Saturday, March 12, 2011

Country Roads...

"Welcome to our hostel!" We were greeted and swarmed by the male students of the equivalent of a fraternity house in Nizwa, the village we are staying in this week. We are with the men of the University of Nizwa while the girls are with families getting the more conservative, interior of the country experience. I live with all the Bedouin guys, who come off as simple country folk but are quite dedicated to their studies. The first evening we spent much of our time lounging around on the front porch talking to everybody. As we were doing this it started to rain. My whole mantra for the trip has been "it could be worse, it could be raining." In theory it should be much worse, as it poured! They all interpreted it as a good sign.
Tyler and I went to a coffee shop with one of the guys, who drove a Corvette. In theory all the students at the university have an academic level of English. This one actually did. As we drove into one of the villages around the university, we noticed there was nothing out here, which is probably good to keep everyone focused on their studies. We had a very intense conversation about women and the social pressures the men are under. It is forbidden to talk to a woman (and there is 6,000 of them on campus, compared to 1,000 males) so the notion of having women as friends is not really understood. There is some rendezvousing but it has a more romantic flavor. One our housemates has had six girlfriends, and never once actually hung out with them. All they do is talk on the phone.
At breakfast the next morning, I was tapped on the shoulder with a big "Saba al khir" (good morning.) It was the dean of students, who hosted us for coffee and honey dates the day before. There is a uniform here of white dishdasha for males and blakh abaya for females. I did not bring either, so stuck out even more than usual in my gray polo. We talked for a little bit and I got a fair amount of quizzical looks from the gathered breakfast eaters.
We went to the Imamate’s fort and then up the tallest mountain in all of the Gulf. This was the region of the rebellion and has not always taken kindly to the rule of the Sultan from Muscat. The following day we went to a place called Bahla which has a large concentration of black magic. We found another fort which was still under renovation from the bullet holes and mortar shells of the Dhofar Rebellion in the late 60's and early 70's.
Lunch was had with the man who is in charge of teaching everyone English for the first two years before they get into their major. He was an Omani who went to University of Northern Iowa, so we bonded. We also talked at great length about education theory and the lack of critical thinking that his students have. His observation was they still relied too much on rote memorization, a philosophy I agree with.
It is very different out here. It is a wonderful place to visit but I could never live out here. There just isn't that much to do, and the ability to not talk to the vast majority of the students outside of a purely academic (how do you solve for x?) would kill me.

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