Friday, October 28, 2011

Going to the Opera

Just a brief update:

Yesterday, I went to see Don Quixote in the Royal Opera House here in Muscat as performed by the American Ballet Theatre. It was amazing. The dancing was phenomenal and, even though we were in the "cheap seats" in the back, we could easily tell what was going on. I didn't know much about the storyline (actually, I knew absolutely nothing about it) but with the descriptions from the program combined with what was described to me from someone familiar to the story, I understood pretty well what was going on! Bravo, American Ballet Theatre!

The Opera House is absolutely stellar... comfortable seats, beautiful decor, friendly people. Very glad I got a chance to go! To all Omanis: if you have a chance to, go see something! You won't regret it!

And a small observation: There are a lot of white people at the Opera House. Seriously. It was probably 75-80% foreigners. As was said by one of us, "There are more white people here than there are in America!!" Interesting, because all Omanis I've talked to about the Opera house have commented on awesome it seems, yet it was mostly attended by foreigners.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Good vs. Bad: Numbers edition

Numbers are everywhere in the world--license plates, phone numbers, house numbers, and so on. In Oman, some crafty person took advantage of the fact that number are so prevalent in our lives, and figured out how to make a profit off of them! How, you ask? Well, by making "good" number fashionably expensive. License plate and telephone numbers both have certain traits that can make them good, and therefore, more expensive. People will even pay 10,000 RO for a "good" plate or phone number (that's about $26,000 USD).

So what makes a number "good?"

In the case of license plates, the fewer the digits, the better the number. Your average "bad" number has 4-5 digits. When there are 4 digits, there are usually two letters, and 5 digits calls for one letter.

Example: 92431 D

Then we have "not-too-shabby" numbers. They have 3 numbers and one or two letters. These are more expensive.

Example: 381 D

Next comes your two-digit, one letter plates. Definitely considered "good" and definitely expensive, and almost always seen on nicer cars. Also in this category and the previous one are cars with repeating number. There can be 4-5 numbers, but they are something like 9999 or 44444

Example: 81 S

And then comes the "holy-@!*%%!)-!$@!-$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$" cars. One digit, one letter. Sometimes as or more expensive than the cars that they decorate (which, for the record, are not junkers. Ever).

Example: 1 R


Phone numbers fall into the same pattern. Every personal number in Oman starts with 92, but after that repeating numbers are good. For example (and I'm making all of these up, they aren't numbers of anyone I know--same goes for the plate numbers up there. Though I have seen all of those):
92 22 22 22
92 88 78 78
92 66 66 65

And so on. 

It's an interesting and innovative system! I don't know if this is just an Omani thing or if it happens throughout the region/world, but it also reminds me of the American system of selling more expensive personalized license plates.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rooftop Reflections

We pull aside a full-length mirror, walk up a flight of steep stairs, out a door, and enter a whole new world. The top of Muscat is a jungle of satellite dishes and dusty roofs and minarets. Up there, everything is a bit less chaotic. You can see the mountains looming nearby. Turn 180 degrees and I can see the ocean, Turtle rock, and beyond them, you can imagine Iran's cliffs. Come a bit closer to home and see small shops lining the main streets, men in dishdashas strolling in and out of them. I see endless numbers of cars, parked and driving. Turn back to the mountains and look to the left--the small mosque up the hill is perched there. The other direction, a larger mosque stands, and beyond that is another mosque, elegant even in its incompleteness. The sun is hot, hotter up here even than down in the street. It may only be a few dozen feet up, but it seems like a big difference. There's another section of the roof, and it's a ladder's climb up. We take turns holding it for each other and gingerly climb to the top. Yet another view, this one extending a full circle. We're on top of the world, almost literally. The only thing I see that could possibly be overpowering to us are the huge, brown mountains, which are definitely a significant landmark in their grandeur. The mountains shape Muscat--the restrict it to a thin section curved against the beach.
Muscat is beautiful, and I am experiencing it from an intimate yet removed location. There is no better way to get the lay of the land of a city than to see it from the rooftops. 











Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Trip to the Interior

I just returned from a two-day trip with the YES Abroad students into the Interior of Oman. The Interior is a completely different world from Muscat. Expanding over the vast majority of the Sultanate’s land, the Interior is sparsely populated. Rolling mountains and a lack of water make it difficult for towns and cities to be sustained. However, small villages dot the mountains. These villages, mostly consisting of 5-6 houses, are often still filled with hand-built houses. My journey into this land is chronicled as such:
The Drive
On the way to Nizwa, I was picked up by our program coordinator, Fatin at about 7am. After picking up the other students, we met our guides at a petrol station, where Fatin parked her car. We were split into two vehicles (4 wheelers because we would, eventually, be on un-paved roads). I was with Bailey and Fatin with a guide named Sa’eed, who was by far the most knowledgeable person about Oman who I have ever met. He taught us about geography, different types of aflaj, and many more things throughout our trip.




On the drive, I actually made my first camel sightings! We saw two camels wandering near the highway and a third eating something from a metal bin…


Basically, our drive ensured my belief that Oman is a beautiful country, albeit one that makes me a bit nauseous to drive through—mountainous driving for a flatlands girl can be a bit overwhelming sometimes!

Nizwa Souq and Fort
We arrived in Nizwa after about an hour and a half of driving. Nizwa, the former capital of Oman, is home to a beautiful souq (traditional market) and a several-hundred year old fort.
First, we ventured into the souq. The Nizwa souq sells everything from fruits and vegetables to fish to handicrafts to postcards. We bought some pomegranates from an old man selling them for our dinner.





We also ventured into the fish market, which, well, smelled like a fish market!

Then we wandered around the souq some more, seeing handcrafts and other small shops.



Following the souq, we went to the connected fort. Reconstructed 30-40 years ago, the Nizwa fort is beautiful.  






Al Hoota Caves
We went to Al Hoota Caves, a massive underground cave system. We were unfortunately not allowed to take pictures, but had a great time walking around the (very, very humid) caves and learning about the history and animal life of the caves.
Misfat Village
We went to Misfat Village, a small town located on the slope of a mountain near Al Hamra. We parked, and then walked through the old part of Misfat to a house where we were to have lunch. Misfat is built for a pre-car era, and there are tiny streets that you have to maneuver to get anywhere. We saw some girls carrying water on their heads… quite impressive, really! We also went to a family’s house for dinner, and got to have some delicious food. We never saw the women of the house, though they had prepared the food. Instead, we saw the man of the house and one of his sons. After lunch, we got to go sit on the patio for dates and tea!
After lunch, we walked around Misfat for a while. We got to see the main falaj system in Misfat, which supplies all of its drinking, washing, and farming water. There was also a pool, connected to the falaj, where some local boys were swimming! Noah decided to join them, and jumped off of a roof into a fairly shallow pool… he survived though, with photo documentation!






Al Hamra/ Bait al Safah
Al Hamra is a larger town just down the mountain from Misfat. It is home to a small museum called Bait al Safah, which teaches about what life was like (and still is in many towns, like Al Hamra!) in old Oman. Mostly staffed by women, visitors can see what daily tasks include, and even can try them out! We got to try grinding flour and I tried to make crispy flat bread, both of which are tasks that women must know in order to get married. I managed the flour grinding but the bread was nearly impossible. We also got to try out some beautiful Omani traditional clothing, and as was joked “look at Noah and his four Omani brides!” Just not. No life-changing decisions on the YES Abroad program ;)



Traditional Dhofari dress!
Jabal Shams
After Al Hamra, we headed up to Jabal Shams (literally the Sun Mountain), the largest mountain on the Gulf Coast. Jabal Shams is the first spot to be hit by sunlight in the morning in Oman. News flash: Jabal Shams actually gets COLD! The night we were there, it got down to 0˚ Celsius! We sat outside with blankets and sweatshirts and it was fabulous, despite what our lovely Omanis (and Floridians, for that matter) said. Unfortunately, I got a migraine and had to go to bed early, but that meant I also got up early! Bailey and I were both up at about 5:30 and so we went outside to see the sunrise… it was absolutely beautiful.
Sunrise!



“Omani Grand Canyon”
Our last stop was Wadi Nakhar, the “Omani Grand Canyon.” We had planned a 3-hour hike, though it ended up being more like 5 hours. However, the view was amazing, though mildly terrifying at times. There were a few old villages inside the canyon. Until less than 20 years ago, people lived in the one we passed by, and we saw another at the very bottom that is, in fact, still inhabited! 

Women selling handicrafts by the road. We bought bracelets and keychains from them. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SANDSTORM!

First of all, just to set the mood... 
Today, I survived my first sandstorm! (Oh, and the PSAT too.) I was at AMIDEAST for my Middle Eastern History class, and it finished so us YESers were just hanging out downstairs when we heard a boom! Is that thunder (ra3d in Arabic)? Why aiwa, aiwa it is. 

Bailey and I ran to the window to see an ominously grey sky. Rain? we wondered. Yes, but not quite yet! 

The wind picked up and we all went outside to check it out, and bam! All of a sudden sand was flying everywhere. For the record, though I was completely and totally thrilled to be experiencing this, sand hurts when it gets into one's eyes... contacts are no help whatsoever there. So after taking a few short videos, "OMG IT'S A SANDSTORM AHHHHH" being the main component of them, we went back inside. The sky turned completely black for a while, and you could see nothing but the swirling sand. 

Then, my host mom and sister arrived to pick me up! They had driven through the storm, including one point on the expressway when they apparently couldn't see more than a few feet! 

Right after I got into the car, it started raining, and fairly hard too! I hadn't seen rain since before I left the States, so it was quite a phenomenon to see water falling from the sky! To make it even more exciting, the rain was mixed with the sand... I'm not quite sure how sand still managed to blow everywhere despite the rain ( of which there was actually a fair amount) but it did. 

And it was awesome. I loved it. Everyone's cars are now breaking the "no dirty cars in Muscat" law, but I guess that'll be one rule that will have to slide for a few days. 


I didn't take this picture, but that's what it looked like! I'll try to upload my videos to YouTube/ Facebook when I have more time :)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Secluded Beaches and Small Towns

I went today with my host family to a beach and then for a drive through a much less inhabited region of Oman. Still in the Muscat governorate, I could see an incredible contrast between the city and the country of this relatively small region. Muscat (city) has no real suburbs to the south. You're in the city, and all of a sudden you aren't. Then there are no remaining streetlights, the traffic thins out, the roads become less well maintained, and the mountains loom heavy over your head. It's really quite beautiful, driving through the country. 

We went, first, to the beach for a barbecue! I learned how to make delicious Omani BBQ and also that one should never set one's grill up too close to the water, because the tide will likely come up and you'll have to move three or four times!



BBQ- before



Here are some pictures of the beach where we had our barbecue. I wish I was a good enough photographer to capture the magic of this place... these pictures don't even begin to show how beautiful it was. At the beach was just my host family and a few Indian men there for the day. The area we went to, south of the city, is mostly composed of a coastline of a beach, interupted by a mountain, followed by another beach, and so on.





We also went for a drive through the mountains and a few small villages. These villages were a whole different world. Goats and donkeys wander around them freely. Houses are much smaller, and the animal's pens are makeshift structures attached to the houses. The villages are skirted by small farms, where dates--the only food that grows aplenty in this region-- are grown. People live much simpler lives, and only the wealthier people have cars. It's such a different lifestyle than the one we live in Muscat. I hope that I'll get to see this style of living sometime in more detail than just driving through. 


The next few pictures prominently feature goats and donkeys on the road. While the goats are only in the towns, you see donkeys several kilometers away from the towns!





Beautiful scenery on the road!

We saw quite a large football game taking place in one of the villages!


More donkeys in the main square of one of the towns we saw.