Even though I have been in Muscat, Oman, for over 24 hours, I have alternated between being conscious of and completely oblivious to this fact. Before leaving it was hard for me to accept the magnitude of what I was doing. Perhaps I was too consumed with packing a bag of exactly 50 pounds (which I “accomplished” thanks to some rounding down and a generous tip at the airport). I figured that it would hit me once I got to the airport. Saying goodbye to my family, it did to some extent, but not fully. Even when I stopped in London and then Abu Dhabi, I felt like this could have been any old day. Luckily, on the third leg of the trip, as we descended toward Muscat, I felt it – the complete mixture of nervousness and excitement that one would expect when moving to an unfamiliar country for 7 ½ months. When I was certain that what I was seeing below was the real live Middle East, I stared out of that window like a little kid looking for Santa on Christmas Eve.
Then I arrived on the ground. After going through customs I easily spotted my “welcoming committee.” I was at an advantage, since I was looking for the familiar face of Irene, my friend from Uganda. We all quickly got into conversation mode and while talking to new and old friends, I yet again felt like I could have been anywhere. We drove to the AIESEC house, which is very spacious and nicer than I imagined.
I fell asleep pretty easily, but in the middle of the night I woke up in my big double bed thinking “where the heck am I?” As soon as I remembered, I had a moment of feeling very surreal. I soon drifted back to familiar dream world, but when I woke up at 6:15am (no jetlag recovery time for me!) and looked out the window at the mountains and unadorned-yet-elegant Omani architecture, I once again was aware that I was in an amazing place.
The reason I woke up so early was to attend an opening event for the English teaching program taking place in Muscat. I am not teaching in Muscat, but another intern is. It was a great intro to the program (the English Access Microscholarship Program, that is). Speakers included representatives from the Omani ministry of education, AMIDEAST (the nonprofit I am working with), and the U.S. Department of State (who is sponsoring the program). The day kept moving with a nice lunch at an outdoor restaurant with a view of the beach. I split a pizza with another intern (where am I again?). Then we visited the AMIDEAST office were I got a thorough tour and sat in on part of an upper-level English class. After learning more about the company and the program, I am feeling very grateful for the opportunity to work here!
Just as I was starting to accept that I was indeed in a new and very different part of the world, a friend drove me to the United States. I mean - to a nearby shopping mall. The first thing I saw was Sephora. The second thing I saw was Aldo (my favorite shoe store); and the third thing I saw was Forever 21. True - if you just looked around at the Arabic translations and the dress of men and women, you would notice distinct differences compared to the U.S., but just looking at the stores, I could have easly convinced myself that I was not just in an American mall, but one of the nicest one I’ve ever seen.
It’s nice to feel comfortable and natural here, but I hope to eventually fully appreciate where I am. I have no doubt that I will, especially once I leave the capital and start teaching – but it might take some time!
Thank you sincerely to all the people reading this and supporting me with this experience. I love you!