Tuesday, September 20: I’m now living in a “villa”… in a little town called Firq, Oman, near the town of Nizwa. 🙂 I never imagined I’d be able to say such a thing without moving to a romantic European country and marrying some duke or baron or prince. Or someone rich, anyway.
However, I can say with just a little pride that, here in Oman, my humble dwelling is the ground floor of a 2-story villa. Granted, the definition of villa in Oman is quite different from what one would usually envision. Mine is full of old world charm, or at least potential charm; it has a kind of Egyptian non-style with fancy chandeliers that look like clusters of pink test tubes and huge blue & brown swirly tiles on the walls of the kitchen that look permanently stained because of the mud-colored blotches. The villa is full of termites and ants, cracked walls, glittery light blue wallpaper on all the walls, malfunctioning or non-functioning appliances, and big airy gaps under the doors which serve as an open invitation to streams of sunlight, lizards and various other critters; I’ve been warned to be on the lookout for scorpions.
It has a small courtyard full of rubble, withering trees, 8th-grader Mohammed’s bicycle (he’s the son of the Indian couple who lives upstairs), and other debris. In the alley between the wall of my courtyard and the one next door are piles of trash and across the narrow street is a stinky garbage bin, reeking of rotten and spoiling food and who knows what else, into which skinny feral cats prowl to feast on breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This is how the “villa” comes to be my place of residence here in Nizwa: Though I don’t check into Al Diyar Hotel in Nizwa until 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, September 18, I am told by my driver I need to be up and ready to catch the bus to the University of Nizwa by 7 a.m. I am taken aback by this as 1) it is awfully early for someone who just arrived in Oman at such a late hour and 2) I worry I will be thrown into a classroom to begin teaching right away! Also, my first concern is getting my housing situated as I don’t want to be living out of a suitcase in a hotel for too long.
As it turns out, Cece, a kind and generous colleague who I have been communicating with since early August, has left a note for me at the hotel desk: “Welcome to Nizwa, Cathy! Call me!” When I call her in the morning, she offers to give me a ride to school at 8:30. Whew! Relief!
Once I get to the University and check in with Human Resources and other administrative people, I am directed to Issa, a young Omani who is responsible for arranging housing for the teachers. He says he will show me my apartment, and I emphasize that I would really like to see several places. He seems surprised that I am requesting such a thing, but Cece has already told me that I will be shown a number of accommodations and that I’ll be able to pick the one I like best. Issa takes me straight away to the aforementioned shabby first floor flat in a “villa” which he says is “very nice, especially for me.” He exclaims that another “doctora, very nice” lives in the top flat. He keeps referring throughout the morning to the other doctoras at the university and it becomes clear that he thinks I am a doctora as well. There is no point in trying to correct him as I’m not sure he will understand me anyway. If he wants to give me more credentials than I actually have, I’ll let him, and reap any benefits of a higher status!
I say, with some reservation, okay, but please, can I see some other places? “You know I am very busy,” he says. “Many new teachers.” I say, yes, I know, I’m sure you’re very busy, but I would really like to see a few more apartments. He takes me to one building with two flats, small, cramped and equally old and run down as the villa. I weigh my options and consider the villa is the best so far. He takes me to one other building where there is a flat up 4 flights of stairs. By the time I get to the top, sweat is pouring off of me and the flat is hot inside. It’s not bad, but I fear being on the top floor, it will be entirely too warm. Issa says, “One good for you?” I feel pressured to make a decision, but honestly there hasn’t been much to choose from. I decide the villa flat, on the ground floor and quite roomy at least, is the best of the options. I tell him I’ll take the villa. He sighs, “Ah yes, good, because you know I am very busy. Many new teachers. It will be good for you.”
Sunday morning, on our way to school, Cece drives me and my bags to the villa. At that time I turn on the air conditioners in three of the rooms to full blast, because the house is steamy. The kitchen surprisingly lacks an A/C unit. The house is a filthy mess, so at Cece’s suggestion I hire an Indian guy named Raj to do a deep cleaning of the house. He plans to meet me at the house at 4 pm.
Cece and I leave the university around 2:30 so she can take me to the huge brand-spanking new Lulu Hypermarket, which reminds me of the Carrefour in Cairo. It’s a sprawling and gleaming store with everything from housewares and appliances to food. I pick up some essentials to set up my household, but I totally forget to buy a comforter or pillows. I brought sheets with me, so I at least have something to put on my bed tonight.
When I arrive home a little before 4:00 in the afternoon, the flat is still steamy hot and I realize that one air conditioner doesn’t work at all, and the other two are less than optimal, with medium cool air eking out. I call an air-conditioning man to come and repair them, which he does pretty quickly. Thank goodness for that as the temperature here since I arrived has been a steady 105-106 degrees.
Raj and his friend meet me at the flat at 4 pm on Sunday and the two of them work hard for about 4 hours, cleaning every bit of that house (except the walls which will definitely need a new paint job). I’m amazed at what a difference it makes. The main problem I discover after they leave, however, is that in the bathroom are hundreds of big ant-like critters that appear to have little wings and hop about. Cece tells me she thinks they are termites. Since I bought some bug spray at the Lulu, I go on the attack, committing a mass extermination.
While all this cleaning activity is going on, my upstairs neighbors, an Indian couple, Fatima and Ali from Udaipur, where I visited this past March, invite me to come up for dinner at around 9 p.m. They have bought some kind of take-out thing that looks like a cross between a pizza, a calzone and a sandwich. One has chicken, one has cheese and olives and one has vegetables. It is nice getting to know my new neighbors a little. Their son Mohammed is in an Indian school here in Nizwa that has 1,000 students. The Indian diaspora in Oman is huge and many businesses and schools cater to this community.
At night I sleep under my sheets, but with the air-conditioner going full blast right over my head, I’m freezing all night. I don’t want to turn it off because then the kitchen will never cool off. I also must put cushions from the couch into my pillowcases since I forgot to buy pillows.
The next morning, I wake up to find the termites back in force in the bathroom, crawling all around among the ones who died from my spraying the night before. I attack once again with the spray. While showering, I take my shower head off the hook and wash them all down the Arab toilet in the floor. I have two toilets in my bathroom, one a hole in the floor, and one a regular western toilet, but lacking a seat. It’s lovely in there, really… 🙂 However, one thing I do have, which most other flats in Oman do not, is a bathtub. However, I’m afraid to use it until I get the pest situation resolved. I can’t imagine lying in the bath and worrying about critters crawling into my head.
On Monday night, I go back to the Lulu and buy a comforter that’s blue with green dots. It wouldn’t be a choice I would normally make, but the choices are quite horrible. This one seems the least offensive. I also buy pillows, dish towels, a dish drying rack, and a little food. It’s all too overwhelming and on this day, the jet lag is hitting me hard. I’m exhausted and don’t have energy to traipse around the larger-than-footfall stadium-size Lulu to find everything I need. Besides, I have to take a taxi home and don’t want to load up with too much stuff.
On Monday evening, my villa feels a little more like home. I have enough stuff to be almost comfortable. New furniture, newly painted walls, these are things I dream of, but we will see, with time. I’m in no rush to spend more money before I even get my first paycheck or even experience the actual teaching at the university. That will come on October 1.
Tuesday morning, I can no longer impose on Cece to drive me to work, so I catch the university bus to work. It takes about 20 minutes and isn’t a bad ride. I get to talk with other teachers on the bus, teachers from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Algeria, Canada, England, America, South Africa, Australia. You name it, they are here.
To catch the 7 a.m. bus, I walk several houses down toward the main road in Firq, my little hometown near Nizwa, past Al Khamis Shoes on the corner, cross a two-lane access road, cross the main road at great peril, and stand on the opposite side so I can catch the bus heading toward the university. Coming home at night, I must yell out “Al Khamis Shoes!!” and then hop off the bus. Quite an experience, and despite being a little disoriented and confused most of the time, I’m loving it so far!