Monday, May 28, 2012

Magical Magnetic Road

While we were in Dhofar, we went up this road. It was by far the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to me. Watch the video and be as absolutely amazed as I was (am!)


Friday, May 25, 2012

Dhofar Trip

I just got back from three days in Dhofar, which is the southernmost region of Oman, near to Yemen. It was a great trip, full of both educational and touristy bits. We got to learn about frankincense trees, see the tomb of the Prophet Job (Ayub in Arabic), see a massive blowhole, chase some geese (well. I did.), see countless camels, eat a bit of the latter, shop for various kinds of incense, see a castle, visit the 5000 year old frankincense souq of the Queen of Sheba, celebrated (in a surprise!) the turn of my 17th year, and so much more. Here are some pictures from the trip:

Camel meat hanging

This is how goat meat is traditionally cooked in Salalah

Camels in the road are normal!

All of us getting ready to go to Job's tomb. We bought those scarves because we all forgot ours at the hotel room... and Noah is indeed wearing a wizar. 

Job's tomb


More camels in the road!

We bought coconuts from here.



This is a frankincense tree. And yours truly. 

Bet you didn't know that flamingos are white if they don't eat shrimp! Also they can fly!



At the castle



Surprise birthday party! 

Four lane highway? Definitely camel territory. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Most Awkward Question Ever...


I leave Oman in four weeks. In contrast, I have been here for nearly nine months. Those nine months have flown by in the blink of an eye.

I’ve been looking back through old pictures from the beginning of the year. I’ll open one and think how there is no way that this or that could have been back in October. Everything feels like it happened just yesterday. And I know that four weeks will zoom by and, before I know it, I’ll be back in the United States.

One of the most perplexing questions I’ve ever been asked—and it is actually a regular occurrence now—is ‘are you excited to go home?’ I guess I understand where people are coming with the question, but aside from creating some awkward moments, it is outrageously difficult to answer. Am I excited? Yes, undeniably. I miss my family and friends, and though I initially pushed those feelings back in the notion of living-the-Omani-life, the prospects of finally seeing the people I have missed for a year are joyful indeed. And truthfully, a bit of me is ready to move on with my life. Something we exchange students (in Oman) often discuss is how we don’t want to go back to our old lives per se, but how we are ready to move on with the adventures that are bound to fill the rest of our lives. So while I’m not 100% thrilled about going to another year of high school, I am thrilled with the prospect of college tours, volunteer opportunities, and other events that will fill me summer and next year.

While I am indeed excited about the going, I’m not excited about the leaving. The past few months especially have been so clarifying for me. The first 6-7 months here were merely formative ones in which I learned the ropes of my life here. They were often stressful. Now, here I am feeling absolutely comfortable at home, school, and just about everywhere that I go. In the past few months, I left the rocky pattern of adjustment and moved on to a state in which I was able to absorb so much more information. I’ve seen my Arabic understanding levels skyrocket; I can understand most of what people say, particularly my host family and close friends. I have to ask fewer questions because the inferences I make are usually right. My interpersonal relationships have grown exponentially, and I feel like my own intrapersonal relationship has grown as well.

A lot can happen in nine months. To use an analogy from another exchange blogger, in nine months, two tiny bits of genetic material can grow to a whole complex human being. While perhaps the changes I have seen in myself have been less dramatic and I don’t quite know how to articulate in what ways, I do feel changed. Oman has changed me.  

If the last year has been any indication, the next four weeks will fly by. I’m going to try to spend the remaining time being as Omani as possibly, soaking it all up, because I know that I will never again have an opportunity like this. For this reason, I will be blogging a bit less than I have in the past, but I do promise to try to update. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Omani Women's Clothing

Because I've had so many questions about this, here goes!

There are two categories of clothing here: modern and traditional.

Qamboua
In terms of modern, just about anything goes. Skinny jeans, t-shirts, Chanel head scarves, and the like. Qambouas are common. Essentially, they are giant bubbles of fabric attached to the head via clip in order to shape your hijab better. Before coming, we were warned against skinny jeans, but honestly they are fine here.

A more traditional modern dress (if that makes any sense) is the abaya. An abaya can be anything from a simple black robe to an extravagant concoction of colors and patterns. Abayas always come with matching scarves. They are worn all across the Arabian Peninsula, and I personally find them fabulous because it's totally possible and normal to wear pajamas under them.

More traditional Omani clothing really depends on the region. In Muscat, it is usually a short, embroidered dress with pants underneath. In Dhofar, clothing usually a dress with a long train in the back, that may or may not include pants. Also, gold headdresses are common for formal, traditional occasions, and they hook into the scarf that goes with the dress. 


Omani gold



Dhofari dress


Monday, May 14, 2012

College Applications


I like to plan ahead. I’m working on college plans already—planning tours, thinking of essay ideas, and stressing excessively over every little aspect of the application and selection processes.

My classmates here, however, have a much easier process for college applications! The Omani Ministry of Education provides full scholarships to colleges all over the world. All that my classmates have to do is get good grades and they can really get sent anywhere. A few weeks ago, they got a book full of all of the majors that they can select and countries to choose from. Basically, they register on a website and once their grade 12 results come out, if they are good enough, students are given a scholarship.

Some of the scholarships are to schools within Oman. Some of them are to outside of Oman. After they register, students pick up to thirty choices. They select the major they want to have and then the country, and the Ministry ends up assigning them to a particular university. Though they cannot pick the university or even necessarily gain admission to one country, I like the idea of this opportunity, particularly from a financial aspect! These scholarships provide for travel expenses and living expenses as well as tuition fees, and students are likely to secure jobs back in Oman once they graduate. Personally, I’m hoping that some of my friends end up in the USA so I can see them next year, because I’ll miss them! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy (American) Mother's Day!

Today is not Mother's Day in Oman ( 'twas a few months ago), but as it is in the USA I want to take a minute to thank my wonderful mother for everything she has done for me. Throughout my life, she has been there for me through thick and thin, and I'm so grateful for everything. You've supported me entirely on this journey to Oman even though it may not be exactly what you wanted for me to do all the time. Nonetheless, you stood behind me 1000%, and I'm so grateful. I love you so much!

Likewise, I want to make a shoutout to everyone who has ever been a host mom. I don't know if you know it, but you have impacted your exchange student's life in ways that no one else possibly could. Exchange students need and crave someone to be a mother figure--for most of us, it's our first time away from our own mothers-- and anyone who steps in to that role is someone to be admired. So from me, on behalf of every exchange student ever, thanks to the host moms for taking a (potentially) unruly teenager from thousands of miles away into your life! It means the world to us! 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Update!


Some disconnected tidbits from my life over the past few weeks:

Last night my school had its graduation ceremony for the seniors, even though they still have to finish their coursework and exams. It was an awesome celebration, and fairly bittersweet. The kids who graduated are my best friends here. They’ve taken care of me all year, helped me when I’m confused, and laughed with me about a million things. I’m so proud of all of them for their hard work. I gave a speech about the YES program—half in Arabic! It was an awesome feeling to see applause after I spoke Arabic (mildly unrelated, but one of my friends told me “Emma, your Arabic sounds like an Omani’s! An Omani two year old!” I guess that’s a compliment). During one of the rehearsals, I totally fudged the English part but the Arabic part sounded awesome, so I skipped around happily for a few hours because of that.

The ceremony also is making me anticipate my own graduation, about a year from now. I’m excited for graduating and going on to more fabulous parts of my life.

I also gave a presentation with the other YES students about hosting exchange students in Oman. We talked about our experiences and they showed pictures of us. What they really need right now are families for boys, because all of the girls for next year are placed. In a conservative country like Oman, it’s difficult to place boys because the family either has to be very liberal or the women in the house have to make changes to their lifestyles (they basically have to remain covered at home all of the time, which is difficult!). Anyways, also Jaira did my hair and we ate some chicken lollipops. Yeah!



Some kittens were born in the plants in front of my house!



According to rumors, it reached 50 degrees Celsius the other day. That is really, really, really, really, really, really, really hot. It’s been over 40 every day for the past two weeks. At night if it goes down to 38 it’s cold. We spent two hours at a park to film something and all came back looking as if we’d been through an actual war, we were that sweat-drenched.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Home

I'd like to take a second to define home, as I see it now. This is not an officially recognized definition, but it certainly serves the purpose I have. Home, to me, is the place that drives you insane. It makes you bored, but when you leave, all you want is to go back. All of the memories are happy. Everything there glistens with nostalgia.

I felt that way a lot when I first arrived in Oman. My house, my town, my state, my country seemed to be the only place I would belong.

Over time I sensed a change in myself. Oman has become my home, and the first time I realized that was when I began to notice that I get bored here. It happens. Boredom is a part of life.

People say that home is where the heart is, and that is true for me. I have two homes because I have emotional ties in two places.

Short post, but I really do feel at home here now! I love Oman!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Say, How's the Weather?


I’ve always known weather to be one of those topics. The ones that conversations turn to as a last-ditch effort. The grand finale, except more of a grand whimper.  An attempt to quell an awkward silence.

Well, Oman has changed my views on that. Sometimes, the weather is all that there is to talk about because it affects every single bit of life here, especially in the summer—which is now.

Over the past few days, I’ve especially noticed how provocatively hot it is. Yesterday, the thermometer read 42˚ Celsius. In Fahrenheit? 108˚. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT DEGREES. And it’s still “not very hot yet.” The hottest weather that I can ever remember is about 105, and it was so bad that several animals at the county fair died and most of us wanted to follow them, at least temporarily. Here, people keep on trucking, because this is normal. It’s not even June yet!

What interests me most about this is that it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would. Because I’ve built up to it gradually, I’ve found that the heat is just something that I deal with. It’s hot, but it’s inevitable. Omanis complain about it in the same good-natured way that Wisconsinites complain about the winter cold.

The sun doesn’t help. It probably won’t rain again until October, and cloudy skies are a rarity in the summer. With the little vegetation, most everything is exposed. Even the walk from the car to the house generates sweat.

I did a bit of research in comparison on the internet. In Muscat, the average temperature in June is 104 degrees. In my town in Wisconsin, it’s 79. (On the flipside, next winter will be brutal for me and I’m not even going to look at statistics for that.) When I return home, I hope I don’t freeze in the frigid June temperatures!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Small Things

A wise man once told me that I should stop to notice the beauty in everything around me. Even the most ordinary things can be special in their own way.

Being introduced to the world of foreign exchange has helped me to realize that. Though at the time I brushed it off as silly and perhaps unnecessary, I remember the day that we picked up the exchange student my family hosted last year. She was fascinated by the houses, and took pictures of the homes of random people. It took me coming to Oman, when I took my own pictures of ordinary buildings, to realize why they were so enticing to her. Exotic things excite us. They draw us in. They fill us with wonder about the people's lives, which we think must be exotic and exciting. 

But I think it's wise to remember that to the people who live there, these exotic things are just parts of ordinary life. To use a common maxim, one man's trash is another man's treasure. While we don't view our homes as trash, they are ordinary and unremarkable. 

Over the past few months, Muscat has ceased to be the shiny new place that I once saw it as. It's no longer foreign to me; I know the streets and buildings and mosques. But I still try to retain just a little bit of that wonder at the existence of everything. It's all a little bit unique, and everything here is remarkable. 

Take, for example, the mountains in Muscat. Nothing grows on them. They are brown, and not particularly tall. My extremely literal personality tends to take them at that, face value. That being said, slowly but surely I am trying to notice that, while they are brown, they are a million colors of brown. Some parts of them look like massive slices of crumble cake. 

I've learned to appreciate the beauty of the torturous sun, of the sand that gets everywhere, of the dizzying roundabouts, of the towering white houses.

It's very strange to think that soon I will have to test these new found "skills" of noticing how ridiculously, completely amazing everything is with my journey back home. It will indeed be strange to finally be back in my normal, ordinary life, but I will strive to notice the little bits of American life that are so amazing as well.



Enjoy your day, everyone, and thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. Notice the small things, if you can. You'll be surprised at what you may find!