Monday, April 25, 2011


I found myself in the mountains far from the town of Salalah. I was there with an Omani friend, his father, and his father’s friend. We were there to meet a jabali (person of the mountain) The man was 95 years old and still running up and down mountains. He was a little late when we came in because he was out feeding the camels. It was interesting to see him sit with his grandsons and talk. (The language was Jabali, actually pretty close to Aramaic which I found out later that night-at church) I was there to take pictures of him and his sons, which was also good fun. What struck me the most is how happy he was in this little outpost in the middle of nowhere, with his camels, and family. He also offered to slaughter a goat for us (me) for dinner. I had to refuse as I had someone else to be.
“Do you think we will make it to church on time?”
“Insha Allah”
I cracked up laughing, and then marveled that my friend was asking Allah to get me to church to celebrate Easter. We had spent a fair amount of time the night before telling the Christian version and the Islamic version of Easter and debating on whether it was the same God. (The answer is yes, and not that I think all religious disputes and 2,00 years of fighting should be summed up on this blog, but the difference lies within the interpretation of Jesus and the trinity/and the Prophet, not with the almighty himself.) They also told an interesting version of the death of Jesus I had not heard, and am really disappointed with all the Islamic teachings I have had (generally from Christian American educators) that in Islam Judas was made to look like Jesus and he was killed. I didn’t have time to ask what happened to Jesus, but it was interesting.
When I got to the church I was greeted, while walking in the backdoor of the courtyard “Hi, can I help you?”
“Uh sure is this the church?”
“Yes this is a protestant evangelical English service”
“Perfect” (with the only church within a 12 hours busride, I didn’t have the opportunity to be picky. I also wondered at why the pickiness mattered considering the location.)
I walked into the sanctuary, and was greeted with plastic chairs, and a pastor from Virginia. There were a few other Americans, a British family and a Canadian couple. The large majority though (60ish) were Indian or South East Asian, which made “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” and “Christ the Lord has Risen Today” sound very international. The kids all received Easter baskets. The pastor, who I found out was only a week or two fresh at the church, used American idioms I had missed in my normal conversations (“Christ rising was a game changer!”)
Much like my Jibali friend who lived in an outpost in the mountains, this was a religious outpost. (Imagine how Muslim communities must feel in the States?) The Christians also invited me to break bread with them (score for the communion, although wine is a little hard to attain in this country) and join the potluck after the service. I wondered if they were slaughtering goats?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

When the Saints go marching in...

Salalah, Oman April 22-Yesterday we heard there would be protests. In the shower that morning I could hear a loudspeaker projecting someone who was getting very animated. We followed that noise (after I put on clothes-not straight from the shower) and ended up on a corner, watching the protestors rally. We cased the backside of the movement as we were white kids with big cameras…we stuck out jut a tad. As we moved in closer, the protestors started to march. A man advised us it was best we leave. He advised us in flawless English and without a heavy Arab accent. We had heard Oman’s internal security forces keep an eye on the protests in Sohar, and that one had spent some time stateside. With that information we moved away from him quickly.
Then I took off down a back alley to get ahead of the marchers and once again asked a guy to come use his balcony (sound familiar?) to take photos. I counted about 300 to 500 protestors. Contrary to the Al Jazeera article We did not see the troops or the 3,000 protestors Reuters spotted.
We also, and more importantly, didn’t see flags. This is a huge contrast from the Egyptian revolution, where flags were prominent. So far these protests aren’t about basic human rights. Some talk about bribery and removing some of the leadership (not the Sultan, they love him.) However many of the protests across the country have been about cushy jobs. There are jobs here, they just require one to get a little dirty.
It was strange yesterday to have the same feelings I had from times in Egypt. I vividly recall racing ahead of a protest group to try to get to an elevated position. This is what I got:

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Yesterday marked my three months out. This is the longest time I have been outside of the US. It was also three weeks and three days until I return.
I am getting pretty good at the transitioning aspect of all of this. I will be at my home for a few days, before packing again, and moving to spend the summer the in Des Moines.
I have already done some brief packing (mostly souvenirs.) It’s an odd feeling being able to pack up ones life in a backpack and suitcase. However it is exhilarating, knowing if need be I could stop in any city along the way and live for another few months (I won’t; I miss the people, and cheeseburgers, but Rome, Prauge, Paris, Madrid all look tempting.) There is a scene from George Clooney’s Up in the Air when he talks about putting all of your possessions in a backpack. I did, and some of it is probably still holed up in a 7th floor apartment in Kfr Abdu, Alexandria.
I have done some great ISP work. I put my first draft of the photobook (my final project) came together yesterday. It was cool to imagine seeing my name on a book cover. Thanks to the wonders of Iphoto Books and services like this is quickly becoming a hardcover reality.
My final morning in Ibri sent me back to the souk. I walked down the street with an 80 year old man named Hamid. He was 5 feet tall and in a bright yellow dishdasha. We made quite a sight walking to the goat auction. I liked Ibri a lot. I could take pictures of everyone at the goat auction (men walk around a circle of potential buyers screaming prices while the goats are pulled along on a leash.) The hotel was getting far too expensive, and I had most of the photowork done (but going back in a week for one shot.) I was going to head to Nizwa, but my friend is recovering in a cast from a surgery. Therefore with a week to kill and knowing I wanted to be in a town with a church for Easter Sunday, I made my way back to Salalah. (I have now spent an entire day of my life on a bus in Oman.) It is getting humid down here, but its great to be reunited with my friends. Amina and I saw each other every day for those three months, and it was odd being away from that normalcy for two weeks. Its also great to be with my Omani friends again.
I am excited for Easter, as I have never been to a service while over here. It should be interesting, and I will keep you posted!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I want to ride my bicycle

Adding to the list of stuff I am looking forward to upon stepping foot on American soil:
Knowing exactly what you are going to get when you order. Omani ordering is done in Arabic to an Indian off a menu, translated to a version of Hindi, thrown for a loop around the farthest reaches of the solar system, then put on a grille, and some variation of what you think you might have ordered appears on your plate 15 minutes later.

I was really mad at the Ibri (current town I am in) hotel situation. The one cheap place that has been there forever is closed. Therefore I have two choices, each double the maximum of what I intended to pay. Therefore, what I thought was going to be a week bumming around a very traditional town may be cut short due to finances. The whole reason I came out here was the Thursday market, and now it’s going to be expensive to stay and make it worth it. A picture is worth 1,000 words, but how many Omani rials? In good news the hotel I picked does have free internet which is nice.
I got some great stuff today, and walked 6 miles to do it. I refuse to pay for taxis when I have no place to be (like today) so I walked and was glad I did. I got some of my best stuff. I wandered to the castle, (which was closed-back tomorrow morning) found a burned a out van (protests?) and then found an old structure which was fun to crawl around and shoot. I can’t tell if anything older than 20 years is 2,000 years old or just really horrible made. I also walked up on three shots that made my day: man fixing bike, kid jumping on bike, huge smile on child’s face. Chalk up another page for my project (final link will be published when I am done.)
In other made-me-feel-great news: I sent an email yesterday to one of the higher ups in Drake’s admin about an idea and the feasibility of it before I rattle the swords with senate. She liked the idea, responded on the weekend, and then mentioned actions she would take with the president’s cabinet. Then I got an email from the president himself providing input and expressing interest. Students can have an impact!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I just finished “The Last True Story I Will Ever Tell” by John Crawford. It was a great book about a Florida National Guardsman who was sent to Iraq (got the call on his honeymoon) just two credits shy of graduation, and almost out of the Army. He was there for much, much longer than he was told he would be. Much of the book talked about homecomings. I know mine will be much different than a combat one, and would never lump them in the same basket. It did make me think though about what it will be like for me.
There is all this talk about “re-entry shock” and hating everything in America. I am excited to have a cheeseburger and a beer. The reverse stuff seems to come true if someone goes to a place they fit in better than America. I enjoy the Middle East, but don’t feel or identify as Arab. My home doesn’t lie in the Middle East, it is in the Midwest. I don’t think “re-entry shock” will be an issue for me.
There are definitely things I think more about now. I think democracy is great, and am fully ready and willing to die for my democracy. However the Omani’s could not get done what they have with everyone voting on everything. (When our own government almost shuts down, it may be time to reevaluate whether the elected have America in their hearts or if partisan bickering is more the flavor of the day.) This is one place where a benevolent dictator works. (Egypt didn’t, Jordan it kind of does.)
I think I will be less worked up over things. My biggest pet peeve is people blowing up on each other or little things. Want something to blow up on? Work for 16 hours building a tower in Dubai for 60 cents a day, go home to live in a one bedroom shack with 10 other Indians. (And this is a step up from staying home.) Oh and you will never, ever be able to afford to even set foot in the tower you are building.
Imagine being a woman and only studying or gossiping. You aren’t free to go out and sit in coffee shops or have male contact outside of academic institution.
Stuff like that makes yelling at the guy in traffic or yelling about some clothing placed in the wrong room of a house not worth it. It could always be worse.
I am worried about reintegrating with my friends. I have talked to a fair amount and with things like facebook I am not as out of touch as I thought I would be. However I don’t have a clue what is popular in movies or music (and probably won’t like it.) We lived very different lives for the last few months. I am excited to take it easy this summer, but can’t manage to find a 8-5 outdoor one allowing me to do so (if you know any in DSM shoot me an email (
It is going to be interesting having a summer to adjust but also be on my own in DSM, and one that I am looking forward to.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Through the Desert on a horse with no name

I am in Salalah. We finished our trip to the Emirates. Now we are in ISP time. ISP stands for Independent Study Project. I am doing a non-traditional photo essay of Oman. This means I travel all over Oman and take pictures. I am starting down in Salalah to work my way north. The title will be Oman: Face, Space, and Place. The main goal in Salalah was the night sky. My first night down here we got out onto the beach to shoot the Milky Way, and the next night we went to the Empty Quarter. This is the desert part of Arabia. We found some interesting things along the way which contradicts the notion of “empty.” It lead to some of my better photos, and the feeling that this month of photography has started off exceptionally strong. We ended up at a camp-it was free- so the night sky shots aren’t as I would have liked as the Milky Way was right over a village 9 kilometers away. However, we found a camel-slaughtering cement slab that was being utilized for it’s gory purpose, a grass farm, and a John Deere tractor. When we got home we ended up at the market taking pictures of the fish, vegetables, and most importantly the vendors. The purpose of this project is to try to get as many pictures of people as possible, which is hard to do when I can only talk to half of the population. We also noticed that when we (Steve-a photography friend who lives in Salalah who is graciously putting me up for my time here) ask people to take their picture we get a 50% confirmation rate. It is also interesting that the people who say no are very adamant about it, and the people who say yes say so with the same feeling. It is almost as if to say “why would you ask such a stupid question, of course you can take my picture.”
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