Thursday, September 15: Today, I leave Washington for Oman; I’ll be on a plane from Dulles International Airport (IAD) at 10:50 p.m. on Qatar Airlines. After a stopover in Doha, I should arrive in Muscat, Oman at 10:30 p.m. Friday evening. Right now, during daylight savings time, Oman is 9 hours ahead of us, so I will arrive around 1:30 p.m. EST. It’s about 15 hours of flying time.
Since I first got an offer from the university in early July, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about Oman. My friend Ed from the State Department, who is now in Ethiopia for a 2-year stint, told me that when foreign service officers are assigned to the Middle East, they hope for an Oman posting. He says they consider it the paradise of the Middle East.
On Amazon.com I found a lot of books about Oman, but was especially happy to find two self-published books by Matthew Heines, an English teacher in Sur, Oman from 2001-2003. These books tell first-hand the life of an American in Oman, teaching English at a university in Sur (not the one where I’ll be of course ~ mine is in Nizwa…) In the first book, he has an intense romance with an Indian woman who teaches at a university in Muscat while trying to navigate through difficult teaching dilemmas with an administration in a privately run college where there is more concern for collecting student tuition rather than providing for a good education. He tells of snorkeling adventures (apparently there is great snorkeling all over Oman), camping adventures in the mountains and wadis. He loves his students, especially the women who work especially hard since they now have an opportunity to get an education by the progressive Sultan Qaboos. Although he encounters many frustrations and hurdles in teaching, overall he has a great experience.
At the end of Matthew’s first book, his Indian girlfriend leaves him for an arranged marriage insisted on by her parents back in India. This despite assurances she had given Matthew from the beginning that she would never submit to an arranged marriage.
In his second book, Matthew continues to suffer heartbreak from his Indian girlfriend and then begins a clandestine romance with an Omani woman, which really amounts to rarely meeting in private, a lot of intense phone conversations, and meeting “by chance” in the local souq (market). He has more adventures and a slightly more positive teaching experience. Through it all, he loves his students. He leaves Oman at the end of his two years, knowing that his Omani girlfriend will ultimately end up in an arranged marriage with her cousin!!
I loved reading these stories because they’re told from an expatriate’s viewpoint and he’s a university English teacher, as I will be. I really can’t wait to experience Oman for myself and create my own adventures!
Another book I read was Oman – Culture Smart: a quick guide to customs and culture. This book gave me a good, but brief, overall guide to what I can expect culturally when I get to Oman.
In talking to an English teacher who has been at the university for a year now, she told me that we will be provided a one bedroom apartment with a king-size bed, a living room with couch and TV, and a fully equipped kitchen. She says they will show us several apartments from which we can choose. She tells me also we should wear long-sleeves or 3/4 sleeve tops, long pants, and will want to wear sandals year-round. She says there are about 70 English teachers in the university and there are many new ones coming in as enrollment has increased quite a bit this year. She said she is 62 and that there are lots of teachers there in their 50s and 60s; this makes me very happy after my year in Korea, where I was by far the oldest teacher there!
I will be taking a number of other books along with me to Oman, including Lonely Planet guides to Oman, UAE and the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai, and Middle East. I hope to explore all over Oman, and UAE while there. One book is about living and working in Oman, which I will begin reading on the plane tonight.
In a nutshell, here are my goals while I’m in Oman:
1. Continue my Arabic studies and try to use it as much as possible wherever I go in the region. Aim to achieve some degree of fluency.
2. Make some good Omani friends, as well as fellow expat friends. Love my students!
3. Save money and pay off debts.
4. Explore Oman’s nooks and crannies, mountains, wadis and beaches.
5. Explore UAE, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
6. Delve deep into the culture and learn to wear it like a second skin.
7. Read the Quran. Try to learn as much about Islam as possible.
8. Write a lot of blogs.
9. Take a lot of pictures!
10. Take two trips during the year, one to Jordan and one to Greece.
11. Revise my novel. Begin working on another book.
12. Try to learn as much as possible about teaching in an Arab country and add a year of university teaching to my resume. Be the best teacher I can be and establish a great rapport with my students.
These are my goals for the year ahead. I hope everyone will inspire and encourage me to achieve all these goals.
Off I go!!