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!

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane!

It's a Bird, It's a Plane!

This is also a pretty old photo from the Muscat Festival in January. I went with my family to see a flight show by a team of planes from the UAE. It was really cool to see, I had never seen anything like it before and the pilots were amazing! They were all perfectly in sync, although it was stressful because you knew that if they made even the slightest mistake then things could go very wrong. The colored smoke was supposed to be for the UAE flag but except for the black they also happen to be the same as the Omani flag!

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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.

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