Holidays are harsh when you're not at home. You've got a lot of fond memories and suddenly you're not allowed to live out your family traditions anymore. I spent a lot of this winter so far wondering whether lack of snow was going to be better or worse with regard to nostalgia, and now I think I have come to a conclusion.
If it had snowed, I would have been able to look outside my window and pretend I was in America. I would have been tempted to go running outside through the slush and smash it into walls and build little frozen people. I would have bundled up and layered on clothes before venturing out the door. But these are all things I do at home.
Instead, the heat and the sun and the lack of (much) visible change to the weather or landscape allowed me to fool myself a little, to make spending Christmas abroad that much more bearable.
And then, of course, I was also with the other girls, which made everything so much nicer and meant that we got to have a mass sleepover which concluded in everyone getting around three hours of sleep in a sort of pile on top of a mattress. It was, as Linden has trained me to say, "solid".
Overall I think spending the holidays abroad is a good thing, if you only do it a few times. It brings you to appreciate everything you have waiting for you even more, and steadies you with the knowledge that, if you made it through the holidays, you're going to be just fine.
And now, the weather:
It's been sunny and bright and beautiful and hot since I arrived, with the exception of the one day where it rained as well as the slowly (and slightly) decreasing temperatures the winter seems to have provoked.
There is no snow, but there is still lots of sand, which is useful for blowing in your eyes when you are trying to see things, as well as getting all over your shoes so they begin to camouflage with the environment.
All in all, it's a very unusual winter.
🎶San Francisco - The Mowgli's🎶
First off, I'm so sorry for how late this post is; I dropped the ball a bit but now I'm back.
So I am officially on vacation from school, and will continue to be off for an undetermined amount of time (I really need to check in with the school about that). Naturally, as a high school junior, my first priority was college (actually, maybe that's not natural. But it's how my brain functions). In the last few days I've gone through the 2,200 American colleges listed in the College Board's 2015 guide, and selected 92 for further review. I read a book regarding criteria one should use for selecting schools as well as strategies for admission, and, of course, spent lots of time wasting away in front of my computer screen as I procrastinated everything productive for just a few more minutes.
But the holidays are rapidly approaching, and lately I've been swept up in a small storm of homesickness as I Skype and Snapchat and text almost everyone on my contacts list back home in the hopes of letting some of that residual sadness go.
Luckily, at least recently, we've had some scheduled activities to make it easier for us to let off some steam and do things together. Last week we went to a center for children with disabilities, and each of us was placed in a classroom to help out. My classroom was one of two "academic" ones, and I spent the morning helping children solve puzzles, draw using stencils, and reviewing how to write the alphabet. It was a truly incredible experience, especially given that this is the only such center in the area, maybe even in Oman.
And last night we went to help out at a bookstore - this has been a sort of ongoing project for us... We went two weeks ago as well. We've been sorting and stacking and stamping books for the shelves in order to help get the business up and running quickly.
It's all been lots of fun, and a nice distraction from the fact that Christmas is soon, and I am far from home.
🎶White Christmas - Bing Crosby🎶
This week saw the passing of one of my personal favorite American holidays - Thanksgiving. Normally back home, I celebrate this holiday by spending a week cooking cranberry sauce and this cabbage/lentil thing my mom created before driving to New Jersey to celebrate with my cousins and family the day of. This year, however, I'm in Oman, more than 7,000 miles away from my family, celebrating with five girls I've known less than a year and a bunch of other people I've barely met.
But still, it's pretty perfect in its own way. Sure, I didn't get to sit around the table with my family and give thanks and hold hands and slip away into simultaneous food comas the way we usually do. But I did get to talk to them on Skype (VPN for the win, y'all) as they were preparing the turkey, and give thanks with my exchange sisters as we took part in our own Thanksgiving dinner halfway around the world.
This year, actually, I got two Thanksgivings. The first was on Monday night, when the six of us exchangers and our host families gathered at the house of the American Ambassador to Oman for a holiday dinner. The second was Thursday, the actual day of Thanksgiving. Although not everyone could make it, four of us went together to the home of a really nice woman who works at the embassy who was hosting a sort of holiday gathering. Everyone but us brought a dish to share, and we stuffed ourselves silly on everything available (included both baked AND fried turkey) before heading home with packages of leftovers in our laps.
That being said, Thanksgiving's been really hard for me. It's the first real holiday that I've been away from home, and it's difficult to remember previous years and imagine what this one could have been like. I think that's honestly one of the biggest challenges of being an exchange student; putting your drive to learn in front of the sadness and homesickness that come in waves at the least convenient times. Because it's easy to wish yourself back home with your family - it's hard to imagine that and say to yourself "But you know what? I'm happy here. I'm glad I'm here."
And this year I am thankful for that. I am thankful for the fact that I am here in Oman with five girls who a year ago were total strangers but with whom I now share the sort of friendship that has morphed into sisterhood as we have undertaken this incredible journey together. I am thankful for my friends and family back home, who support me in following my dream 7,000 miles away, and for my friends and host family here in Oman, who have made me feel at home in what was once a foreign land in just three short months. I am thankful for love, and laughter, and the way my three year old host sister's face lights up with a grin as she chucks one of her dolls at my head. I am grateful for the fact that turkey exists in this country, for the fact that "it's okay to get fat, I'm an exchange student", for all of the ups and down and bumps in the road that have led me to where I am today.
It's been hard to get here, and hard to be here, but I wouldn't trade my opportunity for anything in the world. So I guess I'm really just happy, and today, that's what I'm thankful for.
🎶American Pie - Don McLean🎶
It feels like forever since I've posted, but I waited until today for a reason - now I get to tell you about National Day!
In Oman this is a much bigger deal than in the U.S., which is something that shouldn't have shocked me because all we really do in America is watch fireworks and eat cake, but did all the same. About two weeks ago I found out about this, and upon reaching the understanding that we were going to have to wear Omani traditional clothing to school as part of the celebration I promptly set about trying to obtain some.
After much discussion on the topic, this past weekend my host aunt brought me back a beautiful blue dress from her trip to Nizwa, which I learned was being passed on to me by another member of my host family. It fits perfectly, and I love it (also it's the only piece of embroidered clothing I own).
National Day is celebrated on the 18th of November, the Sultan's birthday - but at ABQ we celebrated it today. Everyone wore their national dress to school, and during our assembly there was a program of speeches, poems, and plays as part of the festivities. Part of this program included myself and Linden - we spoke together about some of the differences we have discovered between America and Oman.
At the end of the assembly there was a fashion show which featured different styles of clothing from all around the country (although Oman is one nation, each province has a different style of national dress. My friend told me mine is the one from Muscat, the capital region. My personal favorite style is from Dhofar).
In America we celebrate our independence - in Oman the celebration is about the people and the culture, and the variations that occur therein while still remaining an amazing and united country. And maybe that sounds cheesy but I think it's really beautiful.
Because it's been so long I've included two songs, one of which was my jam over the last week and one of which is just really relevant to this country.
Yes, I am well aware I'm late in posting this week. but hey, there's a bunch of good reasons.
This week was one of the most packed we have had since arrival in country - every night of the week we were doing something together (we being the exchange girls). Monday was Women in the Arab World class, as usual, at AMIDEAST, and Wednesday was also our normally scheduled Arabic class. What was different was that this week, we had things planned for Tuesday and Thursday too.
Tuesday night was the Walk for a Cure (organized by the Oman Cancer Association). We went as a group along with a number of people from AMIDEAST, and spent about two hours in a park in Qurum doing an approximately 2k walk, eating cupcakes, and lying in the grass. Thus, our first real exercise (maybe second, counting Jabal Shams) ended in us melting into a puddle by a playground.
Thursday night was the real gem of the week though. The six of us headed over to the home of one of the AMIDEAST coordinators for a sleepover, and along with her daughter Nora (who is super awesome) we did some pretty fun things. First up was dinner, which was macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs and salad and I'm pretty sure all of us ate way more than we should have. Then we proceeded to the kitchen to carry out a Halloween tradition. Now normally, in the states, I carve a large pumpkin with my father into some sort of face. However, pumpkins are quite hard to obtain in Oman. So instead, we carved watermelons. I carved mine into the shape of a pumpkin.
We completed the night with apple crisp and a movie... Which was incredibly delicious (the crisp, not the movie, although that was good too). And then this morning we had a rather American breakfast of bagels, cream cheese, and something called french toast apple casserole (I promise, it's awesome).
It was really a great week for us to reconnect and bond as a group, and I'm really grateful for that.
🎶I Won't Give Up -Jason Mraz🎶
So this weekend was Eid Al-Adha, otherwise known as "Big Eid" (in more colloquial circles). I've had a bit of an unusual experience in that the majority of my host family went to their village while I made alternative plans - and for the last few days, and the next few as well, I've been bunking with Brandi and her host family in Muscat.
It's been super cool, and although I sort of wish my host family was here I know I'll be spending plenty more time with them soon. And I've had a really good time. On Saturday, we woke up and went outside to watch and take pictures of the sacrifices.Then we got all dressed up (Brandi and I borrowed dresses from her host sister), did our makeup (I had Omani charcoal eyeliner done for the first time) and set out to visit the family. Over the course of the day we went to six (?) houses, and at each one we ate a little more: assorted Eid sweets, bits of meat, bread, fruits, and many cups of Omani coffee. We also practiced our greetings, which vary person to person as well as with what one remembers at a given moment (if you forget the formal greeting, try to move on with a smile and a simple "Eid Mubarak!").
Sunday morning... Well, we slept through Sunday morning. But Sunday afternoon we saw the shoowa (meat from the sacrifice which has been cooked underground in banana leaves for a day) brought back, and then we had bits of it with rice and vegetables. Brandi and I even tried a bit of the brain... Although I can't say it was my favorite thing in the world, I'm glad I can now say I've tried it.
Eid is really cool. It's probably one of the more cultural times of year, and I'm really happy to have experienced it. In just a few short days, I've had my henna done, I've tried goat/sheep brains (I'm honestly not sure which) and I've spent time in the homes and company of some really nice people.
I'm very grateful for my opportunity to experience this. I am thankful for the people who support my decision to be here, and for those who have already set out to someday make similar decisions of their own. I am so blessed to be able to share Omani culture with you - to be able to share it with myself, and this holiday has been a time for me to reflect on and continue to experience the intricacies of Oman.
🎶Tu Meri - Bang Bang (Hindi Movie) Soundtrack🎶
Hi! My name is Karla Cox. This blog is a compilation of notes, thoughts, and photos from my travels around the world.