Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Finally, An Update!
For those of you who don’t know, we’ve moved again. Contrary to popular belief, we are not in the Federal Witness Protection program. It is that Eleanor wished to return to work outside of the home this year (after being home with our boys for four years) which she has, but unfortunately, the school where I worked in Taiwan, did not have a position for her. Since August (I know, I’m slow with the updates these days, I apologize) we have been in Muscat, Oman and we work at The American International School of Muscat –TAISM (www.taism.com). It is a school that is sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Eleanor is the elementary school technology specialist and I am the middle/high school counselor. I am doing middle school and high school for this year only, thankfully. TAISM is a small school k-12 620 students and what we really enjoy about he school is the diversity. Students represent 52 countries.
Truly, this was an unexpected move because we enjoyed Taiwan. Taiwan is a beautiful country with wonderful people and the two years we spent there were good ones. We had enrolled Miles in a Chinese pre-school and his Chinese listening and speaking skills were developing rapidly. Evan was also learning Chinese as well. There were great outdoor activities (hiking, biking, rollerblading, running), and the ice hockey there was great. The competition was good and the rink where I played was probably the nicest rink in which I had ever played.
So, for those of you scoring at home, let’s take a quick look at where we have been the past six years. From 2002-06 the Haynes Family resided in Bangkok, Thailand. From 2006-08 we were in Taipei, Taiwan and from August 2008-? we are in Muscat, Oman.
Ok, Oman, where is it? If you don’t know where it is you are not alone. When we initially heard about the job openings in Oman, we had to look up Oman on a map. Now, I’m going to provide you with a general overview of Oman. If you would like more information on Oman, the U.S. State Department website has great background information regarding Oman and all the countries of the world. The link to the Oman page is:
If that does link not work, then please go to www.state.gov , then the A-Z list of countries in the world, scroll down to the letter ‘O’ click on Oman and then background notes.
The only country in the world that begins with the letter ‘O.’ The official name of Oman is the Sultanate of Oman. Oman is ruled by the Sultan of Oman. A benevolent leader who is beloved by his people. He ascended to throne by staging a coup against his father back in 70’s and in the 30 plus years he has been in power, he has brought Oman into the 21st century. Prior to his ascension, Oman had two paved roads in a country the size of Kansas and only 3 schools in the entire country. Oman is developing at a pretty rapid pace, but not as rapidly as Dubai and Qatar because Oman does not have the oil and natural gas resources as the aforementioned countries.
Located in the SE corner of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Yemen to the South, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates-UAE (For ex. Abu Dhabi, Dubai) to the West, Gulf of Oman to the North and the Arabian Sea to the East. Also, Iran is just across the Straits of Hormuz.
2.6 million people which include 570,000 expatriates (expats). The number of expats has increased due to new industrial and infrastructure projects. Most of Oman’s population live by the coast and half of the population resides in the capital Muscat. Plus, there are thousands of Indian contract workers from the southern Indian state of Kerala working in Oman.
Oman is a Muslim country and the dominant form of Islam in the country is Ibadi. 70% of Omani’s are Ibadi and the rest of the country follow either Sunni or Shia. Oman is the only country in the world where the Ibadi school is the dominant form of Islam. Ibadi is seen as a moderate form of Islam. The 2nd largest religion in Oman is Hinduism due to the large Indian population in Oman.
*Regarding religion, there are two churches in proximity to where we work and live. We are fortunate as Christians to be able to worship free of persecution and we have been fortunate in that everywhere we have resided overseas, we have been able to worship free of persecution. The church that we attend is directly across street from school and it does a thriving a business 8-). Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The 11 o’clock hour on Sunday morning in America is the most segregated,” therefore, it has been a blessing to worship at such a diverse church here in Oman. The congregation is truly a mosaic. There are many Indians, Filipinos, Africans, Europeans, and North Americans and this is the English service. Then there are separate services in Hindi and Tagalog and those services really get down! Eleanor and I wished we also spoke either Hindi or Tagalog so that we could take part in those services from time to time.
Oman is known for it’s production and use of frankincense. It is believed that one of the three wise men who witnessed the birth of Jesus hailed from Oman hence the gift of frankincense.
Dates and dried fruits are popular snacks. Also Omani cuisine generally consists of : mutton, chicken, and fish.
*Shwarma either consists of chicken or beef and it is a popular snack; it may as well be the dish of Oman. Shwarma is meat on a spit that is roasted and then cut into pieces that are put into pita bread. Usually, lettuce, tomatoes, hummus, or some other kind of dressing is added to it. Shwarma stands either stand alone or they are part of a coffee shop and coffee shops are ubiquitous in Muscat. Even before moving to Oman, I was a big of fan of shwarma. I always try to find a shawarma stand when I travel. Shwarma is a good and cheap meal.
There are also great Indian restaurants as one can imagine with all the Indians in Oman. Great Lebanese restaurants and one can get fast food as well. There are Mc Donald’s, Hardees, KFC which seems to be truly global, Dairy Queen, Papa John’s Pizza, Chili’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Plus, supermarkets here are well stocked with Western products. One may have to pay a little bit more for things and particular items such as Old Fashioned Quaker oats may not always be in stock (uggghhhhhh, how many varieties of quick oats can there be?), but when they are one must stock up
Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken as his Hindi, and Swahili. Many Omani’s are of African descent hailing from Zanzibar/East Africa this is and Sawhili is prevalent also.
Geography & Climate
Oman is a mountainous country with peaks reaching 3,000 meters (9,000ft.). The coast of Oman is hot and humid while the interior is hot and dry.
*From November to March the weather is ideal. Currently, it is in the low 80’s in the day and in the 60’s-70’s at night. The weather is perfect right now. In the summer though, the weather is brutal. Temps can get as high as 130 degrees.
Oil. However, Oman has always had less oil than its Gulf neighbors. Oil was discovered in the 1960’s and reached it’s production peak a few years ago.
*It is widely speculated that Oman will run out of oil in the next 15-20 years. Therefore, the Sultan is using the oil to diversify the economy. Currently 8 new airports are being built nationwide because Oman is becoming a tourist destination, especially for Europeans.
The Role of Women in Oman
Women are quite visible in Oman and they have rights, unlike in some other predominately Muslim countries. Women can vote, they can drive, they can work outside of the home. Many women have prominent positions in government agencies (The Oman Ambassador to the U.S. is a woman), women are police officers, taxi drivers, etc. Two things I have to get used to with Omani women are; one, if you pass them on the street, in the market etc. they will very rarely make eye contact. Also, when I meet with Omani women at work, I have to wait for them to extend their hand for a handshake. If a women does not extend her hand then I should not extend mine. But, when I have had the opportunity to interact with Omani women at the bank, at work, at the beach, etc. they are very friendly, engaging, and funny.
Women are not required to cover their face (no burka) although some do. Women wear a black covering/robe called an abeyaa (uh-buy-ah) which covers their hair and their body. The face is exposed. What I didn’t realize prior to moving Oman is that women wear an outfit underneath the abeyaa. I didn’t know that. What I also didn’t know is that Omani women are incredible stylish and fashion conscious. The abeyaa usually have a big slit in them so when a women walks one can usually see what they are wearing and the women are usually dressed to kill! Designer fashions, with designer matching accessories, manicured nails etc. The abyeaa’s themselves are also becoming a designer fashion. Many abeyaa’s come adorned with jewelry, elaborate stitching etc.
Men wear a flowing robe usually white called a dishdawa, a cap called a kumma, and sandals. Below, is me and our school's Public Relations Officer, Nasser.
Miles wearing a dishdawa and kummah for the Omani Day celebration at school.
Because of the production and use of frankincense in Oman, Oman is a fragrant country. Both the Omani men and women smell great; they are a fine smelling people.
Oman was a major port of call for centuries and places that are major ports tend to be diverse. Due to all the meeting and mingling of folk, Omanis come in many shades and hues. What I have to get used to after living in East Asia for 6 years and being highly visible there is that here in Oman I am not visible at all. The Omanis think I am Omani! I am always initially spoken to in Arabic. Then, when I respond in Arabic two things happen; one, the conversation continues in Arabic and then people realize that I am not Omani or after my initial response the person quickly reverts to English and asks with a smile, where are you from? When I reply from the U.S., they quickly shoot me a smile and then usually say, “Obama.” Then, they will chat me up, always inquiring about family. Family life is big in Oman and I think in Muslim culture on the whole. Omani families tend to be rather large with the average family having 7 children. The Omani people are incredible nice, welcoming, and hospitable. As were the Thais and Taiwanese.
Ok, those were the facts. How is the Haynes family settling into Oman? Eleanor and the boys have settled in well. We have a comfortable home, we are about 3 minutes from the beach, so we spend a lot of time there. There is fresh air here. We have a car, the first time in our overseas lives. Oman is a car culture like the U.S. and things tend to be a little spread out. Plus, mass transit is pretty non-existent, especially compared to Bangkok and Taipei. With owning a car here it helps that gas is about 45 cents a gallon.
I must admit regarding my settling in process, I’m still getting settled. I miss East Asia. I miss the hustle and bustle, the chaos, I really dig cities. I miss the action, the options of having a variety of things to do. Not that I did it often; especially not in Taipei, but I miss having the opportunity to dance in a club and chat up djs to find out what their musical influences are and what they are currently grooving to. Life in Muscat is somewhat slow. The only thing fast is the driving. The driving here is fast! The pace of life here takes some getting used to. One example, I took my clothes to get dry cleaned sometime ago and the person working told me that it would be ready tomorrow. I returned to the store the next day and he looked at me and said, “Ahh, tomorrow.” I returned the next day and he said, “Ahh, later today.” I think I returned the following day and my clothes were ready. Hey, it’s all part of the adventure. (I promise to write about our car buying experience and obtaining a bank loan. That took some time. I have actually already written about this experience. I just need to post it the blog.
Professionally, I have been pretty busy being the only counselor and doing both middle school and high school this year. I’m looking forward to just doing high school next year. I have always worked in big schools and this has been quite a learning experience working in a small school.
I hope this update finds you all well. I will try my best to write more, I promise 8-).