Children’s Public Library: Muscat’s Homeschool Hub

Children's Public Library Muscat

After three years of waiting, the Children’s Public Library is finally open here in Muscat.  It’s located in Qurm, just across the street from the Children’s Museum, another great family resource.  Some moms have been complaining about the soft opening hours of weekdays from 10am to 3pm but guess what?

Children's Public Library Muscat

The hours are perfect for us homeschoolers.  So much so that we’ll be holding our weekly co-op there.  To finally have the numbers and drive to reinstate the homeschooling co-op is quite exciting.  We have committed volunteer teachers who are passionate, available, and willing to make our group thrive.

Children's Public Library Muscat

Interestingly, our current homeschool crew is comprised of about 20 families, representing 17 nationalities and speaking more than 21 languages.  Many members are first-time homeschoolers or have been homeschooling for less than five years.  Hearing the newbie anxieties and curriculum conundrums has us reflecting on our own homeschooling/unschooling philosophy.

Children's Public Library Muscat

As many of you know, Lil’ Z is not so little anymore.  She’s turning seven in December, God willing, and this milestone is significant in the Islamic ethos.  Traditionally, children were left to play for the first seven years of life and formally instructed thereafter.  Similar views are articulated in the highly successful Finnish educational system, the Waldorf philosophy as articulated by Rudolf Steiner, and others.

Children's Public Library Muscat

Some mistakenly interpret this approach to mean that children learn nothing before the age of seven, but as we know firsthand, this is just not true.  Children learn foundational life and character lessons through imitation, play, culture, and daily life.

Children's Public Library Muscat

Lil’ Z’s learning up to this point has been an extension of our family life and lifestyle.  So, now we’re introducing table work time to our daily rhythm where she can choose between copywriting, workbook exercises, or art.  Her weekly media allowance is usually conditional upon cleaning her room and being truthful.  However, we’re also planning to add a checklist of a few other completed academic and household tasks before she enjoys the privilege of watching episodes, playing educational games, or using a tablet.  All of this, supplemented with our weekly co-op classes and recreational activities affirm for us that homeschooling is offering the enriching educational experience that we hoped for and, more importantly, building moral fiber and character, which is our top priority.

Children's Public Library Muscat

If you’re interested in learning more, join our Homeschoolers in Muscat group on Facebook.  And if you’re not local, just feast on these lovely pictures of our new library and imagine you’re here.

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Essential Eco Products for Life Abroad

Having shared our “econundrum” of trying to live more sustainably in Oman, we wanted to share some of our favorite green and zero-waste products that we currently use and hope to use in our household.  We still have further to go in our own journey but have committed to taking baby green steps as we go forward.

What We Currently Use

You can find many of these products on Amazon but we prefer to support Tiny Yellow Bungalow, a small business based in Georgia, USA.

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What’s On Our Wishlist

More goodies from Tiny Yellow Bungalow and a huge zero-waste essential, a Berkey Water Filtration System with reusable filters.

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Please share your favorite green products in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to Be Green in Oman

Sustainable Oman

The produce lady sees me coming. She peers from the side of her eye and begins to mumble something. She’s not looking at the color of my skin or the way I’m dressed, because in all honesty, we can pass for cousins. She’s looking at my reusable produce bags and can’t seem to figure them or me out. To me, it doesn’t seem complicated. My produce is bagged. You identify it, weigh it, put a sticker on it and we move on in peace, but no. She does a quick examination wondering if and when I wash my produce bags. Trust me, the bags don’t double as socks or underwear. I thank her and move on.

At the nuts and dried fruits counter, I hand my reusable bulk bag to the clerk and politely make my request. He’s confused but proceeds to weigh my kilo of raw cashews in a plastic bag. I point out my cloth sack again and he clumsily makes the transfer, only for his manager to wrap my cloth bag in a plastic bag stapled shut as proof of purchase.

Vegan Oman

Once I get to the register, the cashier clerk gives me the thumbs up. My eco-attempts are not totally in vain. The bag clerk has no opinion. He takes my reusable shopping bags and fills them quickly. There’s a combination of locally grown produce, imported organic goods, eco-friendly cleaners, a gallon-bottle of white vinegar, plastic bottles of coconut oil, glass jars of nut butter, boxes of almond milk, and a shameless bag of American tortilla chips. Each shopping trip is a tug-of-war between practicality, my conscience, and our budget.  No party ever truly wins, nor are they defeated.

Trying to live sustainably isn’t so easy in some parts of the world. Maybe in Berlin, I can shop at a waste-free supermarket, ride home on a bicycle, and live in a solar-powered home, but Muscat isn’t Berlin. Maybe in Oregon, I can grow my own food, build a tiny home, and barter goods with my neighbors, but Oregon isn’t in Oman. I live in an oil-producing nation with limited public transportation, a negligible recycling industry, and very little environmental awareness. However, life in Oman sustains us in many other ways. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I do have a generous wish list that I’m willing to work towards seeing fulfilled. Until then, I need to hold myself accountable to rejoining and getting involved with the Environmental Society of Oman. They do great work around animal conservation and environmental preservation, but I would love to see them usher in a new generation that will make sustainable choices more available for us all.

Vegan Oman

 

Oman Adventures: Dimaniyat Islands

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Last weekend was definitely a #iheartoman kind of weekend. July 23rd was Renaissance Day and a national holiday in Oman, so there were a number of excursion promotions being offered. What caught our attention was a three-hour glass bottom boat tour to the Dimaniyat Islands, a nature reserve about 45 minutes away from Seeb Port in Muscat. We enlisted a few friends to join us and squeezed into an 8:30am group tour.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

The sea was so clear that there was no need to stare at the boat’s glass bottom. We could see aqua-colored coral and schools of fish just as clearly by looking overboard. When we finally docked, we were a short swim from one of the coasts in shallow enough water to snorkel and swim. Regretfully, we’re not yet a family of strong swimmers, so we just bobbed along in our life vests. Lil’ Z and Moulay clung to me for dear life, so I didn’t do much snorkeling. However, for the brief moment I did give it a try, it was amazing to peak into a world beyond the surface. Especially after reading about the chronicles of a deep sea-diving traveler here, I know there’s just as much to be explored underwater as there is above ground.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Our tour hosts, Beauty of Dymaniyat, were extremely patient with our late arrivals. We set sail promptly and were given more than an hour and a half to enjoy our surroundings. Snorkeling gear, flippers, and life vests were available in several different sizes. To replenish us, bottled water, sodas, fresh fruits, croissants and pastries were offered as well. Our guides didn’t tell us much about the islands, but they were kind and helpful.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

After zipping back to Seeb Port, we relished in our time at sea and thought of all the visitors we’d like to bring along next time.  Will it be you?

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

 

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

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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.