Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Camping adventure

Turtle sunrise 2, originally uploaded by travelingsuep.

Last weekend was the holiday to celebrate National day for us here in Oman. After having run into an old Nizwa friend, Annette, the previous weekend J & I then joined her and 10 others on a camping trip. Having left Muscat early on Wednesday we met at Mintarib on the edge of the Wahiba Sands aka Sharqiya. Small world, not knowing who was going apart from Annette we saw a friend of J's at the meeting point who was also camping with us. After a briefing from guides, fuelling up, deflating tyres, and toilet stops, six 4x4s, including our guides in the lead vehicle, drove 2 ks down a graded track, pass a camel convoy, and straight into the desert. We very quickly left civilisation behind and had our first cars stuck in the sand soon afterwards.

Having bought a new camera in the summer ready for SA at Christmas I had the perfect excuse to snap away at the dunes, sand, dunes, and more sand... by the end of the weekend the total was 257 photos taken of which I've posted 36 people pics on Facebook and another 20 on my flickr site. The turtle pic above is one of the flickr pics.

We spent all day in the desert driving across to the coast, with everyone, the guides included, being stuck at least once. We set up camp at the end of the sand dunes, overlooking the sea, with a steep slide down to the beach. Very beautiful!!! J & I slid down at daybreak and were lucky enough to watch dolphins very close to shore as the sun rose and we strolled along the beach. Back up at the campsite we had a traditional English breakfast and packed up ready for the second day of the adventure.

Soon after breaking camp we turned down on to the beach: J was not happy about this for HSE reasons, something about getting stuck in soft sand, tides and no exit points; whilst I wasn't happy as I try to act in an environmentally sensitive manner, which driving on beaches certainly is not. That said we had great fun, especially as the guides were like puppies chasing the gulls up into the air - great photos. Along that coast you certainly see the poverty that some Omanis live in. The fishing villages were little more than tin shacks a few meters away from the sea. Young boys ran along shouting to the cars asking for food, which was sad. Also, due to the red tide that has affected Oman the last few weeks, there were dead turtles, dead fish, along with more rubbish than normal, which had been washed ashore.

Back on the hardtop (tarmac road), some of the group played Frisbee on the new road as the guides reinflated tyres, and then it was along the road towards Ras-al-Jinz. One car left us to head back to Muscat, followed soon after by the guides having finished their job. After a few wrong turns and a tea stop, we reached the cliff top overlooking our intended destination. Unfortunately, it was at this point Emily had a tyre blow out on the gravel and when the tyre was changed, and following a text from her boyfriend saying the spare wasn't good, she decided to head back. Almost immediately, another car left on seeing the steep path down to the beach. So then, we were five of us in 2 vehicles.

We set up camp and J laid a huge bonfire; later we sat, chatted, drank, and ate dinner beside it. At the first camp the starlit sky had been amazing as there was no light pollution, but despite nearby towns, at this camp the sky was still beautiful. Jose, as a visitor to Oman got up in the middle of the night to patrol the beach and look for turtles laying their eggs on the beach. The rest of us waited until daybreak and then spent an hour watching the turtle (pic above) finish covering her nest and then return to the sea. Seeing one of these huge majestic creatures in daybreak was magical and so much more rewarding than when we had seen turtles by torchlight, which is not the way you should watch them, as they get disturbed. Then, sadly after breakfast and a quick dip, it was time to head back to Muscat and the adventure was over. Sx

Monday, 24 November 2008

The end of the road?

I began November in Nizwa for another Shell graduate team building week, and then headed off to visit Barbara in the back-of-beyond, UAE. (see pic). It was a long, long drive, and if I visit again I shall fly to Abu Dhabi and hire a car from there. From Nizwa it took me 7.5hrs, but just over 8 back to Muscat as I barely stopped or got held up at the border. It was a very short visit, but good to catch up and also go somewhere new. I especially liked going to the fish market and a trip to Barbara's school.

Last week was very tiring. Saturday night Jim had his birthday party – a party on the equivalent of a Monday yuck. I had an early start the next morning as training so left at a sensible 11pm after not drinking, but 6am came around far too soon. 2 nights later J was hosting a company manager’s dinner at Rock Bottom. Nice food but horrendously slow service, again I was sensible, leaving J there to head home for bed. When did I get so old, sensible, and boring???? Unfortunately, I left the door key in the lock and was woken with J ringing the doorbell to get in. oops. Finally, Wednesday was Valia’s birthday do and it was very pleasant to stand outside chatting until nearly midnight. I got a bit cool, so I had to put a cardi on about 11ish. Don’t we get soft??? It was about 19/20°C.

Whatelse... Oh been in The Week again, twice! The first event with J was an opening of an Austrian art exhibition. The majority of the art was a bit strange, home-made Japanese style paper hangings for example, but there were a couple of paintings we liked. The following day a Lebanese friend invited me to the opening of a handbag exhibition, not really my thing but… This is the background: “Sarah’s bag. Sarah decided to set up her company as part of a rehabilitation program, whereby women at risk from economic depravation or the stigma of having served time in prison would learn valuable skills in return for a reliable income and a stable source of pride, dignity, and empowerment. In the process, these women would be helping to revamp the centuries’ old traditions of artisans and textile makers in the Middle East for the purpose of invigorating contemporary fashion.” http://www.sarahsbag.com/ After the exhibition, Ale & I went to a store, it like TKMax however among the bargains we saw some of the funniest garments and despite my not liking shopping had a really good giggle as we teased each other into buying horrendous nylon garrish outfits. We both resisted, but I did manage to buy a pair of casual trousers and a couple of Ts. I went to another opening this week in a new private art gallery. It was an exhibition of Omani artists, some very interesting, with VERY nice prices. I shall take mum when she is over as the exhibition will still be on. I didn’t have my photo taken, so no photo in next week’s edition. Yes I know, I complain about the lack of cultural things to do and obviously I'm doing ok at the moment.

Finally, my flat purchase still hasn't gone through & I'm getting really fedup. As is my estate agent, & mortgage broker. The new completion date is December 6th, and if that doesn't go through then my mortgage offer expires and will have to start again. AAAAARRGGG! If that isn't enough I am very confused. My job contract expires whilst I'm on holiday at Christmas, and I was contacted by a company in Toledo Spain with a job which sounded perfect, and paid ok for Europe (with current eco-situation less than half my current salary). Thought I could do that for one semester, giving me some breathing space from Oman, J etc but they want me to start when I'm supposed to be still in SA. I told them I couldn't accept and to bare me in mind should the position remain unfilled... but I am sooooo tempted. Guess that says a lot about my state of mind here.

A positive note to end on is that mum will be here in 10 days, which I am really looking forward to her visit, and spending some time with her. As Eid falls during that time I thing I will only have to work a few days whilst she is here. Even if I'm working I'm sure she'll be ok by the pool - It may seem cool to us who live here, but coming from Colchester at 7°C to our cool 28°C will be great for her.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

You know you've lived too long in the Middle East when...

You're not surprised to see a goat in the passenger seat

You think the uncut version of 'Little House on the Prairie' is provocative

You think every one's surname is Al

You need a sweater when it's 27 degrees Celsius (80 F)

You expect everyone to own a mobile phone

Your idea of housework is leaving a list for the houseboy

You believe that speed limits are only advisory

You expect all police to drive BMWs or Merc's

You know whether you are within missile range of Iraq

You believe that the definition of a nanosecond is the time interval between the time the light turns green and the time that the guy behind you begins to blow his horn

You can't buy anything without asking for a discount

You expect all stores to stay open till midnight

You understand that 'wadi bashing' isn't a criminal act

You make left turns from the far right lane

You send friends a map instead of your address

You understand why huge 4x4s must slow down to a snail's pace whilst

crossing a speed bump yet hurtle through a wadi at 100kph

You think that 'Howareyoufine' is one word. So is 'Mamsir'

You think it perfectly normal to have a picnic in the middle of a roundabout at 11pm

You know exactly how much alcohol allowance you have left for the month

You have a moon phase predictor on your computer

You never say Saturday instead of Friday or Sunday instead of Saturday any more

You accept that there is no point in asking why you are not allowed to do something

You expect queues to be 1 person deep and 40 people wide

You realise that the black and white stripes in the road are not a zebra crossing, just bait to get tourists into the firing line

Seeing guys welcome each other with a kiss and hold hands while walking no longer distracts you

You carry 12 passport size photos around with you just in case

You can tell the time by listening to the local mosque

You think it's a good night if there are fewer than 10 men for every woman in a bar

Phrases like 'potato peeler', 'dish washer', 'coffee maker' and 'fly swatter' are no longer household items but are actually job titles

Habibi isn't just the ex-president of Indonesia

Problem with your car AC or horn is more serious to you than a problem with the brakes!


Scarily most of these are true for me. Time to leave? Sx

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Party central

There goes another month. It's been a very mixed time ending with a fab night on Thursday when I hosted J's birthday bash.
The pic above was taken in our lounge where the band Sporca Gush played 3 awesome sets and got guests dancing. The first guests walked in as the caterers were setting up at 8pm, followed swiftly by many more, and the last left around 3am. In between vast amounts of alcohol were drunk, curry was eaten, people chatted on the terrace or at the bar, some danced, and generally all had a good time. There were surprisingly few casualties - one glass, a pot on the terrace, my aloe lost a few fronds, missing keys for the outside bar fridge, and Mark who collapsed in the lounge oops. I would have liked shares in Panadol yesterday morning!

A highlight of Ramadan was a camel race night at a local golf club - not real camels as you can see from the pic below. The race was run after the camels were auctioned off and bets placed. The camels were then moved depending on the throw of 2 dice (1st determined camel to move and 2nd for number of moves). It was a really fun evening and not too much money was lost. Finally, I took a short afternoon boat trip with a friend and her visitor. Considering it should be getting cooler, the clock in Mutrah was showing 40c at 2pm. The sea did feel cooler than the other month, but it didn't stop Ale, Guilo & I still spending over 30 mins in the sea bobbing around on noodles.What a hard life we lead here.

Hopefully, by next time I post I can write that the purchase of my flat in Italy has completed, but I'm not holding my breath. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Sx

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Cavorting at carnival, admiring art, & fabulous food.

Wow I can't believe how long it has been since I last posted. Most of the time has been spent in Europe (UK and Italy), and has been a time of mainly highs.

In UK, I finally went to Nottinghill carnival after years of it being on the "to-do" list. What a mad day, whistles, sound stages, friendly/helpful police, food stalls, thousands of people, processions... everything and far more that I had expected and a great day.

On another day in London, it was fantastic to watch J's reactions as he came face-to-face with old masters in the National Gallery, which previously he'd only seen bad reproductions of. His face was a mix of shock, wonder and amazement, especially at the Monets and Van Goghs. It was not only old masters that he liked, as we saw an exhibition in the new wing and there was a modern Spanish painting of a bull in a field that we both kept returning to look at.

We saw more art in Italy, when we went to the Vatican city, Rome. My 1st visit had been back in 2000. Although I remembered the Sistine Chapel and the Raphaels and it being a long walk, I hadn't remembered there being so many other works of art, including modern pieces. I was very surprised to see a Dali amongst the collection and some great sculptures. The afternoon before, J & I had revisited the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps etc. all on foot, though we caught metro back to hotel. Of course, we had many breaks for cakes, ice-cream, drinks and dinner.

I think we spent the whole time in Europe eating great food with fantastic wines, whether in expensive restaurants, roadside stalls, or riverside pubs. In UK alone, I had 3 lots of mussels, each time in a different sauce - the cider version at The Oyster Bar in West Mersea was one of my favourites. It was a restaurant I went to twice, once after walking the dog along the beach, when we sat outside overlooking the estuary to eat fish chowder then amazing dressed crab. Then, the second time almost a month later, we sat inside for mum's birthday lunch - mussels followed by Lemon Sole yum. Whilst in Italy, I experienced the spectrum of Italian cooking ranging from a typical Calabrian dinner, which came in many courses including TWO pasta dishes, to 3euro wood-oven pizzas. My mouth is watering just thinking about it all and I'm sure I'd get giggly if I wrote about Prosecco hic.

Finally, whilst in Italy J & I explored some lovely areas. We spent a lovely day walking along and picnicking by a river in the region of the Pollino National Park, which surrounds the village where I'm (hopefully) buying a flat. It really is quite beautiful and very tranquil. Although, as the flat sale still hasn't gone through, due to problems with the sellers, who knows if we will return. We also drove up the coast to Maratea, which is gorgeous, with it's picture-postcard port and its mountainous old town, and down to Diamante, which is a town covered in murals, fascinating.

Needless to say I did not want to return to Oman last Friday. However as it's Ramadan, which for us ex-pats that means a time of lots of house-parties and socialising, I'm quickly liking it again. More news soon.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Luxury, petty frustrations, and long drive.

What a strange week. After not getting Renaissance day off work – a national celebration only given to government workers, how does that work, J got given Thursday afternoon off and we went and stayed at the Chedi hotel here in Muscat. Even with it's summer discounted rate it was a luxurious and expensive treat. We got there at midday for the best check in I've ever had. We sat in the beautiful lobby, no standing by the desk, waiters brought us fresh orange juice, the forms etc to where we were sitting, and then we had a mini tour of the hotel on route to our room, which was beautiful! We spent most of the afternoon lounging by the adult only Infiniti pool, although we did take a dip n sea after a short walk along the beach. Dinner was taken in the main dining room with a very smooth red wine, but not so gentle bill, then we took a stroll through the gardens, which are filled with water features, discreet lighting, and surprising courtyards. The next day was equally relaxing with the addition of a Balinese massage before lunch, and check out. The whole thing was a lovely treat!

Petty frustrations came whilst I was working for the week in Nizwa. As usual, I was there with Shell graduates on their introduction to exploration & production course. I train on the first module, which is all about working together, and got so frustrated with two of the girls who did not want to join in anything, stating it is "culturally inappropriate". Our course director, Hannat, along with others, has carefully devised the course so everyone can do everything, and it is such a shame these girls didn't take the opportunities offered them. Ice skating was quoted as being dangerous, an outdoor activity too likely someone would touch them accidentally (10000/1 against) etc. What will they do when they have to work in a mixed environment? Refuse?

The other frustrating thing was receiving an email whilst in Nizwa, with news about my potential flat purchase and realising the Italian bureaucracy is so slow. Also, that despite making requests for things to be done, I am so dependent on others doing what they say they will, when they haven't it has delayed everything. (I'm still waiting for a form to be posted, despite asking for it at the beginning of July) Oh well. I guess I find it so frustrating having flights booked to go over and I may not be able to enter the flat, or start doing anything on it.

However, the highlight of the week, and thing that left me feeling at peace, although tired, was a beautiful drive over the Hajar Mountains. J joined me at the Nizwa Hotel on Tuesday in time to see the raft race, which signified the end of activity day and almost the end of our module. So, yesterday morning, instead of taking the normal drive back to Muscat along the highway, we drove to Wadi Tanuf and off-road up the mountainside on a graded track. After a short while, we joined a stretch of tarmac road, and that led us to the viewpoint (see pic.). Shortly after we were heading downhill on a steep graded track, full of hairpins Yeeha! It was from the viewpoint onwards that the drive was amazing as we passed through, & by, gorges, wadis (valley beds), and small villages. I was very disappointed when we finally reached the end of Wadi Bani Awf and the road to Nakhal that the drive was over, but also pleased and happy we had done it. We got back to Muscat an hour or so later tired but definitely happy, and just in time to see Dark Knight, the new Batman movie.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Future home

I've just been looking through some blogs and found this link to The Independent and this article on Calabria - my future home, and where J & I'll be end of August for the local festa in Scalea. I love this quote:

"Calabria, with its 600 miles of Mediterranean coastline and a hilly, lush interior, still has a profound respect for a slower way of doing things. In its small, often tumble-down towns and villages, the four-hour lunch break is rigorously enforced. The hours between 12.30pm and 4.30pm are strictly reserved for sitting down for a glass of peppery wine and a plate of Calabria's hearty "national dish", pasta alla Norma – aubergines in tomato sauce with grated boiled egg, basil and ricotta cheese."

Sounds just perfect to me!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Sailing, snorkling & Pimms

Last Friday, friends & I went sailing on the yacht Jinan Al Bahr, which sails out of Muscat. We left the marina at 1pm and sailed an hour down the coast to Bandar Al Khran. On weighing anchor, we donned snorkels & fins and went across the bay to the nearby rocks and cave. Poor Valia was scared when she saw a snake skimming across the water and rapidly headed back to the yacht. John & I investigated around the cave and rocks seeing many different varieties of fish, although the water was a bit murky. (Like the sky, which is still full of dust, despite the weather report saying it is cloud).

When we got out it was "Pimms o'clock" so we shared out the thermos of Pimms and tucked into our picnic lunch - no cucumber sandwiches, but we did have some strawberries. Continuing with this difficult afternoon, lunch was followed by lounging and chatting. Later it was time for another swim, although for me this was more of a bob as I was using a noodle to float in the sea whilst chatting to other passengers.

On the yacht were members of the Intercon band and the Hyatt band, and they all seemed a nice crowd so we plan to go and see them play this Wednesday. We returned to the marina about 6pm so exhausted by the days activities that we had to have a restorative drink in the bar before we left. It's a hard life here!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Bed called at 2nd rain delay

Last night was frustrating as the only channel broadcasting the Wimbledon men's final was Dubai Sport whose commentary is in Arabic. That was not too bad when the volume was loud enough to hear line calls etc. but very frustrating when the 1st rain delay came in the 3rd set... The covers went on and I had know idea if it was a shower or possibly a longer delay as I couldn't understand what they were saying. As they repeated the previous day's womens final, I switched to BBC news to try to get info. I then spent the next hour flicking back and forth to try and catch the restart, which I did. I was on the edge of the seat throughout the end of the 3rd set and all of the 4th. As a Rafa fan, I thought it was all over when he lost the opportunity to win the championship and the 4th set went to Federer. Still on the edge of my seat for the beginning of the 5th, although the eyelids were dropping due to the time difference, I was beginning to think Federer would win and... it rained again! It was now after 11pm here in Muscat, having got up at 6am and not knowing how long this delay would be, I followed the call of the bed and missed the end of the match. This morning, at a too early 5.40am, I switched on BBC news to get the result. YEAH! Rafa won! The report makes the last set sound amazing, as the score probably shows... I can't watch it as the clips on BBC Sport online are blocked - joys of living in a dictatorship (although very benign one) I guess. Shall have to try YouTube or somewhere else now I guess.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Want my autograph?

Due to some publicity by my company, I'm in the paper again... both in the article and that's me stood on the left. That makes the tally to date: The Week - 1 letter printed & 2 photos; arabic press - 2 photos; & H! - 1 photo with article (this one). I guess you've either got it, or you haven't :) Sx

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Sharp knives, turtles & sinkholes

Having a few days off, I've just visited Sur. Despite it being hot & humid, although less dusty, I thought I'd do some sketching in the town. I like recording decay and seeing a dhow partially submerged, I thought it would be the perfect subject. Sitting on the sand, engrossed I was aware of a man standing over me. Looking up, as I said hello, I saw he had a knife in his hand. Gulp, I wasn't sure if he wanted to rob me, hurt me, or was just curious as he crouched next to me. I'm self conscious drawing with an audience at the best of times, but when they are holding a knife, I could barely contain the shaking. Continuing to draw, trying to chat a little - I've seen on tv that you get hurt less if you can make the event personal - and leave fast was my plan. I feel a bit guilty, as before I packed up, he kindly sharpen my pencil with his knife, so I think he was just curious about a mad English woman sitting drawing outside in the middle of summer.

The evening before, after the drive up from Muscat, my friend and I went to Ras Al Jinz to turtle watch. One of the things on my "to-do before I leave Oman" list. We got there before sunset, if there had been one but it was too dusty/cloudy. We were not allowed onto the beach in case we disturbed the turtles, so we climbed the cliffs overlooking the beach and sat listening & watching the waves crash below. Once back down we had a long wait until 9pm in strong winds, so strong that I almost got cold (the shelters had walls, which weren't high enough to stop the wind howling through). Finally, about 10 of us, with the guide went to the beach, stopping for an explanation on the turtles and what we would see, the group was then made to switch out torches and follow the guide's single beam towards the sea. We got to the first turtle and were joined by about 10 more tourists. The group was too big in my opinion. Justified I think when several flashes went off, phones rang, and one guy slipped into the hole nearly onto the turtle. So much for not disturbing them. The 2nd turtle we saw was laying eggs, which was amazing to see, but I was a bit disturbed the next morning when my photos (taken without flash by the guide's torch) revealed that the guide was holding back the rear flipper so we could see. I thought this turtle watching was supposed to be non-intrusive. Finally, having watched a couple of turtles lumbering up the beach, it was time to leave them in peace.

The next morning, we left Sur after breakie to take the coast road back to Muscat. It's a strange route now being half on the new highway and half on graded (non-tarmac) roads. Taking a detour just before Dibbah, we stopped at a sinkhole. As part of Oman's tourism drive it's now enclosed in a park, and the hole itself is surrounded by a wall and has steps down. Both seem a good idea as the drop is about 20m and the way down shingly. Once at the bottom, we had the pool to ourselves and swam in the amazingly clear salt water, which I think the picture shows. At one point the sandy bottom looked so close I stretched down and realised the bottom was at least another 5 metres below. All too soon, we had to leave and return to Muscat.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Strange weather

Being British I naturally have an obsession with the weather. The other day yahoo reported the weather as above... At school I didn't learn dust as an adjective for weather, just the normal sunny, wet etc. So, looking out of the window this was the view:

Ugh! Normally, it would look like this.
A slight difference I think! The nasty murky pic reminds me of the UK, all grey where the colour is washed out. As you can see from the temperatures, we were not quite at UK temperatures, which I think were around 17c, but mid-30s. What it doesn't show is that along with the dust we have high humidity. Why am I living here?

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Nations united by Pimms drinking

Last night, because it's the summer and the weekend and for no other reason, I had a small get-together at my flat. Several jugs of Pimms were consumed, a few gins & tonics, numerous beers, and some wine. Hic! Why was it a United Nations gathering? Well, we realised that in the room were us Brits, 3 South Africans, my Dutch neighbour, French, Italian ladies, and a new Greek friend complete with Ouzo. Unfortunately, due to the quantity of Pimms drunk, I think, the ouzo was unopened – next time? As usual the only glass that got broken was by yours truly; I did the same when I had the terrace gathering for my mum when she visited. What a klutz.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Choose your Path

Chose your Path, originally uploaded by digitalazia.

Just thought I'd share this photo with you all. It's by the Omani photographer, Ahmed Al-Shukaili (digitalazia on flickr). Amazing this was taken in the train-free Sultanate. It's the tracks of the "tourist train" into Al Hoota cave, now if only we could get a train, underground, tram, or any form of public transport in Muscat.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Unicef & a new botanical garden

Last Wednesday a colleague & I conducted a team building day for UNICEF out at the Al Nadha Resort & Spa, Barka. Please check out unicef's website: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/oman.html

During the day, UNICEF staff participated in many different activities. The final event of the day achieved a great sense of achievement and the most laughs as the participants tried to build the tallest tower from newspaper. (see pic above) Afterwards, several of the UNICEF staff expressed the wish that the event had been over 2 days, showing that the day was a huge success.

Al Nahda is a “5* hotel” although the stars have been given by Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, which means it's not quite at the standard you would expect. Overall a very nice resort, but the maintenance leaves a bit to be desired e.g. the pool has a waterfall into it and the rocks/pool edge below are slimy with algae that hasn’t been cleaned. However the lunch they laid on was spectacular. That evening I was treated to a night there (the rooms are lovely) and a massage in the morning. Very nice! Afterwards there was time for a few hours by the pool, before sadly it was time to head back to Muscat. I would have loved another night, but it is quite expensive.

Last night (9th), it was another talk organised by the hao, although this time it had nothing to do with history, but was a talk on the upcoming Oman Botanical Gardens due for opening around 2011. I hope by then I will have visited the Eden project in Cornwall, as it’s ironic I haven’t even been there yet. The Omani gardens are being planned with a surprisingly high level of environmental awareness, even down to construction of the various buildings. (Using the LEED system) Hopefully this new method of construction awareness to produce green buildings in a environmental manner, recycling of materials etc will impact on the many other construction projects here. The gardens will be for native Omani plants and a tremendous job has been started to collect seeds & cuttings across the country and in cultivating them in nurseries. They have even discovered new species that were previously uncatalogued. The talk was very interesting and left many of us impatient to see the results of the project.

Tomorrow, Wednesday it’s the final Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra concert for the summer, and I have a complimentary ticket, thanks to Richard, who’s a music teacher for the orchestra. I'm really looking forward to it.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Full Monty revisited

Last night, I went to Vanessa & Leif's house for a movie night showing of the Full Monty, as one friend had never seen it.
We started with dinner, home made pork sausages & mash, artfully arrange by Vanessa on the plate - sausage in the middle, a dollop of mash on either side of the sausage, with caramalised onions to represent pubic hair :) That was followed by strawberry mousse and coule - just think red G-strings and you have the idea.
Finally, it was time to watch the movie, and we all gathered in the lounge, around Leif's huge screen to watch. I hadn't seen the movie in ages and it reminded me how good English films can be.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Colonising Margaret's house

Last Monday night, I went to the latest Historical Association lecture, www.hao.org.om. Due to start at 8, I duly turned up at ten to, and discovered people milling around outside the venue – the man with the key hadn’t turned up. So, Margaret kindly offered her house in substitution. Fifteen of us, including Prof. Adrian Roscoe, the speaker, went in a convoy up the road and took over her lounge. The talk, Empire, literature & historiography: some African angles, turned out to mainly about colonisation, covering a spectrum, which included Roman Britain, Pilgrim America, and the scramble for Africa. It was surprising the things I remembered from university, and I mentally checked off many books and authors mentioned, which are stored at mum & dad’s. My favourite uni. professor, Dr Jeremy Krikler, with whom I did both degree & master courses with components on colonisation, had a different perspective of African colonisation to the very British Professor Roscoe, so provided cause for thought. Other thoughts were that I have neglected my interest in history recently, and now want to resume studying. Thoughts of the PhD titles I wrote several years ago have resurfaced too. Due to knowing many of the colonisation concepts and ideas, I would have liked more of the talk to be on the African literature, and was disappointed that Prof. Roscoe only touched on oral history and then moved on, which is a field I am interested in. Overall, a very good talk, and one that didn’t make me feel stupid as others have. After the talk, Margaret laid on tea, coffee and an assortment of cakes. Ignoring the fact I don’t have room for 15 people to be seated in my lounge, all I could have managed at short notice would have been 3½ stale digestive biscuits and the tea or coffee in shifts due to a shortage of cups. It made me appreciate Margaret stepping in to save the talk.
Prior to that, I had been very busy. I had my first two Italian lessons; the grammar is very similar to Spanish, but the pronunciation is very different and difficult. On Tuesday, some friends & I went to see the live comedy show Whose line is it anyway?, which was very funny. A week last Friday, I was treated to lunch in Darcy’s, and having eaten too much we went for a walk along the beach. It was too hot and humid to walk, so we went to my friend’s house for a dip in his pool. Lovely! That evening it was off to Alessandra’s for dinner. It’s apparently an Italian tradition to have pizza with friends or go to the movies on Sunday, which for us here in the Middle East means Friday, and she is keen to continue it here. We didn’t have pizza, but a lovely 3 course meal, and was a great way to finish off the weekend.

The week continued to be busy after the lecture with a conference on Wednesday night, which I ducked out of half way through. Yawn! Then, Thursday evening was sad as I went to the first of many leaving events planned over the next 2 months. Many of my friends are teachers at the end of contracts after 2 or 3 years here and consequently are leaving. This week it was Rob & May, who I know from my Nizwa days, and a large group of us went to the Crowne Plaza for dinner and drinks in the pub. After, it was down to Rock Bottom for a funky house night with a guest dj from the UK for a few more drinks and a dance. Finally, last night Alessandra & I went for sundowners; a couple of large Pimms each. Unfortunately, she had to leave to go to a leaving do; it’s that time of year L, but I was joined by John for dinner. I don’t think my budget for this month is going to do too well, as I’m halfway through it already and have a week off mid-June, although I’m staying in Oman so shouldn’t spend too much. Famous last words? I think it’s another history assoc. lecture next week, and the last ROSO concert until after the summer on the 11th, so I guess I’m staying busy.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

My favourite Istanbul pic

Shoe shine, originally uploaded by travelingsuep. © Sue Pownall

Sunday, 18 May 2008

How do you know when a gecko is dead?

Back in mid-April, I was shocked by a gecko in my bathroom, but was surprised not to see it later that day. However, the day before I flew to Istanbul, I spotted its tail poking out from behind a cabinet in the lounge, so I knew it was still around. Now, after returning from Italy yesterday it is in plain view on the underside of a floor cushion. It is hanging upside down, one foot off, and with its back just off my Bahrain rug. The worrying thing is it hasn’t moved in 32 hours, so the question is how do I tell if it’s dead? Will it fall off, feet up? Or will it just remain with its 3 feet stuck to the cushion?

After Istanbul, I went to the Calabria region of southern Italy viewing houses. The seaside town of Scalea had a 4k beach, but isn’t really me (although I can see myself visiting). However, I went inland 13k into a national park and absolutely loved it: the mountains, the greenery... Even when I went back for a second visit, on a grey day that followed a storm, it was still beautiful. I have my eye on a property there, as a holiday home/base, but won’t say more at the moment as I don’t want to jinx it. I met some lovely expats whilst there, both residents and holiday homers, but there are not so many you don’t have to speak Italian. I’d hate to be somewhere where you only socialise with expats; bit like here really. That said, in my week there, I still had a couple of boozy meals out with them. Great company, and wonderful food.

Last night, I spoke to an old friend, who I haven’t seen for about 7 years or spoken to since I was in Spain. We chatted for ages, and I felt the time wasn’t an issue, mind, as we did end up at one point talking about the weather maybe it was? He’s fit, and handsome (I haven’t seen any photos in a couple of years, so maybe he’s fat, but he sounded good), and has the dubious title of being the man who broke my heart. I had planned to go to the States later this year, but don’t think it will be possible now because of funds. Shame!

Monday, 12 May 2008

24 hours in Istanbul

Yea! a lay over of 24 hours in Istanbul... a city at the top of the to-go-to list. First stop on the mad schedule was the Roman underground cisterns, which was awesome! spoilt only by my pet hate - piped music. Next, it was across the road to Hagia Sophia, unfortunately the dome was under scaffolding so the full impression was lost, but was still impressive. I wasn't sure why I walked up to the upper gallery as I'm still getting back to fitness from the op., but it was worth it. I didn't go to the Blue mosque this trip, but it provided the background to many of my photos. From Hagia Sophia I went to Topaki Palace, via a welcomed sit in an outside cafe - bit chilly, but then anywhere is compared to Muscat's 42c and it started to rain just after I left, but that didn't dampen the excitment... However, the fact that all the school children in the city were in the palace on a school trip did, the noise was incredible, as were the queues for the treasury rooms. However, paying a 2nd entry fee in order to get into the Hareem put the smile back. It's unmissable! Beautiful, peaceful... so many positive adjectives can be used; I loved the whole Hareem complex.

Got lost in the winding streets going back to the hotel to check in, then it was off out to the Grand Bazaar. It took great willpower not to buy any ceramics, definately a weakness of mine. Back at the hotel, they have a fabulous rooftop bar/restaurant were I had to have a small gin & tonic in order to enjoy the views across the city and Bospherous. I finished off my Istanbul experience with a show of traditional Sufi music complete with whirling Dervish. The music I found quite haunting, whilst the whirling Dervish I wouldn't describe as mystic, partly because it's a tourist exhibition I guess, but it was definately calming to watch.

The next morning my taxi driver thought he was in the F1, which was to be held that weekend there.. gulp. Then, when I was in the airport waiting to fly to Italy, half an hour sooner than expected, I picked up Orhan Pamuk's The White Castle. It's his 1st novel about an Italian captured by pirates to be a slave in Istanbul - seemed appropriate reading for this trip. It's beautifully written, no wonder he's a Nobel prize winner. I'll write about my time here in Italy later in the week.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Environmental damage

In this country is very difficult to do your bit for the environment, mainly due to the lack of household recycling. It hurts to throw all the rubbish for normal collection. I try to buy goods with as little packaging as possible, or in large sizes, which reduces packaging although it makes the shopping heavy. I also take my own shopping bags, so I don't need plastic bags, but if I overshop the bags I acquire are reused, mainly as rubbish bags. At home, I limit the use of chemicals, preferring to use white vinegar to bleach, and ecolaundry products etc. I have some (though I must get more) long-life bulbs and I try not to leave electric goods on standby or lights on. I'm sure there is more I could do, but I hope my little helps.

You can imagine my horror on Sunday when the management company of the flat subjected me to compulsory pest control. They turned up early and sprayed toxic chemicals on my bed, bedding, settee, cushions, and curtains, making the air unbreathable and me choke. They were spraying for bedbugs, and were doing every flat to stop cross-contamination. Do I can see out at the oil-field camps they have to do every room if they get an outbreak, because there are guys moving into and out of the camp all the time, so bedbugs can spread, but an apartment building? Do they think it's a brothel and everyone is bedhopping? I hope not!

But that wasn't all... late afternoon a man came and pumped evil smelling stuff in the bathroom, and kitchen to kill cockroaches, which we do have a few. I normally wash up as soon as possible. If I see a roach, I squish it, then carefully wipe it up, and use lots of vinegar in the drains. I only see an occasional one, so I guess it works. Roaches can be a big problem if left, so I can see the sense in doing the whole building. Problem was yesterday, I saw the biggest roach in my kitchen since I moved in happily wandering around the kitchen. So much for chemicals!

On a more cheerful note, last night I went to hear the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra play again. It was late 19th century Russian music, which is not my favourite classical style, although the orchestra played it well. However, as the programme stated "the finale is a jolly romp, wholly un-serious... It slithers through many extraordinary keys... but the irreverent main tune has the last laugh". Couldn't have said it better myself! ha ha Who wrote that? Actually, the last movement of the Prokofiev was quite fun, and the orchestra seemed to enjoy playing it, but I wouldn't describe it as a "jolly romp".

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Shocks, buggies, & reindeer

I was drying my face this morning when something fell out of the towel and landed with a loud PLOP in the bin. Looking down I saw a large, fat gecko, acting like a bike on a Wall of Death, it took 2 laps around the inside of the bin, and launched itself off, out, and up the wall. It scuttled off somewhere else, obviously to make me jump again when I come across it unexpectedly later today.

I'm now back in Muscat after a too short visit to mum and dad's in UK. The highlight of the return trip was that I got a ride in one of the buggies to the gate at Heathrow, all flashing lights and annoying bleeping noise. I never realised how fast they can go and was quite worried I would fall out on some of the down slopes. I had to take the buggy as I'm recovering pathetically slowly from the op, and still find it difficult to walk distances and take stairs. Am I the only one who thinks that it was gross to be given a video of the surgery? I can watch tv shows like ER, but to see inside myself... ugh. Back to travelling, I have to say, with the exception of the ground crew on arrival at Heathrow, all the BA staff were fantastic, especially both flight crews.

I finished the novel set in the Arctic Circle yesterday. It was a bit strange, but because dad & I had watched a documentary on the Sami reindeer herders the evening I started the book, and a big part of the novel was set around the Sami community and their herding, it gave the book some sense. This morning I started an autobiography, Days of Obligation: An argument with my Mexican father by Richard Rodriguez, a mestizo writer who compares his Mexican origins with life in America; sort of an anthropological study humanised. His prose is great and after a few "easy reads" these last few weeks, it is nice to read something well written.

Finally another shock, last October a colony of Omani bees set up home on the doorframe of my kitchen terrace. They stayed all through winter, and kept expanding the hive, despite my being told they would only stay a few months. Then, suddenly last month, 90% of them left for a new terrace, with the stragglers leaving whilst I was in hospital. This morning, due to wasps eating the cone, the hive was knocked down and a very nice surprise... At the top of the hive, they had left honey! I now have a container of my own Omani honey yum. Sx

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Virtual travel

More travelling both virtual, through books, and for real! Ten days after being discharged from hospital I (stupidly because it was too soon) flew to UK to be looked after by mum and dad. Due to immobility I was wheelchaired to the plane, and got the unique experience of going up in the lift (where the meals get sent up) onto the plane... Not an experience I wish to repeat as it was very wobbly and jerky and I thought the wheelchair was going to wheel itself off into space, sending me crashing onto the tarmac. Due to BA incompetence at Heathrow - not the new T5 but at T4- I was made to walk down the stairs so didn't have to. When I return to Muscat tomorrow I shall limp slowly on and off board ;) It will be nice to get back to the warmth, but I'm not looking forward to being back in Muscat. It's a lovely place, but I guess I'll soon be ready to leave.

Onto the virtual travelling, I read Carol Drinkwater's The Olive Farm, which is a true account of her buying and restoring a house in southern France. I followed this with a trip over the water and an easy read set in America's Shenandoah. It brought back fabulous memories of driving through that region one autumn. It also made me miss the friend I travelled with, along with the beautiful scenery. Next, and the book I've just sarted, off to Lapland brrrr. Not got an opinion on it yet as only read a few pages.

That's it for now, I'll let you know how the flight goes and my latest plans chiao - that's a hint ;)

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Bed-rest boredom?

The week started with a hospital stay to have a minor operation, and here I am almost six days later finally feeling the confines of my flat, so must be feeling better. The bed-rest is good in that I've been doing lots of reading, and watched some DVD's, but has been bad in the amount of tv I have watched, though I've drawn the line at American soaps and Eastenders. It's also bad in that I have ideas for some drawings and paintings, but they will have to stay in my head a while longer until I can sit for longer than 5 minute intervals. Plus I don't have internet access, enough said? I'm currently reading a book by Russian author Olga Grushin The Dream Life of Sukhanov. The book's good, beautifully written, but I keep having to turn back pages as I confuse the characters; the names seem very similar. Yesterday I read the beach book Undercurrents by Tamara McKinley set in Queensland, Australia and it made me want to revisit there. I was shocked to work out that I was there EIGHTEEN years ago; made me feel very old. The book I took to hospital was the heavyweight Travelling with Djinns by Jamal Mahjoub, which is an account of man's journey with his son through Europe. I'm not sure what others have thought of this book, but I felt the author was trying to show off with his constant references to various works of literature, Persian poets, history etc., which distracted me from the tale. So you can tell, in my reading I'm bouncing around the world even if I can't physically leave my flat yet.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Highs and lows

Two weeks ago, with some friends, I went to the Canadian Stampede arranged by Canadians here in Oman. It is one of the BIG events on the social calendar. I'm not keen on country & western music, but I still attempted line dancing for the first time, which was an excellent laugh! I kept ending up facing the wrong direction, which I don't think is the right idea, although I wasn't alone and we all laughed at our hopelessness.

Five days later, not feeling well, I went to the doctors and got told I need surgery. It's nothing too major, just an overnight stay followed by a couple of weeks off work. It sucks in that the surgery is planned for Wednesday, the day I was supposed to be flying home on leave. I was really looking forward to seeing mum & dad, and catch up with friends. I was also supposed to spend a couple of days in Barcelona, one of my favourite cities, and so that's cancelled too. Oh well, hopefully I'll get there in the summer. Keep me in your prayers and fingers crossed all goes well on Wednesday.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Eight days of music

As I've already written, last Tuesday I went to listen to the ROSO concert, which was a classical start to the week. Friday afternoon, our weekend, I went along to a chillout session with DJ Sam Farsio from Dubai's Zinc club. Last night, Sunday, it was jazz with the French Paul-Marie Barber trio who played their own music plus remixes of classics by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk etc. It was a pleasant evening, although I wasn't too keen on the vibraphone despite the musician being technically brilliant, I did enjoy the pieces when it was just the 2 guitars and double bass. To finish off this musical extravaganza of a week, and the one I'm most looking forward to, on Wednesday it's Funky-house nite at Rock Bottom and it's also going to be the girls-night out :) What a mix of musical styles, all in 8 days!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

A shattered world

Strange, when I used to write my group emails and now with this blog I have realised that I always put a positive spin on everything. I always find the interesting things to write about, rarely write about the boring or sad. I've just read the post I published in the last 5 minutes, and it's amazing to me that as my world has dissolved into a thousand pieces this week that I can write something that doesn't reflect how bad I feel. Currently, I am counting the hours until I can curl up at home, can stop putting a false smile on my face and let the tears flow freely. I know in the greater scheme of things this is a minor low, I'm tough and I will be okay in awhile, but for now... I will stop writing, make a cup of tea, and put a smile on my face and hide my feelings.

Cultural outings

When I came back from Europe last Sept. the thing that I missed most, whilst here in Oman, was the culture, as in theatre, art galleries etc. Or, frustratingly, if anything is going on you read about it after the event, which isn't a lot of good. However, this year I'm doing much better at finding out about things in time to see them. I've already mentioned that at the beginning of February I went to the Muscat festival, though I didn't see any shows. The following weekend I went to an opening of a photographic exhibition by Anna Mair, which was very interesting - macro photos of flowers that were very abstract with very intense colours. Last weekend, I went to a local gallery to catch their latest exhibition: a British artist George Lewis who creates photo/oil fusion pics of Oman. I'd have bought one, but they were all very, very expensive. An Omani lady was also exhibiting, whose work I wasn't so keen on. In the normal gallery was a collection of prints by a Dutch artist, who I've admired for the last couple of years, so I spent my allowance on a pastel of Omani dancers. Finally, last night I went to listen to the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, which was fabulous. Next week another opening.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

In the news again!

I'm thinking of growing my hair long, dying it blond, and straightening it, as I look like the odd person out. What do you think?

This pic was taken end Jan at Rock Bottom, Muscat when my friends & I went to see Hed Kandi. It was a night of great music (for a change),too much alcohol, and lots, and lots of dancing.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Well it has been a very proactive start for the year from me...

The year started well when I went out, on a whim, and bought a whole pile of paints, a board, and an easel and started painting. I still think my medium of pen & ink is where I produce the best art, but felt with the new year I would retry something. I last used acrylic paints way-back-when at art college and I think my first attempt is better than anything I produced then. However, it has been abandoned as it's not turned out as I wished... start another tomorrow. Then 3rd will be back to pen & ink, as I need to keep working on that too. I'm fed up with people telling me I should draw/paint more; so I'm going to.

Also, I finally joined the History Assoc. of Oman, after talking about it since I arrived here over two years ago. I went to their 1st lecture of the year by Prof. A Matter on Changing Climates in Southern Arabia during last 300,000 years. I was lost at the title, and it was way over my head with scientific jargon. Ho hum. Then today it was off on a field trip to nearby Fanja, there was quite a convoy of vehicles leaving Muscat for the afternoon. We were guided around the old village, up to the old watch towers, along the falaj (irrigation system), and through date plantations. An embarrassing moment occurred when the group arrived at the hot springs and some local boys were having a bath, they were not fazed and continued washing their hair and taking their time, though I think quite a few of us were. I certainly wouldn't like a tour group to catch me having a bath :-( It was a lovely afternoon out of the capital.

Then this week, I found somewhere giving Spanish classes. Although I can talk and communicate quite well when I'm in Spain, I need to improve my grammar, which is virtually non-existent. The first class was Saturday evening and seemed to go ok. The classes are run by the Omani Spanish Friendship Assoc. (nice snappy name) and along with classes they also have cultural events. On Wednesday, after I went in to pay, I joined in movie night to watch an Argentinean movie El Camino de San Diego, about a supporter's quest to see Diego Maradona. There were not any subtitles, but the teacher provided some explanations in Spanish and a few in English. I think I followed it fairly well and I am definitely inspired to improve my Spanish.

Finally to finish for now:
On a dusty, cold, grey Friday afternoon I went to Muscat Festival with a friend and despite the appalling weather had a great couple of hours walking around the various displays, though we were a bit early for the majority of shows. Had a fabulous Italian meal afterwards at the Crowne Plaza and would recommend a visit to anyone here in Muscat.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Can I see too?

Thanks to Ali, an Omani colleague, last Thursday, with friends & colleagues, I went to the largest & most important camel races in Oman, on an invite from the host- a very important Sheikh, one of the Emirati rulers. Until 6 am Thursday morning we were unsure if we could go due to over 24 hours of rain here in Muscat, (lack of drainage and flooding as water washes down from the mountains causes problems driving around), but on hearing the races were definitely on, we set off. An hour up the road the clouds lifted and we spotted blue skies.

It turns out that Ali is a very important man, so had reserved us seats in the front row of the grandstand (see celebrity post). The races were exciting, although due to the shape of the track we watched the majority on the large screen and only saw the final 2 km as they finished in front of us. For me, the last 3 races were the most exhilarating. They involved lots of camels ridden by men, rather than the normal young jockeys. I left the stand area to watch with the uninvited leaning/standing on the railing by the finishing line. Due to the nature of these races, there were lots of camels arriving at the finish line at great speed altogether, chased swiftly by the lads whose job it was to catch them and bring them to a halt.

When the races finished, it was off to the Sheikh's farm for lunch. Unfortunately, due to the traffic we didn't get to shake hands with the Sheikh, but still had the experience of being waved in through the crowds at the gate, feeling like minor royalty! The whole lunch was a grand affair underneath tents in the garden, and involved copious amounts of food. More rice & goat. We even got some camel to try; I hope it wasn't one of the losers. After the Sheikh left with his entourage, the gates were opened so anyone could enter and eat. I can't imagine the Queen doing that at Buckingham Palace.

From the Sheikh's we were invited back to Ali's house for coffee, and sat in a huge Majlis (meeting space) with some of his family for a short time before Ali had to join the Sheikh at a nearby village, and we headed back to wet, cloudy Muscat. It was an awesome day and I hope it is the beginning of a wonderful year! Sx

I'm a celebrity! In the paper again!

In the Arab press this time. AlWatan 18 January 2008. This was taken at the Saham camel races last weekend. A report on the day is following soon...

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Worst movie watched this year...

...ok I know it's only 8th Jan, but I watched a movie on pay-for-view yesterday, which was truly awful. The gangster movie Idlewide (2005), what a waste of money! Can't tell you how it ended as I turned it off after the 1st hour. If you disagree, please leave a comment (sign as anonymous then you don't have to join google).

However, at the other end of the spectrum I would thoroughly recommend the gothic suspense novel The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (paperback ed 2007). I couldn't put it down until I finished it as there were so many twists and turns in the plot. Read it if you can!