Saturday, December 12, 2009

rainmonster dustbasher

Thonka! An immense amount of rain is slamming down outside. This'd be a heavy storm at most at home, but compared to the anemic weenie-rain we've gotten up till now, well, it deserves mention. I'm pretty sure the last five minutes have already delivered more than ten times the total precipitation we've had since I got here in August. Now I see how they recharge their groundwater here---with Meteorological Smackdown Night.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

still no water, but maybe that's a good thing

Found out that my upcoming trip to London has me leaving just a few short hours before the premiere broadcast of The Waters of Mars. Bummer: it'd be fun to finally watch Doctor Who in Britain. At its harvest-freshest....

Monday, November 2, 2009

flicker-tastic wonder-day!

So today, convergences and accomplishments. I arrived on campus, and heard another round of Very Small mews, and sure enough, what looks to be Mabruuk's neice or nephew was there, lost and lonely in the decidedly not-kitten-friendly parking lot. I really can't swing taking care of another cat I did the next best thing I could think of, which was to go on a merry chase after said furball, underneath umpteen parked cars and into at least one wheel well, to finally get the claw-y spitster into my arms, and then we walked over to Cat Central.

Namely, where the men's and women's cafeterias converge around their kitchens...a place where there are always bunch of not-very-hungry-looking cats hanging out. Still felt weird, dropping a little kitten off on their own right there, but then the strangest thing happened. Said kitten meowed and meowed (as you might expect)...but then a mama cat showed up, with two or three kittens in tow, meowed back, and went over to him, and did NOT get all hissy and weird (as you might not expect). She turned and ran from there, but only because some people walked by---and she hung out, clearly concerned and interested. So I brought the kitten over to their safe corner, and the mama cat seemed to take h/her in right with the others: when last I looked, Parking Lot Kitten had already disappeared into the doorway (towards something kitchen-y and food-scrap[p]-y, I think) ahead of h/her apparent new crew. Hopefully that works out for all of them.

And then me, I got another chunk of bein' a foreigner formalities done today---yay!---and even confirmed that I now have, at long last, a functioning bank account. Woo hoo! Plus I got to gab for like an hour in Indonesian today.

Monday, October 26, 2009

how now, spotted yellowish-brown meow?

Mabruuk smells distinctly of curry today. Interesting.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

climate redux

So again: the landscape here is sort of the Serengeti meets Mars. And Mars wins, almost completely. They say deserts, but only for the dry: it's all gravel and rubble and the occasional goat-harassed acacia.

This place is to deserts as Maine is to beaches: sorry, no sand, only rocks.

I actually wanted to say "the occasional goat-mauled acacia," since how often do you get to say "goat-mauled" in a reasonably happy context? But the acacias actually look to hold their own pretty well against the hard-bitten browsers of this rocky land. Soft little fresh foliage right now, at this time of year---but guarded by lots of spiky pointy thorny ouchsomeness. This is not a desert to go barefoot in. And a snooze under a tree requires some careful preparatory cleanup.

It's also not a desert to go barefoot in because the rocks will burn your feet. Both times I've been to the beach, flameriffic sole-scorching sand has been de rigeur, requiring the attendant "Ah! Ooh! Ow! Eee!"-ing sprint down to the wetsand zone. Water's nice here: prettty warm, but cool enough to be pleasant against the hot dry air. Salty, too: briny enough to keep even a low body-fat lad like myself (well, methinks that BMI is a-changin' a bit now) afloat with no effort at all. I guess this makes sense: shallow hot coastal water, with little to no fresh river input to dilute it. Not exactly the Dead Sea, but closer to it than the frigid and thus saliently less salty sloshage of my northeastern home waters.

meow now

Hot day, working with a kitten passed out in my lap. How did this happen? Well, I was going into my first class of the day a Tuesday or so ago, and heard this little one meowing. No sign of a mother, on repeated searches then and later, so said kitten joined us for class that day, and I took him home at the end of the day. After some back-and-forthing on gender identification, settled on the name Mabruuk.

He's a handsome little guy: looks all spotted desert cat. And given his fierce behavior, I have no doubt that that's a decent chunk of his ancestry. Funny, too, since he's the only cat of about five or so I've seen here so far that really looks like him.

He's a meower, that's for sure. Makes me think I'm constantly under-feeding him, since he rushes and howls under my feet every time I go to the refrigerator. Mabruuk thinks all food is his. I can't leave a bowl unattended near the couch as I'm watching TV, or Mr. Eats All Human Food Except Figs will snarf away at at it.

He does like to stick close to me when I'm home, usually playing in whatever room I'm in at the time---poor kitten, stuck inside alone all day: I wish I could let him out to romp, but it's far from safe out there for a little kitten. In the kitchen he tangles through the bits of tree and date broom that I have there; in my bedroom he happily destroys upholstery and/or any accessible areas of my skin; and in the living room he climbs up and down the couches in a frenzy of, well, kittenly frenziedness. Occasionally he glances at the TV and watches for a bit, but the other night, I flipped through to Zee Aflaam, and he was transfixed, utterly transfixed by the Bollywood film playing---he stared at the screen for the entire length of the musical number. That, and the closing credits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer also seem to do it for him.

The only time he's mellow is when he's sleepy. Then he likes to pass out on my chest. For twenty-minute catnaps...literally. Then he's up and at it again, with the unstoppable energy of youth.

Specifically, he thinks everything is a toy. My hands are a toy, my feet are a toy, my hair is a toy, every part of my body is a toy, to be pounced on, clawed at, and bit.

I've missed a lot of sleep due to midnight battles between him and my feet. Or elbows. Or any other bit of me that he identifies as prey. No amount of somewhat rough shoving away seems to be able to convince him that this is a BAD THING. I've now taken to sacrificing my poor stuffed tiger pal up to him as an abusable distraction. This works for a few minutes, but then the live flesh is always more enticing, evidently. Because it goes "Ouch!" and flinches. Whereas my tiger is the soul of nonchalant equanimity. And therefore boring to sadistic kittens bent on destruction and pain.

So Mabruuk, he's a good little companion: he helps me a lot---can't feel lonely when you're busy staunching the latest flow of blood--and I hope the life I'm giving him is to his liking.

Monday, September 7, 2009

no rest for the wicked

Burning the candle at both ends, as I have for days now, but this time, for the edutainification of you, dear reader.

So, Nizwa is hot, but not terribly hot. At night it's just a warm summer night. Though I have to say: the heat here is not so much intense as it is pervasive. It seeps in at every turn, like the wetcold we get in the soggier days of Maine winters. When I go for walks, I see sun-shattered rocks everywhere. The yang to the yin of my own home's frost-shattered stones.

Beautiful geology: the hills here look like the photos of Mars: all reddish-brown and lump-stubbly. Albeit not like Mars in that you do see the occasional tree or tough little fighter of a bush. Nearly all the trees, barring the palms, are thorny beasts. I pity the goats and other browsing foragers.

Speaking of such thing, I found an old friend beneath a date palm campus: some kind of amaranthine entity, of the tasty sort. That was a few days ago: and just now at the supermarket next to the hotel where the university has us plonked pending more long-term housing, I found for sale red amaranth, the tasty nice kind. Stands to reason that a plant I associate with Mexico might be one of the greener things surviving here.

Finally starting to meet actual human beings, too! At first it seemed that things were configured such that it would be pretty difficult to get outside of the expat loop, but in fact, no. Which is great. It turns out that apparently I can speak Arabic well enough to hold decent conversations with generously patient interlocutors. So I'm just now finally starting to find out what the mythical creature known as Omani Arabic actually is like. In short, to all you linguists of the appropriate persuasion: hot dang, they seem to have /g/s from every possible source---Classical /q/, Classical /j/, you name it. Half my students today told me the word for 'young (baby?) donkey' is /jaHsh/, and the other half /gaHsh/. But 'beforehand' is /min gabil/. So there you go. Perhaps here is a happy mush of multiple sources. Not unlike my mother tongue.

About which I have a whole new perspective, now that my job is to teach it. So many bizarre constructions we have. How exactly do we make formal-syntactic sense of the construction "now that..."?

So that's that. Oh, and actual folks! So last night I went for a long walk in a new direction out in the funky gravelly wildish bits between chunks of explicit real estate, and lay out on a rock for a bit, looking at the nearly-full moon (=half-way through Ramadan already) and the stars that are visible through the dust...and almost passed out, since at night, nowadays at least, it is indeed warm enough for a person to sleep outside on a rock with no blanket...and did I mention how little sleep I've been getting?

But I roused myself home-hotelwards, and on the way back, encountered one of the cooler things about Omani life: people just driving their cars up to a random spot, rolling out a big old mat, and just plain chilling and chatting with each other well into the night. Actually, the first time I saw this was in the parking lots outside the souq. And I was struck with how if people just rolled out big picnic mats next to their cars in the Maine Mall parking lot area and just hung out there, drinking soda and playing cars, they'd be hustled away. So hooray for public spact in Oman!

So I walked over to this group of young guys---undergrad-age-ish---and we had a great chat for a few hours (again, this is why I will probably be spending the entire Thursday-Friday weekend asleep): one guy's a student studying telecommunications at the local technical college, another at Sultan Qaboos University, another works for Nawras ('Seagull'), one of the major Omani telcoms, and my over-thirty memory is fuzzy on the rest, though I recall a vague mix of studenthood and full-time workerhood.

Like seemingly everybody here, they were wicked nice, very warm, and calm, calm, calm, but fun. It'll be a while yet before I can follow the conversation when it's not directed at me---especially with the snail's pace at which I'm learning Arabic, thanks to my ickily English-filled days here---but it's a good start. And there'll be more chances to chat, and, as one guy said, get to learn a lot from each other, since they apparently hang out there most nights.

Also ran into two guys outside the hotel, one of whom I'd met before, while I was petting the skinny spotted cat that regularly seats itself regally smack dab in front of the hotel front door at 1am. The other guy is an econ student at the University of Nizwa, and he gave me a quick rundown on the singular-dual-plural distinction in Arabic.

So all in all, a fun bunch of folks.

And at the supermarket: rambutan! And, something I've never seen before: packages of samosa wrappers. I am so doing that project, once I get me a working kitchen. Omani food is heavily, heavily, heavily South Asian-influenced. I don't know if it was always like that, Oman being historically a cosmopolitan seafaring empire, or if it's more from the recent influx o' guest workers. Either way, every spice you associate with a South Asian restaurant is right there for the purchasing in the supermarker. Plus banana hearts, mangoes, guavas, etc. And Pocari Sweat.

Oh, and snack food of the sugary persuasion is evidently big here. The campus store has ten rows of nothing but snack foods---about 2/3rds of the store, in fact, and precious little of a more substantial kind. But it's pretty good-looking snack food. Not so much a million kinds of hideous chips, but rather, sugarcrunchy goodness of various kinds. Add the fact that edible dates fall out of all the trees on campus, and, well: they're going to have to roll me onto the plane home, I think.

Especially since exercise is, well, going to be a while yet: Ramadan makes that a bit trickier, and I just plain need to acclimate some more. But it looks like there are some nice runs to be had here, especially after sundown, and particularly if you're a fan of gravel. Of which they have much, here. I'd never really heard of a gravel desert before, but that's what I'm in. It's exciting to see occasional patchs of green, where water must somehow be accessible: the few green bushes edging the main runoff trajectory of the hills...the occasional oasis...and just some seriously deep-rooted trees.

And then, well, there are floods. A taxi I was in had to wait for the better part of an hour as the main road into Nizwa from the university---which is actually quite a distance from Nizwa proper, in Birkat Al-Mouz (which, if I have my translation right, means 'Banana Pond' or 'Banana Pool')---was washed out and blocked by a sudden rush of rainwater almost a meter deep, from a storm we had earlier. We've had a bunch of these: they seem to come in the late afternoon, and are very windy and sometimes feature high-quality lightning.

Okay, time for bed: gotta do my linguistic trifecta of Discourse Analysis 2, Intro to Linguistics, and Intro to Syntax tomorrow. Wish me luck and professional-performance-quality consciousness!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

day one

So, here I am in Nizwa! Got in late at night, made it through all things borderly, got picked up by two nice folks from the University of Nizwa, had a bite to eat---how much do we like xubz baraat(T)a?---met my first spotted, skinny cat, made it to the Hotel Al-Diyaar, and promptly overslept for my 7:15 ride to the university. the tune of something like 12:30, on the last day of the work-week (Thursdays and Fridays are the weekend here), when everybody gets done at 2pm. But I did manage to get to campus, meet up with a very kind and helpful professor who chatted with me for several hours (recall that this is when he could be bopping on home for the weekend) and answered my questions---so that now I can have a peaceful (peace-of-mind-ful) weekend before the semester starts (voom!) on Saturday.

Finally saw the landscape in the light today. Rugged. Saying it's gravel-y is like saying that Maine is a bit on the forested side. Trees and bushes are around, but mostly isolated among stretches of no green (or even living brown) at all: not much in the line of thickets or clumps of trees.

So, a little different from my homeland. The heat's not nearly as bad as I'd feared. Hot, yes, but more than reasonable in the shade. And I've already gotten rained on. In the middle of a giant rain-dust-wind-lightning storm that went whompah just as I was heading out of campus back to the hotel. People are nice here: as I was standing across the street from the hotel, just looking at the storm and getting smacked with wind and dust, a carful of random strangers pulled over for me, thinking I needed a ride.

Things seem pretty chill here. My Arabic is so far roughly functional: I can get by in it, it seems, with improvisation on my end and patience on the other. And I'm getting about 40-50% of what people tell me directly. So that's nice. The dialect markers are all over the place from what I expected from reading up---we'll see whether that's due to the diverse population, or me getting my facts wrong, or to other factors.

Okay, off to other things, then! To quote Calvin: further bulletins as events warrant.