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I have less than a week left here in Muscat.

It’s a strange thought- leaving. But at the same time, it’s been staring me in the face since I stepped off the plane.  I’ve been looking out into my future, wondering, sometimes anxiously, sometimes excitedly, about what it would feel like the day I left.

Would I be happy, sad, or somewhere between? Would I feel accomplished, or regretful? Would I cry as I waved to all those I met, got to know, and then left behind?

I still don’t know the answers to many of these questions.

It doesn’t feel real. I’ve never experienced anything like this, so I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel.

Will I get to come back and visit the family I grew to call my own?

What will I feel when I finally sleep in my own bed again? Will it feel like home?

What if everything’s changed? And since it probably has, what will it do?

Is it going to be hard?

And while I might feel pretty alone in this transition, I have to remind myself that I am coming home. As scary as it seems, this is the one place that will always welcome me back, smiling, arms open.

Here’s one of my favorite songs right now:

From Muscat with love,

bailey :)

 

Going home; Leaving home

I’ve been in Oman for nearly 9 months.

A lot can happen in in 9 months. Life can grow from a single cell to a laughing baby. A hopeful college graduate ventures out into to the real world, and gets a taste of his future.

For an exchange student, everything can change in 9 months.

I started this journey full of hopes, fear and millions of questions that sprung from every corner of my mind. I had come to a place that was nothing more than a blank page for me, with the shadows of preconceptions that I knew were probably far for the truth.

I had grown up around visions of the battle torn Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast desert of Saudi, and the mosaics of Morocco. I knew none of these places could  even pretend to mimic the place I was headed. So I was left with a few pictures from Google Images, the words of the alums that had come here before me, and a couple emails, the only contact I had had from the family I was to become a part of.

Thinking back, I was incredibly mentally prepared. Now, there would be no way I could get up and leave. But of course, that’s not what I did. I had the entire summer to prepare, tell people the same speech over and over, and wrap my head around the fact that I would be embarking on something very difficult, but very rewarding.

I got here, and fell in love. But that’s not to say that it was easy. The first couple weeks, I couldn’t even read emails from my parents without crying. Everything was new, and different, and fascinating. I tried to absorb every little tidbit of information (which is impossible, by the way), and I was up for anything and everything. I even ate a mini octopus. (I can still remember the feeling of tentacles stuck between my teeth.) I think I said ‘sure’ more times than I could count.

When they give you the orientation beforehand, they show you this graph, depicting the course culture shock takes when studying abroad.

I have to say, I did not follow this AT ALL. I honestly cannot remember a single week that was so terrible that I hit rock bottom. I like to call it “culture irritation”- it fits better. For one, anything I didn’t understand about their culture, I would just ask. I always got an answer, and it was far more accurate than any explanation I could conjure up myself. I think one thing that definitely helped with that was that there was never any language barrier. My immediate family and all my friends speak English. I could always just ask.

-While this is very helpful for cultural exploration, it is extremely detrimental to language learning. While I have come a long way in my Arabic skills, I am not fluent. Most of the Arabic I have learned is from listening. To put it simply, why would someone speak to me in Arabic and have a substance-less conversation when they could speak to me in English, the language that both parties are proficient in?

Anytime I was feeling low, or homesick, or generally unwell, it was not because I was confused, or didn’t understand why something was happening.

I understand the motives behind most of my family’s actions. Sometimes I would just make me angry, or sad, or just frustrated.

For example, children here respect their parent’s words to the utmost. Most utterances are absolute, or at least to their faces. Talking back is not tolerated. There are no negotiations. Coming from a culture where parents are near equals, and children have no problem disagreeing with their parents, having to watch my siblings nod their head and walk away was frustrating.  It was especially exasperating when it was something petty that could have been dealt with easily.

And so while I definitely understand this different form of parental respect, it still makes my blood boil sometimes. (It also makes me feel a bit rebellious, something new to me.)

A note:

This obedience only applies to most situations. There are definitely some exceptions… When a particularly strong-headed child wants something forbidden, most will take extreme measures to ensure that they get their way. When people ask if the girls here are oppressed, I laugh. Nothing gets in their way. While a rebellious child would rarely ever to openly fight with their parents, most would have no problem going behind their back.

 

Now, when I think of leaving, it terrifies me. There are so many unknowns: did I do everything right? Did I get the most of out this experience? Did I try hard enough?

And questions about home:

What will I do when I get home? Has it changed? Have I changed? How will be transition be? How can I even attempt to sum up my year in a few sentences? Can I explain to others what Oman is really like? Can I do justice to all the people I met, can I portray their portrait properly?

It’s enough to make your mind spin. I’m happy to see my family, of course. I can’t wait to see my friends. I want to fall in to my amazing bed, look up at the ceiling that I looked up at every night of my life before this. I want to look out my window and see green, not brown. I want to go outside and not die of heat.

But when I finally go home, what will I want then?

Will I miss my host family desperately, just like I missed my real family when I came to Oman? Will I miss smelling jasmines, freshly picked from the garden? Will I miss kissing everyone I see? Will I miss the sun that shines everyday? Will I miss the amazing mountains that stand majestically outside my window? Will I miss the lilt of Arabic? Will I miss the food, the spices, the meals? Will I miss my school, my house, the country I call my second home?

What if I realize that I did it all wrong?

What then?

It’s a frightening feeling.

From muscat with love,

bailey :)

Thoughts on Nationality.

Hello all! Hope everyone is doing well!

As I spend more time overseas, I find that my views on many things have drastically changed. My view on the middle east began as interested, but ignorant. I wanted to learn more about this place that had so many poorly placed connotations. I held a conviction that every negativity placed upon the arab world was wrong. I now know most of these to be false, as I believed. But it is no longer childish naivety that grounds my beliefs. It is knowledge and experience.

Today I have a sense of identification with the area, as if it has become a sort of home. It is such a unique place, with each different locale different and exotic in it’s own way. As I learn more of the history of this land, I now understand more thoroughly the arab springs, and their less publicized counterparts (click to link to learn about the Bahraini Revolution we never heard about.)

As a note, Oman is a very stable country. Sultan Qaboos took over from his father in 1970 in a truly bloodless coup, and since then the country has developed an amazing pace. It was recently voted by the UN the “Most Progressive Country”. “The report measures human development by progress in achieving three capabilities: allowing citizens to live a long, healthy life, be educated and knowledgeable, and to enjoy a decent standard of living. The concept resulted in putting people at the centre of development rather than focusing on the economy only.”…”Reuters said the report looked into the progress the Sultanate achieved compared to its situation in 1970. It said this progress is not attributable to oil and gas earnings, as might be assumed, but to impressive long-term improvements in health and education; the factors not related to income, as measured by the Human Development Index (HDI). “- Read More

And while Oman is nestled between many “enemies” to the west (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran etc…), Oman is an extremely safe and welcoming place to live. The people are kind, and the government is on good terms with nearly every country on the planet- just a testament to the Omani way. The Sultan is a just and thoughtful leader. I think Oman is in good hands. The Omanis agree.

Comparatively, what comes to mind when I think of America has also changed drastically. Not for the worse, nor the better.

Take a moment. What comes to mind when you hear the word American? If you are like me, nothing much appears. It’s similar to hearing your name called. There are no connotations, it’s just another identifier.

My mind has opened so much in the past 7 months. I think everyone knows the America wields a huge amount of power on the world stage, but few have actually seen the effects of that. It is altogether strange to be watching the same television in two different living rooms, worlds apart . At home in Oman I have BCC, CNN, FOX and many other financial/political talk shows on my T.V, the exact same ones that those of you in the states watch. It’s identical to the cable package you probably have, only with arabic subtitles. (These channels cost extra, but why Omanis would even want to watch Good Morning America boggled my mind initially.)

We listen to American music (right alongside Amr Diab, an Egyptian artist) and the kids eat fries at home (Fries are even in shawarma, a type of Turkish wrap with kabob-like meat. Delicious!) Fast Food is prevalent.

It’s been an interesting experience to see American culture outside of it’s native habitat, taken and combined with an unmistakable Arab-ness. Truly living abroad, outside of the normal expat bubble that is usually created, has changed my perception of my homeland. Rather, I’ve absorbed the foreign concept of America alongside my own.

Some new titles, besides Home of the Brave:

International Bully, Noseypants, Holier Than Thou, and Know-It-All

Preferred Desination for University

Where all the Cool Stuff comes from (including skinny jeans and blackberries)

Home of the “American Style” haircut (still don’t know what that even is. Apparently everyone has it, or so I’m told.)

Where Everyone Lives Like MTV Cribs

The list could go on and on….

BUT. Omanis have done an amazing job at preserving their culture. Muscat is both a beautiful Arabian city, with every modern convenience at the same time. They’ve struck the perfect mix, the best of both worlds, literally.

Life is good.

Love,

Bailey :)

Fenja

This week we get Saturday and Sunday off (equivalent to Mon. and Tues.) for the Prophet’s Birthday, so on our long weekend my host family decided to get out of the city. We went to Fanja- in the governate of Dakhilyah (literally means internal in Arabic, shown in pink below) It’s a beautiful rural town, very near to Nizwa.

It’s about an hour outside of Muscat, and it’s a very beautiful drive through mountains and exotic landscapes. Once we got there, we played in the wadi, which was flowing due to recent rains.

A support for the system of channels that run throughout Oman carrying water to towns and farms.

Life on Exchange

Pardon me for the vague title, but life abroad can be so many things, simultaneously! It makes your mind spin.

This past weekend, my host family and I went to Dubai. It was fun, and full of shopping (as per usual).

A short side note: The first time I went to Dubai, I was giddy. Visions of gravity-defying skyscrapers danced through my head like sugarplums on Christmas Eve. An Arab city at the cutting edge of technology- it seemed like the coolest thing in the world. And it is. But from my experience, it is a world-renown shopping hub. It does have a rich culture, but it seems to be more behind-the-scenes. The souqs are really amazing, but the malls are the main attraction, at least among Arabs. Let me remind you, I am seeing the city from the eyes of a family that goes about once a month for shopping, not for sightseeing. I would DEFINITELY recommend seeing it for yourself!

Friday we were on our way home, and my nerves were raw. For one, I’m not the “malling” type. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop when I’m in the mood. A weekend full of shiny white floors and food courts, however, runs me down. Then, after 4 hours with screaming children in the car, my patience-o-meter was low. We usually stop in Musana’a on the way to and from Dubai, to eat or stop for prayers or just see the family. (I think it would be rude not to.)

I thought I had left my iPod in Musana’a when we were going to Dubai, but I couldn’t find it there. It would have been catastrophic, had I lost my source of sanity. On top of that, my host grandmother made a fuss over what my host sister was wearing, and in light of  complicated, sensitive matters, it seemed unjust. It made me mad, sad and frustrated. My heart was aching with all the things I saw that I didn’t like, and I was burnt down to the wick.

It’s moments like these when you question why you are here, in this foreign place, feeling alone.

But these moments are always followed by redeeming ones. When my host mom returned, she spotted immediately that I was feeling down. We took a walk and just talked. I felt better, and I felt closer to her and the country that I live in. Exchange is often characterized by these wild swings that make you feel turned upside down and inside out. But I am always returned to a happy medium, more knowledgable about myself and this country that I am learning in.

May everyone remember to never stop learning. (myself included.)

love,

bailey   :)

Christmas in Oman

Hey friends!

Hope all those who celebrate Christmas are indeed celebrating it, and enjoying themselves! Despite being away from my family and living in a Muslim country, this Christmas season has not been entirely lonely and sad, as I had anticipated. My host family has been super awesome, even buying a mini Christmas tree for me! We put everything on it- jewelry, candy, and flowers!

 

My little host brother even bought a santa costume! He loved it! He put his entire toy collection in a big white bag and walked around saying “hohoho!”, then proceeded to put all of them under our tiny little plastic tree. Adorable!

This was our makeshift sleigh. We tied a lhaaf around the steering wheel and I pulled him around the house. It was hilarious!

Big belly!

My host mom went to college in the US, and one year she had a Christian room mate. They put up a Christmas tree in their dorm, and my host mom got to experience a typical Christmas experience! She told me that even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, you can’t help getting into the spirit. :)

My host family really feels like family now, and being with them makes me feel at home, even if I’m not at the usual one. And really, Christmas isn’t about the presents or the contrived joy. It’s about the birth of Jesus, and being with your family to celebrate it. Looks like I’ve succeeded, in some respects.

Merry Christmas to all!

Love,

bailey :)

Ashura

Hello all!

Sorry for the long absence- it’s been busy lately, with exams and general chaos.

Recently I was able to see the Shia holiday, Ashura, first hand.

(Disclaimer: Most Omanis are Ibadis, but there is a small Shia population. A tribe in Oman named Lowati, which originally came out of India, is the main source of Shias, at least in Muscat. I am lucky enough to be living in a half-Shia, half-Ibadi family. Such a marriage is very rare, and my host parents had difficulty convincing their parents for permission.)

Ashura is the period of mourning, during the month of Muharram, in which Shias commemorate the slaughter of Hussain (grandson of the Prophet Muhammad) and his family. Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, became the leader of the Ummayah (Muslim) Caliphate. However, after his death, the muslim population split. Those who believed that Ali’s son (Hasan) should be the leader became Shia. Those who did not followed Muawiya, are now known as Sunnis.

Ali’s son Hasan, entered into a peace agreement with Muawiya, even though Muawiya was believed to have been corrupting Islam, and disregarding Muhammad’s teaching. Hasan died shortly thereafter, and Ali’s other son, Husain, became the Shia leader.

One of the points of the peace treaty between Muawiya and Hasan was that Muawiya could not appoint a successor before his death, but that it would be up to the Ummaya to decide who would lead them. However, after Hasan died, Muawiya appointed his son Yazid, thus breaking the treaty.

Several years later, the people of Kufa under Yazid’s rule asked Husain to come lead them, because they told him that they had no Imam. Husain sent a relative to confirm, and indeed, the people were eager to have the descendant of Muhammad lead them. He sent more letters to other areas under Yazid’s rule, and although most recipients kept the letter secret, one turned it in to the government. Thus, Yazid discovered that Husain and his family were coming to Kufa. He plotted to kill them all. He succeeded.

Husain and his family, including women and children, were intercepted in their journey to Kufa, in a place called Karbala.   Every male relative of Husain, save one, was murdered savagely. The women were taken to the majlis of Yazid without their faces covered (The female descendants of Muhammad were always completely covered, because of their pure lineage.)

Thus, this terrible day is remembered as Ashura, on the 10th day of Muharram.

I got to witness the mourning firsthand with my host family. Their are religious events for several days throughout the entire month of Muharram, culminating on Ashura.

I went twice to these gatherings. We went to Mattrah, the Lowati community, which by itself is spectacular. The streets are tiny, no more than 2 yards wide. We made our way through the winding, narrow passages. I got to see where my host mother grew up, which was really cool.

On these days, everyone wears black. I wore an abaya (as does every woman), and minimal makeup is worn. This is a major statement, as Arab women rarely leave the house without a full face of makeup. We entered the large majlis, and sat down on the carpeted floor. There was a tv located centrally on one of the walls, on which a man was giving a “sermon” in arabic. That lasted for about 45 minutes or so, and then the stories began. My family warned me beforehand that there would be a lot of crying, but I underestimated them. The man began singing (similar to the way Catholic priests sing throughout the service) as he told the story of Husain and his family’s slaughter at the Battle of Karbala. Slowly but surely, women (all religious gathering are separated by sex) began covering their faces with their lhaaf’s as their shoulders shook. Every once in a while, the man on the TV would break out into sobs. I was extremely confused to whole time, because no one told me before hand what he was saying. Nearly everyone cries because of the graphic description of his terrible death.

The whole event was rather sobering.

The second day was similar, but I saw some men doing a strange chest thumping chant in one of the streets. My host mom told me that it represents their sadness over his death. Originally, men would hit themselves with bladed chains. However, in the Lowati community they realized what a waste of blood it was, and decided to donate blood on that day instead.

However, I saw today on the news men whipping themselves with spiked chains in Afghanistan. (See here)

Read a commentary here on the Ashura attack in Afghanistan.

Not the happiest blog post ever, but it’s very interesting!

I’ve been learning a lot about Islamic history, and it’s fascinating.

Hope everyone had a great day!

From muscat with love,

bailey :)

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