Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lexiophiles blog contest: please vote!

Hello, readers!

I was informed a few weeks ago that I was nominated by someone (I don't know who, but thank you!) for the Lexiophiles international blogging contest 2012. Basically, the top 100 blogs are commended and the top three actually receive donations in their name to a children's village.

It just takes a few seconds, and it would mean a lot to me if you all would vote! Just scroll down (here is the link!) to find my blog, under the name of Adventures of  Muscat-teer... they are all in alphabetical order.

Thanks a million!

(Oh, and if you can't stand to vote for me, vote for my friend Avery's blog, because it's pretty good... and quite funny.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Home Sweet Oman

My host family spent the last week in Saudi Arabia for religious reasons, so I stayed with a host aunt and uncle. Today, I came went back to my house. When I walked in the door, I thought (in the typical manner of someone returning home after a time away), "yay, I'm glad to be home!" And then I had this realization... Oman is home. Of course, it will never replace the place that I first came from, but I feel so comfortable here in my life. I feel at ease with my host family, in and out of the house. At school, I feel like just another member of the class, not the awkward outsider. And I have friends, people who are no longer just acquaintances.

I went through the typical phases of being an exchange student: First, there's an incredible high point in which everything is new and shiny. Next comes the hostility phase, where everything is just awful, and nothing makes sense, and all you want to do is go back to where you came from, where they understand them. And next comes  a gradual climb to a state of happiness. Not the bliss from the beginning, but a sense of belonging. Home, to me, is a sense of being. It's when you complain as much as you can about a place but honestly would never ever want to leave it. And when you're not there, you miss it. As Dorothy pointed out to us all: there's no place like home.

I think I've reached that sense of being home. My life here isn't outrageously exciting anymore (any more than I usually get excited about things anyways), but I'm happy. I'm no longer amazed by gliding through the lanes of Muttrah in an abaya or being cold in 70 degree weather or hearing the Omani national anthem every morning (here if you're interested) or listening to the call to prayer 5 times a day. Those are just the little bits of life that I cherish, but don't necessarily generate immense amounts of ecstatic interest in me.

I think what I love most about Oman is how well it blends old and new culture together. In Muscat, you find both this:

and this:

These two structures are perhaps a 10-15 minute drive from one another. The architecture is expressive of how Omani culture works, too. People both embrace modern times (women's rights comes to mind here) and  hold onto their traditions (eating with hands is definitely not considered taboo; in fact it is often quite polite). 

All of this and more are just a few of the reasons why I just love my life here. I just passed my halfway point on Tuesday, and I'm determined to have a wonderful next 4 1/2 months in this land that I call home. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"We've got a lot of shoes in our sand!"

I've made some amazing memories over the past few months. However, almost nothing could compare to the vivid memories I have of the past few days, which were spent in the Abyadh Desert in Al Batinah, Oman. I remember the stars at night, the loping camels meandering over sand dunes just meters from us, the sense of adventure that comes from being given a GPS and free range over a massive expanse of land. But what sticks with me most is the sense of comradeship that formed between me and the other 9 members of my Outward Bound Oman team.

Our team, christened The Survivors, was composed of three Americans and seven Omanis. We all had ties to US sponsored programs and Amideast: three YES Abroad students, three former YES students, three members of the English Access Microscholarship Program, and one staff member. And we were all absolutely confused as to what we were doing. 

You see, we (including our group leader) had all thought that we were going to Sharqiya, the region that is home to the biggest desert in Oman. However, we were all misled there: we were actually going in the totally opposite direction to a less accessible, smaller desert: Abyadh. 

True to typical Omani style, we left Amideast at 9:15, more than an hour after we were supposed to. We then drove for an hour and a half until we reached our destination. During the drive, we were given the directions to interview the person we were sitting by. After that, we spent the rest of the ride getting to know the people we would be spending the next 3 days with. Needless to say, I was given a good impression of everyone.

Upon arrival at our starting point (Wadi Abyadh), we stopped to set up our backpacks. This task involved a lot of precision to get everything fitted. What we had to carry was: a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, a "wizar" (our name for it, really it was a cotton liner for the sleeping bag... a wizar is really something that Omani men wear under their dishdasha or around the house), a fleece jacket, a windbreaker, our lunch for the day, two 1-liter water bottles, and any personal items we might need. After packing up, we played a few get-to-know-you games, were handed a GPS and walkie-talkie, and were off.
The road we started on.

We left the wadi to take a road, but eventually cut cross country. During this stretch, we saw our first CAMELS of the hike! Hooray! Admittedly, we were all wondering (to ourselves and verbally) "Where the hell is this desert?" when in the distance we saw it--an endless expanse of sand dunes. However, before we reached them, we reached our first GPS point. There we met our guides, and spread out a wadi mat for lunch. After a few hours of hiking lunch was very welcome!                                                                                                

Sand dunes in the distance!
We started off again after lunch and some team-building activities, and then was finally got to venture onto the sand dunes! Climbing them was one of the most strenuous parts of the day. The first one was probably a good 75 feet high, and that definitely called for a lot of hard work, especially what with the heavy backpacks we were carrying. Fortunately, once we reached the top we were just a few hundred meters from our first night's camping spot. Once we arrived, we set up tents.

Then our group split into two. One was to cook dinner that night, and the other was on dinner duty for the next day. I was in the second group, so we got to spend the first night relaxing around the fire. I would just like to point out how absolutely beautiful the stars are in the wilderness. If you thought the stars in rural Wisconsin were beautiful, try coming to the middle-of-nowhere desert! We were miles and miles from any people, so we could just see everything. It's quite peaceful just lying there in the desert watching the stars. Oh, and I have a personal achievement here too! I have looked for pretty much my entire life for a constellation...just any one... and in the desert I found my first one! One of the dippers!

After dinner and some socializing, it was time for bed. Now, in the desert at night, it gets COLD. COLD COLD COLD. And it's not like the cold we have where I'm from, because this cold has no moisture. It gets into your bones. In terms of degrees, it may not be so bad, but I have never felt cold like this because it just sucks everything out of you. The only way to stay warm was to basically just cocoon down into the sleeping bag.

See how close?
The next morning we awoke to find that it was still cold. Group 1 made breakfast, and we were all assigned tasks for the day's hike. My first assignment? Motivator. Basically, I had to cheer, sing, talk, anything to put people in a good mood. We hiked pretty much all morning, seeing some camels VERY up close and eventually leaving the dunes. We stopped for lunch near a farm. Civilization! However, we didn't go to meet the owners; instead we just sat under a tree near their property. One sign that we were near people is that there were not very many camels and instead there were a lot of goats. While we were eating lunch, one left the pack and wandered over to where we were sitting. He was a rather nosy little goat, but his endeavors paid off because our city-dwelling selves thought it was just adorable, and decided to feed him bread and other things. However, I guess this didn't make him popular with the other goats because he seemed to be quite an outcast. He went back to his herd of goats, but the others left him behind, so he had to lie by himself for a while. For this reason, we named him Waheed (lonely).

After lunch, we were back on the road. This time, my task was navigator. I was given a GPS with a point, and I had to point the group in the direction of the second night's campsite. Upon arrival, we settled down to wait for our guides. However, a half an hour passed with no sight of them. Our calls via walkie-talkie were fruitless. Eventually, we managed to reach them... it turns out that we were about a kilometer from where we were supposed to be! It wasn't my fault though... the coordinates had been entered incorrectly! Because it was almost dark, we decided to just camp where we were that night.

After setting up tents, it was time to cook! I was on cooking duty that night, and my particular job was cucumber-yogurt salad. After dinner, we essentially just hung out until it was time to sleep.

The next day we hiked back, unpacked everything, boarded a bus, and headed back to Amideast. All in all, a great trip!

Some things I learned on my trip (in no particular order other than the order that the popped into my brain):

  • Wet wipes are vital in a land without running water
  • There's nothing like a lack of network to get you to actually talk to people
  • Stars are absolutely the most beautiful things in the universe
  • The best way to get to know someone is to hike in the middle of nowhere with them
  • There is no fooling around when it comes to scorpions
  • It is apparently shocking that I can shuffle because I am a white girl
Here are some more pictures, courtesy of the Outward Bound Oman Facebook page!

Here's to a great group!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Outward Bound Oman: Photo Update

I just returned from a trip to the Abyadh Desert in the Al Batinah region of Oman with the Outward Bound Oman program/ AMIDEAST. I'll post more later exactly detailing we did, but here are some pictures.

Our group was made up of three Americans, seven Omanis, and two Omani guides.

Basically, we spent three days hiking and camping throughout a desert about two hours north of Muscat. There were fundamentally no amenities, which made for a very interesting but also quite fulfilling trip.

This guy was walking around right before we left on our first day's hike.
There were a LOT of camels around, and they were quite close to our path!

Here you can see the dunes  (where we spent the majority of our time) in the distance.

Our guide attempting to go up the dune (we didn't get to go in the car of course!)

And slipping back down...

Our tent village, the first night.
One of the members of our group standing on the dune. I'm not sure why it looks like he has one leg.

Our group preparing to hike on the second day.

Just to put into perspective how really close we were to the camels!

We named this little guy 'Waheed' because the other goats didn't really like him much... Waheed= lonely in Arabic

What time is it? HIKE TIME!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Day: Imam Hussein, Mourning Processions, Harees, and the Wrong House

Today was an incredibly active and cultural-learning-filled day. I woke up at about 11:30 after a very late night yesterday, and yet again we went to Muttrah today.

When I arrived, my host sisters had already been there for a while, so I waited in a side room for them to finish praying. Eventually they came out of the prayer room, so I headed out of the mosque with my eldest host sister to a place where we would observe an Islamic lecture. Unfortunately, our process was halted because there was a large mourning procession taking place, with probably 100 men in black dishdashas walking slowly through the lanes of Muttrah. These men were clearly in mourning, and it was interesting for me to see their progress. At the time, the word "parade" came to mind, but in retrospect the word "procession" is more accurate. It was a really interesting spectacle for me to see.

After the group had passed us, we had to hurry to reach the room in which we would observe the lecture. On the TV screen, we saw the men from the procession enter the men's matem, and proceeded to engage in a very impressive show of their grief. It is typical for men to beat their chests in rhythm with one another to attempt to feel the pain felt by Imam Hussein and his followers, and the men of the procession were particularly active in expressing their grief. Following this, a man gave another Islamic lecture and once again told the story of Imam Hussein and his followers' exile to Syria.

Following the lecture, women in our room pulled out large sheets of plastic, set them down, and brought in buckets of harees, which is an Arabian food made of wheat. Harees is very similar to porridge, except that it contains meat. In truth, it does look a little bit strange, but with pickles and hot sauce it's really quite good. Basically, we sat in a very small room with about 200 other women, squatting around long yellow sheets of plastic, eating harees. It definitely provides a sense of community--in fact, the traditional Omani eating style is one of my favorites because of the sense of community it provides. In this scenario, we were not eating quite in the traditional way (there were utensils and individual plates), but I do love the ideals behind how Omanis socialize while eating.

And then comes the most interesting and funny story from today...

Following the food, I went back to the mosque area and saw Bailey! Her host mother is also Shi'a and is of the same tribe as my host family, so she also had come along for the day. We were going to wait for her host cousins (who had gone to see a friend) but ended up being pointed in the direction of Bailey's host mother's house in Muttrah. There was another procession of mourning men coming, so we ducked into the house that we thought belonged to her host family. Once we got inside, after a few worried glances and shoulder shrugs, we realized that it was the wrong house: neither of us recognized anyone! Of course this was a bit more than a slightly awkward moment for us, because, even though we were both dressed in abaya and shayla, it was really easy to tell that we were nothing but a pair of white girls who weren't actually with anyone! It didn't help that the women in the house came to us and started to ask us questions in rapid Arabic--questions that we, with our very limited Arabic skills, couldn't answer.

To add to our predicament, we couldn't just mutter an apology and leave. There was a very slow procession of mourning men walking by, and with thin alleys for streets, there was no way to get out of the house. We were, for all intents and purposes, stuck. So we stood there awkwardly, looking around. At one point, my youngest host sister somehow got by the procession, poked her head in the door, looked at us, and (so I was told later), told the women of the house "Just keep them." Then she left.

 It was a fairly small house, and there were a lot of people, so we definitely generated some stares. After a while, though, people just ignored us. Right as procession cleared, a woman came up to us and offered us tea! This sort of made things even more awkward, because it's actually pretty rude to turn down tea, but we've been raised not to accept food from strangers, and we didn't know any of the people in the house. Then we saw Bailey's host cousins, so we darted out the door with a quick thank you to the people whose home we had just sat in (or stood, embarrassed, in, depending on your perspective).

We did end up finding Bailey's house in Muttrah: it was the one next door to the one we ended up in, and apparently her host mom grew up in the house that we were in. Also, ending up there was an adventure, to say the least! Fortunately, the people in the house were actually my host mom's friends, as she told me later. Definitely a learning moment in this exchange. It's always good to know how to stay cool in even the most uncomfortable moments, and I think we succeeded in this instance.  

Mourning of Imam Hussein, ctd.

Hello Readers!

Remember when, back in December, I posted about Ashura? Well, the mourning of Imam Hussein's death is still happening, and yesterday and today consisted of ceremonies as large as the one on the 10th of Muharram. Because I am on winter break, I was lucky enough to actually be able to attend both of these events with my host family.

Today is the 20th of Safar, the second month of the Islamic calendar. It is also the day that Imam Hussein was finally buried, 40 days after his death. His grave is in Karbala, in present-day Iraq.

On this day, the mourning began at night. My host parents and youngest host sister left at 5pm, but the rest of us went around 8 or 9. After a brief stop at the souq to pick up some abayas that were being repaired, we went into a large hall filled with many women. A man on a screen (there in the men's room) was giving a lecture in Arabic. After a while, he told the story of Imam Hussein, and there was the sobbing that usually happens. We also saw live footage from Karbala, where there were apparently 20 MILLION  people gathered.
After the lecture, my host sisters and I walked out of the Muttrah Soor to see some statues. Basically, people put these up as what essentially have the same purpose as wishing wells. People throw money, ranging from 100 baisa to 20 riyal. These statues are parts of scenes related to the death of Imam Hussein. There are also poles that people tie ribbons on as prayers.

After viewing the statues (and being given the inevitable tea), we went to watch a play about Imam Hussein (put on by some girls about my age) and finally went home. We reached home at about 1:15 am!!

Friday, January 13, 2012

You Know You've Gone Omani When...

You know you’ve gone Omani when...
  1. You can eat chili pepper like a pro.
  2. You know how to tie your shayla without a mirror but never, ever would because it might look wrong.
  3. You know every single word to Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Hero.’
  4. The proper response to any question or comment is “Inshallah.”
  5. There are two types of cat: street and Persian.
  6. You always have tissue with you.
  7. You are late to everything but still think that you are on time.
  8. It’s a hypermarket, not a supermarket.
  9. You love Sultan Qaboos.
  10. You know that food is love.
  11. You tsk whenever something disappoints you.
  12. Roundabouts no longer make you dizzy.
  13. Every time you are presented with a drink option, you pick Vimto.
  14. You automatically turn your music/ the TV off when you hear the azzan.
  15. It doesn’t bother you that the AC is on in January. In fact, you need it on because it’s so hot in here!
  16. You shake your head at anyone in skimpy clothing.
  17. You “open” and “close” the TV and AC, not turn them on and off.
  18. Wet hair= death, or at least major illness.
  19. You can type in and read 3rabizi.
  20. Single-digit license plates put you in awe.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Makeup: a Lifestyle

I've always been told that "good makeup is makeup people can't tell you're wearing," but in Oman this is just about the exact opposite of the truth. Crazy makeup is all the rage. Fabulous makeup is commonplace. It's most commonly seen at weddings, but also it's fairly common to see crazy makeup at the mall or beach or wherever. 

This morning, one of my host sisters asked if she could do my makeup. Thinking it would be fun, I agreed! An hour later, I had gone from plain old Emma to an exotic creature with pink and purple eye shadow. Generally, I'm not much of a makeup person, but Omanis are quite different in that sense! Everyone dresses up for essentially everything, and makeup is one of the most important aspects. My host sister is quite the makeup application master! Here are some pictures:

This is "light" according to my host sister!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Brief Update: Exams

Here in Oman we have reached the midway point of the school year (shocking, I know!) and that means first semester exams! My grade 12 classmates are actually not taking exams at school because for their diplomas they are required to sit their exams at the Ministry of Education in the next few weeks. However, because I am not graduating this year with an Omani diploma, I’m taking exams this week at school.

One of the biggest differences that I have seen between American and Omani schools is the emphasis here on exams. Over the past few weeks our classes have been a frenzy of activity working on our studies. There were Thursday sessions for extra help. For 12th grade students, these exams are vital because, if they do well on them (and the end-of-the-year exams), they can get full-ride scholarships to almost any university in the world! It’s a very interesting system—the Ministry of Education makes a big investment in these students. It is assumed that they will return to Oman with international degrees (commonly from the USA, UK, or Australia although it could be anywhere) and help to boost the Omani economy. Anyways, my classmates are currently really focused on their studies because these scholarships are only based on grade 12 examination results.

For the rest of us who will not be getting a diploma this year, exams are also quite important. They are worth 60% of our grade. My school in the USA has a summative/formative 70/30 system for grading, but still there is never such a large portion of the grade based off of one two-hour test. The whole concept of weighted final exams is essentially new material to me because I’m used to taking unit or chapter tests and then maybe having a final exam at the end. However, the final exam is worth as much as the other tests and is therefore not as vital for the grade.

Because of the vast importance set on this exam, people study a lot in preparation. Each exam day, we are released at 10 o’clock and kids legitimately go home and study for the rest of the day—myself included. For the past few days I’ve had major cram sessions!  Because of this whole exam adventure, I apologize for the lack of blogs lately, and I will try to pick back up in the new semester.

Next week is our winter break and I look forward to a 3-day camping trip to Wahiba Sands in the Sharqiya region of Oman with my fellow YESers, so keep your eyes peeled for pictures and posts on that! 

Also, the 5 Omanis who will be making the trek on the YES Program to America next year have been picked... congrats to them! Perhaps one will end up with my family even! :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dealing With Homesickness

I love the exchange student life. It has so many positive things to offer me. Language, friendships, all of the little cultural traits.  90% of the time, I feel on top of the world here. I’m a more optimistic person in general. I’ve fallen back in love with life.
But sometimes I inevitably feel acutely homesick. It hits at the weirdest times, too. And so I’ve, through trial and error, established a few things that I can do to make myself feel less homesick. I hope that these will help anyone else struggling through exchange (or really any other bout of homesickness) pull through it all. Because the number one thing I’ve learned about homesickness is that it does get better.
  • ·         Usually when the Hurricane of Homesickness hits I just want to batten down the hatches and hide until the storm passes. But the truth is that this is probably the least effective way to get over whatever the problem at hand is. If I wallow in my room moping, I can’t move on because the impending problem is in my face. So yes, my advice here is to just ignore the problem at hand. Stick your fingers in your ears and sing LALALALALALALA and go out and live your life. Get over yourself, and you’ll be a happier exchange student. Because you’ve only got 10 months and you might as well be happy during it. Make yourself be happy. In this case, I just leave my room and go out and sit with some host family members.  If I’m at school, I’ll get up from my desk and go talk to a friend.
  • ·         There are a few songs that, for me, are like comfort food (though I don’t recommend stress eating while on exchange because people like to feed exchange students anyways).  These songs can bring a smile to my face. Some of them are those obnoxious types that just sing over and over that “things will get better!” and are actually ridiculously helpful in pulling me out of the slumps. I like That’s Life by Michael Bublé, Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, Play On by Carrie Underwood, Angels by Robbie Williams, The Other Side of Down by David Archuleta, Long Live by Taylor Swift, Good Place by David Archuleta, Dog Days are Over by Florence + The Machine, and a bunch more. Generally I avoid any songs titled “Home” because they don’t help at all.
  • ·         Read back through your journal. Before exchange I never actively kept a journal but I really recommend it for any exchange students. I’m the type of person to notice patterns and it really helps to see that every time I was homesick before I felt better soon after.
  • ·         I like to remember the inane happiness that I felt last spring and summer about coming to Oman. I was absolutely psyched and sometimes it helps to remember why I wanted to come here in the first place. It also helps me to think about how absolutely lucky I am to have this opportunity. I mean, how many high school students can say they’ve been an exchange student in Oman? I think it’s about 9, so it helps me to remember how lucky I am to have this experience.
  • ·         Study the heck out of that language! I always feel better if I feel like I’ve accomplished something. What better to have accomplished than learning the word for olive in Arabic? Or orange? Or hungry? (In Oman, food is love). The same goes for learning about Islam or Omani culture. I love to sit and talk to my host family about that kind of thing.
  • ·         There are certain things that remind me of home but not in a homesick kind of a way. For example, my parents sent me a Christmas box that included a gingerbread house kit with five mini-houses. So my four host sisters and I had a fun evening putting those together. That kind of thing makes me think of home but in a way that’s more happy than regretful. I can have the good things of home while I’m in Oman!
  • ·         Sometimes if I’m really feeling homesick, I like to list all of the things at home that I just do not want to deal with: Nellie’s trumpeting, walking the dog in 5 degree weather, slush, and cleaning the garage to name a few. This is actually pretty helpful J I also remember how absolutely crazy America is right now in so many ways (from what the news says, it’s a big Republicanpartynomiation-badeconomy-celebritymess-coldweather-corruptpoliticians sort of a place right now).

And so this is just a portion of the list of how I deal with homesickness. Needless to say, overall the year is absolutely going wonderfully and I am a bit shocked that we are quite near the halfway point of this adventure! 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An Average Thursday

In Islam, the holy day is on Friday; therefore, we have our weekends on Thursday and Friday. This is all very confusing because I never know what day it is, but essentially all that you, the reader, need know for the sake of this blog post is that Thursday in Oman is the equivalent of a Saturday in America--it's the first day of the weekend.

On each Thursday it is typical for my host family to get together with extended family, normally on my host dad's side. When it's really hot out (aka any month but December and January and maybe February), we go to someone's house for lunch. But right now, because of the relatively cooler weather (for all y'all Wisconsinites... it's 70 F right now and it's about 9:30 pm Muscat time) we go to the beach for lunch and have a mini-potluck. We bring chairs and laugh at silly tourists in Speedos and eat lots of food. And my host uncles try to persuade me to marry an Omani guy, get an Omani passport, or go into business in Oman. Preferably all three, I think. After we're finished eating, we drink tea and eat some sort of dessert.

It's a beautiful place at the beach--I think that a lot of tourists come to Oman just because of how gorgeous Oman's beaches are. They cover thousands of kilometers, and by beaches I mean sand and ocean and palm trees.

Here are some pictures from the beach:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Just like every 365 days, the old year has been thrown out and a newer, hopefully shinier one has taken its place. This is a time for reflection and resolution making. My time in Oman has given me a lot to reflect upon, but there are also some things I'd like to improve to make the best of my remaining time posing as an Omani, and there are also some goals I have for the remaining part of 2012.

A year ago, I was a sophomore in high school set on being an exchange student to Egypt. I incredibly focused on APUSH. I had heard briefly of the YES program but I had not even started the application (which, by the way, is due in early-mid January: to anyone thinking of applying, work on that now!) I honestly don’t think that I had much of a concept of what Oman was—I may not have even known where it was. It most certainly did not cross my mind that I might end up living there.  I applied three days before the deadline.

And then life just kind of went on, school, show choir and newspaper taking the majority of my time. Egypt sort of imploded so I looked into other opportunities… my AFS application was switched to Turkey and I emailed to switch my YES application twice, I think. In the end, Oman was my first choice, mostly because of my talking to a former YES student to Oman and also because I wanted to learn Arabic.

Come mid-March, I was flown with the 75 other semi-finalists to Denver for a 3-day selection event that mostly consisted of interviews, group work, and sessions regarding being an exchange student. We went home, and fast-forward to April 12th, 2011: Finalists were announced. I was working on the school paper late at night and checked my email compulsively like I had so often for the past few weeks, finally to see that desired subject line: YES Abroad Oman- Finalist.

Cue massive freakout.

After the initial excitement, though, there wasn’t much to do but wait. Take the APUSH exam. Go about my average American life. Take an intensive Arabic class. We did go for a few days to Washington, DC, for our orientation but otherwise the summer dragged out. I remember talking with the other YESers headed to Oman about how much we just wanted to leave right now! In the months that followed I talked to my host family over the internet, saw my grandparents, attended a few fairs, and generally spent every waking moment anticipating.

And then it was the big day: September 1st, 2011. I hugged my family goodbye, and went to board a plane. I didn’t sleep at all on the trip, not from Chicago-DC-Frankfurt-Abu Dhabi-Muscat. A few highlights of our trip included German chocolate, a killer light that kept flickering on and inhibiting any chance of sleep, and a lady with a poodle in her purse.

After what seemed like an eternity of travel, we landed. I'm not going to go into detail regarding the last few months; you can read my blog if you want to know more. The months since then seem like such an absolute blur. I have tried so many new things and learned so much, not only about Omani culture, but also about myself. Who I am. Why I’m here. And where I want to go.

Oman has fundamentally changed who I am. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell how, but I can feel it. The people I have met, the foods I have tasted, the Arabic I have tried to speak, the clothes I have worn, the extreme heat I have felt, the true interest people have shown learning my story—all of these and more have helped me to grow as a person. Oman has rekindled my love for life.

As of today, January 1, 2012, I have 170 days left in Oman. And so here, for you, internet viewers, to see, are my list of goals for 2012.

  • ·         Learn Arabic. My Arabic is, to date, not exactly stellar. I can understand more than I can say, but still Arabic is just a hard language. I’d like to become at least conversational by the time I leave. As of now I can say basics, but there are some things I just wish I was better at.
  • ·         Learn even more about Islam. I already know a lot, but I know that there are always more questions I can ask. And there will always be answers, even if they aren’t what I was looking for. This could arguably be the most important on the list, just because of the mission of the YES program, which is essentially to educate young people about other cultures, particularly those related to Islam.
  • ·         Read every book on my Kindle. There are 36.*
  • ·         Understand more to the call to prayer than the first two words (allahu akbar, meaning God is great). This ties in with my first and second resolutions.
  • ·         Discover new music. I plan to rely on the other YESers for this, because their taste in music is much more sophisticated than mine.
  • ·         Strengthen relationships I’ve begun to form. This goes for so many people: my host family (immediate and extended), my Omani friends, the YES Abroad students (y’all are honestly some of the most understanding people I’ve ever met), and most of all, myself. I have a lot to learn about what it means to be Emma, but Oman has put me on a great track.
  • ·         Master the art of Omani cooking. And Indian cooking.
  • ·         Ride a camel. To date, the only time I’ve done this was at the Wisconsin State Fair last summer. Go figure.  
  • ·         Upon return to America, teach people what I’ve learned, regarding so many aspects of my stay. Islam, Middle Eastern culture, etc.
  • ·         Apply to college. It’s mildly terrifying to think that I’m practically old enough to move out on my own… wait…

*this may contribute to my being considered “anti-social,” but if you want to look at objectively, it’s just another kind of social. Reading is, for me, about being social with the intellectual aspect of my brain. I can’t be outwardly social with other humans if I have no platform upon which to base my conversations, so therefore I choose to read to make such a platform for socialization.