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


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.