A Travellerspoint blog

Dick Cheney likes the Al Bustan

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I went to dinner at the Grand Hyatt last night to hear a lecture with Dr. Salim, who is more or less the patron of the SIT program here. He gave the lecture pretty much just for SIT, including a bunch of education abroad people from various universities in America. This group also included the head of all of SIT's Middle Eastern programs, Christian Sinclair. Also in attendance last night was Brian Grimm, who it turns out, is the head of the Economics and Commerce section of the embassy. While talking with him, he mentioned Dick Cheney's recent surprise visit to Oman. Turns out, Dick Cheney is a HUGE fan of the Al Bustan resort in Muscat. Unfortunately, the Al Bustan is currently down for renovations, so he had to stay at the Shangri-La. While I'm sure that the list of things he talked about included such serious fare as Iran and the recent Oman-US FTA, VPOTUS had made four previous trips to Muscat in the last 7 years. I think he seriously likes the Al-Bustan.
After the lecture. we went to dinner at the Hyatt, and I managed to grab a table with both Dr. Salim and Brian Grimm. Unfortunately I got bumped because it was decided that the head of the SIT Middle East programs also needed a seat at the table. But, I will be heading to the embassy soon to meet with a bunch of people about research and to breathe the sweet, sweet air of American soil, since all embassies technically constitute foreign soil. I imagine the sweet, sweet air of freedom will smell a lot like the rest of the city. Anyways, it was a pretty good night, the lecture was on economic issues, which everyone except me found incredibly dull, and the little amount of time that I had to talk with Dr. Salim and the embassy guy was rather useful. Unfortunately, the Grand Hyatt is basically some perverse designers idea of a Oman theme ride within some larger metaphorical Disney theme park, it was a touch tacky. But, the food was good, and the conversation was great.

Posted by mc327503 05:41 Archived in Oman Comments (2)

A Brit 'baller and an Omani Cowboy

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When reading Theroux, I would often wonder how he could just happen to run into all these crazy people as he travels all over the various continents. Well, now I realize that it’s really just a matter of putting yourself out there, and the stories just write themselves.
I was with a couple other SIT students in Qurm, near the InterCon hotel on Wednesday. We were waiting for the Omani Heritage Gallery to open up in order to buy gifts for back home. We decided to have lunch at a restaurant nearby, so we just sat down at a restaurant, and let our conversations wonder, as they usually do, to rather academic topics. As we were discussing problems in Yemen, the guy next to us chimed in, with an incredibly thick British accent, about Yemen’s problem with qat, the mild stimulative leaf they all chew over there. We quickly fell into a conversation with him, asking him why he was here in Muscat. Turns out, he was the former goal keeping coach for the Omani national football (yes that means soccer) team, making him quite the (foot)baller. He was also responsible for bringing Ali al-Habsi, Oman’s biggest football star, to play in the UK Premier League. He had actually just got off the phone with him when we sat down. It was very interesting to hear his opinions on how the Arab and Middle Eastern culture affects football development in the region. Having been in the region for over twelve years, he definitely knew his stuff. What he said actually corresponded quite well to what we have been learning, but it was interesting to hear it from a sports perspective. Having played in the Premier League himself for a number of years, he had also down quite well for himself, and was now investing in property in Dubai and Muscat, as well as doing TV play-by-play. It was also great to try and decipher the Brit slang, much of it not particularly printable.
Then there is the matter of the Omani cowboy. On Thursday, I went over to the house of the grandmother of my homestay family. While there, I met (yet another) cousin of the family. His name is Hafad, and he studied in America for a bit. But, while in America, he lived with a Mexican family in Texas, spending time on a ranch in Montana, before moving to New York. So, his English accent can be best described as Texan, with a bit of a Latino affect, with bits of the Bronx popping up. I can only imagine the thought of a Middle Eastern guy living with a Mexican family in Texas. I certainly never imagined I’d be driving through Qurm listening to Keith Urban and Faith Hill. Rap I could imagine, and to certain degree, understand. However, it definitely blew my mind to be listening to Frank Sinatra while passing mosques. Either way, Hafad is definitely a great guy to hang out with. We both had some pretty good laughs about the superficial way in which many Omani youth have adapted African-American rap culture. It was great to hear him talk about how they listened to the music, and adopted the styles of dress, but were completely out of touch with what it meant, and what was actually popular. As if to underscore the point, a couple of thugged-out Omani kids drove past in a car that looked like it came out of an episode of Pimp My Ride gone wrong, while listening to Sisco’s Thong Song. We both burst out laughing; draw an angry glance from the wannabe gangsters.

Posted by mc327503 06:23 Archived in Oman Tagged events Comments (0)

More fun on the diplo circuit forthcoming

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Apparently I’ve just started to dip my toes into the diplomatic circuit. I’m going to be meeting with the head of the economic section of the American embassy fairly soon (insh’allah), and probably also the American ambassador, Gary Grappo. I talked with the ambassador at my last diplomatic soiree. Seeing as he has negotiated the FTA’s with both Oman and Jordan, he could probably help me out with my research just a bit. I’ll also be meeting with a Fulbright grad student who is over here dealing with labor issues resulting from the FTA. She’s going to get me inside the Omani Chamber of Commerce, where they have an economic data library.
On the social side, Dr. Salim is going to be having another shindig, which promises to be fun. Apparently he gives regular lectures, and this one is going to be at another one of his favorite haunts, the InterContinental hotel. Since the InterCon is government owned, it’s practically another one of his houses. Word on the street is that he gives out some awesome gift bags at these things also. More details on this as they go down.

Posted by mc327503 06:22 Archived in Oman Tagged events Comments (0)

SIT’s Tower of Babel

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Languages that I frequently encounter in Oman:
English (duh)
Arabic (really duh)
Swahili (from almost all of the homestay family and relatives)
German (from Sultan, his wife, Galla, and the random Germans that are everywhere)
Spanish (from Sabrina and Kristie, from Mexico and Columbia respectively)
Dutch (from Andrew and Jenna both of whom studied there)
Hindi, Urdu, Punjab (walk into any store in Ruwi, seriously)
Jabbali (while in Salalah)
Croatian (Galla’s preferred language of choice for swearing)
A perfect example of the polyglot nature of this trip: My Arabic teacher, Sultan, studied in Germany for quite a bit (where he met his wife, who’s from Yemen), so he knows German, which is almost better than his English. When he doesn’t know a word in English, he almost always knows it in German. So, he tells it to Andrew. Since Dutch and German are fairly close, Andrew tries to see if the German word is close enough to the Dutch word, and then he translates the Dutch word to English. In our attempt to find the right word, we literally go from Arabic to German to Dutch to English. This doesn’t even begin to explain the way in which our homestay families are able to carry on three different conversations at once, one in English, one in Arabic, and one in Swahili. Considering that I’m happy when I can get the taxi driver to go where I want, this is all somewhat mind-boggling to me.

Posted by mc327503 10:58 Archived in Oman Comments (0)

Swimming in the Indian Ocean

As I mentioned before, we were in Salalah this past weekend. The city is the capital of the southern region, Dhofar, and the scene of some intense fighting back in the 1970's, as Communist rebels from Yemen fought against (at various times) the Sultan's forces, Iranians, and British SAS. It is also the frankincense capital of the world, as the frankincense trees are only able to grow in the unique environment that is Dhofar.
As soon as we stepped off the plane in Salalah, we could tell it was the frankincense capital of the world. Some cities have a very distinct smell, and Salalah is one of them. The entire city smells of luban, the Arabic word for frankincense. Everyone burns it, the hotels, the suqs, even the poor neighborhoods of South Asians. What might normally sell for $60 to $100 in the US sells for $5 in Salalah, there's just so much of it. Consequently, we bought the stuff by the kilo. Frankincense comes in small whitish green rocks, and consequently, we made numerous jokes comparing buying frankincense to buying crack rocks.
Salalah also seems like its on another continent. It has a heavy historical connection to Yemen and Somalia, and it shows throughout the city. Salalah is also the only place in the Middle East where the Khareef (monsoon) touches, and consequently it looks like a lush tropical rainforest for 4 months out of the year. Unfortunately, we were not there during the khareef, but the topography is nonetheless incredible. Salalah is built on a coastal plain, and after going inland 10 km, the mountains rise up at a nearly 90 degree angle. These were the mountains that the rebels were based out of during the insurgency, and I can only imagine, having looked at the terrain, how hard it must have been for British commandos to deal with. The hills and valleys in parts of Salalah make Afghanistan look like a minor mountain range.
While in Salalah we did quite a bit of touring. While in Mirbat, we stopped at the fishing port, and while we were there, the local fishermen hauled in a baby whale shark, still alive. Mirbat was the scene of one of the fiercest battles during the civil war, and the Sultanate bought up the part of town that was destroyed and preserved it as it stands, a reminder to what happens when you mess with the Sultan. The day after that, we visited Mughsail. The waves have eroded the limestone cliffs on the shore, and in parts, worn through to the surface. When a strong wave hits the cliffs, water shouts out like a geyser. Mughsail is also the location of an incredible beach. While a bit rocky in places, the water is an incredible shade of turquoise, and we had a great time swimming and getting tan. The beach is all the more incredible by the fact that it is utterly abandoned, even on a Friday when we were there. There were no tourists, or even locals, on the beach, we had it all to ourselves.
After touring the outskirts of Salalah by day, we would return to the city and hit the suqs by night. While a lot fo the stuff was made in India, we were still able to pick up lots of frankincense, and they had an incredible Yemenese restaurant. It sold lamb kebabs by the stick, great chipati bread, and excellent juice. We followed it up with shishah on the beach. All in all it was a very successful trip.
On our way back to Muscat, our plane ride was delayed by two hours. This might have been normal in the US, but the Salalah-Muscat flight was the only flight of the day. Flights in Salalah are not given by flight number or time they get in, they're given by which day they arrive, as in the Wednesday Muscat flight. Apparently our flight was delayed from Muscat, and thus the wait. I think Hopkins airport in Cleveland deals with more flights in one hour than Salalah deals with in a month. Still, Salalah was a great place to relax. I never thought I'd think of Muscat as a busy city, but after visiting the sleepy city of Salalah (Oman's second largest city), it's good to be back in the thick of things in Muscat.

Posted by mc327503 03:52 Comments (0)

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