(just a few)
September 16, 2013
Upon leaving the airport, I try my best to speak with the driver in Lebanese Arabic, getting basically nowhere past “assalaamu 3aleikum”. He replies, and I understand literally nothing of what he says. I inquire (in Lebanese Arabic) “Lebanese and Omani accents and styles of Arabic must be quite different then huh?” He responds, the first time I’ve understood him, “No, no nafs al-shay” (same thing).
When I arrived at the restaurant and met my host mother M I asked her about this incident. She laughed and explained that over half the resident population of Oman is southeast Asian immigrants and other ex-pats. The Pakistani driver had been speaking to me in Urdu. Go figure.
September 18, 2013
My mission for today was to explore Muscat a little bit with Ahmed, my 15-year-old host brother. We went to the food court at his favorite mall, Qurum city center, for lunch. He wanted pizza and I wanted Indian food. Unfortunately, I have no debit card and they would not except credit cards so my 15-year-old whizkid buddy (he skipped two grades, is home-schooled and hacks into anything from the government police servers to his aunt in Tanzania’s iPhone when he’s bored) bought me a pity slice of pizza, fries and ice cream for lunch. I felt pretty lame letting him buy me lunch, but he insisted. It was particularly bad because Omani rials are so strong: two rials is more than five dollars. (That being said apart from feeling foolish/guilty we had a terrific day.)
That night, after dropping off Ahmed at his grandmother’s house (and doing work at Gloria Jean’s where they gave me a coffee for free because I didn’t realize my card wouldn’t work, havinh evidently been blocked although I didn’t know that yet, so embarrassing), I got hopelessly lost driving at night trying to find my way back to Bausher. As S (M’s business partner/manager of the company, the Bengali man I live with) told me, getting lost builds character, but doing loop after loop in the dark and the traffic was definitely kind of scary.
Finally I found my way to Muscat Grand Mall, really really hungry, and was simply not able to manage the parking chaos of its underground garage. Finally I found a spot without angering too many people or being too rude to the garage workers who were insisting on washing my car for 2 rials. Once in the grocery store – I had told M and S I would cook dinner tonight – I collected a whole cart worth of things to cook a bunch of my favorite foods; lasagna, shrimp curry, barbecue chicken, risotto, chicken carbonara, berry pie, grilled cheese, bruschetta. I was wearing my ankle length cotton dress that day, in an effort to be respectful, and the hem kept getting caught in the wheels of my grocery cart and rolling up in them so I literally fell on my face three or four times just trying to walk around the supermarket.
When I finally made it to the cash register with nearly $80 (30 rials) worth of food to cook for the next week for our whole house, my credit card didn’t work. I suppose I should have known, but for some reason I thought the Gloria Jean’s thing was a fluke since I’d called the bank a couple times to let them know I would be in Oman. Behind me, there was a long line of ladies in very black, gold sequin-embroidered, silky crêpe abayas. About four of them were loudly tapping glittering manicures on the screens of their iPhones and glaring at me, the cashier speaking rapidly to me in an Indian-accented cross between English and Arabic that I could not begin to understand. I felt the clouds of shame (and exhaustion) gathering above me, ready for a downpour. It reminded me of when a single storm cloud would spontaneously starting pouring rain on no one but Eeyore in Winnie The Pooh cartoons.
I called S and M, and they said to just come home, so I left the full cart, the line, the friendly and embarrassed Indian cashier who felt it was “terrible to see a New York girl in such a predicament,”wearing my floor length long-sleeved dress and all. So it goes. I managed not to break down in full-fledged tears as I was driving, though I felt hungry, humiliated and exhausted.
At home, S encouraged me to change clothes and wash my face, which did actually make me feel quite a bit better. Twilight – which I’ve never seen or read, although I recognize the woman who plays the character “Bella” – was on TV in Hindi, so S and Munhideen (the Bengali housekeeper) watched that while I threw together whatever was in the kitchen to produce what I thought was a shockingly good bite, considering that we had basically nothing in the house with which to cook. I think I shall call it “The Little Carbonara That Could.”