Dibba, which I’ve also seen written as Daba, Dabba, Dibya, Dabya and Doba, has helped me redefine just how sleepy a little town can be. Living here has felt a bit like stepping back in time, life following the simplicity of the desert landscape. There are quite possibly more goats than people, roaming about town wherever they please, and you’ll also find the occasional wild donkey milling about, left over from days when they were expected to haul in fishing nets. Superstitions still abound, so far I’ve heard not to photograph the goats or they won’t produce milk, not to kayak off the main beach because it scares the fish away, and to only eat dates in odd numbers if you want any of the nutritional benefits.
Upon arrival I moved into a sprawling house with three other coworkers. Our living room has comfy couches centered around a pool table, the kitchen is in a separate house outside in a little courtyard, and the rooftop is undoubtedly my favorite place to be. At sunset the street in front of our house is the spot, full of children riding bikes, incessantly calling up “Hello, how are you?” as we watch them from above. In the distance I can watch groups of men playing soccer on the beach, scattering to zoom off in their cars as soon as they hear the call to prayer. In the morning if I can drag myself out of bed I practice yoga, saluting the sun as it rises out of the turquoise sea, enjoying the upside down henna-hued mountains beyond mountains from downward dog. Most of all it is the silence here that I’ve come to love- in this little town with its wide empty streets, the loudest sound remains the hum of the distant power plant, or the five daily calls to prayer echoing off the mountains. While my house is a five minute walk from the shoreline, it’s silent enough that it sounds like the waves are crashing right at my door as I write.
The office is a ten minute walk away, and comes complete with a rescue dog who runs in circles of joy each time you open the gate. Eventually a female coworker did arrive, but initially I was working on an all male team, in a seemingly all male town. I spend a lot of time watching men, sitting together on blankets at the beach, eating at restaurants, riding bikes, holding hands as they cross the street… My first week in Dibba I saw a total of four women, all in the process of entering their homes. I wonder about them often, what their lives are like, how they spend their days, if they are happy. My male coworkers are constantly sharing stories about how friendly the people of Dibba are- the policemen who are always waving as they drive past, the grocery store owner who gives them free ice cream, the smiley border official who detained them to talk about Arsenal and his love of English football. While I don’t doubt the kindness of the local population here, these are not my experiences. Whether with a male or on my own, around town I find I am mostly invisible, although a couple of times Gary and I have been out riding our bikes and locals have yelled ‘F*ck you!’ as we rode past. It has been hard for me not to overthink it. Was it because my ankle length skirt had ridden up over my knee? Maybe because my head wasn’t covered? Or because men and women generally aren’t seen together in public? It could be people just having a laugh, yelling something they picked up from television, but it’s worrying to think that we might not actually be welcome here.
Food-wise, life has been grand. The company chef is Nepali, so when meals are provided during work hours I’ve been happily scarfing down lots of momos. Visiting the grocery store here is a treat, the aisles filled with all of the best things from Ethiopia, India, Turkey and Lebanon, reminding me why this area was such an historically important trading hub. The produce section is my favorite, with mangoes from Pakistan, avocados from Kenya, oranges from South Africa, apples from New Zealand, cherries from California, dragon fruit from Thailand and tomatoes from Mexico, you can go around the entire world in a couple aisles. At home I’ve been cooking borderline inappropriate amounts of haloumi, and when not eating it straight out of the frying pan, wrapping it in a pita with hummus, labni, and diced cucumbers and peppers, my new favorite meal. If I’m too lazy to cook there are several restaurants in town offering meals for around US $4, usually including a soup, salad, hummus, pita, fries and various grilled meats. As always, I remain well fed.
My biggest priority has been spending as much time as possible exploring the awesome wilderness that is now my backyard. There are seemingly endless walls to climb and wadis (massive canyons created by seasonal rains) to hike, all uninhabited and untouched. My first drive down Wadi Kab’al Shamsi I was in awe, my head on a swivel attempting to take in the sheer magnitude of the place, scanning the towering walls with goats dotting their sides like ants. Nearly every place we’ve explored we stumble across ruins of stone villages in the most difficult and improbable of places, often hidden in cliff faces from when the Portuguese invaded in the 15th century. When not poking around ancient villages, we’re tripping over shell fossils or scanning cliff sides for petroglyphs. My favorite hike so far has been along the coast to Smuggler’s Cove, past tattered clothes shed by migrants from the Straight of Hormuz as they entered a new life, eventually finishing at an abandoned village with sweeping ocean views.
When not playing outside, I’m trying my best to understand both Arabic as well as Scottish. So far I’ve learned ‘How was the wee bimble with the lassies?’ is Scottish for ‘How was the hike with the ladies?’, and I have desperately been trying to fit “Shu fi ma fi?” into an actual conversation, the Arabic equivalent of “What’s up?”. Remembering to hand things to people with only my right hand remains a challenge, but otherwise I find myself settling into life here just fine, embracing inshallah more and more every day.