30 June 2012

Lessons from the Old

In a recent previous post, I talked about a Shawafa, and how she changed my life.  And yet, even before my encounter with her, I was attracted to old people in Morocco, to talk to them and to learning from them.  So of course, when the chance came up in Oman, I was delighted!

Two Mondays ago, we went to the Center for Handicrafts of Salalah.  Before this visit, I had been feeling rather like our chances to talk to Omanis had been dismally low, and so when the time came around for our weekly “Language Socialization” event, I was excited at the chance to visit with different Omanis, and especially Omanis who did not speak English.  

CLS Students helping make the incense burners
At first, the visit wasn’t very exciting.  After a few weeks in any place, you can pretty much get an idea of how the tourist industry works, and what objects and ideas are being mass reproduced and sold to people as genuine artifacts of a culture.  So when we entered the small center, this is what I noticed.  More frankincense burners, more perfumes.  Fortunately, after a small introduction from the manager of the center, we were able to go into the back rooms, which they had set up to represent traditional Omani culture, one room of a bridal suite at a traditional Omani wedding, and one room of how Bedouins live.  

Finished and unfinished products
The good times really began though when we were herded into the back room where there were 5 older women working with clay to make the incense burners.  As soon as I saw them, all my wonderful experiences working with and talking with women came rushing back.  So I did my best to remember my social justice lessons about taking time to SIT with people, and to ask questions, and give try to give them the most TIME that I could.  It was interested to talk to these women, because, unlike Morocco, our dialect wasn’t quite the same, but they definitely appeared to understand me, and I know that I understood 80% - 90% of what they said.  

The ladies!
I asked them about how they make the burners, of course, but I also was thinking about all the people I know who worked in Morocco with traditional handicraft makers trying to start small businesses, and so I asked them about what their daily schedule is like, and how the center is organized - cooperative? association? small business? (I’m so glad all those words are the same in dialect and Standard Arabic).  Unfortunately, I didn’t quite understand the answer, but I did get that, like most of the new development and projects here in Oman, a lot of the start up money came from the government, and now they are working on paying off the loan (maybe?) and trying to perhaps save some money as well.    And then of course all the usual expenses of a small business.

Working on a very big incense burner!
Eventually, the small back room got too crowded, and I moved out into the main room.  While I was waiting for the visit to finish, one of the bus drivers came up to me, and started talking about how life used to be in the past.  Again, I didn't quite understand everything he was saying, but I definitely got the point that he didn't bathe more than 2 or 3 times every few months, and that he used to wear just a braid of leather on his head, and that he spend most of his time tending to his herds.  I used what I knew about life in the desert/mountains of Morocco to imagine how his life might have been.  I guessed that perhaps he did not tell me that much about what they used to do because life back in the day took a lot more effort in general.  Even getting bread could have been an all day affair - he told me they used to bake it in the sand, when they did bake it, because rice is the primary staple in Oman, unlike bread in many other Arab countries.  They used to carry their water in lizard skin pouches too, and not drink very much of it because, well, the lizards were not that big.  

Is this what the Mountain People looked like??
Having the opportunity to talk to these people has inspired me to seek out as much contact with older Omanis as I can.  Hopefully my efforts will, at the very least, lead to some good blog entries!

29 June 2012

Dance Club

Yesterday I talked about Poetry Club - which I'm sure will come up again - so today, I'm providing you a video of Omani dance.  If you watch the whole thing, the second dance, which starts about about 38 seconds in, is the one we learned in our dance club.  Obviously we're not quite as good as these girls...

The title of the video is الفن الظفاري or Dhofari Art.  Dhofar is the governate of Oman where Salalah is located, and had quite a different culture from the rest of Oman, and it is the host of our CLS program for the summer!

Happy Friday!

28 June 2012

A New Song

Wednesday in our Poetry Club (after "school" each day now for the past two weeks, we've had either Sports Club, Calligraphy Club, Women's Dance Club, or Poetry/Song Club), we talked about nationalistic Arabic poetry.  Rather we touched on it briefly, listening to the Omani National Anthem, as well as a Tunisian nationalistic poem.  I rather wished we had read some of Mahmoud Darwish's more nationalistic works, because I read some of them in English, and would like to start better understanding why Arabs love him so much.  I know it's because of the way his poetry is, but even if I understand that logically, I don't understand it emotionally yet.  But I digress...

Much of what I enjoy in my life, as far as art is concerned, is melancholy.  Of course, when I need a pick-me-up, or am celebrating the awesomeness of life, I like a good happy dance song, but most of the time, the melancholy or the pessimistically optimistic, really speaks to me.  So, with this in mind, I'm sharing with you my favorite song/poem that we've talked about so far:

This is apparently a very specific kind of Omani poetry/song that only old men sing.  Either way, I enjoy it because of it's melancholy, most of which comes from the L3oud instrument being played, and the way the voice of the man singing blends with the single string instrument.  I'm not quite sure what the song is talking about, but they mention the words of love, and of years passing, and so that was enough to give me the (maybe overly sentimental) image of how life in the desert was before Oman experienced modern development.  I could be wrong, and I could be projecting what I want the song to be about, but either way, this song is now on my "Arabic Favorites" playlist of my iTunes, and part of the soundtrack of my life.


The problem with an intensive program is that we spend so much time studying, and thinking, and learning, and sometimes worrying about what we’re doing, that when I do have a free moment, a moment where I’m alone, or where I don’t feel guilty speaking too much English, blogging is not the first thing on my mind.  And for this I apologize.

But here I am, trying to write and trying to catch up on my blog.  It’s the first day of our weekend, Thursday, and last night I slept for 10 hours straight for the first time in months.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I had very busy days (I’ll get to this) and I had only slept about seven hours between those two nights.

Another reason I have been putting off writing this blog is that I am going through a much more negative period of culture shock than I have experienced in a long time, maybe the most difficult bout in my whole life... maybe.  So I didn’t want this blog to be a place where I just complained, especially because I have learned the hard way (twice) that expressing my exact and detailed feelings here can get me in trouble.

Finally, I’ve been experiencing regular periods of absolutely not internet, so trying to update via the blog has been a challenge, because if I want to get things done online, I have to stay in this one place in our hotel for too long, and I’m usually doing homework which means no time to write.

So there you have all my excuses for the lack of communication over the past three weeks.  And now back to your regularly scheduled entries about Oman and our life here.

21 June 2012

I'm Not Dead! Just Very Busy

Sorry I've been so late in posting.  I've got a few entries coming up soon.  Until then, I hope this video makes you smile and tides you over!

10 June 2012

God Phrases in Moroccan and Omani Dialect

In many Muslim countries, or Muslim communities in non-Muslim countries, it's quite important to have to correct God phrases in social situations.  In Morocco we learned how to say them, and then they became natural for me to say them.  They became so natural, in fact, that I started translating them into English, and saying them to friends and family, both to fill the empty "manners" space I felt was missing in my English conversation, and to make people give me a second look, or ask, "What the heck are you saying?"

It's really interesting to me when I use God phrases, because some of them sound perfectly reasonable in English, and it makes you realize that this connection to God used to be part of our language too.  I notice a lot of Christians as well as older people use more God-centric speech in their everyday language.  It also makes me think back to many lessons we had in Sunday school about not "taking the name of God in vain."  I used to wonder about this in Morocco, and I think I've come to some kind of conclusions.  I would guess that people used to say "Oh my God!" as a way of calling on God for help in a difficult situation - Moroccans say "Ya Allah" or "Ya Rbbi" (Oh my Lord) when they're surprised, or tired, or hurting, all the time - and the invocation of God's name would not, in that context, to be taking God's name in vain, but the way the meaning has changed contextually over time, the meaning became (much) more profane, and thus, was no longer appropriate in the eyes of some upper echelons of some church's hierarchy.

Here in Oman, I've felt the a hole in my conversation because I didn't know the correct God phrases to say.  As usual, my assumption that all Omanis use them was slightly off.  Today during our daily evening tutoring hours, I caught our dialect teacher, Ustad (teacher) Salah صالح, and grilled him about the uses and similarities and differences between "adab" (الادب, manners) in Oman and in Morocco.  The following is a sampling of what our dialect teacher told us, but there are many things that Moroccans say that Omanis don't say.

After a haircut or a shave or a shower or working out:
Omani: na'aeeman (نعيماً) - meaning "paradise or bliss" (Naim is a Muslim name too)
Maghrebi: bssah oo raha (بصحة و راحة) - meaning "by/to (your) health and relaxation"

The response:
Omani: Allah yna'am a'aleek (الله ينعم عليك) - meaning "may God give you bliss/paradise"
Maghrebi: 'llah a'atik saha (الله يعتك صحة) - meaning "may God give you health"

When you know a person has bought something new:
Omani: ma sha allah, mabrook a'ala ________ (name of the thing) (ماشاءالله، مبروك على هذا ــــــــــــ) -
literally meaning "by God's will" but said for anything new or beautiful, and then "mabrook" is congratulations
Maghrebi:  bssha oo raha/mabrook

The response:
Omani: Shokran (شكرا), Allah yaeebarak feek (الله يبارك فيك) - meaning "thank you" and "God bless you" (like how the name "Barack" actually means "blessing")
Maghrebi: To "bssha oo raha" the same as above, and to "mabrook" the same as the Omani response.

After a meal:
Omani: Saha wa al-a'afiya (صحة و عافية) - meaning "health and wellness"

Maghrebi: bssha oo raha

The response:
Omani: Allah ya'afeek (الله يعافيك) - meaning "God make you better"

Maghrebi: 'llah a'atik saha (الله يعتك صحة) - meaning "may God give you health"

If someone is sick:
Omani: Allah yeeshafeek (الله يشفيك) - meaning "God heal you"

Maghrebi:  the same!

The response:
Omani: jameea'an (جميعاً) - meaning "(may God heal) us all"

Maghrebi:  Amin (آمين) - meaning Amen

What do you all think?  What other God phrases do you know? 

09 June 2012

A Week in Salalah-land

As you may have noticed, if you've just joined me here or have been reading my stuff for a while is that I tend to procrastinate.

WELL, finally, my lack of blog-i-ness is not due to procrastination, but rather, to a lack of quality internet.  When outside the U.S. I really appreciate how fast my internet is when I'm there.  I can watch TV, chat, write, read, and balance my checking account all at the same time from one computer.  Here, most of the time, I can barely load my email.  But, as they say here, msh moshkila (مش مشكيلة) no problem.  Okay, so I don't know if they actually say that a lot, but I've made it so because that's how you say it in Omani dialect, and Moroccans say it all the time.

Anyway, Salalah.  Oman.  The Gulf.  That's where I am now.  I don't know why I subconsciously thought it would be the same as Morocco, but I am now realizing that I did.  I mean, that's the ONLY ArabMuslim country with which I had any experience before this.  But now I realized just how true it is when everyone insists that the Middle East is different from the Gulf is different from North Africa.

I have not had much time to make cultural observations, but, as I wrote in my first of many Arabic essays yesterday, I have noticed that Omanis are shyer or more private or quieter than Moroccans.  This is, as must be said, a very general statement, and not a value judgement.  That being said, because of this tendency, I'm finding it harder to really get to know Omanis, even with the hours of facilitated language we are having with them.  But I'm not giving up, because really, I'm not the most skilled 'friend-maker' in the world.

But enough about my woes.  I'm sure most of my friends and family are interested in my schedule and why I have been absent from the internetz for so long.

So first, we had two days in Muscat.  Beautiful.  Huge.  Hot.  More humid than I expected.  Rather lonely to visit it without a car.  Not my favorite place in the world, but than again, I would love to see how it's different in the winter.  We went to the Embassy (the AMURIKIN) to get the usual scare-the-pants-off you briefing.  Nothing I haven't heard before.  Oman is one of the most safe and most developed countries in the ArabMuslim world, and I feel like I'm jinxing myself by saying it, but we were told we don't have to worry too much about pickpocketing or street harassment.

It's SO NICE not to have "bonjour" or "ca va la gazelle" or worse yelled at you every time you go out.  I didn't realize how much it happens in Morocco, because I've learned to ignore it, until I came here.

Anyway, we also visited the Sultan Qaboos Mosque.  Probably, sadly, the only mosque I'll get to visit in this trip.  I thought, because Oman was never colonized, I as a foreigner might be able to visit more mosques here (like the best Turkey trip where my friend and I spent New Year's Day 'mosque-hopping'). I forgot about the women part.  One of the American Muslim girls and I both want to find a mosque, her for praying, me for watching.  We have not been successful after two Friday prayers... so far!

Last Saturday, June 2, we flew to Salalah.  And since then we've been studying.  Seriously.  I want to make all your American tax dollars worth it (thanks guys!) so I've been surprisingly dedicated to my studies here.  But, from what I've seen, Salalah is green, clean, well-planned, and going to be fun to explore.

And now, the GDS!

General Daily Schedule: 
(Weekdays, meaning/y3ani, Saturday-Wednesday... yup, my weekend is Thursday-Friday now.  We call them "Emotional Saturday" and "Emotional Sunday")

7am: Wake up

8am: Breakfast

8:30am: Load the mini buses outside of our hotel (yes, that's right, hotel.  2 months living in a hotel, I feel like some kind of movie character.  but with elevated privacy comes less opportunities for homestays... but I digress...)

8:45am: Arrive at Dhofar University, a nice, clean, quiet, cute campus with less than 10 buildings.
9am: Foosha/MSA/Standard Arabic Class (usually with a Omani Dialect interlude of 50 min)

11am-11:30am: Tea/Snack/Try to talk to Omani girls in the "Ladies Restaurant" break

11:30am: More Foosha/MSA Standard Arabic Class (This week, we're starting Media Arabic)

1:30pm: Lunch time woo!  We crowd the poor understaffed cafeteria, joke with the Egyptian guys who work there, let the Indian workers help us take our trays to our tables, and do a little light studying.

2:30pm: One-on-one interviews/talks with our Omani Language Partners, one day a week in Dialect, today I (finally) successfully made an Omani laugh when she and I pretended to be a vegetable man in a souq (market) and she wanted a cucumber.

4:00pm: Load our mini buses as a group back to our hotel!

: Do some personal chores, e.g. grocery shopping (today I bought apples! but I didn't feel like bargaining because it was a store where prices seemed rather fixed, maybe another time), laundry (I also delivered my laundry to the 'mghasala' for the first time, no more hand-washing for me!), exercise (ha ha), and other things.

5:30 or 6:00pm:  Start a mix of study-time and wandering-around-Salalah-time.  I usually study, but I want to wander soon.  Maybe with a friend or too.

11pm-12am:  Bedtime.

Rinse and repeat.

Apparently, real Omanis drink "Doow"
I'm told that we'll go on three excursions while we're here, one overnight in the desert that I'm really looking forward to - I've been to the desert twice before, but not since 2009, so I'm curious to see if I still love it, and how the deserts are different.

Now that I've successfully found time to bring you all up to speed, I'll try to post shorter observations more regularly.

Now it's bedtime for me!

05 June 2012

I'm Famous!

I so badly want to write a 25-page entry about everything that we've been doing since our arrival in Salalah, but two full days of Arabic have me swimming in the deep end of grammar, vocabulary, speaking, listening, writing, and all the fun aspects of language learning.

Today I just want to send a big SHOKRAN JAZEELAN (thank you so much) to CLS for featuring my blog on their Facebook page.  I am so lucky to have this opportunity to be surrounded by Arabic 100% of the time, and have so many native speakers and experts in teaching Arabic at my disposal.

Inshallah (God-willing), I will have time to post a few updates this weekend!  Until that time, here is an article to get you thinking about the Gulf.

02 June 2012

We've Arrived!

After two days of orientation, we are in Salalah!  Muscat was hot and mildly humid.  Hot, as in, 120 F or so.  Salalah is hot and ridiculously humid.  Hot as in 90 F or so.

Things to be thankful for:

Oil money... things have far surpassed Morocco in terms of economic development.

Air conditioning... thanks to the oil money, we are so blessed to have air conditioning in every hotel and vehicle, and even building.

Starting school... tomorrow we start learning, with a dialect lesson.

Peace Corps... even though Moroccan dialect is not very close to standard Arabic, my speaking confidence and ability to recognize words is great.

Pools... our group gets "exclusive" access to the pool  everyday from 5pm to 7pm.

Internet... our hotel in Salalah, where we will be living for the next two months, has much better internet than the one in Muscat.

Gchat... Skype is illegal in Oman, but I am hopeful that the Gmail function will work.  I am 8 hours ahead of EDT.

More updates soon, and pictures, inshallah!

01 June 2012


Here's some advice we received during our pre-departure orientation:

  • Don't engage in risky behavior.
  • Start small, get the low hanging fruit, then work your way up.
  • Don't go to grad school if you can find your chosen career without it (whoops)
  • Go to grad school, it's fun!  (whoops whoops)
  • Stand out.
  • Be kind and charitable.
  • The quality of one idea is more important than multitasking.
  • You are not your job.
  • Don't be shy.
  • Localize your learning.
  • Bond with each other (US students) and keep a balance.
  • Practice your elevator pitch and re-write your resume in Arabic.
  • Make your plans for next summer now.
  • Know what you're doing and why you're doing it.
  • Eat all the food in Oman.
  • Live your life in Arabic!
  • Learn Arabic dialects.
  • Take an active role in your own learning.

Be quick to wonder,
slow to judge,
and keen to discover.

Omani Bedouin Advice