Back in the US

The last two weeks have been a blur. From Oman to the US, everything has flown by so fast that I have barely been able to take a breath.

My last day in Oman was surreal. The day before I left Oman, I (and each of the other NSLI-Y girls) presented the capstone projects (final project) to our host families, teachers, and some embassy staff. My project was on Oman’s economic future and shift from oil. I had been pretty stressed about it for the past month (since we had to write a research paper and create a presentation– all in Arabic), so I was pretty happy to get it over with. Then we said bye to our teachers, which was sad, since they have been some of my favorite teachers ever.

The next day (my last day), I frantically finished packing and then hung out with my family until it was time to go to the airport. It was so weird to think that I was leaving, and when I was at the airport, I felt like I was going on an AMIDEAST excursion, but would be back after a few days. I said bye to my host family and bye to Oman and then we took a plane to Dubai and then a plane to Washington DC (where we (NSLIY girls) had a very tearful goodbye) before we each took planes to our respective states.

It feels so weird to be back in the US. I’ve had a little bit of reverse culture shock, but otherwise, I think that I have adjusted back pretty well. It is exciting to have more independence and to see my friends and family, but at the same time, there are so many aspects of Oman and Omani culture that I miss, and every day so far, I am reminded of Oman in different aspects of my life.

I am so sad that this chapter of my life is over. Though the most challenging year of my life so far, it was also the best year of my life yet. I had so many amazing moments, built close relationships, and learned so much, not only about another culture and language, but also about myself. Though I am sad that my time in Oman is over, I know I will return to this beautiful country in the future, and am also excited to start college and see where my travels take me next.

Last Week in Oman

This week has been jam-packed and bitter-sweet, knowing that each of our activities is the last time we will do it all together. I leave tomorrow at noon and cannot believe that it is really happening. It makes you really understand how time moves at its constant pace, whether you want it to or not; because though I wish time would go by slower so I could have more time in Oman, the hours keep going bye regardless of this wish.

So what have I been up to this past week?

Sunday we met with an AMIDEAST staff member with whom we had met in Washington DC and who ran our orientation sessions. This was her first time in Oman and it was great to hear about her first impressions. We met with our Arabic teacher and had reflection on our Arabic class (I’m going to miss her class so much– it was one of the best classes I have ever taken and she was also one of my favorite teachers). It was so exciting to think of our Arabic levels when we arrived in Oman (aka, none) to our level now (though not fluent, we are mostly conversationally fluent!). From about 5 words each when we arrived to a board full of words (and more), we have come a long way!

After lunch we reflected on our women’s studies class (another amazing class) and our teacher even brought us dates and coffee! In the evening, we went to one of our favorite Turkish restaurants and it was absolutely delicious.

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Monday morning we went to Souk Al Ghod for our reflection Omani Arabic class. We got to practice our Arabic bargaining skills, I bought another Omani house dress, and got my ears pierced (similar to my ear piercing experience in India; it was in a jewelry store that we passed on the street). After lunch and another reflection class at AMIDEAST, we went to Souk Muttrah (so much shopping!) and got a chance to pick up any last minute souvenirs and gifts. We then ate dinner at an Indian restaurant in the area.

On Tuesday we had another reflection session (about re-entry into the US and reverse culture shock) and then a reflection Middle East history class (another great class!). In the evening, we went to Al Maida, a traditional Omani restaurant where one sits on the ground and eats with one’s hands. We ate there the first week and loved it, so we wanted to return there before we left. As usual, it was delicious and we ate rice and chicken and then bread with honey on it.

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On Wednesday, we went to Oman Dive Center (hamduhlillah I did not have an allergic reaction this time) and got to swim and hang out on the beach as well as have our last reflection session. We came here our first day in Oman, so it only seemed fitting to come back during our last reflection day.

Afterwards we went to Sarah’s house (Sarah is the head of AMIDEAST in Oman) for dinner with all of our teachers. It was a fun dinner and it was nice to see everyone. When I came home, I went and got henna done and when I returned, my host family was waiting because they were throwing me a small surprise party! We had a barbecue (I was so full though) and then we went into the sitting room, and I was surprised to find balloons on the ground and a cake that said “Rachel, we will miss you!”. They even gave me presents. It was lovely and so nice of them!! I am so lucky to have such a great host family.

With one of my host brothers!

With one of my host brothers!

Today (Thursday) we hung out at AMIDEAST until noon and then presented our Capstone Projects to the Arabic-speaking staff at AMIDEAST (our Capstone Projects are a requirement of NSLIY: we have to write a research paper and do a presentation (all in Arabic) on a topic of our choice. My topic is Oman’s economy and its diversification from oil to other sectors). After that we went to the US Embassy to present our Capstone Projects to our host families, AMIDEAST staff, and Embassy staff. The Ambassador even came for the beginning and presented our certificates to us! I have to say, however, it was a big relief to finish the Capstone Projects and present them, since we had been stressed about them for the past few months. Then we had to say bye to our teachers, which was so hard because most of them have become more than teachers, but mentors and friends. If this was hard, I don’t want to think about saying bye to my host family and the NSLI-Y girls.

I leave tomorrow and it doesn’t seem real at all. I am so excited to go back but at the same time, I don’t want to leave at all. I am, though, excited about this summer and starting college, so at least I have lots of things to look forward to!

From today! The dress I am wearing with Kirby is a dress that I got made from the fabric that my host grandparents gave me.

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Last Weekend in Oman

This past weekend was my last weekend in Oman– where has the time gone?

Thursday evening, my host family and I went to my host aunt’s house for dinner. A lot of our extended family from Bahla came for the dinner and it was a full house! The women all sat together in one room and the men sat together in the sitting room (majilis) and we hung out there for a while. Then we all went outside and sat on matts on the ground (the men on one matt and the women on another) and had a huge spread of chicken, humus, pita bread, olives, salad, etc. It was delicious! As I was leaving, one of my host cousin’s gave me a present that she bought for me in Saudi Arabia: dates with almonds in them and a book about common questions that non-Muslims ask Muslims. I am so excited to read the book!! My host grandparents from Bahla came back to our house to spend the night, so we hung out in our living room for a while before going to sleep.

Friday morning I hung out with my host family and helped my host mother make donuts. At around noon, we drove to an area called Barka to a farm owned by one of my host aunts. A lot of the extended family was there and we sat outside on matts (the men sat in a different area outside) and hung out and ate lunch (rice and chicken). We spent a few hours here and I walked around the farm with one of my host cousins. I said goodbye to a lot of my extended family here and it was weird to think that I might not see them again. Maybe one day I will visit Oman again and I will see some of them.

Saturday was pretty uneventful; in the morning I learned how to make chipati (I’ll post the recipe), we hung out at home, I caught up on some reading. In the evening, two of my Omani friends came and picked me up and we went to one of the girl’s houses. It was my first time going to an Omani girls house (that wasn’t my cousin) to hang out. We listened to music, danced, ate dinner, played with her new dog, and talked. It was a lot of fun and I’m hoping I will see them again in the future. Inshallah!

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Turtle Watching!!

This title is a little deceptive since there ended up not being turtles involved, but nonetheless, seeing turtles was our original intention.

This happened about a month ago and I’m super lazy and all, so I just got around to writing about this trip. But as always, better late than never! This trip was to the area near the city of Sur (in the Sharqiyah Region of Oman– ie: Northeastern Oman on the coast of the Gulf of Oman) to go see turtles (or as we found, a lack thereof).

We left Friday night after dinner because a) the turtle watching tours occur either late at night or at sunrise and b) we were too cheap to rent rooms in hotels, so we figured driving through the night would be the cheapest (and most fun) option.

The drive to the turtle watching reserve was an adventure in and of itself. We booked ourselves a tour (5 riales each) at a reserve called Ras al Jinz (located at the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula) and used google maps to for directions. The directions were pretty good until the end, when we were told to make a turn off the road and behind a Mosque. We then started driving through the sand (note, this is the middle of the night and it looked like a scene from a horror movie where the monster attacks the people in the middle of the wilderness). As I scrolled to the final destination listed on google maps on my phone, I realized that it stopped in the middle of the beach, ways away from the reserve. We decided to follow the signs on the road pointed to the reserve instead, a call we probably should have made at the beginning. Our next adventure occurred as we neared the reserve and pulled over next to a car with two Omani men to ask for directions to the reserve (just to make sure we were going the right way). They told us that we were close and that they would take us there, but that we had missed a turn and had to go back a little bit. We were about to follow them but then we looked up and saw a sign for the reserve a few feet away for the entrance to the reserve. So I’m not really sure where the Omani men were planning to take us…

Anyway, it was about 2 AM now and the tour started at 6 AM so we had some time to kill. We wanted to go hang out on the beach for a while, but could not go on the beach at the reserve (people pay to camp near the beach there) and they kindly offered to let us stay in the parking lot, but instead we drove back a little bit in the direction we came from and stopped on an empty beach. We spread out a blanket and hung out there for the next 4 hours (the sky was so clear and I saw my first shooting stars!). We also found a lot of crabs and had fun playing (errr chasing) them.

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Meet our new friend!

Right before 6, the sun started to rise and it was one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced: being on the eastern most part of the Arabian Peninsula (i.e. being one of the first people to watch the sunrise), on a gorgeous beach with our new crab friends (and human friends, so that’s always good), as the Adhan (call to prayer) played on the mosque behind us. I have no words to describe this moment besides “magical”.

We then went back to the reserve and joined the other large groups of tourists there to see the turtles. A bus took us down to a gorgeous beach and a guide informed us that he was on the lookout for turtles.

Unfortunately, we did not see any turtles (the man promised us that they were there the night before— though I suspect they might always say that). I do not, however, regret the trip, because the beach was gorgeous, I got to collect some shells for my collection, and our crab friends were also present on this beach. One of my friends and I climbed some rocks on the edge of the beach and sat on the top of them to get a fantastic view of the beach as the sun rose. It was absolutely stunning.

The ride back was tiring (considering the all-nighter we had just pulled) but the drive was lovely because it the road ran along the coast. Oman’s natural beauty is stunning and I am so glad that I got to experience more of it with this amazing turtle-less trip.

Last Time in Bahla

(From last weekend: May 9-May 11)

It’s so weird that everything is coming to an end for me here in Oman. Last weekend I saw Al Hamra and Bahla for the last time (though hopefully in the future I will visit these places again), and I tried to memorize everything in my mind as much as I could.

Friday my host mother and brothers came to pick me up from school (my host father was in Dubai for the weekend to meet a friend) and we drove to Al Hamra (my mother’s village, which is about half an hour from Bahla) to spend the night. I have visited Al Hamra a few times before, but this was the first time that I spent the night there. All the women sat together and we ate dinner outside on a matt (rice and fish) and we hung out there for a while. During the evening, several neighbors came and bought clothes from my host mother (she has a business that sells clothes on Instagram). Fun fact about my host mother’s parent’s house: the toilets aren’t Western-style; they are holes in the ground with a porcelain cover!

Saturday after breakfast, we hung out in the house and I talked to some of my host mother’s sisters. We ate lunch (rice and chicken) and then drove to Bahla to my host father’s parent’s house. At their house we hung out in the living room and throughout the afternoon, different neighbors stopped by to buy clothes from my host mother. One of my favorite things about Oman is that each time one has a guest, coffee, dates, and fruit are offered to the guest. So the evening was spent with different periods of delicious snacking on coffee, dates, and fruit. After dinner, my host mother, host cousin and I went for a walk around the neighborhood.

Sunday I hung out in the living room with host family or sometimes with host aunts in my host cousin’s room (rooms here aren’t really private like they are in the US. Family members walk in and out of different rooms, regardless of whether or not it’s a bedroom. I think that this is because culturally in Oman, privacy is not considered something as positive: being with others and sharing things with others is considered positive. Therefore, from what I have seen, bedrooms are quite simple with not a lot of decoration (just mainly a bed and storage), since it is not really considered to be one’s private sanctuary as it is in the US).It was a cool winter, so it was weird being hot again in Bahla (since I am dressed conservatively in Bahla, but I finally have mastered how to wrap my hijab, so that has made things a lot easier!!). My host mother and I went to a big wholesale discount store in Bahla and on the way back to their house, we passed men selling meat in little stalls set up in parking lots. After lunch, we got ready to go and I said bye to a lot of members of my extended family (they were so surprised that I was leaving so soon). My host grandmother, cousin, and one of my aunts gave me a present of two fabric sets to make Omani dresses, so I am really excited about that because the fabric is gorgeous and I gave it to the tailor to make dresses! Then I took one last memory glance of my Bahla house before we drove back to Muscat.

Time for the cheesiness: I think this was one of my favorite trips to Bahla because it seemed to bring my trips to Bahla to a full circle. I remember my first time in Bahla (during Eid) I was so confused, out-of-place, and completely awkward. I understood almost no Arabic, was uninformed about Omani culture, and did not know anyone in my extended family. This trip was the first time I felt no awkwardness: I felt comfortable with the etiquettes and norms guided by Omani culture, knew everyone there from my extended family, and my Arabic has improved a lot since my first trips, so I was sometimes able to contribute to conversations and occasionally understand some of the jokes. I have developed friendships with many members of my extended family and this trip, felt as if I belonged there. It’s funny how much has changed since my first visits and I am so grateful for the hospitality that my extended family has shown me.

And… Arabic Classes are Over!

Yesterday was my last day of Arabic class! I took my final and then it was all over! It’s so weird to be done with my textbook (this year we went through an Arabic textbook called Al Kitab Book 1). I still have my program’s final project to do, but my Arabic classes are over! Next week (my last week here) we will have reflections and different final cultural outings.

As happy as I am that my final is over, I am also sad that Arabic class is over. I have loved my Arabic class so much; my teachers have been some of the best teachers I have ever had and this class was probably my favorite class that I have ever taken. Though definitely a bitter-sweet ending, I cannot wait to continue my Arabic studies at Emory this fall!