For all the internet noobs (read: adults) who for some reason are reading this, the title of this blog post is a reference to a really famous Tumblr that you should check out. http://whatshouldwecallme.tumblr.com/
Anyways, one hilarious activity I’ve been undertaking recently in both English and Arabic – despite the suggestion of the last blog post that ma fee 3arabi around here – is trying to explain to people what exactly I am doing in Oman. It’s a fun game, because depending who’s asking, it makes sense/is useful to tailor the (admittedly flexible, or let’s say “multi-dimensional”) answer.
Here are my possible answers so far, pros/cons included:
- Student: So, I am technically still affiliated with Dartmouth College (although their health insurance apparently not, I learned after the quad-biking fiasco) through the James B. Reynolds Fellowship. However saying “student” generally leads people to believe I’m an undergraduate, which makes them confused as to why I’m in Oman if my university is in the US. That being said, someone told me I looked like I was 16 years old yesterday – I’ve NEVER looked younger than my age what is going on! – so maybe “student” is both simple and believable.
- Foreign Researcher: So this is a good – and probably the most accurate – description of what I am doing. I am, after all, here on a research fellowship. Initially focused on women social media users in the Gulf and specifically Oman, I’ve shifted my project to examining women entrepreneurs in Oman, of which there are many, with varying sizes of companies and products. This is also a lot more innocuous sounding than “studying social media” in a country where Skype is illegal. This is a little tricky because I have not yet succeeded at getting the formal research affiliation with SQU, because the initial proposal I submitted a year ago (that is being processed still) is the one focusing on exclusively social media use. Not to say that social media use is no longer relevant; all the women entrepreneurs with whom I have met and spoken so far rely prominently on Facebook to advertise their products, and Twitter is up-and-coming here too. (Note: I’m not sure yet in what specific ways social media use among Omani entrepreneurs is actually a gendered experience, because both men and women businesspeople use Facebook, for instance, heavily to disseminate information and advertising. Anyways, describing myself this way is often confusing because I’m a “Visiting Researcher” without a university backing me up (yet, in shaa allah).
- Working in Business/Marketing: So this is sweet. Basically I just got hired to work for Maliha’s business, Al-Burj Al-Mumayis, as a Marketing & Investment Associate. This is SO cool. I figured it would be better to structure my time here through working to help me focus my time and energy. By working with an Omani woman entrepreneur, I am not only learning firsthand how difficult operating such a business is, but I am also getting invaluable experience learning about being a woman entrepreneur in the Middle East; this is academically instructive, but also immensely interesting and useful from a personal and professional angle. I feel so lucky! However, I don’t have my work visa yet – getting in a week when I leave the country for a few days to go to Dubai so I can renew my visa – and then I’ll really start. I just finished all my work physicals: HIV negative (wahoo!), O positive, 173.5cm, you get the idea.
- Studying Arabic: This is true, although 1) it is not the primary objective of my time here and 2) although my Arabic is no more than “High Intermediate” in proficiency, it is significantly better than at least 2/3 of the population of Omani, who are either western or southeast Asian expats. So people are more impressed that I speak Arabic at all rather than at how well I speak, or actually interested in speaking Arabic with me.
- Writer: In my free time (which you can imagine is, um, limited to say the least) I’ve started writing a novel. I read A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul this summer, and while the book is highly problematic, it is a fascinating literary specimen. In a way I hated it, in a way I loved it, and either way, reading, digesting and wrestling with it has inspired me to start writing more…I’m still writing poetry too, but also a novel. Nothing in life beats a really good novel. Honestly.
- American: This is a useful category to ascribe to myself largely because there are VERY few Americans here (I’ve heard there are about 1000 in Oman, but I haven’t met any yet). Most western and/or white expats are British, Canadian, Eastern European or South African. Because of this, the general Omani animosity towards Westerners seems slightly tempered towards Americans, who are more or less an unknown quantity. (And admittedly, westerners do have both a historical and contemporary tendency to take jobs from locals; get paid vastly more for the same work exclusively because we are white; to disrespect local traditions, to be generally self-involved and obnoxious, to drink alcohol and to not bother to learn the local language; and to exploit the local economy for our own benefit and without reinvesting much domestically, to name a few offenses off the top of my head). Anyways, I don’t have an alcohol license, I’m not in an exploitative foreign business (my boss is an Omani), I try to dress conservatively and I speak Arabic. So I guess overall my main crime is playing music (not even that loudly! but of course I already burned car CDs) with the windows down in my car on the highway. I know that people find this annoying because a) I am a western woman drawing attention to herself and b) no one drives with their windows down because it’s too hot. I feel like at the moment it’s a reasonable indulgence, but we shall see.