Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 12

Today, Asena and I took a bus to the beach. The beach we went to is near a small down called Cesme and in this town, the "beaches" have no sand. Instead, they are small beach clubs on the shore of bay. We went to a club called Marrakech which was slightly more expensive than the other 6 clubs, but we found out later that there were many celebrities there. The water was turquoise and extremely cold, but according to Asena it was the perfect temperature. We then had dinner in the neighboring town. Overall it was an extremely relaxing day!

(Under the wish tree)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 10

After having breakfast with Asena's family, we drove to a famous spot for Christians especially, because it is the place where the Virgin Mary supposedly died. There were many Europeans who came specifically to this place. Then, we went to old Greek ruins about a five minute drive away and saw many reconstructed houses and amphitheaters. We then drove to a small town nearby where I bought an antique Turkish carpet. The pattern is very similar to that of an Afghan carpet. After this small excursion, we drove to another small slightly touristy mountain village and had grape leaves, "kefir", a fermented yogurt drink, and fresh ice cream. At the ice cream stand, the guy kept playing tricks, where he would pretend to give me the cone but in fact there was another cone stacked so I had to work hard for my ice cream!

August 9

This morning, after a solid 9 hours of sleep, we went to breakfast. When I went to pour my tea, I didn't realize that there were two knobs, one with the tea and one with hot water. Asena told me later that people put hot water in as well so it isn't so strong. Later, we walked around a town called Alacatni where we has a delicious avocado salad at a small restaurant called El Beso.

We then headed to the lfmao concert which, according to the advertisements, is the "largest beach party in turkey".

Friday, August 9, 2013

August 8

Though I was sad to leave Oman, it was quite an adventure getting to Istanbul. After stopping in Bahrain for two hours, I made my way to Istanbul and walked through the entire international airport and finally arrived at the domestic section. In two separate instances, people came up to me speaking French and Turkish. That's a new one.

I arrived in Izmir, where my friend and her family picked me up. After settling in, we went for a walk around the port and met our friend Can for dinner. After dinner, we walked around Izmir and finally, after not sleeping for close to 48 hours, I was able to rest. 

Last day in Oman!

Woke up early this morning in order to go to the souq one last time. The las day of Ramadan is called eid. During eid, people shop for new items and at the souq, there are special sections just for eid. So, I saw a very lively livestock sale and many gathering in preparation for this Christmas esque holiday. 

Then a few friends and I went to the Nizwa fort, something I have been wanting to do since I got to Nizwa. 

Then around 1pm I departed from Nizwa and said goodbye to the friends I had become so close to....we ate together, lived together, studied together etc so this was a difficult goodbye. I then took a cab with a few friends to muscat where we were invited by the chancellor of the university of Nizwa to have dinner with his family. We arrived and then immediately following, we toured all of the must see spots in muscat. Then we came back and had a wonderfully cooked homemade meal with traditional Omani food.

The night ended perfectly, with fruit, Omani coffee, and small sweets. 

I will definitely miss Oman, the friends I have made, the hospitality and the close knit community, and most of all, hearing and seeing Arabic everywhere and at all times. 

في المستقبل،آمل أن سافر إلى عمان مرة أخرى

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

August 6

Just completed the final exam both written and oral sections. It's nice to be done with classes, after eight tough weeks of grammar and vocabulary, my brain can finally relax after being on overdrive for such a long time.  It's a relief to have the final exam done, though I will miss the class, both the students and the routine I had become accustomed to. 

The entire class gave our professor small tokens of appreciation from our home town/region. He asked us "is it traditional to open presents in front of people" we said "no" then he said "okay good because I will take my time looking at them and remembering." 

Here is a photo taken after our final exam. We all wore our traditional dress.

Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5

Today was our last day of classes! Though I'm sad it's nearly the end of the program and I know I will definitely miss all the wonderful people I have met, I am ready to travel and have personal time with my family. Today, we reflected back on our experiences and our initial feelings coming into the program. I realized just how different living in the Gulf is compared to other people's experiences in Middle Eastern countries. The foreign labor aspect (most laborers are from Southeast Asia) is a larger component of Omani culture than I originally anticipated. 

I also was really able to see my progress, as it was especially evident today. We had a practice speaking session for the oral component of our final exam and I clearly understood the questions that were being asked of me. I was able to answer in coherent and complete sentences. At the beginning of the program, I knew a few words that could help me get around in daily life, but now I feel I have progressed to a level of proficiency that will allow me to delve further into the culture of the middle eastern country that I happen to be in, and even to converse with my professor back in the states upon my immediate return. To understand a culture, I've realized, it's essential to know the language. So much of a culture is understanding the nuances of the language which often get lost in translation. In literature for example; reading a translation of an original text is significantly different than knowing and comprehending the original words and meanings behind the words. 

Cultural context is another aspect of living abroad that I will never again take for granted. People make references in Arabic about regional people, tribes, and cultural aspects, that even an Arabic scholar might not understand because he or she has not lived in that certain country.

And finally, I realized how difficult progressing in the intermediate level is going to be. The jump from the beginner level to the intermediate level is tremendous, though from intermediate to advanced is much less evident. 

Side note: One thing I probably won't miss, is the 115 degree weather and the lack of greenery in my surroundings. I also will not miss not being able to walk around by myself, even during daylight hours.

The past few days

Last night, there was a huge storm, with wind and sand and later, rain. During that time, we lost power for about two hours which was also quite and experience. We wound up doing yoga in the dimly lit hallway (emergency lights are always a benefit). 

Here is a picture of our room (for those who wanted to see) and the view from our window after the rainstorm

Here are some photos of camels, who were grazing outside our door...welcome to Oman.

Friday, August 2, 2013

August 2

This morning we received an email saying that the US embassy would be closed on August 4th. After reading this email, I checked the New York Times, to find that this closing was not simply scheduled for Oman, but several other middle eastern countries such as Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia etc. Here is an article that explains the issue in more depth.

On a side note, this morning I took a cab back from the LuLu supermarket to our apartments. The cab driver and I agreed upon 200 baiza but when we arrived to my destination he said in Arabic "it's free. Thank you." My first thoughts were "why is he driving me for free?" and "why is he thanking me?". Before coming to Oman, people told me things like this have happened, but I never thought it would happen to me!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 1

With classes wrapping up and the program coming to an end, we are all in overdrive mode. Next week, we have presentations, oral proficiency tests (opi) and a final exam to look forward to. It's been hot here, though that's no different than any other day. After Oman, I will be traveling to Turkey, and hopefully continuing my blog!

A friend shared this hilarious but all too true page about life in the Middle East. I would say most of the items apply to what I/we are feeling right now.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 29

Last night, our language partners came over to our apartments and we all cooked samosas filled with eggs and chicken. After cooking the food, we went to a small park nearby and broke the fast together. The park runs alongside "Falej Daris".

In Oman, it is socially acceptable to walk up to a child and speak with them, especially because we are young women. So tonight, we walked over to a group of young children and taught them duck duck goose. Though because we didn't know what the word goose was, it became a game of duck duck chicken.

This photo is me in a playground, feeling like a child again. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 27

Today, the entire program went to muscat. We first visited the grand mosque which is the 5th largest mosque in the world. Inside the Mosque were pieces from different countries, including France, Turkey and Italy. The huge chandelier in the middle of the men's prayer space boasted Oman's attention to aesthetics. From there, we visited the Opera House, a newly restored venue complete with wood paneling and marble. We even saw where the Sultan sits, though we were not allowed to take photos of it. Later, we went to a museum that houses traditional Omani clothes, pieces of furniture, and jewelry. After lunch at Amideast, we went to a famous date shop, known for these sweet confections. After walking around the area, we went to a famous restaurant where we met the US ambassador to Oman. Not only did we meet her, I sat next to her throughout dinner and heard about her work and her experienced working in the foreign service. She talked about her work with the foreign minister as well as her journey to becoming the US Ambassador. She works closely with the ministry of education and now, because Egypt is closed, many people and programs have applied to study in Oman as it is one of the more stable countries in the region. After a long day, we headed back to Nizwa at 11pm.

*side note: our teacher told us that one day last week it was extremely hazy, and on that day, it was the hottest in the world-49 degrees Celsius or 120 Fahrenheit. I cannot wait to be in a temperate climate with trees and grass!

The grand opera house in muscat 

The grand opera house

The grand opera house 

The grand mosque 

The grand mosque 

The grand mosque 

We found a Bobbi Brown transliterated into Arabic!

The running trail I found...the one day I decide to run, the days high is 120 degrees.

The inside of a 500+ year old mosque 

Behind this door, there is a field of date palms and apparently, they still have to pay taxes (see paper on door handle)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25

Today, Thursday, marks the fact that next week is my last week of classes. As per usual, Thursday is our cultural excursion. Our teacher brought little sweets for us, but as it as Ramadan he said "for later." The sweets were small balls of a date mixture and sugar.

After classes were over, we boarded a bus for a town called Adem where we visited the restored home of the ruler back when Nizwa was the capital. These structures were about 500 years old. It's truly amazing to see the architecture of a past time because though there are no people, you can see the different ways of life/daily routines. 

We then visited a small simple mosque made out of a mixture of mud, palm leaves, and the modern invention of concrete. After, we went to a friends house for Iftar where are samosas, fresh mangos and oranges, and other small Omani pastries.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23

Today was a national holiday in Oman--Renaissance Day, which also meant no school for us! At 5pm we met our language partners for a picnic Iftar. We drove to the Tanuf Dam, though unfortunately, there was no water. We walked atop a closed Falej and it was nice to just be in the silence of the canyon. Then when it was time to break fast, we has dates and juice to start off, followed by a meal of samosas, pizza, grapes, and dates. After dinner, we went to the souq and walked around in the smaller shops. I also found Of Mice and Men in Arabic so of course I had to get it! In addition I bought children's stories in Arabic so that I can continue by reading skills when I'm back in the US.

The Mosque at night!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 19

Today a group of friends and I decided to go to muscat for the weekend. Muscat is the capital city of Oman. The only way to get from Nizwa to Muscat is by cab. During the cab ride, we spoke in Arabic and it was great to hear and converse in spoken rather than in FusHa (the modern standard form). After we checked into our hotel, we walked on the "corniche", the boardwalk that runs along the Sultan Qaboos port. Though it was extremely humid (almost 85%), there was a nice breeze. In order to break the fast, we went to a fresh juice store and that alone was so refreshing. After a cool mango juice, we went into the souq or market, bargaining for items such as scarves and small trinkets. An amusing moment which shows that I have been accustomed to the traffic patterns, occurred while we were crossing a highway. In Nizwa there are no traffic lights. While in Muscat, i said to my friends "lets cross now" and they said "Kerong, there is a traffic light up ahead". 

We had then dinner at an "American style" diner which was quite an experience. Then we met up with a friend of ours, who brought her brother and we drove all around muscat, which is truly a beautiful city. We saw the presidential office and finally, we wound up at one of the largest resorts in muscat. Little did we know, there was a business proposal fair for students interested in entrepreneurialism. We spoke to many students studying at Sultan Qaboos university in Muscat. There were inventions such as kabob makers and also ideas for providing migrant workers with water throughout the day. We then headed back to the hotel around 1 am. The best part of the day was that we were able to do things on our own time, rather than having the entire day scheduled for us.

Friday, July 19, 2013

July 18

Today, we went to an "Iftar" (breaking of the fast) with an Omani family. This is the second Omani home I visited. This one was different because the children were all around my age. The thing that shocked me the most was that they were all either married and/or married with children. I know this is a common aspect of Omani culture, but I really found it interesting that many of their questions directed at us, were about our marital status. In Omani and many Arab homes, there are two entrances and two separate rooms where the men and women eat. The small children and women eat together and the men eat in another room off the family room. Strangely enough, I am no longer surprised at this gender separation, as it has become a part of daily life.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 16

Today I fasted for the entire day. After having a snack at 10pm the night before I fasted until 7pm the next day. The first time I tried fasting, I had a different mindset. I was simply fasting to get it over with it. But yesterday, it was different. I made a conscious effort to be mindful of why I was fasting and when 3pm rolled around, I was so hungry that I wasn't even hungry anymore. The instant gratification of eating after almost 24 hours was tremendous. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 16

We have really become like Omani girls. A few days ago, we couldn't seem to figure out our oven, so we cooked a belated birthday cake for a friend in a frying pan. It wasn't bad....though the name "scrambled cake" did not do it justice. At night, often because the female Omani students are locked in the apartment building from the time they leave school until the next morning, they let out their energy by running down the halls and screaming loudly. After making the cake, my friends and I did a similar thing, though with the intention of sharing the cake.

(Here is a picture from this past weekend of the biggest dam in the gulf)

Climbing a date palm tree...the right way

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 12 and July 13

This weekend was such an experience! We left early on our way to sur, a costal town which is home to loggerhead turtles who lay their eggs on the beach. On the way, we stopped at a sink hole, a water filled cavernous space where an asteroid hit many years ago. We then went to the beach and swam in the Indian Ocean which was really exciting...especially because the temperature of the water was refreshing compared to the hot weather we've been experiencing for the past month now. Around 9pm, we headed to the turtle sanctuary where we followed guides, who showed us turtles laying their eggs. It was so great to see animals in their natural habitat. After that, we drove back to the beach and slept under the stars. We even saw 3 shooting stars!

The next morning, we woke up around 6 and were able to walk on the beach while it was still cool outside. On our way back to nizwa, we stopped at a friend's camel farm, where I rode a camel for the first time!

The clearest blue water I have ever seen!

The sink hole created by the asteroid 

The view from sur, the beach town known for the handcrafted wood fishing boats

Our friends overlooking one of very few suspension bridges 

Trying on a masar

Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11

At the start of the morning, I thought I would start my fast but as the day progressed, I started to think about my reasons for fasting. If I were Muslim in a predominantly Muslim country, it would make sense to maintain my religious views. As I am not Muslim, I feel that while I would like to stand in solidarity with those who are fasting, at the end of the day, I still question why I am fasting. In other words, While those around me break fast, I don't see the purpose of why I am fasting. This does not mean that I am not going to be culturally sensitive, it just means that I am seeing the process of fasting from a different point of view.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 10

Today is the first day of Ramadan and also the day of our midterm exam. After today, I plan on fasting for several reasons-to show respect and solidarity and to take advantage of a time of self control and reflection. After speaking to many of our Omani friends, they seemed extremely excited. We asked them why, and they said that it's a time to focus on living with less and experiencing what it is like to not know what the future holds, regarding meals etc. and learning what it feels like to live with less. I am also wearing an abbaya and head scarf, which is extremely warm in this heat, but people have been wearing them for many years now, so I thought I should too. Here is a picture of my friend Emily and I , in our abbayas. Happy Ramadan!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

July 7th

Today we had our midterm opi today, and I think my speaking skills have definitely improved! After classes, my friend Emily and I decided to buy abbayas, the everyday wear of Omani women. Originally, I didn't think I would want one, but as Ramadan approaches, we thought it necessary to be especially modest. They are surprisingly cool, because they allow more circulation than most of the clothes I bought.

July 5th and 6th