Winter Break: Part II

Over break I also officially celebrated my very first Christmas. All of the exchange students from NSLI-Y and YES went to Christmas Eve mass together and it was my first time attending an actual church service. Don’t worry; the irony is not lost on me that my first church service was in a Muslim country in the Middle East. Oman prides itself on its religious tolerance and allows places of worship for non-Muslim faiths to be built but only in certain specified areas. The result is a small compound with churches of every denomination all right next to each other. We were planning on going to the Protestant service but arrived just as a Catholic Mass was starting (conducted in French) and the nativity scene with Hindi writing was being set up on a stage next door. For someone with little experience with Christian worship it was slightly overwhelming to be confronted with so many different options but luckily there were other members of our group who had a better sense of what was going on.

The nativity scene outside the church

The nativity scene outside the church

After the service we went out to dinner and then all slept over at Lydia’s house. We exchanged Secret Santa gifts and at midnight made a Christmas toast with sparkling apple cider. In order to avoid any awkward situations with Lydia’s very conservative host family we snuck the bottle into her house in a backpack. To make it look even worse we toasted out of plastic cups in a locked bedroom after everyone else had gone to sleep.  It was us bringing the stereotypical American teenage life to Oman, and even funnier because of how out of place it was. Also because the whole scene was created by a completely innocent bottle of sparkling apple cider.

On Christmas Day we went in pairs to spend the day with American Embassy families in Muscat. It was really great to meet more Americans here and to spend some time in an American-feeling house, with American food and toys. The two daughters in the family I went to even had a collection of American Girl Dolls and a trampoline! Many of the other students were also thrilled about the presence of bacon, a rare and precious commodity in a Muslim country.  The families are also really interesting to talk to because they have so much experience living abroad and traveling to other countries. Their children are growing up as “third culture kids” or kids who grow up moving around and not living in their native country. Their points of reference are sometimes shocking, like when a 6 year old tells you about the school they went to in Cairo or their favorite park in Beirut. As someone who would potentially like to have a career abroad it was interesting to see and hear about what that experience is like. From what I can tell it seems pretty great – the Embassy provides you with a house, interesting job and a built in community. Also a fun fact that I learned about Embassy housing – all furniture is the same in every Embassy residence around the world. So not only does everyone have the same dining room table in Muscat, but also in London, Moscow, and Buenos Aires.

An ornament on the Christmas tree at the American family's house

An ornament on the Christmas tree at the American family’s house

 

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