Over the past 3 1/2 months, I have become totally absorbed in Omani family life. This has involved an interesting progression of emotions.
I started off ecstatic to have the opportunity to see Omani life from the inside. I felt (and still feel, don’t get me wrong) so lucky to tread in territory that is often off-limits to expats. I had a goal when I arrived in Oman to attend an Omani wedding… I got more than I bargained for! I have been to two weddings but that’s not all. Family gatherings, barbecues, engagement parties, trips to get henna, and more.
It was amazing to see all this, but after a few weeks of constant Omani events, something hit me. I started to become almost painfully aware of my differences. It is not easy to blend in in Oman. I can sum it up this way: If traveling to Uganda taught me to recognize similarities across cultures, traveling to Oman has made me very aware of dfferences. I don’t mean this is a negative way. There are certainly many similarities between me and the people I am close to here, but these similarities were expected. Maybe I didn’t anticipate so many differences – that’s why they stand out.
Obviously I am not a family member, I don’t know all the customs, and I don’t speak the language. But oddly enough, what I find myself thinking about the most is the fact that my dress is different. Even if I am given an Omani dress to wear, I still don’t feel as though I am blending in. In fact, that makes me stand out even more because everyone gets a good kick out of seeing the American girl wearing Omani dress. After the initial excitement of seeing Omani life, but when I was still pretty new here, I started to really feel like a “tagalong” all the time. No matter what people were actually thinking or saying, I would always hear something like, “Who is this strange person you brought to the party and why is she wearing pants?” (I wore pants rather than a skirt to the first family party I attended and never did it again.)
I think no matter what I was bound to get over this paranoia as I got more familiar with individual family members and they got used to seeing me. Nevertheless, one big change gave a boost to this transformation of thought. The change was: I rented a car! Everyone has places to go and things to do but few people (i.e. the men) drive. [Side note: A great deal of women in Oman do drive; a woman driver is not remarkable. But this is the trend in this particular family.] So with my rental car, I suddenly carved out a niche for myself within the family. Need to go food shopping? Done. KFC for dinner? Done. Need to go somewhere for henna? I’ll be there at 8. For one thing, I could contribute something to the people who have done so much for me. More importantly, I got over the tagalong complex. Now when the someone plans a small visit to the home of a family member (a mother, sister, etc.) with me as the driver, I feel like more than a tagalong; I feel like an integral part of the plan. If I don't go, no one goes! (haha)
Nevertheless, there are still times when I feel like an outsider. I think it is inevitable, especially around the 3 and now 4 month mark of being away from home. I feel that am alternating between feeling like I am fitting in and not fitting in, seeing all my similarities and then all my differences. Overall, though, it is a good balance. I still can’t envision a better experience in Oman!