Wednesday, October 12:  At the university, we have a comfortable room set aside, soft with couches, rugs and cushions on the floor, where students are invited to drop in and converse in English.  My colleague Marcia organizes this thing she calls “Voice,” recruiting different teachers to volunteer for hour-long blocks to attend and encourage the conversations.  My time is always on Wednesdays from 10-11 and I love these sessions!  The students who attend are usually very verbal and have excellent English ability.  Each time I attend, I learn something new and I get to meet a wide variety of students from the entire university who are not my regular students.  This is one of my favorite teaching responsibilities.

The "Voice" room at the University of Nizwa

The “Voice” room at the University of Nizwa

On this particular Wednesday, I walk in on the middle of a discussion about the English language club at the university called English Language Bridges.  This is an active club at University of Nizwa.  They have an English cafe, where students can come sit in a cafe and speak English only. They have talent shows, book groups, and many other smaller groups within the club. They are planning a big special day (last year it was an International Day, where many countries of the world were represented in booths all over the campus) and they want this next one to be the best day ever.  However, they are having trouble thinking of a theme and frankly I think they will be hard-pressed to find a theme as comprehensive and open-ended as the one they had last year.

The place where students have a "Voice"

The place where students have a “Voice”

The conversations during Voice can veer from one topic to another, as most conversations do.  One boy takes advantage of a lull in the conversation to announce that there will be free blood testing at a location in Muscat on the upcoming weekend.  These blood tests are offered to young couples who are thinking about getting married.  Apparently, most marriages are arranged in Oman and young people often marry their first cousins.  This presents a health challenge in Oman, because these marriages often produce children with the inherited disease of sickle-cell anemia.  Sickle-cell anemia is a disease passed down through families in which red blood cells form an abnormal crescent shape. (Red blood cells are normally shaped like a disc.)  The fragile, sickle-shaped cells deliver less oxygen to the body’s tissues. They can also get stuck more easily in small blood vessels, and break into pieces that interrupt healthy blood flow.

Almost all patients with sickle-cell anemia have painful episodes (called crises), which can last from hours to days. These crises can affect the bones of the back, the long bones, and the chest.  Other symptoms can include abdominal pain, breathlessness, delayed growth and puberty, fatigue, fever, rapid heart rate, ulcers on the lower legs and jaundice.

Some patients have one episode every few years. Others have many episodes per year. The crises can be severe enough to require a hospital stay.

The boy who made the announcement talked of his three brothers who all have the disease.  He says they experience almost constant and severe bone pain all over their bodies.  He is highly invested in getting this problem solved in Oman as he has seen great suffering within his own family.

This topic is of great interest to me as a new resident of Oman.  I love to learn inside things about a country that I might not have ever known without living here. Of course, Oman’s Ministry of Health recognizes this problem and talks about it on its website, so it’s no secret.  But I might not have ever paid attention to the issues that a country so far from my home must contend with.  Here is the Ministry of Health’s web page about genetic diseases and what causes them: Oman’s Ministry of Health on Genetic Disorders.  They mention two of the causative factors of genetic diseases as consanguinity, or the quality of being descended from the same ancestor as another person, and advanced age of parents.

As a teacher, I love learning from my students!  Voice is a great chance for me to get to know them on a more personal level and to learn something about their society and their struggles.  I hope to have many more enlightening sessions during my stay in Oman.