Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30

Learning a language is extremely exhausting. A one hour conversation takes not only constant attention to new vocabulary, but it also requires a comprehension level that pushes the listener to understand phrases, rather than simply words at one time. Today, I also noticed that if I don't know a word in Arabic, I somehow automatically revert to French, which has proven to be an additional challenge. So now, Arabic, French, and English have merged, making Arabic grammar even more difficult. Though, I think I am making progress in terms of my speaking abilities. I can now talk about the weather, my family, and my hobbies with fluency. Baby steps...right?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 29

Hailed my first cab today and haggled with the driver in Arabic. Assuming we would take the price he gave us (because we were obviously tourists), he started out at one rial which is equivalent to $2.68 USD, but in Oman, the price for our trip should have been around 200 baiza (there are 1000 baiza per rial). I finally was able to bargain down to our goal price of 200 baiza. What an experience standing in 115 degree heat at 12 noon, waiting for a cab to stop!

June 28

Today was such an experience.  On our way to the wadi, we stopped in the desert to see what the sand was really like. We also experienced "dune bashing" for the first time. We were in a 4 x 4, going through the sand, where we almost tipped at one point. After that brief stop, we drove 2 hours to a wadi, where we hiked up through a ravine. Between two cliffs, there was a perfect pool of water, where we were able to swim for the first time. We also explored a cave, but decided to turn back after some came back covered in red mud. The clear turquoise water was so refreshing to see, after such a long time without any vegetation/natural water sources. The rock formations resembled those of the Grand Canyon, but the crevices allowed for visitors to hike in smaller areas. We then drove back and ate at a Turkish restaurant, where I had fresh mango juice, grape leaves and falafels. We then went to sleep at 9pm, a new precedent. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

June 27

Today we went to an "open house" day at the local university, which is also currently hosting study abroad students. Not only were we able to meet fellow Arabic students, we also learned about many traditions. I was able to ride a horse and see many different chants/dances. The food was made by all women, who cooked over an open fire. It was a great day and our quiz was postponed which is always a plus!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Looking out the window of a bus that follows the same daily route, really points out the differences between cultures. In the US, where deer are rampant, I now see camels and goats, who live by the side of the road with little food and water. I'm used to having crosswalks at every corner, but here, you are expected to run across highways, looking both ways of course. We're really adapting to this new way of life, but the thing I miss most, is seeing greenery, as the mountains are made solidly out of rocks and a sandy dirt mixture. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

June 24

Learning new practical vocabulary everyday. In our spoken Arabic class, we practiced scenarios such as bargaining in cabs and haggling in the souq. Hearing Arabic at least five hours a day is difficult, but it is the best way of absorbing the dialect, sounds, and new words. I really enjoy conversing with our language partners because it's a much more informal setting which makes learning seem more realistic. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Days 6,7, and 8

These past few days have been crazy and non stop. Sleep is a thing of the past because we arrive at school around 8 am and leave around 7 but on the weekends (which are Friday and Saturday in Oman) we are given more liberty to explore the surrounding areas. On Thursday afternoon, we went to a date palm farm and saw smaller villages with the classic Omani architecture. Though they are no longer inhabited, there are waterways (irrigation systems) called "falej" which run water through most of Nizwa. The date palms are also in that area (see photos below). Today, we woke up at the crack of dawn (6:00) to see the souq in action. But before we left, there was a slight problem, as we were locked from the inside. we speculate we were locked in for our protection, but also ensure that the gender boundaries remain in place. 

The souq is a collection of small venders and serves as a local market, sourced with fresh meat, fish, and vegetables. In the US, we are unaccustomed to bargaining so that was a new experience. Though it was hot, it was amazing to see a truly "live market". It was also interesting to observe the cultural differences, as we were one of few women at the market. For lunch, we ate Pakistani food and saw what daily life is like on the inside and not at all what American media sources portray it as. When we arrived back to our apartments, we befriended two Omani girls who attend the university of Nizwa and they invited us into their apartment. They also invited us to stop by later on and communicate in Arabic. 

Saturday, we had our Omani home visits, where we were invited to eat lunch in a traditional Omani household. We, the girls, entered through a separate entrance and immediately were offered coffee doughnuts and dates. We then had lunch, consisting of chicken, rice, cucumber and carrot salad and yogurt sauce. This lunch experience was nothing I had ever been through before. I was particularly unaccustomed to eating from a communal platter of chicken atop a bed of rice. We gathered around the plate and ate from it, sharing the meat without utensils. After lunch, we played with the children, who were so happy to take photos of us. What I realized is that Omani families are very much centered around meals, and not about scheduling every hour of every day. Our lunch lasted for 5 hours, but it was well worth it. If you have any questions, feel free to post them!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 5

Just had our first day of classes. In the morning, we had hours of FusHa and 1 hour in Amiyaa (MSA and colloquial). After that, we met with our language partners, local Omani students, who speak to us in spoken Arabic about anything we might have questions about. We had a really nice time meeting our Omani peers. We then went to LuLus, a Walmart-esque super mart, where I purchased a few scarves and school materials. While we cover ourselves from head to toe, we are still quite recognizable and we attract many stares. Oman is not a hugely touristic country, so westerners are not as common to see. My roommate and I then stayed up till 2 am doing work. What a long tiring day. 

First day of school!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 4

We started out the day having breakfast in the women's dining hall and then proceeded to go through the last part of our orientation. In the afternoon, we took our placement test which consisted of an oral and a writing section. After our placement test, we went to the souq, an open market with anything from goats to crafts. We then ate at a traditional Omani restaurant, with pillows on the floor and many different dishes. People even ate shark, which was a part of the sauce! Tomorrow is our first day of classes!

From the steps of the university of Nizwa

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Nizwa mountains

Day 3

Arrived in Nizwa early yesterday morning and drove directly to the university. Jump seats are not ideal, but fine for a 1.5 hour long drive. We had orientation in the morning and then saw our apartments. Women have a 9pm curfew and are not allowed to have any guests, of either gender. We ate dinner at the local hotel, because accommodating such a large and regular group is difficult for most local restaurants. Our apartments have been recently renovated, with new furniture, air conditioning, etc. Since the women's housing is university housing for students, there were also many women similar to our age, who kept asking if we needed help and were extremely eager to show is around. Unfortunately, this morning, we woke up at 4:30 due to jet lag but hopefully our sleeping habits will become more regular.  Tomorrow, our language pledge starts...we anticipate a sharp decline in any meaningful conversations, but simple phrases are where language fluency begins.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Day 2

Finally arrived in Muscat, Oman after traveling for 26 hours...there were no problems in transit and we even flew over Abu Dhabi, which was amazing to see from a bird's eye view at night (see photo). It's been an exhausting day, with a layover in Frankfurt, but extremely worth it! Tomorrow we drive to Nizwa, our permanent residence and learn all about our new lives as American students learning Arabic in Oman. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Day 1 Orientation

Just met most of my fellow Nizwa students at the orientation in D.C.Had our last "American" meal at the shake shack...burger and fries of course. Then we took a nice walk to the White House and enjoyed our numbered days of bearable weather. 
Just arrived in D.C for a two day orientation before heading off to Oman! The weather is positively mild at 90 degrees compared to what I'm going to experience in Nizwa.