Celebration and missed naps

“Camels!” Dave exclaimed as he looked outside our window. We were just about to take a nap when he looked out our window and saw a parade across the street – a celebration to honor the return of Sultan Qaboos from Germany, his good health, and Oman in general. We were tired, but went up to the roof anyway to see the parade that marked this monumental occasion.

It had been a really long day and we were looking forward to resting. Earlier, in the heat of the sun, we helped our friend at his garage sale. Although he had few customers (garage sales are basically unheard of in this part of the world and therefore not well attended), he managed to get rid of several of his possessions (some thanks to us) as he gets ready to leave Oman. Although he has made this place his home for almost a decade, his goal is to leave with no more than the allocated free 23kgs of baggage as he heads to France to enjoy retirement.

But heat or no heat, sale or no sale, this was history – history we could see from our rooftop. People, camels, and cars all lined up to enter a walled dirt field behind the mayor’s office, less than a kilometer away. Drums played, people shouted, horns honked. Here was the celebration we were looking for that seemed to be lacking earlier in the week. This occasion was too momentous to pass quietly; the country was simply waiting until Friday to really live it up.

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View of the action from the rooftop

 

Soon, the rooftop didn’t feel like enough; my choice was a siesta before our evening plans or to drag my body to the action. The choice was tougher than it sounds, but a friend and I mustered up the energy and made our way down to experience the celebration first-hand.

It was amazing – and luckily slow moving. We could easily walk back and forth to see the different parts of the parade. People honked and waved as us foreigners, seemingly delighted we came by to check out the action. At first I wasn’t sure if a non-Omani would be welcome, but that concern was quickly abated after hearing several shout “As-salam alaykom” (peace be upon you, their “hello”) out car windows. People asking us to take their photos. Fellow-onlookers shaking our hands and chatting. Even though I can’t really get past “kaif halik” (how are you?) I still felt bonded to people in that moment. We were all here to honor the same man, the one who modernized Oman.IMG_3259 IMG_3258

Decorated cars had to remain outside as we entered the gates and moved toward a stage – the camels were allowed inside, even though I am not sure they wanted to participate. Several of the animals resisted entrance into a place where over a thousand gathered to listen to speeches celebrating the Sultan’s safe and healthy return to Oman. It was clear these beasts are more comfortable in the wide open spaces of the desert than in relatively close confines. Nevertheless, they made the event feel that much more special.

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Cranky camels join the festivities

The excitement, pride, and joy were contagious. Everyone, especially the children, were draped in national pride. Scarves, pins, posters, flags all in green, red, and white. People adorned in traditional dress. Oman exhibited in every way possible. A man handed me a flag which I waved, happy to be a part of the celebration. My smile was sincere and vast.

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Heading toward the stage, flags waving

I remain astonished regarding the national pride in this country. This would never happen in the US or in any other place I have visited. Love and appreciation for the Sultan is widespread; this sort of reverence is only granted to celebrities and athletes where I come from. I’m not necessarily endorsing politician worship for our culture, but this difference in whom we place our admiration does make me think.

For now, I will let some pictures tell the rest of the story.

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This man really wanted to have his picture taken. He is dressed traditionally, complete with kanjar (knife) and walking stick.

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hOman, Chapter Two

We moved apartments – from a pretty nice flat into a non-descript concrete building that houses many teachers from the college. People thought we were mad to do it, but I think it was the right decision. Dave wanted to move sooner, but I had to admit I didn’t want to give up this:

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I had to say goodbye to my “yoga studio”

 

The main reasons we moved have to do with connection. First off, we now have internet in our home! This has made life so much easier and more pleasant. I can chat with friends, catch up on emails, and surf the web all from the sofa instead of having to cram in my online time at the school in between teaching and lesson planning. Then, in the old place, I would come home and have little to do except read and watch Al Jazeera. Unwinding is nice, don’t get me wrong, but being able to spread out my online time has been wonderful. For example, I am posting this blog entry from home as opposed to school — so much nicer.

Second, we are near “stuff.” We can walk to food stores and restaurants. Within the first week, I’ve already wandered over to the fruit and veg store (yes, they have these specialty stores apart from the hypermarkets where you can get all sorts of stuff – think mini Targets for those); it’s great not having to get into the car just because I am short on onions. The one closest to us isn’t the best, but within 10 minutes I can get to a bunch of places nearby.

Most importantly, however, is we are near other people. We have already had our friend over to shoot the breeze, been invited to the new teacher’s flat for ice cream floats, and been surprised by a gift of homemade Caribbean lentil soup, courtesy of another teacher who simply made too much. Last night, a few of us went up to the roof to have a couple of drinks and admire the view.

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I did use telephoto here, but this is so cool!

 

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A more authentic view from the other side of the roof.

So, yes, the place is not attractive (hence, no pictures of the interior). But it feels more like home. It’s smaller/cozier, accessible, and comes complete with a great neighborhood within its walls. Besides, how can you not love a place that has this crazy dress shop on the ground floor?

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I sort of want to try one of these on.

 

I don’t regret not moving in here sooner, but I am happy to spend the second half of our year more connected to people both near and far.

Eight reasons why I love the ocean here

Right now, we are in the throes of paper grading, speaking exams, and general mayhem here at the college as the semester winds down. Normally this is a very relaxed place, but right now the pace is quite harried and hurried. Thus, now is the perfect time to think about the good stuff about living here, and one of the best things is the ocean. We are a 30-minute drive to the Gulf of Oman, which provides the perfect escape from anything that needs to be forgotten, even if just for a couple of hours. I present to you my top eight reasons for treasuring each moment I spend there:

  1. It’s warm

No matter what time of year, it’s pleasant to go into the water. I’ve heard it gets up to 30 degrees Celsius in the summer, which seems a little out of control – not that I’m complaining. Even now in the “cold season” (nights on the beach drop down to the high teens/low 20s), the water is still warm – warmer than the air at that point.

  1. It’s calm

Few waves disturb you as you float thoughtlessly in the water. Ahhhhhh….

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If you like surfing, this is NOT the place for you.

 

  1. It’s deserted

For whatever reasons, few Omanis see the ocean as a place to hang out. I asked my students once if they liked the ocean and they all pretty much said no. When I told them I liked to go swimming, they thought I was nuts. The ocean seems to be seen as more of a place of work and industry than pleasure, at least in this region. There are several fishing boats out there at all times (we see their lights at night in the distance), and fish is a main food staple here. The shipping trade routes are also quite busy here. But that doesn’t mean one couldn’t also use it for fun. I wonder if part of the reason is the conflict between beach attire and conservative Omani dress code. I have seen women in their abayas on the beach before, and it doesn’t seem right through my Western perspective; beaches are for swimsuits, or perhaps shorts and a T-shirt. I try to cover up well until it gets dark, then I strip down to my one-piece suit (a thread-bare specimen I wore in college! I’ve been wearing two-piece ones typically) and venture in.

  1. Groovy sea life

When I’m out in the water I think about all the creatures that are sharing their space with me, like the ones I saw when snorkeling. I also know there are a ton of dolphins in this region, though I have yet to see them. The sea shells that get washed up onto the beach are also really neat. I collect a couple each time we go there and place them in a display bowl at home.

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The beginning of my super-cool shell collection.

 

  1. I love swimming when it’s dark

As the sun sets and the sky goes from lighter to darker shades of grey, the sea does its best to match. The effect is that I feel as though I am floating in space. I lie on my back and face out into nothingness as calm waves wash over me. Oftentimes, the water has a phosphorescence which makes the waves and the water I disturb gently with my hands a powerfully intense reflective green. The water is pretty salty, so staying afloat is a breeze. Absolute peace is the result.

  1. Parking is easy

We take Horst off the road and onto the beach. It’s easier to hide our beverages that way too ;-).

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Must be in the front row…

 

  1. The company is great

We tend to go with a couple of other teachers each time. Conversation flows as freely as the libations. We vent about challenging students and situations, our friends and family back home, lost pets, about anything on our minds. The sloughing waves; warm, dark, salty air, and quiet create the perfect safe space for honest conversations.

  1. It’s in my blood

I’m a Scorpio with a moon in Scorpio and a Pisces rising. That’s means I’m a triple water sign (note: I have had two astrologers state that it “must be hard to be you,” after seeing my chart). If the stars and heavens don’t draw me to the coast, I have no idea what would.

National Day and Omani Pride

Tomorrow is National Day, which is deemed as such because it’s the Sultan’s birthday. So even though November 18th is the official big day of the year, last week was a larger cause for celebration. Sultan Qaboos, who has been ill for some time now and is seeking treatment in Germany, made his first public appearance in five months. It was broadcast on television and pretty much made this whole country erupt in happiness and relief. There were honking horns, camels parading in town over the weekend, and decorations everywhere.

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The campus was decorated in Oman’s colors to honor the Sultan’s health.

 

 

At school, there was a celebration that resulted in cancelled classes and a welcome disruption of the day.

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Students gather to listen to speeches. Note the gender segregation of the crowd.

 

As an assignment, I had students write about the day’s events on campus and what they meant to them. I will let one group of students share what this all means to Oman — their passion tells the real story. All errors are “sic,” though I did edit to make it more readable:

On Wednesday when my Sir Sultan Qaboos spoke on TV, all Omani people in this moment feel very happy because they didn’t see him for a long time – roughly 4 months out of Oman. When my Sir speak to the Omani people, they went out  and some people cry when see Qaboos on TV and he is fine. In different regions of Oman, make festival for my Sir Qaboos. Also, my college make a beautiful festival and beautiful party. First, students do dirge (national ode). After that, the Dean speak about what do the Qaboos in Oman and the development in Oman. He speaks about the event (Qaboos fine). He is very happy. Next, some students speak and do some skill term on Qaboos. Then the Dean and some teachers go and see some activity. Finally, they go to party and eat some sweets. This is the beautiful day because I see my Sir on TV. He speak fluently. I hope my Sir returns to Oman quickly because all Omani people miss you and need him and Oman also need him. I hope my Sir be fine in every time and every year. I hope be in Oman every time. When Sir returns Omani people will do big festival in different region in Oman. Same in this time but a lot more. I hope be in quickly time.

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More campus decor.

 

 

One Week

One week in Oman. We have survived two flight delays, a rerouting that resulted in a 34 hour travel experience on very little sleep, lost and found luggage (Mine was only missing 24 hours; Dave managed for four days without his clothes), and the first four days at the school. This latter experience really wasn’t a matter of survival, though; classes don’t start for another two weeks on top of this first week of inaction. Omani business is guided by “bakra,” which technically means “tomorrow” but really means “later” when it comes to things happening. The other phrase that I hear amongst the constant Arabic dialogue is “In šāʾ Allāh” (Inshallah) – “what Allah will bring” or “as Allah wills.” In other words, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

My expat officemate says to be happy if you get one thing accomplished every day. More than that is a bonus. My Omani officemate, who utters Inshallah frequently, says that nothing will happen if you don’t ask for it and set expectations. Not quite as Allah wills, but perhaps more effective. Perhaps. For now, I try not to worry about it and each day I learn to slow down that much more. I can’t imagine this pace will continue into my teaching days, but you never know. Inshallah.

Home life isn’t much different. With the sun beating down on us at well over 100 degrees there isn’t much to do when you live on the outskirts of a small town whose only claims to fame are the fact that it was the capital city back in the 1600s and there’s a restored fort to prove it. We rented a car on day four in order to provide some entertainment and the necessary trips to the Hypermarkets (think Walmart). Without a car, our only access to food would be a run-down convenience store with shriveled vegetables, questionable refrigeration, but plenty of potato chips.

But thankfully, we do have a car and so we drive. We have already taken the Toyota Yaris rental out on a winding dirt road near our house which provided us a mini exploration complete with goats, beautiful mountain scenery, and lots of desert. It was too hot outside to stop to take pictures, even though the views were worthy of several. Dirt roads are quite common here and I read that in 1970 – two years after I was born – this country only had 5km of paved roads. There are plenty of paved roads and even a small highway system now, but it’s baffling to think about how recent all the development here is.

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The view outside our window. At least you can see the mountains I’m talking about if you look closely.

Another short work day took us to the ocean – no beach yet, but it was nice to look out onto the Gulf of Oman while our AC hummed along to a radio station we found which is partial to Omani bagpipe (habban) music. It’s a great listen.

Thanks to the car we have also eaten. Though my cooking skills are still minimal, and it’s really too hot to use the stove, the rice cooker, as it was in Korea, continues to serve us well. Basmati rice is the norm here and today we paired it with steamed okra (done in the cooker), turn chicken (they’re small here, but just over one Rial, so under 3 bucks), and jarred spices. I chose Omani Marsala while Dave went with a more traditional Indian kind. In our fridge we have pears from Jordan, tiny bananas from southern Oman, a Thai mango, and a Ugandan avocado. The carrots are from China. A lot of produce here also comes from Iran – Oman seems to have made few, if any, political enemies, so food comes from as many places as do the people. I’m sure I’ll write more about the population and people later, but the country has just over 4 million residents: just under 2 million are expats (only 5% of whom are Westerners, primarily from England).

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Our kitchen. We have a gas stove!

But essentially, there isn’t much going on here. School only takes a few hours of our time, and most of that is waiting around for things. The nights are filled with reading and playing games downloaded onto my iPad. Since the internet is pretty expensive here, surfing is kept to a minimum and watching videos is out. I did find a couple of English-speaking television stations with tolerable programming every once in a while. Today is Friday, the holy day, so nothing was open. We stayed home and lazed about, the prayer calls signaling the slow passage of time. It’s a strange feeling to not have that much to do.

It’s only been a week and so far I’ve accomplished so much yet so little.