In the middle of my lawn sits an overturned flowerpot covering a 12-inch deep hole. Inside there’s a worn looking green valve that controls the water to my washing machine, a machine that sits in a casita (my laundry room), behind our house. The valve was shut off before we moved in. No a big deal, except for the small problem of the washer filling with rusty water coloring our white load (and my husband’s Brooks Brother’s Easy Care dress shirts), orange. Easy care, not so easy.
Life in Oman is one gigantic learning curve…. No drinking tap water. Weigh and label vegetables BEFORE taking them to check out, (or you can’t buy them). No smiling at men and making eye contact, they’ll think you’re interested, (explained my Aussie friend who’s logged 4 years in the region). Vanilla extract, NOT for sale. It contains alcohol and that’s strictly forbidden. But you can cheaply buy fresh vanilla pods. (Even better!) When traveling by cab, the fare must be negotiated before you take off. There are NO meters so taxi drivers set the price. If they’re smiling at you, you’re getting swindled. Cha-ching!
I’m making mistakes every day, figuring out how to patch together a life in a world that doesn’t feel like Disney’s “Small World” version. It feels big and fairly daunting, but a week and half into this adventure and I can report I’m also feeling a lot more at ease. Making a friend I can text for help or ask where to buy bacon (there are some “hidden pork rooms” in certain shops), has helped more than anything. Knowing other expats have adjusted to Oman and lived in the region 10, or sometimes more, years has made me think this is doable.
Right now I have on going lists, things that need done, like pre-registering at the hospital (otherwise they won’t treat you if you show up injured). I still need to get Internet (they are digging a trench and laying fiber optic cable to our house), registering my driver’s license and among other things, buying a car. This week when Cooper and I walked into a beautiful Toyota showroom (a popular car here), we couldn’t find a single person to help us. “Hello, hello?” I kept calling as we walked around the Prados. I laughed, because this would this NEVER happen in America!
So we walked next door to the Kia showroom and a man from Bombay greeted us and pointed out the safety features of a Sportage. Curtain airbags, back up cameras, a navigational system. During our Embassy briefing, we were told 80% of us would get into a fender bender. Umm, curtain airbags seem like a really good idea.
It’s going to take some time to do all the car stuff and everything else on my list. Eid Al Adha holiday is almost here. Eid Al Adha is one of two holy celebrations Muslims observe around the world. It’s to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to obey God and sacrifice his son Ishmael. (In the Christian world we believe Issac was the one being sacrificed). The holy days are set according to the cycles of the moon. The Imam selects the days and the government announces the public holiday. Until a few days ago, we had no idea that next week the kids would have ALL week off school, (Sunday to Thursday). Typically, Eid is three days, but this year it’s five. No complaints from my boys who are itching for beach time.
Which brings me to the best, most amazing (pinch-me-am-I-dreaming?) part of being in Oman, THE BEACH! It’s right out our front door. We can traipse bare foot to the sand and waltz straight into the Omani Gulf. No matter the blazing heat and temperatures, the water always feels perfect. The tide is gently mesmerizing, depositing glistening white shells, gifts from the sea, up and down the coast. At 6:30 in the evening, like clockwork, the sun descends down over the water. You can watch it as it moves, a big red glowing orb of molten heat. In it’s absence, the sky illuminates to a kind of ombre indigo blue, light to darkest at the top of the sky.
There are so many new sights and scenes and smells (they burn a lot of frankincense), it’s hard to absorb it all just yet. I’m still in a state of awe and wonder. The heat and humidity, they tell me, is getting better. Back in May it was 122 degrees, now it hovers around a more tolerable 88 with 70% humidity (and above).
My Aussie friend took me grocery shopping. Between 10-11 the call to prayer broadcast throughout the store. It was another one of those surreal moments I can’t seem to stop having. The extreme opposite of America where church and state have become so separated people go out of their way not to mention religion. Prayer has been removed from almost every institution in the states. Here you see prayer rooms everywhere, in public offices, airports, shopping malls. Green signs are posted along sidewalks in neighborhoods and near businesses where people can assemble for prayer, (although I haven’t seen anyone gathering).
For all the outward appearances of being a strict Muslim country, Oman actually feels pretty relaxed (compared to other countries in the region). Unlike other Muslim countries, Oman doesn’t seem to push the point. Prayer is on the airwaves but people are still going about their daily life, buying groceries, going to work, talking on their cellphones.
I was told Omani’s are very accepting of others because from the time a child starts school, they teach them to respect other Muslims and religions. It’s forbidden, if you’re Shiite and in a mosque, to point to someone who is Sunni or Ahmadiyya and say they are not welcomed. Muslims in Oman have the right to pray in every mosque. The Sultan wants peace in the region, not trouble.
Plus there are a lot of expats here, almost 50% of the people living in Oman are from somewhere else. People from the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and lots of other countries. The UK, Canada, Australia and the US too. Oil and gas corporations draw a lot of expats to this region and so does the need for domestic help and construction workers. Everywhere you turn there are cranes lifting materials, and new building projects under way.
I feel somewhat of a project myself, starting from the foundation and working my way up. Everything I thought I knew has been deconstructed. My assumptions have been demolished to make room for, what I can only imagine. I don’t have all the blueprints. This is fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-architecture of the heart. I only know to put one brick here and one brick there and trust this edifice of “life” is going to turn out. I’ll warn you, whatever challenge your facing, the learning curve can be lonely, and at times painful and often hard to wrap your brain around. But it’s never dull. Whatever you’re current project (read: challenge), keep building, enlist the help of others and when you don’t know what to do, just do something. Life requires momentum and going somewhere is better than nowhere, so keep moving with the curve, we’ll all get where we need to go…eventually.