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!

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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Sale of Frozen Chikin

In a country where the dominant language is Arabic but that has many English speaking residents and where English is often a default intermediary, mistranslations and miscommunications are inevitable. One of the best examples of this is store signs- for some reason very few stores have actual names, their sign just lists off what is sold inside. Which actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it, just get to the point right?!

For some reason though this seems to work much better in Arabic and the accompanying English usually just seems slightly ridiculous. One way I know I’ve been here too long is that I’ve become so accustomed to this practice that when I was looking for pictures for this blog I had a hard time finding signs that I thought were strange enough to warrant a picture. It took my American family visiting and cracking up at every storefront they saw for me to realize that I’ve adjusted to them a bit too much…

I apologize for the quality of the photos, they’re mostly taken on my iPhone while in the car but nothing could stop me from documenting this!

Enjoy!!

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Volunteering, Arabic, Oman, etc.

Hello everyone!

So sorry for not posting in so long, I’ve somehow become very busy although I’m not exactly sure with what. I am working on a capstone project for my program that includes writing a research paper in Arabic, which is surprisingly not as fun as it sounds.

In the mean time I’ve been doing a whole bunch of other interesting things, like taking another trip across the border to the UAE because, guess what, our visas expired again! Somehow it still felt like a surprise even though we knew it would happen ever since we got our six-month visas in November. Maybe it was just surprising that six months have already gone by. I still can’t believe that I have less than two months here and I try not to think about it too often.

When I’m not not thinking about going home (my English is going downhill I guess) I’ve been trying to see more of Oman before I leave. I went with my host family to the Marina on the edge of Muscat where the company my host mother works for was having an event for its employees. They had rented a dhow, or traditional wooden ship, where we sat and enjoyed the weather and being on the water. The dhows are beautiful and the feel like they’ve been pulled right out of Arabian Nights. They are actually a key part of Oman’s history because Oman was a great seafaring power, trading with East Africa, India and other places around the world.

I also participated in a volunteer event dedicated to protecting the environment and keeping Oman free of pollution. I, along with the rest of NSLI-Y and YES helped clean up trash on sand dunes that overlook Muscat and that are very popular for dirt-biking. The vantage point from the dunes was amazing and you could see all the way to the ocean! Not that the ocean is every very far away seeing as Muscat is long and skinny with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Still it was a lot of fun and even more exciting was the free ice-cream they had! I also ran into an alumni of my university which was exciting. What a small world!

Anyways those are some updates about whats going on here. We’re about to start our spring break and I’m ecxited to say that my AMERICAN FAMILY is visiting!! They are actually on the airplane as I type this and will be arriving later today. I’m so so happy to see them and am also possibly even more excited for them to see Oman and meet my host family. I can’t wait to see my two families meet – slightly confusing but definitely worth it!

 

 

 

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Desert Nights: Wahaiba Sands and Wadi Bani Khalid

This weekend I went on a fantastic trip with the rest of the NSLI-Y students and the YES Abroad students. We visited the Sharqiyah, or desert region of Oman, which is home to vast desert and dunes, a large Bedouin community and many, many camels.

We started the trip with a stop in Ibra, a village on the edge of the desert that is especially known for its old town that has existed since before the time of Prophet Muhammed. One of its noteworthy features is that there are two mosques – one facing towards Jerusalem and one facing towards Mecca. This is because before Muhammed’s arrival and the recognition of Mecca as a holy city, Jerusalem was seen as holy and that is where people directed their prayers. Another very exciting feature was the abundance of old doors. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet on the blog but I love Omani doors – there are so many different styles and designs and each one is so beautiful and unique. Ibra was almost overwhelming because of how many great doors there were and I didn’t have nearly enough time to photograph them all properly but I did my best.

From Ibra we drove straight to Wahaiba Sands, a region that is named after the tribe that lives there, and reached our camp in the late afternoon. We had sometime to relax (aka climb the surrounding sand dunes just because they were there) before going “dune-bashing,” an excellent term that means driving over/through sand in a four-wheel drive car. Even the name sounds slightly precarious and my car did end up getting stuck in the sand a few times and we once had to be pulled out by another car. The tour guides also seemed to enjoy freaking us out by speeding and swerving through the sand, although I can’t say I blame them because I definitely would have done the same thing. We drove to the top of a dune just in time to watch the sun set below even more dunes that seemed to stretch on forever.

There is something about the desert that always leaves me in awe; I think it is the sheer expanse of the landscape. It’s amazing to be able to look out at something and know that it goes on for what is, for all intents and purposes, forever.

We took advantage of the situation by trying to run up and down the dunes, which is much harder than it seems – particularly the running up part.

The next day we didn’t have to be ready until 8:00 am but we decided to get up to see the sunrise over the dunes. There’s just something about the sun – we can’t seem to stay away. So at 5:30 am we made our way back up the hill from where we had watched the sun go down just 12 hours prior, except this time we sat facing the opposite way and watched as everything went from dark to light instead of light to dark. Walking through the sand felt a little bit like being the first person to walk through fresh snow because you can see all of your tracks so clearly. I did find a lot of animal tracks though which was very cool because the second the sun starts to rise the animals disappear and you’ll never see them.

Before leaving the camp we took a brief break to ride some camels, which is always enjoyable. Leading the camels were two Bedouin boys who looked about 6 and 12 years old. I have to say it seems like a pretty great deal to live in the desert and hang out with your camels all day.

Our next stop was at a Bedouin house where we met a Bedouin woman and her family. She taught us how to make traditional bracelets which was a lot of fun to learn and surprisingly easy. I think I might have to bring it to my summer camp – I think it could be a big trend!

The last stop of the trip was at Wadi Bani Khalid, which is one of the biggest and well-known wadis in Oman. It is for good reason because it is absolutely beautiful with emerald colored water and cliffs that are perfect for jumping from.  There were a lot of tourists there and even a few girls wearing bikinis or other revealing bathing suits, which was obviously horrifying to our Omani minds.  Being here I have realized though how hard it is to swim with a clothes on – I like to think of it as strength training because you have to work extra hard just to stay afloat. Before swimming a few of us hiked back into the wadi a bit where we found a few small waterfalls, fewer tourists and some amazing rock formations.

Jumping off the rocks was also a lot of fun and when I showed some initial reluctance to jump off the highest rock an Omani man passing by encouraged me with some words of wisdom. He said, “Don’t think, you will be afraid. Just go”. I couldn’t argue with that so I did exactly what he said and it worked out pretty well!

We arrived back in Muscat just in time for me to get home and finish the homework that I hadn’t yet done for class the next day. And so ends another great exploration of all the amazing things that Oman has to offer!

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