We left Muscat in the deep darkness of 1:20 am, (the time most flights depart and arrive in Oman). It was Eid holiday, so the kids had a few days off school, plus the weekend – the perfect time for a late summer vacation to visit Cooper’s sister and husband in Italy.

We boarded the plane, shoved our bags into the overhead and sat down, pulling on eye masks, ignoring the beverage service in exchange for a few restless hours of sleep. Four and half hours later, blurry eyed, with the beginnings of headache coming on, we arrived in Istanbul with less than twenty minutes to make our connection to Venice. Read More

The afternoon sun stretches like unfurled ribbons across my bedroom floor – a pattern created by the locked iron bars on my second story balcony. I’m back in Oman, after a summer traveling between northern and southern Utah, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. My body is jet lagged and my head slightly off kilter; summer is still something of a dream – a dream I’m trying to remember.

From my reposed position in bed, I glance around at my surroundings, taking note of the traditional American cherry wood dressers, mirrors, side chairs and pineapplesque lamps – the same furnishings procured for almost every Embassy residence around the world. I’ve lived with this décor everywhere from Greece, to now Oman – props and stage sets that have moved with us, while the play and actors have changed.

Our beloved Shakespeare gave us this: ‘All the world’s a stage.’ And I venture to add, it matters little if the stage is in Oman or the U.S. or somewhere else – we all have a part to play and we must play it well, adjusting to each new act and season.

This is our new season, Act II, if you will, in Oman, and we’re down one trooper: Micah. He’s off to great things at BYU, and we’re half way around the world, sporting alumni regalia with t-shirts and hats (we couldn’t be more proud or excited). But we miss him, especially when I cook his favorite pasta dish and there’s sooooo much left over, sigh…

Summer was a whirlwind. I guess that’s why I can’t quite believe it’s over and life is moving on. Maybe that’s why I sit here, trying to remember. Summer, for me, began in spring… back when I was planning and strategizing and lying awake at night, in this same bed, sleepless and typing notes into my phone, wondering how it would all get done. My to-list included appointments, visits to family and friends, and important events, but it all hinged on one vital assumption – that we’d be living in Provo in the townhouse we had put money down, the one Cooper flew to Utah to buy, the townhouse where our son would move into in the fall, when he returned from Army Basic Training, the townhouse that would be ‘home.’

Everything looked as though it was going according to plan too, so I took the liberty of enrolling Jonah in two weeklong camps at BYU and Maggie in another. But alas, the builders couldn’t get the subs and the subs didn’t put up the drywall till late June and the actual walk-through didn’t happen until the day before I had to drive to St. George to fly back to Oman August 17th.

Soooooo… we never lived in the townhouse.

And all my sleepless nights planning?

For naught.

Instead, we spent our days and nights in a variety of accommodations, building up our Marriott reward points and relying on the goodwill and graces of family and friends who welcomed us in. As it turned out, schlepping 4 kids and eight suitcases around took some coordinating, (and the use of my in-laws Escalade, for a time). But we managed, until we were able to off load a third of our suitcases and bid a merry farewell to Micah at BYU for summer term. At least one of us had a temporary place to call ‘home.’IMG_6301

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Making the most of our free wifi at the Marriott Hotel gym

But as things turned out, we got to see more family and friends then planned, using our shiftless itinerant state to venture from west to east coast. Our visit to my parents happened to coincide with my brother’s family cross-country trek and for the first time in more than TWENTY years, we were all together for a family photo. A miracle I tell you. As the old saying goes: it wouldn’t have happened if we’d planned it.

The majority of summer, was spent living in St. George, ‘escaping the heat,’ as I joked with the locals, on days when temperatures soared to 105 and above. We stayed at my sister-in-law’s house in Santa Clara. She wasn’t there, actually. She was in Italy, enjoying quaint corners of the city and photo-worthy cuisine—as seen on her Instagram. We were ever so grateful for her hospitality. And as it turned out, grateful not to have a plan, because this way, each day took an unexpected shape of its own—including lots of time spent with old friends, and trips to ‘Swig,’ (Our favorite).

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My favorite St. George hiking spot

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The essential game of summer: Cornhole

The unstructured living of St. George was balanced nicely with frequent trips north to visit grandparents, check on our townhouse, and attend events, like Cooper’s 30th high school reunion (Go Cavemen!) – especially memorable, because by mistake, I got in their Alumni Class Photo.  I undoubtedly left some squinting at the Alumni Facebook post asking, ‘Who’s She?’

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Visiting Lake Powell with Grandma and Grandpa Wimmer

Interspersed between life and events, were the unexpected ‘conincidences’ too many to list. Like the time, we saw a young man Cooper coached in baseball in Vienna, Austria, return home from his two-year LDS mission. Back when we first met him, he was eight years old, newly adopted from an orphanage and only spoke Russian. Now his English was perfect, his strong 6 ft. plus physique looked healthy as could be and his countenance smiled – you’d never know the childhood he came from. I knew his adopted mother well, she was one of my best friends, and though she passed away from cancer several years ago, I felt like I was able to see her too, through him. Her love and bright spirit was a tangible part of who he’d become.

There was also the time when we walked into a restaurant and one of Maggie’s former schoolmates ran up to her and gave her a gigantic hug. My husband turned to me, puzzled, ‘Does that girl know Maggie?’ We were all surprised. We hadn’t planned on seeing her friend that day, but Maggie had lunch with her buddy and exchanged numbers so we could plan more playdates. For an expat kid who’s had to say good-bye to more people than you can count, this random encounter was nothing short of a gift.

To think back now, and reflect on my fears of an unstructured summer, how I had worried if things didn’t go according to plan, if the townhouse wasn’t finished, if we didn’t have a place to stay… the earth would come to a screeching halt. And yet, everything turned out fine—even better!

Including Maggie’s baptismal day. It’s illegal for our church to baptized here in Oman, so when Maggie turned eight (the age a child can choose to be baptized in our Faith), we waited, hoping to find the right time and place, hoping that some family could be there for the event and perhaps a few friends too. We never imagined the family and friends who traveled to be there. It was a blessed day we’ll always cherish.IMG_7128

As was another…

In all our planning, we didn’t know how we’d make it to South Carolina for our oldest son’s graduation from Army Basic Training. But between airplane rides and a 14-hour drive, we arrived just in time to watch his battalion, and three other battalions – hundreds of men and women dressed in fatigues – emerge from a smoke screen wall, in the middle of a wide green Carolina field edged by thick woods. As the soldiers held aloft the American flag, and music beat in the background, the tears streamed down my face. It was a moment you can never forget – will never forget. A moment that strikes deep in the heart of a patriot, knowing that each of the soldiers marching would go into battle to protect our country, their family and our freedoms. IMG_6691

I didn’t have this moment planned either.

Nor was the excursion to Fallingwater planned – one of our summer highlights. The house was designed by Frank Loyd Wright in 1935 for the Kaufmann family. His cantilever design (think of a diving board built on top of a diving board, built on top of another diving board), extends over a mountain spring waterfall. We toured the property with mouths wide open, continuously marveling at the genius of the design.IMG_6864

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Unplanned sunset walk at Monongahela River in Morgantown, VA

Indeed, whatever I thought I’d be doing this summer—decorating a townhouse, taking Maggie to swim lessons, having a structured schedule—it all paled in comparison to what we actually got—a series of beautiful, seemingly random encounters with humanity and joy. I know of no other way to describe it.

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Unplanned hike up Slate Canyon in Provo Utah

It’s life improvised. It’s packing up the props and taking the ‘show on the road.’

Shakespeare gave us the stage, but Hemingway taught us it’s a “moveable feast.” We get these moments and then we get to take them with us. I’ve got all these and more, right here with me in Oman. I think about them when I open the locked bars on my window and step outside and gaze at the incoming tide. I think how lucky I am that my life has never gone according to plan and I think: I hope it never will.

 

The Middle East: A Year Later

As we approach the year mark of living in Oman, I’m stunned by how much time has passed, and how quickly this place has become “normal,” even routine. My initial fears of driving and getting lost (and never seeing my children again), are silly to me now. The sights and sounds—the constant battering of construction next door, the calls to prayer five times a day—have, for the most part, faded into the background of life.IMG_5669

But if you ask me, ‘Are you used to living in the Middle East?’ I’d answer ‘No, not really.’ There is still too much I can’t wrap my head around. Starting with where I live, on the northern shore of Oman in Muscat. It’s difficult to fathom that when I look out over the serene ocean, just across the cerulean blue waters, lies the country of Iran—one of a handful of countries without any formal U.S. diplomatic relations, and a notorious member of Trump’s travel ban. And if I wanted to, though I wouldn’t, I could drive to Iraq; it would be like driving from California to Utah, only different, of course. Yemen is closer still. Our neighbor. One border away. And yet, I can’t travel there either. For all intents and purposes I’m geo-politically land locked. It’s a form of isolation that’s hard to explain.IMG_1168

Lots of things are hard to explain, actually. Coming from a Western democracy, it’s hard to grasp a culture where religion and government are one and the same, where education is as much the responsibility of the minister of education, as it is the minister of religion, where social norms—everything from what you wear to how you eat—is dictated by your faith. It’s hard to comprehend even when it’s in front of your face.

We’re now in the holy month of Ramadan. I had no appreciation for what that meant, until I discovered that for 30 days, ALL restaurants, ALL cafés, ALL small road side swarma shops (that you wouldn’t even want to eat at) are closed until 7 pm. Starbucks is closed. McDonald’s is closed. My favorite smoothie shop, yes, closed. There’s nowhere to go if you want a quick lunch with friends or didn’t pack your lunch at work or if it’s the last day of school and you want to get ice cream to celebrate…you’ll have to wait until ‘Iftar Time,’ 7 pm. That’s when everyone prays (for the 4th time) and breaks their fast. It stands to reason, that with eating establishments closed, lots of shops are closed too. Not a lot of people are out and about when the entire country is fasting.IMG_5660

On the other hand, my husband comes home more for lunch, and the kids, having nowhere else to go, appreciate my increased efforts to create ‘restaurant worthy’ meals for the table. It’s taken my kitchen creativity to a whole new level, and in a small way, allowed us to see what life was like, before all of these alternatives to the family kitchen existed. I can see too, that this ritual brings comfort to the devout and faith to those who fast with real intent, honoring the meaning of Iftar, by sharing food with the poor and making each evening a special time for family and reflection.

But if you’d have told me that a government could dictate eating hours, or a man caught eating, a Muslim man, could be taken from his place of employment and put in prison for the night, I would not have believed you. I would not have thought fasting could go that far. But it happened, to an employee of a friend of ours, and though they are from the Middle East, they were shocked too.fullsizeoutput_2213

I had to go to the grocery store, inside the mall, and pick up a few items this week. Micah came with me, the-ever-helpful-out-of-school-Senior-with-nothing-to-do (those were the days). As we passed from 111-degree heat outside, into the merciful cool air of the mall, a guard approached us with a grim face. He told us we needed to leave because my son was wearing shorts. Let me be clear, these were long shorts, half-way down his knee shorts, and he had on a nice t-shirt too. We were told that during Ramadan, women should have their arms and legs covered, but this was new information. I could only assume the guard was ‘hangry’ and overly cautious, so I thanked him and kindly explained we were on our way to H&M to buy the kid pants…he let us pass.

There are things I see and experience that are hard for me to understand, or put into context. Telling someone to leave the mall because they’re wearing shorts is one of them and grocery shopping is another. It’s not just that foods are different and sometimes I have to shop in two or three places to find the ingredients I need. That happens everywhere. It’s that the food comes from countries where, given the chance, I wouldn’t even be allowed to travel.

On my most recent grocery trip, I bought Mangos from Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world. Every 10 minutes a child under five dies there from preventable causes, largely due to malnutrition! It’s a staggering statistic and equally as hard to come to grips with, is that 3.3 million Yemenis have fled their country, and of those who remain, more than half don’t have enough food and more than two-thirds don’t have access to safe drinking water. And I’m buying their mangoes. It feels wrong, but the sad truth is, they need to sell their produce so they can pay for other goods and services, so in a small way, I’m actually helping. I can’t wrap my brain around it.IMG_5405

So, to get back to my question, no, I’m not really used to living in the Middle East. I’m experiencing life here, day to day, but I’m in a constant state of mentally processing. Luckily, experience is a patient teacher, and at some point, I may be able to say, I understand how life in the Middle East works. But for now, I don’t. And I am sure, if this were all turned around, someone from the Middle East living the U.S. could find reasons to wonder about our own cultural conundrums.IMG_1845

Ultimately, whatever our cultural encounters may be, our experiences come down to this: how people treat you. And I can say, for the most part, I encounter kindness, generosity and welcome wherever I go. And that’s a good feeling. It’s not uncommon to be greeted publically, by a stranger, as ‘Sister.’ The title implies our connectedness, and no matter our differences, I believe at our core, we’re more the same than we realize. Here in Oman, I’ve met devout Muslims who inspired me with their consideration, hospitality, and family values. They often make me want to be a better Christian.IMG_1717

Recently, I was exiting my car to go to the kid’s school. I was carrying a heavy load and struggling to shut my car door, let alone hold everything. A woman saw me and came to my rescue. In the course of our walk up to school, she introduced herself, told me she was from Libya and confessed that she worried for her country and worried about going home and worried how they would survive. It was a reminder that though we may be different, we all worry about the same things—our children, the future, our safety. Given the recent attacks in London, it would be easy for ‘us’ to perceive ‘them,’ all Muslims, as the same. But that just isn’t true. And this caring stranger in a head scarf, is just one example of Muslims I know with beautiful hearts. She made me think of something Henry David Thoreau once said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”DSC_0939

What do we see?

The world is complicated and there’s so much to ‘see.’ Maybe if we keep our eyes open wide, we can acknowledge our differences, while still making room for one another. We don’t need to be the same to find respect. More than anything, I appreciate when a person sees me in Oman for who I am, and gives me the space to be the Westerner, I can’t help but be. Our differences aren’t the problem, it’s how we see them. So for now, I’ll keep trying to ‘see’ the world, to keep processing and understanding, that’s what I can do.

 

 

 

The Not So small BIG Things in Life

A friend of mine recently told me, her nephew was getting married. With emotion in her voice, she added, I haven’t been to any of my brothers or sisters weddings. And now… I’m missing this. She’s been living outside her home country, the Philippines, for the last seven years, working in Hong Kong, Saudi, and currently, Oman. I understood what she’s feeling—that heavy weight of not ‘being there’ for the moments that ‘count’—because I’ve felt that before. Her tale of missed celebrations and family gatherings, echoed my own memoir.

But to be honest, my perspectives on things that ‘count’ and ‘matter most,’ have changed, dramatically, over the years. And I think it’s worth asking, What are the BIG things in life? And if the big things are BIG, then what are the small?

When you talk to cancer survivors, like my remarkable mother, they can tell you that just waking up in the morning is cause for celebration. For them, eating a piece of buttered toast (and keeping it down), can be more thrilling than any cake they’ve ever tasted. They don’t even need a new outfit to be happy. Just a knit cap will do, and some cozy pajamas.

It’s all about perspective.

When my husband began working for the State Department, I silently kept track of the activities and events he missed when he traveled, counting them as the BIG things. But as the years rolled on and we moved and moved and moved again and there were stretches of months, that added up to years, when he would be unable to come home for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and family gatherings, I began to forget about the ‘important dates’ and see that any date I was with him mattered.

When he could do the bedtime routine or run the kids to school, that was reason enough to throw a party. And believe me, he did! (My husband is fun like that—way funner than me.) But when milestones were missed and dad couldn’t be there, my kids didn’t fall apart or claim life wasn’t fair (they saved that line for other arguments), because they’d learned early on:

We don’t wait to celebrate the days that ‘count,’ but count the reasons to celebrate each day.

My mother-in-law has this thing she does, for birthdays. Okay, let’s just say, she’s not the greatest at remembering when her children, or grandchildren, were born. So when we do manage to gather at Grandma and Grandpa’s ranch, she goes around the table, handing out twenty-dollar bills, excitedly exclaiming “Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!” From the youngest to the oldest, whether you just had a birthday, or won’t blow out your cake candles for another six months, at that moment, you are celebrated. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Tuesday or if it’s July and raining, she’s got her fanny pack open, and she’d doling out the cash. No one is about to say, But it’s not my birthday.

This kind of exuberance for life, the joy and wonder for everyday living, is contagious. And why not? If you only see people once a year, twice if you’re lucky, then don’t waste time, pop up the tent and bring in the dancing ponies!!

But… what about people who see their family all the time (maybe even a little too much time)? What does this narrative hold for you? I reckon you run the risk of having all the BIG things, along with all the little things, so it can get overwhelming. Feel free to take it down a notch. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. You know what I mean?

Living abroad, we don’t celebrate holidays in the traditional sense. Every country is different and we’ve had to adapt. There’s no Valentine’s in Oman or trick or treating. And Easter is on a Sunday—a work day here in the Middle East, (Friday is the holy day)—so that feels different too. In Sweden, our kids had school on Thanksgiving, but Cooper had the U.S. government holiday off. So for three years running, we dined out for lunch, on Thanksgiving, at our favorite restaurant, sans kids, and cooked the turkey and trimmings on the weekend.

Yes, I miss being in the U.S. for holidays, walking into Target and coming home with all kinds of fru-fru. But on the other hand, I’ve been liberated from the near impossible expectations of the ‘crop-and-cut’ digital culture. When you can make everything look more perfect than it actually is, that’s pressure.

Back in my day, we had rolls of film, and they were limited to 12, 24, or a whopping 36 exposures (for you youngin’s out there, that means photos you can take). There were no delete-oops-do-overs. That family photo where you blinked and the other person didn’t smile… that was the good shot. Nowadays, we gaze into the photo shopped world of friends and neighbors and risk feeling that our lives ain’t-quite-up-to-snuff. The quickest way to make the BIG moments feel small, is to over inflate your expectations and start comparing. They ‘NAILED IT,’ and you only sort of, kind of, not really, ‘nailed it.’ Ouch.

For Easter this year, my teenage boys got one sandwich-sized ziplock of the odds and ends of candy I could rummage from around the house—the stuff they hadn’t eaten yet. Oh yes. I hid their bags behind the X-box and made them play ‘hot and cold’ for 10 minutes. (I had to get some fun out of it.)

For my daughter, who still wants me to tuck her in every night and kisses my cheek before she leaves for school, I went to the extra effort of dumping some of her toys out of an old crocheted rag basket she uses, and filled it with three Junie B. Jones books and a zip-lock candy bag of her very own. We also played hot and cold. It was a humble and simple Easter, and just as delightful as anything I can recall, because I wasn’t exhausted afterward and still had energy to actually sit down and read books with my daughter.

Not surprisingly, my husband was out-of-town and missed the whole thing. But it’s okay, because when he gets home we still have plenty of other reasons to celebrate. Like eating dinner together, going for our beach walk, or watching him try to match socks from the laundry—I promise, it’s entertainment.

Transforming the little moments into the BIG moments gives you a reason to put the sparkling grape juice on the table, pull out the good paper napkins and order pizza on a Wednesday. We don’t have to do, like we’ve always done. We don’t even have to do things like our neighbor, or everyone else on Facebook. We can just ‘count’ today as lucky because we think it is, and that’s really all that ‘matters.’

Humanity, It’s Who We Are

We arrived  home from Thailand with time for me to unpack, start a load of wash and immerse myself in a much needed bath while listening to the evening ‘Call to Prayer.’ My eyes closed, the words from Mosque floated somewhere in my mind, a rhythmic chanting, indecipherable. I offered up my own prayer to God, one of surrender and thanks…for the journey of the past nine days, for people both wondrous and diverse, for a life that feels heavy at times and buoyant at others, for every time good outweighs evil and we can breath a little more deeply.IMG_4478.JPG

It was in Thailand, looking out over the Indian Ocean when I read about the terrorist act in Sweden. An ocean of calm in front of me, while miles away the tragedy played out, shattering lives and peace and the unspoken trust that we are humans first. It was strange to see my surroundings and think of places and people suffering. After that, I couldn’t look at Thailand in the same way—I didn’t.

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Somehow everything became a metaphor—the overgrowth and the undergrowth of vegetation for example, how it took over trees, strangling whatever it could cling too. The jungle is a place based on survival, nature at its most elemental—unforgiving and risky. And at that moment, the world felt very much the same. It felt like we were all in a savage jungle, dangers lurking in beautiful corners—New York, London, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and more and now Stockholm, witnesses to the destruction of the very thing—humanity—that religion tries to sanctify.

The next morning, on our way to breakfast, we happened upon an injured butterfly. It’s blue wings were wet and muddy. It seemed like a sign. We lifted it gently, laying it to rest on a lovely patch of green, out of the way of stomping feet. With hope still fluttering in its wings, the message was this: Yes, we get damaged, but we survive.

Later in the week, on one of our boat excursions, we came to a city on the water, Koh Panyee, nicknamed the “Floating Village.” The name rightly conjures images of hope and survival. The village, built entirely on stilts in the ocean, began in the early 18th century, when two Malay families were denied entry onto Thailand’s Mainland because they were Muslim. Being fishermen by trade, they set up homes over the water, and continued their work, growing in number, until they’d constructed an entire city, with a school, a Mosque, and shops and now restaurants tourists flock to.IMG_5017.JPG

Years ago, when the children of Panyee watched The World Cup and wanted to play soccer, the families of this village built a floating soccer pitch. The boys played without shoes, jumping into the ocean to retrieve their ball when kicked out-of-bounds. They became so good at soccer, that they started competing with teams on the Mainland. For the last seven years, the Panyee team has won the Thai Soccer Championship! There’s a plaque that will tell you their story near the soccer pitch.

 

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Their homes, the planks of wood we stood on, walking over the ocean, were constructed from hard work, dreams, and the instincts to survive. A life on the water; the Panyee carved out an existence in their “jungle.” A place where tourists now find inspiration and beauty. Another testament that we are born from what is difficult, raised again to something unexpected and wonderous. Panyee was my answer to the question I’d been holding: Can we dare to have hope in this crazy broken world of ours? Panyee answered yes.

On our last day in Phuket, Cooper and I walked into town in search of a few souvenirs and the bottles of aloe vera they sell everywhere for tourist’s sunburns. Along the way we happened into a shop with carved elephants, real pearls and Thai silk scarves–lovely. We were “only looking,” when we met a British woman and her Iranian husband, seated in the furtive but casual act of purchasing a rug from a gentlemen from Kashmiri. It was for their new apartment just down the street. A place where they could escape the dreary winter of London and come more often once they were retired. As things go, we lingered for over an hour, talking everything from Syria to Trump, Rumi the poet to Persian culture, food and politics and how history in the end, still repeats itself. When the travel ban to America came up—the Brit, the Iranian, the Kashmiri—all were quick to say how much they loved the American people and the country; it was our governments to blame for the trouble between us.

By the end we’d promised, should we ever come back, to join them for dinner. It was one of those chance, but not chance, encounters. A meeting that bequeaths you a gift, a lens for seeing, not a mechanical lens, but rather the eyes to peer into the beautiful depths of another human’s soul. A reminder of the loveliness of humanity, the kindness, the hospitality that we share just by smiling into one another faces.

These are the moments that restore our faith that the world hasn’t all gone stark raving mad. There are still people who hold to the invisible thread of humanity, the one that continues to weave this intricate work we call life—String Theory for humans. We’re tethered to this ever evolving design and if we could step back, far, far away, we could see we are part of a pattern—each of us.

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The pattern is all around us, it’s God’s hands in everything, and everywhere. He is not the tragedy unfolding, but the thread of many hands joined together to weave and heal and bind up what is broken. Thailand holds the memory of this lesson, along with so much untamed beauty it is hard not to wish to return. There are places on earth where it is easy to see God, where the very wind seems to whisper his name. It’s important to have our God places, to have our good memories, to keep a spot of refuge for when life feels risky and rejection comes calling. It’s good to also remember, hope is already in our hands. We’re holding onto it, just by being human, by agreeing to be here in this together.IMG_5147

In Thailand, it is customary when you say thank you or good-bye, to press the palms of your hands together, just below your chin, hovering over your heart while giving a slight bow. It’s a gesture that slows the pace of life to the calming speed of love and gratitude. It’s a state of mind and heart that translates in any language. It’s what we can do, not outwardly, but inwardly, toward one another to bring our hearts a little closer, our hands holding the thread a little stronger. In the words of Dalai Lama, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Thailand was my lesson that with each small gesture, each chance encounter, each tragedy we face, we can find something greater—our human connection and the faith to keep trusting in humanity.IMG_4742

On mornings when the shoreline retreats to the horizon, and a breeze blows, so you almost need a sweater, people of all cultures gather to the beach. Most mornings, but especially on these mornings, I walk. My usual attire: black leggings, pink t-shirt, neon yellow fanny pack and orange ball cap—I know, I’m not proud.

I move briskly. My arms and legs swinging, as I take the brick pathway, parallel to the sea. I listen to books on tape or TED talks or Imagine Dragons, but sometimes I take off my headphones and tune into the waves—the actual waves. I listen to birds talk. I “people watch,” (the way my mother-in-law likes to at airports).IMG_4044

You don’t need to be an expert in geography, or to have lived in Oman very long, to figure out each culture has a way of interacting with the landscape all its own. You only need to observe.

Where I begin my walk, there are Bangladesh men gathered, always, waiting for appointments at their nearby Embassy. They come for visas, passports and documents so they can work in Oman. They sit on the grass under the palm trees alone, or with a friend, or stand by the shore taking selfies. They are waiting for something or someone. They gaze at me curiously.

Overhead, I hear a mechanical sound and look up. A Flamingo colored crane swings gracefully— a metal ballerina— gliding through the sky. The men and cranes perform night and day, a non-stop encore we can hear from our bedroom window. Maddening at times, but rather magnificent to behold.IMG_3812

I resume my pace, passing palm trees. My body’s still waking up and wishing I’d rest in the shade. I keep going.

I see more Bangladesh men, these in blue jumpsuits. They are construction workers, eating their breakfast after a night’s shift. They’re the lucky ones. The ones with jobs and money to send home and someone to call on their cellphone while they eat rice and chicken from stainless steel pails.

Further on, there are more Bangladesh mean wearing green jumpsuits. They pick up trash on the beach, water the flowers, sweep the pathways with dried palm fronds and mow the precious tracts of grass, prized by picnickers and soccer players alike. They look at my workout attire, pumping my arms, and offer mystified expressions.IMG_4322

Under the palms there are the Omani women, arranged in tight circles, seated cross-legged on woven mats, their shoulders touching. They come to the shore to eat together, engaging in the age-old practice of “visiting.” They sit. They pour one another coffee from carafes prepared earlier that day. Their expressions are enough to tell you, they are enjoying themselves, talking as only women can. Their circle, leaving no space, seems to signal their bond and that the quiet revelry is only for them.IMG_4023

There are groups of Indian families too. You hear them, before you see them. Their laughter is the kind made at the telling of hilarious jokes, only it doesn’t let up. Parents, siblings, children, aunties, all together. There’s no uniform assembly, they sit or stand casually, passing food and laughter all around.

Along my way, I see Omani men in white robes, Indian men wearing kurtas—long tunics—with loose fitting pants. Some walk with hands clasped behind their backs, others look like they have someplace to be. There are dog walkers and joggers and those who, like me, just want to exercise without inflicting too much pain.IMG_4194

Closer to the Hyatt, the midway point on the path, I notice more Europeans. Tourists (with a capital T). They’re easy to spot. Generally speaking, they show more skin. Wearing swim attire and bikinis, Speedos and shorts, many of them are retired and old. They seem neither to care or know they’re in the Middle East, they just need sun and need it desperately.

There is also a cafe. The tables face the sea and are occupied by people sipping coffee. To the rear of the building, where the path winds, a repulsive odor forces me to hold my breath. It is the stench of freon exhaust powering ancient air conditioners, mixed with carbon monoxide, burning roses and plastic, Shisha pipe smoke, sandalwood and sweat, (that’s my best description). I pull my collar over my nose and take shallow breaths, trying not to gag. After a few more steps I test the air with a sniff and I think I might faint. I bury my nose again, inside my shirt and start to jog, whatever it takes to escape. When I know I’m good and clear, I inhale again, deeply. This is the absolute worst part of my walk, though strangely, no one else seems to notice or think so.

Which gets me thinking, how differently I fit into the landscape, an American, picky about smells, rarely taking time to sit…texting more than talking. I have a schedule, that’s why I’m getting my exercise done early, that’s why I don’t haul mats and food to the beach and invite all my friends for breakfast, because I’m busy and that seems like a lot of work for a meal. I am the product of my Western upbringing. I do things. Staying busy makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. Which isn’t true, of course, and every once in a while, it’s good to see people who really know how to relax.

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I reach the British Embassy and turn around. I slow my pace, just a little, take a moment to observe the sea, the white crested waves that come one after another, after another. I try not to think of what needs done that day, but stay in that moment. It’s difficult. It’s like trying to read while the TV is blaring. It’s easier to just to close the book and watch TV. But I resist those thoughts and really focus on the waves, the sound, the feel of the air. As I do, two policemen on white steeds saunter past, chatting easily with each other, nothing to do but patrol the least crime ridden sector of the world. Ahhh…IMG_1985

I continue home, passing all the same groups and places, all the same smells. Only I spot “The Biker,” (that’s what I call him). I move to the side to avoid him veering around me. He’s a regular on the path, a man in his late 60’s with a shock of white curly hair that blows recklessly in the wind. He’s European or Australian or perhaps American, and he’s passed me a hundred times, but never looks my way.

I wonder to myself, am I ever like that biker? Do I look away? Do I roll on past and hope people will adjust to my way of doing things?

The greatest part of living abroad is the opportunity to see others, because in actuality, you learn about yourself. In the words of Rudolf Steiner, “To truly know the world, look deep within your own being. To truly know yourself, take a real interest in the world.” It’s true. And just as true are the words of Maya Angelou, “In diversity there is strength.”

I arrive back home refreshed, endorphins kicking in, the kind of happy to be alive feeling you get after a good workout. But it’s more than that, I’m grateful for Oman, for the landscape that is teaching me, to make room, to share, to see our differences as they really are—our strengths.

Shell in Oman

I paint, and then I step back to watch what the colors will do. It’s one of those mysteries of life, a realm science can’t explain, why colors make you feel the way they do, as they blend, harmonize and sometimes irritate. The creative process is unlike any other endeavor. It brings all of your senses into focus. When I paint, I am my eyes, my ears, my touch. I am all of my senses, nothing more.

In my studio, the 81×65 cm canvas looms large before me. I begin to think…maybe I should have chosen a smaller canvas, maybe I should have taken more time to sketch it out, maybe this isn’t the right subject to paint…fear is speaking.

I silence the resistance by enlisting trust. Every creative endeavor requires energy and trust, patience too and ambition. I keep on keeping on. Desire is 99%, it moves me forward. I am listening, not to fear, but to that part of myself that wants to create. I’m opening the door and bidding her to come forward, “Here, you’re invited, won’t you stay a while?”

It’s a mind game, it feels like a gamble, 50-50 it could all go to squat, and then what?

I don’t answer that question. I’m too busy trusting. My brush moves compulsively, dabbing at the colors on my palette, mixing, swiping vivid strokes on the canvas. I want to fill the white space, but more importantly, capture the essence of this tiny broken shell I found on the beach.

The day I collected it, put it in my pocket, brought it home, washed off the sand, I felt it spoke to me. Not in words (thank goodness), but the mere fact that it existed, survived, had been tossed by the waves, but had come to shore, parts broken, with what remained intact so lovely so achingly beautiful. A delicate purple swirl, surrounded by hues of pink, yellow and blue. The colors were luminescent, almost emerging while I gazed on the surface. I was enchanted.

Somewhat rash and unthinking, I began to paint this tiny shell, only to regret my impatience later when I had to rework several angles, change colors, enlarge some parts, reduce others, but still, the process of creation, of coaxing this shape into life, was exhilarating.

I worked for a couple of hours, time flew by. I didn’t stop for lunch. When I started to feel real frustration, I knew it was time to let the oils dry—stop muddying the color. I needed to focus my attention on something else, anything else. But before I did, I took a moment to stand back and assess what had been achieved. To my dismay, I found the simplicity of the shell—what had drawn me to it—had evaded me. I was doing too much. It was simple. Why was I complicating it?

I put away my palette, washed my brushes and lay them to dry. All the while my mind stayed on the painting, reworking it in my head, trying to sort out what needed to change. If only I could consult with another artist, they might give me some insight. But wait…that was possible…in a way. I could consult with artists via google–the wonder of this modern age. I opened my laptop and searched O’Keefe, which is to say, I summoned her genius, creativity, and spirit. She is a master of simplicity and color and many other things, and her work often guides my path. I found exactly what I needed, an image of a shell and hope. You got this, she seemed to say.

With a vision of what was possible, I returned to the now dry canvas several days later. It was time to simplify, lay shadows, bring out highlights and come to some final conclusions as to the background color. There were decisions to be made and it took a few painting sessions before I made them all and completed the work. It was during this phase of the process, that I begin to understand something deeper….why I was so drawn to the shell to begin with, why I HAD to paint it.

A shell, after all, is a home, an abode for some small sea creature to temporarily set up shop; it’s a living quarter, built and used, then passed on when it’s time to grow bigger. Was not my own quest similar…to find a “home,” to understand this place so unlike anywhere else I’ve ever lived in the world?

I’ve been in Muscat for 7 months now, time enough to unpack and settled, but still, there’s a lingering sense I am not quite home. The “shell” or rather “home,” I’ve physically moved into, is still unfamiliar to my way of life and experience. My physical landscape is a bit unwieldy—6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, 4 living rooms and a gigantic rotunda situated in the center of it all—much like the round swirl of the shell, the starting point of the shape. Is it coincidence that this small found object that crossed my path, physically defines my space, even my brokenness?

I look at the shell, then at my painting. I ponder this revelation. The shell is an outer presentation while the organism that lives inside, stays relatively hidden. How much of me is still hidden living here in Oman? How much of others do I really see? The shell protects as it projects an outward appearance. I am living in a culture where women are covered from head to toe in black abayas and head scarfs. I cannot see the inner identity of a woman, but I know that within each similarly robe clad female, there is someone unique. I try to remember that my own appearance is also apt to throw people off. They might see me as a “Westerner,” when really, I am ME. I am my own version of myself and no one can define that by my outward appearance—my jeans, my age, my short hair, my weight, my skin color.

We are, in essence, a collection of beautiful shells, vibrant entities, not understood, unless we take the time to look deeper. Is that why O’Keefe painted shells? Is that somehow connected to the need I feel to collect shells and put them around my house and paint them too, on occasion?

I’m expert at over analyzing, but I really think I’m onto something.

My studio is on the second floor of our villa with southwesterly windows overlooking the Gulf. I watch the waves and the palm fronds tossed by the wind with a bird’s eye view. It is the gift Oman has given me, so much nature in constant view. I watch the people too, walking along the paved walkway. There’s an old man with a cane walking slowly, arm and arm with his wife, they look European. A man in a dish dash—a white robe—and hat is holding onto grocery sacks, more men behind him, they’re looking for a place among the palms to sit and eat. There are people lined up along the grassy knoll, facing the waves, a man taking a photo. Shells and people. I see a connection. My hope is to observe individuals with the same thoughtful attention I offer to this tiny shell. People are complex, but there is simplicity too beneath all of our differences.

I stop work on the painting. I’m not sure it’s done, only that I’m done. I know each painting must come to a close, but it’s never an easy task deciding when exactly to cease and desist (painting does feel rebellious at times). I’ve already got another subject in mind—palm trees. I’m going to sketch them out first, take a little more time to prepare so I spend less time fixing mistakes. Live and learn.
The birds are calling outside my studio window, the waves crashing. I don’t take any of this for granted. I’ve lived in so many different places, cultures, homes, countries. I know what it means to be temporary and that one day this too will be gone. But I’m just as certain of another truth—that this place will never leave me. Neither will this moment of clarity, along with all the other life lessons I’ve experienced along the way. I’ll keep my painting of this shell, hang it in my next home, as a reminder that each time we outgrow our abode, therein lies the opportunity to create and discover.

Prioritize Joy 2017

 

It’s 4:30am on this Saturday morning and my body refuses to sleep. I’m jet lagged from the 11-hour time difference we grew accustomed to in Utah and waking up all hours of the night. As disturbing as it is to be up before dawn, I relished the time to organize my thoughts—me and the ocean waves crashing outside my window. Life could be worse.

It’s a new year and I’ve yet to make any goals beyond, get through today. It’s difficult to think ahead when our shipment just arrived, household stuff we packed up six months ago in St. George. Boxes are everywhere, clothes strewn across beds, floors, and tables. Decorations, books, bedding, towels, boxes of yarn, undone, sitting, waiting for me like belligerent children, to call them to order. I’ll begin in one room—stacking, folding, arranging—then find myself in another. Nothing is getting accomplished as fast as I want it to. Of course, it’s one thing to organize stuff and another entirely to sift through memories—pieces of a former life that recall people and places you loved. Love takes time.

img_2810With my feet propped up on a paper cutter resting atop of a box of acrylic paints, I sit in what will be my office at some point. Right now it looks more like the garage sale of a crafting addict. I’ve got plastic tubs of yarn (dreams in the making), containers of ribbon and colored paper, paints and brushes. They will all have to wait.

Yesterday, I sighed over a box of winter clothing that was supposed to go into storage. Mountains of thick down coats, hats and gloves, winter boots. We needed them in Sweden but Oman is still a balmy 85 in the depths of January; no reason to have those things here. I intended for our winter gear, and the greater portion of our books, to go into storage, as well as most of the decorations we now have, but somewhere in the shuffle of Washington D.C. storage, air shipment and boat shipment, our things did a swap o’ roo. The tools in the garage made it here but the piano didn’t!! Oh the piano! That one hurt. All these months I’d been waiting, reserving space along the living room wall…SIGH…

As a general rule, moves never go as planned. Disappointment, frustration, resignation, Hello…my old friends, nice to see you again. It’s one thing to get the lemons and make lemonade, but what if you don’t even get lemons…then what?

Then you have to conjure magic, I suppose, make something out of nothing. Like those nights you didn’t make it to the grocery store but need to make dinner anyway. You take the lonely can of tomatoes from the pantry, crack some eggs, whip it together with the last remaining onion in the bin, and pretty soon you’ve got yourself a scrambled dish that’s worthy of eating.

Life is a lot of scramble and conjuring. We devise and reinvent and make do. And at the end of it, with a little luck, we’ve really got ourselves something. In my case, I’m hoping to have a “home.” I’m working to make sense out of chaos, hoping to again find identity and purpose.

We all do this, to one degree or another. While I recreate my identity on a large scale every couple of years, in smaller, less noticeable ways, we do this daily. Each choice, each decision, each step in one direction means another not taken, as Robert Frost said, “that makes all the difference.” I read once our body’s cells change completely every seven years, meaning we’re a whole new self. Cell by cell. Day by day. Change, it seems, is built into who we are, it’s part of our DNA. It’s what we do to survive.

The New Year’s begun in America and the Christian world, but here in Oman, the New Year comes in September, with the first day in the Islamic lunar calendar. Days are counted differently too. In Oman a day begins at sunset with the cycle of the moon. I can attest Arabs loooove their nighttime hours. The beach is the most crowded from 6pm till 2am. I sometimes wear ear plugs to bed and turn on a fan to block out the noise from the laughter of adults and children playing outside at midnight.

Right now my days and nights are so mixed up, I’m not sure when one starts and the other begins. I’d be happy to go with either way. But the point is this, I think, anytime you want to begin…begin. There is no better time than today. I’ve heard that said, but now that I’m older, I’m inclined to believe it.

Rather than make goals, I’m going to set an “intention” for 2017. Intention sounds fancier, but really I’m trying to be practical. The truth is I can’t control much from day to day. I can’t even control what stuff I have in my life, I mean Maggie was going to take piano lessons, but now that we don’t have a piano, we’re going with violin. Three of those showed up, (the violins the boys used back in Vienna, when in 2nd grade they had a strings program). So for now, the idea is to have an intention, a mantra for the year at hand. It goes like this: Prioritize Joy.

img_2373Joy! I’ve been singing about “Joy to the World,” this past month and that felt good. I don’t think joy has to be as elusive as I make it. I’m the type that likes to focus and get things done, be productive, but here’s the thing…if you don’t stop the momentum of busyness, then joy has trouble fully seeping into consciousness.

Take the last four days my life, for example…I’ve been in my house, digging through my personal avalanche, working to make sense of life—quite literally—and with another week of doing the same it still won’t be as perfect as I want it to be. But with “Prioritize Joy,” as my intention, I’ll take a break from all of this, walk to the ocean’s edge, stick in my toe and maybe even pick up a seashell or two, take a few deep breaths. Life only happens once, but every moment is a chance to reinvent, to choose differently, to keep surprising ourselves.

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Maggie’s serious “mom” face, her way of telling me to take life a little less seriously.

I’m surprising myself right now, eating pretzels from an open bag I found next to a stapler, a statue of Michelangelo’s The David and an antique globe of the world. I tell you anything is possible this year, whether you started counting down in January or will begin in September, the year is raging and we cannot call it back. We can only join in the beautiful, resounding chaos and prioritize joy!

 

 

Our son is returning home from his two-year LDS mission in Indiana to Oman. Two years. 730 days since I’ve hugged this loveable guy, made him enchiladas and told him to pick up his room and don’t put empty cereal boxes back into the pantry. He was 18 when he left, fresh out of high school. He’s 20 now—lightyears older, filled with experience, stories to tell and wisdom beyond his youthful frame.

When I mention to friends about our son’s homecoming, the fact that we haven’t actually seen him in two years, they politely ask, What has he been doing? And that’s an interesting question, considering we’re living in Oman, because unbeknownst to most of the modern world, Oman intersects with Mormonism in a remarkable way, in fact, scholars are here now uncovering evidence that points to Oman as the launching point of one of the greatest books ever written, The Book of Mormon.

This book comes from an ancient record, originally written and abridged by historian and prophet Mormon who lived about 385 A.D. He wrote on gold plates, compiling the story of his people between the years 600 B.C. up until 430 A.D. The story begins in Jerusalem, but quickly winds its way here to Oman, to a town called Salalah, a 10-hour drive south of Muscat. With the permission of the Sultan, scientists and archeologists are digging to excavate the site where Mormon’s believe the prophet Lehi and his family journeyed to, from Jerusalem, prior to their sea voyage to America. Nephi, Lehi’s son, describes in the Book of Mormon how they built a ship and sailed to the “Promised Land.” Of course, in order to accomplish this feat, they would have needed resources…timber, food, and plants, a conundrum that perplexed skeptics and scientists for a long time, when they believed the Arabian Peninsula was all dry desert. But they didn’t know about Salalah.

“Bountiful,” was the name Nephi gave the place where they built their ship. Bountiful in Arabic means plentiful. Salalah meets the criteria for Nephi’s description, “And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey (1 Nephi 17). This area is unbelievably lush. It’s a virtual island of greenery along the Arabian Peninsula. Winds from the Indian Ocean carry moisture to the region and the heat of the desert pushes against that moisture to create a thick fog for part of the year, resulting in tropical monsoon forests. Located in the Dofar province, Salalah is the only place in the Middle East where timber and resources are available and where Nephi could have managed to gathered enough food to survive their long sea journey. Here is a photo taken from www.almosafr.com, showing Salalah during khareef season, monsoon season, July-September.salalah-khafir-season

There are also remains of a Jewish temple foundation in Salalah, patterned after King Solomon’s temple. Archeologists have uncovered an altar, where they believe Nephi and his family offered sacrifices, as would have been customary with their practices of worship, prior to their departure.

Another link between the Arabian Peninsula and America is found in none other than Colorado. A huge square rock along the Purgatory River, nicknamed “Block Rock” has hieroglyphics matching those from the Dhofar region. Thirty-three characters from a distinctive alphabet used by the Sahari tribe are also written in Colorado. In the Oman Daily Observer, circulated in January of this year, Ali Ahmed Ali Mahash Ash-Shahri is quoted as saying, with regards to the hieroglyphics, “It is a clear indication that the language is very old and the people from our place must have travelled to those places and finally settled there.” Ali Ahmed, now 68 years old, has spent the greater part of his lifetime studying ancient scripts and has written two books, titled “Ancient Inscriptions and Drawings in Dhofar” and “Language of Aad.”

Micah and Jonah recently flew to Salalah to take part in a dig, helping archeologists remove rock as they continue to explore Karfot, the beach where they believe Nephi constructed his boat.

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They had an amazing trip and somewhat exhausting time, hauling rocks and dirt from dig sites.

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The Book of Mormon chronicles the journey of Nephi and his family up to the extinction of the Nephite civilization circa 435 A.D. It’s a story for the ages, one of courage, loss, love, bravery, hate, pride, valor and ultimately faith. Thanks to Mormon’s abridgement, (a Reader’s Digest version of 1,000 years), we have the history of these people. When Mormon completed abridging the record, he gave the plates to his son Moroni to bury in the hill Cumorah—modern day New York. From Jerusalem, to Salalah, to New York, comes one of the most fascinating journeys ever recorded in human history.img_1161img_1147img_1168

Left undiscovered until 1830, the plates remained hidden until Joseph Smith translated them into English. Now the Book of Mormon is translated into 110 languages, including Arabic. When Malachi returns home from his mission, we’ve got a trip planned to Salalah. He’s been teaching about Christ and The Book of Mormon for the past two years, even handing out copies when the Broadway Musical came to town… “Want to read the real story,” he’d ask? Two years of his life seems like a long time, but not nearly long enough, if you ask him. And if people stop to listen, he’ll tell them, The Book of Mormon is a story that resonates with our time, a story buried in the past, but meant for our future, for us…and my family happens to live where it all began.

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Photos courtesy Jonah and Micah

What’s Different

Kalash the gardener rings the bell at our gate. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon. He’s come round to collect his money. I swing open the wooden door and invite him in. He gives me a quick sideways smile and begins to scan our yard. “The boss home?”

I’ve told him before, “the boss” works during the day, he’s not home till evening, but still Kalash tries. “No, he’s not home,” I remind.

“O-kay, o-kay,” he says, moving his head from side to side, in the way Indians do when they mean to say they understand.

During the week, a younger Indian man, wearing a blue and red striped polo, comes at irregular intervals to tend the yard. He rides his bike, rings at the gate and humbly enters when I open. He doesn’t say much, but repeats my “Good morning” greeting. He works steadily, the sweat dripping off his face watering the garden alongside the hose as he digs. The work is hard, especially in the heat and humidity. And before he’s finished, he’s careful to take a gigantic palm leaf and sweep the walkways, clearing the paths of fallen petals and debris. We have a broom, but he prefers working with a leaf and a  dust pan–simple tools.

Kalash has finished scanning the yard and his earnest school boy gaze fixes on me, “You happy?”

I nod vigorously up and down. “Yes, I’m very happy.”

He bobbles his head from side to side with a graceful motion. “You happy,” he repeats. “O-kay, o-kay.”

We’ve discussed planting some vegetables in the previous weeks. I point to the empty dirt bed and ask Kalash what he intends to put in the ground. With an outstretched finger he points to the area in question and says, “Different, different, different, different.”

“Ahhh,” I nod with understanding, a puzzled finger on my chin. Different. I have no idea what he means. But given time, I know I’ll find out sooner or later, once everything starts to grow.

Which is to say that life is like that sometimes. You don’t always know what you’re going to get, till it takes root and pops up and then you deal with it, like it or not. Two months ago the yard was a patch of dirt, now I see possibilities everywhere. The coming season looks promising, and I don’t just mean the garden. I mean life in Oman, it’s beginning to look well… very different.

Omani National day is on November 18th and strangely I’m feeling a swell of pride for a country, who despite its warring neighbors, has managed to maintain peace in the region while benefitting from the diversity within its borders. A few weeks ago I was an apprehensive expat, unsure of how I fit in or if I fit in. Now I’m a bit mystified as to why I felt that way…how did I acquire so many fears and assumptions?

I sat in on a lecture today about Omani Heritage. I was fascinated to learn of the geographical influences that shaped (literally) the cultural diversity of today. The desert and mountains of the north separated Oman from their Arab neighbors, and with their borders open to the sea, a natural interaction developed between Africa and Asia, countries like Pakistan, India, Zanzibar and Tanzania. One of the oldest Hindu temples in the world, is in Oman.

Because this cultural diversity developed, laws were made to foster stability. The law forbids Omanis or Imams to identify a particular tribe or Muslim sect in a derogatory way. Here all Muslims are Omani. And the Omani people, unlike what I’d first imagined, are generous, helpful and kind. Just today, as I was driving in traffic, a man rolled down his window to tell me my engine hood was open. Another day, down at the beach one morning, I’d gone swimming and left my towel and sandals on the sand. When I emerged later, my things had been moved to higher ground, someone had noticed they’d get wet and kindly helped.

There is a sense here that we are all deserving of respect. Of course, there are exceptions, and it could very well be that some feel indifference toward me or even disdain, but I’m focusing on the ways I belong, searching for how I can best embrace this experience.

There are frustrations, to be sure. The other morning when I tried to exit my driveway, a car was parked blocking me. The Bangladesh passengers were waiting on their driver who had gone inside the neighboring Embassy. I waited, inconveniently, and pointed to the signs we have posted on our gate in English, Arabic and Bangladesh, NO PARKING. But still, when people see an advantage, some take it at the expense of another. Also frustrating are the mornings we find the beach littered with trash. This is especially true of Sunday morning, the Omani “Monday,” following their Friday and Saturday weekend break. Crew workers are dispatched to clean up the garbage, donning latex gloves and long sharp sticks to grab up the mess, but not before stray cats and hundreds of crows have their fill, nor before diapers and plastic bags make their way into the sea.

This past weekend I flew to Abu Dhabi to meet up with friends. It’s less than an hour’s flight. The expats living in the UAE gushed about Oman. They went on and on about how wonderful it is to camp on the beaches here, hike in the Wadis and climb in the mountains. Listening to them, I felt the way I often do when considering giving something away and a friend says, “Why would you ever get rid of that, it’s marvelous!” Indeed, Oman is marvelous, and after talking to them, I feel all the luckier for being here!

Consequently, upon my arrival back at the Omani airport, I greeted the people at the passport desk with a smile and cheery hello. They asked me if this was my first time to Oman and I found myself saying, “No it’s not. I love this place. I love coming here.” Enjoy your time, they said.

There are things I love and things I wish I could change, like anywhere, but I intend to enjoy my time, as it were, and see what takes root and what pops up. I’m sure it will be different.