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

Saturday, July 6, 2013

July 5th and 6th

This weekend resembled a scene out of a movie. On Friday morning,  our 40 person caravan drove in 10 4x4s. We drove up the mountain range near jabal shams, one of the highest points in Oman. On the way, we stopped in a little village, where we hiked down to a spectacular view overlooking a canyon. We then got back into our cars and drove to one of two resorts in the area, where we had lunch, complete with Indian food and ice cream. We then got back into our cars and drove to our final destination. On the way, the views were amazing, but also scary, as the only way to get up the mountains on the roads, was by cars with 4 wheel drive. When we finally arrived, the temperature was so refreshing; 23 degrees Celsius! We slept in a Bedouin style tent and I was able to run freely for the first time since I got to Oman. We had lunch together outside and it was a great experience.

The next day, we got up for a morning hike and walked to the point overlooking many canyons. The rock across was chiseled and from our view point, the depth perception was extremely off, making it difficult to figure out the distances. On our way back to the hotel, I ran into a few goats, who just stared and then started trotting towards me. I didn't wait to find out what they were interested in. On the way back down the mountain, we stopped at a rock that had writing and pictures from over 5,000 years ago. Next, we headed to the Jabreen castle, where Imam Bil Aurub resided. Each room serve a purpose. When we went into the room that was used to store ripening dates, a bat flew over my head and of course we left that room immediately. After a picnic lunch outside, we arrived at our apartments and continued to do homework for the rest of the day. It was an adventurous weekend, but well worth the trek. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 3

Today, there was a party for the international students, thrown by the university. When we arrived, we sat at long tables and saw some students on the program perform Rudolf the red nose reindeer in Arabic. We had a lovely dinner outside, thought it was still about 100 degrees. The Oman navy band played for us. The women were dressed in navy blue abbayas embellished with silver beads. After hearing many traditional songs, our director brought us to a hall where they threw us a surprise 4th of July party. We had cake, set off fireworks and took many photos! It was an unforgettable experience, celebrating the 4th of July in a different country/culture. 

Rain for the first time in months!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July 3

Based on local excursions around the Nizwa area, I have noticed that there is very little visible poverty. I suspect the reason for this is the strong family network, but nuclear and extended, who provide each other assistance on such a fundamental level. Communication is extremely grassroots and is essential to Omani culture and society. 

I have started spending more time with the Omani students who are curious about life in America, and quite similarly, we are curious about life as an Omani. 

Yesterday, I had a two hour conversation in Arabic, and surprisingly I realized that it is possible to have a coherent conversation with a basic vocabulary. Of course you learn more as you are speaking, but for me, I was able to get my point across. That was one of the many breakthrough moments I have experienced thus far. 

This man was offering to carry our things up to the wadi, with the help of his donkey.

These rocks are sharp, we think, because of the rain.