder than others. Problems differ in color and size. Perhaps you miss someone more than you can say, maybe you miss being with friends at home, maybe you miss mashed potatoes, maybe you miss knowing how to actually act and live, maybe you can’t help feeling the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. With all of the new friends that make, you still can't help but to think of home. These experiences, travelling, they are fantastic. Even with all of the difficulties, there are so many other things that fill the voids. The truth is, though, that not everything is always as magical as a picture might imply. All of the "bad" still happens and it still hurts.

There's the typical. Languages are exhausting. Speaking Arabic all of the time has been really taxing. General life has made me exhausted. Life doesn't stop while you try to figure it out.

Then there is the unexpected. As an example, I've had so many issues with my school. Contrary to original presentation, the program was disorganized, the faculty miserable, and run by people more interested in money than the happiness and success of their students. In my strongest American vernacular, it was pretty sketch.

As a beginning traveler, I've been extra sensitive to what I've interpreted as "failures" on my part. I blamed myself for not being able to break the barriers between me and everyone else. Connecting to people has been really difficult. I'm starting to realize that I've been taking myself a little too seriously, but it's still hard. Sometimes it feels like no one really understands me and I feel like I constantly have to prove myself. My inner cultural crisis is practically the theme of a stereotypical highschool movie.

Gender relations have been difficult for me. It would be one thing if "appropriate" was consistently defined. From family to family, though, standards change drastically. I've gone to families’ homes that have clear distinctions between genders. As a non-relative, talking, greeting beyond a slight acknowledgement, shaking hands were all completely off-limits. I've met others that have laughed at me for even considering wearing hijab as a non-Muslim or found it rude to be "unnecessarily" distant.

With this variance, daily interactions become a game of constant cultural negotiations. Is it okay to shake hands with a man? Is it okay to have a conversation with a man? Is it okay to make eye contact? Is it weird if I say hello? What's too friendly? Omani women don’t really have to worry about this as much. These social rules are ingrained just like we as Americans know that standing closer than three feet to someone while talking is weird or that staring is creepy. You don't have to think about it to know. But as an American coming to Oman, I can never quite figure these rules out completely.

I sit in the kitchen with one of my brothers from time to time after he gets home from school. He comes home later than the rest of us, so just as everyone leaves, he comes walking through the door. I have no purpose to be in the kitchen other than to talk with him, but I usually stay, and I'm constantly on edge wondering if it's strange to the rest of my family. In all likelihood, it's probably entirely fine. I honestly just worry too much, but living in Oman has made me question it. My host brother is family, but he isn’t at the same time. In Oman, women simply don’t (or are not supposed to) talk to men who aren't family. No one would say anything to me for talking, but it’s the little things that make people uncomfortable or affect the way that they see you. That's what I worry about.

I was talking to one of my other brother’s wives as we sat around eating mangoes in the living room walkway. She told me about the other girls that stayed with my family. She said that before me, she never really liked the others. There was one, she was nice, modest, wore hijab in the house. My sister said, though, that she found out that the student wore shorts at The Wave, a condo complex specifically for expats in Muscat. Knowing this changed everything for her. She said that it was a matter of respect, and by not staying fully covered, this girl risked shaming the name of the family even if it was only among other expats. I am a generally modest person, but in Oman I've extra cognizant of it. Still, though, there have been times that I've worn (Bermuda) shorts or showed my arms up to my shoulders when I went camping or swimming with friends.

I've taught myself to walk on eggshells, but I'm slowly relearning how to step down a bit more firmly. Everything is a process and another opportunity to learn.

I may struggle with the most basic things, but so many others embody the life I've found in Oman. It's watching a group of women in abayas and tennis shoes running across a dusty field just after sunrise. It's sitting down in the park with the family on a Friday night. It's sitting in the car as one of my Omani brothers amuses himself with extreme offensive driving. It's about making plans with friends to tie-dye a dishdasha. It's about having the context to give all of these experiences meaning.

At the risk of sounding too dramatic, travelling teaches you things. It allows you to know something that others may not have the opportunity to learn. Because of my time here, I've been able to join a subculture of exchange. I live in a world of new idiosyncrasies. From amusing to difficult, these experiences have become home. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


About this time last week, a few friends and I started planning a trip to Dubai. Two of us needed to leave the country this past weekend to renew our visas. It was a bit last minute considering the weekend here is Thursday/ Friday, but here we are. Things fell together mostly well, and come Wednesday night we were off on our way to Dubai.

The trip to the Omani-Emerati border is two and half hours of nothing mixed with slight blips of houses and strip malls as we made our way through small towns. Just before the border we stopped at a mall in Sohar, and as road trip rules dictate, I had McDonald’s for the first time in ages. For those of you that are wondering, it was not the same as the US.

Through the mountains, the road weaves back and forth across the border, running through what seems to be a million different checkpoints. It was night when we first made it, so we couldn't see much through the windows. Driving back, though, I realized how interesting the landscape is. Dubai is an extremely new city, and it's still growing. Unlike cities from the US that I have been to, there is no real suburban sprawl. It just kind of appears.It sprouts from the desert without much exaggeration.  

                A few minutes from the city. 

We didn’t stay in Dubai the first night, but instead we got a hotel in Sharjah, a neighboring emirate. It was the next day that we finally made our way into the city. 

We met our other friends in Dubai mall, which is HUGE. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s crazy. It’s the world’s largest mall with over 1,200 stores and covers an area of over five million square feet and six floors. It includes a GIANT aquarium, a water fall, and sits right next to the Bourj Khalifeh which is the tallest building in the world.

The Bourj Khalifeh is a funny thing. Like the mall, I can’t emphasize how big it is. It’s incredibly tall. Looking at the skyline, you can see it miles before seeing the other buildings. The other buildings aren't short, but the Bourj Khalifeh reaches at least twice the height of the other buildings there.

                                     Picture thanks to www.trekearth.com. My pictures weren't 
       quite up to par.

Every building is a little unique. There's different architecture, different colors, different lights (each trying to impress with mini light shows). To be cliche, Dubai towers are like snowflakes with the exception of those in Jumeira, a really well-off part of Dubai constructed for foreigners (or that’s what it seemed).

There’s so much that we didn’t see. We didn’t make it to the souks or the giant water parks that attract thousands. We did go to two of the well-known beaches in Dubai, which were beautiful. Lincoln Park was a high point. Simply driving around the city was wonderful, though. 

Thursday night was an absolute headache. At the recommendation of another friend, we had delayed booking a hotel and consequently spent half the night looking for an open room. We drove across all of Dubai and the surrounding emirates. It was not the smartest decision I've ever made and I certainly will be more timely in the future. It provides a fun story, but a long drive, and a bucket-load of luck. I’m pretty sure we got one of the very last hotels in Dubai in a hotel far outside the city.

Getting back to Oman was a breeze, and now once again I am legal. All things are good. Altogether, a very successful trip.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

e3id milaad sa3id: Happy Birthday!

It’s been a point of curiosity for quite some time now: how exactly are birthdays abroad. For those of you that don’t know, my birthday was yesterday.

I tried researching it. Sort of. Conveniently, two of my Omani siblings had birthdays before me, but they didn’t really do anything. So many times I heard about how birthdays aren’t very important in the Middle East, but I had no idea how far that actually extended or what it meant.

Nevertheless, it was wonderful. My family surprised me with a small birthday party with cake and pizza and juice. I’ve found a new love for juice and fruit here. I’m very impressed with their ability to throw a surprise party, although I guess it’s easy to pull off a surprise when the person’s language abilities are rather limited. ;) I went with them to the store with them to buy the cake even. They did direct my attention elsewhere, but still.

The day as a whole was great though. There was a normal day of classes, but we watched Aladdin. Disney always keeps things interesting. Today, my teacher brought us kanaffeh because of birthday and another student’s birthday tomorrow.

From home, though, the day was bright. I cannot emphasize enough the significance of receiving meal. The best present I could have asked for was a box full of letters from people close to me. I think that sometimes we forget how much words can change us. Or a phone call. I talked to some of the most important people in my life over the phone thanks to a wonderful app called Viber. Free calls and texts internationally. My mind was blown a few months back when I heard of it, and I hope that there’s one of you that may be in the same boat. But truly, if you ever need to thinking of  a good gift to go abroad, letters (and food) are the way to go.

And Costa was involved, a western coffee chain from the UK. A day is always good with Costa.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

as-sa7ara2: The Desert

I feel like I couldn’t have a stereotypical trip to the Middle East without a trip to the desert, and so that’s what we did. (Aside from simply wanting to go). When I was in Jordan, I swore I would go back, so it really was all just a matter of time, I guess.

These trips aren’t exactly tourist traps, but they are definitely well-run businesses. I’m not sure about the business environment of the camps in Jordan (which I’m sure exists), but the experience was quite different. This time around it was almost like a little hotel in the middle of the desert, we had our own little room with real beds and even a bathroom, not that we spent too much time in the room.

We got there late afternoon, but the time went by  quickly. A little while before sunset, we went driving through the sand dunes. I don’t know how you learn to drive up and down sand, but it really is quite impressive.  It was rather exhilarating. Truly, if you ever get the chance, go.

There are sand dunes in Michigan along the lakes, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I think I really have a thing for sand. There’s something entirely different when you can see them rolling for miles. While we waited for the sun to set, we roamed all through them, running around, climbing, and just sitting. This time of day is amazing; you could see the shadows falling on one another as the sand dunes overlapped.

The stars, though, were amazing. People had always told me just how many stars you can see, but it’s so different when you can see them yourself. It seemed that the entire sky was painted in flecks. We drove back up to the dunes above the camp and made a bonfire.

A beautiful weekend with wonderful people, and inshallah, hopefully, there will be many more to come. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Wadi bani Khalid

I’ve said time and time again how beautiful Oman is. It's the first thing I say when someone asks about my time here. In the US, I never knew that there were places still like this. So natural and beautiful, but here it is. Wadi ban Khalid is just one of those places.

First off, to set off the image, I should explain what a wadi is. It’s a riverbed, valley, canyon. This is where a friend of mine and I went. It was much smaller than I would have expected compared to other wadis I’ve been too, but it was so beautiful. The water was this beautiful green blue. Going to places like this really put the image of what an oasis is, and it’s beautiful. This wadi is as touristy as it is small. It’s one of the most commercialized in Oman, which I guess isn’t saying too much. Not much here is very commercialized to begin with.

There were little gazebos (or kiosks) around the ground as well as a muqaha (coffee shop/cafĂ©). Then beyond that there was a line to explore. We went and found a cave, which was an adventure in and of itself. Camila and I were just going to hike there by ourselves, but there was a guy there that joined us. He “worked” for the wadi, helping people to the cave. There were a few other ones there as well. We tried telling him that we didn’t have any money, but it didn’t really work. I felt so bad when at the end he waited for us to give him money and we didn’t have it. The cave was cool, though.

We went swimming after that, and that was interesting. There are two groups that come to the wadi. Omani men and European tourists. It’s quite the interesting mix. It also makes it difficult to swim. It’s awkward a bit when you mostly see a pool (natural between the rocks) filled with men in a conservative society. It kind of made me feel like I was breaking a rule. But then French men came with speedos so I started to feel a bit better J

Being here reminded me again of the importance of family. Around all of the gazebos, there were families sitting and even a large group of Omani women walking around. It was an area for spending time with one another. Very accessible. Very beautiful. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Al-u3rs: Weddings

It’s been about a week ago, but I had the opportunity to go to a wedding here. Just on the basis of invitation, the process is really interesting. Weddings happen all of the time. Not like the U.S. There are always weddings there, but here it’s crazy. They seem like they happen all of the time because the “wedding sphere,” the bubble of people appropriate or necessary to invite is absolutely enormous. Consequently, there are invitations quite frequently. Just as an example, the wedding I went to was my sister’s coworker’s sister’s wedding.

There wasn’t a ceremony per se like you would expect in a Christian tradition wedding. I’m actually a bit fuzzy on this fact; many people that I’ve talked to, argue that it all is a ceremony. To understand it in “western” terms, the wedding was more like a wedding reception.

Most weddings are at night around nine, which is when we went. When we went inside, a giant reception hall, we sat down with some of my host sister’s friends and talked for a while. During this period everyone just mingled, saying hello to everyone.

At some point afterward, the bride, a3roos, walks down “the aisle” between the tables. Her dress was beautiful, but it was absolutely huge. Not meant for walking. I don’t know the exact history of wedding dress histories, but there appears to have been a strong western influence. It looked like a dress may look in the U.S.   

She sat up in front of the room on a giant couch and different people came up to meet with her and talk with her, take pictures with her. We went to grab food, but mostly during this period is further time to socialize, but also dance.

Oman is a rather conservative country. It’s not expressly forbidden, but going out without an abaya is rather looked down upon. But here, the room was just women. So people were walking around in beautiful dresses. Extremely detailed, most very sparkly. But they were all of varying styles. While almost all of the dresses extended to the feet, most shoulders were bare. Ironically, I borrowed an abaya from my host sister; I didn’t have an appropriate wedding dress.

This changed, though, after about an hour and half, when the only male guest arrived. Everyone went to their chairs and slowly gathered their scarves and abayas, draping them over their hair and dresses. Then they sat down and waited for the groom, a3rees, to walk through.

He wore traditional Omani clothing: a nice dishdasha, massar, and khanjar (I don’t have pictures because cameras weren’t allowed, but you should look it up). He walked up to the bride and lifted her veil. I was too far away from them to hear, it would have been mostly whispers anyway, but he then kissed her forehead and they both sat down together.

Then that was it. The wedding apparently extends for the family, but once the man comes, everyone leaves. I think this was the strangest part for me because it just felt like a mass flock.

With all of this, it’s necessary to keep in mind that this is all just one part of the process. I don’t know the rest of the traditions for an Omani wedding, but they’re out there. I have no idea what the men do, just as an example. Learnings for another time perhaps.    

Sunday, 24 February 2013

al-3a2ileh: The Family

People always told me, and it certainly was always implied, but living with an Omani family has given me a whole new perspective on the extreme importance that family has in the Middle East.

Almost every day there is family coming over to our house. I live in the main house where their mom lives. There are five brothers, three of which with families outside of the house. They visit all of the time with their kids. On the weekends, at least one of the cousins stay for a night or two. My sister Haifa lives here with her son Laith, and this house seems to be the house to visit.

The brothers are the most common visitors, or more specifically, their wives and kids. Visiting with family seems to be the main pass-time here. Yesterday we spent the morning with Samia, Basm’s wife in the morning. Visited Arfah, one of Haifa’s cousins, downtown for lunch. We sat around and talked for a while, watching movies. I saw part of a crazy love triangle Indian movie. Then we went around Muttrah for a while, looking at all of the parks. I had the opportunity to play on rides there! A mini-carnival J

But after, we went home, and Ahmed, Arfah’s brother, and his family came over for a little while. I had one of my favorite Arabic conversations as of yet. I made a joke about women being amazing because they’re women. But mostly, good Arabic conversations come from those with the quiet patience and understanding and interest in learning more about me. And it’s an amazing feeling.

But still the visiting wasn’t over until after they left and Samia returned with her daughters.

My experience is limited because I am a woman. Mohammed and Marsal are gone frequently, I assume with friends and outside of the house adventures. But this is how it is, and I think it’s quite nice.  Always a warm and friendly environment. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

al marhajan Muscat: The Muscat Festival(s)

This month there is a marhajan, or festival, happening in Muscat. It’s like a fair in the Middle East mixed with a heavy cultural and country pride exhibition. There are two parts of it. Two different locations. The one in Nisim Park focuses more on the carnival aspect of the festival, and this is the one that I had the opportunity to go to with my family yesterday. It was very fun, and the kids all had a blast playing on all of the rides. 
Then today I had the opportunity to go to the other marhajan with my conversation partner from my school. The entire night in Arabic, and it was great. Speaking is still difficult, but I understood most of what was happening. Understanding is really getting better. Conversing is too. Conversations are easier then short topic changes.

At the marhajan I was reminded of something I was talking about the other day with some friends. I’m not one to further preconceived judgements, but there are in fact troubles that the Middle East has with women. Being here, although in respect it’s much better for me, I can perceive little things that just show how present it is.

Things develop , though, and as much as the existing problems surface, little moves can be seen, too. An example of this is dress. In recent years, there have been apparent shifts in dress. Abayas, look fitting, black, floor length jacket/dresses, are what almost all women wear in Oman. There have been changes being made with many starting to have splashes of colors and belts. At the marhajan, I even saw a few women wearing white. It’s all a process.

Last night, though, I was reminded of some of these problems. The most prominent of which was probably when we drove home from the marhajan. It was dark, and to get the main road back to Muscat, we had to drive down a dark dirt road. There was no founded reason to be scared, but Haifa, my home-stay sister, and I were rather… unsettled. It was just me, Haifa, and her son Laith. I drive on dark roads all of the time in America, and there was no one that could have hurt us. We were in a car. No one made us afraid, but the environment was present. It’s the atmosphere here. My host sister even told me that this is why it’s not good for women to drive alone, and chastised our brother Mohammed for not coming with us. Just differences.
It’s all things to think about. 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

tabei3eh o3manieh: Omani Nature

So much has happened in the last week. Too much to fully catch up on. I started and completed my first week of classes. I moved in with my home stay family. I went on an amazing camping trip. I went to a party and had henna done as well. I feel like I can officially claim that I’m in the Middle East. Bas kul she2 tamam. All things are good.

This country is seriously incredibly beautiful. It’s so strange to be somewhere where things are still so natural. The mountains and the sea. The sunsets are to die for. The mountains turn into paintings as the sun slowly drops behind them.

It’s strange, though. Just being here, you can feel the development. Ten years, twenty years from now, the country will be entirely changed. Not in the way that I know that Howell, the small town where I'm from, will change. It's different here. Here it's changing something that hasn't yet been touched. 

We went camping on the beach of a little bay off the coast that we had to boat to. It was beautiful, but even now it’s plainly evident that things are developing. The location is currently under construction for becoming a tourist attraction.

The neighborhood where I live is extremely new. It’s a small corner of the city right next to Sultan Qaboos University. There are a ton of half built homes and many more empty lots. The neighborhood mosque is half finished.  

I can’t imagine coming back here. I know that I will, but I can’t imagine what Oman will be like. Until then, Oman is as it is.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Boulink: Bowling

I went bowling today! As some of you have had the opportunity to see, I am really quite terrible at bowling. Once a year for Christmas, though, I go with my family and bowl my heart out (Really, only two games barely equaling 100 points together. It’s a sad sight). In a foreign country, it’s not quite so bad, bowling at large that is. My bowling is still really quite terrible.

We went with a family. One of my roommates met an Omani, and we went out with their two sisters. They were all so nice. I couldn’t believe it. The youngest sister is nine years old and she was so happy and kind. She made me an origami cat. She was so proud :)

But really, anjad, they were so nice. Everyone is so nice. This may soon ridiculous, but it seems almost like a utopia, at least in this regard. It’s the kind of behavior people wish that people could act like. I think that if people acted like this, the world would be a much better place.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Al- Qawaneen: The Laws

I learned about a few different laws today. I’ve only been here for a short time, but I’ve been surprised by how relaxed everything seems to be here. I’m not sure which is the chicken or the egg, but I found out one of many possible reasons why this may be. Did you know that it is illegal to be confrontational in public in Oman? That means no yelling, no name calling. It’s so interesting!

Also, you can get ticketed for having a dirty car, so keep your cars clean! It's strange because the police seem so lax here, though. People don’t get pulled over for many things. People speed all of the time, and disregard traffic laws at large constantly.

It's been so nice to start using my Arabic again, though. It’s bit rusty, but it has been really nice. Walking into different shops, just saying pleasantries is really great. The culture can be difficult to adjust to.

When I am in the Middle East, I tend to be far shyer than I am in the US. It’s a fine line to walk between being appropriate and polite. Sometimes I know that I teeter toward one or the other. Things here are really a matter of comfort, though. If you make a social gaffe, I’ve been told time and time again, the Omani won’t correct or judge. Even in Jordan things were lax. Stres are the worst that it gets. They understand. 
Obviously, keeping with certain social norms is just expected. You shouldn't go out in a tanktop and short shorts. Judgement is certainly necessary. Showing any sort of leg is pretty frowned upon. It just attracts a lot of attention. Wearing a Hijab isn’t necessary by any means for foreigners, but today I did. I try to blend in as much as possible. It really all depends. I was so worried before I came. Much more worried than I was before Jordan.

My worry leads to difficulty in some interactions. I’m never sure how chipper to be, how friendly to be. When this is combined with limited Arabic skills, sometimes it’s difficult to interact. I love it still, though. It’s an adventure, and people are always so accommodating. For example, even though I know that it wasn’t the smoothest interaction, the husband and wife I met at one of the stores tonight were so kind. We definitely became friends :)

Friday, 25 January 2013

al yum al awel: The First Day

The flight went well. It was long, but I almost didn’t feel it. I met this really nice girl from Germany on the first flight to Frankfurt. She was still in high school and had been an exchange student this past semester in Michigan. We talked about English a lot. I hope that in this semester I’ll be able to reach somewhere near her English level. We shall see. It’s important to remember how short of a time I’ve been taking Arabic.

Getting into Oman was really great as well. Things have been really chill so far. Everyone seems so nice. It’s very relaxed. Getting into the airport was really great. When getting my visa, I swear that there were nearly five people that came up to the man I was talking with to just say hello and “shu lounak?” (“How are you?” Literally translated to “What’s your color?”)

I’ve been told that the driving is crazy, but it seems so much more organized that Amman (Jordan). Quieter, too, I think. We shall see. Oman is known for its traffic problems.  

Last night I sat out at a restaurant and talked with a few of the other guys from the trip. It was so great to finally have Middle Eastern food. It was really great. Zaki jeden for sure :). Other than that it has mostly been recovering from jet lag that I didn’t know that I had. I slept nearly the whole day! 

Then a cookout at our program directors’ house. It's right next to the school as well, and about a 2-5 minute walk from the Arabian Sea. It was so cool to see it. I really love water :) Excited to have things start up this week. 

Classes don’t start until next Saturday and that is when we move in with our homestay families as well. Until then we have orientation, and we’re staying in apartments.
But ma’ salaameh (good bye) until next time!