Thursday, March 29, 2012

Food!

My readers, you should be proud of me. I finally managed to take pictures of food: two whole meals-worth! I would also like to point out that my host brother did the cooking here, ما شاء الله.

I'm afraid that I do not know the names of these dishes, but they are both delicious!

This...

Plus this...


Equals this fabulous concoction! It is eaten with the hands only, and is essentially soup and bread. 


This is pretty typical of what we eat a lot. Saluna, or stew, over rice. This is plain white rice be we often have biryani rice or some other kind of rice with it. 


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Omani food tends to be spicy--at first it was pretty tricky for me to eat it, but I have some advice for all of you aspiring spicy food eaters out there. Embrace it. Enjoy the flames that attempt to devour your tongue. Masochism isn't always bad.

This here is a picture of mendazzi, an Omani (I think originally Zanzibari, but don't quote me on that... on an unrelated topic though, did you know that Zanzibar used to be part of Oman? In fact, it was the capital and the center of the slave trade!) sweet puffy delicious bit of dough that I must learn to make.



I'll work on getting some recipes up ASAP for anyone you is interested in cooking Omani style! (Right now, all I can make is tea!)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Greatest Challenge of Exchange

A commenter on my blog recently asked me to write about what I think is the most challenging part of being an exchange student. And so this is my response to them:

Now, in March, and with me being a very futuristic thinker, I’m apt to say that the most difficult part of being an exchange student is knowing that I have less than three months left. The entire second half of my exchange has been a real period of growth for me. I have noticed a big difference in my interactions with my host family and Omani friends. My relationships have strengthened exponentially. My Arabic is indeed improving. And I feel increasingly at home here.

However, to look at exchange-studentdom from a bird’s eye view I think I have a different answer. The most challenging part of being an exchange student, for me, is that I often am dreadfully lost as to what is happening and why.

I am the kind of person who, in general, is in the center of all activity. I know what’s happening; in fact, I often am the one making it happen. To be honest, I like to be in charge of what direction my life is going, and if I am not in charge, I make sure to get answers to all of my questions. Coming to Oman, being an exchange student in general, has changed that completely. I now have to rely on other people for so many parts of my life, from getting a ride to translation.

At home and at school, sometimes life just does not turn out exactly as I expected it would. I have to ask questions I otherwise wouldn’t have needed to because announcements were made in Arabic. Sometimes, things are said in English but I just do not understand why something is happening.

Having to have a translator is another big step for me. My friends who translate for me at school (in assemblies and the like) do an excellent job, but it is weird not to hear it firsthand. I truly wish my Arabic were better, but the truth is that it only creeps along.

In many cases, something in my life will be happening and I just will not know why. A decision will be made, usually for something trivial, but I always feel that I am the last to know. This isn’t the fault of anyone; it just happens.

In a nutshell, I feel disconnected from my life sometimes.

Which, for me, is an incredible challenge. Since my Arabic comprehension has improved over the past month or two, this is slightly less of an issue for me now. I’ve learned to listen for key phrases that tell me when something is happening and why. And I’ve figured out the questions to ask.

Before coming to Oman, I knew there would be challenges, and with that, opportunities for personal growth. I don’t think I was ever able to grasp what those challenges would be. Learning to rely on others and to not always be totally in-the-know is perhaps the best example of personal growth that I have noticed. I’ve learned to be more flexible through this, and I’ve learned to sometimes realize that a “my way or the highway” attitude is not necessarily the best approach. Things some places are done differently, and I’m not always right.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Day in the Life: School


Here’s a brief timeline of my average weekday:
6:00 Wake up. I have come to despise the beeping sound of my phone’s alarm clock. It is by far the most heinous sound I have ever heard. I’m not sure how the lovely people at Nokia managed to get it to be so obnoxious, but it certainly accomplishes the goal of getting me out of bed to turn the thing off.
6:40 The school bus arrives to pick my host sister and I up.
7:20 We arrive at school. I go up to my classroom and spend time with the girls in my class.
7:30 Assembly or re-teach.  Assembly consists of exercises, a singing of the National Anthem, a reading of a section of the Qur’an, and a presentation in English or Arabic by one of the classes, where we learn about things as diverse as similes and mosquito anatomy. Re-teach is when one of the teachers comes in to give us extra help in their subject.
7:45 Math class. In math right now we’re learning logarithmic functions. I seem to consistently end up having math first thing in the morning throughout high school, which is somewhat unfortunate because it’s not my best subject.
8:35 Geography. Most of my class takes Chemistry at this time, but I and a few others from my class have Geography with the 10th graders.
9:20 English.
10:05 Break! During break we can go down to buy food or you can eat food you’ve brought from home. Our canteen sells croissants, sandwiches, and za3ter (which I cannot describe, and I’ve no pictures to share) during the first break. We dance a lot in the classroom during break.
10:35 Arabic. Because I, for obvious reasons, cannot take  twelfth grade Arabic, I go to the library to learn basic Arabic with the librarian. It’s actually quite helpful!
11:20 Physics. This class is hard, because it’s the second year in a two-year course, but I really enjoy the class because it’s so much application of theories, not memorization like so much of science.
12:05 Some other class. This changes daily, and is either Chemistry, Math, English or Physics. It varies every day, but my schedule is surprisingly solid in comparison to other grades. It’s common to have a zany schedule that is totally different every day.
12:50 Break raqum ithnain! This time the canteen sells Oreos. ‘Nuff said.
1:00 Media/PE/ Islamic/ Social Studies. If it’s Islamic/Social Studies, I go to the library for more Arabic.
1:45 nefs ashay (same thing).
2:30 School’s out! If it’s an Arabic or Middle Eastern History class day, I go with a driver. Otherwise, I’m on the bus.
3:00 Arrive home, and eat lunch. Usually  it is rice and saluna.
For the rest of the day, I usually study, watch TV, and perhaps take a trip to the duqan (small shop). 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Dusty Day

Photo courtesy of Muscat Daily
From what I've heard, Kuwait gets a lot of dust storms. Oman does not. So, it was fairly surprising to most people when Kuwait got a dust storm that proceeded to engulf the entire Gulf. This storm was quite different than the sandstorm I experienced last October for a few reasons.

Yesterday afternoon, someone ran into my class to tell us that there was a dust storm coming and therefore school was closing early. As we left, things certainly began to look eerier, because the sky was grey rather than the normal blue. However, the might of the storm had yet to hit Muscat, and so our bus ride home was fairly normal. Thanks to the epic inter-connectivity of Omani teen lives, we were able to track the storm as it traveled towards us. I'm afraid to say I actually didn't notice when it did pass by because I was inside, not focused on the weather. I am told, though, that it came over the sea, and a story passed to me by some amount of layers of the grapevine (therefore weakening the liability as a legitimate story) says that someone was on a ship and saw the wave of dust rolling over the ocean. 

We awakened this morning to find everything grey. The strangest thing for me was the total lack of visibility. Near to where you stood, everything looked only vaguely foggy. However, when the towering mountains that are literally at your back door disappear, things get a little bit spooky. 

Schools in various places around the region were closed, but ours was still on. Because my school is built around a large courtyard, if I wanted to travel out of the classroom I literally had to cover my mouth with my scarf to avoid swallowing liberal amounts of silt from the air. Wearing contact lenses with that much dust in the air is not something I would advise to anyone. 

Luckily, by now (it's maybe 28 hours since the storm passed by), the dust is finally beginning to settle. We can all breathe again (literally). And I learned a new word-- ghabar (dust)!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Animals in Oman


As I posted a while back, there are two types of cats in Oman: Persian and Street.

Persian cats are very over-loved, and are treated like very spoiled little children. I know of one cat who has its own room and is allowed to ride in an elevator. If families own pets, it is very likely that these animals are Persian cats.

Street cats are another breed altogether. There is no such a thing as an animal shelter in Oman, so these wiry little creatures are literally everywhere. There are stray dogs as well, but to a much lesser extent. The cats have slightly creepy triangular faces. They are very, very thin, and I'm afraid to say that I barely notice them anymore. These cats kind of fade into the background, and many people view them as a bit of a nuisance. There are several that actually live within our gates, because it provides a bit of extra shelter.
This is one of the strays that lives behind our house. Here it is perched on our  wall.
In terms of animals that are native to Oman, the most famous would likely be the fish. Oman is known for its maritime past, particularly among fishing. Fish here can be a wide variety of colors; when I was in Musandam we saw beautiful multicolored fish everywhere! And of course, when there is a fishing industry there are fish markets, which are usually big and fairly smelly but still quite interesting to view. 



And then of course there are the other native animals. We saw a parrot flying once in a small village. Here are some pictures of others!
I love its saddle!



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to Speak Arabic like a Facebooking Teenager, and Other Important Lessons


Teens in Oman and other parts of the Arab world have a special way of writing the Arabic language in the Latin alphabet. Commonly called ‘3rabizi,’ this is how my classmates (and I) communicate via the internet. Keyboards here all are both English and Arabic, and because people here speak English and Arabic together often, they stick to one keyboard setting. 3rabizi incorporates both letters and numbers, because some Latin letters (like c and x) have no place in the Arabic alphabet, and some Arabic letters (like ص and ع) are not in English. 

Here’s how to read it:

2: This takes the place of hamza, which is a half-letter, really just a glottal stop. It is seen in ان شاء الله, which in 3rabizi is 'insh2allah,' meaning 'God Willing.' Hamza in Arabic looks like ء.

7: This takes the place of Haa, which is a very breathy h-sound. It is seen in الحمد لله, which in 3rabizi is 'al7amdullah,' meaning 'Thanks God." Haa in Arabic looks like ح.

5: This takes the place of kha. It is seen in the word خال, or '5al,' and means 'maternal uncle.' In Arabic, it is خ.

9: This takes the place of Saad, which is pronounced as a deeper s. It is seen in the word صفّ, or '9aff,' meaning 'class.' In Arabic, it is ص.

9': This takes the place of Daad, which is a deeper d sound. It is seen in the word مريضة, or mari9'a, which means 'sick.' In Arabic, it is ض. 

6: This takes the place of Taa, which is a deeper t sound. It is seen in the word طاولة, or '6awila,' which means 'table/desk.' In Arabic, it is ط. 

6': Probably the least common letter, this is Dha. It is seen in the word ظافر, or '6'afr,'
 which means 'winner.'  In Arabic, the letter looks like ظ.

3: This letter, 'ayn, is very difficult for me to say but is essentially a forced sound 
made in the back of the throat. It is seen in the word عين, or '3yn,' which means 'eye.' 
It looks like ع.

3': The letter 'ghayn is like the French r. It is seen in the word غبي, or '3'abii,' which 
means 'stupid/ moron.' It is written in Arabic script as غ.

8: This is the letter qaaf, which is most similar to a hard q. It is seen in the word قط, or 
'8a6a,' which means 'cat.' It is ق in Arabic script. 



I would also like to point out an important note in Arabic script: each letter has a beginning, middle, ending, and isolated position, and for some letters it looks very different depending on on their position. Take, for example, ع.
ععع is that same letter written three times in beginning, middle, and ending position. 
Or take ه, my personal favorite. (it sounds like an h)
ههه, which clearly look nothing alike. 

Then, to write vowels, one must first distinguish between long and short. The long vowels, ا (a), ي (ii),and و(oo), are written in Arabic script. However, there are short vowels as well, which are there but typically are not written because they are merely dashes or circles over or under the letters. 

To write hahaha in Arabic, one must write هَهَهَ. In comparison, هِهِهِ is hehehe. However, they would usually just be written as ههه. This may not make a huge difference here, but 7ub, 7ib, and 7ab are three entirely different words spelled the same way (they mean love, seed, and something else that I'm unfortunately forgetting right now).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

You Know You're an Exchange Student When...


I’m in a list-making mood, so here’s another one.

You know you’re an exchange student when…

…you get outrageously excited when you meet someone who knows where Wisconsin is because usually you have to explain that it’s somewhere near Chicago (and sometimes then they think you’re from near Amerat, an area of which is nicknamed Chicago due to the high crime rate)

…the people who make the most fun of your accent is the other exchange students

…the way you speak is, according to the locals, “ADORABLE!”

…if you wear local clothing, people stare at you and try to figure out which tribe you’re from

…everyone in school knows you and says hi to you and you feel very awkward for not knowing who they are

…at every school assembly you have a friend be a translator, and feel quite incompetent because your brain will just not soak up this language!

…you still find mundane parts of life outrageously exciting!

…you put many songs on your iPod in your host country’s language even though you have no idea what they mean

…you spend lots of time planning your next trips overseas

…you know all of the swear words in your host language but still can’t comprehend what people say normally

…you know words in all of the languages of the countries that you have exchange student friends in because of their Facebook accounts

…you feel jealous at the prospect of some newbies coming to take your place in your host country next year

…you feel quite bored in your host city but wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!

…you have spent a lot of time trying to explain American politics to people

…your weight is on a very steady upward incline

…because you hang out with exchange students so much, your English vocabulary has expanded to include words and phrases such as ‘y’all’, ‘ratchet’, and “we rolled up”

…everyone comes up to tell you that they have a brother/cousin/friend somewhere in America at an obscure university or in an obscure town

…your sense of fashion has begun to mimic that in your host country

…for some reason, you feel a renewed sense of patriotism for your home country even if you never were particularly patriotic before

…the thing you both dread and anticipate the most is your impending return to your home country

You Know You've Gone Omani When... (Part Two)


You know you’ve gone Omani when…

…you know the difference between rutub and tammar*

…fried chicken without masala and liberal amounts of chili is outrageously bland... in fact, this is the same with all foods

…dancing in class is normal

…March is the first month of summer

…you scoff at the all of dumb tourist ingleeziis

…your Microsoft Word automatically corrects the spelling of ‘ingleeziis’ because you use that word so much

...you use the word meskin all of the time, usually sarcastically

…you know that the best way to remove the smell of fish from your hands is by rubbing them with lemon

…you absolutely adore the Omani football team

…anyone who speaks non-khaleeji Arabic is incomprehensible

…your neighbor gets a new pet rooster

…you can actually drink leben

…you can tell who goes to which school based on their uniforms

…everyone you meet is somehow related to you

…you know what a qambooa͑ is

…the main food groups are rice, saluna, and tea

…if you need anything (for example, chocolate or chips), you just head to the nearest duqan (small shop)

…’chips’ can mean either the thin crispy things or French fries and you use the word interchangeably

…you see a woman next to your school cutting grass to feed her goats

…when you make a list like this, the majority of the entries are food related

*rutub are fresh dates and tammar are sticky dried ones

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Middle Eastern History Class...

...is really awesome. 

We take it one day a week after school, and basically it is the funnest (yes I know it isn't a word) class I have ever had. Basically, the YESers get together and we have group discussions about Middle Eastern History in fun and creative ways. Here I will try to extol the fabulousness of this class.

Today, we were discussing the Iranian revolution. We had all read the chapter and, upon arrival, we were given a sheet of paper and told to write down ten questions regarding the chapter. Then, we went bowling. Middle Eastern History bowling is by far a nerd's dream come true, provided that said nerd likes to bowl. How the game worked was that we would bowl and then we would draw a question. If we answered it correctly, we got the points. If we didn't, we were subtracted that many points. This is fairly difficult if you're like me and can't bowl to save your life, but that's a moot point. It was outrageously fun! 

We also have speakers come to our class. We had a guy come to talk to us about the Jewel of Muscat, a reconstructed traditional dhow that sailed from Oman to Singapore. What made this so interesting is that he was actually on the Jewel as it sailed, so he was able to tell us things no one else would be able to. More recently, a man came to talk to us about interfaith relations, which was quite enlightening. Furthermore, he recommended a book that I downloaded onto my Kindle, called Who Speaks for Islam?, which is a book based on a Gallup Poll, actually 100,000 hour long interviews in 32 countries around the world, that essentially spells out what average Muslims think. I'm not finished yet, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more than what is portrayed by the media. 

And the most important thing is that we have all learned just an incredible amount of history! 

That's all of my ramblings for now, folks. If there's anything you want me to write about, just let me know! 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tea and Coffee


                Shay*, or tea, is an absolutely instrumental part of Omani daily life. We have it all the time, and there are many different kinds. Firstly, and this is the kind that my host family drinks a lot in the afternoon, is shay ahmar, or red tea.  As the name suggests, shay ahmar is a vivid red color. You can drink it with or without sugar. Generally my host family boils the tea with lemongrass to give some extra flavor. Then comes my personal favorite, shay karak. As a variation of shay halib (milk tea), this one is a bit lighter than shay ahmar… though it has the potential to be quite strong. This is because it is made by boiling the tea and milk together for a metaphorical-forever-and-a-half. I learned how to make shay karak the other day so that’s one I definitely plan to repeat once I’m back home on cold winter nights (to everyone at home who just got new snow, it’s approximately 35˚ Celcius here).

                Then there is qahwa, or coffee. Omani coffee is bitter and never has any sugar or milk in it. Because the coffee is so strong, it is served in small glasses that actually remind me somewhat of shot glasses. Unlike shot glasses, which normally feature brewery or sports team logos, Omani coffee cups are beautifully painted with decorations. While drinking coffee, there is no gulping—you have to sip. I mean this totally literally because it is so strong. When you’ve finished your glass, you hand it back to whoever poured it. He will refill it and hand it back to you. Once you’ve had your fill, when you hand the pourer your cup, you have to shake it from side to side to signify that you’ve finished and he should not refill your glass.

                To combat the intense qahwa, Omanis can consume liberal amounts of halwa. Halwa is this fabulously sticky, sweet congealed goo that usually contains some sort of nuts. It is the national dessert of Oman, and literally means ‘sweet’ in Arabic. Halwa honestly has the most bizarre texture ever… it isn’t quite a liquid or a solid. Perhaps they should change the charts of states of matter… liquid, solid, gas, plasma and halwa. After the coffee is finished, a vat of halwa is passed around and everyone spoons a piece out to eat it. I have yet to discover a way to eat it neatly. Halwa is, in my opinion, best when it’s fresh and hot.

                Tea and coffee in Oman are not just drinks but lifestyles. Whenever we go to the beach, to a wadi, to anywhere, we bring along a trusty teapot, occasionally two. Anytime that anyone sits in a formal majlis, Omani coffee and halwa will be consumed.


*This word rhymes with bye. If you rhyme it with weigh, then it means ‘thing.’ They are, however, spelled differently in Arabic.


Oh, and while I’m on the topic of drinks, I would like to petition any and all American stores to begin selling Vimto. America would be a better place with this ‘purple crack’ available everywhere. That’s all.    

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Arab Hospitality: Food is Love


                If there is one thing that became obvious almost instantly upon arrival in Oman, that would have to be that Food. Is. Love.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is true. This phenomenon, commonly known of as “Arab Hospitality” is so common in these parts of the world.

                Back at Eid, my host family and I were in Musandam. The ferry to come home was cancelled but luckily we had some wusta (which I will write a more detailed post about later) with a man in the police, who pulled a lot of strings to help some members of our party get IDs that they needed to cross the Emirati border (Musandam is the mini-Omani-equivalent of Alaska… a peninsula not connected to continental Oman). 
Anyways, we reached the border and were, in a typical show of hospitality, told we were not to cross until we came to have lunch with the people who had helped us get necessary identification.

                This sort of act is resplendent around the country—I can think of countless times when I was offered coffee or tea by virtual strangers. We had coffee with some Omanis in Wadi Bani Khalid and the women in the house that Bailey and I were stuck in in Muttrah offered us tea. Even as complete strangers, we were offered something.

                Likewise, people just like to feed people in general, even if they aren’t guests. At mealtimes it’s very common for one of my host parents to just tell me that I should eat more. Even more intense is Thursday lunch with the extended host family. I eat a lot. I'm quite sure I've gained a lot of weight (haven't checked, don't plan to). To sum up, I am excessively well fed by people here. 

Also, I will post later with pictures of food. I just forget to take them when we're eating and so I literally have one picture of food from Oman. Here it is though:
Yellow rice and chicken... very typical Arabian although a little bit
different than what I usually eat at home! The tray, however, is
very typical-- you sit four around each and eat with hands.