The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 78,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.
Goodbye, Oman and hello Heathrow! On to Barcelona!
Originally posted on in search of a thousand cafés:
Thursday, June 27: I meet Abudullah from the University of Nizwa at Immigration so he can take my Omani residence card and cancel my visa. He’s very nice about it; it’s simply something that must be done by order of the Royal Omani Police. Workers must be escorted out of the country once their contracts are finished.
In the terminal, I have a long conversation with Sarah, a 29-year-old teacher at one of the other colleges in Nizwa. Their recruiter wasn’t able to commit to renewing anyone’s contracts, so she applied at the Sultan’s new Military College and got a job. So she’s off to a month in Victoria, Canada and another month in England and Scotland before she returns to work there. She’s completed her first year in Oman, and spent the preceding 5 years teaching in Japan. We talk about how difficult it is to return home…
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Friday, June 28: In the British movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Judi Dench plays Evelyn Greenslade, a newly widowed housewife whose house must be sold to pay off her husband’s debts. She goes to India with a group of elderly British characters, whose motives for coming to India are as varied as their eccentric personalities. They choose to spend their retirement years at Sonny’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a home for the “elderly and beautiful,” based on pictures on the hotel’s website. Upon arrival, they find the hotel to be quite dilapidated and mismanaged. Some of the characters embrace the experience, while others seem determined to be miserable.
While staying at the hotel, Evelyn keeps a blog of her activities. She narrates throughout, to her Day 51 moral at the end:
The only real failure is the failure to try.
The measure of success is how we cope with disappointment, as we always must.
We came here and we tried, all of us in our different ways.
Can we be blamed for feeling that we’re too old to change?
Too scared of disappointment to start it all again?
We get up in the morning. We do our best. Nothing else matters.
But it’s also true that the person who risks nothing does nothing. Has nothing.
All we know about the future is that it will be different. Perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same, so we must celebrate the changes.
Because as someone once said, “Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, then trust me, it’s not yet the end.”
I know what Evelyn means about fearing that things will always be the same. I remember, as vividly as if it was yesterday, the last five years of my humdrum existence as a suburban housewife in northern Virginia. I remember driving around in the traffic of Virginia, running the same errands I always ran, going through the same old routines and feeling increasingly depressed and restless. I sat at stop lights in my car, listening to foreign music, thinking about my longtime dream of being a writer, and thinking that i would never have anything to write about. My life was so boring, so mundane. What would I ever have to say? And I would think, over and over during those last five years: Is this all there is? This is IT, for the rest of my life?
Something HAD to change, but at the time I didn’t know what. And it did change. I CAN’T say about myself that my only real failure is a failure to try. For I HAVE tried. I have tried, and for better or worse, my life has changed.
I am now coming to the end of my third year living and teaching abroad. Starting in March 2010, I spent one year in Korea, which I believed to be quite a hardship. I had a horrible 1 1/2 hour to 2 hour commute to work each way, in freezing cold or steamy hot weather, on dilapidated buses that seemed to have no discernible schedule. I shivered in my classroom during winter, huddled over a space heater in my winter coat, when the school refused to turn on the heat. Or alternately, I sweated profusely when they refused to turn on the air conditioning. I endured Korean food, which I never liked because of the grisly chunks of meat Koreans favor and the strong vinegar taste of kimchi that accompanied every meal. I was older than almost every other teacher there, and the oldest of all my friends and acquaintances. I had no attraction for Korean men, and they none for me. And I lived in what amounted to a college dormitory, a small room in which I could barely fit, much less entertain anyone.
Yet, while in Korea, I set out to explore a country that is quite isolated and not known for tourism. I looked through my trusty Moon Handbook and plotted travels through the country several times a month. I set out to discover new places and new experiences, if not outside of Daegu, then within the city. I enjoyed my friends Anna, Seth and Myrna, our small group of expats in a foreign land, as we spent evenings together either playing Ticket to Ride, watching movies, or eating dinner and singing in a Korean singing room called noraebang.
I learned not only to be alone, but to relish it. And I learned to be self-sufficient, independent, and adventurous. I also learned that I don’t generally enjoy events with random large groups of people, and that certain things about a culture, which one may find endearing on a short holiday trip, can become annoying with constant exposure. I found myself irritated by the Korean group mentality, and the inability of Koreans to accept individual differences in what is a truly conformist society. I found everyone’s black hair annoying, because it was often dyed even into old age. I remember being thrilled when I visited China and found old people with white hair. I found it frustrating that Koreans refused to try to speak English, even though they had been studying it for years, for fear of losing face. I was put off by their criticisms of my appearance, such as the fact that I didn’t dye my hair or that I had fat arms or a big nose, and their constant offering of unsolicited advice. I also found them extremely generous and giving of their time and their friendship. I found them to be hard-working and diligent and well-organized. And many of them knew how to enjoy life, with their love of partying, drinking and singing.
In Korea, I tried, in my way. It wasn’t everyone else’s way, as most other teachers were young and into partying and drinking into all hours of the night. I had to cope with disappointment, and I was able to do it. Things didn’t work out for me in relationships the way I would have liked. I got up in the morning and slogged my way through my horrible commute. I taught my students to sing “California Dreamin'” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” I made goofy faces to keep them laughing. I organized team competitions of Jeopardy. I did my best. I didn’t know what the future would hold, but whatever it held I knew would be different than the life I had before. It was most certainly different.
While in Korea, the only thing I could really think about was my desire to come to work in the Middle East. It’s a long story, but after September 11, 2001 I became intrigued, almost obsessed, by Islam and the Arab world. I wanted to understand this culture and I read every book I could get my hands on. Since Korea was my first time teaching ESL, I looked at it as putting in my time, adding to my resume, just so I could come to the Middle East.
I completed my Master’s degree in International Commerce and Policy in May of 2008. Most of my research was centered in analysis of economic and political issues in the broader Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. One paper was titled Social Ramifications of U.S. Foreign Policy in Egypt. This was a collaborative effort with colleagues which also dealt with the political, economic, and the political-military consequences of U.S. policy in that country. My other research projects included Macroeconomic Prospects for Jordan and Free Trade in the Middle East: A Tool to Achieve Peace and Stability. I wrote about Women’s Empowerment as a Key to Economic Development in Afghanistan. I also wrote papers focused in other areas of the world, including Mexican Judicial Reform and its Effect on the Political and Business Climate. I studied Arabic from 2005-2007 (and not again since, despite living in an Arab country for nearly two years now!). And after going to Egypt, which I adored, for the month of July in 2007, I was determined to work in the Middle East.
I came to Oman in September, 2011, ten years after the horrible terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers & the Pentagon. It seemed my dream to come to the Middle East had come true. But I found that the energy and chaos and liveliness I discovered, and loved, in Egypt is lacking in Oman. The Sultan has done a great job of bringing Oman into the modern world, but somehow the country is missing vitality. It seems to lack a sense of humor and, as the French say, a joie de vivre (joy of living), a cheerful enjoyment of life; an exultation of spirit. It wasn’t long before I became bored with the culture and irritated by its lack of respect for women, its acceptance of cheating and its lack of work ethic. I found Omani citizens’ sense of entitlement annoying, along with its dependence on wasta to get ahead, and its attitude that things will get done, insha’allah, whenever they get done. And then of course, there’s the weather. I love four distinct seasons in Virginia, particularly the fall, winter and spring. I’ve never been a fan of summer. Of course, Oman has year-round summer, and heat like I’ve never experienced. I hope I never experience it again.
I figured if I was going to be happy here, I would have to create happiness myself, and so I resorted to the thing I loved best in Korea, traveling with a camera in hand, and sharing my adventures on my blog. When I met Mario, it seemed I had found a like-minded friend who would do these things with me; his companionship increased my enjoyment exponentially. Again, as in Korea, my travels and explorations kept me sane, and less lonely. Besides my travels within the country, I spent my free time reading novels, watching movies, and plotting other travels through the region. While here in Oman, I have ventured to Jordan, Greece, Ethiopia, and Nepal. Before I return home, I will spend a month in Spain and Portugal.
I have tried to get the most out of my experiences while living abroad these three years. I discovered things about myself: I love to travel, to go out into far-flung corners of a place and explore it, on my own, with a camera in hand, and a willingness to share my experience with words. Like Evelyn from the Marigold Hotel, I thrive on the experience as much as possible, even though at times it can be a lonely existence and a physical and emotional struggle. I have found, disappointingly, that I can be quite intolerant of certain aspects of a culture, but then I guess I have always known that to some degree. I think I hoped by coming to live in a different culture, I would become more tolerant, more accepting, but I’m afraid the opposite has happened. I can’t understand why people set up restrictions in their society that hold them hostage, and under which they are bound to fail. I really dislike hypocrisy, which I find runs rampant in this country. That being said, as in Korea, I have met some wonderful Omanis, especially my students, who haven’t hesitated to show their love for me.
As far as work, I’ve realized certain requirements are of utmost importance. Needless to say, I haven’t found these things here: I want to be respected as a professional; I want autonomy to do my job using the experience I have accumulated. I don’t want to be treated as a robot doing someone else’s bidding, especially when I don’t agree with it theoretically. I want to be commended when I do a good job and appreciated for being dependable. I want to be free to speak on any subject in the classroom or any other job environment. I want to be able to use technology, which should be a given in this modern world. And most of all, I want to work with managers who will listen and respect their workers’ complaints and pay attention when a mass exodus of employees occurs.
Once I decide I am through with a job, or a person, or a place, that’s it for me. There is no turning back. Just like I said I would never again return to Korea, I can now say with utmost certainty that I will never return to Oman.
I’m NOT one of those people who is unrealistically optimistic, seeing the world always as a rosy, fragrant and heady place. I am realistic. I see things as they are, and sometimes I don’t like what I see. But often, I see a world full of beauty and kindness and adventure. I strive to see things that way; it’s just that I don’t always succeed. I can weigh both sides and put them on the scales so that they’re evenly balanced, the bad and the good. And I can take away an experience that changes me, even if it’s in an unexpected way.
Finally, after living abroad, I think I’ve come full circle. Now that fear I had that nothing would ever change has vanished in the haze. I know that I don’t have to feel stuck; I can change my life whenever I want. That old familiar life has some appeal to me now and I find myself yearning for those familiar routines, those familiar faces.
Now, I feel like one of my favorite characters, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Standing in Oman with my eyes closed, clicking my heels together, saying: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
Once I return home to the USA, I will post some random thoughts periodically about my experience in Oman, but for the most part, this blog will be a closed book. I will post about my trip to Spain and Portugal in in search of a thousand cafés. When I return to America on July 25, you can find me at nomad, interrupted. I hope you’ll join me there, because I plan to be there for a long, long time. :-)
Wednesday, June 26: A small group of us gathered for a final meal together at our favorite local restaurant, Spicy Village, on this evening following my last day at the university. Tahira, Mario and Francois showed up this time around. Francois is hilarious, and so is Mario; they had us all laughing uproariously, probably disrupting the other diners. What a great night. And the food was delicious, except for the bit of stomach upset it caused me all night long. :-) Meaning I only got about 5 hours of sleep. :-(
Don’t ya love Francois’s starfish shirt?
This ranks as one of my topmost evenings in the lovely town of Nizwa!!
Monday, June 24: Ailsa Where’s my backpack? of challenges us this week to come up with Ripples. Here’s my first choice, from a pond on top of Jebel Akhdar, a pond full of croaking and mating frogs.
Wadi Arbiyyin is one of the most peaceful spots I have found in Oman. I’m sorry I never got to swim in this gently-rippling pond.
And this was taken on an island in South Korea, Geoje-si, on a windy day at a place called Windy Hill. I love what a breeze does to a body of water and ornamental grasses. (Inspired by being mrscarmichael: Travel Theme (Ripples))
Saturday, June 22: Tonight, Mario and I climb a small rocky hill east of Izki to view the rise of the Supermoon. On this hazy evening, we wander among fossilized and painted rocks, waiting and watching. We see several ladies walking across a huge empty expanse in their abayas. We see a few wisps of clouds. We see fascinating rocks. And somehow we miss the moonrise, veiled as it is by the thick haze. Only later, as the moon is rather high in the sky, do we spot it through the haze, and by the time we do, it doesn’t look so super. Never mind. At least we saw a lot of nice rocks, something Oman has in great abundance. A geologist’s heaven, here on earth.
Click on any picture below to see a full-sized slideshow.
Friday, June 21: After my debacle last September in Greece, where I got to Athens but my suitcase didn’t show up for two days, I decided I would never again travel without a carry-on bag. I’m leaving in 6 days for a month in Spain and Portugal, and I determined that I would take only one suitcase. But as I can no longer ignore the need for a carry-on, I wanted to find the perfect combination. I have one medium-sized suitcase and ideally I wanted something that would sit on top of that one when I’m walking from metro or train or bus to my hotel and vice versa. In that ideal situation, the small carry-on would also have rollers and a handle, so that when the medium suitcase is checked, I can just pull the carry-on around in the airport or on board the train, or whatever.
I looked and looked for something last weekend and couldn’t find what I was envisioning. I would have bought a whole new set if I could find one that was made to fit together, one on top of the other. But, alas, I couldn’t find my dream combination. So last week, I bought a small roller carry-on from Carrefour in Muscat and brought it home, where it sat on my guest bed for a week. Though it was small, it wasn’t small enough to fit on top of my other one; neither was there a way to attach it to the larger one. During the week, I kept having visions of myself hauling two rolling suitcases through the streets of Barcelona and Toledo and Andalucia and the Algarve and Lisbon, and I didn’t like that vision one bit. I know what a pain it is when you’re traveling and have to lug around too much stuff. I don’t want to do that for a whole month!
So this weekend, my dear friend Tahira wants to go to a movie and dinner in Muscat. I tell her I’d love to do that, but I have to deal with this luggage dilemma first. She says that’ll be fine; whatever I need to do, she’ll come around with me to help sort it out. She even has a number of suggestions as to where we might look for this perfect combo.
Tahira and I have been working closely together since January. We’ve both been teaching at the university for nearly two years, but only since January, when we were both teaching Level 2 under a certain coordinator and sitting beside each other in the office, did we develop a friendship. Now I consider her a very dear friend. But honestly, today she goes above and beyond the call of duty to help me with this boring problem. I don’t even have the patience to sort out this kind of problem when it’s MINE, and I have to say if she, or anyone else, had asked me to spend my time dealing with this if it were THEIR problem, I’m not sure I would have agreed to have anything to do with it!
We leave Nizwa at 2:00 in the afternoon and when we get to Muscat, we go first to Sultan Center, a place in Muscat where I have never been. It’s just like all the big hypermarkets throughout Oman. No luck. We sit outside of Costa Coffee in a damp breeze and drink iced coffee. Then we go to Muscat Grand Mall, where the Bollywood movie we want to see, Raanjhanaa, is playing. We go to buy tickets, only to find the movie is sold out for tonight. So now, lucky Tahira and lucky me, we have hours and hours ahead of us to sort out MY luggage dilemma!
At one kiosk, we find exactly the combination I am looking for, but the carry-on bag is too small for my computer. And the price is exorbitant! We look in every shop that carries any bags at all. Finally, at Charles and Keith, I find a large tote bag that will do the trick and I buy it for 32 rials ($83)! I try to return the carry-on bag I bought at Carrefour last weekend, but as I bought it at the City Center Carrefour, they won’t take it. It seems we have to trek to Muscat City Center in Seeb.
On our way driving to Muscat City Center, down what we know to be the only main highway in Muscat, the Sultan Qaboos Highway, Tahira says, “Where are we?” We recognize the same construction detour that we came across the last time we were in Muscat when we got lost and ended up way west of Seeb. “What?” I say. “I have no idea!” Somehow we are on some unrecognizable highway heading toward Seeb with the new airport construction to our left as we head south! This is the second time this has happened to us, and we crack up laughing. I have a theory that it is impossible to get lost in Muscat because there is only one main highway and all roads eventually lead back to that highway. But for the second time, we are lost in Muscat. Well, not really lost, just thrown off-track temporarily. Because in the end, I’m right, you can’t REALLY get lost in Muscat. We end up arriving from the opposite direction to Muscat City Center. We’re here and we’re not lost, proving my theory correct. :-)
When we arrive, it seems every resident of Muscat is there. There’s a huge traffic jam going into the mall parking lot, where we sit for what seems like forever. It turns out that every store in City Center is having a sale tonight! What fun.
There’s a line at the return counter at Carrefour and I stand there trying to return the carry-on for about 20 minutes. Then as we’re walking out of the mall (sweet relief!), Tahira tells me I should check out the Samsonite store because they’re having a sale. It’s way at the other end of the mall. We trek down there where I find a good duffel bag that will work perfectly (although it has no rollers) and I settle on that for 54 rials ($140) ~ and that’s ON SALE! I now have to run to Charles & Keith at this mall to see if I can return the other bag, and they agree to let me. First I have to run to the car to get it, way at the other end of the mall, fighting my way through hordes of people. Meanwhile Tahira has taken off to go shopping at all the shops that are having sales!!
Finally, though we left Nizwa at 2:00 this afternoon, we make our way to Shang Thai at the Wave’s Almouj Marina for dinner at around 9:00. By this time, we’re famished. A huge Omani family is at center stage, occupying the entire center of the restaurant, seated around a long rectangular table. At one point they all sing “Happy Birthday” in English to one of the young men sitting at the end of the table. It’s quite a scene as, for one, it isn’t usual for Omanis to make a big deal out of birthdays. And to sing “Happy Birthday” in English is also noteworthy. This is obviously a modern Omani family, dishdashas and abayas notwithstanding.
The food and atmosphere at this restaurant are fabulous. We sit in a cushioned booth and the attentive waitress brings us prawn crackers and dip. We order appetizers for two, including spring rolls, shrimp toast, papaya salad and some kind of pancakes. I order a citrus mint juice and Tahira orders a ginger tea. Everything is artistically prepared and delicious.
Tahira orders Pad Thai with Prawns, beautifully prepared with a netted covering of eggs drizzled on top and cooked.
I order Stir-Fried Morning Glory, which is also quite delicious.
We have a lovely time, even running into our colleague Mac and his wife Latifa outside the restaurant. Even though the earlier part of the day was quite “hectic” (Tahira’s oft-used South African word), the evening turns out to be the perfect grand finale. I will miss Tahira immensely when I leave Oman. She makes me promise that when I get back to the U.S. and finally get a smart phone, I must download Whatsapp right away so we can chat.
By the time we arrive home in Nizwa, it is midnight. Thank goodness we have the day off Saturday now, with Oman’s revised weekend schedule, so I can sleep in! And now I have my Samsonite carry-on, just waiting for the final packing!
Thursday, June 13: This evening, I extend an open invitation to teachers from the Foundation Institute who aren’t already on their summer holiday to come over for an open house sale of my “stuff” and a farewell gathering. It turns out that not that many people come, but the people who do are the ones who matter the most to me. Tahira makes a salad, Anna makes paella, and Fouzia makes a wonderful carrot cake to which everyone becomes quickly addicted. I mostly just bring stuff from the deli at Lulu and of course, as I do at every party I’ve ever hosted, I buy way too much, especially for the number of people who come.
I actually prefer an intimate party to a loud boisterous one, although it’s great when we have some boisterousness in a small group. We all sit around together and talk and eat, and only at the end do a couple of people walk out with my goods, namely Anna, who buys the best coffee table I have ever owned for 20 rials. I am sad to have to leave it behind, but it is way too big to ship, especially with the exorbitant shipping costs from Oman to America.
In attendance are Fouzia and her son Yassim, Tahira and Lynnette, Malcolm, Mario, Anna, and Robin. We mostly tell funny stories about our students and the university and our colleagues. All good for a few (or more) laughs. I will really miss these kind-hearted and humorous folks who have become my friends during my time at the fabulous University of Nizwa. :-)
At this point I still have two more weeks in Oman, and in the next week I need to finish packing all my stuff to ship by cargo to the good old USA.
Here’s my itinerary for Spain. Portugal will come soon, I hope!
Originally posted on in search of a thousand cafés:
Tuesday, June 11: I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal. I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.
Here’s my itinerary so far.
June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat. I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)
I decided to skip Madrid altogether.
July 3-6: Toledo, Spain. I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire. She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal. She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo. Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4…
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