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.

Bahla

This past weekend was spent in Bahla with my host father’s parents. We left for Bahla right after my school ended on Thursday and drove to Bahla. A lot of the family came over for a barbecue dinner that night to celebrate my host uncle and his wife’s return from their honeymoon in Malaysia (their wedding was the wedding I attended a week or two ago).

Today (Saturday), at about noon, I was told to go into a school bus with my cousin and my host brothers… yeah, things aren’t vague or anything here… We have a school bus in our yard because my host grandfather drives kids to school every morning and afternoon. It’s an old bus (I’ll put up a picture soon) so I was excited to ride in it, though I had no idea where we were going; I did know, however, that there was a big container of rice and salad that we were taking with us.

Turns out we were meeting a bunch of family members at a farm owned by my host grandfather. The farm is a huge plot of land that has a small house with one room and a bathroom. Now, however, nothing grows on the farm because there is no water on the farm. We all sat outside on matts underneath a covering and had a barbecue party! We also spotted a camel so that was pretty exciting.

The rest of the day was low-key spent around the house.

Wedding in Bahla

This past weekend was quite busy. I spent the weekend in Bahla with my host family and extended family to celebrate the wedding of my host uncle. The wedding was quite unlike the other weddings I have been to in Muscat, and I soon learned that this is because traditional weddings (typically celebrated in interior Oman) are indeed distinct from the weddings in Muscat.

Thursday

My host parents picked me up early from my school and we drove to Bahla. After spending some time at my host grandfather’s house (the house in which we always stay), my host mother and I drove to Al Hamra to celebrate her nephew’s birthday. He was turning one, so it was a huge party. Matts were laid outside around the house (though still behind the gate that marked the property). In the front there were colorful balloons, a screen projecting pictures of the boy, and a karaoke machine for the kids to use. My host mother and I sat on a matt in the back where I got to practice my Arabic with some family members (and wore an abaya!). We drank coffee, ate dates and fruit, falafel, cake, and some Omani fried bread sweets. After sitting there for a while, we then drove to my host grandfather’s house (on my host mother’s side) in Al Hamra.

In Al Hamra, my host mother’s sister-in-law, put henna on our hands! My design looks awesome (I told her to put “any design she wanted; whatever came to her head”– and it turned out great)! It is amazing because she never formally learned how to apply henna, she just taught herself by practicing. Check out my henna!

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Friday

The house was in a commotion today. All our extended family was over and people were running to the salon to get hair and nails done, cleaning the house, and in general, getting ready for the wedding. In the afternoon, some of my host grandmother’s neighbors came over and I sat with them for coffee and dates. They turned on loud wedding music and starting clapping and dancing to it, some were beating on drums. Everyone was very happy and excited for the wedding.

As the evening rolled in, everyone disappeared to their rooms to get ready. And boy, did it take a while to get ready (I found it really funny though, because all the women were rushing around to get ready for the wedding (since the wedding party is for women), while my host uncle (the groom) was sitting on the couch, relaxed since he did not have to get ready). Everyone’s finest Omani outfits came out, as well as tons of makeup and elaborately styled hair. By about 7, we were ready to head to the wedding.

The wedding was held in Al Hamra next to my host parent’s aunt’s house. A company had set up a white tent and inside the tent, had put rows of chairs facing a decorated stage. Here’s a picture to give more of an idea:

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We were the first to arrive (as we are the immediate family) and everyone proceeded to take lots of lots of pictures. Slowly, people started to trickle in and take their seats. Everyone had their hair covered and abayas on except for the immediate family of the groom and bride. After we finished the picture-taking-extravaganza, we walked next-door to the house to eat dinner. Matts were spread out in the house for people to sit on the floor and eat rice, served in big plates. People ate quickly and then headed back to the tent.

Back at the tent, the chairs had been removed so now they formed a ring around the edges of the tent (though still inside the tent) to make room for dancing and to allow people to sit on the floor. My cousins started dancing (Arabic dancing!) and they made me dance a bit with them, but I am so bad at Arabic dancing! I have no idea how to move my hips like they do!

Shortly after, we (immediate family) stood in a line on either side of the tent entry and the bride walked in behind two young girls who threw flower petals on her. She was wearing a long white dress and passed out roses to everyone in the line as she walked by us. She walked to the stage and sat on the couch to pose for pictures. People resumed dancing and some went up to congratulate her and pose for pictures with her.

After a while, she covered her hair with a white veil and my host uncle walked in. He walked up to the stage, removed her veil, and kissed the top of her head, before they posed for pictures. Soon after, we left the wedding, and the bride and groom left in a white car decorated with ribbons. Many of the neighbors all left together in a big bus that would drop people off at their respective houses. All the immediate family drove back to the house in a line with the caution lights flashing and people in the line would occasionally honk their horns. The roads were empty, so the our cars were taking turns to pass each other. We all went back to the house since the groom and his wife would be living upstairs in a suite-type bedroom area. They both went upstairs while everyone else sat in the living room, drank tea, and talked for a while before going to bed.

 

Saturday

Everyone slept at our house so in the morning there were lots of people around. In the early morning, some of the guys had put up a tarp-like wall to separate the house and women’s room from the yard and the men’s room. This way, men and women would be completely separated. Starting from mid-morning, neighbors came in the congratulate the family. The women in the immediate family were all wearing the same Omani outfit in various colors. A few hours were spent for getting ready and then some more for pictures. I did all the little girls’ makeup and nails!

For the whole morning, the women’s room was filled with neighbors eating fruit and dates, drinking coffee, and talking. The bride sat in a chair at the front of the room dressed in a very fancy traditional Omani outfit, and people were congratulating her. At around noon, I went with my host cousins to drop off plates of rice to some of the neighbor’s houses (the ones that could not come). At lunch, the whole extended family came over and so the house was even more full (the bride’s mother came over, even though traditionally she is not supposed to until the third day)! So many people!

By late afternoon, most people had left, and I sat around for a bit with my host cousins. Then we drove back to Muscat. The bride and groom would be going to Thailand the next day for their honeymoon. What a busy overwhelming weekend!

Weekend in Bahla

January 23

My host father picked me up from school and we drove to Bahla. I hung around the house in the afternoon. In the evening, one of my host cousins asked if I wanted to go to a wedding with her. Woohoo!

The wedding was really interesting and quite different from the weddings that I have been to in Muscat. This is because it is a traditional wedding, which now typically only happens in central Oman (as it is one of the most traditional parts of Oman).

The wedding was really near our house and was in an outside gravel area by the road (though some fabric walls were put up so that people could not look inside the area. Green matts covered the floor (so everyone left their shoes outside the ‘walls’) and green Christmas-type lights decorated the ‘walls’ as well as the walls of a small building next to the area.

All the women were sitting on the floor on the matts and everyone, except for the immediate family of the bride, were wearing abayas and had their hair covered. I was glad to have my abaya on to blend in, but people still stared at me a lot, probably because most people knew each other and were wondering who this unfamiliar girl was.

On the matts were a few platters of fruit for people to eat and incense burners were burning throughout the area. At times, women came around hanging out small containers of water.

At the front, the bride (wearing a white dress with lots of makeup and hair piled high) was sitting on a small elevated platform with a simple background decorated with some lights. Some members of her immediate family were dancing in the small area in front of the platform to the Arabic music (which was playing on a stereo that the girls would use to skip or choose songs).

After a while, her family came up to cover her hair with a white fabric (like a fancy hood) and give her a bouquet of flowers since the groom was about to enter. He walked in and removed the fabric and after greeting her family, they posed for pictures. People were standing to watch, and we found a good perch on the steps of the small building there (where some men were sitting inside). We left shortly and on the way out passed a decorated car in which they would leave in.

 

January 24

After hanging around the house in the morning, we drove to Al Hamra for a lunch party at my host uncle’s (the one who worked at the embassy in Algeria) house. The party was for one of his sons who was just accepted to become a policeman. The women sat spread out through a few rooms (since there were so many people) and we sat on the floor, talked, and ate rice and meat, dates, and fruit. It was mostly my host mother’s side of the family, so I know them a bit less, but they are all really nice and welcoming. Too bad I can barely talk to them because of the language barrier.

After coming back to the house in Bahla for a few hours, we drove to Nizwa for an engagement party dinner. This part of our family is from Zanzibar, so some of the food was from Zanzibar (different types of bread). We sat inside a room, but many women were sitting on matts outside since so many people were at the dinner.

After the dinner, my cousins and I stopped at the doctor’s office since one of my host aunts was feeling sick (it was in a private hospital (though public hospitals are free for everyone here), so I got to see what that looks like in Oman: it was kind of old, but looked very clean, though the walls were all a sterile looking white with no colors or comforting decorations. It was late at night so not too many people were there, but the visit involved a lot of waiting and walked to different rooms in different ends of the hospital).

After that we decided to make an impromptu visit to a wedding (another traditional one). This one was in a small hall (it looked like a small arena) with a small stage at the front where the bride was sitting with the groom to pose for pictures. Rows of chairs were placed facing the stage. At the front was a small area under the stage where a few women were dancing. Most women were wearing abayas and almost all the women’s hair were covered. We only stayed about 15 minutes because it turns out we went to the wrong wedding! So now I can check off crashing a wedding off my bucket list!

 

January 25

Didn’t do too much today; just hung around the house and then left Bahla in the afternoon. 

This Past Week

Sorry, lately I’ve failed at posting on my blog. Here are some updates from my past week.

Last weekend (January 16-18):

Thursday evening some family members came over for dinner so we hung out in our living room and talked (again women in a separate room from men) and then sat on the floor to eat dinner. After everyone left (at around 10 PM), my host cousin my age and I went for a walk around my neighborhood for an hour. We stopped at another cousin’s house and walked with them for a bit.

On Friday we hung around the house during the day. In the evening, my family (and my cousin since she was spending the weekend with us) went to Muscat Grand Mall. My cousin and I walked around and looked at shops together. It was a lot of fun!

Saturday my cousin and I went to an AMIDEAST activity—paintballing! We were supposed to bring someone from our host family for the activity. Paintballing was fun! We wore camouflage suits and were in an arena with small forts, rocks, cars, and barrels to hide behind. The downside was that those paintballs hurt! After we all went to a delicious Turkish restaurant for dinner… with bread that stretched as long as the table!!

 

January 20, 2014

I got my abaya! It looks so cool and I cannot wait to wear it!!

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January 21, 2014

Today was Anna’s birthday! We had cake at AMIDEAST, but in the afternoon wanted to do something special for dinner. We met up with two Omani girls our age (I know, so exciting!!!) (Our teacher taught them, so he gave us their email addresses and we asked to meet with them) and went for dinner (to a place with yummy American food) and then bowling. They speak English (and an added bonus, have a cars) and were really nice. It was great to go out with Omani girls and we had a great time!

 

January 22, 2014

My host mother and brothers went to Al Hamra (my host mother’s village) yesterday morning so it was just my host father and I (we will go tomorrow to Bahla and meet them). After school we went to Carrefour, then to some other stores, and then to a fresh seafood restaurant. Bonding time with my host dad!

End of vacation in Bahla

This won’t be an exciting blog post, unfortunately. But I had a lot of fun in Bahla, all the same. It’s fun to practice my Arabic with everyone and meet new people. I think the theme of this past trip is “bonding” because I got to know a lot of family members a lot more and made some new friends.

Yesterday I hung out with family members (in the living room of course!). I talked a lot to some of my host aunts and helped my cousin with his English homework. One of the uncles showed me pictures of his office and explained his job to me (he’s a public prosecutor!). I spent the day hanging out in the living room, talking to people in a mixture of Arabic and English. So yep, a day of bonding!

Today we left Bahla and around 9:30 and were in Muscat by 11:30. We hung out around the house and I caught up on some reading. In the evening, one of my host mother’s friends came over and she brought me an incense burner! It was so sweet, and she wrapped it up and put dried rose petals on it! I talked to her a bit in Arabic (finally I can start to talk to people!) and we hung out around the house. Arabs Got Talent is tonight!

National Day Holiday

November 27, 2013:

I have a vacation from today until Saturday! A lot of people have asked me why my vacation celebrates National Day, yet National Day was last week. The reason is because if there is a long break, many people leave Oman to visit other cities outside Oman (like Dubai). So to make sure everyone stays in the country during National Day, the vacation is the next week. I really like that idea, because I’m normally not in the US during the 4rth of July as it is in the middle of my summer break.

We left Muscat in the morning and drove to Bahla. The whole family came to our house as my host grandfather hosts a yearly National Day lunch. This year it was an even bigger occasion as one of my host father’s brothers is getting married, so his wife’s family was there too. Additionally, my host grandfather was in the hospital last week (he’s ok now though), so the lunch also celebrated his recovery. There were so many people there, and as usual, men and women sat in separate rooms. We ate fruit and dates, then huge plates of rice with chicken on top were brought out, and then we finished with fruit, dates, and coffee. I met a lot of new people and got to know some cousins my age!

In the evening, we just hung out in the living room. Most people went home, but a lot of the immediate family stayed. I talked to some of my host aunts for a bit and tried to practice my Arabic. It ended up being a mix of English, Arabic, and hand motions, which all together must have looked quite amusing to an onlooker. Not much else to report.

 

November 28, 2013:

I woke up and went to the living room to eat breakfast (same as I do every day in Bahla). I talked to my host grandparents as I ate breakfast (Omani bread with feta cheese and tomatoes– a surprisingly delicious combination). Most of my host family wasn’t there (as in the only people at home were some children, my host grandparents, a host aunt, and a cousin). I hung out with the cousin for most of the day. I had barely talked to him until then (since boys and girls are normally separated), but as he was the only person my age, I decided to get to know him moreI I helped him with his English homework and practiced my Arabic, though unfortunately, I pronounced a lot of the words wrong… typical. Some of the uncles came over too and talked to me for the first time as well. Were they scared of me before? I was so surprised that they talked to me! I think they just didn’t want to make me feel uncomfortable (again, men and women separation), so they waited a while for me to get used to Bahla before I talked to them. I’m really not sure, but at least I got to know some more people!

In the evening, we sat outside and it was surprisingly, kind of cold! I didn’t expect Oman to go below uncomfortably hot, but I’m being pleasantly surprised. My Thanksgiving dinner (almost forgot today was Thanksgiving!) was certainly the most different from any Thanksgiving meal I have eaten (I ate krus wa-asle and laban), but it was delicious so who cares? Also, Happy Hanukkah! Almost forgot about that too, as I will not be celebrating that this year :(