Well, it’s been almost a week since I arrived here and I already have a lot more to talk about than will fit into one post, so in this post I’m just going to talk about what I did before the weekend.
I’m staying in the city of Ibri in the Ad Dhahira government. I am studying at the Noor Majan Training Institute, taking classes focusing only on Arabic five days a week. The classes are split into five week sessions, and I will be here for three of them (session beginning in April is a little longer). I have a very nice apartment this time located in the city, right next to the biggest mosque in Ibri, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque. Ibri is actually a pretty big city, I’d say bigger than Greenville. It’s hard to say because the way the buildings are arranged here really isn’t that comparable to at home – there’s not really a distinction between city and suburb. There is a Syrian restaurant that has very good falafel and hummus about a walk away, and there’s a Turkish restaurant nearby along with a bakery, too. Unlike the other program I was in, I’m able to leave my apartment and go wherever I’d like to. In fact, I can even rent a car through the program if I want to. I think it will be a little while before I feel comfortable enough to drive here though as the roads can really be crazy. Also I’m not really used to roundabouts, which are standard here.
Tuesday, after I arrived, we just rode in a van together from the airport in Muscat to Ibri, where we stayed in our apartments and rested for the remainder of the day. All of the students went out for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, and we got to know each other. Surprisingly, I’m the only American here! There are only six students other than me – one British guy, one German guy, one Colombian guy, two Swiss girls, and a German girl. Everyone speaks English well, and we all have different skill levels in Arabic. Everyone is very nice, and I think I’ll have no problem being around them for the next few months. Some of them are only staying for this class session, and others are staying longer than I.
Wednesday we had a little tour of Ibri. We started the day off with a visit to the goat auction in Ibri’s Old Souq – unlike other animal auctions in Oman, this auction occurs every day! We also visited a date store and had some candy made from dates and coconuts with Omani coffee. I had always wondered why Omani coffee was so different and so light, and it turns out that’s because its actually made with date seeds. We went saw the Ibri castle as well, where the governor of the city would have lived over a hundred years ago. That was cool because we were able to climb to the top of the tower in the fort using some ladders built in to the corners of the rooms in that tower. Getting up there was much easier than getting down! We also learned about Ibri’s history, for example that it was once a stopping point for caravans crossing the desert. Sultan, the director of our program, said that as little as forty years ago caravans were still stopping in the parking lot we arrived at to stock up for their trips across the desert. In fact, Ibri’s name comes from the Arabic word “to cross”.
After the little tour of the Souq we went to the Noor Majan building – which happens to be right in the middle of the Souq! We took a short placement test, and had lunch at the institute, which for me was just some Omani rice with lentils, which was of course very good because it was homemade. Then we went back to our apartment to prepare for the first day of class.
Thursday was our first day of class. We were divided into three groups, and I am in a class with only one other student – Tom, the Briton. He’s definitely much stronger in Arabic, but that’s because he’s been here for a month longer and was living with a host family before I arrived. Otherwise we’ve studied Arabic for about the same time. We have about four and a half classes total in Arabic, divided into sessions with two different teachers. The first focuses on grammar and reading, and the second on discussion. It was really very draining by the end, as I felt I had reached my capacity for new vocabulary. I think I’ll get used to it and get more comfortable with the schedule, but for now the amount of time I’m going to spend in class seems pretty daunting, especially with how little I’m able to understand of what I read and what I hear. But I’ve only been in class for two days, and I’m sure it will get better as my vocabulary improves.