Sunday, December 16: After a year and a quarter of living in Oman, I still haven’t been able to solve the mystery of the missing calendar. It seems there is NO OFFICIAL CALENDAR in this country at all. This phenomenon extends even into the universities. Though the institutions of higher learning make a half-hearted attempt to establish an academic calendar, they make little or no effort to follow it.
In Western countries, a calendar is issued well before the new year begins, specifying all the official holidays for the entire year. As a matter of fact, I think these calendars are issued years in advance, so that if you want to plan a holiday for 3 or 5 years from today, you can just look at a forward calendar and figure out the best timing.
In the United States, we all know with absolute certainty that New Year’s Day is January 1, Christmas Day is December 25, and Fourth of July is, duh, July 4. All the other holidays follow on a specific Monday or Friday of the month, such as the third Monday (Martin Luther King Day in January & President’s Day in February), the last Monday (Memorial Day in May), or the first Monday (Labor Day in September). Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday of November, and that often means everyone gets off on Friday as well, making for a four-day weekend. While Veteran’s Day is legally on November 11, if that date happens to be on a Saturday or Sunday, then organizations that formally observe the holiday will normally be closed on the adjacent Friday or Monday, respectively.
The only holiday that is changeable each year is Easter. The Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the vernal (spring) equinox.
We know that Easter must always occur on a Sunday, because Sunday was the day of Christ’s Resurrection. But why the paschal full moon? Because that was the date of Passover in the Jewish calendar, and the Last Supper (Holy Thursday) occurred on the Passover. Therefore, Easter was the Sunday after Passover.
If there were not an official calendar, it could all become very confusing because, in the USA, there are many holidays throughout the year, as you can see from the above. Westerners would be up in arms if they were left dangling every year wondering when each holiday would be. We simply wouldn’t tolerate it. Because we are used to planning our free time ahead of time. If we want to take a three-day weekend in the mountains or at the beach, we want to know well in advance so we can plan to do just that.
Here is Oman, there is never any certainty as to when any holiday will be. Of course, most of the big holidays are religious holidays and are based on the sighting of the moon. Although Ramadan is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, since the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. This difference means Ramadan moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days every year. The date of Ramadan may also vary from country to country depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not. This same logic applies to the other major religious holidays in the Muslim world, Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr. These holidays, being changeable, can in some ways be likened to how the Easter holiday in America and in the Christian world is determined.
With Easter in the United States, as it falls on a Sunday, which is already the weekend, there are no official days off, although most schools and some universities grant a week-long spring break either before or after Easter. Sometimes this spring break is not related to Easter at all, but it is still ALWAYS granted sometime in the spring. However, whatever holidays these institutions decide to grant are built into the academic calendar well in advance of the actual academic year. Thus students and faculty know when they can plan a spring holiday getaway.
In addition, in the Western world, the academic calendars are all set well in advance of the academic year, with the start day of classes, the add-drop period, and the final day to drop a class and get either a full or partial tuition refund fully spelled out. Also spelled out in these academic calendars is the last day of classes, the period of final exams, and the break between semesters.
Well. NONE OF THIS HAPPENS IN OMAN!! I don’t know about ALL universities in Oman, but I can speak for the University of Nizwa. And I can speak for how the official government holidays have unfolded in the time that I’ve been here.
This fall, for example, the university calendar said the first day of classes would be October 6. However, October 6 came and went and there were no sign of students. There were placement tests for many students, who straggled in over a number of days as if they had just been startled out of a long nap. Then, since many students didn’t know about the placement tests, there were more placement tests for students who didn’t make the first round.
So. Classes finally half-started on October 15, which was a Monday. I went to my assigned classes on that Monday only to find no students showed up. I went again on Tuesday to find one student out of my class list of 26. Suddenly on Wednesday, we got a brand new class list, with a whole new set of students, and not one of THEM showed up. Thursday and Friday were the weekend.
Finally, we started real classes on Saturday, October 20. But by this time, the Eid Al-Adha was only one week away. This holiday, though written on the academic calendar, is apparently not to be counted on until it’s officially announced by the Chancellor. This wasn’t announced officially until three days before the Eid began on October 25. Thus, there was really no time to plan a holiday. However, I had taken a gamble in August and booked my ticket to Ethiopia then. If it hadn’t been announced on the day I thought it would, I could have been in big trouble. But I didn’t want to wait because of the experience I had the year before. Last Eid, in 2011, I waited until the last-minute to book a holiday to Jordan, and because it was so late, all the flights were booked and I couldn’t get on a flight AT ALL until 3 days after the Eid began!
We had our week holiday, and started back to school on Saturday, November 3. By this time we had only completed one week of classes. The official holiday to celebrate Sultan Qaboos’s birthday is National Day, on November 18. However, this holiday seems to never be celebrated on this day. This year, there was an Islamic New Year holiday also around the 14th. All the faculty at the university was in a quandary as to what days we would be granted these holidays. In 2011, we got a straight 5 day holiday, three days from work plus the weekend. This year, they announced at the very last possible minute that we would get Saturday, November 17 off, plus the Thur-Fri weekend of the 15th and 16th, making for a three-day weekend. At that time I took off for Abu Dhabi. Then later, we understood we would get additional days off for National Day, but we didn’t know when they would be. Again, only about 4 days before the holiday, it was announced we would get off Tue-Fri, November 27-30. By then, it was too late to plan anything, and besides where can you go for 4 days?
Now the big issue is the upcoming break between semesters. Originally, according to the academic calendar, which is apparently written only in SAND and can easily be blown away by the slightest wind, January 5 was to be the first day of final exams. However, surprise, surprise (!), since we had so many holidays in the fall and got such a late start in the semester, now the exams have been pushed back to January 12. The students have a break on January 19 for one week. But the faculty is not guaranteed that break. Last year, we had two weeks between final exams and the start of the spring semester, and we were granted one of those weeks, at the last-minute and “out of the goodness of the administration’s heart,” as a holiday. This year, we have no idea if we will get it at all.
For a Westerner, this is incredibly frustrating. None of us can understand why on earth the university, or Oman’s government for that matter, cannot make a calendar and stick to it. For someone like me, whose sole reason for living and working abroad is to travel, this problem with the calendar drives me absolutely crazy. It is probably the NUMBER ONE reason I will be leaving Oman by this summer. If I can’t achieve my travel goals when I live abroad because of such total confusion about holidays, then it is time for me to go back home.