It’s the end of my first full week in Salalah and just two days ago I found out that I have a four day weekend! In addition to the normal weekend in Oman (Thursday and Friday, dubbed “Emotional Saturday” and “Emotional Sunday” by my classmates) this weekend is extra long because Oman, like many other Muslim countries, celebrates al-Isra’aa wa al-Mi’raj, the Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to Heaven. So for this week I have both the Omani weekend (Thursday and Friday) and normal Western weekend (Saturday and Sunday) off! It’s a nice way to end a jam-packed week in Salalah.
Much of my previous entry on my summer in the Gulf was a reflection on how I ended up sitting on a tarmac in Saudi Arabia, but since that time there’s been little time to dwell on the past as we’ve gone straight into our classes. The CLS Salalah group is made up of 30 students from all over the United States and at different educational levels (this specific Arabic site is for intermediate and advanced beginning students, but we still have everything from freshman to Ph.D candidates in our classes.) One thing I’m very happy about is that both the CLS program and Hopkins really do their best to create a very diverse class to expose students to a lot of different opinions, strengths, people, etc. If I wanted to surround myself with people just like me I’d live in a room full of mirrors, but it’s really nice to learn so many interesting things just from sitting down and talking to your classmates. I learned how to wash my own laundry from a Peace Corps member here on this trip, similar to the way I learned to do laundry at Hopkins by going to the basement of AMR I with a group of my friends, acting very nonchalant because we were now adults who did their laundry, and finally getting help from a friend who’d done laundry before and took pity on us .
Salalah is the second largest city in Oman after the capital, Muscat, and is known for being a very popular tourist destination in the Gulf. Why? Because it’s just so darn hot in a desert and no one seems to do desert quite like the Gulf. Salalah is on the coast and very close to the equator, but from mid-June until late in the summer a very nice cooling mist cloaks the entire region. This mist is made possible by something known locally as Al-Khareef, which is sort of a rain-bearing fog (two words I still have to wrap my head around when I’m outside Vegas) that is so beloved by desert-dwellers that there’s an entire festival celebrating the moisture. While the town’s population swells to include citizens of other Gulf states during the festival, Salalah is quite diverse in general as a former trading city on the ancient frankincense trading route with links to India, the Middle East, the Gulf, and Africa. Walk a block from the hotel our group is staying at and you’ll pass by Turkish food, Indian clinics, Urdu-speaking shopkeepers, and a place selling chicken fingers and pizzas called “Chick Hut” next to a supermarket where music from the Black Eyed Peas blasts late at night.
I’m in class from nine until four daily, with classes split into Modern Standard Arabic, (the written and formal form of Arabic) Media Arabic, (where we learn words to talk about politics and current events) and Omani Dialect Arabic. There are an awful lot of Arabic dialects, and speakers of Arabic will often easily switch from the more standard and formalized Modern Standard when writing a letter or giving a speech to talking in a dialect when speaking with their friends, so many institutions are now requiring that students studying Arabic study both MSA and a dialect of their choice (major ones include Egyptian and Levantine, which are taught in the textbook used for Arabic at Hopkins.) In addition to a traditional small class setting (there are about 13 people in my class, which is a little more than were in both my Persian and Arabic classes at Hopkins) I’m also assigned a language partner to speak with during lunch, in special conversation time periods, and on cultural excursions in and around Salalah (we went to a market, or souq, the other day to learn about traditional clothes and perfumes.)
As you can probably tell, there’s a lot of work, but before we left from D.C. there was an alumni panel of past Oman travelers who stressed the importance of getting out and seeing the city while we were there, (do I sense an Omani version of Learn More, See More, B’More on the way?) so my group of friends has made a promise to go sightseeing every weekend while we’re here. This past week the group went to a beach resort (no swimming allowed due to super rough waves during this time of the year) and the ruins of a city near Salalah that was once a massive port for the frankincense trade and was visited by Ibn Battuta. We’ve spent a lot of time in various restaurants and souqs as well, and a few of my friends have picked up some nice souvenirs for back home like frankincense, daggers, abayas, perfumes, etc. There’s an excursion planned for this weekend as well, so hopefully my trusty iPhone camera carries me through this trip!