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To introduce this activity, I should probably explain a project that we have been working on for the past few months. In our language partners (we have this “class” twice a week in which an Omani comes and practices Arabic with us, helps us with any language problems we may have, and does language activities with us. We have two groups– my group consists of Liz, Miriam, and Anna). Each group has been working on writing and illustrating a children’s book in Arabic!

My group’s book is about a little boy named Ali who lives in Oman. His mother gives him a cat, but he doesn’t really want a cat (he would prefer a video game instead), so he is unhappy. He goes to the souk to do some shopping and the cat wanders away. Knowing his mother will be upset that he lost his new cat, he embarks on an adventure throughout Oman and talks to different animals to ask if they have seen his cat. None of them have and they each recommend his next location. He returns to his house empty-handed, but finds his cat there waiting for him. At the end, he realizes that he loves his cat and animals in general! Shout out to Anna for the amazing drawings!

This past Thursday, we volunteered at a hospital and went to the section for little children who have cancer. We read our stories to them (and then later donated our stories to their library) and then played with them for a bit. They were so adorable and I had a lot of fun playing with them! Some of them were really shy at first, but we finally got most of them out of their shells by the end and played lots of games with them. It was such an amazing experience.

Wahiba Sands!

This past weekend was our last AMIDEAST overnight trip and it was AMAZING! I don’t even think “amazing” can describe the trip well. Maybe “perfect” or “magical” are better adjectives. Our destination: Wahiba Sands, aka the endless yellow sandy deserts that I only imagined I would get to see.

Friday

We left Friday morning (we rented 4 special cars that can drive over sand and had 4 tour guides/drivers) and our first stop was in a city called Ibri. In Ibri, we stopped at a souk (not an indoor souk, but narrow streets filled with small stores selling fabric, clothing, and meat) and walked around for a short time. Kirby and I each bought an Omani dress (finally, I’ve been wanting one for a long time!) and got to bargain with the shopkeeper in Arabic.

Our next stop was an old village that now is mostly ruins. Some people still live there, but the area is mostly old, crumbling houses. Apparently, it used to be a bustling area, though now, it is very quiet, and besides our group and another couple on a tour, we did not see anyone. It was interesting to see the mix of new houses and old houses next-door to each other, and we got a chance to walk inside some of the old ruins.

We then stopped for lunch at a house used for tours, where we sat outside for some Indian food and then went inside and sat on the floor for some coffee and dates. Then, after this dessert, it was to the desert (see what I did there?)!

It is so cool how the landscape changes so quickly from rocky terrain to the typical sand that one would imagine of a desert (since Muscat is a desert, technically I have been in a desert this whole time, but it is a rocky-type of desert so I was pretty excited to be in a sandy desert). Our cars sped through the sand and it was so fun to be able to drive straight up through the hills in the sand (though there were makeshift paths created from people traveling over the same area many times). Soon, we could not see any buildings and were surrounded by miles and miles of sand.

We finally got to our camping ground, or as we liked to call it, “glamping”, as we were staying in an enclosed area that had tents with carpeted floors, lighting, and beds. There were also bathrooms and tents with tables and chairs in them for dining purposes. It was simple but nice.

Kirby and I were beyond excited, so we embarked on an hour and a half trek through the desert. The sand was so soft, the weather was perfect, and it was gorgeous to see sand stretching out for as far as I could see. I was surprised to see so many shrubs in the desert– I had expected it to be just sand and was pleasantly surprised to see lots of greenery. I was also surprised at how hard it was to walk and climb through the sand. We definitely got a good workout. Of course, our first reaction to the sand was to roll through it and try to sled down the hills…

We then went dune bashing, which is basically off-roading through the sand. Our driver was awesome and since he knew we enjoyed this activity, he drove very fast, made quick turns, and drove up and down as many hills as possible. Just as the sun was about to set, we stopped at the top of one of the hills to get out and watch a gorgeous sunset.

The rest of the evening was spent in the campsite; we all hung out together in tents, ate dinner, and got to see the stars… the sky is so clear in the desert and the moon was almost full (there was a telescope in our campsite, so we got a chance to look at the moon through it).

Saturday

We woke up at 5:20 so we could watch the sunrise. It took us a while to climb through the sand, so we wanted to be ready by about 6 when the sun rose. Maybe not as beautiful as the sunrise in Jebel Shams, but still so gorgeous. We even had time to get some morning yoga in!

After breakfast and packing up all our stuff (and avoiding the huge ants everywhere in the desert), we were told that we could ride camels if we wanted! It was about a 5-minute ride (though advertised as 10 minutes) and we went two at a time, so Kirby and I went together. The camels were led by two little boys (they were Bedouin) and Kirby and I tried to talk to them in Arabic. They told us they were 9 and 14 years old.

Our next stop was to a Bedouin woman’s house. She lived in the middle of the desert without very many neighbors (apart from some camels of course). We only saw two rooms in her house and they were similar to each other: walls and roof made out of date tree materials, carpeted ground, cushions lining the walls, and small decorations on the walls (pictures of her family and Omani trinkets). To get to the different rooms, one walked outside on the sand. We first went to one of the rooms and sat on the floor with her to eat dates and drink coffee. She was wearing the Bedouin niqab and a long colorful dress. She also had a tattoo on each of her hands that she said was used for medicinal purposes, but the rest was lost in translation. We then went to the other room and she showed us how to make a weaved-type of bracelet. Now I have a great souvenir that I made!

We then drove to Wadi Beni Khalid (the wadi I previously went to with my host family when we visited the farm). We first had lunch on a large rock in the middle of the wadi (there is a restaurant there and a bridge that connects this rock to the mainland). Then we changed into leggings and big t-shirts and went swimming! We first explored the rock area (one of the tour guides showed us the way) and then we jumped into the water to go swimming (literally, we jumped… off of the rocks. Another item I finally got to check off of my bucket list!).

After an hour of swimming, we unfortunately had to dry off for our ride home. I went to bed so early last night; I was so exhausted, but it was definitely a great trip, if not one of my favorite trips ever. It isn’t every day you get to explore the desert with your best friends!

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.

I Rode a Camel!

Yesterday Kirby came over and we went to the Al Amarat Muscat festival (the festival I had gone to previously with my host cousins). It was just the two of us and we had a great time walking around through the shops (I bought a cool sand decorative piece), trying different food (green mango with lemon, pepper, and salt anyone?), and listening to music from different countries. The best part? Riding camels of course!

Past week

What a busy week! I haven’t posted in quite a while, so I’ll give a brief overview of this past week.

Last weekend 

On Saturday I went to Liz and Anna’s house to hang out with them for the day. We played Scrabble with their host sister and hung around the house. At lunch, we went to one of their family member’s house for a family lunch. Their family is Rwandan Omani, so it was interesting to see minor differences between their family lunches and my family lunches.

For example, all their family lives in Muscat, so they do not have a village in Oman where other relatives live. The lunch was a barbecue (mishekek) and we sat outside and ate on a matt (my family has never done this). The men stood by the barbecue while the women sat on the matt, but these were very close together. The men and women division, then, was less than that in my family.

Anna, Liz, their host sister, and I wandered a bit around the rocky desert and climbed up a small hill to see the surroundings. It was very beautiful.

On the way back, we saw a man riding a bicycle (a first!!) but he was wearing a blanket to keep warm while riding. Only in Oman! We also saw a lot of goats. Casual…

 

Monday

In the evening, we went to the Opera! We listened Sufi music performances from various countries (like Oman, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey). Sufi music is music of the Sufis (Sufism is a branch of Islam, emphasizing an enlightened inner being). The music was wonderful and my favorite was definitely the music from Pakistan. The drummer for the group was awesome!

 

Tuesday

Liz and Anna slept over Monday night and on Tuesday, we went back to the salon since the other girls still had to take their model shots. Miriam, Kirby, and I had already finished, but we were treated to a manicures and pedicures!

The salon is so nice now (I’m glad I don’t live near it; I would spend all my money there) and the Filipino women who worked there were so sweet and taught us some words in Filipino!