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...