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.