Thanks to a fortuitous congruence between my interests, living situation, research project, language skills, and uncanny tendency to have recklessness manifest itself as luck, I have, it seems, begun to develop a diverse and intriguing network of friends.
In my house, there is Maliha, a Zanzibari-Omani woman entrepreneur, her brother Mohammed (20 years old, from the fourth, as opposed to first, wife of their sheikhly father), Saumen, a middle-aged Bengali businessman who grew up in Nigeria and was the national squash champion before moving to London at about my age, Muwinideen, Maliha’s Bangladeshi assistant (slightly younger than I), and Zuzana, a 23-year-old Slovakian woman doing an event-management internship through an organization called AIESEC.
AIESEC is a fascinating organization – check it out all ye youths who want foreign internships! – that I only learned about upon arriving here. The world’s largest run student organization, AIESEC operates in 113 countries to provide young people with international work experience. You apply, they pass along your CV to local companies, and if are accepted, they orchestrate your student visa so you can work in the country. It’s really sweet.
Anyway, I’ve met a bunch of people through that, including a super-friendly 20-year-old Zanzibari named Nasser who works for AIESEC Oman, as well as his friend Kristy – half Lebanese, half American, from Georgia! – who is an AIESEC intern here like Zuzana. And Nasser and Kristy introduced me to two awesome friends of theirs from the Spanish Embassy, Carlos and Alex. (Carlos speaks French and a little Arabic!) The five of us went out for beer the other day at Feeney’s, the only Irish pub in town (Muscat, that is). When we arrived, Feeney’s was fresh out of all food AND beverages except for orange juice and Steak & Guinness pies. So obviously we ate that. Alex had brought an older Spanish friend who spoke only Spanish, which Kristy and I at least kind of understand (she much moreso than I), Nasser and I spoke in Swahili (although he speaks perfect English), Carlos and I in French (I did my best at pigeon Spanish with Alex’s friend), Nasser and Carlos in Omani Arabic, Kristy and I in Lebanese, Kristy and Alex’s friend in Spanish etc. It was a hilarious dinner table, we all agreed, and ultimately everyone made themselves understood.
Additionally, I have of course my dear friends Akmal (10) and Ahmed (15), Maliha’s two sons. AND I’ve started taking Latin Dance lessons (Salsa, Bachata, Meringue), as I miss dancing and Latin Dance is very popular in Oman. My teacher, Fernando, is half Sri-Lankan half-Brazilian (but went to university in Delaware), and lives with his friendly and fashionable sister Lux and their Iranian film-maker friend Arta. Fernando’s house is the only place in Oman where I have located wine (at least as of yet) and he and his friends are lovely, not to mention LOTS of fun to dance with. Bachata is also just the most beautiful, sensual, fluid, fun dance ever. I absolutely love it. Oh and at Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop I randomly met a Filipino woman named Myrna who now runs a beauty salon in Muscat but used to be a professional Salsa dancer and was Fernando’s teacher when he started three years ago!
Then there is Danny, a Canadian I connected with through Fahad (one of my best friends from Beirut) – I guess they met when Fahad was doing a semester abroad at Business School in Singapore, and later went clubbing together one night in Vancouver – anyways Fahad gave me Danny’s number, the two of us met up and went for coffee and quesadillas, and then Danny introduced me to a bunch of cool Europeans (of whom there are many here) working in both the PDO (Petrol & Development Oman) sector and as English teachers. Two that I especially get along with were Liz (Canadian music teacher) and Wendy (Maltese English teacher).
Additionally, I’m becoming friends with my Arabic tutor, Iman, who is Egyptian and just arrived in Oman about two months ago, so we can always commiserate about being confused. Then there is Yvonna, a Polish woman about Zuzana’s age who just arrived here four days ago to work as Maliha’s Human Resources manager. And also there is my friend Ashraf, who is one of the Al-Burj drivers, from Kerala, speaks some English as well as some Arabic, and whose company I really enjoy.
Finally, I started working the other day, running the Al-Burj Al-Mumayis (Maliha and Saumen’s company) table at a big fair (Communiversity-type-thing) hosted by the Intercontinental Hotel (one of Muscat’s finest), doing Marketing & Promotion for Jimmy’s Kitchen (one of Maliha’s restaurants), VitaMalt (a new beverage Al-Burj sponsors in Oman), and Nestlé products (Al-Burj just got the exclusive license to distribute KitKat in Oman). In this capacity I not only got to practice giving my sales pitch(es) in both English and Arabic (and French to Carlos), but I also met some lovely people. One I spoke to for almost an hour (when business slowed and Akmal tried his hand at running things) was a Nigerian lady named Bella, who came with her daughters Promise (18) and Annabel (11). Bella teaches English at the Majan College in Muscat and was super friendly (and bought loads of VitaMalt). She told me to look up her brother, Karibu Briggs, who does real estate in New York City (Alex does not think he knows him, but mumkin!). Additionally, I spoke for awhile to Promise, who was extremely bright and reminded me not a little of my own 18-year-old sister.
And there you have it. A preliminary introduction to basically everyone I know in Oman.