Qurum Slow Roast

Qurum Slow Roast

This is actually a really old photo – I took it at a charity walk for the Oman Cancer Association ( I wrote a blog post about it if anyone remembers…search Undercover Dance Parties) but never did anything with it. I like the way the light hits the gazebo from the left, as the sun is setting and how the lamps look like they’re burning with real fire. But my favorite part is how this park was actually filled with people except in this one moment, in this one spot, making it look completely deserted and almost abandoned. It’s a good reminder of how you can’t always rely on just what’s inside the frame – what’s right outside can be just as important as well, if only for its absence.

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For Many Moons

My grandmother (American, not Omani) has always told me that whenever I’m far away or feeling lonely I should look at the moon and know that no matter where we are in the world we will both be looking at the same moon.

This advice was helpful to a six year old returning home from a visit to Grandma’s house, a ten year old at summer camp, a thirteen year old taking her first solo flight not under “unaccompanied minor” status and a fifteen year old going to Europe by herself for the summer but I think that it is the eighteen year old living in the Middle East who has appreciated it the most.

Eight months can sometimes feel like a very long time and something that has helped me keep my bearings while I’m here has been tracking the cycles of the moon. We left on a full moon, so every full moon I know we have been here another month. I took this as a sign of great things to come because although the moon in general has always been special to me, a full moon is somehow even more magical in it’s aura of completeness and invincibility.

Each month I watched the moon wane until it was a barely visible glimmer in the sky and then slowly grow round and full again, a process that was comforting in its enduring reliability and structure. No matter what happened or how I was feeling the moon would always be there to greet me at the end of the day, like the perfectly reliable friend that nobody actually has.

Maybe it’s just my own bias but I am thoroughly convinced that the moon is more beautiful here. It could be because of the lack of skyscrapers and tall trees meaning that there is little to obstruct the view but it still seems to shine brighter and more proudly than in any place I’ve ever been. Since I’ve been using it to track my time I’ve also become much more aware of it than I usually am. Something about how when you’re far away you realize all the little things at home that you used to take for granted – except that this one came with me and not only does it connect me to home, it also connects me to Oman.

In a way it connects me even more to Oman because of the way it is so visual and natural. It’s true that you can see the same moon anywhere but at the same time when I look at the moon here it is possible to feel as if it is shining only for me, and only in this particular time and place. And although it may be the same and look the same everywhere else in the world it is also uniquely mine to experience.

I have watched, sometimes in quiet apprehension, in excitement, in suspense or in dread as the moon has dutifully completed its cycle, each month bringing me closer to my trip home. Now it is a full moon, and my very last one in Oman. And so I feel as if things have come full circle – eight moons have come and gone, carrying my various experiences with them and now it is time for me to leave and view the moon from a new place. It might not have the same vibrancy as it does here but then again maybe now that I’ve learned to pay attention and see it more closely that vibrancy will accompany me home.

My very last full moon in Oman! Taken from the bus on my way home

My very last full moon in Oman! Taken from the bus on my way home

One thing I know for sure is that when I look at the moon in the future I will not only think of my grandmother but also of those many evenings on the bus home watching it rise up from through the back window and feeling that even if everything was wrong, at least the moon would always be right.

How To Eat With Your Hands

I’ve learned a lot of things since I came to Oman but one thing I didn’t expect to learn was how to eat literally anything with my hands. For some reason it just never occurred to me that silverware wasn’t a necessity everywhere in the world. There’s no particular reason for eating with your hands, it’s just a part of the traditional culture and to be honest I’ve really come to appreciate the practice.

Firstly, it cuts down on things to clean up – at most you have to wash only a few spoons and plates. It allows you to really connect with your food; kind of one step further on the “eat local” spectrum, and it also helps with portion control. I’ve gotten a lot better but when I first got here I noticed it took me approximately twice to three times as long to eat the same amount with my hands as with a fork or spoon. Even now there’s just no way to eat rice at the same speed with your hands versus a spoon.

The funny thing is that I’ve gotten so used to not using utensils that I sometimes choose not to use them even if I’m presented with them. For example at lunch at school we used to comment on how glad we were that we got at least one meal a day where we didn’t have to eat with our hands. But now it’s not uncommon to see a few of us just skipping the forks and going at it the Omani way.

Family lunch

Family lunch

Dinner at my house. Usually we eat at a table but there were guests so the ground was easier to fit everyone.

Dinner at my house. Usually we eat at a table but there were guests so the ground was easier to fit everyone.

Similarly at weddings I always take pleasure in seeing my host family or other guests starting out with spoons but about five minutes in giving up and resorting to their hands. The image of grown women in gorgeous formal dresses and fancy makeup eating grilled chicken with their hands is endlessly amusing.

As a beginner it’s important to start with something easy to pick up like potatoes or salad. My first experience with it was on my second day in Oman at a traditional restaurant where everyone is seated on the floor and rice is served on a communal plate.  The difficulty factor is increased by having to share the space with a bunch of other clueless people. It definitely wasn’t the easiest way to learn but we were all inexperienced so it was a good place to practice.

Once you’ve mastered bigger foods then a good next step is rice or curry. The key to doing this successfully is eating multiple foods together. For example rice is much easier to manage when you eat it with something more solid like vegetables, meat or fish. Or even by adding yogurt to help the rice stick together and make it easier to pick up. For curry using breads is a must to mop up the sauce and it can also be used spoon-like to pick up things.

The only things that we don’t eat with our hands here is pasta and pizza, which makes absolutely no sense to me because besides sandwiches those are two of the very easiest things to eat with your hands.  It seems sort of ironically fitting though so I dutifully cut my pizza into small pieces and eat penne with a spoon.

If you’re up for it I would definitely recommend trying it out – you just have to be committed and it’s really not that hard! It can actually be a lot easier and also more fun. I mean why do you think kids are always trying to get out of using utensils?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ali and the Cat

Over the past few months we have been working on a project with our Language Partners and let me just that besides getting my host sister to listen to country music it is one of my proudest achievements since coming to Oman. We have written and produced a children’s picture book, entirely in Arabic and with pretty fantastic illustrations.

It was a long process since we had to first map out the story in English and then spend whole class periods figuring out how to construct one to two sentences, with just the right form of a certain verb and a noun that had the correct connotations, all while making it child and student friendly (we had to make sure that both us and potential children audiences would be able to understand.)

The finished product is a short story about an Omani boy who loses the cat his mom gave to him for his birthday. He goes out in search for it and visits many famous places in Oman and meets animals native to Oman who help him with his search.

Besides the incredible and suspenseful story line my favorite part is the illustrations. My friend Anna drew the characters and we then placed them on top of our own photos from the locations mentioned in the story that we have taken over the year. The overall affect is really cool and hopefully I’ll get around to translating it into English!

We had the books printed out and we then took them to the Royal Hospital to read to long-term patients in the pediatric ward. It was so fun to share all of our hard work with kids that understood it and actually got a lot out of it. And hopefully found our pronunciation struggles somewhat funny.

Here are some pictures from our story!

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A Day In The Life

The view from the porch of my house

The view from the porch of my house

Although I mostly post on this blog about all the exciting things I do there is quite a lot of time spent just in a regular going-to-school routine.

 

7:00 am: Wake up and get ready for school. Everyone in my host family has already left for the day so I have the house to myself for a bit – except for my little brother Tariq and our housemaid.

8:45 am: Arrive at school after picking up the other students. Catch up on all the Internet happenings I’ve missed since the last day.

9:00 am: Arabic class. Six very excited Americans and one unflappable Jordanian in a room together for two hours. We get called “strange” by our teacher at least once every ten minutes but somehow manage to learn a few things about the subjunctive.

11:15 am: Free time, which is mostly spent procrastinating homework and waiting for lunch to be delivered. Or writing blog posts J

12:45 pm: Lunch time!! We probably get more excited than we should considering the food is never all that good but sometimes there are cinnamon rolls and that makes up for everything.

1:30 – 5:30: pm This time gets confusing because we have different classes every afternoon and the timings tend to change quite a bit so we’re never totally sure where and when we are supposed to be. Some of the possibilities are Omani Colloquial Arabic class where we learn old slang words to embarrass ourselves with in front of our host families; Language Partners where we meet with Omani college graduates and have them explain to us anything from the intricacies of choosing the right dishdasha to what our homework means; Middle Eastern History class which we take with the YES students and in between discussions about the decline of the Ottomans or Gamel Abdul Nasser listen to stories of how our teacher pranked all of his college roommates; and finally Women’s Studies class where we learn about the politics of the hijab and compare experiences we’ve had since coming to Oman.

5:45-7:45 pm: Depending on the day I spend anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours on the bus on the way home. This is largely in part to the fact that we drop off about 7 people every day, one of whom lives in a small suburb village of Muscat on a mountain that takes almost an hour to get to round trip. It’s a bit of a drag but we’ve found ways to make it not so boring. And I’ve discovered many interesting podcasts!

8:00 pm: Arrive home, spend time with my host family and finish the homework that I procrastinated doing all day. Have dinner and watch dutifully as my little siblings show me how they still know how to jump off the couch or eat French fries. It’s amazing how talented they are!

 

So there you have it, a summary of an average day! Not terribly exciting but it’s nice to be in a place so long that you develop a routine. And now that I have limited time left I’m trying to take advantage to even the most boring of days.

Artist in the Making

Last week during our Arabic class we learned how to do Arabic calligraphy! I’ve been wanting to learn about calligraphy for a long time because it is a really beautiful art form that has an incredibly long and rich history that winds all the way through ancient Arabia and Persia. It is still widely practiced today, especially in Quranic writings and for decorations in mosques or other buildings. Traditionally a  hand-cut reed pen is used along with black ink made from soot. Learning all of the slight nuances of the art take years to learn but lucky for us Omani schoolchildren learn the basics and so our teacher was able to pass along his knowledge to us. Here are a few pictures of my beginning efforts. I actually think they turned out pretty cool!

Case Closed

Excuse me while I just totally nerd out about Arabic for a few seconds. Case-markings are a nerdy grammatical thing but they also have a lot of cultural and historical significance because they are most commonly found on formal texts such as radio or TV broadcasts, formal speeches and most notably the Quran.

Case-markings are more simply just short vowels that show how to pronounce a word in certain situations and are almost always dropped in colloquial Arabic. The short vowels include fattah (an “ah” sound) kasrah ( an “eey” sound), dammah (an “oo” sound), shaddah (symbolizing an emphasis of the letter) and sukkun which is pretty useless because it just tells you that there is no additional short vowel sound.

However despite just being for pronunciation they also have the added purpose of denoting different grammatical parts of a sentence. For example you mark a noun with a dammah if it is the subject of the sentence and a kasrah if it comes after a preposition. The list of rules goes on and on and haven’t even learned them all yet! Since these markings change the pronunciation of the word you can understand the exact structure of a sentence just by hearing it read aloud. Considering that I have a hard time differentiating between direct and indirect object in English this concept absolutely amazes me! Conscious knowledge of Arabic grammar is so intertwined in the usage of the language and is so important to the heritage of Arabic as well.
Since the Quran is written in classical Arabic, Islam is also infused with this knowledge of the grammar and is actually where it began. So modern day speakers of Arabic that are educated in grammar also by default have a higher understanding of the holiest book in Islam.

Well I think that’s enough about grammar and its influences on culture for now. Thanks for sticking around and here is a cartoon about short vowels!

It’s making fun of the sukkun since it really doesn’t serve any purpose!

For more nerdy Arabic jokes check out: http://firstyeararabicpuns.tumblr.com/

For more nerdy Arabic jokes check out: http://firstyeararabicpuns.tumblr.com/

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