Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Sea of Prados...

[cars&trucks1_blog.JPG]Well as the cartoon clearly identifies, we have officially joined the masses. I, like so many of my comrades, (witness the Toyota advertisement that the PDO school parking lot at drop off or pick up resembles) drive a silver, standard issue Land Cruiser Prado and although I am sad to admit it, do in fact listen to Hi FM. 

My excuses for this radio heresy (Forgive me Michael Enright!) are threefold...

Firstly, there are only two English speaking radio stations gracing Oman's airways and both offer a blend of what can only be called hip hop pop crop (I know that crop isn't the correct word, but crap doesn't rhyme ;+).  Secondly, I don't own my own IPod, hint hint.  Lastly, as scintillating as the many lectures on how the teachings of the Koran fit into my life today (afternoon programming on 90.4 FM, the other English language radio offering), I find remixed 80's dance tunes less painful to listen to.

Once I got my feet dirty (literally, as everything here is covered in a fine layer of sand) and I realized that I did in fact need to take the driving plunge as an expat Mom in Muscat, we rented a small Nissan Tiida.

After a week of being proudly energy conscious in a country where the law for expats seems to be "the shorter you are, the larger your car" (the number of tiny Asian women driving Suburban's and Hummers seems to support my hypotheses) it became clear that a larger vehicle was in order.  With minivans non-existent here in Oman, the inevitability of me driving a 4wd became reality before you could say gas guzzler.

Besides needing to taxi the kids and their many friends to and from the beach, juggle the many diverse after school activities that three children can engage in along with delivering said three children to and from play dates that have been arranged between aforementioned commitments, we needed a vehicle to take us comfortably to Dubai, camping and wherever else our Omani adventures took us.

After a quick survey of the general expat population, we decided that a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado was the best vehicle choice for us.  Toyota truly owns the market share here in Oman!  My best guesstimate is that approximately 50% of vehicles on the road are some sort of Toyota (both 4wd and saloon car) and if you factor in Lexus and Dhiatsu, that market share skyrockets to around 75% of vehicles on the roadways.  

I would imagine that being a Toyota salesman in Oman is a pretty lucrative career compared with many of the other employment options that most non-professional immigrants would find themselves working.

Just a quick note about driving in Oman, although the rules of the road are the same as those in North America (we drive on the right side of the road) the enaction of the rulebook ends there.  Oman has an inordinately high rate of serious traffic accidents per capita "Oman’s road traffic death rate is 28 per 100,000 population which is far higher than the global average of 19 killed per 100,000." The single most compelling reason for this is that the average driver in Oman tends to be a young male (under 25) in a fast car with very little understanding of basic road safety.  

Drivers in Oman tend to be VERY aggressive and in my opinion reckless!  I have driven in several large North American cities but have never been frightened to drive because of the conditions on the road posed by other drivers.

Driving on a typical day, you will encounter;

 - excessive speeding, although all Omani cars are equipt with a speed alarm that sounds when the driver goes beyond the limit of 120 km/hr this doesn't seem to be a deterent
- drivers texting while driving in addition to speaking on GSM's while eating McDonalds's, drinking a coffee and reading the local edition of Muscat Daily
- illegally attempting to overtake you in either the right lane or more often than not, in the buffer zone on the side of the roadway beside the far right lane
- tailgating, sometimes closely ennough that your rear bumper collision sensors will sound
- driving drunk, although this is illegal and punishible by jail time or deportation if caught
- drivers neglecting to use any form of indicator signals, with the one exception being a driver texting in addition to speaking on his GSM's while eating McDonalds's, drinking a coffee and reading the local edition or Muscat Daily, flashing their high beams at you rapidly while attempting to overtake you at 130 km+ in a 50 km zone although there are 3 full lanes of traffic on either side of you, thus making it impossible for you to move even if you wanted to and if you by chance did change lanes to let said idiot pass, impossible for the overtaking driver to move any further forward than the spot you just vacated thus annoying the expat driver in front of you, also following traditional road etiquette and traffic safety rules.

You get the picture.  Well more for another day.

A demain...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sir Tom Jones...

Tonite we had the insane pleasure of experiencing our first rock concert, Omani style.  We clamoured into our friends Prado and headed to the Intercontinental Gardens to witness Sir Tom Jones, live in Muscat.

Now when I told my Mom that we were going to see Tom Jones in concert, she thought that I must have been outside in the sun too long.  Tom Jones, he's ancient she cried.  I know, but beggars can't be choosers and here in our little corner of the world, opportunities for entertainment are few and far between.

After arriving at the Intercon, unsure of what type concert dress would be deemed appropriate and at the same time comfortable as it was a mild 35 degrees centigrade after the sun went down, Joanna, Darryl, Peter and I headed to one of the local Arabian/Mexican restaruants for dinner.  The food was surprisingly good and the atmosphere was entertaining as we were served by several indians sporting sombrero's.

Soon, it was time to cue up for the big event.  We waited in line with a surprisingly diverse crowd and as we entered the gardens, found that the no alcohol rule apparently didn't apply to concert goers.  For sale were entire cases of beer, beer buckets, bottles of whisky, mix being sold separately and entirely optional, bottles of wine, you get the idea. 

After selecting a paltry beer bucket, we settled into our little section of a real grass field and before we could say daffodil, Sir Tom Jones appeared on stage, fully decked out in a black leather jacket, silk shirt and dark jeans.  He had apparently not checked the weather forecast and looked like he had been caught in Malaysia during the rainy season before finishing the his first set.

I have to say, first impressions, this guy totally rocks!  He has such an incredible stage presence and as he crooned his way through old favorites like My Dahlilia, Sexpot, You Can Leave Your Hat On and Pussy Cat to name only a few he put younger rockers to shame!  The concert is definitely in my top 10 events EVER and if you ever get a chance to see this man live, definitely DO!  It was worth it!

In addition to an amazing stage show, the crowd watching was just as lively and in some respects more unpredictable!  I'm not sure if I enjoyed watching the 10 year old boy, sitting on his father's shoulders with a beer bucket on his head, bare chested,  swinging his t-shirt around while singing Green Green Grass of Home at the top of his lungs, the teen dream Harry Potter look alike bouncing between his disgrunteled girlfriend and his underage buddy with the whisky bottle, the 40+ something welsh contingent standing on their two empty Heineken flats, complete with blow up daffodils or the single Omani girls dancing in their abaya's, I would be hard pressed to tell you which part of the evening was more enjoyable.

If this is what all concerts are like in Muscat, count me in!  We already have a babysitter booked for Bryan Adams.  Whoo Hoo!

A demain...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don't Let The Bedbugs...Well You Know

Having been in Oman now for almost a month, I can say that we have comfortably reset our clocks ahead a full 12 hours.  I have swapped waking up to an alarm clock for raucous birds and the call to prayer from a nearby mosque and have grown quite partial to not worrying about making sure that the kids are wearing enough layers of clothing.  Peter has willingly swapped a 45 minute highway drive to work for a 5 minute commute and the kids have essentially retired their jackets and long pants.

As luck would have it though, just as we were getting comfortable with our new routine, Peter awoke one morning, covered in small, red, very itchy welts!  Never did I ever imagine that "Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite" could or would take on such a personal meaning.  Peter was literally covered in bug bites.  Starting at his feet and making their way up his legs and trunk, down his arms and up his neck and face, we had been infested. 

Living in Calgary and underexposed to bugs in general, especially those that make up nasty old wifes tales, I have thankfully up until now, never encountered anything like this, so after Peter left for the office, I begun my search for answers on our not quite dial-up Internet for a solution. I discovered that these nasty critters are notoriously hard to spot and even harder to get rid of, but the bite marks on Peter's body was all of the evidence that I needed to prove that we had a problem. 
I tore apart our bedding and searched every seam of our mattress, I moved furniture, pictures and scoured every inch of the bedroom in our temporary accommodation.  At one point, I did see a suspicious brown beetle-like creature that matched the images I had found on-line but could one creature really be responsible for all of this damage?
After chasing our only likely culprit down the plumbing, we tentatively headed off to bed.  Now I have to be honest and say that I was VERY glad that it was Peter that had been bitten and not me but the next morning it seemed that my luck had run out.  I woke up the next morning also covered in similar bites. 

After visiting every single furniture and bedding shop in Muscat (this was entertaining in its own right but more on this later), on the hunt for sealable mattress covers for the beds in our temporary accommadations to no avail, it was time to call in the professionals.  BEC, PDO's chosen company for everything maintenance, showed up shortly after the children went to school and sprayed down every surface in all of the bedrooms, including all of our clothing, with the hopes that this would end our bug plight. 

I also had the BEC exterminators switch our infested mattress with one from another temporary house.  Initially, the workers planned to just swap mattresses but when I explained that this was probably not an ideal solution, they reluctantly agreed to store our teeming mattress out in the hot courtyard, hoping that this would 1 - encourage the bed bugs to leave of their own accord or 2 - fry in the 40 degree heat.  I'm not sure what actually happened as after the mattress left our home, we didn't see it again.

After a long, very itchy couple of days, the extermination seemed to work.  Luckily the kids didn't sustain any bites and other than having to buy out the local pharmacy's stock Fentisil, we suffered no ill effects.  On the other hand, Rani, our new house maid had the pleasure of washing and ironing every article of clothing and bedding in our temporary flat.  I guess we have passed our first initiation and are now officially on our way to becoming locals.

A demain...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

But I want to see some sharks...

With our first week at school completed sooner than the kids could say, "I have another gekco in my bedroom, (good luck apparently as they eat the other nasty creatures that seem to find their way between the ill sealed door ways and windows.) spring break was upon us. 

The kids, fully recovered from jet lag, having made a few new friends, and excited about seeing more of our new home country enjoyed their first spring break, Oman style.  After digesting all possible forms of "What to do in Muscat" brochures we were ready to experience the local kid friendly culture.

After some discussion, the kids and I decided to venture to the aquarium at the Department of Fisheries in Al Rowdha.  The kids were keen to see some of the local marine life so this seemed to fit the bill perfectly. 

As we left our new home on the PDO camp in Al Qurm, we exited towards Muscat.  This was the first time that I had driven outside of my comfortable grocery zone but, putting our faith in the GPS we were soon on our way.  Awed by all of the different types of ships docked in the port at Muttrah we then headed past the souq and out of Muscat towards Sidab and the marina at Al Bandar.

  We arrived at the aquarium with relative ease and as we walked past sun bleached whale vertebrae and rib bones we unfortunately discovered that our idea of an aquarium and the site that we had come to visit, were vastly different.

We entered the building to find a lovely poster featuring several different species of local fish and then turned the corner to find a single, small room with several small, poorly lit and even more poorly signed tanks with a few moderately interesting fish species on display.

 The one saving grace of the visit was that two tanks, on either end of the fish displays, contained newly hatched and young rescued green sea turtles.  This was incredible!  We had never seen sea turtles before and it was so special to see the hatchlings as well as the young turtles swimming and interacting with each other.  We spent a good amount of time just watching and enjoying the turtles.  It was a wonderful way to spend a hot afternoon.

After we were finished visiting the turtles, we decided to continue on our drive towards Yiti to see where the road took us.  As we crested a hill we were met by the most incredible view!  It was like we had landed on a foreign planet.  The rocks and hills were so stark and barren.  It was spectacularly bleak but so beautiful!  I had never seen anything like it and despite the kids displeasure with me, I had to stop and take a picture.
 As we drove towards Yiti and the Oman Dive Center, I was again struck by the desolate beauty of the scenery before us!  We came around a corner and were met with the most breathtaking conglomerate of islands, bays and coves.  The water was pure, calm and crystalline blue, the beaches deserted and the landscape, breathtakingly serene! 

Although we didn't get to see any sharks it was a pretty cool day spent exploring a country so different from Canada that I almost can't begin to describe it.  This is just the beginning and we actually live here!  Wow!

A demain...

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Road Trip of Firsts...

Six full days after landing in Muscat, and feeling for the most part well rested, we rented an older model, manual, 4WD Prado and embarked upon our first of many road trips.

Our inaugural adventure led us approximately 100km west of Muscat, past the town of Barka (famous for its' halwa, a painfully sweet,  lumpy, sticky, glutinous candy made from sugar, dates, saffron, cardamom, almonds, nutmeg and rosewater) into the Hajar mountains.  Our airfreight (read GPS) had not yet arrived so we left the relative familiarity of Muscat armed with a less than scaled map of the area, bottled water and our cameras.

Not far out of the city, we were blessed with our first camel sighting!  The kids were almost as excited as I was to see this incredible creature grazing in the trees beside the highway.  Now I could honestly say, we had arrived in Oman!

After only a couple of wrong turns, several herds of goats and more camels, we were on our way through Nizwa (another interesting visit deserving its own post), and on towards the natural hot springs at Ain A'Thawarah.

As we wound our way towards the springs, we had the opportunity to see our first traditional, Omani falaj irrigation system.  The falaj channels can be found cut into mountainsides, running across miniature aqueducts and flowing through wadis to provide village wells with drinking water, mosques with washing areas and lastly, village farms with water for irrigation and livestock. 

Omani's have been using extensive falaj systems to supply water for both domestic and agricultural purposes since ancient times and some of the more than 4000 channels still in use today in Oman, are thought to be upwards of 1500 years.

Traditionally a "falaj clock", similar to a sun dial was used to mete out water to each farm, nowadays falaj outputs are controlled by automatic pumps. 

As we arrived at Ain A'Thawwarah, we unpacked our water bottles and began the short hike to the hot springs past the many families swimming and picnicking along the sides of the stream. 

Trying to make our way discreetly past fellow Omani sightseers, it was hard not to watch groups of men enjoying the sickly sweet tobacco of their communal shisha pipes and abaya clad women visiting while throngs of children played in the water.

As the late morning temperature climbed, a dip in the stream began to look more and more appealing.  Finally, Nicholas, Robin and Ryan were in the water along with the local children and their goats.

Unfortunately, the expected refreshing dip in a chilled mountain stream turned out to feel more like a hot bath.  Not such a treat when trying to cool off in 40+ degree weather.

Before resuming our road trip, we stopped off at the toilets only to be greeted by another first.  I'll let the picture speak for itself.  (Mom, you would have been horrified!)

Thankful for working AC, we were on the road headed to our final stop for the day, Nakhal Fort.

Common to all Omani forts, the fort at Nakhal was constructed on a natural rock foundation, as well, this fort was built on the remaining foundation of a pre-Islamic structure due to its' strategic location.  It is thought to have been constructed in 1834 by the then reigning Imam (Muslim religious leader) Said bin Sultan. 

The fort was a true force to be reckoned with during battles including gaps where boiling cauldrons of honey would have been hinged over doorways to inhibit intruders, beautiful, spiked doors built to repel battering rams, round towers raised to deflect cannon balls, internal well and falaj systems in case the outside feeder falaj systems were poisoned during a siege, just for starters.

A huge hit with the Robin and Ryan was the "Tiger door" (similar to the cat door in our home in Muscat) only large enough to accommodate the fort's pet Tiger. 

Walking around the fort it was easy to imagine what life must have been like in the 1800's, tending to flocks of goats and harvesting the incredibly rich fields.

We are blessed to be here and enjoying almost every minute! 

A demain...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

BBB Barby On The Beach...

For those of you who have never experienced the Wiggles...this one's for you!

3 days after landing in our new home town of Muscat, our fellow Canadian friends, (Joanna & Darryl, Tom, Donna & Kevin, Marda & Ralph) along with many other soon to become friends, invited us to our 1st Barby on PDO Beach. 

The BBQ was a combined welcome for the kids and I as well as being a coincidental final Wednesday of the month.  Since Wednesday is Oman's Friday, it made sense to inaugurate this rotating date as a monthly tradition for our Canadian and honorary Canadian friends celebratory BBQ.

The Ras Al Hamra Club has wonderful facilities, including several marble, stand up BBQ's on the beach for club members to use at their leisure.  The BBQ's are great as the grills are large enough to cook for 8-10 people at a time and also include large overhead lights so that the designated chef can prepare his hamburgers or mutton to perfection. Each site also includes several beach chairs where party goers can kick back with a beer (from the on-site beer store) while tossing their order specifics to the chef.

The BBQ areas are usually full by 6pm, and the evening is in full swing by 7:30.  While the adults are busy enjoying great conversation with friends alongside the lulling sound of breaking surf, all of the kids are occupied playing with friends at the volleyball court, building castles in the sand or practicing their moves at the skate park.  It is a perfect opportunity for everyone to relax and spend some quality time with friends and family.

If you're not up for a BBQ but still want to enjoy the ambiance that Wednesday night at the beach offers, the boat club has a great feature menu and a band for all to enjoy.  You can often see kids of all ages, from pre-schoolers to senior consultants tapping along to the beat while table hopping to visit friends.

I love Wednesday night at the beach because whether we are enjoying a BBQ or dinner at the boat club everyone has a great time!  This has become a standard event for our family and one I look forward to continuing.  Now, I am off to make some kabobs and and hummus for tonight's party.

A demain...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Grocery Shopping Omani Style...

Bright and early the next morning we were all starting to feel a bit more awake and surprisingly, the kids were excited to head to school for their first day!  After dropping the kids at their new classes, Peter drove me to Qurm City Centre so that I could experience first hand, the Omani ritual known as Carrefour.

Carrefour is a huge Superstore like shop specializing in European goods, Indian fare and local Middle Eastern delicacies and wares.  Product selection is extensive and unfamiliar, especially since many of the grocery labels were written only in Arabic but, if ever there was a positive thing to say about American marketing it is this, although unable to read the names of the products per say, the logos and visual branding that we have been inundated with  from birth in North America, made it possible for me to put together a familiar shopping cart of items. 

Familiar that is until we got the food home and started to consume the goods.  It seems that everything from feta cheese to Fruit Loops has been modified for African and Middle Eastern markets.  What this means essentially is that Omani packaged food tends to contain more salt and are flavored differently than what we are used to in Canada.  (The kids won't eat the Fruit Loops as they taste like artificially flavored cardboard.)  Also, it seem that items like taco shells and tortilla chips aren't hot sellers in Oman so they tend to be stale (go figure).

The price of packaged food, for the most part imported, is exhorbently expensive with items from North America topping the charts!   As an example, we have purchased $12 Oreo Cookies, $14 pull ups, $24 two-ply toilet tissue, and $8 fruit treats for the kids lunches.  Being that Oman is a Muslim country, pork is also a very rare and well enjoyed treat.  A package of pork hot dogs can run $9 a package and we even savored every last morsel of a $18 package of bacon on one occasion. 

The flip side to the expensive imports is that any locally produced food items such as vegetables, meat and fish are VERY inexpensive.  I can purchase beautiful Omani tomatoes for around $.03 each, buy a bag of green beans for less than $.30 and pick up a kilo of freshly caught, HUGE Omani prawns for under $10.  The simple solution to the diversity in costs is that we end up eating allot of fresh fruits and vegetables (familiar as well as new taste experiences), locally grown nuts and Halwa in lieu of more familiar sweet treats all the while attempting to minimize our consumption of packaged foods.  We save money and minimize our trash (more on the abysmal recycling situation in a later post)!  

As much as we try to eat locally though there are just some imports that we (by this I mean the kids) can't seem to get by without.  Some of these include marble cheese, only available pre-sliced ($7 for 10 slices), Cheerios (between $5-$7 a box depending where they are available that week), Milk, only available in full fat or reduced fat (about 2%) in 3L containers rather than 4L and cookies from Europe (and North America once in a while as a special treat) primarily because I can't seem to figure out how to bake in my gas cooker.

We have also had to make some adjustments with regards to products that, try as I might, just do not seem to be available in Oman.  I have been unable to find sour cream, peanut oil (which given the abundance of nuts is a strange one to me), any type of familiar medication (Tylenol, Sinutab, NyQuil you get the idea) and the list goes on.

It is also a bit challenging to plan menus that require specific items since at any given moment, those products that were available the week before, will suddenly become unavailable for weeks on end.  I have made a habit of stocking up on our favorite things when I come across them to combat their disappearance in the future.

Along with Carrefour, there are three other main supermarket chains here in Muscat.  The first of these is the Sultan Center.  This is my favorite supermarket as it tends to carry the most North American fodder and although it tends to be a bit pricey, it boasts a comfortable layout, fresh produce, a great deli and the all of the comforts of a Soby's.  (Not to mention my new favorite treat, Luigi's Italian Ices.  Flavored sorbet in a disposable cup.  YUMMY!)

Next in line is Al Fair, by far the most expensive of all of the grocery's in Muscat.  Al Fair carries several products from the UK as well as a "secret" non-Muslim room filled with pork products!  The room is hidden in a back corner of the store and the atmosphere can only be described as akin to visiting the "adult room" in a video store during the 1980's.  You quietly and discretely enter the room and once inside, browse without actually trying to look like you are studying the labels.  At the check-out, the Muslim attendant attempts to ring your purchase without actually having to touch it and you look anywhere than at your groceries and try to pretend that your pork product, hidden amongst your other groceries, isn't an object to be disdained.

The last of the supermarkets in Muscat is Lulu's Hypermarket.  This market offers hands down the best prices on all items, whether produce or packaged goods.  The only problem with Lulu's, besides being quite far from our home in Qurm, is that shopping there is akin to visiting a HUGE dollar store in New Delhi.  Since most women in Oman don't drive, a trip to the Hypermarket tends to be a special night out for the entire family.  I am always surprised to see entire families out at the market long after our children have gone to bed, shopping and visiting, even on school nights.  On the whole, most expats seem to agree with me that the drive, combined with the excessive crowds at any given time of day are not worth the lower prices that Lulu's offers. On a positive note, if you do decide to brave the crowds, Lulu's does offer valet parking.

Each of the supermarkets, in addition to foodstuffs, tend to carry a full Walmart style selection of electronics, clothing, furniture, carpets, stationery, toys and pretty much anything else you may need.  The one stop shop approach is handy but as each shop tends to specialize in it's own demographic, it is often necessary to visit several shops to gather everything on your grocery list.

At this point, I have to give mention the incredible diversity of products and produce offered at the local souqs, the largest of which is the Mutrah souq found downtown, on the waterfront in old Mutrah (Muscat).  The souqs bring a more traditional way of shopping for essentials and offer everything from uber fresh fruits and vegetables brought to market by the local farmers, hand crafted silver khanjars (traditional curved daggers), pottery created by local artisans, shisha pipes and flavored tobacco, to more modern souvenirs and t-shirts. 

The souqs offer a great opportunity to hone your bartering skills and are often considerably less expensive than the supermarkets.  Plus I find that wandering through the many side streets, browsing the stalls of this souq and countless others like it, is a wonderful way to spend your morning.  Be prepared to arrive early though as the souq, true to Omani culture is open early and closed by 11am only to reopen around 4pm after the heat of the afternoon has subsided.

Another not to be missed shopping experience is the fish market, also found on the Mutrah waterfront.  Again, be sure to get there early as the fishermen are typically set up an ready to hawk their daily catch by or 8am. By 10am most of the choice selection is long gone. Another benefit of being one of the first patrons at the fish market is that you miss the heat of later morning (mid to upper 30's most days) and the consequent smell that accompanies hundreds of fish, insufficient cooling systems and heat.  

Shopping in Oman overall has been a pleasant surprise, not only have we been able to find most food stuffs to keep our palates alive, the clothes shopping has also been surprisingly modern.  Since the children's clothing was accidentally packed in our sea freight (yet to arrive) we have frequented the likes of NEXT, MotherCare H&M and other wonderful British clothing chains to top up the supplies that we brought with us in our luggage from Calgary.  Peter has been able to find new Oman (read heat) friendly work wear, and a new linen suit.  Muscat even boasts a Marks & Spencer, a LaSensa and a Clark's shoe store.  Well, I've kept you longer than usual.  More soon, I promise.

A demain...

Friday, March 26, 2010

PDO School...

Well we all woke up feeling a bit worse for wear due to our confused sleep but everyone was in good humor and excited to start their new adventures. With the sun shining brightly and the temperature a mild 30 degrees (at 7 am) we had a quick breakfast of "real" Kellogg's Corn Flakes, milk and Mango juice (not a huge hit with the kids as it tends to be VERY thick) I then spent some time unpacking while Peter showed the kids our new digs.

Peter was lucky enough to have a few days off to help us settle in so while catching up on what was new in Calgary, we had a tour of our new stomping grounds. I have to say, I am pretty impressed with our temporary housing. I didn't have great expectations about what to expect after hearing horror stories about the temporary accommodations from former expats but the 3 bedroom flat that PDO has provided us with for temporary accommodation is more than adequate.

A huge boon for moving the kids 1/2 way around the world has to be the geckos! Did you know that the reason that these adorable lizards are called geckos is because of the insane geeeccckkkkOOOOOOO, geeeccckkkkOOOOOOO call that they make in the early morning.  They are quite loud and actually rival the birds when waking us at dawn.

The kids love the geckos and we have nicknamed the Maid's room; the gecko room as there are 2 geckos living in the room, including a pregnant Mommy gecko.  It's pretty cool as you can actually see the eggs incubating in her tummy as she gets larger.  I need to do some research on gecko gestation as I'm not sure how long Mommy will be pregnant for. 

Later that morning, once we were all freshly watered and the kids were dressed in their new school uniforms of shorts and t-shirts, we headed off to PDO school to have a look around.  I do miss having a school uniform and I am a bit surprised that PDO school doesn't have uniforms as some of the other private schools do.  Oh well, the kids seem to enjoy vesti choix everyday.

We first stopped off at the office of Mme Juliette to receive an overview of the school and our initial welcome. The curriculum offered at PDO school follows the International Primary Curriculum program (IPC), an internationally accepted, British based education standard used by all of Shell schools.  The program follows a Waldorf  type education model and doesn't have near the structure of CFIS (or the homework) but with the temperature reaching the high 30's everyday, maybe that is a good thing.  The class times are also a bit different starting at 8 am and finishing at 2 pm every day to avoid afternoon recess in the heat.  

Nicholas's IP5 teacher Mr Paul, was our second stop.  The classroom was very warm (yes, there is air conditioning in the school) and showcased a huge banner saying hello to Nicholas when we entered.  The boys (5 of them) all swarmed around Nick and gave him a huge welcome with promises of football (soccer), computer games, swimming and other activities to fill their days.  It was wonderful to see Nicholas finally excited about our move!

We then moved on to Robin's IP3 classroom with Miss Claire where Robin was also received with open arms and lots of giggles.  Miss Claire is lovely and her classroom was lively and bright with lots of artwork and wall to wall books.  In all of the classrooms, the kids sit at tables with 2-3 classmates as opposed to having individual desks.  This not only makes group projects more manageable but forces newcomers to interact with their peers making them feel like part of the group in no time.

Our last stop introduced Ryan to his Zebra nursery class (the other is the giraffe class) with Miss Bridgette.  Changing schools has brought many adjustments for the kids but I think that Ryan has been most affected by the move from Canada. The switch from his 2 am french preschool  program at CFIS to attending  classes 3 days a week from 8 am - 11:30 am as well as attending 2 full days from 8 am - 2 pm has been an adjustment.  So far though it seems like a positive one (he's only run away from me in the opposite direction of the school towards the golf course one morning). 

I love the fact that all of the children at PDO school are expat children so each of them understands first hand what it is to be the new kid in class and in a new country.  As a result the assimilation and integration of new children into classroom activities is almost an art form!  Each of the kids have made new friends and has a full social calendar filled with play dates, after school activities and of course, beach and pool time.  I love the small community of families (friends of Nicholas often have younger siblings that are also friends with Robin and/or Ryan) and Peter and I have actually started to fill our calendars with play dates of our own but more on that another day.

A demain...

Monday, March 22, 2010

1st Impressions...

When landing in Muscat after a mere 18+ hours of logged air time, almost 36 hours when taking into consideration ground time in various air terminals and a time change of 11 hours (MST - GMT +4) I could hardly believe that we were finally here.

As we walked into the terminal at Seeb International airport (MCT) a fresh wave of energy hit me, along with a wall of heat, a mere 32 degrees at 10:30 in the evening. Along with hundreds of other freshly arrived, weary travellers we joined the cue where I thought we were to pick up our visas.

After standing in line for about 10 minutes, a kind airport staffer approached us to see if he could assist us through the arrivals process. We were then ushered out of the correct lineup and sent to the visitors lineup. After waiting in cue for almost 40 minutes, I then had to produce 24 Rials (Oman's official currency, approximately 1 USD = 0.38 OR) for visitor visas (thank Allah for ATM cards and Interac), at which point I confusedly informed the gent manning the desk that we weren't in fact visitors, but newly arrived residents with visas waiting for us. Becoming flustered, the gent apologised profusely, refunded our monies and sent us back to the cue that we were originally in.

At long last we made it out from behind security to find Peter anxiously awaiting us with our luggage. Although Peter had only left a week ahead of us, when we spotted him at the airport, he was sporting a gorgeous tan and looked quite comfortable in the heat. I am happy to report that all of our bags and various car seats arrived no worse for wear, having successfully survived TAC (Turn Around) crews on 3 continents. We left the terminal with all of our bags and began the 45 minute commute to our new (albeit temporary) home.

The drive home was incredible! My first observations of Muscat did not disappoint. After leaving the airport we were treated to a stunning, panoramic view of the city and it's surrounding neighborhoods, the Ministries district and the Grand Mosque. I stared transfixed as we passed multitudes of typical Arabian, beautifully architectured, whitewashed homes and ever present, teasing glimpses of the ocean.

It felt like we were on an exotic holiday (Just with more luggage!) as we wound up the roadway to our new home in the PDO camp. As I stepped out of the PDO rental car my senses were overcome by the smell of the ocean, the roar of cricuts (This is not an exageration, the cricuts are so loud in the evening that they really do sound like a continuous roar!) and the sight of geckos on the walls of our house. It was spectacular!

When I woke up the next morning (at approximately 4 am local time) I looked off of our back deck and was met with the most incredible sight! It was true, we had finally

A demain...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

I love to fly! I love airports! I love the hustle and bustle of check in, I love going through security and knowing that I've met all of the ever changing regulations without fail, I love browsing the cheesy souvenirs in the shops as I walk to my gate, I love the walk down the ramp as I prepare to board the plane and I love pulling out my book as the plane taxi's towards the unknown that travelling to a new (or even familiar) destination inevitably brings. At the same time, being a creature of habit, I love the familiarity of the entire process of flying.

That said, I was feeling pretty nervous about flying through Frankfurt and Abu Dhabi, two of the busiest airports in the world with 3 small children in tow. When it is just me and my single carry on bag to contend with, all is good but throw a temperamental 3 year old, a clingy 7 year old and a reluctant 9 year old into the mix and all of a sudden the familiar becomes unpredictable. Then just for fun, add an insanely tight connection in a foreign country and life goes from unpredictable to just plain nuts!

As usual, I didn't sleep much the night before our upcoming flight so running on pure adrenaline, I finished packing and we headed to the Calgary airport. Running out of time earlier in the week actually worked in our favor as I still had the van for our trip to the airport since there was no possible way that our 8+ bags and assorted car seats would have fit into Nana's Honda.

After one minor meltdown (mine) as I searched for our visas on the floor of the Calgary airport and a teary goodbye to Nana, we were off.

I strongly recommend that anyone who comes to visit us spend the extra air miles and fly business class! One note though, try and fly West Jet/British Airways if you are travelling with children as the lounges in both Calgary and London are much more child friendly offering dedicated play spaces, televisions and more variety in lounge menus than do Air Canada/Lufthansa who offer none of these services.

Overall the flights went much more smoothly than I expected and all 3 of the kids rose to the challenge of an 18+ hour commute with, pardon the pun, flying colors. Ryan was by far the most challenging; adding I'm sure, at least 10 grey hairs to my otherwise copper locks.

Beginning with him filling his carry on bag, unbeknownst to myself or the sales ladies in the Olympic store in Vancouver, with "Sumi" paraphernalia thereby setting of a multitude of alarms upon leaving the store, making his displeasure loudly known when I forbade him to ride the escalator down to the arrivals level, thus leading us out from behind security, as we were heading to gate in Vancouver, angrily telling the security guard in Frankfurt that he wasn't going to go through the security doorway that the guard had specifically requested followed up by an academy award worthy temper tantrum and lastly, watching Ryan run away from me through a sea of legs, made up of 3 full boarding lounges in Frankfurt, while I attempted to simultaneously catch him and show the CSA my passport, so that we could board the bus that would in turn take us to the plane bound for Abu Dhabi and finally Muscat.

Once on board, after enjoying a remarkably good dinner, while all of the other guests turned down their lamps, laid their chairs back to rest (another reason that I highly recommend business class) and in general prepared for a good nights sleep, my children were just coming awake.

Robin found the on board CD selection and proceeded to stand up on her fully laid back chair, in front of a full business section, and begin her own karaoke session complete with dance moves. Nicholas was much more reserved, choosing instead to enjoy the full complement of movies available through the on board entertainment system for the next 7 hours. He watched New Moon twice, Harry Potter and the 1/2 Blood Prince, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and G-Force three times. At least he was quiet. And lastly Ryan, who I was hoping desperately would sleep, didn't, but he did settle in eventually to watch G-Force 4 times with his sister.

It was certainly not the most relaxing flight I have ever taken but overall, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. My one saving grace is that the kids slept pretty much the entire way from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi, this buggered up their time clock when we arrived in Muscat at 10:30 pm but that is a story for another day.

A demain...

Monday, March 15, 2010

You're Moving Where...

Well I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting my next post so now that our air freight has FINALLY arrived and I am reconnected to the world electronically you are in for a treat. Yes, the adventure has finally begun...

When I began to tell people that we had decided to move to Oman, some of you knew in what part of the world our destination was located, some of you even knew what continent it was on. Sadly though, most of you were completely unfamiliar with Oman. This blog post is dedicated to you, the majority who like me, needed some background and a bit of a geography lesson.

Oman is situated on the Eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula bordering four separate bodies of water; the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the strategically positioned Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. For those of you who prefer to remain on land, Oman borders the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Oman is a stunning mix of rugged mountains ( Jebel Shams is the highest peak at 3075 m), vast deserts, fertile wadis (valleys) and my personal favorite, over 2700 km of unexplored, beautiful white sand beaches.

Despite the heat, Oman is naturally lush with relatively few manicured green spaces in comparison to neighboring UAE, instead relying on its diverse, overwhelmingly picturesque landscapes to encourage a growing tourism industry.

Oman is a growing economic force, owing its prosperity almost entirely to its current ruler's foresight and ingenuity. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, took control of the throne from his father in 1970 by means of an undisputed coup. Gives new meaning to taking over the family business ;+)

Since enthronement, Sultan Qaboos has modernized Oman's economy, turning it's prolific oil and gas revenues into modern infrastructure, medical facilities and free education for all resulting in a positively growing local and global economy. Along with these significant investments, the Sultan has implemented a policy of "Omanisation" of the workforce resulting in an overall decrease in it's dependence on professional expatriates. Although, luckily for us the need for outside expertise still hasn't disappeared completely.

The annual temperature ranges from a comfortable 26 degrees in the winter to a never reported higher than 49 degrees in the summer months. (When the temperature rises above 50 degrees, imported outdoor workers are forbidden to work resulting in a seemingly disastrous halt to the sweeping of roadways, landscaping and general city cleanliness maintenance.)

And now, as my 1st post from overseas comes to a close, I will address the question on most of your minds.

Oman is a Muslim country but it is remarkably relaxed as Middle Eastern Muslim countries go. I do not wear a burka (the black full face and body covering worn by Saudi Arabian women), an abaya (essentially a burka without the face covering) or even a hijab (the common head covering worn by Muslim women worldwide) while out and about in Muscat.

That said, my dress is more conservative than it would be in North America, especially given the heat. My standard public garb consists of Capri's and longish short sleeved t-shirts that don't show any cleavage and if I am visiting a less metropolitan area than Muscat, a hijab is required, especially in the desert.

Luckily the Ras Al Hamra club hosts a European style private beach and pool area where bathing suits, shorts and men in Speedos abound. But more on this another day...

A demain...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tick Tock Tick Tock...

I am currently sitting in my Mom's basement as I write this post, thinking about the chaos that has overtaken me during the last couple of months.

The sea container arrived on our doorstep this Friday past and as the movers carted away the last of our belongings it finally hit me, we are really doing this!

As I stood in my newly empty house (Our home has been packed, and assembled into a jigsaw puzzle, for transport across the ocean.) I was struck by how dirty it was, OK yes, but more importantly, I was struck by how a random web search to "see what was out there" had turned into our newly emerging reality.

It feels like we have been preparing for this move for months. Well, in truth we have.

I remember back in August when Peter first mentioned the possibility of moving overseas. Initially the thought of moving to a Muslim country didn't strike me as even a remote option.

"What about Oman?" Peter asked one evening over dinner. I had heard of it but images of women in oppressive burkas, stifling heat and camels on endless sand dunes didn't seem like a reality for myself and our young family. My first response was "You must be joking."

It turns out that he wasn't joking. There was a job posted on the Shell web site that looked interesting so we decided, what the heck, go ahead and apply.

Peter interviewed with PDO (Shell's joint venture partner in Oman) one evening while the kids and I went for dinner in Sicamus, BC. The interview went well but Peter didn't think that the job was a good fit for his skills and long term career goals with Shell. I figured well, that was that.

Little did I know that behind the scenes, one of Shell's vice president's (on loan from PDO) had Peter in mind for a new project that was right up his alley, or sour gas well as the case may be.

Oman was not only swiftly becoming a potential transfer option for us, it was quickly becoming a likely transfer option. (More about Oman in another post, I promise.)

After conducting interviews, Peter was ready to accept the promised hand-shake offer. Only the hand-shake didn't seem to be in a hurry to arrive. In fact, between employee new-hire approval meetings, Ramadan and Shell's huge corporate shake up in October we didn't formally receive notification that Peter had a job with PDO until November.

The most frustrating part for me about this entire process was the endless waiting. Peter was unable to apply for any other jobs during the the downsizing period and yet we were unsure of his hire status with PDO.

We developed new understanding and familiarity with the term inshallah (if God wills) during this time frame. It was a good lesson in patience although I'm not sure how much I learned. I have many virtues but unfortunatley patience is not one of them! Anyway, on with the story.

In November we began the transfer process with Shell. Since this was our first overseas posting, we really had no idea what to expect in terms of approval processes and timelines. The entire process was made more uncertain as we were dealing with 12+ hour time changes (our HR representative is in Kuala Lumpur) and middle-eastern weekends (these fall on Thursday and Friday instead of our traditional North American, Saturday and Sunday).

Finally, things started moving for us in the latter part of January. Our transfer snow ball started moving gradually but as 2010 progressed, the ball got larger and began careening faster and faster until coming to a halt at the beginnning of this post. Which is where you find me this evening, contemplating how we got here.

We have managed to survive; Robins myringotomy surgery, all of our immunizations (although the kids would debate whether we got through these without long-term trauma), Peter personally spending my annual West Jet salary on camping gear and new clothes for the move (this makes me giggle as Peter isn't cheap per say, OK he's cheap), signing not one, but two property management companies and cleaning the house.

We have our plane tickets and we are, well I am anyway, ready to leave the comforts of Calgary, family and friends and all that is familiar to get on a plane (I'm still pretty freaked out by the thought of taking all 3 of the kids overseas by myself!) and join Peter on our new home continent.

A demain...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Adventure Begins...Almost

Once upon a time in a kingdom covered in ice and snow, okay maybe that's not quite how it started, but as our departure date comes closer, I find myself thinking about the enormity of what we are doing and where this fairy tale will lead.

I'm sure that some (most) of you are thinking "Have I lost my mind?" Peter and I are packing up our entire lives as we know them and willingly heading off on a journey to a place where nothing is familiar.

I realize that I am neither brave nor adventurous as a rule, and yet, here I am, preparing to leave Canada very soon, with our 3 small children. I will consciously fly across the ocean, travelling by myself I might add, with Nick, Robin and Ryan in tow to start a new life in a place where Aladdin is more possible than anything resembling a Co-Op.

Now as those of you who know me can attest, I am a creature of habit. I like structure, and even though my box may be hand crafted and decorated with funky paper, I like things in said box!

I wouldn't be exaggerating if I told you that I am more stressed with this move than I have ever been in my life! Finding out I was pregnant for the 1st time, bring it on! Getting married and moving to a new city in the same month, piece of cake!

Although I feel conflictingly terrified, overwhelmed and thoroughly exhilarated all in the same moment. I am completely 100% positive that this move will only bring good things our way!

We are being offered an opportunity to teach our children about cultures and peoples in locales where humanity as we know it began! We are being offered an opportunity to travel across the world and discover ourselves in the process!

The other day, Peter saw a bumper sticker that said it much more succinctly than I ever could: I'm not suffering from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it!!!

A demain...