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

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.

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.

Rediscovering Ramadan as Parents

100_7571

It seems that each year’s Ramadan brings a new set of challenges and opportunities to raise the bar, up the ante, and climb a little higher.  On one hand, we consciously made the choice to stay in Nizwa—in spite of the imprisoning heat—so we would have no major interruption in our rhythm.  For the last few years, we’ve spent Ramadan in various places, trying to make the most of our family time in the US but then making it back to our “home” to spend the last days of Ramadan in solitude and solace.  This year, we postponed our summer travel plans until later for personal and professional reasons, so we’ve enjoyed being cozy in our little nest this month.  Urbndervish’s work schedule is shortened from 8am to 2pm daily in observance of Ramadan, which has been great for our family time and energy conservation.  And, thankfully, overcast mornings and cloudy afternoons have given us welcomed breezes of mercy throughout the month.

On the other hand, we’re learning to share Ramadan with our daughter.  She has finally grasped the idea that the much-awaited Ramadan is not a person or thing but a special time with special habits.  Sometimes, she offers us food throughout the day, to which we reply “We’re fasting”.  Then she affirms “I’m fasting too” as she finishes her meal.  As the sun begins to set, Lil’ Z turns on the Ramadan lights, counts out three dates for everyone, and carries them to the dining area.   Sometimes, she turns down afternoon snacks, insisting that she’s waiting for the call to prayer, whereas other times, she can’t resist sinking her little teeth into the freshly dried dates.

100_7559

Making our calendar, decorating the house, and sharing our fast-breaking meal give us an opportunity to see Ramadan through our child’s eyes—making the festivity more palpable and palatable.  However, the rest of the day is mostly long and hot.  Lil’ Z sleeps less than in past years, so the opportunity to worship without her is rare, giving us the new challenge to worship with her and remember that our care and nurturing of her is worship itself.

While Lil’ Z is too young to comprehend Ramadan and its significance at a cerebral level, we still have fun singing about Ramadan, making Ramadan cards for our dinner guests, and making Ramadan garlands to hang on our front door.  Then all of our Ramadan creativity ran out, so we had to come up with other ideas—low energy ideas that we can do with her without exhausting our stamina or patience.

100_7522

We started an alphabet book which combines all of her current favorite things to do—cutting, using glue sticks, and talking about letters and phonetic sounds.

100_7574

Also, with the encouragement of one of my sister friend, we started finger painting.  There’s also a lot of reading, cooking, and playing that goes on too.  We didn’t get around to as much “traditional” cooking, as is characteristic of Ramadan in many other cultures, but we did make two Jamaican delights:  festival dumplings and plantain tarts.

We’ve been fortunate to have some quiet moments early before dawn and during Lil’ Z’s naps but things don’t always go according to schedule.  If she wants to pray night prayers with us, wake up for pre-fasting rounds of water, or take her nap on our laps while we read Qur’an, we’re learning to just roll with it.  As long as everyone’s needs are being met, why fight it?  Our sleep schedules have shifted a bit but we’re all sleeping enough…eventually.  Our Ramadan goals have been pared down, but we’re still stretching ourselves a bit.  Ramadan is not exactly what we thought it would be, but it has still been very blessed and merciful.  It’s difficult seeing the ugly parts of yourself that surface while fasting, especially when reflected in the eyes of your offspring.  But even this is a mercy in its own way as recognition is the precursor to rectification.

"Blessed Ramadan"

“Blessed Ramadan”

As with every Ramadan, we’re reminded to relearn good habits, rethink how we spend our time, and realize and rectify our shortcomings.  So, in these last blessed days, we’re planning to dig in a little deeper, pray a little harder, and be better than before.  Hopefully, the most significant Ramadan lesson Lil’ Z will take from this year’s experience is that she is not a barrier to our worship but an integral and welcomed participant in our life of worship.

Review: Meknes Cafe in Muscat

100_7532

When you’ve been fasting all day, buffets are usually quite dangerous. Too much food, too much variety, and usually alot of food wasted in the process. Our preference is homecooked, whole food meals prepared with love and eaten with gratitude. So, when we were invited out to break our fast with a dear friend, we were cautious about departing from our Ramadan groove but didn’t want to turn down the invitation.  Our host wanted us to enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal without the hassle of cooking. The Moroccan community in Oman had been buzzing about the reopening of Meknes Cafe, which had apparently been orphaned for the last two years. We noticed the restaurant since we first arrived to Oman but had no idea it was closed for so long. A large sign advertising their Ramadan buffet was a clear way to broadcast the good news.

Entering the al-Khuwair neighborhood from the Shell Station/McDonald’s entryway, we found Meknes on our right hand side in the direction of Ruwi. The entrance was lit but vacant, with boxes stacked against the wall. Only by seeing a Moroccan family enter without exiting did we know that Meknes was assuredly open for business.  We ascended the staircase to find a long dining room wrapped around three family rooms, appropriately named after three popular Moroccan cities: Agadir, Tangier, and Marrakech. After taking our seats in Marrakech, we heard the call to prayer signal the end of our day’s fast and received cold bottles of water from the staff. A platter with dates, obviously sourced from North Africa, sat beside a fresh fruit display. While it’s our custom to first eat dates and drink water, we found it interesting that most of the Moroccans had soup right alongside their dates to break fast. This soup, as it turns out, is a Moroccan classic called harira. Same say iftar is incomplete without it. The tomato-based soup was thick and comforting to our empty stomachs. Lentils, chickpeas, and rice gave the soup its body, with cilantro and parsley punctuating its flavor.

100_7543

As for our vegan prospects, we were assured that the harira would suit us but couldn’t guarantee a meat-free couscous. Fortunately for us, the buffet offered a number of non-Moroccan dishes like olive salad, french lentil salad, and tomato and cucumber salad. Between the soup and cold dish offerings, we were satiated but found it hard to resist the couscous.

100_7544

At the farthest edges of the platter, we found broth-free couscous furthest from the chicken and piled on the zuchinni, carrots, pumpkins, seeking out every last chickpea would could find.

100_7545

Exchanging bright faces of satiation, we welcomed the sweet Moroccan mint tea reminiscent of the Saharan tea we enjoyed while living in Algeria. Though the salted peanuts were missing, we enjoyed the unroasted almonds in its place. The longer we sat, the smell of sheesha began to permeate the air and warm the dining area. As the families filed out, young men filed in mostly wearing t-shirts and jeans, congregating with friends to play games and smoke. At this point, it felt like we were in the middle of a boy’s club, so we paid for the 6 OMR, nearly $16 USD, per person buffet and ended the night with a traditional Moroccan sweet, chebakia. The fried folded dough, dipped in honey, then sprinkled with sesame seeds rounded out a filling meal and fueled the hour and a half ride back to Nizwa.

100_7552

Review: Palayok Restaurant in Muscat

100_7452

I’ve never really thought of Filipino food as being vegan-friendly.  In the field of nursing, the Philippines has heavy representation across the globe.  When I worked in a nursing home, my Filipino co-workers would bring treats to help us brave through the red-eye night shifts.  Sweet buns and pork were symbolic of their cuisine in my mind for a very long time but now, thanks to our honorary Filipino amigo, we’ve discovered a whole new cuisine for us to enjoy.

First, let’s talk about the restaurant.

100_7456

A simple dining room with wooden furniture, tasteful lighting fixtures, and traditional Filipino crafts created a very serene environment.  On each wall we saw unique wooden carvings and metalwork, most of which seemed to originate from the homeland.  Lil’ Z was quite captivated by the large screen TV and androgynous characters imitating Michael Jackson, competing on game shows, and singing soulful serenades.  The Filipino music playing over the television was annoying but not too distracting.  After our host translated the menu and answered our inquiries, we ordered a table full of vegan-modified dishes to suit our palate.

100_7465

From R-L: Zizzling Tofu, Vegetable Chop Suey, and Garlic Fried Rice

All of our dishes were fresh and unique in flavor.  No two sauces tasted alike.  The flavours had a very Chinese base but with a whole lot more soul to spice them up.

100_7466

Vegetable Kare Kare

This dish of vegetables simmering in peanut sauce took a while to reach our table but was well worth the wait.  We practically licked the bowl empty and piled on more rice just to add the Kare Kare sauce long after the veggies–okra, eggplant, green beans, etc.–were devoured.

100_7474

Halo Halo

Most of the desserts contained dairy and eggs, so the only one we tried was Halo Halo, which had a base of shaved ice, coconut shreds, dried fruits, and cooked beans.  After rolling off the scoop of strawberry ice cream and corn flakes sprinkled atop for garnish, we dove into the puzzling combination of delights that somehow worked well together in their own strange way.  I loved the coconut pulp, Lil’ Z loved the dried cherries, and Urbndervish loved the little beans that worked their way into the mélange.

All in all, it was a great meal to be shared with great friends of ours.  While the cost wasn’t cheap, it was a worthwhile indulgence.  To find Palayok in Muscat, head towards Ruwi on the Sultan Qaboos Highway.  After passing the exit for Boushar/Al Ghobrah, head to the far right lane and look for the Shell gas station and McDonald’s.  Turn in to the gas station and you’ll find Palayok right behind it.  If you passed the exit for Al Khuwair, you’ve gone too far.

Note:  Prepare to pay in cash since debit and credit cards are not accepted.