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Friday, December 11, 2009

Post-Eid Stupor

The year is almost over (hijri and miladi!) and I don't know where the time has gone.
Since Eid, I have been in a time warp, or maybe I'm still coming off of the consumption of too much meat and other substances that can cause trouble in excess that dominated my Eid vacation.

In any case, things are settling down again. Although I'm afraid only to be again shaken up by Christmas and New Years. Fun can be exhausting, especially in Oman, especially in my small town, where I feel the need to party like a rock star every opportunity I get...

As for other news, the progress on my book is gruelingly slow, but I'm getting there. In the meantime, I'm spending far too long procrastinating reading everybody else's writing. Getting ideas, you know? I need some holiday blessings of motivation and focus.

Perhaps it is the disarming calm of my neighborhood as of late that has taken me off my guard. Remember the monster children? ...no where to be seen. Mixed blessings. Maybe I feed off the drama, at least creatively. Chronic social conflict inspires me in a weird sort of way. Although I did have something of a falling out (more like one-sided screaming match) with the Indian construction workers next door who seemed to think it was ok to come into my yard without asking to finish the wall they were building. That wouldn't be okay in any part of the world, right? Or am I unconsciously becoming like the women around me whose biggest concern if burglarized is if their hair is covered. Seriously...I was told that by a group of very modest ladies. Let's hope not.

Anyways....
Send good wishes for my writer's block/massive procrastination to disappear.

Thanks:)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

General Hospital...Oman version

Well, I've had my first run-in with the general hospital here in town....(can you guess? Batinah smallish town starting with R....former capital, like most medium sized Omani towns...) I must admit it was better than my experience at the polyclinic, however, surprise rectal exams at 2 AM are never a fun time.

Lots of interesting things go on in developing world hospitals...more to come on that in my book, but for the time being, I need some advice from any of you discerning hospital-goers.

I may have to have my appendix out this weekend (yet another bacteria wrecking havoc on my digestive system) and am wondering if anyone has heard anything particularly positive or negative about the general hospitals here in Oman. Our health insurance won't cover any hospital, but I'd like to know what I'm getting into before the ether kicks in....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Student Art



After class today I noticed a picture on one of the girls's desks. A little bit of class doodling. It's a pretty good idea of what they aspire to look like...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book

Dear Oman Blogosphere and other readers,

I'm going to be posting less often now, (but I'll still be around) unlike our dear friend Muscat Confidential. I've been working on a book about my adventures and misadventures in the Middle East, particularly Oman, and the project is in full swing now. A lot of what I say in my blog I want to put in the book, and I don't want to double write. I'll still post now and then and of course keep reading yours!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Feeling Lost Too...

Everyone who's an expat knows that you feel a little lost now and then. Where do you belong? In your home country? In the last place you lived? Here?
Relationships are both destroyed and strengthened. I have lost touch with many people, but I am convinced that my relationship with my husband couldn't possibly have developed the same depth without extensive and challenging travel together.

So is it a good thing or a bad thing? Should you go home? Does it matter? Are you happy here?

There are so many questions that spin through my (and I would venture to say, most expats' heads) especially when you're feeling down.

ExpatMum got me thinking about these questions again morning over my coffee (as if I needed reminding!) Check out here post here: http://expatmumsilverjeweloman.blogspot.com/2009/11/lost.html

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wrong and Wrong

I don't want to make any enemies here, but I feel compelled to comment on an article that I just read which was linked into "A Learning Muslimah"'s blog.

It praises the place of women in Islamic countries and speaks of the horrors of the life of a Western woman.

I titled this "Wrong and Wrong" because in my opinion, the author (an American Christian woman) is totally wrong about women here in the Arab world, and is also totally wrong about women in America.

She glamorizes, idealizes, paints almost a fantasy life of what she thinks really goes on here, while on the other side she describes an equal but opposite mis-representation of women in America.

There is always more than what meets the eyes. And besides, what is written is not even what meets the eye, if you've actually lived in both places.

Gotta look deeper, babe. That's all I can say.

Read it here:
http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=%201164545989052&pagename=Zone-English-Family/FYELayout

Sunday, November 1, 2009

10 Truths for the Day

This doesn't really have anything to do with Oman per se, but I think all these things are more important when you're an expat and in a difficult place to live.

1. Be nice to your officemates. Make them coffee. Bring in a treat now and then. It spreads good vibes and it's easy to do.

2. Get up early and at the same time every day. Routine is important. Just get your ass up even if your bed is super comfy.

3. Be pleasant to locals, but if you don't feel like it, politely decline coming over for coffee and Helwa.

4. Get enough sleep.

5. Learn to say "No" to everyone. Saying no politely can be an art. Develop it.

6. Don't feel bad about the little things that keep you sane. Even if it's watching Rachel Ray everyday (dear God...).

7. Eat lots of yogurt. This country does a serious number on your stomach.

8. Don't just sit at home and do nothing (if you live in the boonies I like me). It's hard but even just go for a walk. It helps.

9. Let yourself be miserable sometimes.

10. It's okay if you have to crawl under the covers, hide, and pretend you're in la-la land everyday. Just make sure you make a plan and get up.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Different Children

So we finally found the three miscreant boys who stole from me, and we told them to return it, or we will go to their house (another boy filled us in as to where they live), and if that doesn't work, then we will go to the police. Still trying grassroots up, but I'm seriously loosing interest.

Anyhow....

I had a different sort of interaction with some neighborhood girls yesterday. While we were waiting for the boys to come return the thing with their tails between their legs (which they didn't of course), the doorbell rang. This time it was 5 young girls, between 12 and 5 years old.

They formed a benign semi-circle around me and waited for me to say something. We exchanged the normal greetings...pause.

"What are your names?" I asked

They told me. ...Pause.

"So, how old are all of you?" I kept going.

They told me...Pause. I'm not really sure what to say at this point. I used to think I was really good with kids, but the children here seems to totally throw me off my game.

"Uh, so the weather is really nice now, huh?" I commented. The old default of the weather didn't enthrall them.

Pause... They are still just standing there looking at me, not offering any conversation items.

The call to prayer sounded from the local mosque.

"So, do you speak any English?"

"No," they said. I'm out of conversation topics at this point.

"So, I'm making dinner (a lie) so maybe later, ok?"

"That's fine," the older one said. "We are going to go pray now anyways."

"Do you pray??" piped up the middle girl.

Awkward...given that one, I'm not Muslim and two, that I'm not religious at all really.

"Well, not like you," I offered innocently. Hey, I grew up Catholic and I still think there's lots of great elements to Christianity.

They just look confused at my statement.

"Well, you see, I'm not Muslim," I continued. Am I just digging myself into a hole here? Probably, but I don't want them to think that everyone they like is by default a Muslim, because all good people must be Mulism, right? This is a very common train of thought here.

"You're not?" she asked sort of accusingly.

"No, but there are lots of Muslims in America. But most people there are Christian though," I explained. Note here that in areas like where I live, trying to explain atheism, agnosticism, or even the existence of another religion outside of the big three does not go over well.

"So you're Christian, then?" She asked.

"Yes."

With that they all did a synchronized hair-pin turn and went out the gate.

Oopps???

Oh well...what else do they know to do?

Monday, October 26, 2009

ladies' health clubs

Just a quick blog post here in a spare moment. I wanted to give a shout-out to a great post that I read the other day by Dhofari Gucci about women's secret health clubs in Oman.

http://dhofarigucci.blogspot.com/2009/10/salsa-aerobics-salalah.html

Definitely check it out. Her description of these hidden havens of shaking hips and sweaty yoga mats will brighten your day:)

By the way, Nadia, know of any of these clubs in Rustaq? All I can find are the men's "health clubs", which definitely don't involve yoga ;)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mouths Wide Oman

Seriously everyone, what's up with the staring? I have always noticed, but this year it seems worse. Maybe I've just gotten more sensitive (a definite possibility....).

Some say it's because I'm a woman.

Some say it's because I'm a foreigner.

I'm sure these are elements to the cause of the gaping, slobbering, vacant stares I've been getting. However, I don't buy it. Why not? As being a westerner in possession of a vagina seems enough reason....right? I said in my last post that I will never understand their perception of me. And that's true. I think, increasingly so, that is crucial to look at the rational and experience of the other side. But, what if there doesn't appear to be any brain wave activity on the other side?

In any case, I don't think being a foreign chick is the reason for these particular stares because it's not just me, and it's not just men staring at me in this way. Women stare at me. And they stare at each other. And the men stare at other Omani men.

Now, let me explain. This is a very distinct stare that I'm talking about here. This not the stop and point, giggling and talking all the while stare. While more active, this type of normal staring seems somehow healthy and is less perturbing. I'm talking about the stare of a cow shot by a stun gun. Eyes wide, mouth wide, and sometimes there is drool. Occasional minor retinal movement, but usually it is dead pan and missing any sort of intellectual activity. Not even negative judgment. Just nothing. It's sort of scary.

My husband describes it as saying it looks like their brains are disintegrating and any minute are going to start dripping out of their mouths. Couldn't be more accurate.

Now this is not everyone, of course. It is not even the slight majority. But it is nevertheless disturbingly frequent.

In Muscat it's rare, but the farther into the mountains you go, the worse it gets. Perhaps the most terrifying density of such starers was in a eastern fishing town called Khaloof. All I can say is run away. You might get nightmares.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Them....or is it Me?

The children have not come back, alhamdulilah, but I'm not letting down my guard yet. Of course the music player hasn't come back either though... I thought about going to the police, but I'm just too tired of all this, and God knows if they would be helpful anyways.

Most of the kids still howl and make bizarre noises at us when we walk or bike by, but I don't even really know what to think. I have to come to terms with the fact that I just can't understand their experience of me. I just don't know what it's like to encounter someone so radically strange (after many years of nothing but the same skin, same clothes, same prayers, same language, same habits, same schedule). We must seem like utter freaks to them.

Just today as my husband and I were biking around the streets to go off road, he commented "Hey, you know, just doing this right now would blow most peoples' minds." And he's right. Just taking a stroll or biking through our area would be a culturally overwhelming educational experience. But to us now it's just home.

But not. You know?

It's a fine line between being part of the area and remaining a freak on the edge.

I guess we're both.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

That's That

Well, I've gotten a few comments now suggesting we should move. The bureaucracy and red tape here would make the nearly impossible at this point considering the way our employment/contract is set up. I'll keep it in mind though. In the meantime I'll keep crossing my fingers and locking the door.

Let me add a disclaimer here though:

Despite the recent events and recent posts, I do not hate Oman or Omanis. I don't think that all Omanis are bad parents and that all Omani children are little monsters. I still think that Oman is a beautiful and diverse country (albeit with its problems like any country). I am making an effort to differentiate between the part and the whole. Between our current dilemma and my overall impression.

Yours,
Burned-out but Recovering (inshallah)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Advice

Thanks for the comments and advice. I appreciate it! I have thought about moving, however, that would mean uprooting so much stuff, not to mention all the complications with our landlord and agency boss. The rent is paid for the year on this house and it would cause big issues to leave. Not to mention loosing the yard. But I've still thought about it.

More tempting is involving the wali/sheikh/and or police. This is an option. Our command of Arabic is good enough to negotiate that, and perhaps it would, as you say, make them realize that we're serious.

Most of the time, backing out here only causes problems. The town is small. Most people know most people. Getting "scared" out of their neighborhood is likely precisely what they would like, and word would get around that we're able to be intimidated. I'd rather play by their rules.

If I've learned anything in my 2 years in the region, it's that if you CAN, playing the wusta card and proving to them that you're not easily bamboozled, that you KNOW how things work and can pull consequences for them...you gain respect. Leaving will just show we lost. I hate to put it in those terms, but it's something of cultural battle of the wills.

We live here, and are invested. It's not like we're tourists anymore. Switching from visitor to member of society (granted at a lesser level) changes the game.

If your neighbors were harassing you, would you just up and move? Probably not.

I think I just answered my own question (with your help!). We should probably take one more stab and the neighbors one-on-one and then take it up a level to the "authorities".

Now they're stealing....

So before we left for Dubai, I woke up to discover that my music player in my car was gone.

Those children who had woken my husband and I up the night we went searching through the neighbor for the rascals had stolen it from my car. We had seen them run out the gate of the yard, coming from the area where I park the car, but naively (or just sleepily) hadn't thought that they would have stolen anything.

George spoke to one of our neighbors and told him that he expects it to be returned in a few days, but what's the "or else"? What kind of sway do we hold? We don't have a picture of the boys, so we can't go to the police. We don't know which family. There are SO many children here that God knows which house they belong to. What CAN we do? Basically I think the kids just got away with it. Who is going to own up to it? Who's going to admit stealing (totally haram by the way)?

I think it's gone. But really I care less about loosing my music player than the fact that they just learned the lesson that they can walk on us. We just don't know the families. Accountabilty here comes from being known. Who knows you? Who's it going to get back to? That's what keeps things in check and we just don't have that.

So what can we do?

I bought a pad lock. I hate to be more isolated but I'm sure as hell not letting anybody in our yard until it gets returned. Otherwise there was no "societal consequence", you could call it, to disrespecting us.

Any advice? Seriously.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dubai Weekend

This was my third time in Dubai. And somehow it was different this time. I think this is for a number of reasons. One is just because I was exhausted from this past month, which has really taken it out of me. You know how sometimes you are really looking forward to a vacation and then once you get there you just break down and are too tired to really enjoy it. That was definitely part of it.

Another part was that Dubai is a place that can either fulfill your every expectation, or let them down. The first two times I went, I went with the idea that Dubai probably didn't merit all the hype, and I was prepared to be unimpressed. But I wasn't, so my lack of expectations couldn't help but be surpassed. This time, however, I went planning to have an action-packed and fantastically glam and romantic time. But as always in life, little things upset the plan, and I let the upset plan get the best of me. Minor car troubles, already booked restaurants, too many taxi drives because we couldn't get a seat outside. I was determined to drink and dine al fresco and was way to bummed because there wasn't any space.

Nevertheless, we did find a great new bar called QD in the Diera Golf Club (where there was space!). I know...I went to a bar in a golf club. But despite what you might think, it was classy yet casual. Crowded yet well-run. It was expensive but worth it for the ambiance and the stunning view.

But the lesson of the day is (all of which I already know but don't follow):
1) Don't get hung up on things not going your way.
2) Don't have high travel expectations.
and perhaps the most important thing:
3)Don't get so burned out that you can't even enjoy your vacations.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Midnight Hunting for Children


And so the saga continues. Only there are new players on the scene now.

Last night as we were falling asleep at 10:45, the doorbell rang again. More persistent than ever. I said to my husband that no adult (inshallah) would ring a doorbell so frantically. It had to be the children again. We dragged ourselves out of bed, just angry now. Opening the front door, we saw the boys (maybe aged 12 or 13) tearing off away from the house. This is just getting ridiculous, so George went to talk to the father. This father apparently only had a 1 year old, and sent us elsewhere...seemed true, but who knows?

So there we were, two angry Americans, in our pajamas (just boring old sweatpants) stomping through this barren neighborhood in search of naughty children and lenient parents. We walked the kilometer or so to the crazy children's house of the previous posts and I spoke to the mother who very nicely made me the sweets. Father was no where to be seen...work, the little girl says. Again, who knows?

She was pleasant, but somewhat shocked that HER boys would come in without being asked. I'm like.. Uh...you were there when he hit me, don't you think he would be capable of coming in without an invite??? But I didn't say that. I was politic.
So although we did not find the little monsters in question for tonight, she said she would spread the word that we are not cool with that. Or maybe she'll just spread the word that we're not cool...?

Who knows?

Do I sound a little disillusioned? No, I'm just tired. Too bad there aren't any trees in the yard. Then they could just quietly TP the house and let me sleep.

Off to Dubai this weekend for a much needed break!

ps: It's no fun trying to explain to a very traditional mother that her sons are bad in Arabic when I was almost asleep 10 minutes before. You should try it sometime.

Mothers vs. Children

Well, it's been almost a week since the original children fiasco/break-in, and several days since the boy hit me in front of his placid mother (who was giving me Omani treats to eat).

Of course this means that I have her plates. As per cultural rules in most societies, it's about time that I return the dishes with something sweet as well.

Helwiyat Amrikiya? Chocolate Chip Cookies? Banana bread? We'll see. I still feel weird engaging with them, but I don't see much choice. Do you? I want to be friendly, I really do, but the continuing inappropriate behavior of her posse of children leaves me unenthusiastic.

So I really have no choice though, seeing as I am indeed invading their neighborhood?

I guess I'm making cookies tonight...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Following Up on the Children

I've gotten a couple comments about my story on the children below. I totally agree. They know that they did something that they were not supposed to do. And, yes, I agree as well that they would never have dreamed of doing that to an Omani woman.

Yet...

Situations such as these put me in an awkward position. If I could just do things my way, I would have chewed out the kids and put them in their place, and probably not let them come in again until it had been made clear between their mother and me that that will not happen again.

However, children here, especially boys, are like royalty. I have been hit in the butt with a cannonball of mud thrown at me my a 10 year old boy in front of tens of fathers. What happened? Nothing. I yelled at the boy, also because he said "F**k you!" at the same time (probably his only words in English). The fathers were utterly passive and did not scold the boy and his friends at all. It was like it happened in a vacuum. This is not a lack of respect for women issue. That boy would have been slapped silly if it had been an Omani woman...that is, a traditionally dressed Omani woman.

Similar experience in a supermarket, but that time involving a very large Asian vegetable being used as a baseball bat. The mother thought it was cute that he tried to knock me out of the store.

So treating the children as I think I should in these circumstances leads to bad relations between their parents and myself. So where is the line? Do I not let them in the house? What do I do when the same boy hits me in front of his mother while she is giving me Omani sweets to eat, and she just smiles gently? I say "stop" and she says nothing. That's just plain awkward.

In any case it is difficult and takes a delicate knowledge of lines, boundaries, social mores, personal respect, etc. I haven't quite got it finessed yet.

The fact of the matter though is that where I live, my husband and I (especially me) are something of alien creatures. We are the only foreigners in the area and most of the people living there have never interacted with a Westerner before. I think to a large extent the children in particular really don't get that we are people too, and deserve respect as well.

Demanding that respect, however, often alienates and offends. Especially with limited Arabic abilities.

It's tough.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yikes, Ambushed by Children!

Never have I been so intimidated by children. As you know, we live in a very isolated area. One night about a week ago, I was alone in the house watching a movie when I heard the doorbell ring. Women don't really go door to door here for anything, because of the high chance that a man will come to the door, so I didn't respond. I thought this time I would just avoid the embarrassing conversation that really wasn't supposed to be happening anyways between myself and one of our male neighbors.
Normal protocol here, as in most places, is if there is no response to the doorbell, you go away and come again another time. But the bell rang again.

Just as I thought whoever it was had gone away, there was a powerful knock at our front door. Our house's yard is enclosed by a gate. Inside that gate is considered private property, not to be entered unless invited in.

I was scared, because this was really weird. For a minute I thought maybe it was one of our friends telling me George got in a car accident or something. But then I remembered that everyone relevant had my phone number. These thoughts whizzed through my head as the knocking continued and got stronger. It was pounding at this point. I stood there terrified before the door, and watched the door knob turn. The door was locked but the person on the other side kept pushing down on the handle.

I snapped into defense mode. I was alone. George was too far away to be able to do anything. I crept up the stairs to peak out the upper window at whoever was fighting to get in below. Just as I looked over the window I heard a voice yell in Arabic "Open the door!" I froze, more out of surprise than fear. It was a child's voice. The three more shadows rushed into the yard. Also children.

I went back downstairs.
"Who are you?" I asked him.
"Saeed," he said, like I should know.
"Where do you live?"
"Over there"
"What's your mother's name?" I kept questioning through the door.
"Laila. Opened the door."
Laila... Laila.... I met a Laila yesterday while I was biking. It must be her children. Her evidently terrifyingly aggressive children.
I opened the door and the boy, who was the oldest of the posse of five at about 12 years old, grabbed my hand. "Salam aleykum."
"Aleykum as Salam." I said in a daze.
They stayed for about 10 minutes, giving themselves a tour of the house. Drinking water and trying to use my camera. I let them take a picture and I gave into taking a picture of them. I was exhausted and stunned. Never before have I been so ambushed by children. They were utterly insane and amazingly audacious. I finally managed to shuffle them out of the house.

I collapsed on the sofa.

Of course, I see these children often now. They come over almost every evening, but now I confine them to the yard. And yes I mean confine.

Seriously though? Who does that? Their mother, Laila, who I met again yesterday, is surprisingly placid and unassuming. She's making me Omani bread today.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

if you give a student a break...

We all know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie....
But what happens when you give a student a break? cut him some slack?

A lot of people here would say that the students in Oman have little to no sense of accountability, and that even if you are strict with them they still don't respect you. This is sometimes true. I agree even that this is perhaps more true here in Oman than in other parts of the world. However, I also think that the opposite is true. The students here are (in my opinion) more sensitive to small acts of kindness as well. They notice when you take the time to remember them and respect them. They notice when you give them a second chance. When you let them leave class early if they really are sick.

Just as some might say that this culture breeds irresponsibility in its young people, I would add that it also is a society in which making a mistake can be the end of your standing and respect within a group. Consequences can be severe for crossing any line that has been set.

In my experience my students have become more cooperative and more responsive when I have given them a break.

A girl today in one of my classes looked really sick and tired and was holding her head. She was clearly trying to stick it out out of fear of being marked absent. I said to her, "look, honey, just go back and rest. It's ok." She did leave and then came back an hour later (it is a 3 hour class), saying her headache was better and she wanted to come back.

I was impressed.

I think that's a human truth though. Trust someone, show them respect and kindness and they will almost always set up.

Being Nice To Crazies (and other people we gossip about)

As I've written before, this college is home to a rather remarkable number of people off their rockers. This year a much better and somehow much saner crowd has appeared from all corners of the earth, but nevertheless, the strangeness remains. I have to admit that being in this environment has turned me into quite the office gossip at times. I think just about everyone here would agree that it's some of the best entertainment around, seeing that work is intermittent, nobody really knows what's going on, and the students...well, who knows if they'll show up. So we really spend an embarrassing amount of time sitting around. Seeing who has the most comfy office chair. Guessing who's got a crush on who...juvenile?? (Let's leave that one unanswered.) And circulating rumors. Most of them are harmless, this is true, but nonetheless, it leads me to wonder if I'm really making this place any better.
I certainly don't want to get on any high horse of virtue...but in a place as dull and upside-down as it is here, does spreading the word of the day really make it any better?
Maybe it's better to just be nice to the crazies and keep my (our) mouth shut.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gorgeous Salalah


After living in the rocky desert for a year, arriving in Salalah's green-wonderland is almost a zen experience. The mountains turn from tan to vibrant green as you go around a bend in the road.

The drive was long, however, from Rustaq to Salalah. The beaches were stunning though and made up for the long drives between our stops. Our favorites were Ras Sidrah and Ras Madrakah. If you take the trek down, don't stop at Duqm, which is advertised in the books as being amazing, but instead it's the new location of a large industrial mill.

The Hanging Gardens of Wadi As-Shwaymiyah took you by surprise. Nothing like desert and rocks for miles around makes you appreciate the wonder of a lagoon. Fresh and green and out of no where.

Salalah itself was like nothing I had seen. The tree-covered mountains looked more like Vietnam or Costa Rica than the Oman I know.

Here's a picture of what I mean. If you have a chance to go to Salalah, go. But time it correctly. Go during Khareef (the rainy season) and check the weather before you go. If it hasn't rained in 3-4 days before you get there (if you go at the tail end of Khareef) it could be all dried up again. The plants respond immediately and amazingly to one rain fall.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eid Break

We will be leaving tomorrow for Salalah for a week, so I'll be taking a blog break! Wish me luck camping out for 6 nights....shower?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cuttlefish and 6 Fish


Our boat driver where we go snorkeling has promoted us to friends, which means now we get free fresh fish whenever there's a catch. Yesterday he handed us 6 small fish, which we took home cooked. Cleaning fish is still pretty gross. I don't like doing it inside so we use the ablution outside sink. It's really to wash your feet in before you pray, but it's good for cleaning fish too.....

He also sold us on the cheap a huge cuttefish, which is a relative of the squid and octopus. Our boat driver has incredible skill. He puts on a flimsy old snorkeling mask and tube, jumps in the water, and goes swimming with a stick. With the hook end of the stick he sweeps them in. He does it while we snorkel, so next time maybe I'll catch one too!

While he was driving us back to shore, the bottom of the boat was filled with cuttlefish swimming in their own ink. Next time perhaps I'll get one with the ink sack still in tact so I can make black rice or a Venetian cuttlefish dish.

While I was trying to cut it up for the marinade, it's wet and squishy flesh kept pulling back from it's massive bug eyes. This is really a new experience for me in terms of connection with my food. I think a lot of people would not eat what they regularly eat at home or in a restaurant if they had to deal with it from step one. It's a good lesson though.

That is one thing that I do really enjoy about Oman: the easy access to fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. If all the oil runs out (which is will) at least Oman will be able to sustain itself, which is more than can be said for most Gulf countries.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

You Are Looking So Beautiful!

Why is it that the first day I go to the store in my own car by myself (ie without George) everyone feels the need to tell me that I am (looking) so beautiful? Oh wait, I know the answer. Because no man protecting you = available for hitting on. This doesn't make them dangerous. Just annoying. Any serious sexual predator wouldn't care if I had a man by my side or not. They have other ways of manipulating and intimidating that goes way beyond benign yet annoying comments on my appearance...

One Indian worker at the technology part of the store even went so far as to pretend to be "examining his camera" while he snapped my picture as walked up to his counter. Not the first time this has happened either.

Sad that a picture of my face looking sweaty and frazzled after a day a work and trudging through 120 degree heat is the best they've got when they go home to their dank little rooms at night.

I just feeling bad for them in all honesty.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Salalah Plans

Next week over vacation for Eid al Fitr, we will be be driving to Salalah, the beautiful tropical city in the southern tip of Oman.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Perhaps a reader from Salalah or someone who has taken the trip before? We will be camping out along the eastern coast on our way down and camping in the desert on our way back.

Any hints are welcome as to where to stay, interesting sites, beautiful beaches, etc.

Thanks!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Two Weeks Off

Just like last year, the students have unanimously decided to take an extra week's holiday for Eid al Fitr. They need a week to prepare, the girls told me. To do henna, to buy new clothes, to go shopping, to buy a cow to slaughter (although I think the men probably do that...)

I thought that was sort of ridiculous, but then I thought back my high school and college Christmas breaks. Did we get a week or almost a week off before Christmas day? I can't remember, but I seem to think we did. When I was at college, isolated and without a car, I used to have to do speed Christmas shopping after I got home in the few days before we would go to my Grandma's house. Gifts to be wrapped, cookies to be made, cranberry relish to be ground. Maybe I did need a week too.

Perhaps there are more similarities between me and them than sometimes I make there out to be.

This year far more than last year I have realized that the problems with attendence and being serious with their studies does not stem primarily from the students themselves, but rather from the gross disorganization and lack of professionalism of the Ministry of Education and of the college itself.

As one male student rightfully said to me last week when I was asking why they missed the first week of school, came the second, and then left again for the third: "Miss, it was not our fault the first week. The teachers weren't there." And while I didn't want to admit it, he was 100% right. The students were there the first day of class, and even the second, but after going to their rooms and seeing that 1) the rooms were not completed or ready to be used and 2) that there was often no teacher to be found, they decided to go home and spend their time enjoying Ramadan with their families.
I would have done the same were I a student.

Instead of being annoyed at the kids this year, I'm more frustrated at the system. Even when the students try to do well, they are showed an example by the school of lack of care, preparation and professional behavior.

No wonder they don't come to class.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Banana Republic

While Banana Republic is (somewhat embarrassingly from a cheap labor point of view) my favorite clothing store, I am now speaking about my house. I never new that my man was such a plant aficionado, but much to my surprise he came home yesterday with a banana tree, a pomegranate tree, a desert flower bush, an aloe plant and several pots of herbs.

He's not done yet either, I think.

It's amazing what making the right friends does to you. Our town is home to one of the best plant nurseries in Oman. Yusef's place is like a desert oasis and can brighten your day through its colors and refreshingly clean air. The smell of wet dirt is so strong in a place where it rarely rains. When you live in an (albeit beautiful) sand-pit, flowers take on a certain importance, an almost therapeutic quality. I'm looking forward to creating my own roof-top "banana republic" with a little help from Yusef.

The owner also happens to be a violinist in the Omani orchestra.

It's just proof you can find little gems of culture everywhere.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Storm



It usually storms here at in the late afternoon. Yesterday we had the biggest, loudest, wettest, windiest storm since I've been in Oman. The rain came down so hard that our hallway and front rooms flooded. The electricity went out and lightening hit so close to our house we could feel the boom.

All in all though, it was sort of fun. In any case, it was absolutely beautiful. The mountains filled with rivers of water, cutting down the ravines into the wadis.

Here are some pictures. You can see the rain obscuring the mountains behind. The canyon you see is about 100 meters behind our house.
Stunning.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Don't Copy!!

In another of our wonderful staff meetings, it was announced that photocopying is illegal. From now on the photocopy machine will be available only from 8-10 AM, controlled by a massive, greasy, foul-smelling and totally incompetent Egyptian man whom everyone avoids. The room is about the size of a Port-O-Potty.
We are to queue from 8-10 (even those who have classes at that time) to do all our photocopying. Only we must now fill out a form and get signatures to have everything approved beforehand.

As George pithily said at the meeting, after we had all been handed a single photocopying permission slip: "Can you tell us how we are to make copies of the permission form?... because we will have to fill it out to get permission to copy it."

I don't think there was a response.

Perhaps after things descend into utter photocopying chaos a week from now, something will change.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chillin' When Your World is Upside-down


This morning I rolled over, turned off my alarm, and feel back asleep. George's alarm went off, and I still couldn't get up. I didn't want to do yoga, which I try to do every morning first thing. The most I could do was drag myself to shower and try to wake up.

In the kitchen, I started a fight with George over the brown sugar for his oatmeal. He was just in a morning daze like any normal person at 6:20 AM. His calmness annoyed me. Sad, I know, that his sleepy daze was more functional than my tense unpleasantness.

Then I realized (as I have in the past before) that you really can't afford to wake up on the wrong side of the bed and stay there when you're traveling. Whether you're just on a fast-paced vacation, or actually living in a place long, your day ends up being more of a catastrophe than when you are grumpy in your home country.

You just encounter way too many difficulties, too many small snags in your day, too many surprises, and too many forces that change your plans.

You gotta get happy. You gotta chill. I'm feeling better already.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Opps.. No Power Opps.. No Classes

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I glanced out the window at the workers constructing a house next door. All of a sudden a dump truck lifted its rear and wiped out the power lines.

One can only guess when that will get fixed. George connected a long power cord to the refridgerator, but my landlord is (as usual) no where to be found. Hopefully it won't get too toasty inside.

On the professional side of things, today is the unofficial fist day of class. Last Saturday was the official first day. But still today some classes have no students. This time is is not the students' fault. Last week Saturday the students where here, it was the college that was utterly unprepared. The teachers did not have their schedules. Not even all the teachers were even in Oman yet.

It was actually sort of endearing when one lone first year boy would show up, excited and naive to his first college class, to meet his new classmates--and there is no class to be found. It's got to be sort of a let down.

We shall see what happens today.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cherchez La Femme

This past week the story came out that a woman who worked at the college had been being seriously sexually harassed for the past several months by a colleague. She struggled through the Omani police system, the court system, and even the Ministry of Education. In the end, she was told to either drop it or she would be deported. She's gone now, which is unfortunate for us, but for the best for her. The man is still working at the college. There is talk that the case is not over, but all tangible evidence shows that he's not suffering any consequences for his behavior.

It's sad but true that here in this region (as in MANY others) of the world, women are the first to be blamed and the last to be supported. Despite ideals of protecting women, they are marginalized and used as the scapegoat in compromising situations.

There are people at the college who care. But if the ones with the power don't take action, there is little that can be done.

We have to do what we can on the ground. Women here have to support each other. If we don't stand up for each other, we can't expect anybody else to.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ramadan: Inconvinient, but Silent

I understand the religious significance and I respect anyone who celebrates this month and follows the traditional requirements of the fast. But for a non-Muslim who is trying to get stuff done, it can be sort of a drag.

In addition to the cafeteria not being open all month, which isn't so bad because the food is somewhat lethal to your digestive track anyways, all government and official offices are only open until 12 or 12:30. That includes banks, the police station, insurance offices, etc. Your time to get errands and chores done is seriously limited. And unless you drastically rearrange your sleep schedule, it's hard to even get to the store. For example, the grocery stores are closed from 6-9 for iftar, or the meal that breaks the fast after the sun goes down. They open again from 9-1 AM, which isn't my favorite time to shop.

Nevertheless, it's quiet. I enjoy taking walks or bike rides at sundown because the neighborhoods are so silent. Everything stops for the meal at the end of day. Everyone is there inside the house, together. It's a beautiful idea, but nonetheless, I enjoy being on the outside. It's as if the the strange silence during that time is just for me, and I'm in my own separate world for a bit.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Garbage Pick-Up


I've never seen garbage actually picked-up in our neighborhood, or any where else in our little town for that matter. Yet somehow it is emptied every day. At our previous apartment, which was closer to town, it was rarely, if ever, emptied. There was a dead cat festering by it for a while. It also wasn't uncommon to see small children hiding inside...rummaging? playing? Again, this ties into my previous post about the huge difference between the philosophies of children here and in the west.

However by our new place the heaps of garbage disappear everyday. I don't know who takes it or where it goes. That's one aspect of Oman that I know nothing about. Waste disposal is something of a mystery here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Easy or Not?

Sometimes when you're relatively settled and established in a different place, like we are in Oman, it's easy to forget that everyday is still a challenging cultural learning experience. We've got a nice new house, two cars, TV, good food, a job, mountain bikes, good books, things to do, and each other. Isn't that all people need, and then some?! I wouldn't be able to afford all that if I lived in the States.

Why is it then that I (and so many others) seem to carry around an inordinate amount of stress and fatigue?

It's easy to forget how tiring it is just living here. Dealing with drama and chaos at the college, struggling to communicate with the Indian cable guy, getting gawked at when you're just trying to buy some milk. It takes it out of you.

Even though this society is very slow-going, we have to remember to take it easy and to give ourselves a break.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Loyalty, Fasting and Fish

Loyalty is very important here. At the beach near where we snorkel, there are several Omani men, teenagers to old men, who operate little motor boats that take (usually) tourists to the islands off the coast for a small fee. It's not much, but it's part of their livelihood. We have our own boat driver, Etham. He took us to our snorkeling island the first time we went; we got his number, and now we call him before we arrive to see if he's there. That way he gets dibs on us when we arrive.

At the island, I saw another Omani man (they are sort of beach-bums, only not really by choice). He was cleaning the underside of his boat while a boy no more than 5 years old was catching little fish. We greeted and Salim made me an offer to take us back. Cheaper than Etham he say. Only 1 riyal! No, I said, we go with Etham. When he's here, he takes us. That would be betrayal in this social system. Not only would things be awkward from now on at the beach for us, if Etham was the only guy around later he would charge us a lot more for switching on him like that.

After I declined the Salim's offer, I made my second Ramadan faux pas of the month. When he showed me the little fish they had caught, I said, "That's lunch!" Salim's expression turned grave. La, no, he said, Ramadan Karim. I kicked myself. They fast all day. I brushed it off though with an aasifa, sorry, dinner then! That evidently was not enough to make up for my assumption that they didn't fast. Salim seriously told me, Yes. We must fast. Laazim as-soom. We must fast. The boy looked at me and asked very simply but very seriously. Do you fast? No, I said. He turned and walked away. Not much to say but "oops" for that one. I went back to my side of the island.

When I called Etham to come and get us, a different guy showed up. Pulling up to shore we saw that Etham was busy untangling big silver fish out of a net.

How often do you get to buy fish right off the boat, fresh out of the net? "How much" I asked.

We took the fish home, packed in ice from the gas station. Mike, our new teacher friend here, has some experience cleaning fish. I've never been in such close contact with the food I've eaten. Guts all over the sink, scales popping all over the kitchen, on my nose and in my hair. It was gross, but fun. We wrapped it, head on, and baked it in tin foil with lemon, olive oil and garlic.

And it was good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pretty Rural



I've never lived anywhere this rural before. We are as far out as you can get from town and most of the people living in this area are from the wadis, the deep mountain canyons/river beds that are the oldest places that people have lived in Oman. Here's a couple pictures of what surrounds our house.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Shukri"-- "Thanks" in Hindi

Over the last two days I have spent many, many hours with Indian laborers.

In Oman and the rest of the Gulf, Indian and Pakistani men do all hard labor and construction. They are the mechanics, electricians, and mostly just grunt laborers. As as rule, they are paid dismally and are subjected to sub-standard housing. They often look gaunt, malnourished, exhausted, and sometimes, even kind of scary. They don't have the time nor means to look after themselves. This sort of appearance and lifestyle always will affect how other people treat you, how they think of you. Generally because of these conditions, these men are thought of as being dirty, unmannered and somewhat dangerous.

Well, as I said, I've spent lots of time alone with the workers in my news house, while George played chauffeur and drove them back and forth from their base of operations.

They were quiet, polite, and tried to communicate as best they could in Hinglish. They took off their shoes, asked for water, and never made me feel uncomfortable. They said thank you. In all honesty I found them much more mannered than the Omani men.

The sad part though (besides their situation) was how clear it was that they are not treated with kindness in most of the places they work, by Arabs and Westerners alike. they seemed surprised when I got them glasses of water with ice, when George brought them back cold soda from the store, or we feed them snacks like chips and nuts. It amazed me that they were expected to work all day with nothing to eat, and no set lunch break. I could tell they were fatigued just from hunger.

I said "thank you" to one man as he handed me something, and he lite up, smiling, and overpronounced a very proud "you're welcome!" as if he had never had a chance to say those words before because no one had ever thanked him in English.

You never know what you're going to learn when you change houses....

Speaking of Children


In my previous blog I said that Omanis are generally shocked that we don't have children, or even plan to soon. I, however, am always shocked to see their children running around in what are basically abandoned construction lots barefoot. I guess it's just a different philosophy of children. You have 8 so 4 will pass into adulthood. Still though, who wants to see their 5 year old's foot get impaled by a rusty nail? Maybe Americans are too obsessive about their children's well-being, but still something to think about. Makes me nervous. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

Flies But No Children

We're moved into the new house, or viiiilla, as they say here.

It's beautiful and way too big for the two of us... everybody asks us where all our children are. They are very disappointed. There are so few people in Oman and so much space that the real-estate, if you can call it that here, is not really at a premium. Land is for the taking. Hell, the government gives each man land and builds him a house when he gets married. The idea of being married and living together as a family WITHOUT children is so foreign. Many people here can't understand having a fulfilling married life, even temporarily, without children. I think part of it is because in these small towns, there is really nothing to do. In the wadis, at least the women sometimes help with the goats and the farming. But here in town and the 'suburbs', without children there is really nothing at all to keep the women occupied. It's sad I think, if you can't entertain yourself and do something satisfying in life for yourself.

On another note: I say we are moved in, but we only have one air conditioning unit in the bedroom so it's pretty intolerable to even go elsewhere in the house now. The windows don't have screens, so it's full of flies too. But as everyone has noticed--westerners and non-Omani Arab staff alike, that the Flies of Oman are fat and slow. As George said yesterday, as he was going around with the fly swatter, it's not even a challenge hitting these things, it's just a chore. Nabil, an Iraqi collegue from last year, who incidentally did not like Oman, would regularly compare Omanis to their flies. Big and lazy!, he would say. In Iraq, you cannot hit them!
No I don't know if the man-fly comparison is fair, but he was spot on about the flies.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Skype

So I take back what I said yesterday about the wireless internet being the best news of the week. Somehow, I don't know how or why, but suddenly Skype is working again. The speed isn't fast enough for video, but I bet I can use it to call again, and at least to chat. This is good news.

Suddenly this small world I live in has opened up just a little bit...

Does anyone know where else in the Middle East, or in the world, Skype has been blocked, or is blocked still?? I'm interested.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Internet Challenge

Alhamdulilah! There is wifi in the office building this year. I don't think I can express how radical of a technological advancement this is for our dear college. I'm used to having to share a line with my officemate. While this wouldn't be so bad if internet was easily accessible at home, it is here. That's the good news of the day. Probably the week.

On a related note, at home we've been using a USB dongle thing to access the intermittent internet. Because it's a USB device, only one of use can use it at a time. Due to domestic sharing stress and maddeningly slow speeds, I have given up using the internet device at home. It has such miserable download speeds that it's not even worth fighting over, but we do anyways of course.

Now I would call myself a Luddite exactly, but I also really don't like constantly being hooked in with TV, internet or cell phones. I'm actually looking forward to the extra time I'll have because I'm not mindlessly staring at a loading Gmail screen.

Nevertheless, it will be difficult to not look up Rachel Ray or Oprah.com or Esquire.com (much more worthwhile by the way) or whatever other drivel I look up when I'm bored.

Any sort of connection to the outside world is welcome here, so I might fail. I'll keep you updated.

Friday, August 21, 2009

First Day Back at Work

Ramadan Mubarak. It's the first day of Ramadan today, and incidentally the first day of classes as well. Theoretically. As we all learned well last year, the students don't come for the first semester until they're good and ready. Additionally the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health (swine flu concerns), has canceled school for all K-12 students until the end of Eid al Fitr (a month from now). Given the family culture here, having all your siblings at home during Ramadan is even more incentive not to come to the college. So I'm not expecting much action around here for a month.

Other than that, it's good to see friends from last year and be back in the system that I don't understand but am oddly accustomed to by now.

Hopefully we will move today to our new house, but we'll see. As I said, nothing works on my schedule here. Things happen when they happen, and you can spend massive amounts of energy trying to make things happen when they 'should', or you can just sit back and drink some tea. Secretly for now. (It's Ramadan).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back in Oman: Round 2

We arrived safely a few days ago in Oman, exhausted and sick, but at least we have some down time before everything starts up again.

Everything is same old same old here, except maybe the internet is actually worse. Idle promises of 3G coverage were thrown around last year, getting our hopes up. No such luck. I've been trying to load this internet page for 2 days now, only now succeeding.

Our new place is all finished, except air conditioning units. Were anything else missing, we could move in, but although the heat is better, that's still not a possibility. We'll be moving in sometime this coming week. We hope. Ramadan starts on Saturday, which always throws a wrench in things. It will happen eventually.

I think it's finally sunk in. Nothing is going to work on my schedule here. You'd think I would have learned that by now, but my worker-bee mindset still kicks in. Maybe I've got it now. We arrived to find a little problem which helped drive this point home. Again.

At the end of last year, George and I bought a nice (faux, but IKEA) TempurPedic bed. We had arranged to store it over the summer in a vacant apartment below. It stayed there for the last month of last year, so we trusted all would be fine over the summer. We arrive back to find it gone. Our company's go-to man who we're close with had no idea where it was. The landlord of this building and of our new house had no idea where it was. Jetlagged and sick, I was livid. Finally word comes around that it was put in a store. Sold. That's it. I was really angry.

As usual, my anger was wasted emotional energy, as anger usually is. They said the store...they meant the storage. "Makhzin". Storage. That's my new word of the week. I should have seen that one coming.

Now the question is: would the anger still be wasted energy if they really had sold our bed??

Well, for now, we're hunkered down in our packed apartment, inching around boxes, but mostly staying in bed and watching movies, trying to shake this cold/flu before school may (or may not) start on Saturday.

Nobody knows really.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Changing Stereotypes

Who knows if this Iranian (Revolution?) is going to result in overturning Ahmedinejad's control and Khamenai's dictatorial position, but one thing we do know is the no one will be able to get away with talking about Iran in the same was that was deemed acceptable before.

The usual: Iranians hate freedom. Iranians love Ahmedinejad, who loves nuclear weapons. Iran is one big throbbing nation of evil out to get the West.

Because of the Iranians' reaction to this fraudulent and distinctly undemocratic election, they have taken a huge step in regaining an international reputation as being a people who desire justice, fairness, and amiable relations with the West.

Even if this fails to oust Ahmedinejad, it has already succeeded in robbing him of any remnants of respect and credibility that he might have had in his back pocket.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran-what's going on?

I'm sitting here on my living room floor, remote in hand, flipping between CNN International, the BBC, Al-Jazeera and Grey's Anatomy--the last serving as fictional dramatic relief from the real-life trauma unfolding in Iran.

What is going on anyways?

And why is Christiane Amanpour in London and not Tehran?

CNN has, for lack of a better term, been sucking lately. BCC and Al-Jazeera are both quite a bit ahead of CNN in reporting breaking news, and actually have people on the ground reporting. CNN's on-the-ground team (sans Amanpour) are holed up in a hotel not reporting much of anything.

In any case, Iran's a mess. An inspiring and brave mess, but a mess nonetheless. Exactly 30 years after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, it's happening again. We think. Ayatollah Khamenai doesn't think so though, but I don't think he really knows what is going on. In his Friday sermon he claimed that it was over, that's it, Ahmedinejad is president, and y'all need to settle on down now. But that didn't seem to work.

Cries on the street have gone from calling for re-election to revolution. Opposition leader Mosavi has stated that he is prepared to be a martyr for the cause and is appearing in public to lead the now illegal protests.

This is big.

And two other points:

1. Why does a (very attractive) key human rights activist for Iran based in DC think she can appear on international television wearing a plunge-neck, sleeveless shirt? Does she realize that she just lost credibility with probably 75% of the people she is representing?

and

2. Why does the CNN London office have no one on hand fluent in Farsi? That scares me. Admitting live on TV that they can't translate the Twitter tweets they are receiving from Iran. C'mon. Not even 140 word-limited tweets?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Being Annoying Around the World

Eleven days until we're out of here for a month and a half. I can't say it won't be a relief. Sometimes you just need to get out in order to appreciate something.

Wrapping up loose ends is taking up plenty of time...figuring out where to work next year, where to live next year, little things like that.

Really, it's not so bad. Nothing to really complain about. We're moving into a villa next year (i.e. house) rather than an apartment, we're debating job leads in Muscat. Odd to admit, however, that the boonies of Oman where we live do have a certain appeal that I don't want to give up for half-a-real-city life in Muscat. These are exciting prospects for next year. More space, more money, more freedom.

Nevertheless.

I'm excited beyond words to go to Paris and to see another culture. A whole nother world of social frustrations and cultural inadequacies to experience. It's too easy to start to pick on the culture that you are constantly immersed in...creating a false demon from the bludgeoning and buffeting that you undergo every day in a particular place (even if it's a particularly difficult place to live.)

It's strange to be not only excited to see the wonders and great new things of a society that you have never seen before, but also to be (perhaps almost equally) as excited to see the glitches and aggravating nuances of the society as well. Perhaps these are just the perverse mental musings of a traveler who has spent too long trying to work within an extremely difficult culture for the exacting and organized modern mind....Maybe some day I will have the pleasure of traveling without the sick desire to see how other cultures are annoying too.

Don't get me wrong though. I'm excited about the positive things too. I have been pouring over my new Lonely Planet France guide while I sip on my coffee every morning. Day dreaming about sitting in cafes and people watching. Picking out romantic places to stroll with my lover. Salivating at the thought of eating a 5 course rustic French dish washed down with too much vin rouge. Loosing hours on GoogleStreet virtually walking though the neighborhood around our apartment.

It will be great.

Still though. Still. It will make my heart warm to see the French being obnoxious in a totally different way from the Omanis (and from me!)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heat and Lies

Just for the record, the Gulf is much hotter than reported on CNN.

Yesterday I was watching the news, and the weather lady read a message she had received from a fellow Gulf viewer. I said "It is already so hot here and it's only early June! Can it really get much hotter??" She respond, blithely if I may say so myself, that he should pipe down because it's going to get much hotter. It's only 38 C, she said.

Ha.

It was 53 C in Muscat 2 days ago. That 127 F, people.

In Bahrain, it's actually a government policy that newspapers and journals are not allowed to report temperatures above 50 C, because at that temperature it is also a policy that laborers do not have to work. So, of course, it never gets that hot.

Don't worry, I'm not bitter though. I'm just a little toasty.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Snorkeling Adventures and DWS

It is already 120 farheheit here during the day. That means no more running, mountain bikes, or hiking that extends much past the wee hours of the morning.

But there is always the ocean. Oman has utterly stunning beaches and ocean waters. I have recently been initiated into the world water sports. Although I have yet to surf, I can now call myself a very amateur snorkeler and slightly better Deep Water Solo-er.

Snorkeling for those of you (like me) who have never spent much of any time around an ocean before is basically floating on top of the water with your head down, so that you can see clearly all the fish, eels and coral and other very strange and beautiful sea creatures.

Fully equipted with all my own mask and snorkel now, I can now stay face down in the water for a solid 15 minutes before freaking out about not being able to breath through my nose, or because of some terrifying yet known sea species, or even more so because of a very scary and very unknown sea species.

I never knew or appreciated what was under me when I was swimming. Although now that I know, I'm a little more wary about swimming. I have seen a shark, a massive sting ray (coming right at me!), a sea turtle, a bizarre pencil fish, and many other creatures that I can't identify. For a look at some of the fantastic sights, check out my friend's (and fellow snorkeler's) blog here. He has a video up of an average day under the water.

Deep Water Soloing is my other new past time in this grueling heat. The coastal waters of Oman are full of small, rocky islands. Some of them really beautiful, complete with secluded and pristine white beaches that look like they were made just for you.

DWS is rock climbing on the part of these island cliffs that are over hung over deep water (so that you can fall 20 meters and be fine!...that is, if the sea creatures don't get you). It's an intense experience and a whole new kind of climbing. You have to hop from a boat (ours being luckily driven by an incredibly good-looking Omani man) onto the rock. I'm not going to lie, it can be pretty scary dropping into the sometimes pretty serious ocean waves from 1, 5, 10, 20 meters. But the feeling of climbing free, with no ropes, is exhilarating. Total connection with nature and total reliance on the waters to protect you from falling. It was a new experience of trusting and really feeling one with nature.

I am proud to say that I made it to the top of a 20 meter climb, and not so proud to say that I screamed like a little girl jumping off. Despite the fact that I've gone sky diving, that jump in the ravenous and consuming ocean waves from so high made me more scared than I've been in a while. But again, as I said, it is a fantastic experience of letting nature take care of you. While the ocean (and what's inside it) can be rather intimidating, you are "caught" by it so to speak. No ropes, no parachutes, nothing but you and it. I'm bruised and scratched and really sore, but it was an unusually intense and awareness (of both nature and of yourself) building experience. It was great.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Aboard the TEFL Ship

This is the last week of final exams. Everyone has been in an utter panic over exams, grading, absent students, and office relationships. I have stayed away, as I have learned to do throughout my year hear. At first I was a hopeful beginner—unable to grasp that being in a tizzy will affect nothing at all. No amount of fussing or yelling or arguing will get you anywhere here. All the hectic running about has led me to reflect on who we’ve actually got here in this esteemed bastion of academic excellence.

TEFL faculty are a crazy bunch, attracting the weirdest from across the globe. Terrifyingly Eccentric Forgotten Losers. It's a sorry sight most of the time. Nevertheless, much can be learned from them.

If I have learned anything so far here, it’s how to deal with irrational people and situations. There is very little room for logical argument and calm chronological thought. It’s something of a binding element, an emulsifier of sorts, for this heterogeneous and diverse group of people here at the college. It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to—my attitude is usually the same. It could be the Omani Islamic extremist with a long chin beard, the Alabama girl turned conservative Muslim, the schizophrenic British man who hides in the dark recesses of locked classrooms, the slimy former Bath Party informer who likes to chillingly flirt with me, the quirky Iraqi man who never has anything to say except that he was fine in Iraq and the Omani environment is killing him, or the rail-thin disease ridden British zombie who got deporting within a week (I actually didn’t talk to that one). Or last but not least the incomprehensible Irish woman, who doesn’t comb her hair, wears lipstick on her teeth and regularly gets irate with the very nice guards. Oh, or the “Parisian” woman who speaks to everyone in French, students and teachers alike, at staff meeting and while proctoring exams. I could go on, really, I could, for a long time. But now I will mention a few of the gems in the bunch.

And then there are the ones that, though thoroughly bizarre in their own right, I actually enjoy talking to. We have a flamboyantly gay Brit who we all lovingly call Papa Bear and who wears magenta corduroys to work, a deceptively sane and hard-working South African woman who wears a different ethnic costume everyday just to mix it up, a Southern gay guy who wears really pointy shoes and has a little crush on my husband, and the talkative young Omani man who is head of students affairs and the theatre director who gets harassed by the other Arab staff for fraternizing with the hell-bound westerners. He couldn’t care less.

I have grown here. If only in my ability to not laugh at inappropriate times, to not try to reason with the insane, and to calmly sit in my little bubble while the office goes to hell around me.

It’s an interesting world, friends. I do feel a little bit sorry for the lifers though, even if they did get themselves where they are.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Off with her hair!

In the midst of May madness here at the college, I finally decided to do something I've been planning on for a while. Cut my hair super short, a la Audrey Hepburn or Natalie Portman (post V for Vendetta).

I'm sending my long pony-tail to Locks of Love, an American company that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair due chemotherapy. That really wasn't the main reason why I did it though.

A woman's hair is highly regarded in the Middle East. Obviously, it's covered here all the time (except when exclusively and positively only in front of one's immediate family). They do this because of tradition and religion, but also because constantly covering the hair has fetishized women's hair (which cyclically makes the religious codes even stricter).

It is supposed to be the most beautiful feature of a woman. Having secretly beautiful hair is the key to attracting men. Even while I was in Palestine, some female Arab friends told me that no man would even love me until I started waxing my hairy southern Italian arms. Cutting off my long hair was antithetical to all things feminine here. I already wear pants, so this might just cause me to start sprouting male genitals, or at least get cancer. I have been told as well that if I do not start having children, like now, then I will get cancer. Special cancer for women who don't fulfill their female duties.

Most of the students are not here now (they all skip out the week before final exams). But just the response from the Arab staff has been telling. Lots of tisk-tisking, and "Haram-ing".

I guess I'm not a woman anymore, or maybe I'll die from feminist cancer.

I think it looks fierce. Nothing like causing a little cultural turmoil:)

Monday, April 27, 2009

End of the Semester

This past month has held in store some serious excitement and challenges. The week at the college was both utterly maddening and inspiring as well. As work winds down, I'll be back blogging more often again. Keep reading!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Naked Truth:My Ayurvedic Experience

I’ve had lots of massages in my time. Swedish massages, Thai massages, Balinese massages, massages from straight men, massages from lesbian women. All of them professional and pleasant.

I had never had an Ayurvedic massage before though. Ayurveda is a kind of Indian massage and yoga. It’s really a medicinal practice and is supposed to be able to heal your body of all its ailments. However, all I knew was that my mother does Ayurvedic yoga and loves it, that it’s a hip word in urban America, and that my back sorely needed some treatment. So I signed up.

First, a little background. Since coming to Oman, my massages have gotten progressively more “personal” shall we say. Americans are a modest people. We like our privacy. We like to be alone when we undress…of course, unless we are in one type of situation. Even then lots of ladies like the lights off and covers up. At the doctors, we cling to our little blue robe-sheets.

Everywhere else (in my experience) that is not the case. The Brits strip down in front of you in the locker room. Tribal women dance topless. Supermodels pose naked for European billboards. Nude beaches are a catching phenomenon. This we know. But what about cultures that insist on a strict segregation of the sexes? The same situation exists there. Although men never see women and vice versa, women mingle unembarrassed. The men do as well. In conservative societies, male bath houses are de rigueur, while in the West they are labeled as “gay.”

Well, to say the least, I have been getting more and more comfortable in my own skin lately.

As I walked into the dingy building, feeling disappointed at the lack of luxury, I felt a wash of a smell that I recognized from my childhood—that of a traditional Chinese medicinal shop, full of weird roots and dried herbs to heal the ailments of some very ancient Chinese man. It’s a very distinct smell, and somehow, I knew the massage experience would match.

Abandoned for 10 minutes in a small and scant Indian doctor’s examination room, George and I perused the faded wall posters of gastro-intestinal diseases and wondered if we were in the right place. Soon enough, however, we were prodded into separate men’s and women’s treatment rooms and left to our own devices. The room was bare and very third-world. I felt transported to Calcutta instead of Muscat. A plump 40-something Indian woman moved her head back and forth in that distinctly Indian/Pakistani way. Not a nod, not a shake, and can mean anything. Hello, No, Yes, Of course, Shame on you! Beautiful! And more…

She said in English that I had to strain to understand: “Take of clothes. Just panties.”

Okay, standard massage attire. That’s cool. I wait for her to turn and leave, giving me a few minutes to disrobe and drape myself modestly in a sheet or something. She doesn’t leave. She just wobbles her head again. Hmm. After an awkward moment, I figured she wasn’t going anywhere. I strip down to my bra and panties. And she says, “Take off! Take off!” I obey her oddly commanding tone, and take off my bra. I feel very exposed, sitting on a chair in a barren room with only my underwear on. She, however, doesn’t seem like she could care less.

She pours hot, dark oil on my head. I guess that’s the first thing done in an ayurvedic massage. I watch the dried-blood colored oil drip down my body, feeling less than at ease, but somehow the more it seemed that she didn’t care, the less I did too.

She shoos me on to the table. Very utilitarian-like; this was not a massage to be messed with. She had her routine down. First my back. This is pretty standard, except the hot oil dripping down my sides and onto the flimsy replaceable plastic sheet covering the table. The plastic gets slipperier and stickier as the massage goes on. A little unnerving, I will admit.

She took it up a notch when she yanked down my panties and gave me quite the non-embarrassed glut massage. I wasn’t quite expecting that. I think this would have been the point that many people would have walked out. I thought I had my panties on to cover something…not to give you something to uncover.

Well, you can imagine what the front side was like. I can’t say I have ever had a professional boob massage before. Now, the interesting thing is that she did all of these unusual (from my prudish western standards) and up-close moves with total panache. No awkwardness, no feelings of inappropriateness, no creepy caresses, nothing to arouse suspicion. It was all totally professional. Albeit third-world/old-world professional, but professional nonetheless.

My brush with ayurvedia medicinal healing ended being closed up in a wooden steam box. This actually would have been quite relaxing if she hadn’t perched herself on a stool about 3 feet from my face. She proceeded to ask me lots of questions that I couldn’t understand with a disarming sincerity and interest. I tried talking slowly, but with good grammar. That didn’t work. I decided that perhaps there are not two languages, English and Bengali, but rather a third, Benglish. It worked.

“This,” I say pointing to the box hiding all but my head, “hot box.”

“Yeeess…” Head wobble. “Hot box. Good box. Good body box.”

I smile and try out a little wobble. She wobbles back. Wow! Major bonding with the head wobble. She seemed to understand what I meant…even if I’m not sure what I meant.

This went on for another 10 minutes or so. Me pointing to things in the room—oil bowls, herb sachets, poky things—asking “What?” She was pleased to tell me all about them.

“This? Oil, what. Ayurveeeda. This good body. Hot for body. Make strong. Make happy. Make health.” She smiles. I feel like an expert now.

After emerging from the steam box, I underwent a very sketchy shower, which necessitated dashing back and forth from the bathroom to the massage room, hoping I didn’t bump into the male masseurs.

As I was about to leave, waiting for George in the lobby, she makes one more appearance. Walking by, she slaps the back of my thigh, shakes it a little and exclaims with an affirmative wobble, “Slim body!!”

And with that, George comes out of his room (equally perplexed by his loin-clothed experience) and we depart.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But I ain’t going back.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Long Night: Part 4

Sorry for the lateness of this post, but I’ve been spending lots of time dealing with the aftermath of our car troubles.

But to finish our long night journey back through Oman…

After at long last getting through the Oman-UAE border crossing, the clock hit 9 pm. I figured, at our puffy rate, we could be home by 3 am. This part of the trip is supposed to take on 2-2.5 hours, so I thought almost tripling that would be generous.

The roads were deserted and it was dark, which provided a handy cover for our smoking car. At an agonizingly slow 35-45 kilometers an hour, the longest stretches seemed positively indefinite. At about 1 am, it started to rain. It came down in torrents. The wind was heavy and the few other cars that were still on the road pulled off. We kept going, desperately wanting to make it home. The fatigue, the trials of the day, the mountain roads, and now the monsoon lightening storm that ripped violently through the night sky, made us feel like the hero and heroine in an epic film of man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. self battles all wrapped into one.

The rain didn’t stop, not for hours. Unfortunately, our car’s problem involved consuming massive amounts of engine oil, without which it can’t run. This meant that every 20 kilometers or so, we had to do something of a Chinese fire drill routine—George running up front to pop the hood, me running to the back to grab the oil container, George unscrewing, me pouring, George hoping back in to re-start the car…. I think after about the 10th time, we had it down to a well-oiled system, the whole thing done in 15 seconds. I felt like I was in the Marines. Performing extreme fatigue team-building exercises in the wee hours of the morning in tropically monstrous weather.

We plugged on. Desperate to get home, but knowing that no way in hell would we make it to work in a few hours. George, the only one with an Omani license did all the driving. I did my part by babbling on about anything and even occasionally biting his hand to keep him awake. Twice we stopped and snoozed for 20 minutes, too tired to go on safely.

Finally, at 5 am, a mere hour and a half from home, we could not continue. In addition to being exhausted, the sun was up now and there was too much traffic to take our car on the two lane highway the rest of the way home. We parked in the most private spot we could find, in front of a grocery store yet to open, and slept deeply until 6, when our office mate graciously swung by to take us home.

Being home was bliss. Our car was broken, our boss was peeved, we were deeply tired, but we were home, and we were together.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

a border story interlude

So I have one more part to write about our long trip home, which will be up later today.

However, I just want everyone reading this blog story for whatever reason--entertainment, information, cultural significance--to keep in mind that while my experience was miserable and threw me off my game all week, that my struggle to get home is NOTHING compared to the everyday events faced by people around the world.

If you are reading MY story, which has more comic value than long-term trauma, please also keep up with the story of Laila el-Haddad, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza.
She has her own, much more serious, border issues at the moment.

It's also a fantastic blog and will give you insight into what's going on in Palestine more than the news ever will.

http://a-mother-from-gaza.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Border Post: Part 3

After another hour of slow-mo travel though Al-Ain, we finally arrived at the right border. Surprisingly, the man at the first gate lets our huffing beast of a car through. The second gate does the same. This is such good luck. I’m in awe. Smooth, albeit slow, sailing from here.

We still needed, however, to get the ever illusive “stamp” in our visa. Depending on the country in the Middle East, and depending on the humor of the customs official, this could take anywhere from 2 seconds to hours on end. We parked the car and walked over to the first promising looking office. The man says to go next door without looking up from his phone. We head to the next office. With his feet up on the desk, a young guy in jeans and a tee-shirt looks at us like we’re from Mars. Friendliness is the key, I think to myself. If you’re positive, people will always be more likely to help you out. Well, generally this is indeed true. This dude was having none of it. He told us to go next door. I’m thinking that is becoming far more difficult than it needs to be. All we want is a visa stamp saying that we can leave the country. We weren’t even asking to come in. I guess they like to keep their tourists.

The men other next door were more like the first guy—dressed to the nines in the daily Emirati customary garb…a white thobe and a complicated turban held in place with a weighted rope. Not very practical to say the least, and somehow manages to make Emirati men look irrepressibly arrogant. This time there were 5 of them. No one seemed to see us. I moved closer. No one looks at us. I feel like I am a fly on the wall in the quintessential stereotype of an Arab officer’s office: the room reeks of the hustle bustle of inactivity. Everyone is shouting and doing a miserable job of trying to look busy. I don’t care too much about social norms at the point and push through the men to go up to the desk. I start explaining that I just want my exit visa, but the officer thinks he’s cute and decides it will be fun to tease me, pretending he doesn’t understand.

“You want to leave?” he says in Arabic.
“Yes, where can I get my stamp?”
“No stamp, just go back to Al-Ain there.”
“No I want to go home to Oman. I live in Oman.”
“Ah, you are Omani.”
“No , I live there.”
“Ok, fine, go next door.”

What a miserable man. Or at least what a miserable customs official.
Naturally, next door want the first office we went to. We have now been to all available offices. This same man, still playing on his phone, tells us to go next door again. We said that we’ve been next door (on both sides!). Go again, he says.
“To who?” we try to confirm.
“The Egyptian.”

I’m confused. Who’s the Egyptian? George, having spent a year in Egypt and a year in Saudi Arabia, knew that calling someone “Egyptian” in the Gulf meant “the non-traditional punk.” News to me. We finally get the man to come outside with us and show us where this office is. The young guy happens to be standing outside as well. The first officer says, “There, the Egyptian.”
The young guy looks totally not amused and says “My name is Ahmed.”
“Yeah, ok, Egyptian,” the first officer shrugs. Despite the undeniably interesting inter-Arab culture clash going on, I still just want my visa. It takes a solid 10 minutes of standing around in Ahmed’s office for us to acquire this all important little pink piece of paper. The Gulf loves superfluous paper-work. Get something stamped and you’re golden.

Well, back to my visit into Sartre’s Huis Clos (No Way Out/Dead End). I feel trapped and starting to get a little panicky. George thankfully is a border God and manages to keep his cool indefinitely. We end up back in the first guy’s office. He gives us a little green piece of paper for our pink one. But only after he insists on giving us a mini Arabic lesson. “You know, Dakhool mean enter place. Kharoog, that mean go out place.” He smirks about how stupid we are. Hmm. This would not be the time to start talking to him in Arabic. Do not insult the proud Emirati man who may, or may not, let you go home.

After the strain of the day, this experience felt entirely surreal. At least the men at the last exit gate were remarkably pleasant.

As the night wore on however, we moved from the world of existentialist literature to epic film.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Part 2: The Syrian Mechanics

Given the nonchalant advice from several mechanics that we could drive our car home despite the problems, we hopped back into our hobbling vehicle and headed the 5 remaining kilometers to the border post. We just wanted to get out of the UAE and into Oman because once “home” all our problems got easier. Nevertheless, after a few lights, it was even worse. Silly Iranian man who gave us the taunting promise that all our problems would be over after he changed the oil. Should have seen that one coming.

We pulled off to the side of the road and decided to sit and collect ourselves for a few minutes. It must have been around 6 at this point. Feeling rather dejected and unsure about what to do, already exhausted, a man drove by in a pick-up and asked about the problem. He was one of those rare angel characters in life that show up at just the right time and seem to have nothing better to do than to help you. He looked at the car, decided that the Al-Ain mechanics were donkeys, and called his Syrian boys to come on over. Note: it’s the West’s equivalent of Sunday evening at this point. This is not a time when you would expect seemingly the entire Syrian population of Al-Ain to take a sudden interest in you.

Soon two dudes show up, rocking out in their pimped Mercedes to Fifty-Cent and J Lo. They are punks, but look like mechanics should. Greasy, relaxed, smart. They were the first people to actually diagnose the problem instead of just fiddle around. Apparently, the seal to one of the pistons is messed up and the car is consequently leaking engine oil into the pressure chamber and pushing it out the exhaust pipe, where it is burning. He can’t fix it now, but there is some temporary miracle oil leak stopper fluid that he suggests. One Syrian suspiciously stays by our deserted car while George and I slide onto the other’s black leather seats. George tries hard to have a conversation with the guy, but he consistently gives bizarre responses, like that he doesn’t know how long he’s been in the UAE or where he is from. He also confirms for us that all Indian, Bengalis, and everyone else are donkeys. Good to know. He does give us a tour of his American rap collection though. And at every stop light, he hits the breaks in beat with the music. He was rocking out. Got to say though, his music collection was la crème of American tunes.

An hour later, we are back at the car (the first Syrian dude is still benignly leaning on it). We pay them for the oil, and off we go. There is indeed a lot less smoke…for about 1 kilometer. Ah, well. We hope that because it is dark out now, the customs officers will let us through without much hassle.

We drove for another hour just trying to find the border, somehow getting stuck in the construction zone traffic in the town center over and over again. The beeping from other cars was getting really obnoxious. “You have big problem!!” …Yes, we know, that’s why we are going 25 km per hour with our hazard lights on. Although very concerned about our car, the Emirates evidently don’t like visitors leaving Al-Ain. With no signs, the border we finally got to turned out to be for Gulf nationals only, so we puffed along to find the next one. I toughened up and consoled myself that the worst was over. Get through this next border and home free.

Part 3 coming soon.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

4 star luxury vacation turned 5 star epic adventure

My husband's and my long awaited 4-star trip to Dubai--full of Belgian Beer, gourmet Thai, sushi, and shisha--turned in a 5+ star misadventure--full of mysterious white smoke, strange Syrians, torrential downpours and 17 hours on the road.

On our way back from Dubai to Oman (usually a 4.5 hour trip including border posts) our trusty 4x4 started pouring out white smoke. We stopped. It was Friday, the Muslim day of prayer and no work, and that meant that no mechanics would be open until 4 at the earliest, despite the fact that we were in a decently sized UAE town, Al-Ain. We tried driving a little farther, but it was clear that our car, not to mention of Emirati residents of Al-Ain, was not pleased with that.

Eventually we got to a mechanic, well...more like 7 mechanics. Everyone had a different idea of what was wrong. But not for sure. Despite the different, often indifferent, opinions we got, everyone agreed that we could drive it home. It wasn’t the engine. It was some piston related gas leak into the exhaust pipe. Or some problem with the turbo. Or something. I don’t quite understand, and if I did at one point, the ensuing 17 hours of hellish and bizarre experiences that would have made Kafka proud made me forget it.

Part 2 to come after I recuperate a little more.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Reminder

 


In my current, thankfully temporary, situation of exam creation frenzy and Lawrence-esque chaos, I need a breath of fresh air. Unable to escape, I resorted to looking at pictures I took of Oman in freeer times. It reminded me of how stunning this country really is, despite albeit major glitches in organization and functionality. Hope you enjoy this picture of a stairway through the mountains. If you want to see more, please do check out my web albums (recently updated) at:

http://picasaweb.google.com/Clare.A.Feeney
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Hiatus Chaos

Sorry to all my readers for the hiatus in posts. I've been swamped with work for the Ministry of High Education, creating final exams for all of the Colleges of Applied Science in Oman. It's quite a hassle, not to mention the refusal of our administration to lower our work hours despite the perhaps extra 15-20 hours a week that we've been putting in each of the past 2 weeks.

The cross-college meetings held to discuss our progress are bizarrely "Lawrence of Arabia" -esque. If you happen to remember the end of the film, it holds an uncanny resemblance to the unbridled chaos wrought by the Arab leaders in Damascus. A room full of stubborn people who think they have more authority than they actually do, better ideas than they actually do, and are utterly unwilling to compromise.

After catching my breath, I will be back in full force with overdue updates on everything from to the Dubai economic crash to a very interesting Ayurvedic massage.