Thirteenth Blog, January 2, 2010!!!
We are home from the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and although we had a wonderful, warm, sunny trip, it is always good to come home even if it is a temporary home. There is something about being able to get our clothes out of a drawer instead of a suitcase.
As we mentioned previously, the opulence in the Emirates is truly amazing. We have never seen so many expensive cars in one block in all our lives. Carl tried not to salivate. There’s not a lot more to say on this matter than we wrote in the last blog.
Oman is less affluent than the Emirates, but still has considerable money coming from the sale of oil. It has a much older known history than the recorded history of the Emirates. Being positioned on the Gulf of Oman, and thus on the trade routes between Africa and India, it found itself being fought over by European powers as they extended their hegemony into this part of the world in the 16th, 17th,and 18th centuries. Parts of Oman were controlled by the Portuguese in the 16th century, 50 years before the English decided to put down roots in North America, so it was known about and discussed in European histories of this region long before the Gulf Arabs came into the consciousness of Europeans. Within the old town of Muscat, there’s a lovely museum dedicated to Omani-French relations since the late 1600s. Going through this museum, it’s fascinating to see how the European powers vied with each other for favorable consideration to the Omanis who have been largely self-governing.
Oman, more than the Emirates, is a country characterized by its mountains, which are obvious upon entering the country. There is a coastal plain, sometimes narrow, sometimes wide, but the dominating geographical feature of the northern part of the country is mountains.
In the area of Muscat, the mountains have had to be blasted through many times to make way for a modern highway system for a growing city. See the next couple of slides, shot from our hotel in Muscat to see the proximity of city – with its lovely white houses – and mountain.
With mountains, come valleys that lead out to the sea. These valleys, dry except in rare times of heavy rainfall, are called wadis. Traveling up the wadis into the mountains is now a big business for local tour operators in the Muscat area. The river beds are rough and rocky, and thus demand a four wheel drive vehicle with high ground clearance. We tried getting into one wadi with our little Nissan Sunny and gave up a couple of kilometers into the wadi, fearful of puncturing a tire on the jagged rocks, or worse, damaging the undercarriage of the car. I [Carl] was trying to figure out how I would explain to the folks at Budget car rental in Dubai how I had managed to put a hole in the oil pan of the engine, and no plausible explanations came to mind. Thus, we chose the course of caution and drove out of the wadi while tires and oil pan were still intact.
Because of long term instability prior to the modern period, virtually every town of any size has a fort to which townspeople went when there was threat of attack. We have included below this paragraph pictures of a couple of forts that dominate the towns of which they are a part. The first two are major forts guarding the harbor in Muscat, the others are in the towns of Rustaq and Nakhal.
In this part of the world, whether in northern Iraq or in Oman, with poverty comes poor public toilet facilities. Thus traveling beyond the convenience of hotels in large cities was a challenge. While the Omanis have tried to establish modern gasoline refill/rest stop facilities, there were places where day-long travel was difficult because facilities, especially for women, were either non-existent or the worst you can possibly imagine. But the old forts and city walls we walked were well worth the inconveniences. For the American tourist jaded with being in a crowd of tourists being herded through the Tower of London, Oman is worth serious consideration because it is still in the process of being discovered. It’s really quite lovely, English is widely spoken, and coming into the country with a US passport is quite easy. The shops are full of colorful, locally made objects, as well as carpets from Iran, Pakistan and Kashmir, and scarves from India. The gold souk is, well, a gold souk: lots of 22k, ornate gold. The people are warm and friendly. Just witness this group of school boys on their way home from school and willing to pose for a picture.
We did manage to spend one day on the beach of the Gulf of Oman so got just a little color in our skin even with the winter sun low in the sky. We were glad to be here in December, with temperatures in the mid- to upper-seventies, and not August when the temperatures regularly reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Returning to Sulaimani was quite an experience. After the opulence of the Emirates and Oman, we had to re-acquaint ourselves with all of the problems of a rebuilding city: trash in the streets and in empty lots, diesel powered electricity generators pumping exhaust fumes into the air 24 hours per day, brief power outages, tap water that we need to boil before we drink, a sewage system that cannot accommodate toilet paper, etc. And yet, with all these problems, Sulaimani feels more genuine – more truly itself, with all its warts -- than where we had been.
Now that we are back at our apartment, Carl has returned to grading exams which he left when we went on vacation. I, on the other hand, can’t bear to leave that kind of thing behind so, because all of mine are graded, I am taking this week to catch up on correspondence, laundry, etc.
As some of you know, we accepted a one year contract here with the understanding the university would like for us to consider a second year. After much soul searching on Carl’s part we have finally decided to make this experience only a one academic year assignment. Carl really struggled because he feels like he is having some impact on the students at AUIS but I was greatly relieved because I had already decided this was only a one year commitment for me. We told the Provost and he said he was not surprised at our news. He did tell Carl that I would be the harder one to replace! So we are now counting—five and one-half months to the end of our time here.
I have managed to make about four baby sweaters, a couple of scarves, one ladies’ hat and about four hats/mitten sets for children at the local refugee camp and orphanage. That makes the evenings go faster and I feel like I am helping those that need the help so badly. We have never visited the camp, but we have been told it is a crowded field of knee-deep mud and tents.
As we approach this new year of 2010, we do pray for peace. What we have seen here in this part of the world only points us more strongly toward the need for that end.