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!


  1. hope u love Nizwa - Gs and Js probably Bedu / Muscatis ; and perhaps food very heavily influenced by Sub-cont India

  2. gosh i thoroughly enjoyed every bit of detail you gave here...
    the red mars landscape, the hidden edibles, the strangers with their mats, and the out of nowhere rainwater floods. makes me want to be there and see it all for myself.
    i find it so intriguing that you describe the people you've met being so calm. are they really? don't think that's something one would often use to describe a group of people. interesting mix of energy with the terrains...
    hope your classes are going well, nobody falling asleep, including yourself, dr. professor q. ;).

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