Monthly Archives: June 2014

On Singing and Burgers

So I’m skipping ahead to talk about a show we did yesterday for the local Omanis. We had about a week to prepare and I volunteered to sing and cook. There were some people doing presentation on topics like Islam in America and American Sports, but I had to do a radio broadcast the next day so didn’t feel like doing another presentation in Arabic the day before. The Omanis did a sword dance and brought Omani food and all in all I think there were about 200 of them in attendance.

One of my fellow students was doing graduate work in ethnomusicography and had lived in Jordan with the Peace Corps for three years, so she took charge of the music front and set up choral arrangements of “Fog el-Nakhel” and “Tala Min Beit Abuha.” It worked out well considering several of us had no choral experience and she did a good job of smoothing everything out and explaining where we needed to improve. She also added insight and context to the songs that we might otherwise not have had. I’m pretty sure that without her the music part of the show wouldn’t have happened or would have been completely terrible.

Some students had also decided to do hamburgers as a stereotypically American dish so I decided to work with them on that. Getting the materials together was interesting. The patties were made out of mince, which is close enough to ground beef, garlic, salt, pepper. We decided to do sliders to keep costs down, so we used sliced baguettes as buns. We failed utterly to find American cheese product, so we went with cheddar instead. And lastly we set up a condiment and toppings tray with ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, and tomato.

The burgers turned out alright, but very few Omanis actually tried them. I’ve noticed that sometimes Arabs seem reticent to try other cuisines. I’m not sure if its for cultural reasons or possibly has something to do with Halal, or even if this is true in most areas of the Middle East. But I have noticed that trying to convince Yemeni friends to eat certain kinds of foods can be a trial and Omanis seemed similarly disinterested in burgers. Maybe I’m just misinterpreting the entire situation and our burgers just looked awful, I’m not sure. The people who did try them seemed pretty enthusiastic, so there’s that.

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The other part about making the burgers that was a bit disappointing was just trying to get access to a kitchen. We talked to a few different people at the school and they all seemed receptive and said that we could use the kitchens, but apparently none of them let the kitchen staff know that. So we’d talk to the kitchen staff and they’d try to block us at every turn. We had to talk to the administrative staff and the kitchen staff several times and basically only got access to the kitchen at the last minute. After we finished with the kitchen, I went through and broke everything down, cleaned everything and put it up, and sharpened the knives we used, and the kitchen staff seemed less skeptical after that. It was just an all around frustrating experience.

Other than the food and songs, some other students did presentations and recited a poem. There was a calligraphy competition and some crafts booths set up. Everything turned out well, and where it didn’t, it was at least interesting I guess.

Trip to Nizwa

So our next excursion was to Nizwa.  Our hosts were emphatic that we should go early Friday morning and see the goat auctions at the Suq.  There was a plan amongst the group to try to buy a goat ourselves for a house pet, but that fell through pretty quickly.  I’m sure it provided valuable haggling experience for group members looking for it, but I think it might have been for the best.  Besides limiting exposure to livestock, I don’t know how long responsibility for the goat would have been shared.  I definitely wouldn’t want to be the one stuck on goat duty for the rest of our stay.

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Other than the auctions, the Suq was a pretty interesting experience in general.  I didn’t end up buying anything this time around, but sifting through shops in the alleys of Nizwa was kind of fun.  The contrast between old school bags of spices and pulses and shops boasting refrigerated was striking, and there were all kinds of ‘handmade’ goods.  I’m sure a lot of the craftier stuff was handmade by Omanis, but there was definitely some Made in China products as well.  It seemed large at the time, but later adventures in other Suqs showed me that Nizwa was actually middling at best.

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One thing I noticed about the stalls is that many carry the exact same items.  I’m sure there is some competition in price that differentiates different stalls at different times, but I also wonder how much of their business is from repeat customers.  How many of the stalls rely on long term relationships with customers and how far do those relationships go back?  I imagine location and visibility are also quite important.

After the Suq, we visited the Fort at Nizwa.  Its a pretty big castle, but what’s really interesting is that you can tell it was built as a military fortress rather than some rich lord’s private mansion like a lot of the castles in Europe.  The layout of the fort is incredibly confusing so that even if attackers breached the walls, it’d be difficult for them to even navigate the castle.  Many of the halls are narrow to be used as chokepoints and in a lot of cases the windows are extremely narrow downward facing arrow slits.  One of the exhibits talked about how instead of boiling tar, they would pour boiling date syrup from their date stores on attackers from murder holes.  In addition to date storage, the castle was actually built on an underground river so that it had access to a water source in case of siege.

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Nizwa used to be the capital of Oman and I think that the fort might have been a factor in that.  Having an impregnable fortress on your side give you an edge in holding power against rivals I’d imagine.  Nizwa itself has a pretty decent population, according to Wikipedia its around 700,000, but I would have guessed it would have been substantially less.  I’m guessing that figure includes some of the surrounding areas. There’s also a university there, a good number of our Omani language partners study there.

The last thing we did in Nizwa was visit Falaj ad-Daris which is the largest Falaj in Oman and the third largest in the Middle East.  It provides irrigation for much of the surrounding area.  There’s not a whole lot else to say about it, but that the area around it is beautiful.

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Location, location, location

So I think our first trip away from the dorms was to buy groceries at Lulu, but the first real trip away was actually next door to Manah.  Its probably close enough to walk to, although any time during the day would probably be an unpleasant walk.  Its actually a really nice temperature here most of the time, presumably because the mountains all around us are shielding us from the humidity.  However, its still hotter than I’d like it to be if I have to be doing anything outside for any extended period of time.  Late in the day is actually really good weather for playing soccer.  To bring things back though, its fairly close by.

We took a brief trip to Manah to look around because the town is fairly old.  The first stop was the fort of Fiqain and Falaj beneath it.  We really only saw the outside of the fort, but it was a cool introduction to Oman.

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From there we wandered around the old city of Manah.  There was a huge Tinoor close to the entrance that would be used to cook massive amounts of food at one time.  The rest of it was largely just exploring ancient buildings and alleyways, but it was interesting anyway.

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I wish I had taken more pictures, but this should give a pretty good idea of what Old Manah looks like.

Other than that, there’s a smattering of restaurants, coffeehouses, laundry places, and smaller cold foods stores in Manah.  Around the dorms, there’s very little.   There’s some farms scattered around and smaller residential areas and a pretty cool looking mosque.  I’ve taken a a run out to it, but I didn’t bring my cell phone, so maybe in the future, I’ll snap a quick picture of it.  Its close enough that we can hear the Muezzin from the dorms, which is nice because he’s got a pretty good voice.