Birthday Fundraiser

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One home with a family on the side, please

In a previous post I alluded that finding a place to call home was a bit of a challenge. Now here I am, writing from my new flat in the outskirts of Sohar where I cannot believe my good fortune.

About a month ago, the principal of my school helped me locate a one-bedroom flat on the compound of a big Omani extended family. After weeks spent planning my move and tackling layers of dirt during the day, I ventured to spend my first night. After coming home that first evening, I was not really sure what to do with myself. As I sat counting spiders and wondering whether I should have considered this problem before deciding to rent the place, I got a knock at the door. It was a few ladies who wanted to say hi. They didn’t speak English but I did my best to greet them kindly. A few minutes later, another knock on the door. It was more ladies, and now some kids. I invited them in, but it was obvious that my little living room and tiny couch was not appropriate for this occasion, so I was invited one of the homes where I got my first taste of the real life of a traditional Omani family.

The ladies are all sisters-in-law. I rent the apartment from their husbands’ father. There are a bunch of kids ranging from 1 to 8. They spend the nights hanging out, talking, and watching TV until 11 or 12 while the men of the family work. (But if the men are not working for some reason, they will hang out, too.) What a tight-knit and affectionate group they are!

The next day, I assumed I was on my own for lunch. About one minute after carefully preparing my specialty – the tuna fish sandwich, – 8-year-old Ahmed appeared at my door with a plate of rice and meat. Ahmed’s mother in particular has taken me under her wing. Now I have lunch sent to me each day and a permanent invitation to her home for dinner. I won’t try to deny I am spoiled. The feel of Oman as changed. Now I have gotten a sense of tradition at a family party where I joined in the ladies’ activities, had some pretty henna done on my hands (which lasted a week), am becoming a pro at eating rice with my hands, and learning to blend in more fashion-wise. I wore a dress today that was given to me by an Omani girl and as soon as I walked into the classroom, I was told that I “became beautiful today.” (“I just became beautiful today, Halima?”)

I like to travel to get a feel for the culture and everyday life in a new place. Up until now, this has proven difficult in Oman. Omani life mostly happens inside the home. If you don’t live in an Omani home, it’s hard to truly know what Omani life is. I believe this is why the expat social network is so strong in Oman (and I have met some incredible expats in Sohar). I am very grateful for the expats I have met, but I would be dissapointed to leave without an Omani network, too. I know people who have lived here for years and have barely interacted with Omanis on a personal level. I have unwittingly found my invitation to “inside”, though, and I am very grateful! The spiders are a small price to pay.