Archive for July, 2014
So we’ve been assigned a house and we’ll be moving after Eid, the big holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. It sounds a lot like Christmas: family gatherings, huge meals and lots of sweets, gifts and general goodwill toward men, and so forth. We won’t be around for any of this because…
We’re going to India! (Er, there will probably be some Eid-celebrating there as well, but Islam is not the majority religion.) Karan and I have been planning this trip with varying degrees of seriousness since we got married seven years ago, and it’s finally happening. It’s so much easier to get there from here than from the States, and I’m pretty pumped that an epic flight and brutal jet lag will not be part of this experience.
I’m not sure what to expect, and that’s totally okay with me. I took a break from studying Arabic about a week ago when I realized my time would be better spent brushing up on my Hindi, which is meager, but I’m way closer to understanding it than Arabic. (That is not saying much at all. I wrote a whole post about studying Arabic, but it puts my ignorance in bas-relief so I’m still screwing up the nerve to post it.) A lot of people in Mumbai speak Marathi, but K’s kin speak Hindi and Urdu, so I will probably hear plenty of it. I also reacquainted myself with the Devanagari alphabet, so maybe I can read a sign or two, though Marathi has its own script as well, so who knows. I should mention that I’ve never had even the shortest conversation in any foreign language, so I’m managing my expectations on that front.
It’s monsoon season in Mumbai, and I haven’t seen a drop of rain in over two months, so that is exciting. And although I appreciate how Ramadan has made me reflect on my wanton hedonism (no sarcasm), I think I’m ready to get back to my regularly scheduled program. That is, I plan to buy a beer at the earliest opportunity.
But I’m most looking forward to meeting K’s friends and extended family. He’s met most of mine, and I’ve met very few of his, so this is way past due. I have to admit, though, that I’m nervous about socializing again. Ramadan has been lazy and quiet for us, and I’ve gotten very comfortable doing my various solitary activities and being more or less alone with my thoughts. I’ve always considered myself an extrovert, so it’s been a surprise that I’m actually enjoying this social isolation, which I will acknowledge is somewhat self-imposed. I just don’t have a lot of energy for braving the heat, the unfamiliar environs, and awkward social situations all at once. Frequent calls to the States have helped, as has knowing that things should pick up in August.
All this to say, I’m bracing myself for the crush of humanity in Mumbai. I couldn’t be coming from a more sedate, sanitized environment, so this should be interesting.
On some level I’m embarrassed to admit how much we’ve been keeping to ourselves, especially because this blog was supposed to be a window onto another part of the globe. (This was uncharacteristically ambitious, I now realize.) We have been going out and taking care of business and making friends and so forth, but we have not done much intentional exploring. Earlier this week we figured we should get out of the house, so went to the Muttrah Souq in the evening. Even though the souq is a pretty popular tourist destination and very much on the beaten path, going there made us realize the extent to which we’ve been in our little expat bubble. It’s hard to explain, but the neighborhood actually looked like a neighborhood, and the energy was both very unfamiliar and also more normal for us dyed-in-the-wool city people. Like I said: hard to explain. It was too dark for decent photos and the shops were closing anyway, but I’ll make a point to go back. It was already late and there was a very real possibility of getting lost, so we only wandered far enough to see most of the jewelry and some fabrics. I want to find the produce and the fish. And maybe get a little lost.
So! There’s my update and I am resisting the urge to apologize for this insipid report and lack of fun photos.
It’s hard to find a cohesive theme for posts, so here are some disjointed observations about our life in Muscat:
- All of the outlets in our apartment have an on/off switch.
I’m sure the reason for this is immediately obvious to some people, but I didn’t figure it out until I pulled my laptop plug from the socket without first flipping the switch, and I got the same spark I always get when I unplug my laptop. Aha! It makes perfect sense to stop the current before connecting to or disconnecting from power. Obviously. This should be standard everywhere.
- The mangos from South Asia are superior to the mangos from Mexico. There are more varieties, and they all have a higher flesh-to-pit ratio. And they are really delicious. I often cut one up and put half in a container for later, but this is folly because I always go back and finish it in the same sitting.
- The vast majority of local businesses have little to no web presence, so google maps isn’t particularly useful. Also, most shops keep strange hours, especially during Ramadan, and often the only way to know if they are open is to call or go there. This took some getting used to.
- I know people complain about drivers everywhere, but the drivers here don’t stay in their lanes. This is particularly noticeable (read: terrifying) on the tortuous, two-lane roads that snake up and down the hills in residential areas. Also, outer lanes on the highways don’t always merge gracefully into traffic. Sometimes they vanish into the retaining wall.
- Victoria’s Secret at the Qurum City Centre mall appears to be a purveyor of body wash and handbags. I assumed this was some kind of modesty thing, but there’s a lingerie shop directly opposite, so who knows. I don’t shop at VS anyway so my curiosity about the lack of bras at the bra store is purely academic.
- The vast majority of Western expats in Muscat clear out during the summer to go home or on holiday. When I first arrived and was researching Arabic courses and TESL programs, it soon became clear that nothing is happening before September. I have realigned my expectations for the summer. More on this coming soon to a blog near you (this one).
We decided to celebrate the 4th of July even though we are somewhat constrained by Ramadan, a scarcity of compatriots, and general new-around-here-ness. It’s illegal to eat, drink, or smoke in public during daylight hours, and you cannot purchase alcohol anywhere at all. We did stock up before Ramadan started, but we were not in party planning mode then. We also don’t have a house yet, and our balcony is too small for grilling. And our grill is in a shipping container somewhere with the rest of our stuff anyway.
So we waited until sundown and went to the club where there are grills on the beach. They look like this in daylight. Very pretty, but the sun is super hot, so waiting until dark was probably not a bad idea anyway. It doesn’t photograph well at night, but for posterity… Only one of our guests was American, but they were all good sports. And the beach was empty so we could have our music and discreet cocktails without bothering anyone.
It was actually pretty fun, but now that I’ve written all that out, I’m trying to remember why it seemed important that we mark the occasion. I think it was mostly an excuse to make my annual flag cake. This year’s cake was subpar. I used canned whipped cream (I have a lot of excuses, but none of them are legitimate) and then it ran out super quickly. You can see that the cookies have NICE stamped on them, which is kind of funny.
I was surprised the berries were even available. The guy who’s been living here longest took one look at the cake and said “That’s gotta be like 10 rials in berries” and when I mentally tallied it up, he was correct. That’s well over $20, for reference. Such is my devotion to flag cake (or maybe I did the math wrong in the store). If I were to do it again I would use something else because I had to throw out a lot of moldy ones and the rest were kind of sour.
There’s always next year.