Sunday, May 15, 2011

Last day in Oman

I am writing this looking at my backyard. It is green. This morning I went to breakfast with my father. We ran into our preacher and other church friends. I had to wear a jacket because it was cold. On the last day in Oman, is was 102…
I got up early to say goodbye to folks. I went one last time to my barbers, who on a weekly basis had a razor to my neck. They also continually gave me the best shaves of my life. The little things like that keep us sane.
I wandered over to the beach, and put my feet in until the rolling tide was up to my shorts. 20 minutes in the salt water listening to Iz-Over the rainbow, Eagles-Take it to the limit, and Jimmy Buffett’s Take Another Road. On my way back I stopped at my Baskin Robin’s and had a long chat with the man who works there. I had seen him every week for my indulgence in Americana and he was genuinely sad to hear I was leaving.
I ended up with our friends from Salalah, Amina, and our director Issam at a shisha café on the beach. I was able to watch the sun drop into the Arabian Gulf and say my final goodbyes to friends and leaders who I will treasure forever.

Which begs the question now what?

There were women at the café this morning. It wasn’t rude that I did not wish peace upon all of the breakfast goers when I entered. I had a beer for dinner last night, I told stories and talked of politics. I started laundry and packing for my next excursion (a lovely French sounding city called Des Moines.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I miss you

There are always the basics I am excited to see when I return: friends, family, the important things.
However I have given some thought to what else I am excited for which in turn is things I appreciate about where I hail from:
The ability to drive. I have not driven a car since January 18th, 2011. This in turn means my mobility is limited to the kindness of others, or the mood I am in to negotiate with taxi drivers. (Driving is also insane here, and no one has the insurance to back me.)
Being in shape. I know traveling abroad is not an excuse to get out of shape, and I haven’t gained a lot of weight. However I had completed a marathon shortly before I left, and had been in pretty solid condition. Here it is either annoying difficult to run while conservatively covered in the heat, dangerous to do it at night lacking running trails. At Drake I also have a gym, which is easy to get to. In my area there isn’t a ton of possibilities, and I have been doing pushups but it will be nice to get my heart rate up again.
Food. Specifically knowing I am going to get what I ordered. The food is good here, though the variety lacks unless you are willing to pay big bucks and most importantly ordering is the equivalent of Russian roulette. I am ordering off of an Arabic menu, to a hindi waiter who may be talking to a Malaysian cook.
Alcohol. Okay maybe not specific tastes but the ability to have a beer at night is nice, and now that I put in my 21 years of time, I can do it, whenever I want in many states. It is a nice social setting, and one that you can have here only in a hotel (expensive,) but most of the places are rather shady and contain women (not the kind I mention below) of ill repute.
Sleep. My sleep is generally interrupted by a sun that bakes the flat roof above my head. This is fine when the average day includes a nap (I don’t generally get to take) and then restarts and goes till 2 am. My bed and I will undoubtedly have a great reunion.
The other gender. Are there women here? I think so. I mean there are these creatures in black that wear really nice smelling perfume and pretty colors on their heads. I see them interact with each other, but they are off limits to me. I imagine the first time I see a woman back home that I can interact with I will be at a loss for words and probably just stare. Greg and I were living in Salalah and took great joy that a fully covered woman asked us how we were (kaifick?) That has been the extent of my female communication with women I am not living or studying with.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Life's a Beach

I have never walked to school before. It was about 5 and half miles. I knew that it was possible, and today didn’t have to be at school for a few hours. I took the road down to the beach, popped in my ipod earbuds, strapped my sandals to my pack and headed to school. The Shamal wind was blowing, so what should have been a hot day, became breezy, and the waves at my feet kept me cool. It was wonderful. 4 miles through the rolling waves of the beach as Iz, the Eagles and Jimmy Buffett serenaded me. Add this to the “my life is awesome” moments. (one of my friends, responding to this on facebooksaid it best: I guess you could say it was "upchill" both ways **puts on sunglass** YYYYEEEEEAAAAAHHHH.)
We have had seen little fallout from the Osama death. I was in a taxi yesterday and a Pakistani man got in behind me. He asked (in Arabic) what the Omani driver thought of all of it. The driver shrugged. The Pakistani then asked what the American or Englishman thought. The driver responded with the same shrug. I coolly replied “I’m Canadian.” That seemed to shut up him.
I have a weekly ritual of 31 flavors combining like an angelic chorus for my peanut butter and chocolate shakes. The proprietor of said establishment and I have become acquainted over these many weeks. He is Indian and was jubilant about killing Osama. He was quick to point how much we were giving the Pakistanis, who he alleged were using all that gear and money to fight the Indians. I said I wasn’t entirely sure. He quickly changed the conversation to give very strong warning that I not go into the villages, that I say I am German, and not wander around at night. I was pleased with how much he cared for my safety.
I am safe. Every time I have been outside of the US, I run a risk of something happening. However if I stayed behind, I wouldn’t be half as effective in my career, nor happy with my life. I still stand a much higher chance of dying in a car accident (both domestically and internationally) than I do from anything evil. However I am maintaining vigilance and staying in Muscat.
We roll in 8 days and I will be home in under 10!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama and Me

I was in the hotel room on Monday at 8:30am, when I was woken up from one of my friends saying “Bin Ladens dead.”
“What?” I groggily replied.
The news report had paraphrased the President’s speech stating the details. I checked my phone and had a message from a close friend telling me the same.
I remember, still laying down, looking up at the ceiling and saying “now what?”
We checked to make sure nothing had happened to Israel, then we checked other sources without getting much detail. The Embassy was put on alert over here and issued a cautionary message. As I drove in a bus across the city, I could feel my American flag pin digging into my shoulder from my pack. For security reasons, I had to hide it, but it was comforting to know it was there. I felt great pride in my country, and in the men and women I know who were over there.
My father asked me what I thought of all of it. I am still not sure. My relationship with Osama started like many others: on that fateful September Tuesday sitting in a 6th grade classroom watching my world change. A few years later I was part of a team in Jordan, learning Arabic to be of use someday to make sure the atrocities didn’t happen again. I found myself leading a team the following summer in Jordan again, before pursuing a degree in international relations. (I originally had wanted to be a lawyer, but my time abroad changed that.) I went to Drake University, knowing they were picking up a new Middle Eastern studies professor, and had a good Arabic program. I ended up with that professor in Egypt last summer, and then headed back for the semester. There I witnessed more significant change, and ended up in an obscure country called Oman where I sit planning my trip back to the US.
It’s weird knowing the first domino of what I call life came because of someone I never would meet. On the first day of Mrs. Brey’s Modern Global Studies class, she asked us who was the one person either living or passed that we would want to talk to. The Deadhead in the class said Jimmy Page. Lincoln was a popular choice, along with Mandela and Gandhi. I said Bin Laden, when she gave me a quizzical look, I replied “to simply ask why?”
Now that the why cannot be answered, it is still just as important. I am eternally thankful he is gone, and rejoiced with the news. An Englishman in the hotel greeted me with “did you hear the news, it’s nice that there is one less baddie in the world.” I agree, wholeheartedly. We need to make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen again. Our foreign policy, and domestic policies need to continue to ensure our safety. I honestly believe that if we hadn’t botched the Afghanistan cleanup against the Soviets, Bin Laden would not have had a home. Something made him tick, and something made enough people agree to follow such twisted distortions of a very beautiful religion. We need to make sure that sort of stuff doesn’t happen again.
Most of the “cool/interesting” stuff in my life came down because of one evil man . I am a forged part of my nations response. After school I will continue the work with a commission in the United States Navy. I don’t know what will come up in the next few years. I do know that we will be ready with whatever diplomacy to prevent and whatever force is necessary to avenge.

‎"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."
-Mark Twain

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Down By the Bay

I am down in Mutrah, which is on the other side of the city, has a wonderful souk, and a cool corniche (walking area by the sea.) The days are limited and I am already planning my assimilation back into society via a Brewers home game with my father. I am not excited for two 9 hour flights home I have to take. (Long ago, in a land far away called high school, I took a 9 hour to Alaska, and thought that was the longest transportation I would ever take. Now I take 8 hour flights to Europe just to get started on the long hauls down here. Or even better, 12 hour bus rides from Salalah to Muscat.) This morning I thought I lost a major part of my presentation, so took the buses back in the morning, found what I needed and then came back.
I decided all of my frantic running around deserved some time to sit and ponder. I walked to a French restaurant right outside the port. Shell shocked from the high prices I walked back down the corniche to the Indian fastfood shops, where the entire selection is the equivalent of a dollar menu. It is getting really humid here, but the breeze off the Gulf helped. I ate and watched tourists come and go. Everywhere else in the country is shutdown at this time of day, as everyone is napping or enjoying air-conditioning. However some Italians insisted on shopping during the worst part of the day. The one Omani man out at this time exchanged looks with me when their 5 star hotel shuttle bus came to pick them up. He looked at me as if to say “aren’t you going with them?” I stated that no I live here (in arabic) and then went back to my large bottle of water, and book about large bottles of other Caribbean drinks.
Last night Janey and I strolled down the corniche to take pictures (see I am still working, haven’t checked out quite yet :) We found a bunch of couples sitting by a rock formation with some form of Bellagio Vegas inspired water fountains. I set my tripod up, and hope the couples stayed still long enough to get a shot off. I ended up getting a cool sequence, and filled up another page in the book!
Many of the students are heading to other countries after this. Turkey is the most popular. All the charm of the Middle East, with western dress and flowing alcohol. East meets West. I would love to keep moving, but I am just ready to head back. (Its weird, at one point a few months ago, I was almost certain I would be back in Iowa watching snow from a Drake desk. Now I am excited to go and see everyone, tell stories, and just enjoy American life.) I have enough airplane points that I will have a ticket coming my way soon to somewhere in Europe. The last time I intentionally spent time in Europe was sophomore year of high school. Prague was gorgeous so I may want to head back there (spring break 2012?) but have also heard marvelous things about Spain (no speako spanisho) and Portugal. England has also been a draw as I have flown into London countless times, only to wash up, grab a bite and jump on another plane and have never actually left the airport.
When I came back to Muscat yesterday I stopped in to see some folks. These were people I hadn’t been with for awhile, and I tried telling jokes. My voice was slow, and I stumbled through them. I remember this happening after Jordan the first time. I enjoy fast wit immensely and so will be quite excited to catch up on that.
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