Seeing Sea Turtles?

One of the coolest unknown facts about Oman is that it is one of the largest nesting grounds in the world for sea turtles, behind only Australia and Florida. Hundreds of thousands of loggerheads, leatherbacks and green turtles crawl onto the beaches east of Sur to lay their eggs each year and in the summer it is possible to see hundreds of turtles on the same beach! Ras al Jinz, the name of the area where the turtle reserve is located happens to be the eastern most part of Oman which also makes it the eastern most part of the entire Arabian Peninsula and technically the entire Middle East.

I visited when my American family was here in mid-April. It was quite a challenge finding the place since it really is as far out as you can go and thus in the complete middle of nowhere. In order to spot the turtles you can either go on a night tour just after sunset where you are more likely to see females laying eggs or in the morning right before sunrise where it is more common to see babies hatching and making their treacherous first journey to the ocean. The turtles are carefully protected, documented and studied so visitors to the beaches are limited and require a guide, or more accurately a chaperone since when we went he didn’t really tell us any information or speak much at all and I think he was just there to make sure no one tried to take a turtle home.

My family and I went on the pre-dawn session, which required us waking up at 4 am in order to drive from our hotel and arrive in time for the 5 am departure.  Our group consisted of about 20 people including an adorable French family that we continued to run into throughout the day. The reserve center runs tours every day of the year but the optimal time to see turtles is in the summer, on a night with no moon. We went on a night with a full moon and in the spring so not the best season but it was still a lot of fun.

We didn’t see any grown turtles but we did see a handful of babies hatching and then running towards the ocean. It was so cool to see them pop up from under the sand and waddle around confusedly for a while before figuring out which direction the water was.

We watched the turtles running on the beach as the sun rose on the East and the moon set on the West. And I could almost see India on the other side of the ocean!

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When One Door Opens…

Well, I think it’s time I tell you all about my doors. I feel comfortable calling them my doors because I’m pretty sure nobody else cares very much about them. For my capstone project I have been documenting and analyzing the various types of doors in Oman and have amassed a collection of over 200 photographs!

It’s been a lot of fun and although the fact that there is almost no prior research on the topic was challenging at first it also meant that I got to create a lot (i.e. all) of the classifications myself.

The doors in Oman are incredibly unique and do a great job of demonstrating Oman’s progression as it has transformed from a traditional Arabian oasis to a modern, 21st century country. I’ve been drawn to the doors since I first got here, I think because they are just so different from anything I’ve seen in the U.S. Also I think its so interesting how doors – the epitome of the mundane and everyday – have been elevated to the status of art here. I’m not sure if this has been done purposefully or just out of a desire for a little extra style but there can be no arguing that they are something very special, even if most people don’t really notice.

In my project I have put the doors into three categories: Traditional Wooden Doors, Metal Doors and Modern Doors.

Here is a selection of photographs from each category:

Traditional Wooden Doors

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Metal Doors

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Modern Doors

 

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I loved taking the pictures and having the opportunity to study the doors more in depth but even more than that is the excitement in knowing I’ve helped other people become a bit more aware of the specialness in something so ordinary. And I always appreciate when people here come up to me to let me know about an especially interesting door they saw over the weekend, or even better Whatsapp me a picture of it!

I’ve abbreviated this project a bit for the blog post so if you have any other questions, let me know!

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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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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