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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One Day at a Time

In the United States, we are accustomed to very regular and predictable schedules. Living in a foreign country involves dropping this expectation. I can attempt to illustrate this point through road closings and holidays.

My arrival happened to coincide with a visit from the Queen of England. The problem was that this involved periodic and unpredicatable road closings for a few hours each day to allow the queen, the sultan, and other comrades to pass through. Since there is one main highway running through Muscat and dividing the city in half, this is a big deal. For my first few days, the time I left work was dictated by the road closings. More importantly, the decision to conduct or cancel English classes at AMIDEAST was based upon the state of the roads. If classes were cancelled, the decision was spur of the moment – no more than a day in advance and as little as a few hours. As far as I can tell, this ambiguity is no big deal for students.

If the road closings did not create confusion enough, add in the holidays. Three major holidays have affected the work schedule since I arrived. They are Eid, National Day, and the Islamic New Year. Eid started and finished before I got here. This year, Eid coincided with National Day, a holiday to honor Sultan Qaboos and the Sultanate of Oman, so celebrations were postponed. National Day is generally celebrated on the sultan’s birthday, November 18. Sultan Qaboos bin Said began his rule on July 23, 1970, after his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur, was overthrown. Since then, the country has undergone a remarkable period of development. This year marks a landmark – the 40th National Day – and this holiday is no joke! All the streets are strung with lights (picture the States at Christmas), there are small, large, and giant Omani flags everywhere, and cars are painted green, red and white. For weeks, kids have left school early to practice for National Day demonstrations. In the United States you may expect to go out and see a basketball game on in a bar, but around here lately, you may see, for example, the entire Omani military marching around a stadium, with the sultan solemnly looking on from the stands.

Right now, it is the Islamic New Year. Because the Islamic calendar is a few days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, this holiday does not fall on the same day each year. Instead, it is dictated by the location of moon. It was recently declared that Tuesday (yesterday) through Saturday is a holiday for the public sector. But up until a couple days ago, since there was no telling exactly when the crescent moon would be visible, these day off were not guaranteed. After much speculation and anticipation, people are now enjoying their breaks.

One implication for me is that the start date of our Access Program has been pushed from December 11 to December 13. This is actually a huge relief as it gives me two extra days to find a place to live! (This is a topic for another post which, Insha'Allah, will be a very positive report.)

The unpredictable work schedule can be kind of a hassle, but on the bright side, there is a rumor circulating that December 25-December 29 will be declared a national holiday (a “National Week” to celebrate Oman – why not?). It looks like Christmas break is a real possibility!

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