Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oman Insights and Observations

This week marked two months since I’ve been in Muscat and I’ve experienced a lot in a short time.  I got a job, learned how to drive in this crazy city and how to find my way around (for the most part).  I’m learning the best neighborhoods to shop in for certain things and how to barter (pretty much the malls are the only stores where bartering doesn’t happen).  I’m learning about the many different cultures that reside here and how to show respect without compromising on the fact that I’m a Christian American.  The following is a little insight to some of the things I’ve discovered living in the city of Muscat.

As I sit here drinking it, I’ve grown quite fond of Indian tea.  The kind in the red box that’s full of loose tea leaves, rather than teabags.  A little cream and it’s not only a great energy booster but it tastes delightful.  Coffee is hard to come bye – the real stuff that is – and most people drink instant coffee.  It works, but I’m finding I prefer the real coffee beans or this Indian tea to instant coffee if I can.

I’ve also grown fond of carrying a sweatshirt with me to work every day.  Though this is the Middle East, there’s a significant climate change when you step inside a building.  That’s how people manage to wear pants and long sleeves when it’s 120 degrees (F) outside – when you step into the A/C it drops to 65. 

Doing a workout here is nothing like doing on in the grand ole USA.  You have to have a thick skin and solid self-confidence if you’re going to go to the gym.  99% of the crowd is male, and 80% of that 98% have no qualms about staring.  It’s not uncommon for me to be sprinting on the treadmill and in the mirror watch men trip over themselves as they stare while walking bye.  It’s also very common for me to go to an empty space of the gym and start a workout, and within five minutes I’m surrounded.  They work out – but they rest a lot and eyes are often fixated on one common object!  Back to my point – you have to have a thick skin and solid self-confidence to really not care about all of that and simply do your workout.  The alternative is to go to an all woman’s gym but, let’s face it, the free weights and machines are so much better where the guys are at!

On the topic of clothing: as a woman in Oman, I’m blessed in that I don’t have to wear the abaya or hijab like the Muslim women.  Oman is so tolerant of other religions it’s simply not a requirement or even a suggestion.  I can walk down the street in modest shorts and a tank top without anyone stopping me or giving me dirty looks.  I will, however, get all sorts of catcalls and honks from passing cars.  A happy compromise – I wear jeans and cover my shoulders if I go out or into a shop or restaurant.  I still get catcalls and honks and stares, but that’s the tradeoff for not having to wear the abaya or hijab.

Driving is a whole other animal here.  Never get behind a taxi while driving on the highway – they’re liable to stop at any time and it’s your fault for being dumb enough to be behind them when that happens.  Also, the speed limit is merely a suggestion, and you have a solid 20 kilometers faster you can go before you get photographed by one of the speed checks that pop up every kilometer or so.  Of course, the biggest cause of accidents is due to speeding and I see one about every other day.

Unlike the States, Oman only has two phone carriers.  Every month you either have to add more money to your plan, or you have to put enough money on your phone so that you can simply renew your plan each month.  There’s also a specific code you have to insert when you do this that will channel your money either to Internet, calls or both.  I’m still getting the hang of this, and admit I have spent way more money than I should have because I forgot to enter a code and was charged per megabyte, rather than being charged a certain number of megabytes for the month.  I’m still figuring this whole part of everyday life out.

One of my all time favorite local meals is Lebanese and it’s called a shawarma.  Chicken, pickles, French fries and some delicious sauce all wrapped up in Arabic bread.  Some restaurants put lettuce and a few other things inside, but this is seriously one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.  If it weren’t so somewhat unhealthy I’d probably have one a day.  Instead I treat myself once every couple of weeks.  There’s a restaurant called Arax in Qurum near the Intercontinental hotel that has the BEST shawarmas.  Second best are at Al Jood’s Restaurant in Azaiba.  My fallback meal when I’m pressed for time or just want something healthy: Fattoush.  It’s a salad made up of tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, parsley, lemon juice, sumac, garlic, and a shallot.  It’s healthy and very refreshing.  Honestly between lemon juice and olive oil I no longer even consider buying salad dressing.

Another observation, the cooler it gets the more people come out of the woodwork.  Very interesting things happen in this city as the weather improves.  Outdoor concerts and theater are available for free for the public’s enjoyment and football (soccer) games are thrown together on the side of the highway wherever there’s grass to support it.  Cafes and restaurants stay open late so people sit over plastic tables sipping chai or Turkish coffee as late as midnight and sometimes later.  Street shops (and malls) stay open longer too, so it’s common to see people shopping as late as 11 o’clock at night.

I’m learning how to be respectful with Meg as well.  Most people here are terrified of big dogs.  About 1 in 10 will actually be happy to see her and want to pet her.  For the sake of the rest I always have to ride an elevator alone with her, unless I’m invited inside.  When walking her on the street I purposefully put myself between her and those we pass otherwise they take such a wide berth into traffic I worry they’ll get hit by a car because they’re so concerned about avoiding Meg.  And under no circumstances is she allowed to smell people – at all!  Unless they ask to pet her, she can’t even lean over to smell them otherwise they jump back and fear she’s going to bite.  It’s a shame really – she’s such a love-bug and adores people.  But, I make up for it when we’re home, and when church is at my place everyone loves on her then too.

I’m reminded of Paul when he said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” (Romans 12:18) and “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself.  But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.  If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love… Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil,” (Romans 14:14-16).  What I do may not be wrong or disrespectful in the States, but here it could be both of those things.  For the sake of loving others the way Christ calls me to love, I have to do whatever I can to live at peace with people, and respect what they believe is unclean or improper.  I may not need to wear the abaya or hijab, but I certainly don’t want to walk inside a store in a strapless top and short shorts, or don a bikini on a public beach.

Another scripture, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some,” (1 Corinthians 9:22b).  While I don’t need to dress, speak or act exactly like everyone else, it’s good to adapt to the culture and learn how to dress respectfully, speak the language and act in a way that would instill joy and encouragement in others.  My goal is to help the church here to grow, and if my words, dress and behavior already put them off how can I fulfill my goal?  Ultimately, God’s goal.

There’s much to learn and experience, but I’m enjoying the bits and pieces as they come along.