Thursday, 27 December 2012

An Alternative Christmas

 It really didn't feel like Christmas.  The people I spoke to agreed - "It's the weather," they said, "It's not the right weather, it's all sunny and warm."  Well, it wasn't the weather.  The weather was perfectly presentable as far as Christmas weather went.  Was it being in an Islamic country?  Well no.  Christmas decorations appeared for sale in the shops in November (really?  That early in a non-Christian country? Really?)  There were even Christmas trees dotted around the place.  There was a big one in the Sabco Commercial Centre (a bastion of bloke-ness Omani style - it even has it's own souq) and who should be seated in front of it?  Father Christmas!  Ye Gods and Little Fishes!

No, it was the lack of boys.  My boys.  I've done Christmas with just one of them.  That was fine.  But with none at all, I couldn't quite get the hang of it.  I couldn't get revved up at all.  I was getting quite pathetic, so David decided that we had to do something completely different. The desert perhaps?  Spend Christmas eve in a tent in the desert, stars twinkling overhead, camels doing what camels do, the whole desert Omani thing.  "Nope"  I said "I need to be able to talk to the boys on Christmas Day - we can't do that in the desert."  That fixed that.  Not to be deterred (possibly the thought of being stuck at home with a totally pathetic, damp wife on Christmas Day was his motivation) he booked us into The Sahab hotel on the top of Al Jabal Al Akhtar, one of the highest points in Oman.  "We'll wake up early, have a quick breakfast and be off!).  Right.  Those of you who read David's Dribblings will have read the great Christmas plug saga and know that we didn't wake up early, we didn't have a quick breakfast and we certainly didn't dash off.  We did however, spend a lovely couple of hours eating bacon and eggs and chatting with Rufus (for whom it wasn't quite Christmas) and BJ (for whom it was almost all over, bar the dishes), along with several assorted family members spread across Melbourne.  Lovely.

We arrived at the hotel with plenty of time to spare before sunset.  In fact, in plenty of time for a beer in the garden.  Beer in the garden is not unheard of in Oman, but in a dry hotel it is alittle unusual to say the least.  You can only get in the garden.  A lovely young (non Islamic) lass pops it on your table for you and it was rather nice after the drive up the mountain on a lovely new mountain road with concrete barriers hiding the precipitous drops rather than trees. I've decided I rather like naked mountains, you can see what you're getting yourself into before you get into it!

Just before we started the climb.  All dark and big and looming.

The trouble you can get into even after you see it.
This was sitting at the police check point just so you knew......
On the way up!

Oooooo look toy houses (that are already most of the way up)
And yes, sunset was rather nice
Lovely village with some terracing
Just to put terracing in perspective
After a simply scrumptious breakfast, that came after sleeping until the sun came up!!!!! (Note to those who don't realise...the sun now comes up after 7:00am, David's alarm goes of at 5:15)  We set off for the three villages walk.  An easy walk the map said, just four kilometres, it will take around two hours one way.  Right!  The hotel offered a free pickup service from along the route - you would've thought that might have told us didn't.  We did, however, get the phone number (phew).

So this easy little walk started well.  We were following painted markers.  It all looked lovely.  There were cute stone houses.

A cute stone house with an even cuter door.  The doors in Oman are awesome!
We wandered through the first village, hibernating pomegranate trees with their Christmas decorations of dried pomegranates everywhere, magnificent views on the other side of nice, study fences.  Then the goat track went up...wait goat track?  Yes look at the painted thingy!  Okay goat track... and went down, up and down, down, get the picture.  A friendly (!!) Bangladeshi fell into step with us just in time to help me down some quick ikky bits.  Ahhh, that's why he was helping, copping a feel of the western ladies tits hey?  Luckily I remembered the arabic word for finished and he knew it to.  Otherwise there was going to be a husband dealing with the 'guide.' ***

David with our 'handy' guide before I discovered how handy he was.
Then things started getting interesting. Those of you who know me well, will know that I have a little phobia - falling.  Mmmmm goat tracks on a mountain...falling...who'da thought? Never mind, the courage got screwed to that place where courage gets screwed to and I soldiered, slowly, on.  David was frightfully helpful, he'd quite kindly fall down the parts that were tricky so I knew when exactly to be extra careful.  Have I told you how much I love my husband.  Anyway it was all worthwhile.  We came out (or should I say down, over, across etc) in the terraces of the second village.  Here was high country idylle, Omani style.

Before playing on your terrace it's important to have a chat and organise before you  jump....
...down to the next terrace.....
A mountain of extremes
We will definitely be back in summer, if only to see the pomegranates in leaf and fruit.  Apparently this is where they grow the best pomegranates in the country.  It's also where the roses are grown and the the essence distilled............mmmmmmm roses........mmmmmmm.  We kept on trundling down and across the mountain and eventually arrived in the third village.  I was feeling rather tired, dripping with sweat, and very pleased with myself.  The end was in sight.  We just had to go to the final village (yes, I know, the three village walk has four villages sigh) along next to the road.  It must be this way.  There were four of us at this stage, a lovely, young Canadian couple had caught up to us and we walked on together chatting.  Not paying much attention.  Look, steps this must be right it's going down.  "Hey guys, there aren't any markers and the roads up there"  "But it must be right, we'll see you at the end"  Walking, walking, down the steps, the many, many steps (you can see where this is going can't you?)  "Errrr" came a voice from below "this isn't the right way"  Back we went, up the many, many, many, many steps - did I say there were steps? Up?  Right, now up to the road. Up. To. The. Road. Up, in the steep sense of up.  The the real road and path.  Goodness gracious! What a surprise!  It's going up!!!!

There were moments during this part that I was sure that I had made a very bad mistake.  My left knee agreed.  Loudly and painfully. "You're 54 you stupid woman!  What are you doing?!"  I ignored it and my back, which had been in spasm for the last few days wisely kept quiet and doing its getting Katrina up the road job.  We got to the top and there was flatness.  Stoney, hot and windy flatness.  Who cares?  I was dripping wet and sweat finally got to do its job.

A mountain within a mountain
This view meant that I knew my knee was not lying when it said I'd gone a long way.  From the hotel I could only see the other side of this little beastie!  We got to the final village and rang the nice people at the hotel.  Five to ten minutes they said.  Less than ten minutes later the very, very lovely Omani picked us up and took us back to the hotel.  I got as far as the restaurant and David suggested lunch.  Yay!  I'd been thinking very fondly of orange fizzy drink and there it was.  Aaaaaaaaah.

Another lovely surprise was a little FB chat with my sister while I ate and I staggered off to the beautiful deluxe room to get my togs on.  The my knee had its little treat.  A walk in the cold pool.  It was ecstatic!  The rest of me was not at all impressed!  So, once the knee was almost back to normal knee size I hopped into the warm pool.  Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh.

So all in all a very nice Christmas and Boxing Day.  Whether either of us will be able to move tomorrow is still to be discovered.  I have to say though, whether you are religious or not, Christmas without family is a little odd and I don't think I'm prepared to get used to it.

***The incident of the handy man was duly reported after I thought about it and started worrying  about other women coming through.  The hotel owner was horrified and insisted that a report be made to the police.  He took us to the police and explained the situation - thank goodness, our Arabic is nowhere near that.  The upshot is that a local file will be opened, no courts involved.  When they find the fellow (they have a copy of his photo), he and his sponsor will be called into the police station for "hard words."   The hotel also has a copy of the photo and they are going to keep an eye out and deliver him to the police.  There is a zero tolerance policy here and the result will probably be his sponsor sending him home, but no negative publicity for what is a very beautiful hotel in a very beautiful place.  This is the outcome that we wanted which is very pleasing.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Just some random images

A stationary Button

Button was on the head board of the day bed, completely still for 20 minutes.  I wonder what she was looking at?  No prizes for guessing...................................

Yup, a bird
I have no idea what kind of bird this is.  Possibly some sort of dove.  It had just had a bit of a bath in a puddle and was drying it's feathers on our wall. Since we have reflective stuff on our windows, it was completely unaware of the killing machine only a few feet away.  I shall call it the Oblivious Bird!  We have a lot of birds visit the garden.  Luckily the local cats are not interested.

The dome of the main prayer room of Sultan Qaboos Mosque

One of the spinnerets lurking behind the bulk of the buildins

We parked at the wrong gate, but the walk round was lovely.

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is only open to non Muslims on working days, so we took advantage of Eid to have a look.  On this visit, we neglected to discover that it was only open from 8:00am to 11:00am, the longest period between prayers.  Of course, I left my camera behind the other times I have been.  It is a must see for soooooooo many reasons, not the least of which is astonishing combination of Islamic arts from so many different countries.

The full moon
We now have a sitting area on the roof, a perfect place to snooze away a day.  At night it's rather nice too.  So nice, that the moon came to visit

So what happens when it rains in Muscat?  Well, the ground gets wet and the water runs to the sea through the wadi's and, apparently, Mutra Souq.

The Souq is covered, sort of, and the roof is a roof, sort of.  Let's just say that it didn't rain for the couple of hours that we were there, but water kept flowing.

Equality of the sexes is alive and well in Oman - the men have to worry about their hemlines as well (as my mother-in-law rather cheekily pointed out).

One of the very lovely things about Oman is that the white, or off white, houses and landscape mean that every bit of colour gleams, whether gold, silver, celebratory lights in the streets, the loops of amazing lights on the LuLu Hypermarket (it's big, there are A LOT of lights), the colours of the traditional Omani clothes.  The rain at the souq gave a glimpse underneath the black abaya that has become the most common street wear.  When I visit the hospital I get to see the older women in more traditional dress and this time it was a chance to see the younger women flash their pretties.  The abaya is worn very long and mostly Omani women walk very slowly and gently, so as not disturb their out covering.  However, when there is water up to an inch deep flowing over your sandals, the time for hoiking up the abaya had come and revealed to the world are the vibrate colours and flashing metallic braids that hide underneath.

A little bowl of fire
Audrey cunningly told us that we needed to chose a hanging lantern - that we both agreed on.  Now normally when we go to the souq together David spends a lot of time looking at guns, knives and swords and hustling me past the fabrics and bling.  This time he had to look bwhahahahahahahahahahahaha!  We found this little gem and now it hangs in the loungeroom doorway and glows merrily to itself. 


My first piece of Omani embroidery
My most exciting purchase came in a rabbit warren of a shop, filthy with dust, crowded with mountains of stuff - old, new and ancient.  There was a glass counter hidden behind some piles, protecting the guns and swords on the walls.  Inside the glass counter was stuff, just stuff and in the corner, a little wad of embroidery.  What caught my eye was the silver work on black velvet.  What the shop keeper pulled out was this.  Yes, it's all silver embroidery, slightly tarnish, although not very.  It's stitched onto white silk, backed with linen.  The embroiderers amongst you will recognise the techniques, but something caught my eye - the colours.  When I have played with metal thread embroidery the colours have usually come from the threads holding down the metal.  In this style, the silver purl is threaded with thick coloured threads which hold the coils of silver apart just a little.  It's a lovely technique and a sample just had to come home with me.  Now all I need to do is find someone to do some curatorial type framing for me.

Another place we visited quickly was a cultural arts exhibition at the Qurm City Centre - they have an exhibition space just outside the lower entrance to the Mall.  Oh dear, I know what I'm going to be doing after the T-thing is done. Learning more Arabic so I can talk to these weavers........................

Part of traditional Omani dress, and a symbol of status, is the the curved dagger, the khanjar.  The khanjar is worn pushed into the front of a belt.  The belt itself is made of leather, but mounted on the leather is a decorative, warp faced strap, woven on the cutest table loom you've ever seen.  The warp is gold or silver thread (like a Jap thread - metal wound round a thread core - they come by the tonne from India) and black mercerised cotton.  The weft is a lightly spun white cotton.  Guess what I want to learn............

The table loom for weaving the belts
Some of the finished belts
The pattern draft for the belt on the loom

And of course Bluey needs to have equal time :-)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

And now to Blog again

Don't get excited, I haven't finished the T-thing.  The School of Music managed an even more spectacular melt-down than usual and I ended up with no supervisors.  Well, now I have interim supervisors.  So interim that they have no idea what my topic is and don't have the time to talk to me.  Yay!  I'm sure you all know how good I am at slogging on under those circumstances - not at all!

Well, I have surprised myself a little and am still slogging on.  If I can manage a few more thousand words by the end of the month I will only be two weeks behind.  Yay me!  Of course if someone gets round to looking at my new outline, and disagrees with it, I get to throw out 20,000 words.  Worried?  Me?  Noooooo.

Anyway, life in Oman has been speeding by.  I just cannot believe that we have been here for nearly nine months.  NINE MONTHS!!!!!!  We must have been here for a little while, I've started running into people I know at the shops!  Of course, I might be running into the lovely Omani ladies I workout with at the gym, but that's not so simple when the difference between gym clothes and street-wear is so dramatic.

Talking about gyms.  I left Horizon.  It was too expensive and really, all I like was the PT.  I needed more.  A friend from book-club suggested aquarobics at a private gym. "Sure" I said, and went off with her.  Such fun!  I've never done it before and there I was, jumping up and down and doing all sorts of things that my knee just won't let me do.  Anyway, the lass who owns the gym had decided that she was going to open a public ladies gym and her entire top floor is now given over to a small, but dynamic gym.  I'm doing PT with her and she's pushing me much harder than the far to nice trainers at Horizon.  I did my first body pump class for about 3 years the other day (arrgh) and am now back to a regime of weights, cardio, yoga and pilates.  With some circuit training thrown in for good measure.  I can feel the difference (says she with a cold pack on her knee).  Of course when I say lass...she's not all that much younger than me, Omani of African background, married to a Dutch man and mother of six.  What a power house.

The weather is cooling nicely, it now drops into the mid 20s overnight - which would be great if we could open the windows.  Too many mossies and too many cats that need to stay on one or other side of the wall.  The plan is to get fly-screens -if we can find someone to make them.  I have no idea how to even begin to find out.

So what has been happening over the last three months?

We got to go to the opera house!!!!  Twice!  The first time was to see the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, which was very enjoyable, but I should have left my assessment brain in the bed-side table.  The folkloric society was amazing and such fun.  You're not supposed to take photos during performances, so I didn't, but here are some photos of the inside.  It is amazingly spectacular!!

The view stage from our box (yes, we had a box) 

The outside, walking from the carpark

One of the worlds cutest usherettes.  We discovered that they dress like that for all the concerts, traditional Omani dress from different areas of the Sultinate.

The auditorium.  What can I say?  You have to see it to believe it!!

The organ.  We're hoping to go to the debut concert on 3 December!

A pretty little lad who comes and eats nectar out side my study.
A Purple Sunbird.  He is wearing his boring plumage for winter.
Well, we've had our first international visitors!  The Sexi's and the Inlaws came and visited at the end of their European tours.  I can't tell you how lovely it is to talk to people we know.  It was just lovely.  The size and grown-upness of the girls reminded me that time is passing over there as well.  Of course the cats just had hysterics, Bluey had never seen a non adult before.  They were very relaxed pussycats when those short people left :-)

The results of hitting the Mutrah Souq

Drama on the roof
Speaking of roof.  We've put up a shelter on the roof and filled it with chairs, table and couch - not to mention a BBQ!  We've also spent a small fortune on pots and plants to go up there.  Hopefully we won't kill them in our usual way.  The cat's love the roof, although Bluey has worked out how to get down, which does cause interesting problems with mummycat downstairs.  Of course, he loves hangin' with his bro's.  It is a particularly beautiful place to be in the evening.  Lots of frankincense to keep the mossies at bay, a beer, a glass of wine.  Some flashing lights...  Wait, what??  Yes I wanted fairy lights and the only ones we found were green, red and blue.  Flashing, flashing, flashing.  Anyway, we found some white ones and managed to calm them all down, so for National Day we had green, red and white lights on the roof.  Very cool.

So there we are.  I think I'm going to put some time aside for a little blog each week.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Serendipity Strikes

I know I said I wouldn't be posting, but I just had to share this little, and totally amazing thing.

I've been researching this dissertation for years, too many years, and a couple of years ago I decided to drop Helen Morgan from the study, because I decided she wasn't necessary.  Ha!  Foolish woman!  I think what I actually meant was that she was too hard!

Okay, having left all the information about Helen in Australia (possibly in the bin) I have recently discovered that she is particularly relevant.  Damnation!  I'm praying that Michelle has the bits of paper but......

Anyway, I decided I needed a wee bit of a break from the gorgeous Mary Martin and to write that couple of thousand words I'd been avoiding on Helen.  I'm sure it couldn't be too hard.  Sure.  Now I remember why she was hard - all the sources are contradictory when it comes to her actual birthdate and place.  Now, it's not particularly relevant to the thesis, but, you know me, I have to have the right information.  I started writing about how everyone disagrees (and makes snide remarks about each other) and how she lied about her age to all sorts of people (customs, the census, her husband) and got bogged down.  It was too much! Who cares?  Certainly not anyone reading my dissertation. Anyway, more searching found me staring at the Wikipedia page that had, what looked lik,e a huge amount of very specific information.

Grrrr, it had to come from somewhere!  I'd found the 1910 census which had her listed with her mother and (I thought) father and worked out that she was probably born two years later than most of the sources said and only one year earlier than on her death certificate.  But goodness gracious it was irritating.  So I headed into once more and started putting in every possible name I could.  Bingo!!!  Some amazing person had found the evidence of her mother's multiple marriages and put them in to within the last 12 months or so. Now I know that she was the daughter of her mother's first husband and took the name of her mother's third husband!  Hooray!!  If I hadn't found it too hard a couple of years ago,  hadn't decided to leave her out,  hadn't decided she had to go back in, and hadn't moved to Oman and made whatever information I had (lots and lots) inaccessible I would never have known.

It may sound silly and it may sound like an interesting form of procrastination, but I just couldn't let it go without actually knowing!  Anyway, I've emailed the people involved and hopefully they will share with me the story behind finding the certificates.

The beautiful Helen Morgan. 
 Torch singer, Broadway star, movie star, speakeasy co-owner and friend of the occasional gangster. 
Born 1902, died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1941 aged only 39.

Helen was the original Julie in Show Boat and also starred in the 1936 remake which included many of the original stage cast.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Not dead, just working!

Hello all!

Just so you all know that I'm still alive I thought I'd better write a post.  It's been a while and lots of water has trickled under quite a few bridges.

Life is still lovely here in the wilds of the Middle East, I'm just working to a real and mighty deadline to get the thesis done and in.  It's due to be submitted on 2 January 2013, so I am working pretty much full time on on meeting that deadline.  If I can't meet this one, the thesis doesn't go in - unless it has a doctor's certificate to say why not.  So, in it must go.

As usual I am incapable of emptying my brain onto the page and editing it later, so it is a hard, hard slog.  Popping off and writing in a blog seems like cheating, so I'm avoiding doing it.  I hope nobody minds too much.  We will be back to business in January.  David is of course still blogging, so make sure you keep up with him :-)

Maybe I'll be able to put up the occasional picture so that you can see we're alive.

Wish me luck!

David doing what he does best
Walking - in Namur

The oldest church in Luxembourg - built into the rock 

Just so you're sure of where we were
An arty beer shot

Luxembourg is a touch picturesque...just a touch.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Time to Knuckle Down

Well, the moment has come.  I have an absolutely final date on the doctorate 1 January 2013, no more extensions.  So life is going to be mostly house bound for the next five months with only a couple of exceptions.  Visits to the gym, morning coffee on Monday mornings (aka sanity break), maybe (if I'm very good) book group meetings once a month and oh, that's right - a two week visit to Europe to visit Kiriel and cheer Christoph on at his wedding!  Luckily (depends on how you look at it really) we booked the tickets before word came through of the deadline, so we couldn't change our minds.

It's a little bit exciting really.  We'll be flying into Amsterdam midweek and David will be catching up with some Customs blokes (he's suggesting a tour of the port of Rotterdam - I think I might be in a museum that day) and then on to Brussels for more catch up with Customs blokes for David and some touristing for me.  I think there might be a visit to the Musical instrument museum in my future.......
Then things get a little blurry and, if David has anything to do with it, very fast.  A wander down to Namur to visit the nuns who look after medieval gold works, a visit to Luxembourg and its millions of castles (which apparently will only take an afternoon) and then on into France just because.  I think we're planning to hit Geneva Monday or Tuesday and throw ourselves on Kiriel's mercy.  We can visit all of Geneva and its surrounds in a few days I'm sure.  Up to Basel and then back to Geneva and home.  I'm sure the planning will turn into real planning soon, so if you've got any suggestions, let me know.

In the meantime I'd better look into some cat sitters.  Speaking of cats (notice how I deftly slipped them into the conversation - good hey?) the two kitties are getting along like a house on fire.  They are eating in the same place, using the same kitty litter and playing like maniacs.  Button's nose is a little out of joint, but she loves the company and our kitty cuts are mending.  I don't look quite so much like a battered wife anymore.  Bluey is slowly getting to like people and to trust us a bit more (at the moment he's trying to work up the courage to jump on the keyboard - nope, chickened out, off to wreak havoc in the study cupboard) and even curled up next to David in bed last night
Blurry but beautiful

One out of joint nose and a forgotten tongue

Then this morning, while I was doing the dishes..................................................................................

Mmmmm, they can get up to all sorts of things when left to their own devices.  The toilet paper was stolen from the cupboard that was left ajar when David fed them earlier.  Bluey is rapidly finding all the toys Button has lost and hiding in places she can't fit into any more.  Let's just say that they are either playing or sleeping, not much in between.

In other news, David is off visiting border stations for the next week.  There will be no excuses for not getting work done! 

Friday, 6 July 2012

A Birthday Abroad

Well, it happened.  I had my first birthday far away from all my family and friends and I survived!!!


I confess to a partial melt-down a few days before.  I almost stayed home and moped until it dawned on me that going to a coffee morning with a bunch of girlie expats would be a good idea, so off I went.  I had a little cry, got reassured that I wan't being silly and felt much much better.

Then I got proactive and decided to have some people over for dinner the night before, so we had a little dinner party. That was an excellent idea and we all drank a little too much and were vastly entertained by the antics of young Button and a lovely little 9 year old girl - Elise.  Elise has never had much to do with animals and was as uncertain of Button as Button was of her.  The result was a lovely evening of squeaks, squawks and high speed chases.

We spent my birthday morning in bed. How divine!  Lying around, watching David's hangover and chatting to friends and family on the telephone.  I can't tell you how fantastic it is to be living in the 21st century and living a long way away.  Oman is definitely not Australia and sometimes I feels every one of the thousands of miles it is from home, but the digital age has made is sooo much easier to keep in touch and shorten those miles.  It was not that many years ago that I would have had to go into the post office to arrange a long distance call, hoping that someone might be on the other end.  Now it is possible to call quickly and cheaply.  Even better, it's possible to call using Google Talk (Oman's internet speeds are too slow for video images and government really doesn't approve) and chat away for ages for no money at all.  I spend a lovely hour or two every Wednesday chatting to Joanna, just the way we did in person on a Friday. Sure, sometimes the connection is interesting (to say the least) and you have to persevere, but it's lovely to just chat with someone you know well. Viber is pretty good as well. As long as your telephone is running through a network. It also gets wonky, but that's a small price to pay for chatting regularly to family and friends.

But there's something to be said for a good old fashioned letter. My mum always claims to not be very good with technology and has been writing regular letters - just little chatty notes with a bit of gossip and a bit of family news. They're lovely to read over and over again and reinforces the power of the written word. When we went to the Handwritten exhibition at the NLA at Christmas, I felt the same way about seeing the handwriting of those people. It's a personal connection that you feel, knowing that someone touched that same piece of paper.

Trashing wrapping paper is exhausting

Birthday Perfume
David decided he was getting me perfume for my birthday.  He's never given me perfume before so he dragged me off to shop for perfume. Sniff the perfume, sniff the coffee beans, sniff the perfume, sniff the coffee beans and so on...  A young lad who had very little English, but was a very clever salesman, sold me on a rose/musk combination.  Perfume here is a high art and taken very seriously; not just the mixing and making, but the presentation and the selling.  There are perfume shops everywhere, and Muscat is home to the most expensive perfume in the world.  I have no idea how much this cost, but the bottles, display case and box are beautiful!  The lids screw off and they have glass rods that sit in the oil.  You only need one tiny dab on each wrist and you're perfumed for 2 days - including showers! It makes the bed smell rather nice too.

Birthday top all the way from Australia
(in record time - 4 days!)

Birthday flowers
Ali and Bob (who came to dinner) presented me with the most gorgeously huge bunch of flowers, which necessitated the purchase of the birthday vase!  After all that lying in we popped off for brunch at the Intercontinental - expensive and lush -if only David could have appreciated all the food!

All in all a very satisfactory day.

And introducing............
 The young lad from our backyard.  He was enticed in last night and will hopefully be joining the household.  He's been living wild with mum here and there.  Someone's nose is distinctly out of joint.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Goodness gracious it's July!

How on earth did that happen? We've been here for almost four months now and it is still a little surreal.

Last night we went to the last class of the ten week Arabic course - I'm surprised we made it.  There is a final test on Sunday, which we are postponing for two weeks because neither of us would pass the test at the moment.  It's been a massive roller coaster.  We are the only people on the course who started with no Arabic at all.  The grammatical rules, at this point, are very straight forward, but there are sooooooo many of them and they affect everyday language intimately; but that is not really the issue.  The issue is the vocabulary of more than 500 words that we really should have memorized by now - not to mention the 29 letter alphabet that we were introduced to last week!!!

The alphabet was the straw that broke the camel's back.

We hadn't made the first session (it's the only one I've missed in the whole ten weeks- 48/50 hours is not bad!) because a certain little kitty snuck out between my legs straight into the welcoming killing machine that is "Mother Cat" in our back yard. Mother Cat (who is not Button's mother and is pregnant again) didn't take kindly to Miss Button's appearance and proceeded to drive her out of "her" backyard - with extreme prejudice. It was a very subdued Button who curled up with David that evening. The next morning, Button was not quite her usual self and slept in a dark corner most of the day. She came out just as I was deciding to drag her out. Surprise, surprise there was a very sore lump on her side with a puncture wound near it - along with several other puncture wounds. A call to the vet...they opened at 4...over the other side of town...if they kept her overnight we could go to Arabic...if it didn't take long we could take her to Arabic... we could rush her home and come back to Arabic late... Of course none of those things happened. It didn't take long - she either had an abscess or she had perforated her thorax - we needed to watch her breathing closely and feed her antibiotics twice a day for a week. When she was spayed that was easy...but now? Watch the video and see....

The upshot was: the cat won, Arabic lost, and wasn't that a bad idea!!

In the next lesson the teacher very kindly went through the letters, their sounds and most of their physical structure. Arabic letters have different shapes depending on whether they are written alone, at the beginning of a word, in the middle of a word or at the end of a word - the explanation took about 30 minutes.  Then we tried to keep up.  Oh ye Gods and little fishes!!!! He went so fast that I wasn't actually able to focus on a word before he had finished with it.  We all tried to slow him down, but to no avail.  I walked out in a fury about half an hour before the end of class.  It's the first time I have ever walked out of a class as a student, but it was that, or throw things.  Anyway, driving along on Monday, listening to myself saying "If only I had another week," it dawned on me.  The teacher had said we had three weeks to do it in!  Hooray!!  All we have to do now is practise..............

Emma (the slightly dotty Englishwoman that every class must have) and Sabrina (American/Spanish and a convert to Islam) keep telling us that we have learnt more than we realise.  I know we've learned alot.  Just not enough.  We're not going back to the Polyglot for more, we'll find somewhere closer to home to avoid the two hours of travel time.  Preferably a course that is purely conversational.  We do have all the building blocks, I just need to get over the terror of taking that first plunge into the deep end.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Of forts and other things Omani

Last weekend, after visiting the Nizwa goat market, David finally got to see the Nizwa fort.  It's been there for a very long time.  Nizwa, the "Pearl of Islam," intermittently served as the capital from the 8th to the  12th century AD.  Built around the 9th century, the citadel consistes of the the Fort (Q'ala) and a residence/administrative castle (Hisn) - actually I lie, the Fort was built in the 17th century.  It is quite amazing - as you may have read in David's blog.  It is simply gigantic - 30 metres high & 36 metres in diameter - and filled to a height of 15 metres with earth and stone replete with murder holes and wells.  The walls continue to create an immense circular platform ringed with 23 cannons - yep, 360 degrees of cannon.  Just the thought of moving that much earth to fill that size fort beggars the imagination.  If I was a better person, I'd work out the volume.  Feel free to let me know the answer.

David and a 16th century cannon
This is one of the cannons at the door of the Fort.  Purty aint she?  You will, of course, notice the sexy basket at David is holding.  That's my new knitting basket - it seems to be kitten proof at the moment.

Sultan and David admiring the view (and the cannon)
This is just one of the 23 cannon positions.  Best View Ever!!! I certainly wouldn't want to be sneaking up on this thing.


The first well inside the fort.  There are two wells at ground level, both are still in use.  The original ropes are still in place for the tourists to look at, but both now also have monster pumps in them - not to mention the heavy grills to stop inquisitive tourists falling in.  Although..........



There are four wells, two round and two rectangular, at the top of the citadel.  All bored through that 15 metres of rock and earth.  All still with water at the bottom. All mind boggling. 

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the thing.  I took the next photograph sitting on the steps of the flagpole in the centre of the citadel (hey, there was shade, it was hot, I have knees that were already complaining violently at the less than gentle stairs to get this far!). Much to David's disappointment, the sentry walk was blocked off to the public.  Darn.

Climbing to the top 
The whole thing is an amazing museum, beautifully presented and fascinating.  It is definitely on the list of places to take visitors. 

This weekend we have a four day weekend.  It was only declared during the week, so we organised nothing.  Which was good, because the last two weeks has been a little tiring.  A break was definitely called for.  So we stayed home.  Well in Muscat, well close to Muscat.

We went looking for the mysterious Al Khoud Fort.  It only has one mention on the internet and that mention may be the wrong fort.  Odd.  Anyway, we went looking and we found this one! We have no idea what Fort it is.  It seems to be under renovation but was closed when we wandered round. This Fort is only about ten minutes from our house.  We need to find out more
    There are in fact cannons poking out!
from the car park

The secret garden Omani style

What's left of the next door neighbours

The fallaj the fort protects
That quick visit was followed by visiting the Bait Al Zubair in old Muscat.  This museum, consisting of three houses, was greated by the Zubair family from their own collection.  It houses a massive collection of Omani artefacts and has been set up as an educational institution.  Unfortunately photography is prohibited inside the museum, so I can't show you the amazing artefacts, clothing and everyday items that are displayed.  Of course if you come to visit it's definitely on the to do list.

Outside the buildings they have set up some old Omani living spaces.  We could take photos there.......

One of the mud brick structures used for kitchen and storage
There were two mud brick structures that seemed to be storerooms and perhaps a kitchen.  I'm actually kicking myself that I didn't open the door in the photo above.  Next time. You can see the water storage jars hanging from posts. This was the best way to keep water cool in summer and warm in winter.  Of course, in Oman, winters aren't very cold.......

The inside of the long house.
From the other end looking across into the low ceiling'd half of the room

The high pitched ceiling
This particular building was fascinating.  Like the men's sitting room at Sultan's house, the whole thing has sitting couches all the way round the walls.  The whole building appeared to be palm based wooden bits lashed together with palm fronds.  Inside was quite dark, although air movement was possible through the walls.  It was beautifully cool compared to the outside's high 30's temperature (note to self, do not stand on black slate in bare feet at this temperature).

A frame for perfuming cloth

This little baby is my new favourite Omani thingy.  It's a little tripod that you sit over your incense burner.  The you pop over a cloth, veil, any thing that you want to perfume!  Yet more uses for palm fronds!

First glance at the diorama
So, this is the best place to go for a first visit if you want to get an idea of Omani culture.  You will get a marvellous idea of the material culture of Oman.  Essential for getting some idea of what to get as souvenirs :-)

The Kitten formerly known as Bundle
Apparently it's time to shower more attention on the now infertile cat, who has  been renamed Button.  She's just not a Bundle any more and she's as fast as Jenson Button of formula 1 fame.