Teaching Arabic to Our Homeschooling Community

Dolphin Cruise

Following our camping trip in Dubai, we spent two more days in Abu Dhabi with dear and beloved friends. Coincidentally and serendipitously, I wasn’t the only visitor passing through that weekend. Another dear and beloved friend, who I consider to be more of a mentor than a fellow student, was passing through. Before babies and the Arab Spring, we were students together in Hadhramaut, Yemen. She was the very first person I extended my hand to greet on my very first night in the city. Like the first greeting until our most recent, her humility and sincerity has always moved me to reflect on my own spiritual state.

Al Riyam Park

Unlike some of the other students, this special sister was efficient and focused. She was tenacious in her studies and intentional in her socializing. It was a tremendous blessing to see her and her reflection in her children. We chatted and reminisced but mostly reconnected. Meanwhile, the teacher who hosted our modest welcome gathering in the park spoke to me warmly and liberally in Arabic. She later invited all of the attendees to an evening event and called upon both my reunited friend and myself to speak to the entire audience in Arabic. The entire encounter was surprising, and we quietly chuckled about how we were similarly put on the spot to speak back in Yemen many years ago.

Nakhal Fort

Standing in front of those blessed Yemeni and Emirati faces, I shared a bit about my life and how I came to embrace Islam. But more potent than what I shared was what I received. As much as I doubt myself about this fact, it is true—I can speak Arabic. Perfect? No. Native-like? Never. With mistakes?  Yup. But, all of my years of study produced something. I’m not only understood but I understand and with my former colleagues and teachers gazing at me with their good opinion and lofty expectations, I realize that I have more to give to our little community in Muscat than I thought.

Nakhal Fort

Upon my return, I quit skirting around the issue and stepped up to make myself available. Though I would welcome more capable candidates for the task, until they arrive, I believe it’s my purpose to teach Beginner’s Arabic and Qur’an recitation to the children and mothers in our little homeschooling community. So, by the grace of God, that’s what I’m doing and the more I embrace my role, the more I find great resources and support at my disposal.

Farm in Barka

For the younger students, ages 4-7, we’ve started with basic vocabulary groups like colors, shapes, foods, animals, the weather, etc. At some point we introduced songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and The Days of the Week in Arabic. I even translated “This is the Way We…” to fit into a lovely set of graded story books that can be downloaded on Scribd. I recently discovered Arabic Seeds and that’s a great resource too!

For the older students, ages 8-13, we’re using the tried and true Madinah Islamic University Curriculum with as many extension activities I can come up with like Pictionary, scavenger hunts, charades, drawing maps, writing stories, etc. The pdf version works well for the mothers that I teach, but the Goodword edition is much more appealing.

For those of you interested in starting an Arabic playgroup or class in your homeschooling community, my best advice is to start where you are and with what you have, learn as you go, and have fun! I’m certainly not the fountain of Arabic language I’d like to be, but I do need to honor what my teachers have poured into me by pouring that knowledge into others.

International Book Festival

Our First Family Camping Trip

EMEG Camp

It took three tries, but we finally made our winter visit to the UAE. Because of transportation issues, the first two attempts flopped but by the third, we had a rental and were ready for the road. Just days prior to the trip, I asked my sisterfriend living in Abu Dhabi about visiting. She said that they had a private camping trip planned but invited us to join their crew. With our secondhand camping tents, chairs and beds on hand for such an occasion, we jumped at the opportunity and were off for our first family night outdoors.

The priority for our first day of winter break was to sleep in and drop off our car to be serviced which meant we didn’t leave Muscat until after noon. Slowly and steadily, we crept out of the city. Lil’ Z’s complaints of the long drive reminded me that we hadn’t had a family road trip in a while. Life in Turkey and Morocco didn’t include a personal vehicle, so we relied on planes, trains, and buses to get around. Now that we’re back in Oman, our zeal and confidence to explore the open road has resurfaced because we know that we’re in a safe place where we have consistently found warm welcomes, helping hands, and sincere hospitality.

EMEG Camp

Fueled by homemade hummus, cucumbers, and buckwheat crispbread, we hauled our way to the Khatma Malaha border north of Sohar and pulled in to a foggy Dubai night. Finding our camp site with such low visibility was a challenge but worth it. The Emirates Marine Environmental Group is a private camp and nature reserve in Jebel Ali, Dubai. At night, I couldn’t really appreciate our location, I was just relieved to find our group, a blazing campfire to keep us warm, and vegan pasta and veggie burgers awaiting us. While our companions had planned a barbeque for themselves, they were considerate enough to set aside a grill for our veggie-que. We ate and chatted, prayed and reflected, and then hurried to bed.

Camping in Dubai

The night was restless for me but, thankfully, the children slept fine. No nighttime bathroom trips or crying fits from our tents. Once the sun evaporated the night’s haze, the beauty of our surroundings was unveiled. Shallow lakes, rolling contours, and a pristine stretch of coastline were ours to enjoy leisurely. For our first camping trip, the site was well-suited considering the bathroom facilities with running water, the privacy of the location, and the preparedness of our companions who had everything from kayaks to ketchup to make our stay comfortable.

EMEG Camp

Watching Lil’ Z have her first lesson in kayaking reminded Urbndervish and I of the conversations we had almost seven years ago.  We were living in Algeria and recently discovered that we were expecting Lil’ Z. We strolled around Algiers walking and talking about our hopes and ambitions for our family. We vividly mentioned wanting our children to have more exposure and comfort in nature than we had growing up as city kids. Even though we have a learning curve ourselves, it was a blessing to witness this aspiration of ours manifest. We’ll be on the lookout for other group camping trips until we’re outfitted and ready to brave such a feat on our own.

UAE to Oman

Review: Fuel Jar in Muscat

 

Fuel Jar Muscat

Though two years have passed since we first left Oman, we’re still the only vegans we currently know in Muscat. We’re looking high and low, searching the web, but only finding…ourselves. Thankfully, vegan options are becoming more accessible and affordable, so we can sustain our own engine until the veggie trains pulls in to Muscat. In our pursuit, we have found a few local businesses who understand what vegan food entails and that– in it of itself– is an accomplishment.

Fuel Jar Muscat

One local business that understands and sells vegan products is Fuel Jar. The owner, Zahraa Ali, is a professional lawyer who discovered overnight oats and chia pudding when she needed her own morning fuel to get through the work day. When curious co-workers gave her breakfast jars a try, they encouraged her to go into business.  After a few nudges, Zahraa took their advice and now her evenings are filled with concocting tasty grab-and-go jars that customers can pick up or have delivered every evening.

Fuel Jar Muscat

On the surface, one might ask who in the world can’t make their own overnight oats or chia pudding, but Fuel Jar takes the experience to a whole ‘nother level. Zahraa uses organic non-dairy milks, pure nut butters, and fresh fruit spreads made by her very own hands. The time, attention, and quality of her product exceeds any homemade chia pudding I’ve tasted to date.  I had the opportunity to taste her top-selling trio: Peanut Butter and Jam, Raspberry Pomegranate, and Banana Chocolate chia puddings. To pick a favorite was a challenge and to save them for breakfast was even harder. Each jar was naturally sweet, rich, and filling in its own right. Fuel Jar definitely gives you a reason to look forward to breakfast.

Fuel Jar Muscat

For orders, contact Zahraa via Whatsapp or Instagram.

With many thanks to Fuel Jar for our complimentary samples.

Cultivating Community for Homeschooling and Life

OmanA constant theme in our life abroad is the search for community. We were very blessed to experience true bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood once upon a time, but eventually those ties frayed as individuals followed their hearts and purposes elsewhere. Before coming to Muscat, the question crept up again and I’m pleased to report that the pursuit has been promising.

Oman

Sunday night, the eve before a national holiday commemorating the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), three families gathered to remember his life and legacy. We had a vegan-friendly and mostly gluten-free spread while we shared stories, poems, and crafts. Children played, parents chatted and reflected, and it feels like we have a community again—a space where we can share a common aim and respect and be respected for who we are.

Oman

Ultimately, we’re more driven to build a community for our children than our own selves. Urbndervish and I have found contentment in each other’s company, but for Lil’ Z and Moulay, we are intentional about seeking out friendships and connections that are enriching, affirming, and nurturing for them. When living abroad, some communities are formed around nationality or faith. For us as a Muslim, Black, Jamaican/American, and homeschooling/unschooling family we intersect a number of expat communities. Most American expatriate families are connected to diplomatic relations, military work, or church. Even within the homeschooling communities, it’s not unusual to find groups exclusively representing one faith, nationality, or language.

Oman

Here in Muscat, the gateway to meeting our new friends has been the modest but diverse homeschooling community. Some say we’re only a dozen actively homeschooling families, but regardless of the numbers on Whatsapp groups and Facebook pages, I’m discovering that statistics mean little in this regard. At the end of the day, this elusive concept of community comes down to the people: individuals who participate, connect, and commit to one another again and again. Sometimes I’m nervous. I worry if our children see each other too often, but then again I consider that most children go to school with more or less the same cohort day after day and sometimes year after year.

Oman

Right now, the chemistry is good and I’m praying this honeymoon stage won’t end. I’m excited about the friendships we all are developing. We plan gatherings, field trips, classes, co-ops and camping excursions together. I’m filled with so much hope but, also fear that it may fall apart with only the slightest friction. However, like any community, we can only exist by putting one foot before the other by forgiving when we falter, stretching when we grow, and committing to what we’ve created. While few of us are historically rooted in Oman, I believe there are enough of us who want to build a future here and hold space for more families to join our unorthodox path of home education and life abroad.

Oman

A Long Way Home

Black Traveling Family

It has been a long hiatus. I have written little for the past three months for three reasons: we were in the US visiting our families, Urbndervish left to start a new job and he had to take our laptop with him. Even if I had the laptop, it’s not likely much writing would’ve gotten done without my partner. I’ve been pouring all of my energy into the children- keeping them calm, engaged, and nourished since exiting Turkey, hopping between homes, and adjusting to life without Baba. However, much has changed in the last three weeks. The said Baba has returned and flew us to our new home—a home we never really wanted to leave in the first place and that took two years to return to–Oman. However, instead of returning to the traditional, provincial Nizwa, we disembarked in Muscat, al hamdu lillah (thanks be to God!).

We slipped out of the Sultanate’s embrace two years ago. Knowing that we had to leave Nizwa to expand Lil’ Z’s homeschooling experience, we tried moving to Muscat. Our top choice employer promised an offer that we didn’t receive until days before our scheduled departure. And with no room for negotiation, we turned down the paltry offer on principle and pushed on. While visiting our family that summer, we received word about a position in Morocco and spent the next eight months there awaiting the arrival of our son. We returned to the US for a pre- and post-birth stay of almost six months until taking up the next job offer in Ankara. Ankara was having a particularly rough year which we decided to wrap up on the night of the coup attempt. The very next morning we started the job search once again, and Urbndervish was offered an interview for the very same job he turned down two years prior. However, the offer was much more reasonable, so he accepted it.

Hanging in Brooklyn

In those two years away, it became clear to us that Muscat is the best destination for us. The safety of the country, the character of the people, and the emerging homeschooling community gave us confidence that we could make a home here for a while. Even though we were disappointed about our temporary separation, we knew it was worth it and made the most of it. I lingered behind with the kids in New York until our family visas were ready nearly two months later. It was a challenge being apart so long, but the children and I had a lot of fun ending the summer and entering fall in New York. We hung out with family, had play dates in Brooklyn, took trips to DC and New Jersey, attended my best friend’s wedding and watched the fall foliage change around us. Thankfully, we snuck out before Election Day and the pending winter.

Fresh Flowers

Urbndervish made a crazy overnight trip just to pick us up and fly us over to Oman on the same night of his arrival. We were finally together again and ready to settle into the nest he had been preparing for us. As we traveled, I felt a stir of emotions–sad to leave family, happy to be reunited, and anxious to see if Oman had changed or wasn’t as great as I remembered. Were my rosy memories omitting the challenges, difficulties, and frustrations we faced? Was I forgetting just how odd we were (and are) as an unschooling, vegan, American Muslim family with “crunchy” tendencies? Did Oman still have the charm that won us over years prior? In only a few days, the anxieties evaporated. Finding peace in the shopping mall’s prayer room, hearing Maher Zain belt “Yaa Nabi, salaam alayka” in the supermarket, and sitting on the beach for our first homeschooling meetup with beautiful moms and children from France, America, Kenya, South Africa, and Sri Lanka have all affirmed for me that we are where we’re supposed to be. Additionally, old friends have extended themselves by helping us find our apartment, selling and giving us great furniture and houseware, lending us our old car “Suzi”, and generally being helpful for our inquiries.

Some of the not-so-rosy moments have also surfaced. Plumbing problems, internet issues, and perpetual dust arose, but they are all manageable. Our children still go to bed with full tummies in one of the safest countries in the world and for this, we are abundantly grateful. There are bumps to be smoothed out and some that may never go away, but in the wise words of Mr. Kendrick Lamar, “We gon’ be alright” and I believe so. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said it more eloquently in the following translated statement:

Amazing is the affair of the believer; verily his entire affair is good and this is not for one except the believer. When something of good befalls him, he is grateful and that is good for him. When something of harm befalls him, he is patient and that is good for him.

So, it’s really all good, al hamdu lillah.

Review: Spicy Village in Nizwa

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our former home of Nizwa often gets a bad rap.  With no mall, cinema, or spa, many expats arrive and leave in dismay.  Some also complain that the town has no decent restaurants but I have to contest.  Spicy Village is Lil’ Z’s absolute favorite but she’s biased—she’s been enjoying the food since she was in utero.  We’ve all been well-fed by this cozy little Indian restaurant off the main road in Firq, not too far from Lulu Hypermarket.  The food is always freshly prepared, tasty, and satisfying.  Our favorite dishes are Spring Rolls, Yellow Dal Fry, Chana Masala, Garlic Naan, Sauteed Spinach, and Vegetable Manchurian.  Efficient and friendly waiters attentively take order and serve the dishes with ease.  As per our request, they omit chili peppers from our dishes and prepare our breads without ghee.  Next time you’re in Nizwa, stop by Spicy Village for their lunch buffet from 12-3pm every day except Friday or any evening after 7pm for a sumptuous meal.

From Oman to Philly

Landing in Philly

Our exit from Oman was swift.  We had a chaotic day of cleaning out our apartment, loading our compact car with overweight bags, and scooting our little caravan to Muscat before sunset.  A delicious meal awaited us in the home of dear friends, but time was not our guest for the evening.  We ended our fast, grabbed a few handfuls of food, and found a large vehicle loaded with our luggage in waiting.  Like a non-stop train, we had to keep moving and didn’t pause until we reached the airport.

After redistributing the weight of our luggage, we turned around to meet a co-worker tasked with ushering us out of the country.  A satellite office of the Ministry of Manpower took our passports and stamped our resident visas rendering them invalid.  We entered a narrow white passageway with no sign or direction but understood that this was our “door of no return”.  The security and stability of returning to Oman as our home had ended and returning will mean a totally new relationship with new terms of engagement.

Rajmah (Stewed Kidney Beans in Tomato Paste), Basmati Rice, and Aloo Matar (Potato and Peas)

Rajmah (Stewed Kidney Beans in Tomato Paste), Basmati Rice, and Aloo Matar (Potato and Peas)

Like a generous last gift before a break-up, our departure flight was booked on Qatar Airlines and we were looking forward to their promise of five-star service.  Our economy class seats were adequately comfortable and our vegetarian meal requests were honored.  Like most carriers in the Middle East, the vegetarian meal options were familiar Indian dishes.  The tastiest offering was an Aloo Matar wrap filled with lightly spiced potatoes and green peas.  The other meals weren’t too impressive but a Sponge Bob activity bag for Lil’ Z compensated for what was lacking.

Aloo Matar Wrap

Aloo Matar Wrap

Transiting through Philadelphia, we had dates, frankincense, and nuts to clear through customs.  There was a painfully long wait for the customs officers to arrive, especially with so many travelers trying to make their flight connections.  After a thorough review of each bag, two more officers came for questioning.  No matter how cooperative and friendly we remain nor how redundant the questions may be, we find ourselves returning to the US with the same unpleasant welcoming.  It’s an old routine that has become increasingly inconvenient, especially when it means we’ve missed our connecting flight and have to wait another nine hours before the next one.

Art Installation at Philly Airport

Art Installation at Philadelphia International Airport

On a rainy day after a 14-hour flight, our options in Philadelphia were quite clear.  We could putz around Philadelphia International Airport, befriending the curious albeit unstable gentleman in a waist wrap.  We could find the nearest bus or train to explore the city.  Or, we could contact two families in Philly that we know from Facebook and were anxious to meet in person.  Relying on the generosity of a smart phone user, I was able to send a quick message on Facebook and get the phone number of a friend.  Then, my handy coin purse of quarters enabled me to use a pay phone and in about an hour we were on our way.

On the outskirts of Philadelphia, we found sunshine, dense green trees, and quiet suburbs.  Our friends welcomed us with the warmth of their good company and vegan treats to enjoy.  Watching our daughters giggle and play and finally sitting face-to-face for heart-to-heart conversations carried over from online chats, it became obvious why we were delayed in Philly.  Not only did we meet virtual friends in person but we also met the only other vegan Muslim family we know.  The jetlag stepped aside long enough for us to relish in those moments.

Congee (Rice Porridge with Tofu, Chickpeas, and Cashews) and Blueberry Muffins

Congee (Rice Porridge with Tofu, Chickpeas,and Cashews) and a Blueberry Muffin

The time that eluded us in Oman resurfaced in Philadelphia.  We were able to sit in conversation and silence, enjoying the certainty of our presence and pondering the uncertainty of our future.  Just as our extended layover in Philadelphia panned out perfectly, we know that we are in the care of the Divine.  These detours and stopovers seem unplanned but in reality, they sit in the scheme of a larger plan.  After parting with our friends and thanking them for their kind hospitality, we returned to the airport for the last leg of our journey. The two-hour flight was just enough time to recollect what was left of our stamina and press on to our final destination where we were welcomed with warm hugs and delicious vegan, Southern cooking.  With our first opportunity to recline horizontally in about 36 hours, we slept without stirring until dawn.

Leaving Oman: From Here to Where?

 

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Looking around at the bare closets, empty shelves, and boxes of books that dwarf our dusty suitcase of clothing, it’s evident that our caravan is pulling out.   Four years–the longest stretch of time our family has ever lived in a single residence or city–has come to an end.  For two years, we lived out of our suitcases in Yemen and Algeria, but here in Oman we had a reason to unpack.  We hung our clothes on hangers, bought bed sheets and spoons, and put our backpacks out of sight.  We nested ourselves into a cozy home, just in time for Lil’ Z’s arrival.

The quietude and serenity of Nizwa was the perfect first home for our daughter.  Urbndervish’s work schedule that year was light which gave us long hours to revel in the miracle of a little human form growing and changing in front of us every day.  We watched her eyebrows and eyelashes grow and stroked her silky black head of hair.  We kissed her at least 100 times daily and cuddled her even more.  The pace of any other place would have vied for our attention.

Lil' Z at 4 days old

Lil’ Z at 4 days old

Our apartment had more space than we were accustomed to and gave us ample room to tuck and put away stuff–the kind of stuff you keep only because you can.  Three weeks ago, we started to confront our stuff and sifted through the clothes and items to keep or give away.  Most of what we accumulated belonged to Lil’ Z, who had no attachment to anything other than her curious cloth diapers and books.  Unlike her, a flood of memories engulfed me when I recalled the people and events connected to her little outfits and dresses.  Part of me wants to hold on to them but practicality trumps my nostalgia when Urbndervish points out the signs of wear and milk stains on the collars.  There is little room for sentiment in the life of a nomad.

My favorite outfit

My favorite outfit

I’ve grown a special attachment to this particular apartment because of the memories each room holds.  The first time Lil’ Z raised her head was in the bedroom, the first time she reached up to touch my face was in the hallway, and her first steps were in the guest room.  I can’t separate her from this space.  When she thinks of home, this is the only place she will conjure for some time.  Last night before going to bed, she asked how much longer until we return to the US.  I counted ten days on my hands and she squealed.  “Then, we come back home?”  “No, not this home.  We’re not coming back to Nizwa”, I tried to explain.  Naturally, she responds:  “So, where?”  And to that, we have no answer yet.

Every adventure is tempered with some amount of anxiety.  Much like riding a roller coaster, some grit through fear, some reel in exhilaration, and some can’t stomach it.  Fortunately, we can make peace with this uncertainty because we’ve prepared for it.  We made special efforts to soak up all of the Oman we could- through personal connections, road trips, and hosting guests here.  This has been a welcomed resting place for us but it is not likely our journey’s end.  We may return but regardless, the process of mentally preparing to leave for good has been cathartic.  With every bag of clothing we set aside for donation and every book we decide to leave with friends, I feel lighter.  Our possessions are manageable without being overwhelming.  Perhaps we will find our home one day—a little piece of God’s green earth that we’re content to return to and find respite in.  Even then, the same principle applies for us, whether resident or migrant:

Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler” –translated saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Review: Sifawy Boutique Hotel in Jebel Sifah

Al Sabla Restaurant at Sifawy Boutique Hotel

In our household, non-religious holidays are not a big deal.  We can easily bypass birthdays and national holidays but one occasion that we do make an effort to celebrate is our wedding anniversary.  June 5th is the day we professed and committed to be a family, in full view of our loved ones and friends.  As each year rolls by, we look back and express gratitude for our past and present life as a union.  Last year, our anniversary weekend incidentally overlapped with a religious holiday and this year it overlapped with a delayed observance of that same holiday.  For our three-day weekend, we found a perfect retreat in Jebel Sifah.

Private Beach

Jebel Sifah is home to a huge development resort about an hour south of Muscat.  A stretch of winding road ascends and descends in both directions, through small villages and mountain valleys.  With the road to Sifah being  mostly unlit, driving is only recommended during daylight hours.  A four-wheel drive vehicle isn’t required but an experienced, careful driver is.  After entering the village of Sifah, an unpaved road leads you to Sifawy Boutique Hotel, adjacent to the Jebel Sifah Marina.  What attracted us to this destination was largely the discounted summer price.  A weekday double room on a half-board basis with a free suite upgrade was a total of 60 OMR or $155 USD.  The same accommodation at this four-star hotel would’ve cost more than double during the high tourist season, without dinner included.

Sifawy Suite

Entering our suite, Lil’ Z was immediately drawn to the inviting bed and couldn’t wait to sleep in it.  After reviewing their “green hotel” policy and examining all of the features, we were thoroughly satisfied with our selection.  The hotel fixtures were sturdy and obviously selected for beauty and longevity.  Quality wood furnishing and soothing hues of purple and green comforted us on arrival.  After enjoying our welcome platter of fresh fruit and herbal teas, we dressed up for dinner that evening.

Sifawy Reception Lounge

The large dining room was empty when we arrived but each table was prepared with candle-lit lanterns and purple drinking glasses.  Our waitress greeted us with a tall bottle of water and our prix fixe dinner menu.  We scanned the options quickly and looked up at each other.  The only included vegan option was Mango Noodle Salad.  Obviously, our meal request upon booking hadn’t been communicated to the kitchen but our able waitress quickly came up with a plan to swap the salad for lentil soup, the chicken or fish entrees for veggie pasta, and the cheesecake dessert for fruit sorbets.  To round out the protein content, we ordered some additional hummus dishes on the side.

Veggie Pasta

After our evening prayers, we turned in for the evening, anxious to get a good night’s rest after the long drive and wake up early for some time on the beach.  Our breakfast buffet was a more veg-friendly affair, with fresh fruit, stewed fava beans, hummus, vegetables, hash browns, breads, teas, and dried fruits and nuts on the spread. We ate well and then hitched a ride on a zero-emission golf cart heading to the sea.

Breakfast at Sifawy Hotel

Beyond the hammocks and thatched roof umbrellas, we stood on a shore of glittering smooth rocks and crystal clear water.  The pull of the tide was felt but not overwhelming.  Without a single fish or crab in sight, we could see the finest particles of sand sparkling like fine glitter in the sea.  We had a contention with the swimming dress code which forbade long swimsuits but with no other guests or enforcement in view, I was determined to enjoy the sea in my modest swim attire.  After more than an hour of swimming and wading, we returned to the shore to dry off and hailed our golf cart back to the main hotel grounds.

Arabian Sea

We returned to our room to clean up and prepare for departure.  Our less than 24-hour stay came to a close but we really couldn’t imagine spending much more than a day or two longer.  Aside from the pool, private beach, and fitness center, there wasn’t much else to see without a cost.  The hotel offers a variety of tour packages for sailing, snorkeling, and day trips.  The cheapest sea activity would’ve been an 8 OMR or $21 USD round trip on their water taxi service from Muscat’s Marina Bandar al-Rowdha.  But that’s only available on weekends when the discounted summer room rate goes up to 70.2 OMR or $182 USD without the option of a free suite upgrade.  Other than these activities, there are plans to make Jebel Sifah a shopping and entertainment destination, neither of which sounds appealing to us.  Regardless, we had an enjoyable weekend getaway and would happily return, as long as the price is right.

Hotel Pool

 

Five Reasons to Love Summer in the Gulf

These days in Oman, it’s hard to have a conversation without some mention of the heat.  Sometimes it’s the answer to a question:  “How are you?” “Hot.”  Sometimes it’s used as a reprimand:  “Don’t touch me!  I’m hot and sweaty!” And sometimes, it’s a random exclamation:  “Oh my goodness, it’s so hot!”  You think you’re getting used to the heat until it still sneaks up on you and smacks you on the back of the neck.  My general mantra is “mind over matter”.  I try to stay calm and think cool thoughts when the temperature rises, but facing the reality of peak summer heat requires the kind of mental acrobatics that leave you baffled.  So, we’re going to turn our sun-scorched frowns upside down and look at the ultra-sunny side of life.  Here are a few benefits to the summer heat that will hopefully shift your perspective and help you bear life above 100oF (38oC) a little easier.
1.        You don’t need to use a drying machine.
Line drying your laundry is the best way to maintain the quality of your clothes and naturally bleach hard-to-clean stains.  Rain is so scarce in the Gulf that you hardly have to worry about your laundry catching a downpour.  Even if you save all of your laundry for the weekend, you can do back-to-back loads.  Most of my laundry is dry in about two hours, so you can wash and dry laundry as long as the sun is up.  Such an eco-friendly alternative will help compensate for the tremendous amount of energy consumed by running your air conditioners.
2.       Your health could improve.
The simple act of standing outside is enough to break a sweat, which burns calories.  Walking is optional but running in this heat could be risky.  With all the buckets of sweat you generate, there must be some detoxification and cleansing going on internally.  Also, the almost consistently clear skies will give you great doses of Vitamin D which is essential for calcium absorption and boosting your immune system.
An additional benefit is your obstinate desire to avoid cooking at all costs.  While some may try to subsist on frozen desserts, many will admit strong cravings for salads—green salads, fruit salads, leftover salads.  Anything that doesn’t require heating suddenly becomes the most appetizing dish for your palate.
3.       Your tap water is never cold.
No fears of a cold shower in these parts.  The water is tepid after sunrise, lukewarm at night, and scorching in the mid-day.  You won’t need to use a water-heater (or a kettle) to warm your water for the entire summer–yet another way to conserve energy and save your money.
4.       You can experiment with outdoor cooking.
I don’t eat eggs but if I did, I wouldn’t waste gas frying them considering how hot the ground is.   When I lived in Algeria, I heard about a type of bread that’s baked under the heat of the desert sand.  I couldn’t believe it then but my Omani friends tell me about how meat is roasted underground for special occasions. It’s all quite plausible to me now.   Roasting, dehydrating, and baking outdoors are all options for conserving energy and testing out your solar-powered cooking skills.
5.       You gain a profound appreciation for all things cold.
An icy drink, a cool breeze, and a cold room all attain a new level of significance in your life.  Your gratitude for such relief reaches new depths and it’s good to pause and think about those who have no escape from the heat, no refuge from the cold, or live their lives under the elements all year round.  While this post was intended to be light-hearted, I hope we can all take a moment to pause and reflect upon how fortunate we are in our given circumstances, even if they’re inconvenient.  A temporary power outage or water shortage always brings me back to a reality that people face on a daily basis.  Thankfully, the heat is bearable for most of us and by the end of the year, we’ll be enjoying sunny days on the beach while others are shivering from the cold.
 
Serious Tips for Coping with the Heat
·         Hydrate yourself liberally, generously, and often.
·         Plan your outings early or late.  Preferred times would be before 10 AM and after 4 PM.
·         Stay indoors during peak heat.
·         Use hats, sunscreen, and long loose clothing to protect your skin from sunburn.
·         Use windshield visors in your vehicle and driving gloves for handling your steering wheel and shifting gears.
Thankfully, many jobs in the Gulf offer generous summer vacations, so use your month or two (or three!) of paid leave wisely and plan accordingly.
Any other tips for staying cool in the Gulf?
This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.