Sunday, October 10, 2010

What is Going on in Oman?

There have been a few developments of the past few weeks here in Oman. I wonder what other expats think of them, and what it says about the direction of this country...

1. Students are no longer allowed to wear jeans for fear of "errosion of national identity".

2. All Ministry of Education foreign teachers will be terminated after 6 years.

3. Fitness centers (like my Horizon Gym) no longer allow men and women to work-out at the same time...

4. You can no longer eat rice outdoors if there is smoking of any kind in the vicinity. (note that Omanis always eat this actually presents a big dilemma for would be al fresco diners in this country...)

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The News, continued...

My point in my last blog was not at all to glorify all Muslims, so telling me to read news articles about Muslims doing bad things is not a counter argument.

There are indeed bad Muslims....but there are also bad Christians, bad Jews, bad Hindus, bad athiests, bad aborigenies, bad all sorts of people.

Discriminating against a group of people based on a minority is NEVER a good idea. This goes for Muslims now in the post-9/11 world.

But it also goes for all other groups of people. For example, Muslims should not hate all Jews and demonize all Jews because some Jews hurt them.

Blacks should not hate all Christians because the KKK did horrible things to them.

Whites in America should not hate all blacks because of bad experiences with a few gangs.

You get my point?

Chances are that the Ground Zero Mosque would in fact be for American Muslims a place of peace and hope, not of continuted triumph over the western infidels.

Monday, September 13, 2010

الاخبار The News

Sometime in 2007, I stopped reading the news.

Before then, I used to read the New York Times front section cover to cover every day. Maybe I thought that if I new enough, I could save the world. Then one day, something snapped, and I got so frustrated with the idiocy of it all, that I stopped reading all together.

Everything I read just seemed to reconfirm what I already knew about the policies of the US government, about anti-Islamic sentiment, about radical Islam, about Gitmo, about how the US is causing even more disaster in war zones it either created or exacerbated.

I just got fed-up.

I live in the Middle East now. I work with Omanis and other Arab nationalities every day. I'm friends with Muslims. I hear the call to prayer 5 times a day. My neighbors are Muslims.

And the news just seems so foreign to me.

It's really hard for me to even read an article about the scandal over the building of a mosque by Ground Zero. I just can't comprehend people who have the ability to twist reality so much in their heads to think that Muslims would consider the Ground Zero mosque another stab at the American people. Like it was rubbing in their triumph of 9/11. (of course the same sort of demonizing, reality-twisting has been happening throughout all of history to different groups of people...)

Whether they are right-wing Republicans, single-issue Democrats who get scared of Muslims, conservative Christians, fundamentalist Jews, westernized Muslims...I don't care....anyone who makes a decision about a group of people without knowing them, or who makes a decision about a group based on a tiny minority, don't deserve my, or anyone's, time.

I did actually read the news today, an article largely about wide-spread American anti-Islamic sentiment.

And the best thing in the article was a quote by Reverend Richard Cizik. My own personal Christian upbringing, and lifetime of being around conservative Christians (often very anti-Muslim) makes me particularly sensitive to and annoyed by Christian denunciation of Islam and Muslims. So I like this quote by Rev. Cizik to people who put down our (meaning humankind's) Muslim brothers:

“Shame on you, you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbor.”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Iftar Fever

A little background: Iftar is the fast-breaking meal at sundown for Muslims during Ramadan. From sun up to sun down, they are not supposed to eat, drink (even a sip of water), have sex, smoke cigarettes, etc. Some even argue that sex and smoking shouldn't happen at all the whole month long....why those two are on the same par I don't know...


Iftar is, of course, a religiously and socially very important meal. Muslims across the world break fast by eating dates, as was the tradition in the Prophet's day. After that, a lavish meal is served, the cuisine depending on the cultural background of the family.

Some iftars are more sumptuous than others, but everywhere, it is an event. Non-Muslims are often invited by Muslim friends to share the iftar meal with their families. It's a great experience for non-Muslims, and they needn't feel shy about being the "odd-one-out". Every Muslim family that I have known is fully aware that you, as a non-Mulsim are not fasting and probably don't know their traditions. So if you're invited, definitely go.

However...a word of warning...

Iftar is not for non-fasters.

After indulging in an endless feast that lasts for hours, your body will feel the bulge, even if you have in fact fasted all day. But if you have gone about your normal day, eating breakfast, and apple here or there, lunch, a latte and croissant from Starbucks..before going to an iftar probably experience what I call "Iftar Fever".

I think the body rebels, screaming that it simply lacks the ability to process that much food all at once, on top of a full day's eating. Unless your digestive track is made of steel, the food will sit there, motionless in your stomach for upwards of 24 hours. You will wake up in the morning and feel like you just ate 10 minutes ago. The back of your neck and forehead will sweat, and your appetite will be nowhere to found for disturbingly long.

So just go easy. Resist grandmother's demands that you eat more and more of the first course when you have 7 more to come. And don't forget about the juice. And post-course palate cleansers, the sweets, and ritual nibbles that you just can't turn down.

Go, feast, enjoy, but beware the fever that follows. In fact, next time I get invited to an iftar meal, I'm going to give 100% and particpate in the fast too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hating Expats?

Yesterday, "anonymous" posted a comment that I found really interesting. It's a follow up to the comment about the joke among expats:
Q: What's the difference between and expat and a racist?
A: About three weeks...

To turn it around, "anonymous" (same one or different?) wrote this:
"Injustice,stigma and discrimination against expats, which is institutionalised in Oman. Hence, an average expat is "perceived" racist by Omanis in the spirit of blaming expats for every ill of Omani society."

I'm not sure I completely agree with that, but it's a very interesting topic, that definitely has some truth to it. Do Omanis hate expats? I think there are two totally different sides to this. There are some Omanis who do indeed blame expats for causing many problems in Omani society. There are also the Omanis who idolize expats (the western ones) and seek them out intentionally. Then of course there is everyone inbetween, as there always is.

But let's take a look at the 2 extremes:

Expat Haters--There are Omanis who look upon expats (western and eastern) as the source of depravity in Omani society and distortion of Omani culture. I've been there. I've been told to my face that I am making Omani women impure and am leading them to be perverted like women in my culture. The entire population of Oman (you find figures anywhere from 2.5 to 4 million) is only about 70% Omani (again, very difficult to find consistent census data). That means there is, in fact, a decently large foreign influence of the people in Oman (particularly in Muscat), although this does not even compare to the UAE, where the Emirati population is closer to 10% of the total.
Nevertheless, the distain for westerners as poluters of the true Omani culture and heritage is not as prevelant as it could be. I think most Omanis, even those who would prefer a pure Omani nation, can accept that Oman just would not be where it is today in terms of development and progress if it were not for the influx of western companies and investments, which of course bring people along with them. There are those Omanis who would rather be undeveloped than have western influence, but I think there are very few who actively blame westerns for the ills of Omani society and who would bring that sentiment to the table when forced to deal with them.

Expat Lovers--Now this is even more interesting, in my opinion. I would say the the majority of this brand of Omanis lives primarily in Muscat and are generally well-educated and wealthy. Many Omanis (although, again, not as much as in other Gulf nations)enjoy the "bling" that comes along with western-style development. Cell phones are everyone. Many men own more than one for their differnt category of contacts. One for the family, one for the shabaab, one for work, and maybe one for the girlfriend. Gucci, D&G, and Armani all make abayas, or at least you can find knock-off labels to sew onto them. It's hip, even de rigeur in some circles, to be western in certain elements of style.

Now most Omanis, men and women, who sport this western bling do not necessarily associate it with being western as such. It's just the popular style. The thought process often doesn't go much farther than that. The hypocrisy of buying an Armani-designed garment which generated from one of the most conservative streams of Saudi Islam...doesn't cross their minds.
Nevertheless, there are Omanis, mostly men because they have the most freedom to circulate in a variety of social groups, who actively seek out friendships, and of course business partnerships, with westerns. They pride themselves on being remarkably open-minded and accepting of other cultural mores and customs. And a lot of the time, they are. You can see them sitting in cafes, with western men, or even with each other, most talking in English...just to show they can roll.
In any case, they definitely don't hate westerns. (They still might not want their wives and daughters hanging around men though...)

Enough for now. Let me know what you think. What has been your experience, for my expat readers? And for my Omani readers...what do you think about all this?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cheerful Indians

Have you ever wondered what makes so many of the Indian (and I really mean Indian in particular, even moreso then Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi..) laborers here so smiley? I've noticed it before, but it isn't until the last few days that it's really struck me. The Indian workers here at my new job (whether highly-educated professionals, chauffeurs, or toilet cleaners) are all invariably cheerful.

Why is that? Some of them get paid a generous salary that could easily support a family here in Muscat (the professionals) but the vast majority of them get paid pitance. Granted, it's more than they would likely get in their own country doing the same or even higher level work. But...they certainly aren't living in luxury.

I've spoken in particular to three Indians here at my work about their family situaion as well. One was a professional, one a transport driver, one a cleaner. All three of them have their spouse and children living back in India. They haven't seen them for months and maybe only see them twice a year if lucky. And yet, they are happy, and polite, and have genuine smiles spread across their faces.

I just spend the summer away from my fiance and that was hard is hard to imagine doing that with children added to the equation. Am I just spoiled? Having what I want when I want it? Do I have a higher standard of what is acceptable, in life-style and relationships? I don't know. But I also don't know how they do it.

I would be fascinated to read research about specific cultural influence on mood and life satisfaction levels. If I were in their place (and I think this goes for a lot of people), I would be miserable.

How do they stay happy?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Moving to the Big City

I arrived back in Oman this week, and am finally living in Muscat. For some reason, the weather isn't as blisteringly hot as I expected. This is my third Omani summer and I think I might actually be getting used to the 50 degree weather, as impossible as that sounds. In any case, it's great to be back.

While I was away on holiday, I realized that Oman sort of feels like home now. I missed my flat here, my friends, and even just Oman. I never thought I would feel homesick for Oman, but maybe this means I've finally graduated to being a real dyed-in-the-wool expat.

I've started a new job as well, and am relieved that the environment is professional, cheerful and delightfully not insane. If you've read my previous posts about my work and a particular few of my anonymous colleauges at Rustaq College, you know what I'm talking about. No doubt this job as any will have it's pitfalls, but I so happy to be in a professional, efficent and friendly environment. It's tough to find that here.

Although even in the three days I've been back in the country, I've already had several of those "God, I hate this country!" moments, overall, being away really made me appreciate a lot about this place. The people are friendly, life is calm. the beach is always 10 minutes away, and being late isn't a crime. While there is plenty to frustrate you, especially during Ramadan for non-Muslims, this place really isn't so bad....

....of course, however, in the weeks and months to come I'll do plenty of complaining. Maybe Muscat and I are just in our honeymoon phase. We'll see how long it lasts before we get sick of each other.

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Teachers coming to Rustaq: Advice / Q&A

Every year new teachers are hired to come work in Rustaq. Sometimes they arrive on a transfer from another college. These teachers usually know the ropes pretty well and quickly acclimatize to Rustaq College. The others are new signings and have no idea what is going on. Communication before their arrival is often poor and many people pull out before they even arrive, because they simply can't get straight answers. Today's blog aims to clear things up a little. It will explain the two types of contracts, what to expect when you first arrive here and how to get yourself established.

First of all, the contracts. If you are a new hire, you have a contract with either Abdulmajeed Majali at Hawthorn Muscat or with the Ministry of Higher Education (possibly with a guy called Nadir Al Balushi). The two contracts pay roughly the same amount, and expect the same amount of work, but the finer details are quite different. Here's how they break down:

Ministry contracts:

If you have been hired on a Ministry Contract, it's quite possible that you haven't heard anything from the guy who is supposed to be helping you. Don't panic, you will get the contract. Barring total meltdown of the Omani economy, there will be a contract waiting for you when you get to the Ministry the day after you arrive (don't expect it before then though).

Ministry people are then sent from Muscat to Rustaq and put in a hotel called AlShimookh (quite dingy to be honest) and given 3 days to find an apartment. You will arrive at a good time for finding a place, but you will probably need some help. The guy who takes care of Ministry workers is Juma Al Hattali. He's a very nice man and he does his best, but sometimes he has a little too much on his plate. If you urgently want something done, keep going back until you get results. You can also try leaving a comment on this blog, and I can ask teachers who are leaving this year about their apartments.

Ministry workers are also given a furniture loan of around 1600 Rials. The Ministry forgives 1/4 of the loan for each year that you work for them. In my experience 1600 Rials is more than enough for all the furniture you will need. The only hitch is that you will probably need to buy it all new, as there is not a big second-hand tradition here in Oman. However, as above, if you are interested in cheaper, year-old household stuff, teachers who are leaving will probably have things for sale. Just get in touch, and we'll see if we can get new arrivals in touch with the right people.

So that's housing out of the way. What about driver's licence and health insurance? If you are on a Ministry contract, you will have very good national health cover accessible from any public hospital. It costs next to nothing and most of the time it is very good. You'll need to fill out some forms, pay up to 20 Rials (keep the receipt and you should get it back from Juma), and do a full medical checkup. For the driver's licence you go through a similar process. In both places, you are advised to be both patient and persistent. If you don't like/believe an answer that you are given, try someone else or try the same person again later. You are not being rude, that is what the locals do. And it does work, trust me.

Hawthorn Contracts:
You will quickly get to know a guy called Ayub. He is Majali's man in Rustaq. He is there to help you with whatever issues you might have, and although he's a sweet guy, he is not very well paid and is always busy, so he might not always attend to your problem as quickly as you would like. And he does forget completely sometimes. You should keep calling him. There are methods to make him more reliable, but I will leave that for other Hawthorn teachers to tell you about....

Hawthorn employees get given an apartment (from a list of apartments that Majali rents), and furniture. They also have their power and water paid by Hawthorn, which is great. In the end, teachers from Hawthorn and Ministry get about the same pay after all this stuff. On one hand, its nice that someone else sorts this stuff out for you, on the other it's sometimes slightly restrictive and adds another layer to an ofttimes frustrating bureaucracy.

People on Hawthorn contracts don't have medical insurance like the Ministry workers do. Instead you go to the public hospital and keep your receipts - and Majali will pay you back. In the end you don't actually pay for your treatment, and Majali is always very good at paying you back (providing you have the receipts), but its not as straight-forward as it is for Ministry workers.

Sorry the blog was so long, but there was a lot to cover there. And I've probably missed loads of stuff. If you are a new teacher about to arrive in Rustaq, and you have any questions, let me know.

(This blog was written by a Ministry employee friend, and I work for Hawthorn-Muscat, so we can answer any questions.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Moving to Muscat

Well, it's been a long time since I've written, but good news. I am moving to Muscat next year. As much as I have grown to like Rustaq in a way, I am more than happy to be leaving. Two years has been sufficient to say the least. In some ways I'm sure I'll miss it--the small town feel, the friendliness of the people, the simple, slow-paced life. But I'm city-girl at heart (at least half of the time) and need to get out.

On that note, I've been thinking about Dhofar Gucci's question from a while back: why don't the bloggers in Oman know each other? I know everyone in Rustaq and everyone who does or doesn't have a blog here, so I'm guessing a lot of you Oman expat (and non-expat) bloggers out there are living in Muscat.

Coffee anyone?

Friday, April 9, 2010


Hi all,
I'm running some workshops between American and Omani students. So I'm brainstorming for questions for them to discuss with each other. Maybe you can help me out...

For Westerners: If you could ask anything, what is one question you would ask to a group of Omanis?

For Omanis: What is one questions you would ask to a group of Americans?

Be honest!


Friday, April 2, 2010

Wearing the Headscarf?

Because of the dialect of Arabic that I speak and because what I look like, most people from here assume that I'm Arab. When they guess, first it's Lebanese, then Syrian, then Tunisian, then Egyptian. After that they push for Turkish or Iranian, but rarely ever get out of the region, let alone all the way across the Atlanic to America.

I'm not blonde and blue-eyed. I don't stand out as much as a lot of Westerners, but I still get plenty of stares. A lot of them are inquisitive stares. I can see the questions spinning in their heads: "Is she from here? No, can't be. But...where? Not western....does she speak Arabic?" Sometimes I don't have to see the questions, but I hear them talking about me in Arabic. It always makes my day when I am standing next to people who are talking about me in Arabic, asking each other if they think I understand Arabic or not. I just pretend they are lucky and I don't understand what they are saying.

I used to be totally opposed to bending to the culture and covering my hair. I saw it as a sign of the voluntary subjugation of women. I didn't want to send the message that I think women are pearls that should be protected by their oyster shell (a common metaphor here) or that I think men can't control their sexual urges, which will be inevitably inflamed by my irresistible hair.

But I've gotten to a point in my expat life where I don't think like that anymore. It's a custom. Women cover their hair here. Is it really necessary to delve so much deeper into the meaning and the consequences? Women still have rights, they still make decisions, they are still beautiful. Does it really matter that much?

Today I decided to "respect the culture" and cover my hair. Fine, I admit, it was more just curiosity about how I would be treated differently. I am writing this now from a cafe in Barka, a town in between the conservative backwaters of my hometown, and the much more open capital, Muscat.

I have to say that I like it. Men are keeping their distance more, I have been attracting fewer stares (although I feel terribly conspicuous--like everyone knows what I'm doing), but the most noticeable difference for me is they way I am treated by other women. I am just one of the women now. Even though I am wearing jeans and a long sleeved tee shirt with the headscarf, it makes all the difference. In the bathroom, we all fix our headscarves together. Say "Salam 3leykum. Kifish?". And go on our way.

I'm not Muslim, and don't plan on converting, but is bending your ways to fit in better and make people that little bit more comfortable around you really so bad? I won't wear it at the college where I teach, because there part of my role is to represent Western culture, but outside, why not?

Something to think about, as I sit here sipping my cappuccino and watching people watch me (or not) out of the corner of my eye.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Donate Blood

Today I decided to be a good "Omani" citizen and give blood at the local hospital, the same place I had my appendix out. I went with two friends from work, and was, as usual, a little apprehensive of what the hospital treatment would be like.

It was quite different than giving blood in America. The initial questionnaire form was similar (sans the question about having sex in Africa). However, I had to run half way across the hospital to find the person who would take my blood pressure, and then they wanted to give me a physical before I gave blood, but I protested, and the doctor stamped my form anyways.

The actual giving of blood went very quickly, largely due to the extremely thick needle that was jabbed into my arm. On the upside, though, the bleeding went very fast, and I was out of their in no time. Perhaps it's just the summer heat coming on that made my blood flow so fast. In any case, I thought I would surely faint, but I didn't.

The young male Omani nurse was jovial and did a good job. He did seem, however, quite confused when I suggested to him that the hospital should post blood donation signs around (like at the college). He didn't look thrilled about the potential extra work that would bring in for him. Nevertheless, I managed to get him to give me 3 posters to put up where I want, in hopes that more people will give it is not well advertised in Oman.

Donate blood!

Be a good citizen (even if you're not Omani!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

To The Expats--A Return

Dear Readers (if you're still reading),
I'm back on the radar after my life turning completely upside-down for the last 3 months. Mashallah it is getting back on track (no, details, sorry!)
My appendix operation is all better, for those of you who have asked. All went well in Rustaq hospital so it seems, despite the shoddy painkillers and lack of bedside manners.

While getting my expat feet back on the ground, which is not always easy, I've been thinking a lot about why we are all here. Some of us are here for the money. Some are here for the cultural and linguistic experience (I think that's just me in the minority there). Some are here because they got moved here against their wish by their company. Some are here...because...they can't seem to leave. These lost expats are the most intriguing to me. At what point do we make the decision to leave, to stay, or to not make a decision? It's almost like many expats stay on here on accident.

I'm sure you have all met someone, or several people, like that, who has been here so long that they don't remember how many years it's been, or why they came in the first place.

Oman is beautiful. The people are friendly and welcoming. It's safe. There is a lot to do, especially for us outdoorsy types. We all know this. But who wants to stay here long term? Do I? Who's biding their time, who's making progress?

Please excuse my nervous expat angst.....any thoughts anyone, expat or not?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rustaq Doctors, part 3


The second down-fall of post-op treatment at Rustaq Hospital was either a lack of pain-killers, or maybe too many. I spent my first day and a half post-op either in excruciating pain totally med-free, or high as a kite on a massive hit of morphine. I’m not sure what to make of this…given that they definitively have simple IV-drip technology. Who knows?

This up and down between pain and euphoria was nothing compared to the massive struggle involved in the what should have been the simple process of getting my stitches out a few days later. The word “appointment” is nebulous here. Let’s start there. I was told I had an appointment at 8 this morning. Apparently, that meant I had an appointment to start waiting at 8 this morning…indefinitely. The surgical clinic was packed with men, women and children, presenting with everything from broken bones, to runny noses, to seemingly near death wheezes.

The impending wait was overwhelming, especially in my condition. Hours perhaps.

We sat…

And sat…

And…I started to yell at the nurse.

It worked and I got in early. I think I learned in kindergarten that cutting in line isn’t cool, but I forget sometimes here. Snip, snip: Stitches out in a jiffy, and on my way.

Except for battling the accountant on staff…

How money, receipts, and bills are dealt with here (with Rustaq Hospital providing a pretty good sample case) deserves its own post.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rustaq Doctors, part 2


Despite the surgery well-done and access to a private room (on-demand), there were some parts of my 4 day sojourn at Rustaq Hospital that could have used some improvement. Here’s number one:

Anyone who lives in Oman knows that nearly all companies and institutions are majorly lacking in the customer service department. This includes 4 star restaurants, DHL mail service, high-end stores, car mechanics, and also hospitals.

At my right was the handy nurse-call button, however, the nurses didn’t seem to understand that the flashing light meant that I might actually need something. If they were around and not too busy they would stop by within an excusable 10 minutes.

One time, late at night, I pressed the button, extremely thirsty and in incredible pain, and almost immediately knocked it off the bed and onto the floor where I couldn’t reach it. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes passed. And I started to panic. I strained to pull the cord, but it only got more stuck. It wasn’t for another 15 minutes until somebody came. She walked in, very blasé. “Fi mushkila?” There a problem?

I would have lost it if I’d had more energy, but I was so desperate for what I had originally called them for almost an hour ago that I let it go to speed along her bringing me a bottle of water and some morphine. This was not a time to piss her off, in any language...

Doctors in Rustaq, continued

A while ago I blogged about my brief stay in Rustaq's General Hospital. This past week I had a longer and more intensive visit to get my ever-aggravated appendix taken out. I think I can offer a lot more insight now than before.

First off--let me say that as an insurance-deprived American citizen, I consider myself luckily and ironically well-cared for just having some sort of health care at all. Even without any insurance, the entire surgery and 3 night stay would have cost me 275 riyals ($715) --nothing in comparison to what even one night at an American hospital would have cost an average uninsured citizen like myself (at least pre-new health care bill which I have yet to actually benefit from).

Second--I was both quite impressed with the treatment I received, and rather disappointed. The traditional, incision-style appendectomy was clearly well done. No infection, the cut is relatively small, I didn't wake up during the surgery from poor anesthesia or some other third-world operation nightmare. The surgeons seemed competent, intelligent and though not terribly important, most had a good bed-side manner.

And with that I'm going to have to continue this another time, as I can't sit very long without the cut really starting to hurt.

All the best, happy new year, and more to come as soon as possible.