Category Archives: Journals

These are posts that I’m hoping to make daily just as a record for what I’ve done that day of the trip. They’re probably not always interesting.

A Few Random Things and a Recap of the Final Weekend Trip

So I’m a little behind now. You might have seen that I got back home last Saturday, the 4th, appropriately. But I still have another few posts to make, so I’ll be playing catch-up for the next few days!

I wrote this last week but wasn’t able to upload the photos because of the internet connection.

One thing that I’ll miss about Oman is the design of the signs for most stores here: they’re incredibly tacky, and most of them look very similar. They’re a little hard to describe, but I have some poorly photographed examples.

They usually have the name of the store in Arabic and English, and a lot of times they say “Sale of…”, e.g. “Sale of Water Purification Equipment” or “Sale of Ice Cream”. They use the same simple font with a loud, solid background color, and then they are loaded up with cut-out pictures of whatever the store sells. And a ton of the signs are like this! It was this way in Muscat, Sur, Manah, and Nizwa.

We had a lecture last week about religious tolerance in Oman. According to the presentation, all religious proselytizing is illegal in Oman, but groups from all religions are allowed to practice freely (and privately). We even watched a video in which an American expatriate was talking about how he was able to go and sing Christmas carols with a group for patients in a hospital, claiming, “You can’t even do that in America!”

Last weekend, we went on our final weekend trip to Sur on the East Coast of Oman. It wasn’t actually planned at the start of the program. The students in our group were going to put in a proposal and plan the trip ourselves if the college would grant us permission to go anywhere, but the college decided to pay for the trip and provide us with transportation! This was the original destination of our previous trip that we were unable to visit because of the storm.

On the way to Sur on Friday, we stopped at another wadi, Wadi Shab. This wadi was incredible because it not only had beautiful, clean water that we could swim in, but the river was in the middle of a massive canyon. The trip was a little bit complicated though because of Ramadan. Hiking through the canyon took about two hours when going quickly, and none of us drank any water all morning before the hike because it’s considered rude to drink in front of people who are fasting. I only had one bottle of water that I brought with me from the Guest House. We wound up being fine, but a lot of us had to slow down and swim to keep from getting heat stroke. I’d guess it was over 100 degrees outside, and there were no clouds. There was supposedly a waterfall in a cave at the end of the canyon, but I wasn’t able to make it there in time before I had to turn around. I did jump off of another cliff again, which was even higher than the ones I jumped from at Wadi Bani Khalid and the top of the boat in the sea near Muscat. The hike was exhausting, but it was still enjoyable. It was also cool because I probably heard more different languages on the hike than I have in the last year from all of the different other tourist groups there. I definitely heard German, French, Spanish, and Italian, and there were a few British and American groups there, too. It wasn’t crowded though; people were spread out well.

Unfortunately, the supervisors who drove us here and the students fasting for Ramadan who chose not to hike were all pretty upset at the group for taking so long at the hike. We were supposed to spend 3 hours there when we would have gone the previous weekend, but they asked that we only take 1.5 hours this time. I was sorry, but being late couldn’t have really been prevented – I moved quickly and didn’t even make it to the end of the hike before I had to turn around, at which point it had already been longer than 45 minutes. It was mostly because I kept moving forward and other tourists kept saying, “Oh yeah, the waterfall is right around the corner!” Of course, it definitely was not!

Everything was fine, though. We were late to our hotel, Turtle Beach Resort, near Sur, but the staff very kindly kept the restaurant open until 5:30 so that we could quickly get a lunch type thing. The hotel was quite nice – we had a private beach, and there was a lot of good Indian food. I also found a tiny hermit crab on the beach at the hotel. In the evening, we went to do probably one of my favorite things I’ve done here.

In the evening Friday at 9:00, we went to Ra’as al Jinz animal reserve to one of Oman’s famous sea turtle beaches. We were split into small groups with an Omani guide who led us around with a light, and we were able to see green sea turtles on the beach. First, I was able to see a sea turtle laying her eggs! As in I actually saw them falling into the pit that she dug. Yes, I know that sounds kind of gross, but it was beautiful. Second, I saw a few turtles going into and coming out of the sea. And last, I got to sea a turtle covering up her eggs and digging a fake hole to confuse predators. That was fun because the turtle flung a bunch of sand into the hair and knocked a bunch of sand all over my body. I never thought in my life I’d get to say that a sea turtle flung a bunch of sand on me when she was covering up her eggs! I also didn’t think I’d get to see a sea turtle in the process of laying her eggs.

I like the German names

I like the German names

Apparently only 2 out of 1000 turtles will make it from hatching to adulthood, according to our guide.

I slept in late the next day, ate another huge lunch, and left with our group to return to the Guest House. We stopped at Hiwayat Najm on the way back – a huge sinkhole that was originally believed to be meteor crater according to Omani legends. We only stopped briefly, but I was able to swim because I thought ahead and wore my bathing suit to the park! I also wore a towel the entire time I was out of the water in order to remain “modest”.

And I’ll finish with a bunch of random photos.

Ramadan, The Cultural Evening, and Other Cultural Experiences

Hello again, I’m sorry it’s been so long since the last blog post. It’s been a pretty hectic time because of the start of Ramadan!

So I suppose my factoid for this blog post will be about Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month (determined with a lunar calendar) in Islam practiced since the time of Muhammad. Each day during Ramadan, adult Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset – meaning no food and no water! There are of course exceptions for those who are sick or traveling. In addition, Ramadan in general is a time of heightened piety for Muslims in Oman and throughout the Muslim world. For example, lying, cursing, and talking behind someone’s back, while frowned upon at all times, are particularly discouraged during Ramadan. Even non-Muslim women in our class were asked to wear the full hijab, the head-covering that some Muslim women (and nearly all that I’ve seen in Oman) wear in public. Men were also asked to wear long-sleeves at all times. I definitely wasn’t expecting that, but I have no issues making small adjustments to respect the culture here, especially since I’m a guest.

Because of the fasting, many Muslims shift to a more nocturnal schedule during Ramadan. Muslims listen for a call to prayer to break the fast around 7:00 in Oman, and they eat a very small meal called Iftar to prepare for dinner. It’s customary to break one’s fast with a date as Muhammad did according to the writings about his life (known as the Hadith). Some Muslims eat the equivalent of a lunch at around 10:00, and then most eat a breakfast-like meal called Suhoor at 3:30 AM before another call to prayer at 4:00. Most I think sleep until 3:30 and get up briefly then, but some of the students in our group who are fasting just stay up until then.

My conversation partner Ibrahim suggested that I fast just for one day to see what it was like, so I fasted on the first day of Ramadan, last Thursday. I fasted the correct way – no water, no food, and not even any gum. It actually wasn’t unbearable, especially since we didn’t really do much that day. I decided to continue the next day – it wound up being pretty easy because I slept in until 3:30 PM, so I only had to fast for a few hours. I decided to stop though because I didn’t want to disrupt my ability to focus during class.

So anyways, a lot of interesting small things happened last week.

Last Tuesday, we had a Cultural Evening (Umsiyya Thaqafiya) at the Sultan Qaboos College for Teaching Arabic. We spent a few days after we got back from Muscat preparing for the evening, which consisted of two parts. One hour was made up of poster presentations like a science fair where we talked about any aspect of our respective cultures (in Arabic, of course!). My friend Eman, a Japanese-Egyptian student here presented on Japan with another American student who studied abroad there before. I talked about Blues and Rock music. There was also a presentation about the South with sweet tea, and another about Texas with guacamole. There were others displays as well as some made by Omanis about Ramadan and Omani food.

The second half of the evening consisted of performances. As you might guess, I sung and played that classical guitar that I found earlier in the trip. My friends know I’ve really played this song to death, but since I have a new audience I could play it yet another time: Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. Before I sang in English, I had to demonstrate my Arabic ability in some way, so I decided to translate the lyrics to Arabic and read them to the audience (which I think consisted of at least 100 people). I wasn’t planning to before, but I decided halfway through the song to try to sing in Arabic. The phrasing was a little weird, though, so I switched back to English in some parts.

There were some other performances from the students in our program. The students from Texas sang “Deep in the Heart of Texas”, and another read some poetry in Arabic. We were able to see some Omanis perform the ‘Azi (a traditional military exercise thing that’s really hard to describe), and the men in our group were even able to participate. At the end of the presentation I joined the group of performing Omanis with another student from our program, and I talked with all of them for almost an hour in Arabic about a few things like universities in the US, what there is to do in Manah, and studying Arabic. I caught a video as we were all parading out together.

The night was a lot of fun and a huge success. The next day we celebrated the 3rd anniversary of the college with a traditional Omani meal at lunchtime – beef that had been roasted in a fire pit called a Tanoor for 24 hours. According to everyone who ate some, it was delicious. I tried a couple pieces and wasn’t a huge fan, but I think that’s just because I have only really had one other bite of steak in my life (in Yellowknife).

Thursday, we had a presentation on Omani proverbs and learned about the traditional clothing for Omani men. The long garment is called a dishdasha and the turban a musar. There is also a cylindrical hat called a kumma that is worn by itself or under the musar.

We spent the weekend sleeping and shopping at the Souqs in Nizwa and Muscat. I was able to buy a dishdasha for only about 15 dollars!

Also, it’s rained here more times than I’ve expected (thrice).

Weekend in Sharqiya, Part 2

Following up on part 1 of the trip on Sharqiya, I’ll be talking about our Friday and Saturday now.

In the morning, we woke up to ride both ATVs and camels in the desert! I started with the ATV, which was really wild. I’d never ridden one of those before, and I’m fairly certain I almost flew off at one point. We were supposed to stay together in a line, but I purposely waited back a couple times so that I could rev up the engine and go forward full speed.

After the brief ATV ride, I was able to ride a camel. It was pretty simple; I just got on as the camel was sitting down, and then an Omani kid led the camel around for a few minutes. I never realized how tall camels are! Once I was up there, I realized that it would not be pleasant if I fell down. It also wasn’t as uncomfortable as some people made it out to be. One thing that was a little scary was that when the ride was over, my camel refused to sit down for a moment and started to back away from the person leading it, but it did after a few attempts.

After that, we planned to head to Sur, a region on the coast of Sharqiya, to go to a beach to see where hundreds of sea turtles lay their eggs. But we ran into quite a setback: the road we had planned to take ran right through a wadi that was now flooded in several places due to the storm. We definitely couldn’t have driven through it, so we could either have waited to see if the flood subsided or driven through Muscat and around to Sur. Despite it being a four to five hour drive, we took the second option because we had no idea how long we’d have to wait.

As we were driving to Muscat, however, we got a call from the hotel in Sur that the weather was far too violent due to the tropical storm and that we should go at another time. Through a stroke of luck, our director Talal managed to get us a night at the Millennium Hotel, a five star hotel in Muscat!

On the way there, we stopped for lunch at a traditional Omani restaurant. Surprisingly, this was the first time I ate real Omani food! Unless I wanted to eat yogurt and rice, I had to eat some kind of meat, so I got fish. I think it was kingfish but I’m not really sure. The dish that I got was Mandi rice with fish. The rice was actually a Yemeni variety, but the fish was Omani. It was excellent – definitely some of the best fish I’ve ever had. It was a lot of fun too because we sat on the floor and ate with our hands. I have to say, there’s a special technique to eating rice with one’s hands that I was not able to figure out.

The hotel was pretty incredible, and we even had a room with a separate toilet and shower! We spent the rest of Friday and Saturday relaxing, swimming at the pool and in the ocean, and eating ridiculous amounts of food. There was also a bar, but I elected not to drink anything other than a (non-alcoholic) smoothie.

Everyone at the hotel spoke English, but I impressed them a few times with my Arabic. I asked for a towel at the pool in Arabic. There was a little confusion at first though because I asked for a bedsheet at first (sharshaf) when I meant to say towel (manshafa). I checked out from my room in Arabic as well.

Weekend in Sharqiya, Part 1

Well, it’s been quite a busy week, so I’m a few blog posts behind. We had a three day trip to the Eastern region of Oman, Ash-Sharqiya, which I’ll talk about in two separate posts.

Have you ever heard the stereotype of Americans being ridiculously loud? I always figured that was just something people said, but after I’ve been here and spoken with so many Omanis, I can say that it is definitely true that we are really loud people sometimes (myself included, of course!). Being with a large group of Omanis, for example, it was not necessary to have a shouting match to try to have a normal conversation. Whereas a room full of Americans seems to get louder and louder because of people trying to talk over each other. I can’t say why this is; it’s just something I’ve noticed, and something I assumed was the norm everywhere until I came here.

This past weekend we had planned to visit Wahiba Sands, a sand desert in the Sharqiya region, and then go to the coast of Sharqiya to see a beach where hundreds of sea turtles lay their eggs. As you shall read, however, our plans had to change because of a tropical storm.

We began our trip on Thursday, starting the weekend a day early. We left in the morning and stopped by a famous wadi, Wadi Bani Khalid. I think I wrote this before, but a wadi is a riverbed that floods very quickly during rainstorms, or in the case of Wadi Bani Khalid, is always a flowing to some degree. And the potential for flooding became a complicating factor: we drove through the (dry) wadi to a natural pool at the end, but we were only able to stay for 30 minutes because it was going to flood at any time due to the impending storm!

The water was incredibly clear and just the right temperature. It was pretty clean as well, apparently, because I accidentally swallowed a sizable gulp due to poor swimming technique.

After our short swim at the pool at the end of the wadi, we headed off to our next stop: the Arabian Oryx Camp in the Wahiba Sands desert. We had to stop and switch from our two buses to a fleet of cars with special tires for the sand.

The Camp was a genuinely unique place. We were told that we’d be staying in tents, but they were a bit more like trailers or something like that. They had a cloth roof, but full walls, windows, and wooden doors. They also had their own bathrooms with showers and running water, so we were much more comfortable than we thought we’d be. We had lunch at a buffet there, napped in the afternoon, and then set out in our fleet of cars to check out the desert in the evening before dinner. As you can see, it was actually very cloudy and pretty comfortable heat-wise, so it was a good day to explore the desert.

That desert was unlike any place I’ve ever visited. It’s hard to describe how I felt being encircled by all the sand, surrounding me and flying around me in the wind. It was almost like a religious experience; I’m not really sure. But I feel drawn to the desert in a way that I don’t fully understand. My dream house wouldn’t be at the beach or in the mountains – it would be a bunker way out in the middle of the sand dunes.

Right after we got back, we tried to climb to the top of one of the huge dunes near the camp and sled down in the sand, but it didn’t really work to well. Climbing up the loose sand was exhausting, but it was also pretty fun. We had to get down from the dune pretty quickly, though, because we saw some intense lightning flashes from the storm!

That evening, we had another buffet at the camp, and then we were able to see a traditional Omani band play. This was probably my favorite thing I’ve done here so far. The music was incredible – usually led by an Oud accompanied with several drums. One of the musicians also played bagpipes for one song. My favorite thing about the music was that it was very informal and jam-based. Even though the Oud sounds and looks very different from the guitar, a lot of the Oud player’s mannerisms were like those of a guitar player, such as how he took solos and ended songs. I was even able to try out the Oud, which was surprisingly not as different from the guitar as I thought it would be. I’d like to buy one someday, but bringing one back would wind up being quite a hassle. They also let us play the drums with them for a lot of their songs. Unfortunately, they asked that we don’t put pictures on social media (or at least that’s what I think they said – this was requested in Arabic), so I won’t put any here. I have pictures and videos that I can share in person when I get back.

We had an even fuller day following Friday, which I’ll talk about in my next post tomorrow.

Ramadan Kareem!

A Weekend in Muscat

Well, this is going to be a long post. For some reason I no longer have internet in my room, so it took a while for me to get all of these photos uploaded, but here I am now.

Have you ever spoken with someone who didn’t understand English well, had them not understand something, and you just repeated the same thing more loudly? I’d like to say I haven’t done that, but I think I’m guilty. It’s a pretty weird thing to go through, and it’s happened to me a couple times. Some of the words can wind up being pretty hard to figure out as very few sound anything like their corresponding English words.

Last weekend, I had an exhausting but fun trip to Muscat, the capital of Oman. It’s where we arrived on the first day, but we didn’t really spend any time there. We started Friday (I’m not sure if I mentioned this previously, but Friday and Saturday make up the weekend here: Sunday is the first weekday). We got up and were on the bus by 7:30 in the morning, and our first stop was the Royal Opera House. Sultan Qaboos is a huge fan of classical European music – and that was very clear to me after our visit there. Everything was polished, ornate, and decorated. The lighting was weird in the actual theater area so unfortunately I don’t have any good pictures from there.

We went to the Muscat Grand Mall after that, which wasn’t very interesting because it had mostly Americanized stores. The only stores I would have wanted to visit were closed.



We had some free time to hang out in the hotel in the afternoon, then we went to the Matrah Souq in the evening. It was a sprawling market with several shops where one could buy just about anything. Honestly I didn’t even get to see that much of it, as two hours really wasn’t enough. I went with one of our supervisors from the college, Malik, to try to buy a dishdasha, but I just decided that I would wait until later. I don’t have any pictures from the Souq, but Khalil has a funny video of me trying to barter with someone that I’ll most likely be able to post in the next few days. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back and actually buy a few things before I head back home.

Some of us went to a Shisha Cafe later at night, which was fun because I spoke with an Egyptian guy there who was very impressed with my Arabic. Before I left I just said “I’m a crazy foreigner, I don’t speak Arabic well”, which he thought was pretty entertaining (transliterated Arabic: “Ana ajnabi majnoon, la atakallam al-‘Arabiyya jayyidan!”).

That concluded day 1 in Muscat. Day 2 was the intense one.

We began Saturday at 8:30 with a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Honestly, I was as impressed visiting it as I was visiting the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It’s very pretty on the outside, and it’s really hard to fathom how big the main hall is inside. I’m certain that my family’s house at home could fit in the center comfortably as my pictures don’t really capture the size. The women’s prayer hall is far smaller and less ornate than the men’s – our guide gave us an interesting reason for that which I can explain if you ask me but that I’m not going to write here.

After that, we went to a museum in Muscat. I wasn’t able to take pictures but I learned some interesting things about Omani clothing and traditions.


After that, we had my favorite part of the trip – a boat ride and snorkeling trip in the Oman Sea of the coast of Muscat! I saw a lot of cool creatures that I’d never seen before, like some cool rainbow fish, a pufferfish and live coral. My favorite creature I saw though, was a cuttlefish. That was totally surreal. I’d seen cuttlefish before on T.V., but I never realized how weird they really are. It wasn’t flashing like they usually are in videos, but it was camouflaged with the coral, which was just as cool.

One weird thing was that I got very seasick one the way out and back from the cove where we swam. I’ve never gotten seasick before, even in a smaller boat blasting across the Great Slave Lake or on a larger cruise ship in the Aegean Sea.

My favorite thing that afternoon though was probably overcoming my fear of heights to some degree. The video doesn’t do it justice, but I jumped off the top of the boat into the water, which was probably about a two story jump. Of course plenty of others did it without hesitation, but I was proud of myself either way. I did it twice.

We were all very tired by the time we got back to shore, but we still had one more stop planned: Sultan Qaboos’s Grand Palace in Muscat! We were only able to look at it from behind a fence, of course.

Even after that, we still had a two-hour bus ride back to our Guest House in Manah. Needless to say, I’m still tired from the weekend!

More Arabic and More Strange Creatures

I’m making a short post just to share a few photos. Today we had practice with our conversation partners, and I spoke only in Arabic for about three hours. I can feel a bit of a shift happening, but it’s still pretty difficult to me. Of course it’s not really reasonable for me to expect myself to suddenly find speaking and understanding Arabic easy after only doing it seriously like this for a week.

My new method of trying to quickly remember new words...

My new method of trying to quickly remember new words…

Khalil has a cheap classical guitar that he is letting me borrow (it was on the top of the cabinets in one of the classrooms), so I’m very happy about that. I made a pick out of a water-bottle cap. I know classical guitar isn’t supposed to be played with a pick, but I’m hoping to play some non-classical songs at a Cultural Night later, so I’m making to with what I have.

And wow, Oman is not the place to be for those with a phobia of bugs. We found a camel spider trapped in the drained swimming pool on the Guest House complex, which was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen (although pretty much harmless to humans). Tonight at dinner there was a huge commotion when people saw a scorpion running across the floor, but I jumped up quickly and was able to catch it in a cup, after which my roommate flung it over the wall.

A More Usual Day of Class

Today was not as busy as yesterday, which I’m thankful for because I was still tired. We had class where we talked about government and non-government organizations as well as Iran and nuclear arms. I’m pretty bad at speaking and understanding Arabic but I get a little bit better every day. I still forget words as soon as I hear them, but I’m remembering more.

After class, we met with our conversation partners again. Tonight all the men in the group participated in a mock Omani military-ish ceremony which is kind of hard to describe. It kind of reminded me of the military Exhibition Drill. The two ceremonies we had mock versions of were called ‘Azi and Razha. Hopefully someone recorded a video that I’ll be able to share later.

My notes from today. I'm trying to draw pictures for new vocab instead of the English word. So the word with the stick figures under it on the left means "minorities".

My notes from today. I’m trying to draw pictures for new vocab instead of the English word. So the word with the stick figures under it on the left means “minorities”.

Al-Jebel Al-Akhdar

I had quite a long weekend, so I’m still a day behind. Hopefully by tonight I’ll be caught up.

While the weather in Oman is very hot, it’s actually very cold inside. Every room has its own air conditioning unit here, so having a jacket inside is almost a necessity. I never thought I would have a problem being too cold in the Middle East.

Yesterday  we went up to explore al-Jebel al-Akhdar, one of the most spectacular regions in Oman. There were tall mountains and huge canyons, and the weather up in the mountains was actually very pleasant. We began with visiting a wadi, which is a riverbed through which water flows only in times of heavy rainfall or flooding. Around the wadi was an ancient village. We were able to walk up the stairs and explore inside the buildings of the village. I climbed almost to the top of the mountain, which wound up being pretty hard since there wasn’t really a path.

After that we went to visit a rosewater factory. That was interesting because I learned that there are several types of rosewater; my favorite was one that had a much smokier scent. We then went to see a spring as well as some of the terraced farms for which the region is famous. The spring is called an ‘ayn (عين) in Arabic, which has a sound that doesn’t exist in English, and the farms are called mudarraj (مدرج).

After this, went to the Sahab Hotel, a resort on the top of one of the mountains there, for lunch. We had a most excellent buffet. There was also a swimming pool that some of us used, but I didn’t bring my bathing suit and was also far too tired. After lunch, I was about ready to just go to sleep.

After lunch, we made a few more stops at various places around the mountains. Pictures really don’t do the views justice.

To end the day, we saw one more falaj, the Khutmain Falaj, which is famous because it splits into three parts of equal volume. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.


The Khutmain Falaj and its three channels.

Exploring Nizwa

This post is from yesterday, but I didn’t have time to publish it because the images took too long to upload.

One really important thing I’ve learned here that I didn’t understand very well before is that a lot of things that we consider Islamic are actually traditions among Arabs in the gulf. For example, the type of clothes that Omani men wear are simply traditional rather than Islamic. It’s the same with a lot of other behaviors and ideas. Another is that no generalizations can really be made about the Middle East because the cultures within are so vastly different. Omanis wear completely different clothes than Saudis, but they are neighboring countries! And as I mentioned before, the dialects of Arabic speak can be as different as the different languages in Europe. We don’t really make generalizations about all Europeans, so it’s not possible to make generalizations about all Arabs.

Another thing that sets Oman apart is that the majority of people here are Ibadhi Muslims – they are part of a sect that formed before the Sunni and Shia sects did. As a result of this, they mostly stay outside of the Sunni-Shia conflicts and are able to remain practically unscathed. Maybe I’ll talk more about Ibadhi Islam in another blog post.

Today was another busy day. We had to be on the bus by 7:00 in order to see the animal auction at Nizwa. In case I didn’t make this clear earlier, Nizwa is a pretty big city that we’re about 30 minutes away from – there are definitely a lot more people there than in Manah.

The auction was incredible; I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Goats also make some very strange noises. Most of what was being sold were cows and goats. There were people leading goats around all over the place and through the crowd, and we were really the only Americans there. Of course the vegetarian in me felt a little upset seeing the animals treated this way, but I also understand that this is a tradition in Nizwa.

We got to look at an Omani Helwa shop, which is a famous Omani sweet made with nuts, sugar, and some other spices (so I’m not able to eat it). We had a few minutes of free time to browse the stores. I made a purchase only in Arabic! But I can’t say what I bought because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s surprise.

After spending a little bit of time looking at the shops in the Souq, we went to see the Nizwa fort. It was built in 1650 – it is where the imams ruled the interior of Oman until it came under control of the Sultanate. I’ll talk more about this later but Oman was until not to long ago two separate countries with separate governments because the mountains pretty clearly separate the coast and the interior. There were all sorts of setups for crazy traps on the way up to the main tower – four trapdoors (covered now, of course) and several holes where soldiers would have poured boiling honey or date syrup down on invaders. Yuck.

After that, we got to see another falaj and were even able to step into it a little bit. Even though it was before 12:00, it had to be at least 90 degrees outside, so putting my legs in the water was very refreshing.

After I got back, I was so tired from the heat that I’ve been in a daze for the rest of the day, and am now going to sleep because I’ll have an even busier day tomorrow!

Omani Coffee and a Night in the Nizwa Souq

Wow! It’s been a long past two days. So much so that I’m going to split them up into two separate blog posts.

I’ll open with two photos that I just found now.

Having a large family is very normal here. My conversation partner Ibrahim says that most people usually have 7 or 8 children.

Yesterday instead of Arabic classes we had classes about Omani culture (of course, still in Arabic). We learned about Omani Coffee and Omani Coffee etiquette. Omani coffee is stronger than the usual American coffee and it is served in much smaller portions. It’s not quite as strong, however, as Turkish coffee, so I actually enjoyed it a lot. I usually hate black coffee, but this was an exception. I volunteered to participate in a demonstration of the correct way to greet someone and sit and drink coffee; of course I sat down the wrong way. In the Gulf and most of the Arab world, it is considered offensive to show the bottoms of your feet to someone because they are dirty, so one must sit on the ground so that his feet our not pointing outward. Obviously, Indian style won’t work, so one must either sit on his knees (which is impossible for me), or he has to sit with his legs crossed in a weird way that you’ll see in one of the pictures. I tried to do the latter but my foot was still facing the wrong way. I didn’t understand what they were saying in Arabic, so Khalil said in English, “This is not an Arab way of sitting”. Anyways, I moved my foot and had no problems.


Ustaz Mustafa Abu Saidi demonstrating Omani coffee etiquette.

After the demonstration, we all sat outside to have coffee with several Omanis who joined us as well as the rest of the staff from the college. We had a picnic of sorts, with all sorts of fruit and halawiyyat (sweets). My favorite was a type of pasta like thing flavored with saffron that has a flavor that I really can’t describe. I can’t remember what it is called, and I can’t find it online. I also had a piece of some very good mango.

We had a short break in the afternoon. I went to Lulu to pick up some snacks since I had time, and then immediately went to our first extracurricular activity: calligraphy class!

Most peoples’ first exposure to Arabic is through the calligraphy, so it’s no surprise that everyone here wants to learn it. We will each have two classes in our time here because our group needs to be split up into two sections of 15 that will have class in alternate weeks. We’re learning the Naskh script, which I’ve actually studied a little bit, but I need much more practice. We spent about two hours going over each letter in detail, and it was a ton of fun.

Practicing calligraphy...

Practicing calligraphy…

After that, a group of us went to the Nizwa Souq (market) to scope it out, but there wasn’t much open at night. I looked at a lot of stores and tried on some Omani Kummas, but I didn’t buy anything. I tried Zanzibari Karak tea in a restaurant as well. It was sweet and had a taste that I can’t describe, I’d say a little bit more herbish, but it was also milky. I liked it. After that we passed some more time walking around and got smoothies from another shop. Mine was papaya. One thing that’s really nice here is that there are a ton of these types of smoothie shops around where the smoothies are all made with fruit that you see the workers take out of the fridge. My favorite smoothie that I’ve had is actually avocado flavored, strangely enough. With honey it has an almost vanilla-like taste.


We got back at 11:30 and I pretty much immediately went to sleep because I needed to wake up at 6:30 this morning!