Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Traditional Bread-Making: Modern Edition

Remember back when I posted about trying to learn to make traditional Omani bread in Al Hamra? I really couldn't do it. I knew I was devastated to a life of never getting married.

But then, one morning, I awoke and went down to the kitchen, only to find my host family down there, making the same traditional bread! The thing is, our version seems so much more safe in comparison. For starters, we were using a small gas burner rather than a large open fire. Secondly, we were using a tool to spread the dough around rather than using our hands. I must say that both of those additions to the process improve the safety rating in my mind by a LOT!

خبز is the Arabic word for bread, pronounced khobz.

Essentially, this bread is just a flour/water combination because it doesn't need a leavening agent. It can be eaten at all meals or just for a snack (if you're so inclined). It's crunchy but also quite soft... I really like it (though admittedly my favorite bread is the Iranian kind. Slightly off topic but Iran is not a big deal here, and when I tell them that it's so weird for me to think of people I know going there everyone tends to be like "why? It's not a problem! I was completely shocked when a host aunt of mine announced that the next week she would just be going to Iran. Everyone else wasn't phased at all, because it's not a big deal. Anyways, the point is that Iranian bread is really good.)

So here, using pictures, I'll try to explain the process of making Omani bread.
First, you spread the dough around. It has to be super thin in order to work! We used a knife and spatula for this. Traditionally, you just take a glob and dab it around. That saves some dough later on because it doesn't have to be removed, but is pretty dangerous (at least for an uncoordinated amrekiyya like myself).
Then you remove all of the extra dough. The bread is cooking during this time... you have to be quick though or it will burn!

This is our addition for breakfast... we cracked an egg on top. This isn't traditional, but it's really delicious! After the egg cooks, you use the knife to slit under the bread to remove it. It comes right off if you use the right kind of pan. 


Here's the finished product. It's folded into fourths and then eaten! Yummy!



Monday, November 28, 2011

Living in an Oil Country


The first sign that the region is oil-rich is, well, a sign. Drive down any road in Muscat and you’ll see petrol stations (aww, cute British English!) everywhere. Each one advertises their oil price on a large sign outside, similar to the ones seen in the US and UK. But wait… what’s this? The numbers aren’t removable? Or LEDs? WHAT? Yes, yes, that is right. The numbers are painted onto the signs. They don’t change.

Well, you’re saying, that must be false. Or it must be a ridiculously high rate.

But the truth of the matter is that petrol is cheap here. Regular is 114 baisa per liter. Super is 120 baisa. To do the conversion, it’s about 30 cents per liter, or about a dollar per gallon. And, like I said, it doesn’t change. Each petrol station, whether it be OmanOil or BP or Shell is the same.

To put that into perspective, my host family can fill up an SUV for 5 Riyal, or $13.

Which brings me to another point: people here have a lot of cars—usually one for every driver in the family. Often, there are more. The reason why is that they can afford to keep them up. The cost here to fill up a Hummer is less than what it is in the States to fill up a Prius. And, to an Omani, a person in a fairly recently developed country (after all, it was only forty years ago that Oman really began to modernize or have really any kind of economic growth), it’s pretty darn cool to have a Hummer. And pretty cheap to maintain it.
The truth is that I have seen practically no hybrid cars during my three months here. Most people prefer to drive large gas-guzzlers—not because they are gas-guzzlers but just because those are the cool cars.

All of these Hummers and SUVs and large cars make me wonder: what about the environment? Does it not matter here? And yepp, there’s my answer. No, it doesn’t matter; at least not to the extent it does in the United States. Why? Because of cost. If petrol in the USA were as cheap as it is in Oman, we definitely wouldn’t be trying to find greener, higher mileage methods of transportation. And if it were as expensive here as it is in the USA, people would definitely be out in hybrid cars. Maybe there would be a real public transportation system.

This brings me to the conclusion that environmentalism is completely grown from money worries. Europe, where petrol is outrageously expensive, has fabulous public transportation and people who do drive use small, better-for-the-environment cars. So, does the environment really matter to people, or are they just worried about their wallets? The cynic in me seems to think the latter. Patterns around the world seem to prove that. Perhaps it would be better if oil were to completely run out, so we would only be able to rely on renewable resources—solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal. But even these new “green” ideas rely on oil to get them started. For example, solar panels are often made from plastic—an oil product.

Essentially, modern society is completely dependent on this resource that will soon run out. It’s predicted that Oman’s oil reserves will be void within 20 years or so. Oman’s economy relies so heavily on oil for sustenance, as do so many aspects of the Omani lifestyle. Even countries that have oil resources will run out someday, and that will hit the world pretty hard.

And those are Emma’s thoughts on environmentalism. Yes, environmentalism is necessary right now, but the only reason we pursue is so that we can uphold our modern, fast-paced lifestyle, not because we really care too much for the Earth. It seems to be a sad truth, but we’re all guilty of it. But who knows—maybe the depreciation of our oil resources will end up being beneficial overall. Even if our new collective human interest in environmentalism is only based in our need to keep up with our lifestyle, it’s good that we are starting to take action in caring for our planet Earth. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Building a Dam: Reflections on Childhood

Yesterday, I went to a wadi with my host family, immediate and extended. This is something we do quite often. We go and sit by the water and barbecue and just relax.

When we were there yesterday, though, my youngest host sister and a host cousin decided to try to dam the wadi. For those of you who aren't familiar with what wadis are, essentially they are valleys with streams of water snaking through them. They are mostly composed of smooth rocks varying in size from pebbles to about the size of my head. The section they decided to dam was about 6 feet across, so not a massive undertaking. After a while, I decided to help out. 

Building a dam is a process. It involves first placing large rocks and then filling in the gaps with smaller ones. There's a methodic aspect to building a damn, but also it can be unpredictable--anything could fall apart at any moment. 

But it made me think: some aspects of life extend across anyone's childhood. It doesn't matter what color you are or what your first language is, but the truth of the matter is that you were a child once. You can relate to the childhood fun of damming a stream or wadi or whatever running bed of water was in your community. Childhood is, regardless of culture or background or language, essentially made up of the same aspects. You're a kid, so you're going to have fun. You're going to try to stop up the river. 

Which makes me realize that children are the same, no matter where they live. 

I'm not really sure what the point of this blog post is, actually; I just wanted to share some thoughts that I had about this quite simple undertaking by my host family. 


Friday, November 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

How lucky am I? I got to eat Thanksgiving dinner twice, in two very different locations. For the cynics in you, my readers, I could be considered not very lucky at all. I mean, two Thanksgivings has got to equal Emma getting fat. But then and again, remember that this means that I got to have mashed potatoes twice. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh yeah. And it also gave me chances to be doubly thankful for all of the amazing opportunities I have here!

Anyways, the first one was not much like any Thanksgiving dinner I've ever had before. It was at the US Ambassador's house-- a special meal to commemorate the YES program. Attendees included us YES Abroad students, our host families, some YES program alums, our school principals, and people from AMIDEAST and the US Embassy.
It should be noted that the US Ambassador's house is beautiful. We ate on the lawn (a real lawn! Definitely a rarity in Oman) and there were some security guards around. And did I mention that it's beautiful? Because it is.

Anyways, some speeches were made (short, alHamdelillah), and then we had food!



And of course, there were photo opportunities.

All in all, a very nice night.

Then, on actual Thanksgiving, I went with Quin to the home of some young people working with the church here in Muscat. Two of them are American, so they were holding a Thanksgiving dinner for some of their Omani friends and invited Quin to go along and bring some friends. So, wanting to spend Thanksgiving doing Thanksgiving-y things, I went! In the afternoon, we spent hours cooking: two turkeys, mashed potatoes, cornbread, green beans, broccoli, dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and two types of pie (by the way, did you know that berry pie can be cooked in the microwave? it totally can). 
Then, the Omanis began to come over. One of the American girls had written a skit explaining the story of Thanksgiving. Everyone was an actor-- she had made paper Pilgrim and Indian hats!!
Oh yes. 
And then it was time to eat! It was just a wonderful meal, and it felt so good to be in a kind of a family setting for such a traditional family holiday. I am so grateful to the people who welcomed Quin and I into their celebrations on this holiday when we're so far from our families.

Everyone drew everyone else on balloons... here are some fabulous renditions of myself and Quin. Looks like us, eh?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being Thankful

It's that time of year again. Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Time for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, football, Charlie Brown, and turkey. All the good things of life. But it's also a time to give thanks for all of the blessings in life, especially for the people who grace us with their presence.

First of all, I am oh-so-grateful for my family. All of them-- my family in the United States, who is always there for me with an encouraging word when I'm down and my family in Oman, who has opened their hearts and their home to me, just a young girl from America who has no idea what she's doing 3/4 of the time. And of course I am grateful for my Thai sister, who, even though she's not able to be with either of my other families, is so much a blessing to me. I also have to remember my extended family, American and Omani.

I am grateful to the friends I have. To my friends in the United States, who are always there with their love and expressions of how they miss me. I honestly miss seeing all of you so much. And my Omani friends, who have opened their lives to me with such honesty.

I am incredibly grateful for the YES Abroad program and everything it has given me. To the other YES Abroad students, in Oman and elsewhere, you have no idea how much you mean to me. All of your wittiness and overall fabulousness has just proved to me what an amazing group of people you are. Especially I am grateful for Quin, Bailey, Jaira, and Noah for being my number one support system here--no one understands me quite so well as you guys. I'm so thankful for everyone at AMIDEAST, especially Fatin and Sarah, for everything they do for us. And most of all, I'm thankful for the amazing opportunity that YES Abroad has given to me to be here, to be able to share myself and my traditions with Omanis while I learn about this wonderful new culture.

Having just been pulling through a hard month (every exchange student who has ever seen the u-curve of exchangeness knows that November is difficult), it's nice to just step back to remember how truly blessed I am. I am so thankful for all of the opportunities I have, and all of the people I've met, and the amazing support system I have. I'm thankful to get to share the Thanksgiving spirit with the new people I've met. Being in Oman has reminded me what Thanksgiving is about-- in the literal meaning of the word, it is about giving thanks. But Thanksgiving is also about celebrating how wonderful life can be. I think it took my leaving America to realize this. Over the past few months, I have realized that I am so blessed in so many ways, and I give my thanks to everyone who is a part of my life.

In the States, I find that we tend to, like so many holidays, over-commercialize Thanksgiving. It becomes about the food and the parade and the football, rather than about the true meaning. So I bid all of you, sitting down with your families for a Thanksgiving meal, to remember that meaning.

Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.  ~E.P. Powell


Have a Happy, Blessed Thanksgiving, and may you remember the true meaning of the holiday.


I'll be posting another post later about my Thanksgiving celebrations here, too :) 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Trust

Today, a girl in our class pulled out an X-acto knife in class because she needed it for a project. In the United States, this would never happen; X-acto knives are on the list of contraband items for school there. But here it's pretty normal. As a friend of mine said today when I asked about the knife, "In America you'd use the knife to kill people. Here, we use it to cut boards! And you call us terrorists!"* Although she was joking around of course, that got me to thinking-- would Americans actually use an X-acto knife to kill someone?

Probably not. Most people who use X-acto knives use them the same way Omanis use them--to cut boards. That's why they're made. But the difference between Oman and America in this scenario is trust. Americans tend to not trust people they first meet. Omanis, on the other hand, are inclined to trust on the firsthand rather than distrust. This is a trait I admire. You can't be sure about a person until you get to know them, so, in my opinion, it's better to give people the benefit of the doubt. Believe in the fundamental goodness of human beings. Yes, you will get a few crazy people, but it shouldn't deter from the fact that most people are not out to sabotage things for others. They're just there to get along and go about their business.

In the scenario with the X-acto knife, I could really see that trust come out. The people in charge of the school haven't had a reason to have to ban X-acto knives, so why should they? Basically, this is a scenario of pessimism v. optimism.
I actually remember having a conversation about this with a man I met on an airplane last March. I was flying from Denver, at the YES selection event, to Chicago. Really, this was the first big step on my way here to Oman. This man, whose name I do not know, and I discussed this matter of trust. He seemed to take the pessimistic approach, in thinking that trust was not something to be given out. Today, in my reflections over the X-acto knife, I remembered this conversation and a few more. The moment a few weeks ago when I was at the UAE border with my host family, and they only needed to see that there was a girl (not Omani) in the car, but not my face. They trusted that my host family was not merely smuggling someone into the country. In this case, it was me who took the pessimistic view of trust. I knew we weren't lying about who I was, but didn't they want to check? Didn't they want to make sure that I was the girl on the ID, and maybe get my signature on top of that? Then there are the times when, at the school canteen, students can just put money down and walk away with their purchases. I always try to make sure to hand my money to the men manning the stand, because I want them to know that I'm not being dishonest, but the truth here is that it doesn't really matter, because they trust that I won't steal.

 If I were to do something to lose that trust, it would be hard to regain, but I'm on the honor system here. If you stay on the right path, there will be no reason to distrust you. And it seems, for the most part, to be pretty effective in this society.

If the world is going to ever get along, we're going to have to take the optimistic route. Use the honor system. Trust people. Because if we trust them, they'll trust us.


*by the way, I'd like to point out that this girl doesn't hate America, and she really was joking, not trying to make a true derogatory comment. She was a YES student, actually. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

National Day: Part 2

Today was our school's National Day celebration! Although the official National Day was on Thursday, we celebrated today. I'm really glad it was today as opposed to yesterday, because I was taking the SAT. However, I did get to see some National Day activity there as well! I took the SAT at the Indian School in Muscat, and many of the students there were rehearsing for their National Day celebrations (although it is an Indian school, they still celebrate National Day because the school is in Oman). The marching was pretty awesome! They were very in sync... I can't imagine how much time it took to choreograph hundreds of students to march in perfect time with one another!!


Then, today was our school's celebration. And what does that entail? Fun! Today, uniforms were optional, as long as the replacement garments were traditional Omani clothing. The night before, my host sister and I "bakhoored" our clothes. This basically involves a wooden stand that clothes are draped over. Underneath, incense is burned. This makes the clothes smell amazing, and the smell lasts for days if you don't wash them!
This morning we woke up and,  rather than our uniforms, put on traditional Omani clothing. Both of us were wearing dresses styled like those from Dhofar, in the south of Oman.
At school, there was a frenzy of activity-- everyone was running around admiring each others dresses and making last minute preparations to their performances for the show. The inner courtyard looked so different from normal!
Yay National Day confetti!

Then the show started... and it was so awesome! We saw songs performed (both in Arabic and English) and traditional dances and a wide variety of other performances. My favorite, however, was definitely the fashion show of different types of traditional Omani clothing. The girls who put it together did such a good job... and the costumes were of course amazing!
I wish I could show you readers the wide variety of amazing costumes people were wearing, but for personal preference reasons of the students, I can't. However, if anyone would like pictures send me an email/facebook message and I'll see what I can do.




Here are some of Quin and I, though :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

National Day: Part 1

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OMAN! AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO SULTAN QABOOS!!

November 18, 2011 marked the 41st National Day (and Sultan Qaboos' birthday)-- or the 41st anniversary of Qaboos taking the country from his father in a bloodless coup. Since then (minus a small incident of Dhofari rebels trying to break away from the country in the early 1970's), Qaboos has led the country. He has pretty wholly transformed Oman from it's previous state of poverty, illiteracy, and little infrastructure to the highly developed, educated place it is today. The National Day is a way for Omanis to celebrate their vast accomplishments over the past 41 years. From what he started with when he took power, I'd say Qaboos has done an absolutely superb job of developing the country. 

Yesterday, the National Day was celebrated by another milestone-- for the first time in history, the military ceremony performed for the Sultan was led and performed entirely by women. This is another massive stride for the country and region. I think it's wonderful that Oman is leading the way in giving it's women the equal rights they deserve. Not only are women here allowed many rights that their peers in neighboring countries are denied, but they are even given a huge sign of respect by being allowed and welcomed to perform for the Sultan. Personally, I think that this is a huge stride for women's rights in the region, and I applaud the decision-makers. Likewise, I applaud the women who participated in this ceremony for defying stereotypes and helping to lead their country forwards. The fact that Omani women are so widely accepted in this country gives me a lot more respect for the government leaders, because it shows their willingness to be truly progressive although it would be very easy for them to restrict rights. 

Kudos to you, Oman and Sultan Qaboos. 


Thursday, November 17, 2011

What's in a name?

So, what does your name mean? That's a really good question. And it's one I'm asked quite frequently, actually. Well, I don't actually know, so here's a brief array of meanings for 'Emma,' as warranted by Google.

  • Universal
  • Whole
  • All-containing
  • To imitate
  • To rival
  • Nurse
  • Serious

So, as you can see, there are a lot of things that my name could mean! But the truth of the matter is that 'Emma' doesn't really mean anything. Perhaps it is derived from a word initially, but Google seems to have several different languages listed as the "original," from German to Teutonic to Swedish. In a nutshell, my name is just a name. 

So, to quote my lovely title (and Shakespeare): What's in name? 

In English, maybe not much. But in the Arab world, a name is not just a name. A name means something. Generally, there are religious aspects to a name or at least names tie back into the Arabic language. 

For example, take the name 'Noor.' Noor is the Arabic word for "light." This is a fairly common name for girls in the Arab world. 

Or take the name 'Abdullah.' This combines both Arabic words and Islamic cultures. Abdul means "servant" and Allah means "God," therefore making Abdullah mean "servant of God."*

Then, take the most common name in the world: Mohammed. Yes, there are more Mohammeds than people of any other name in the world, and I definitely believe it after living here. Mohammed, the Prophet, is seen by Muslims as the last word from God. There are so many people named Mohammed. 

Middle names and last names, in the Arab world, also mean something. Every Omani child's middle name is their father's name. The fact that my middle name is not William also causes some shock to people, sometimes. Last names, at least in Oman, represent your tribe. Tribal loyalty is very important, and belonging to a tribe is incredibly vital. Tribes are family to Omanis. 

So, I hope this explains a little bit about a cultural concept seen commonly. I actually like that, here, in Oman, names mean something. A name has a history behind it greater than being named after a cow (yes, that is where my name came from. You can ask my mother). A name has meaning on many levels--linguistic, religious, family, and tribal. My opinion is that naming a child through this system, incorporating vital aspects of this child's future life, means that Arab names tend to have a lot more to them than Western names. 


*It should be noted that 'Abdul' is not an acceptable name for a child (despite what the common Western media sometimes says), because it literally means "servant" or "slave," although Abdullah (or "abdul" combined with one of the other 99 names for God) is perfectly acceptable. 

I can't dance!


My awkwardness sometimes just seems to overflow into everything I do in Oman. I think a mathematic formula to describe it would be something along the lines of

awkwardness ×new culture= 〖awkwardness〗^∞

And yes, people, that is awkwardness to the power of infinity. I think any past and present exchange students will agree that this is a period of making a fool of oneself. It comes with the territory. We’re going to make mistakes.  And it’s going to be awkward.

One of the places, however, that my eternal awkwardness is most prevalent is at parties, where of course dancing is required. For those of you in the States who know me well (read: Heatwavers), I am constantly dancing. It’s just an Emma-ish trait. Well.

Yesterday, I went to a birthday party for a young cousin. However, he is still a bit too young to appreciate the merits of a good party. So the females of the party went into another room, closed the door, and pulled out an empty blue plastic water cooler (you know, the kind that you flip upside down in a machine and then there’s mineral water or something in there). Empty blue water coolers, when flipped upside down, make awesome drums, apparently. And these ladies are masters at playing all the popular songs on these makeshift drums. Then, of course, dancing is in order.

And, of course, exchange students need to take advantage of every learning opportunity and hey, why not learn to dance? I’m not too bad of a dancer. Yeah, about that. Every time I go to a party (I can think of maybe three where I have needed to show off my skills), I am pulled almost instantly to the dance floor and taught the proper way to shake my hips.

Here’s the problem: I can’t do it!

But I try. And to look on the bright side, my attempts cause fabulous entertainment for observers. And I have a wicked amount of fun in the attempt. So I would like to extend a thank you to all of the wonderful women who gamely try to teach me a skill that I have little chance of ever truly picking up. All I can say is Inshallah I will learn!

I feel like the dancing, along with everything else awkward that I do, will make me a stronger person. In fact, it already is. Being here is teaching me to laugh at myself. It’s teaching me to go with the flow, and to try something new. It’s teaching me to be a more outgoing Emma. I’m braver and more willing to try new things. And I’m so grateful to have these opportunities for personal growth.

This experience of being in Oman has been hard for me lately. I’ve had a very homesick last few weeks, and sometimes I’ve felt hopeless and just ready to give up. It’s sometimes to stay strong through an experience like a foreign exchange program. But it’s moments like these, when I feel completely accepted in the culture, that make me accept myself all the more. And the awkward moments teach me to deal with things, to be stronger. So thank you to everyone out there, here and at home, who are supporting me on my journey to discover both a new culture and myself. 

Another thing I’ve learned: How to insert an equation into Microsoft Word. Yay for technological skills!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An interesting video

Today Quin and I stumbled across this video about the UAE, entitled "Emirates Workers."


Why is this so interesting to us? Well, first of all the UAE is quite close to Oman, just a 3 hour drive from Muscat. And secondly, there are Indian workers here too. I don't know much about their living and working conditions, but the images I saw in this video, in a way, represented things I've seen here. Most of the construction workers are Indians, and it's just interesting to me to see this photo collection on the Emirates. 
I also can see the link between this and migrant workers in the United States. Often, these people have jobs that citizens of the country they have migrated to don't want. They work as gardeners or garbage collectors or construction workers. Their nationalities vary, but the truth is that they can be seen everywhere. 
I hope that one day, all of these migrant workers, from everywhere around the world, legal and illegal, will receive proper compensation and benefits for their labor. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Words Words Words Kalaamat!: Food edition

Here are a few words (كلام , pronounced Kalaam) that are important (or at least, I deem them important). Inshallah all of you readers will be a bit smarter, or at least more informed about Arabic, after reading this.


Now you can say this in Arabic!
Aren't you proud of yourself?

طعام -ta'am-- food 

اكل- akl-- food
Notice how there are two ways to say "food" In Arabic. 
This culture *loves* food and I love that!

زيتون- zaytoon-- olive


اكلي لحوم- aklee lahoom-- cannibal


ممتاز- mumtaz-- excellent


ايس كريم- ays kreem-- ice cream


برتقال- burtuqal-- orange


مطعم- mata'm-- restaurant


سمك- samuk-- fish


حلو- halwa-- sweet


بسم الله- bismillah-- in the name of God (said before eating)



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eid Mubarak!

I already posted a bit about Eid and what it is, so I'm just going to talk in this post about what I did to celebrate the holiday!! So here goes:

Day 1: This is the day in which people visit family. We woke up early in the morning and got dressed up and ready to go. My host sisters and I all wore jalabiyyas, which are a kind of gorgeous Arabian dress. I'm afraid I don't really have good pictures that I can share (as I can't post pictures of my host sisters on the internet for privacy reasons) but we looked quite jameela, if I might say so myself. Two days before that, I had henna applied though, which I can show a picture of!



Then, we all went to an uncle's house for breakfast. Breakfast in Eid, at least with my extended host family includes meat! Lots of it! Basically, we had what is normally lunch food- chapati, stew-type potatoes and meat (rather Indian in being... we actually eat a lot of Indian style food), and liver. Wait... that's not normal lunch food! I was told "try it! It's nice with lemon juice!" so, of course, being an exchange student who wants to try everything, I did. Well. Liver is not on the top of my list, but I'm glad I gave it a sample. You only live once, after all.  Anyways, then we all sat in the living room eating watermelon and halwa. I have yet to do a post on halwa, but I'll get around it it eventually. In summary, it's the Omani national sweet and man, is it good. And very rich. Another interesting Eid tradition: giving faloos, or money, to all of the children. People here are very generous! 

After our morning at the uncle's house, we went to my host mom's mother's house for lunch. After the "small" Eid gathering that morning, this was a whole different affair (I use quotes here because it wasn't really that small, just in comparison. Like how my host family is "small" because there are only 5 kids. By Omani standards, it is). We were some of the first to arrive, but soon cousins, second cousins, probably some third cousins, and a variety of other relatives flooded into the flat. I had met a few of them, but mostly they were strangers to me. When I say flood, I mean it. There were a few of us there (maybe 20) and, within 15 minutes, there were probably 50 people there, all talking and greeting one another. For some of them, they had not seen each other since last Eid. And then as soon as they had come, most people left we ate lunch. We ate in the traditional Omani style, on the floor, although there was an option for using silverware for the less adventurous/more dainty of us. After lunch, there was the required tea and halwa and chatter, and, finally we returned home after a long and tiring day. 

Day 2: On the second day of Eid, we woke up early once again to head for Musandam, in the north of Oman! To get there, you either have to drive, fly or take a boat. We opted for the third option, so we boarded the Hormuz, a ferry that runs between Musandam and Muscat.
The red circle is the location of Musandam. I know it says "study area," but I took the picture from the internet because I have far too much to write here to take time to actually put something together. Google it is.
The ferry was really a nice way to travel. We got to see the ocean, and it was just much more comfortable than driving. I met a nice couple (British, I think) and chatted for a while about being foreign in Oman. I also chatted with some host cousins, which was nice!

We got to the place we were staying and freshened up a bit before heading back out to barbecue on the beach. Fun fact! Musandam is just a few kilometres from Iran. Very exciting to a nerd like myself. 





Day 3: The highlight of the third day was a trip on a dhow, which is a traditional Omani ship! It was such a great trip--the boat had these great, comfortable pillows for seats. The Musandam coastline is beautiful. There are massive towering mountains that are literally just a few metres from the sea. Very little vegetation grows in Musandam, and many tiny villages are scattered along the coast. These villages rely entirely on fishing for their livelihood. It was a great trip! 




Day 4: We were set to return by ferry this day, but that was made impossible because the ferry was cancelled due to strong winds. Because people had to get back to work, we needed to leave, so we decided to drive! Driving from Musandam to mainland Oman involves going through the UAE, and so that's what we did! It was a 6-7 hour drive, but I got to see a bit of the Emirates in the process! For the most part, it was just driving, but we also stopped at a carpet/fruit market. I ate a whole coconut. Interestingly, coconuts here look nothing like coconuts I've had in the states. They're much bigger and greener and smoother. 
Moooooooooooooooooo.

UAE pride!



Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wadi

wadi: valley
Yesterday I went to a wadi with my host family! It was either called Wadi Fenja or Wadi Khoud; I was told both by multiple people. It also might be that they intersect and I actually did go to both. No matter. 
After the rains, people flock to the wadis. They fill with water (runoff from the mountains) and therefore are a fairly pleasant picnicking environment, provided that you can find some shade. Not to mention that it's wicked fun to drive your 4-wheel drive through gravel covered with 2-4 feet of water. 


Sometimes, the water is deeper than it seems and people get stuck... like this dude near where we stopped. 


So this guy came along to get him unstuck...



Then, for some reason, this guy drove right through the middle, very successfully tangling his wheels in the rope. 

Finally the car got unstuck, but not before there were literally 30 cars there waiting, each with 1-4 men in them. Wadi bashing is, for the most part, a male-dominated pastime. 

 And then an Omani's favorite pastime!! Barbecue! And feeding exchange students! Whenever I go places I am fed a lot... Arab hospitality sure is wonderful!



And then it was time to go home! A very fun day, nonetheless a tiring and busy one!

I would also like to apologize for my awful English... Unfortunately that's not doing so well right now!

Eid Mubarak, everyone!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eid Al Adha

Starting today, I have 9 days off of school for Eid Al Adha, an important Muslim holiday. Eid celebrates the day when Abraham, the prophet, was going to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael, when God interrupted him and gave him a ram for the sacrifice, rewarding Abraham's loyalty to God. This story is also in the Bible, although the intended boy is Abraham's other son, Isaac. 

At Eid, Muslims around the world celebrate by sacrificing a sheep. In Oman, this tradition is practiced by making shuwa, which essentially involves digging a hole in the ground, lighting a fire, putting the animal into the hole, covering it, and leaving it there for a day or so. Everyone has been telling me what a wonderful dish this is, so naturally I'm excited to try it! Eid this year begins on this Sunday, the 6th of November and goes until the next day. However, people celebrate all week and, as a result, we have the entire week off from school! 

Also during Eid, people tend to travel to see their family (or they go to Dubai). Because all of my extended host family is centered in Muscat, we are travelling with my host father's brothers and sister and their families to Musandam, in the north of Oman. I'm definitely pretty excited! Admittedly, part of this excitement owes its existence to that fact that Musandam is only a few kilometres from Iran, and you can see Iran from Musandam! Yay hooray!

In advance, Eid Mubarak! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When it rains, it pours! Or at least the effects are that of pouring!


Muscat doesn’t get much rain. Maybe 3-5 days a year are truly overcast and rainy. But when water does start to fall from the sky, it can be catastrophic. In 2009, a cyclone disabled the entire city. Everything was underwater.
Yesterday, a small amount of rain fell. I was at my Arabic class with the other YESers, and we had just finished and were waiting for our driver when we looked outside and freaked out—’PRECIPITATION!!’ though our American-rain-snob-selves admitted that it wasn’t real rain. Just sprinkling. But still exciting, because water was falling from the sky. Dancing commenced.
Today, however, came the real gullywasher. Perhaps by Wisconsin thunderstorm season standards it wasn’t much, but you have to remember that Muscat virtually has no gutter system. The water tends to just sit there. So, even though there wasn't a whole lot of water in the grand scheme of things, the effects were drastic. Also, Muscat is sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean. Water drains down to the sea, but that means that it goes straight through the city. There’s no alternate route. When the rains come, wadis fill up and wash out homes, businesses, and roads. This particular rainstorm was heavier than the sprinkles that Muscat can handle, and, as a result, things are pretty crazy here now.

A multi-car crash in Muscat

  • ·         City Centre Qurum’s roof has collapsed in one part.
  • ·         Ruwi, the business district, is totally underwater.
  • ·         Several multi-car accidents happened today.
  • ·         An important (and brand-new) bridge is totally under water because it has no drainage system, and, in fact, it is a drainage location.
  • ·         A hospital is completely flooded.
  • ·        School was let out early, and our extra Middle Eastern History class at AMIDEAST was cancelled.
  • ·         Nandos, a restaurant, exploded. Something to do with a gas tank and water getting into it. I’m not sure what the extent of the explosion is.
This kind of thing is really inopportune for Muscat, especially because it is almost the Eid Al Adha holiday, and people have plans to travel out of Muscat. Really, though, it isn’t safe to go on the roads if you’re most places in Muscat.

City Centre Qurum's roof


Luckily, I live on a hill. There’s a lot of water, but it’s not sticking near here and our house has not flooded. I actually had a wonderful time out in the rain with my youngest host sister and then my sisters and I all ate lunch on the steps in front of our house, just watching the rain fall.