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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Muscat Festival

Happened February 3, 2014

Every year in Oman, there is a monthly-long festival called the Muscat Festival. Actually, there are two festivals, but one is outside of Muscat. Luckily, I live near one of the festivals, which is the traditional Omani festival.

After school and after my host cousin’s college ended, she and another host cousin (the two I had dinner with the day before) came to pick me up so we could go to the Muscat Festival.

The festival is held in a huge park and the road outside and the inside of the park are decked out in brightly colored lights. There were many different exhibits in the park and we walked through most of it, though by this time (it was 9:30 pm), some of the exhibits had started to close. We looked at the “world market”, which has many stalls, each selling products (like bags, clothes, and household decorations) from different parts of the world (mostly from East Asia and the Middle East). We then walked through the “Oman market” which had lots of frankincense, Bedouin and Salalah clothing (I bought a Bedouin niqab!) and stalls after stalls selling traditional Omani food. They even had huge pots in which they were cooking fresh Omani halwa (the traditional sweet here). Throughout the festival, there were different stages where people were doing traditional Omani dances or playing music. We were even in time to see the firework and laser light show. Unfortunately, we missed the camel rides, but inshallah I will go to the festival again.

By about 10:30, most of the stalls were closing, so we sat down to eat dinner and hung out for a bit, before leaving at 11, which is when the festival closes.

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!

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!