Happy Holidays from Dibba, Oman! Today work was cancelled thanks to heavy rain, the Arabian version of a snow day. Since some of the cold and dust from last weekend’s trip to the Empty Quarter is still rattling around in my lungs, I spent the better part of the day watching Lawrence of Arabia curled up in my cozy bed. Four hour later (I didn’t know movies were allowed to be that long), now fortified with tea and toast, I’ve decided to finally stop procrastinating on writing a bit about the past couple months.
Nearly an entire month was spent preparing and executing a week long trek for sixty people, where I learned the hard way to carry at least four liters of water when bagging peaks in the desert. During the actual trek I also learned just how much chaos a herd of goats can cause- when the week’s pile of boxed water bottles were left briefly unattended, the rascals managed to eat the cardboard surrounding them, and in the process scatter all the bottles across the hillside. In the end I was more than ready to finish trekking, returning to the normal school group routine right as temperatures at last began to relent. Clouds now occasionally skirt across the lonely blue sky, and overall the weather has been surprisingly pleasant. Sitting outside no longer feels like a punishment, although I think my body had adapted itself too well to the heat, and I now find myself goose-pimpled and reaching for my down jacket anytime it dips below 70.
Maybe thanks to the friendlier weather or maybe just because locals are finally used to us, I’ve been getting a lot more smiles and greetings around town. In the evenings more and more women are out walking in pairs, colorful abeyas fluttering in the breeze, and the child playtime gang outside my house has tripled in size. My new favorite climbing area, Wadi Bidi, is an easy 45 minute bike ride away, and twice now on the ride I’ve been flagged down while passing a home so they could give me fruit and water. Another time while in the wadi climbing an old man with a huge toothless smile hobbled over, and after a long animated conversation in which neither of us could speak the other’s language, he offered me a paste of fig leaves he’d just finished mashing with a rock. He went on to demonstrate how I was meant to snort it up my nose, and I did my best to politely decline.
While things like not being allowed to order for myself at a restaurant or purchasing an item at the store and having the receipt handed to my male coworker continue to infuriate me, I’ve been reminding myself how nice it is not to see giant billboards objectifying women simply to sell a watch or a pair of sneakers. While I hate watching people throw trash out their windows and the lack of any recycling, on a different front I’ve been impressed by how well the less fortunate are cared for in this part of the world. People really seem to live their faith, and as one of the five pillars of Islam is charity for the poor, you don’t see poverty or homelessness the way you do in the US, or at all really. Last year while working and traveling in Southeast Asia I was constantly frustrated by how often people tried to rip me off, but here that hasn’t been an issue at all, in fact a shop owner chased after me to return the equivalent of .25 cents in change. In Myanmar earlier this year someone pushed me off my bike while trying to steal my bag, but here when driving around town I know I could leave my iPad, passport, car keys and wallet visible with the doors to the car unlocked, and everything would still be there when I got back. Honestly, I’ve probably never lived anywhere safer.
Thanksgiving here was probably my least festive yet, but Christmas is looking up. With celebrations for both Oman and UAE National Days houses have been covered in red, white and green flags and twinkle lights, which sub in for Christmas decorations just fine. Oddly, I have been hearing ‘Santa Baby’ on the radio more than I ever did back home, and it is my absolute favorite thing when my male Scottish coworker croons along in his deep smoker’s voice. We have a tiny tree and advent calendar in our house, and when we’re working at the office Christmas carols play in the background. With this first big rain there were more people out than I’ve ever seen before in Dibba, families packed into cars with kids hanging out the windows, massive grins spread across their faces. What used to be large, empty dirt fields are now swimming pools filled with water, reflecting the mountains towering above, and roads along the main wadi have basically been washed away by a brand new raging river. There was actually enough hail for people to have little snowball fights or to scoop up piles of it for the front of cars, so I might get my first ever white Christmas in the most unlikely of places.
Other things? This month work has been slow enough that Gary and I have been able to get away for two long weekends. One trip we combined a visit to Dubai with a trip to a climbing area in the emirate of Ras al Khaimah, and the other weekend a visit to Abu Dhabi with a night in the Empty Quarter, the largest continuous sand desert in the world. I posted some pictures on the post before this one from those weekends since I’m feeling too lazy to write much, mostly it was nice to get away for a bit and remember what life is like outside of my current tiny bubble. I’ve started picking up some English isms from my coworkers, using phrases like “can do” (Want to go bouldering later? Yeah, can do) and “go on then” (Want me to grab you a soda? Go on then) mostly against my will, although I do love describing things you think are gross as ‘grim,’ as in, “I walked in this morning and the dog had thrown up everywhere, it was pretty grim.” I finally visited the fish market and found it pretty grim (ha!), piles of baby sharks and the odd hammerhead or massive bull shark dumped in a heap, most sold to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup in Dubai I was told. In that same visit I discovered a little cafe that sells rgag- imagine a crepe and a dosa had a baby, stuffed with sweet fillings like cinnamon and honey or savory like egg and cheese. Now imagine me regularly eating 5000 of them stuffed with labni and washing it all down with a cardamom milk and it’ll be like you’re here.
Finally and most importantly, the cooler weather and impending rainy season means that it is also baby goat season, and they might be the cutest baby animal of all the baby animals. So, even though I hate being so far away this time of year, getting to hold one pretty much made my entire 2017. And with that, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, Happy Everything to you always!