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 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.