My Top Five – Senses Version

This is officially my last blog post in Oman. My flight is tomorrow evening but today is the last time I will have Internet while in the country. In commemoration I’ve made a list of the top five things I will miss for each sense. There are so many more things I will miss than just these and many of them I can’t even put into words. It was fun to make this list and think about all the little things that I don’t always notice but now wish that I had paid more attention to. I hope you enjoy a few of the more sensory!

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Sight

  • The ocean view from my classroom
  • Huge mountains rising up from nowhere and surrounded on all sides by desert
  • The Grand Mosque (or really any mosque) lit up at night
  • Street signs in English and Arabic
  • Men managing to look positively regal while wearing long white dresses

Sound

  • The idhan, or call to prayer that happens five times a day
  • The honk of the bus outside my house every morning
  • Arabic, English and Swahili intermingling in conversation on a daily basis
  • The laughter of my friends every lunchtime
  • My siblings shouting, fighting and laughing throughout the house, even when I’m trying to study

Smell

  • Bukhoor, or the traditional incense that can be found in any home and has soaked into all my clothes
  • Barbecue smoke on the beach
  • Lingering Arabic perfume in the bathroom letting you know that it has been recently occupied
  • Cardamom milk tea boiling on the stove
  •  The air freshener that goes off every thirty minutes at AMIDEAST

Taste

  • Dates and Omani coffee served in a tiny ceramic cup
  • Freshly made chapatti and other breads such as mandazi and chaliat nahal
  • The “Omani sandwich” with spreadable cheese, Chips Oman and hot sauce
  • Banana smoothies from the coffee shop that cost less than $1
  • Freshly cut green mangoes eaten with salt

Touch

  • The feeling of my abaya being blown by the breeze
  • Getting a warm, sweaty hug from the air every time I step outside
  • Finally getting home and being able to untie my hijab
  • Hand shakes with everyone in a room upon entry
  • The sticky aftermath of a tray of dates

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!

In Oman Video

My friend Liz sent me this video today and although I had a different blog post planned I loved this video so much that I decided to rearrange. I don’t really know a ton about the guy who made this but he does an excellent job showcasing the beauty, and diversity, of Oman’s geography. It’s not every day that I find viral videos about the Persian gulf and this one is a great summary of a lot of what I love about Oman. I also like how he’s mixed the traditional sights and sounds with more modern adventure shots. I’ve been to almost every place featured in the video which was an exciting thing to realize! I hope you all enjoy it 🙂

Video

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!

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!

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