Saturday, February 19, 2011

Toes in the Water

The past 48 hours have easily been some of my most memorable. In the ebb and flow of study abroad everyone gets down at some point, and we were all feeling it. Thankfully we had this excursion as a group.
We headed to the desert. I am a huge fan of deserts, especially suns setting into them and the stars rising above. When we arrived at the camp it was about an hour before the sun started to set so we packed into 4x4s and “Dune Bashed”-drive up and down really steep dunes throwing sand up and ride fast enough to rival many roller coasters. Then they left us on a really high dune over looking the camp to watch the sunset. The sun hung right on the horizon as if trying to make up it’s mind, then plunged straight down. The lighting during this time is spectacular so I really enjoyed taking pictures. As the sun shone for it’s last few moments everyone was quiet listening to the still of the desert and watching the end of the day.
After hiking down the dune, and a delicious dinner some folks sang and others, including myself migrated to the bonfire pits. I sat around with a few friends and made new ones. I had one of the most chilling conversations with a man named Ahmed. He and his Hungarian wife joined us by the fire as I worked on putting damage into the tabacco bowl of a hookah. (Jupiter was setting in the west; I blew smoke rings around it.) I started in Arabic with the normal introduction dance with Ahmed. He was an Iraqi who worked as an engineer in Oman. He had been here for 17 years. I can do math, so hesitantly asked him what he did before he moved here. He was an artillery officer in Sadam’s army, fighting the Coalition during the Gulf War, in Southern Iraq. We talked for an hour in English (his was great) about being an officer against the American forces and what sort of strain that put on him and his troops. We also talked about how his leadership forced him and his platoon to stay out, in the open (can’t beat the Americans in open desert warfare) and what it was like for him as an officer. It was one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had.
Eventually the conversation dwindled and he and his wife headed to their cabin, while I stayed with the fire and my smoke rings before heading to my rack as well. For a very brief time. I woke up at 2:30, thankfully joined by my favorite Egyptian evacuee Amina (fellow Bulldog.) We hiked up multiple sand dunes, which took over a half hour to get to a good location, where I could look east. Then we waited. I took great joy in being able to show her some of the constellations, and she saw her first shooting stars. We were waiting for the almost full moon to go down, and Sagittarius to come up. This made the dark sky explode with the brightest part of the Milky Way, our galaxy. I have chased this part of the galaxy with my father and John Rummel on many occasions ( When it came up, I went to work getting different shots, and avoiding planes heading to Australia. Briefly captured, and while I was testing different settings, and the camera was open while I was in awe of the heavens, I witnessed one of the top 5 most glorious scenes of my life. A fireball of a shooting star fell seductively straight across the Milky Way. It was sheer enjoyment for me and I had a smile on my face for the entire day.
After breakfast we drove to our next camp, close to a turtle reserve on the Indian Ocean. We arrived a few hours early, so grabbed a soccer ball and headed to the beach (far away from the turtle nesting grounds.) Before the game began we all went swimming/walking on the beach. I took a stroll to dry off and for a few minutes couldn’t see another soul on the beach. Talk about an experience; the vast ocean in front of me, not a person around and I am on the other side of the world. It was awe-inspiring. Our younger Arabic teacher came along and played soccer with us. We were covered in sand by the end of the game, but as a good pickup game will do, everyone’s smile matched mine from the morning.
We made it back to camp to watch the sunset again, followed by dinner, and more hookah. A Turk brought a bottle of vodka and offered it around. I was proud none of our team members took it, out of respect to the society, our purpose in it (members of, not just tourists) and our lovable Muslim host, Ali. We then got into a sing-a-long of sorts with Ali. We sang an American song in unison, he belted about Arabic love songs. Bonfire crackles and waterpipe bubbles provided the perfect background music.
We all woke up at 4 am to go to the turtle beach and got to see mother turtles laying eggs, burying them in their nests, and then heading out to sea. That was really interesting in the “circle of life” sort of way as only a few will make it to adulthood. We watched the sunrise, went to breakfast (chicken eggs, Ali swears) and headed to Sur to a Dhow (traditional Arab sailing ship) factory. We had free rnage of the shipyard, which resulted in some interesting photowork. After casting off from the shipyard, we went to a Wadi, much like the one from my previous trip. More hiking, swimming, playing in the pools and just relaxing in the fresh clear water lead to close out a perfect weekend before a quiet and content ride back to Muscat.
We arrived by the expat (read: rich, white) area. More importantly we left that area which full stomachs thanks to Baskin Robins 31 flavors. I haven’t had Ice cream in a long time and my Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter combo made up for it.


Jackie said...

Loved reading that. It sounds absolutely amazing. I'm so glad you're having fun!!

jane said...

hey ian, how's it going? all is well here at drake and dm. ryan and i have seen our first herd of robins on the drake lawns outside cole hall. it was so cool. we are all just waiting for spring. morgan is here at work and says hi. we are packing up boxes for wendy and acn's. other then that very quiet. the inquiry cards are down to a handful. can you believe our students? yeh they and you are amazing. family coming into town and we are planning a mini road trip. should be fun. a nice getaway where we can go swimming. love reading your blogs. keep them coming. next time i will have some arabic for you. ha ha take care and we still miss you love jane

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