Sunday, March 16, 2014

Oh! Oman!

road trip!
The weekend before last, I left the country for the first time since I arrived! On Thursday after work, we drove out to Hatta, a sleepy town tucked into the mountains on the border of the UAE and Oman (on the UAE side). There are weird little patches of Oman, however, tucked into the UAE which we had to avoid on Thursday night as we'd only purchased Omani car insurance for Friday and Saturday. There's an easy highway drive-around solution which we'd mapped out on Google, but Roger (my GPS) wasn't in on the plan and kept suggesting that we take the fastest route because I can set it to avoid toll roads or to avoid highways and the like, but I can't set it to avoid Oman. And the road signage in the UAE is only so-so, often skipping a route number and only posting a destination city. So our Thursday drive involved a tiny bit of of backtracking and going slow trying to puzzle out the route. Meant we did the last bits in the dark which I think was a shame as the little I could make out of it via the headlights looked quite pretty with dunes running right up to the edge of rocky mountain slopes. Another time I'll take the route in the day, it's only an hour and a half or so if you keep up with the speed limits.
Hatta Fort Hotel

We stayed at the Hatta Fort Hotel which is the only gig in town so far as I could tell. It's very relaxing with cool evenings, green lawns, peacocks and rabbits on the grounds, a couple of pools and gorgeous flower beds. After a peaceful night's sleep with the window open- a nice luxury- we headed across the border. It was a simple crossing. We met someone doing one of the famous "border runs" from Dubai. basically, a family member comes to see one of us with a resident visa and can only get 30 days or so on a tourist visa (or maybe it's 60 or 90, I don't know, I just know it runs out.) In order to stay longer, they need to leave the country and come back in while applying for a new tourist visa and another 30 (60? 90?) days. Hatta is a popular border crossing for this but we were doing more than just crossing over and back. We got our UAE exit stamps and then drove on through a customs checkpoint for Oman and then on for a mile or so, and then through an abandoned looking bunch of official buildings and then a bit further. We were starting to worry we'd missed something when there it was: both the place to get the visas and a great little herd of goats.

Muscat tucked between mountains and the sea
We came down out of the mountains and drove along a coastal plateau, a highway punctuated with round-abouts, until we reached Muscat which is a pretty low-slung city that stretches miles along the Gulf of Oman. There are no giant highrises, some places with 6 or maybe even 10 stories, but generally the buildings are dwarfed by the low mountains and hills which come right down into town. White and cream buildings with arched windows and doors or fancy roof edges and turrets are perched on dark black brown hills stepping down toward the corniche.

camel, it's what's for dinner
After a camel burger- with haloumi cheese and rocket (wild arugula) and Lebanese pickles for lunch at the hotel bar (tasted a lot like a regular burger, maybe a little gamey and/or salty but that last could have been the way it was prepared more than the meat itself), we headed to the old downtown souk area for a walk along the sea looking back up at the remains of a Portuguese fort and over at the giant statue of an incense burner (to commemorate Oman's contribution to the Arabian frankincense trade) in a hilltop park. Then we plunged into the souk. It's a nice one. A good mix of souvenirs and everyday stuff and a similar mix of tourists and locals. Leslie bought an abaya, I tried a few on but didn't find the one for me yet though I did purchase a carpet/ wall hanging type thing and some art.

Sultan Quboos Mosque grounds
The next morning we headed out to the Sultan Quboos Grand Mosque. We'd both been to the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and couldn't help but make comparisons. SQ's mosque won out the in the gardens and grounds categories and in the carved wood competition. I prefer SZ's mosque's marble inlaid inner courtyard and sheer size/wow factor though really, both deeply beautiful structures.

carpentry workshop in Seeb
My new Omani wedding chest
We broke the return drive up with several stops including one in the town of Al Seeb where I found a traditional Omani wedding chest that will serve as a bedside table and also in the town of Sohar where we walked on the beach collecting a few shells after a tasty lunch. Back through the border crossings and Hatta and on past the big red dune and the weird little bits of Oman wrapped in the UAE and home to my highrise cat.

Monday, March 10, 2014

girls on one side...

inside the spaceship! from the courtyard of the AUH campus
Zayed University is about 15 years old. It was started as an all-women's University but maybe 5 years ago, they started a small segregated men's program and some co-ed graduate programs. It's one university on two campuses. I work mostly at the Dubai (DXB) campus but travel to the Abu Dhabi (AUH) campus once a week or more on the daily shuttle van. The drive takes about an hour and 15 minutes.

The gender segregation is an interesting complication in the libraries on both campuses. The idea is to keep marriageable boys and girls apart in a place where they're supposed to be learning, not flirting or meeting unchaperoned. I guess by graduate school, everyone is either mature enough or already married so there can be gender mixing on a limited basis. Also, once a young man or woman is employed- even if they are a recent grad- then in the course of business, they can interact with the opposite gender. I should mention that other universities in the UAE are co-ed, ZU just provides a choice for those girls (and everyone here calls them "girls", many
complicated hours- male and female days
do arrive fairly sheltered and young-seeming) or their families who are more comfortable with the segregated undergraduate experience. So the Dubai campus was built before there were programs for males. We have only one of big resources like a cafeteria, a gym, a library. We have to segregate by time. Female library hours are 7:30AM - 4:30PM, male hours are 5PM - 9PM. Yup, the men get the short end of that stick. The Abu Dhabi campus was built (to look like a giant spaceship!) after the introduction of men's and co-ed classes and so they built two of a lot of big resources, like cafeterias and gyms, however, they couldn't really, in good conscience, build and fill two complete libraries side by side- those books get crazy-expensive. Instead, in Abu Dhabi, they ran a wall down the middle of one floor of the Library so there's a men's side and a women's side each with some English language learning resources (duplicated) and a help desk and study rooms and other materials. And then, on the 2nd and 3rd floors, they employ a maze of retractable opaque walls and on certain days of the week, men move freely from the first to second or third floors and on other days of the week, women do. If it's a men's day, however, and you're a young female student, you're stuck on the 1st floor in your
from my office window in AUH, female day in the courtyard
section and if you need a book from upstairs, you request it from a staff person who will go pull it for you. Similarly, there's only one courtyard off the 2 cafeterias and so if it's a Tuesday (female day) and you're a young man, you're eating inside.

 Other than the whole gender segregation thing, much of my daily work life is not unlike my work life in the US. There are a few other reminders that are now becoming so commonplace I almost don't notice them any more. My keyboard is bi-lingual! And for any library or teacher friends who might be familiar with Ellison dies, we have Arabic alphabets and I asked the tech in our Curriculum Resource Center to cut out the letters for my name.
click on this to see it larger and to see the Arabic letters
If there had been a test on how to order and put those letter together to spell my name, I probably would have failed, or maybe squeaked by with a low C grade. I did know which letter came first, second/third combo, and fourth. And I knew to order them right to left. But I flipped 2 of them over and put the dots that go above and below to make the letters complete in absolutely the wrong places. With quite a bit of coaching, I managed to glue them down correctly!

that says Diane!