Tomorrow morning I will be once more in Oman, and as I sit here in Nicole’s Sharjah apartment reflecting, I must say that the prospect of being back again is extremely daunting.
I will be moving in directly chez my new Omani host family (only Arabic-speaking), which will obviously be a challenge, but mostly I just really hope that being there will help me get my comfort with speaking Arabic back. Since I left Lebanon in August, I distinctly feel that my facility with the language has declined. J’estime that success in an Arabic-speaking environment will require two principle things:
1) Willingness to be uncomfortable. By that I mean that I will only gain from this experience if I determinedly spend considerable amounts of time around the family (the Al-Amri), rather than just staying in my room or cutting out to chill with my expat friends. Much as I value forcing myself to try new things and exist in challenging situations, I often find that even amidst challenging situations I wind up carving out “familiar spaces” and thus not really engaging the discomfort head on, or as Sheryl Sandberg puts it, “Lean[ing] In.”
Live in Africa a couple times as a white person, and you realize very quickly that you can get all possible kudos back home for “doing something difficult” without actually doing anything (that is to say, in Africa an obruni/muzungu will be treated like a queen/king regardless of one’s stature/character). Just being in a [very] foreign country does not guarantee that one will actually engage with that country at ALL, especially if one is a relatively well-to-do white expatriate. Funny how Hemingway’s incisive statement from “The Sun Also Rises” (which I highly recommend, by the way, if you’re in the mood for a sulking, desultory masterpiece) remains completely accurate nearly a century later:
“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.”
The other critical factor for the second half of my grant to be successful will, I think, be a high reliance on the critical mass of knowledge that I developed during the first half. This includes (most importantly) my Arabic skills, my social contacts, and my physical orientation (i.e. being comfortably mobile). I must say, I’m decently confident in the second two, and I really hope I’ll be able to deliver on the first one. My Arabic was so strong when I left Lebanon, but staying in Maliha’s house and working at Al Burj from September to December afforded me almost no opportunities to use the Arabic language. I’m hoping with this move into an Omani home, that will change. Still, I know I hesitate and even resist speaking Arabic sometimes because it’s so difficult and takes a lot of energy.
Nevertheless, before undertaking the intimidating project that awaits me in Oman, I’d like to take a moment to relish some moments of unadulterated joy that I was blessed to experience during the last month of 2013:
1) Running through the streets of New York with Danny, from Penn Station to the Ghanaian Consulate 15 blocks away, to pick up my visa on the day of my flight before 2pm, when the office closed. We got there at 2:04pm, the official let me in anyway, we went across the street afterwards to an Irish Pub to celebrate despite the early hour. We each enjoyed a couple frothy beers on tap, and discussed everything from our expat experiences to our love lives to the various dangers in our respective countries (Danny’s in Colombia for the year), to the similarities between cocaine and oil as politically-central national commodities. It was one of the best days I’ve had in ages.
2) Getting to go to the Nuyorican Poets’ Café in LES twice, with Hannah, Meli, Alex, Cole and Nik. I mean, that place is PERFECT.
3) The dinner I had with Ginny and Shaesta at Catch in SoHo was one of the best nights of my life. I’m not sure what was better, the company, the cocktails, the “Cookie Bucket,” or my discovery of the awesome NYC tech start up, “Bright Box.”
4) Cooking Thanksgiving dinner with Philip, Natasha and siblings was pretty dope. Philip’s cranberry sauce game was on POINT.
5) Getting to recite “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” for my mom, the memorization of which was singularly important for my sanity during the trying first months in Oman.
6) The amazing extended breakfast I had with Pastor Hugh at Small World.
7) The spontaneous date I went on with the random guy from the Woodrow Wilson School whom I accidentally shared a cab with at 3am.
8) Getting to see Mary win the 2013 PDS Invitational Ice Hockey Tournament.
9) Going clothes shopping with Traz in NYC, even if there were moments that felt like pulling teeth. He just looked so fly by the end of it, and the personal shopper who offered to help us, Darnell, turned out to be a pure vein of BAMF.
10) Getting to teach Dornuki how to make banana bread.
11) Going jogging daily in C25 with Jerry and Tetteh.
12) Getting to know the two National Service teachers, Dormenyo and Ruth.
13) Having a long-awaited FanIce Cream Sandwich.
14) Teaching Pythagorus’ theorem to the JHS 3 boarding students in Manye’s semi-outdoor classroom late into the night on Christmas Eve.
16) Getting to see Yvette, draft out the specifics of our business plan, and dance our hearts out into the new year.
May 2014 be the year of the Entrepreneure.