In search of my people

In some ways I’m having a hard time adjusting to back to Portland (have I said this before? It feels like I have, which means it was, and still is, true). It’s cold here, and today is one of those stereotypical/prototypical Pacific Northwest days where it’s grey but not quite rainy. Mother Nature is misting down upon us like spray from a tongue raspberry – mocking me for leaving the warmth of the sun behind. Dave and the others say it’s unbearably hot in Rustaq now – 30 degrees warmer than here. In the flat we once shared with the aircon running. Outside, their centigrade temperature of blazing heat almost matches the Fahrenheit number here in Oregon. But I don’t care; I would rather be there. I haven’t felt warm all day. At least if I’m going to feel cold, I should be able to enjoy the hockey playoffs. No point in being cold without hockey.

Even though I’m back in North America, I live in a city that could not care less about the NHL*. A sad mismatch in my relationship with the city I call home. In fact, I almost didn’t move here because of its lack of hockey culture, considering Phoenix a better option with its sun and Coyotes. Yet, when the time came, I pointed my loaded-down car north instead of south as I drove out of the Bay Area, California – home of the San Jose Sharks.

I caught a glimpse of the good life in the three-plus months I lived in Toronto. There, after dinner with family, I would walk down to the local bar to watch the rest of the game. The first period was watched in the condo, and during first intermission I would hurry down the street to my choice of three bars showing the game. If I walked during the middle of a period, I could tell when there was a change in score based on the cheers or groans coming from the apartments above. Everyone in the whole city was watching. Inside, I would find a spot at the bar, or accept standing room only. Almost all of the screens would be on the game (except for the occasional lone one in the corner that would be tuned into curling, or perhaps the World Series). This is what home feels like, even though I dare to admit I was usually rooting for whoever was playing the Leafs.

Here, where the closest NHL team is hundreds of miles away and not even from this country, basketball dominates sports bar screens – despite the fact that the Trail Blazers were knocked out of the first round. Only four teams left in hockey, and no one cares. I found one bar that shows games – sometimes with sound! – while another one treats it the way Canada treated the World Series, hiding it in the corner, embarrassed to admit it exists. The rest don’t even do that.

I did find a bar dedicated to hockey, but it’s in Seattle. The Angry Beaver is 100% hockey – no NBA playoffs or even a lone curling match. Just Molson on tap, poutine, and ice on the screens. I wish there was a bar like this in Portland, especially now that the finals are about to begin. While I don’t really care about either team playing for the Cup this year, I am going to make an effort to go down to the one bar there and pray for sound. I’m sure there will be others like me, who prefer a rink to a court any and every time. Perhaps there will be a small community that comes out of the woodwork. We shall find each other, cheering or groaning at a score change. Just like everyone in Canada – only our beers will taste better.

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Believe it or not, this is not Toronto. Unfortunately, it’s not Portland either. Welcome to the Angry Beaver in Seattle.

 

*Yes, I know Portland has the Winterhawks and they are very good, losing in the finals this season to the Kelowna Rockets. Not interested. I have been to a couple of games and I prefer a higher level of play when I watch hockey. Sorry.

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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After class

Today the female students linger, instead of rushing out the door as soon as class is dismissed like they usually do (the men never stay longer than necessary). Then only one remains. She is smaller and quieter than many others, rarely speaking with her friends even after the boys have left. During independent work times, she has tried to teach me Chinese – words and phrases I can no longer remember; I am horrible with learning new languages, making my love for travel somewhat at odds with my talents. I let her know how impressed I am that she is mastering not only three languages, but three different alphabets.

Now she writes a message in Arabic on the board I have just erased. The blue marker she uses has seen better days.

“What does it say?” I ask.

“It is poetry. I write poetry sometimes. I like it.”

“So what is this poem?”

“I am not sure how to say properly.” She struggles to translate the symbols she has written into something I can understand, tracing the writing as she goes.

“I see the sad color in your eyes. I wish it will go away.”

My student looks back at me, seeking approval of her translation. Or her writing. Or something.

“Beautiful. Thank you for sharing what you wrote.”

She smiled, looked down, and left to find her friends.

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Beauty comes at a price

I am currently coloring my hair without supervision*. Dave has gone off to get the oil changed to get ready for our trip to Dubai tomorrow. This leaves me home alone with hair dye and without glasses. The apartment is poorly lit. I can only guess and hope that I covered most of my head. At least it’s henna, which is only semi-permanent, right? Besides, my grey roots made it look like I had two heads of hair, one laid on top of the other. Something needed to happen. Getting my hair done professionally wasn’t really an option. There is no place in our town where a woman can get her hair cut. It’s illegal (or haram at least) to have a man cut my hair, and there are no female stylists here. The best place would be Muscat, but that’s 90 minutes away and requires planning to make an appointment. So, self care it is.

I had tried to see what would happen if I just let my hair grow out and go natural, but I lost patience with that idea when I looked at some recent pictures of me. I thought my hair would grey out evenly since the previous color I had – a dark brown — was all gone, leaving me with  what I presumed was my natural color. It’s so hard to tell what my hair actually is now, given that I have been putting different dyes in my hair for over twenty years – ever since graduate school caused my premature greying. Heck, even before that I was getting blonde highlights to stall my darkening towhead (yes, I was a blonde kid!). And then there was the time (almost two years) when I thought magenta was a perfectly fine color for my locks.

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So much grey! at least the mountains are super pretty.

 

I’ve colored my own hair a million times before and now in five different countries with varying degrees of success. I remember one time back in the US when the outcome was mixed at best. I stood in the mirror as I watched the dye saturating my hair turn brighter and brighter orange when the phone rang. My friend Meg was seeing if I wanted to take my dog Brody to the park. He and Lizzie were great friends back then, both now lost to cancer.

“I can’t. I’m dyeing my hair”

“Neat! What color?”

“Not sure. The box said “Fire Red, but, I look like a construction cone. I’m getting nervous….”

“Then rinse it out if you don’t like what’s happening and come to the park with us.”

Duh. Why hadn’t I thought of that? If I don’t like it, get rid of it! Was it a good idea? No matter, the color choice wasn’t a good idea in the first place, so might as well add to the dubious decisions. I hopped in the shower, rinsed my hair and went off to the park – at least that part was a good idea in the minds of Brody and Lizzie. My hair was still wet and I wore a hood to protect myself from the cold and possible humiliation, but despite the head cover, people could tell something was up.

“You colored your hair.” Duke’s mom was making a factual statement and nothing more.

“Yes – about 5 minutes ago.”

“Ah.”

I don’t recall anyone saying it looked nice/good/beautiful that evening. And for good reason. I got home and my hair was indeed bright orange. I was OK with that, even though it wasn’t my favorite. I had a good job, a good relationship, good friends, and good life. Ruined hair wasn’t about to stop me from anything. I had a laugh over my appearance and went to sleep, aware that I would most likely cause a bit of a stir at work. My suspicions were confirmed when the next day a student of mine looked at me and said, “I like the color of your hair. It’s almost within the normal range of hair colors. But not quite.”

That about summed it up.

So now I sit with my hair soaking in the muddy henna (the box called it “Burgundy”): the natural and cultural way to color hair while here in Oman.  I like how it smells sweet and earthy as opposed to the chemical smell of the dyes back home.  I know there is no way I got all the parts of my head, especially the back. I have a thick head of hair and it’s hard to see back there, even when I am wearing my glasses. The henna starts to dry, creating a fine layer of sand all over my bare shoulders and chest. I guess it’s time to rinse off.

I forgot about how weak the water pressure is here. I stood under the shower for a solid fifteen minutes as streaks of orange poured down my body. I worried about staining the drain, the grout, my face, my feet. Slowly, the water began to run clear. I looked in the mirror and learn that my hair is much brighter where it was once grey. And Burgundy my ass – my hair has a bright orange tinge to it. Then I remember the stuff was manufactured for those with black hair – maybe the Burgundy part is relative to darker tresses. I sigh. Nothing I can do about it now, anyway. At least I am not quite a construction cone.

* Note: The above was written in real time. The rest was written the day after.

Dave comes home and we assess the damage. The color job is uneven, and the top of my head is indeed bright, though no longer grey (except for the parts I missed). But, it is what it is – bad hair in Oman. The fact that it hasn’t been cut in almost seven months is even more apparent now. Maybe this is a sign I should start wearing a hijab. Or be a little more forgiving of my hair and myself – until I get to a place where I can find a good stylist.

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My hair in “burgundy”

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…complete with missed spots and bright orange top. Sigh.

 

 

Cherishing the mundane

We missed the rain last weekend. Not on purpose – I would have loved to have seen it, listened to it, been trapped by it. Supposedly it came down very hard for a good three hours and flooded the streets the way it always does along the Wadis. We saw evidence of its force in the huge puddles on the roadside as we came home from our day and night away. It was probably our last chance to see the skies open up in the desert.

Even though I truly relish the sun, basking in it daily on slow strolls to class, it’s rain that brings color to otherwise pale tan and brown surroundings. On campus, there are a few spots where there are flowers, and I take the time to stop and admire them in their out-of-placeness in this barren landscape. Students have seen me do this and laugh – especially when I am caught taking pictures; I guess they don’t see the same miracles I do in their daily surroundings.

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As seen on campus (provided you look down)

 

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As seen on campus (provided you look up)

I’ve also run across flowers in a few spots that aren’t deliberately maintained. It’s so rare to see them that the novelty is worth capturing.

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Flowers! In nature!

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I am grateful for these bursts of color and life.