Saturday, October 1, 2011: I think I’m going to like it here… 🙂 So far, I’m captivated. The major hurdle I can see for me to overcome is the heat. If I can survive that, I feel I could stick around this place for longer than my 1-year contract.
In the two weeks I’ve been here, I have been coming to work at the University of Nizwa every day, which includes Saturday-Wednesday each week. We have not started teaching yet, so most of my time at work has been spent sorting out housing and personnel details. I also helped Cece, the Level 2 Coordinator, to put together supplementary materials for the teachers. I did one Voice session with some female students; this consists of sitting in a room and coordinating a conversation. Other than that, I have spent time meandering through the halls, getting to know some of the other teachers, both long-timers and new arrivals, of which there are too many to count. New ones are arriving every day. Since the university has increased enrollment by quite a bit this year, this influx of foreign teachers is putting a strain on the infrastructure of both the university and the town of Nizwa and surrounds. Slowly but surely, though, I feel we will all eventually settle in and begin our jobs, insha’allah.
I find a flat on the first floor of a “villa” and settle in, despite the numerous things that still need fixing or sorting. I open a bank account. I purchase a phone, set up internet, do three loads of laundry in my new washing machine. I buy a bunch of stuff to set up a household and I even cook in my blue kitchen.
On the first week, Cece and her friends take me to the Golden Tulip Hotel, on the road home from the university, for a leisurely swim in the pool. It costs 2 rials for this pleasure (~$5). It’s quite lovely, with trees and mountains and a dramatic sky that sweeps over and envelops us. The pool is surprisingly cool and when I get out, I feel refreshed and even a bit chilled in the waning daylight. Very relaxing after a hot day walking around on the campus.
On the first Friday we have off, which is the equivalent of a Sunday in America, I’m happily invited to a brunch at Marcia’s house. Cece warns me not to be jealous of Marcia’s house. Marcia has been here for about 7 years and has a lovely new red villa with a huge garden around. Inside, everything is beautifully decorated and glimmering. She has new furniture and exquisite taste and my mouth waters at the thought of eventually having such a place. Insha’allah. Quite a far stretch from my shabby flat in a very old villa. Everyone brings a dish: egg casseroles, muffins, homemade breads, Indian vegetable dishes, fruit salads. It’s lovely to chat with the teachers who have been here a long time and hear all the inside scoop about life in Oman. I’m thrilled to be included in this gathering.
Later Friday evening, Cece offers to take me to the souq in the center of Nizwa. I find a smelly fish market, a vegetable market in disarray, beautiful silver, turquoise and coral jewelry, bowls made of camel hide surrounded with a halo of woven basketry, beautiful woven Omani rugs, incense burners, pots, and the famous Omani Khanjars. Omani daggers called “Khanjars”, are the traditional, curved, defensive weapons worn by Omani men as a badge of office and as head of the family. Omani Khanjars are status symbols also worn by civic dignitaries, heads of government, scholars of religion, and Omani ministers, including the leader of the country. The Khanjar is truly an ” iconic ” Omani emblem. I think when it is time to leave this place, I will have to buy my boys each a khanjar.
Behind the souq I can see the Nizwa Fort, which I will visit when the weather cools down.
On the second Wednesday I’m here, we go again to the Golden Tulip, a larger crowd of us, and we float in the pool and linger in lounge chairs for about 3 hours. At 6:00 the pool bar serves alcoholic beverages, so I order a cold Corona, my first “forbidden” beverage here in Oman (…well, it’s not totally forbidden because obviously they sell the drinks in the hotel). It gets dark at 5:30 here, because Oman doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time, and the pool turns quite lovely after dark with the lights shimmering under the water. I think: I could easily get used to this life….
After the pool, we all head to the Turkish Restaurant for a great dinner. We sit outside at plastic tables in the parking lot; I am sweating the whole time I’m gobbling down my vegetarian pizza and fresh mango juice. I’m addicted to the fresh mango juice in Middle East countries. It’s thick and pulpy and bursting with sweetness. I used to drink it every chance I got when I was in Egypt, and here I am doing the same. I talk to the new and the entrenched teachers, and we share our interests, prior travel and work experiences, and our troubles settling in here at the university.
After dinner, I meet David and Giles, a teacher from another college in Nizwa, at the Falaj Daris, a lovely hotel catty-corner from Al Khamis shoes, so only a short walk from my flat. They have a bar where women are allowed, and David has invited me to come since I mentioned I wanted to try it out. I order a beer there for 2 rials and enjoy chatting with these guys in the darkly wooded and cushioned bar. Several Omanis smoke shisha near our table in their bright white dishdashas and brimless embroidered caps (kumahs). Giles is a British chemist doing intriguing research on all the compounds that make up frankincense. He says there are thousands of elements in it and it will take years to analyze them all.
I have been sick since soon after I arrived, with a nasty cough, sore throat and laryngitis. I think it is from going inside and outside, into the cold air conditioning and out into 105 degree heat. I cannot stay late with the guys at the Falaj because I’m still coughing every time I laugh and my voice is obnoxiously hoarse. I return home and chat with my friend Jayne, who is now in Jersey, by Skype.
On Thursday morning, two other teachers, Pam and Jo, share a taxi with me for the day to go to Muscat, the capital of Oman, 1 1/4 hours away. Our taxi driver, Suleiman, is laid back and patient with us. We have a lot of errands to do, so we don’t really do any sightseeing. However, I watch the city fly past my window with its white gleaming buildings surrounded by lush greenery along the Gulf of Oman. I go to the Indian Art Palace in Sabco Center, where I buy some Indian sheets to throw over my stained couches. I buy a quilt to throw over an ugly and tattered blue futon couch in my flat. Then we go to the Intercontinental Hotel to pick up Pam, who has spent several hours buying opera tickets for a huge group of teachers. Most of us wanted to see “The World of Magida el Roumi” in November, but we were sad to find that it was sold out. I got a ticket to see Carmen on December 21. At the plaza near the Intercontinental, I get a glimpse of the sea. It is extremely hot and humid in Muscat; since Nizwa is inland, it is much drier, thank goodness.
We then go to a mall called Markaz al Bahja, where Pam and I eat lunch. I go to another Indian shop to buy another wall hanging, a throw and some scarves. I am desperate to find something to throw on my couches and cover my walls, since they are so old and stained and dirty. I happily carry most of my purchases home with me in the taxi, except for the Indian sheets which have raw edges; I leave them with the shop to finish off the edges and must return for them next Thursday, insha’allah. While we’re at the mall, a woman in Muscat who is trying to sell her Mitsubishi Nativa brings the car for me to look at and test drive. I have my first experience driving in Muscat, negotiating and learning the rules about the numerous roundabouts.
Because of my sore throat and cough, I relax in my flat the rest of the night after our return from Muscat. On Friday, I never even get out of my pajamas because I am reading a good book, The Likeness by Tana French, and I cannot put it down for the life of me. I read a bit, get up and put laundry in, read a bit more, grab a bite to eat or some coffee, then I get back in bed and read. I spend time on the computer trying to figure out how to download books to my computer and then transfer them to my Kindle, since I don’t have Wi-Fi to open them directly on my Kindle. I read some more. Finally I finish the book at 8 pm, and then watch some episodes of Parks & Recreation, which I download on iTunes. I’m hoping the day of rest will help me shake this nasty cold. However, I am still in air-conditioning all day and night, and I think this is the problem. I have a unit right above my bed, but when I turn it off, it is just too warm. I have no way to adjust the temperature on this unit; it’s just cold and cold. This morning, the first day of my third week here, I’m still not up to snuff, but insha’allah, my body will get used to this climate, the back and forth of hot and cold, soon.
And if it does, insha’allah, maybe I will stay for a good long while.