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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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

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.

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.

Life in Oman: Is it the Right Choice for You?

by:  eternitysojourner

 
Mutrah Port in Muscat, Oman

Two years ago this week, marks the anniversary of my arrival to Oman.  I vividly remember exiting the airport, being smothered by Muscat’s humidity, and winding through curious and imposing mountains along the highway.  With time, what seemed strange and intriguing, then, has become comforting and familiar.  I’ve given birth here, explored various landscapes, and made lasting connections with both citizens and expatriates.  For me, Oman was the right choice but what about you? Our Sistas in Oman shed some light on life in the Sultanate but here are a few prerequisite questions to ask yourself before accepting an offer and making your move.

How do I feel about living amongst Muslims and Arabs?
Oman is a gentle introduction to the Muslim world.  There is no real political strife or unrest.  Yes, there were occasional protests in northern Oman at the tail end of the Arab Spring but nothing the likes of instability or revolution.  Additionally, Omanis tend to be very non-confrontational in their expression of faith; so more times than not, you won’t find yourself in aggressive or heated debates about religion, unless you disrespect their faith.

 
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman
How conservative can I be?

Feel free to pack your tube skirts and tank tops, but keep in mind that they’re best worn in the privacy of your own home.  Generally, visitors and residents are advised to avoid sleeveless or low cut shirts, as well as skirts, pants, or shorts above the knee.  Even men are asked to skip the Speedos when out swimming.  More conservative attire would be warranted when visiting mosques or rural regions, but I don’t know of any legal penalty for dressing otherwise.

Muscat, Oman’s capital city, would be the hub for “nightlife”.  If you like to party or drink, there are selective places like hotels, clubs, etc. where both are allowed.  Outside of designated establishments, many expats choose to apply for a liquor license and drink in private gatherings.  During Ramadan, while Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, drinking or eating in public is discouraged and considered inconsiderate.  More practically, due to altered business hours, you may find that you’ve also adopted a “Ramadan schedule” for your outings and eating.  For the lovebirds amongst us, public displays of affection are uncommon, beyond holding hands or loving glares.  Who you choose to love is your business and, in Oman, where you choose to love them should also be your personal business.

How do I cope with heat?
Oman has a good deal of heat for you to enjoy.  Between May and September, temperatures are regularly above 100oF (38oC), so midday outings are discouraged.  Fortunately, just about every indoor environment is air conditioned and electricity supply is consistently delivered throughout most parts of Oman.  If that kind of heat is unfathomable to you, look for work in Salalah- a region in the far south of Oman that enjoys moderate weather year-round with a summer monsoon season.

Can I live in the desert?
Be of good cheer, friends!  Oman is not just one big desert!  There are beaches, mountains, waterfalls, and wadis (ravines) to discover throughout.  The greenest of times is from June to September, in the far south of Oman during the khareef or monsoon season.   You’ll be amazed to see rolling green hills and misty mornings that remind you of Ireland.

 
Misty Morning in Salalah, Oman
What will I eat?

Oman has a great variety of all types of food.  Delicious local and foreign produce, a variety of fresh meats and fish, veggie-friendly offerings, and imported comfort foods are all at your fingertips in the major cities and towns.  In the capital city, you can satisfy your craving for everything from Thai to Moroccan food.  Even major American fast food chains and restaurants have migrated to this part of Arabia!

 
Swahili food in Sohar, Oman
What will I do?

Other than work, there are all kinds of organizations to be involved with.  You can pick up a new language, take in a movie, enjoy the opera, ride a horse, scuba dive, and do your fair share of “tree hugging” here.  If all of what Oman has to offer still ranks low on your adventure-meter, you are perfectly situated for great travel options to the Middle East, East Africa, South Asia and Europe.

 
Hiking in Sur, Oman

How will I get around?
Unless you want to rely on taxis and the occasional long distance bus, having your own ride is the way to go.  Car rentals are very easy with a foreign driver’s license but purchasing a car will require an Omani driver’s license.  Possessing a current foreign driver’s license from most countries for at least a year allows you to obtain an Omani driver’s license without a road or written examination.  Some jobs provide shuttle transportation, so you may not have to worry about commuting to work.

Can I save?
There are plenty of middle-aged professionals from the West that are living well and saving for retirement here.  Many find it easy to save without a penny-pinching budget.  If you live outside of Muscat, you may find more attractive salaries and packages that include housing, annual round-trip airfare for you and your family, and health insurance.  Add those perks to a lower cost of living, and you can make bank here!  As with most Gulf countries, the vision for the future is to reduce dependence on foreign workers and phase out expatriate employees.  Until then…come get your slice of the Omani pie while the pickings are good!

How will I communicate?
Oman is functionally bilingual: websites, road signs, official documents, shop names, etc. will almost always be in both English and Arabic.  Sometimes the English displayed on road signs may be inconsistent, but the government is working on it.  Outside of major cities and towns, you may find that many people are not fluent in English but you can usually get by with little to no Arabic.

Where should I live?
If you want to maximize your social life, try to stay in or near Muscat.  If you can stand the summer humidity, Muscat, Sohar, Sur, and Salalah are all coastal cities.  If you prefer a drier climate (both literally and figuratively!), consider Nizwa or Ibri.

Can I make an impact?
Oman is a wonderful nation that has progressed rapidly in the last few decades.  Previous generations left Oman in pursuit of quality education, health care, and a higher standard of living, but many have since returned.  Oman is catching up to the world, so to speak.  College enrollment is on the rise and you may have the opportunity to teach first generation university students–the majority of which are women.  Unlike other regions of the Gulf, not all citizens of Oman are wealthy and even if they lack the maturity of third or fourth generation academics, many are learning to appreciate the virtue of higher education and gaining greater access to the wider world as a result.

It can’t be all good in Oman, can it?
Every rose has its thorn and Omani roses are no different.  There are social problems that may not readily come to light, high incidences of traffic-related deaths, and biases that favor citizens over expats.  There is a general lack of environmental concern, outdated approaches to early education, and lacking accommodations for students with special needs, BUT Oman’s growth is in progress- steady but not stagnant.  Even if you decide that life in Oman is not right for you, you should at least consider a visit when you’re in the neighborhood.

Feel free to ask questions or add your experience of life in Oman in the comments.
This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.

Sistas in Oman: Part II

 

In Sistas in Oman:  Part I, our interviewees introduced themselves and gave you a glimpse of their life in Oman but they have much more to share!  Ranging from novice to expert travelers, here are some general reflections and words of advice from our “sistas in Oman”.  Enjoy!

What sacrifices have you made to live abroad and were they worth it?

Anya:  For me, the number one sacrifice is being away from family and friends.  Seeing my nieces and nephews grow up, missing graduations and family functions.  My parents are aging, so I think of this.  However, living abroad is best for me, my path, and my journey- it’s bigger than me.  This is God’s plan.  I wouldn’t change it but it saddens me at times.  Otherwise, professionally I would not be where I’m at, nor as financially stable.
“Maria”:  I cannot explain that.  I’ve always wanted to speak English, and speak it without a Venezuelan accent.  So, moving to the U.S. was never a sacrifice because it was something I wanted; a dream.  Then, when I came here (Oman), I felt right at home.
Stephanie:  My family has always been really supportive, so I haven’t made much of a sacrifice.  Living abroad has been a totally, awesome experience.  I have met other travelers and their experiences whet my appetite to see more.  Traveling has always been my dream.

Deniece:  I don’t think I sacrificed anything.  Everything I did, I decided to do- it was my own choice.  Overall, I’ve found that everything I need, I can access and I’m sufficient with that.
Ilwad:  I love this place, so I don’t feel like I sacrificed yet.  I miss my family, but it’s not a sacrifice.

What are your “can’t leave home without it” travel essentials?

Ilwad:  Ultra Glow Cocoa Bar.  No other cream works for my skin; it’s the only thing, so my family brings it for me.
Anya:  My Lonely Planet and my Bible.  My Lonely Planet is my travel bible.  And, I always travel with a pocket calculator because it takes time to get used to the currency conversion.
“Maria”:  My laptop.  I can’t live without it and my internet.
Stephanie:  My camera.  I really love photography and since I love to travel, I’ve taken lots of pictures of the places I’ve been.  Another thing is maple syrup because it’s really expensive here.
Deniece:  I don’t know.  There’s nothing that I need.  Probably a camera but I’m very flexible.  It’s not hard for me to adapt.

Are you the same person you were when you left home?

Ilwad: No way! I’ve grown in the past six months in ways that I never thought. I’m the youngest of a large family, so I’ve always relied on others and had a backbone. Coming here, I’ve had to ask,“Can I rely on myself?” I have to behave myself and be responsible for me.

Deniece: I’ve matured in the last four years. That comes with more knowledge and more experience with different people, walks of life, and faiths. As for me specifically, I grew more into myself, my spirituality and who I really am. There’s a lot of personal growth when you’re able to be outside of the U.S.
Anya:  I’m more disciplined.  There’s nothing to do in Oman, so I have my routines.  I’m cooking more and eating healthier.  I’m more disciplined financially and realizing that I don’t have to be a consumer.  In America, we’re such a nation of consumers but I gave that all up.  I don’t have to be “fly” all the time.  I wear my abaya everyday and that’s fine.  Also, I have a greater appreciation of Islam.

Ilwad:  I love hearing the adhan (call to prayer).  Hearing it makes me more spiritually awoken.
“Maria”:  I’m not sure if it’s because of life abroad or life in general, but I’ve had to build a wall because people hurt me and betrayed me.  This has made me more responsible about “letting people in” because I’m afraid of getting hurt.
Stephanie: Well, I’ve changed because I’ve become more flexible. Traveling from city to city makes you have to adapt to different cultures, traditions, and customs. I’m reminded to suspend judgment and this has made me more open-minded.

What do you wish you knew when first leaving home, that you know now?

Ilwad:  Sort out any emotional conflicts before leaving the country.
“Maria”:  I just recently realized how much paperwork is needed and all the bureaucracy involved when having things apostled from abroad.  As far as life, I don’t think anything would have helped.  You have to learn for yourself.
Anya:  I wish I would’ve known that you can’t buy a children’s Quran in English here.
Stephanie:  I wish that I had known and been smart enough to pack light and not pack too many unnecessary things.

Deniece: Yes! I took half of the stuff back home before coming to Oman. I also wish I knew to stockpile items and ethnic stuff that you can’t get outside of the U.S. For example, products for your hair or doing something with your hair that’s easy for you to keep up because some things you just can’t substitute.
This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.

Sistas in Oman: Part I

by:  eternitysojourner

 
Most people have no clue about Oman.  “Where is it?”  “What’s it like there?”  “Is it in Jordan?”  If you’ve seen a map of the Arabian Gulf, you would know that Oman is cuddled by Yemen, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia – a tight squeeze, to say the least!  Having seen all of these countries, Oman is truly at the center of them all, literally and figuratively.  In Oman, you’ll find humble hospitality akin to Yemen, opulent development akin to Saudi Arabia and a thriving tourism economy akin to the UAE.  The “sleepy sultanate” has progressed significantly in the last four decades, without getting “lost in the sauce”.  Omanis know who they are, and they have customs and rich traditions to remind them.  Not overly conservative, not frighteningly progressive, but a beautiful array as varied as her landscapes.  You can truly “get in where you fit in” and find at least one Omani that reminds you of a relative back home.  While Korea and UAE seem to be most popular with women of color as of late, a few sistas met Oman and fell in love.  Hopefully, you’ll get a taste of life here through an interview with five lovely ladies who call Oman home.

Tell us about your life abroad.  Where’s home?  Where and how long have you lived abroad?

Anya:  Home for me is Philadelphia, PA.  And, of course, New York- gotta represent Brooklyn!  The journey for me has been amazing!  It started in 1997 when I traveled Ghana to go to school and to teach, and I’ve been abroad ever since.  I’ve learned about different cultures and languages.  I also have an appreciation for different religions and practices.  I love seeing the interaction between religion and tradition and how they can go hand-in-hand.
Ilwad:  Home for me?  The UK is where I grew up.  My origin is Somalia.  My family migrated to Kenya, and when I was seven, we moved to the UK; so London is the only home I know.  Even though Somalia is my home, I can’t relate to it.  This is my first trip away internationally, and I‘ve been here for six months.  It has been such an incredible journey!  It had its ups and downs, but this is my first time away from home.

“Maria”:  I’ve been living abroad for 15 years now.  Home?  I’m originally from Venezuela but home?  I don’t know.  I lost a lot of my cultural identity.  I lived in the US for ten years and returned to Venezuela but couldn’t fit in.  My friends back home have the same life- just living in their comfort zone and never experiencing different cultures, so it’s tough.  I spent a year in Venezuela trying to get out and have been in Oman for five years.  I’m 200% Venezuelan but I’m barely American by citizenship, so I’ve become so international to my own detriment.
Stephanie:  Well, I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I started living abroad in 2005.  I taught in Chiang Mai, Thailand at a K-12 school.  Then I went to Daegu and Seoul, South Korea and Istanbul, Turkey.  Now, I’m here in Oman.

Deniece:  I was born in Nassau, Bahamas and grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I’ve been overseas since 2008.  I was in Egypt for two and a half years and now Oman.  Years ago, in 2001, I was abroad in Benin through Peace Corps.

How did you end up in Oman?  Did you choose Oman or did Oman choose you?

Ilwad:  I think Oman chose me.  I knew I wanted to leave the UK- that’s all I know.  I wanted to see a different life, particularly Arab culture.  Arab and Somali culture are very similar but I can’t return to Somalia because of war.  I sent my CV to universities in different gulf countries.  I had an offer in Saudi but I thought, “No way!  I can’t drive there?!?”  Then, I heard from a university here.
Stephanie:  Well, for me, I previously worked in Istanbul and, as everyone knows, Turkey is a Muslim country.  It’s very open and progressive, so I wanted to see what life was like in a more conservative Muslim country to get a different cultural perspective.

Deniece:  I came just for work, really.  It was time to leave Egypt and people told me Oman was a nice country with nice people and that it was very “low on the radar”.
Anya:  In undergrad, I took Arabic as a foreign language, and it was one of the most difficult courses I had ever taken.  In the back of my mind, I knew I would be in Arabia. Being here has given me a deeper respect for Islam and the beauty of its practice.  I’ve lived in East Africa, West Africa, South Africa, and Asia and hadn’t done the Middle East yet.  Oman was not my first choice, Dubai was but I came because I knew someone here.
“Maria”:  I had no idea where Oman was.  I had to look on a map.  I wanted Dubai but ended up in Oman.  I thought I would just stay two years for the experience but I fell in love with the students- they’re so pure and humble.  I fell in love with the Sultan and his country.  He’s the only leader of a country that I admire.

What do you love most and least Oman?

Stephanie:  I guess for me, it’s a little too tame- too quiet for me.  There are some really pretty parts like Jabal al-Akhdar, the beaches, the corniche- it’s a pretty country and the people are really kind.  I also love my students.  They’ve been really sweet.  Some of them are extremely eager to learn and show you their work and what they know.
Deniece:  What I like most is the people and their hospitable nature. The authenticity of their spirituality is more prominent here.  I would definitely say the students too.  My current students are the best I’ve ever had.  What I like least would have to be…not enough culture for my taste.  I need more things to do, more places to go, more things to see- more cultural avenues.

 

Anya:  I love the nature, the eco-tourism- it’s aesthetically beautiful.  I have a profound appreciation for Omani people.  They’re extremely congenial- very nice, extremely pleasant, and will exchange pleasantries with you.  What I love least?  Omani men.  I don’t want to generalize all Omani men but outside of Muscat (the capital city of Oman), at least!  The beeping, the staring, and looking at you with a discriminating eye.  Wearing the abaya (black, traditional gown) lessens it but I still have cars honking and slowing down.  I don’t get this in Muscat.
“Maria”:  What I love least is that everything you do is associated to your employer.  Something happened to me at 8pm one evening and by 7:30 the next morning, my students were asking me about it and I don’t like that.  What I love most are the people in general.  They have a closeness with God.  We do too but they live it and take it seriously.
Ilwad:  What I like most? The people- the way they practice their religion and how they welcomed me.  I was frightened by the mountains at first because where I come from is completely flat.  Yeah, the people may stare but I know their hearts are pure and they would never harm me.  Here, I can sleep at night and I know I’m safe.  As a young female, safety is very, very, very important to me.

Stay tuned for Part II!
This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.