It has been a while since I have posted. I have been so busy in Oman and Internet has been scant so I’ll try to remember all that has happened in the past few days. But first of all, I love Oman. Or so far, Muscat. Muscat is such a beautiful city and I have never seen any city like it. The city is very spread out, so walking anywhere is not done. We drive everywhere, but this also allows us to see more of the city. My house is in a neighborhood that is reached by crossing some of the mountains. These mountains, however, are not at all like what I am used to. The mountains are made of brown rocks and dust; it looks just like a scene from a movie where there are huge dusty mountains surrounding white buildings. Maybe that isn’t a movie but it is all so surreal and unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is all so beautiful. And very very very hot! The sun is so bright and the air is very humid and heavy. In addition to that, we have to cover up, but I guess that also can prevent sunburns. Luckily, we are inside most of the time and everything is very air-conditioned. Over air-conditioned in fact.
Excuse the long post that will follow. A lot has happened over the past few days.
We had a welcome dinner with our host families at the hotel. Here, we got a chance to talk to them and get to know each other better. I was really nervous beforehand, but my host parents were both so sweet when I met them. They both can speak some English, which makes it easy to communicate with them. After dinner, we drove back to their house. I unpacked my bags in my room, which I have all to myself. It is a spacious room with a bed, dresser, and desk. There is plenty of room and is comfortable, with nice purple walls, a matching rug and bedspread. I also have my own bathroom, which is attached to my room. I met my two host brothers, but since it was late, they were very tired. We watched Arab’s Got Talent, a TV show that is popular here. I was told that they watch this show every Saturday. It was fun to watch this show, because even though it was in Arabic, I could still understand the show and enjoyed the singing and dancing. I was pretty tired and jet lagged so I went to sleep shortly after.
My host family has to leave the house early to get to work/school (they wake up at 5:30!), so by the time I woke up at 7, they were already gone. I went down and tried to communicate with the maid, Kia, but since she only speaks Arabic it was a bit hard and required a lot of gesturing. I ate breakfast, which was kind of like a hamburger bun with cherry jam on top and drank coffee. I then waited for our van to come. The van was really late though and the driver got lost coming to my house, so I ended up waiting for an hour. In the meantime, I watched some Arabic TV series and tried to communicate my address and my surroundings over the phone to the driver.
Once I was picked up, we picked up the other girls and drove to the US Embassy. We were really late though (since we had to still drive to pick up some of the other girls who live a bit far away), and had to rush in. It was definitely worth it though, because we got to meet the Ambassador, Greta Holtz! She was so nice and talked to us about her life, career, interests, and experience in Oman. It was amazing that even though her schedule is so packed, she managed to make time to speak with us. It was inspiring to be able to speak with her, since being an Ambassador is one of my dream jobs. Hearing about how she got to that place was very helpful and she also gave us some helpful tips about being culturally sensitive in Oman. We then had some talks from other Embassy staff about health and security.
By then we were starving and excited to go for lunch. We went to a popular local Omani restaurant and sat in a separated area (there were many small areas separated by halfway to the ceiling walls). We sat on the ground around a mat and ate with our hands! They first served us a slightly spicy soup made out of lentils and meat. But what was so delicious came next. They brought out a giant plate of seasoned rice (kind of like Indian biriani) with cooked chicken on top. In another plate was grilled and seasoned lamb. There were also two bowls of a yogurt sauce with cucumbers (like raita) and a chutney (which tasted like salsa). This wonderful dish, called mindi, is eaten by mixing (with your hands) some of the yogurt, chutney, and chicken/lamb together. You then pack a bit together and put it in your mouth! Each person has their own area of the plate one stays in so that one does not put germs in someone else’s food. We then were served khubz (fresh bread) with honey drizzled on time. This was finished by cardamom tea. It was a wonderful meal and a great experience! Hopefully I will get better with eating with my hands. Also, many Omani restaurants do not have napkins; they instead have a tissue box for people to take if needed.
We then visited the AMIDEAST center (where I will have my classes) and it is in the middle of nowhere! Literally, it is surrounded by rocks and some construction. But the building itself is very nice and is very comfortable with a great study space and lounge. And best of all, free coffee and wifi! We went over some more orientation lessons (more safety, host family information, culture shock, etc).
The ride home took a while (I got home at around 8), but I got to spend time with my host brothers for the first time! I gave them their presents and we played with Legos for a while. We also kicked a football around for a bit. They were at first a bit shy, but quickly opened up and showed me a lot of their toys. They are so cute! The older one speaks some English but the younger one speaks mostly Arabic. That is good for me, though, because they can help me practice Arabic. I kept asking them to tell me different words in Arabic! I learned that floose means “money”! That’s a start. We had dinner, I talked with my host mother for a while, we watched a bit of TV (some random shows) and then went to bed!
Today was busy too! We started off the morning with Omani sightseeing! Luckily, the driver now knows the way, so we weren’t late. I am in the car, though, for at least 1.5 hours each way because we have to go to the other side of town to pick up Lydia, Miriam, and Kirby (Liz, Mac, and Anna live near me) before going to the AMIDEAST center. And with the distance and traffic, it takes quite a while!
After we met up with the program leaders, we drove to the Grand Mosque. The Mosque is relatively new and is so beautiful. Even though it was very hot outside, luckily the stone inside and air conditioning made it quite pleasant to walk around inside. The Mosque is known for having the largest carpet in a Mosque in the world and for having huge beautiful chandeliers. Our tour guide gave us some of the history of the Mosque and we had a chance to walk around a take pictures. Visiting the Mosque was also exciting because I got to wear my first hijab (head covering). The attire for visiting a Mosque in Oman is very conservative, so our hair and neck had to be covered. Our pants/skirts also had to go to our ankles and our shirts had to cover up to our wrists. Of course not the best thing to wear when it is burning outside, but it was a great experience to have. I also got to learn how to wear a hijab in the process.
We then drove to the Sultan’s Palace, but could only stand outside the gates. The palace is also very new and everything here looks very clean and almost whitewashed. His palace overlooks the water and the area around the palace was lined with palm trees and white buildings. If the buildings had clothing stores and people walked on the sidewalks, I would almost think I was in a touristy part of Florida! It was great to see another part of the city and to walk around a bit there.
Near the Palace was the Mutrah Souk (market) and we got a chance to look around there as well. I bought a scarf and some pretty small decorative camels and lanterns. The Souk reminded me of a smaller version of the Souk Madrasa in Marrakech. It was almost closing time for lunch, however, so not many people were there.
We then had a delicious Indian meal and went back to the AMIDEAST center for a bit more of orientation as well as an introduction to our Arabic class. Then we went to what is apparently one of the nicest restaurants in Muscat and had a welcome dinner with all the program staff. The meal was great and included baba ghanoush, grilled chicken, lamb, and vegetables, and a stuffed bread. I feel stuffed too. Omanis value hospitality, so there is food wherever you go. We are trying to exercise it off and are learning how to politely say that we are full!
Back at the house, I watched a bit of Scooby Doo that was playing on TV in Arabic, talked to my host mother, and then watched TV with her.
That is probably the longest blog post ever; yikes on putting it up all at once. These past days have been so busy but I am enjoying all of it!