Sunday, September 20, 2009
We all love TAISM, but we find that outside of school there isn't much to do. For teachers, many of us feel there isn't much of a social scene, but the opportunities for camping and outdoors activities are nearly endless. For students, many of them have their friends, but don't get out much. Their families are too busy, or just not into the adventures of hiking and camping. Despite how much I have loved teaching and my students, everything was amplified during Discover Oman.Discover Oman is a week-long program where students leave everything behind, cell phones, ipods, TVs, radios, comfort, and sometimes friends, to explore certain aspects of Omani life, landscape and nature. This program is so well respected by the staff, students and families of TAISM that people who move around that time will be sure to make their schedules fit to D.O., so their kids can have that before they leave the school.
Each grade has different trips, and I was chaperoning the "Turtles" with the art teacher, Bretta. The first day, Saturday, we did a hike near Muscat with all the 7th graders. We also checked to make sure they packed what would be/might be necessary for the following days of camping. Sunday we boarded the bus and had a 4 hour drive to Turtle beach (our group started here, hence the name of the group). We stopped at a traditional shipyard in Sur to have a snack and learn how they make Dhows. Shortly after, we arrived at our camp and unpacked before heading to a beach not far from Turtle Beach to just relax, wade in the ocean, watch some Omani man struggle to get his boat onto the beach with his bright pink truck, and drove on an airstip that was made by Americans during WWII. We had a nice dinner that the camp provided and waited for dark to go over to the Turtle Beach where a guide would take us to watch a mother turtle dropping eggs into her nest. The kids, of all different nationalities and cliques, all had smiles on their faces and were quiet, respectful and seemed to appreciate the wonder and rareness of what they were witnessing. After heading back to the museum/hotel and from there our camp, the kids were enamored with the adventure so far and all doubts of how great the trip would be drifted into the darkness of the desert. Bretta and I knew who the friends in our group were, so we purposely assigned their tents so they would be with people they normally didn't talk to. After the week, the kids were all friends with each other and accepted any differences with arms open. This being one of the goals of DO was somewhat expected, but I was constantly impressed with how easily and quickly it happened.
On Monday we woke up at 4:45 to go watch the baby turtles hatch and found a mother turtle still making her way back to the ocean. Unfortunetly we only found one baby turtle that was still alive, but we were able to watch the mother for a while, which is always a nice treat. We had breakfast, played a few games and climbed on the bus to go to Wadi Bani Khalid. Wadi Bani Khalid is a large Wadi with deep, open pools. After jumping off a 3 meter bridge with some of the kids, I lead a brave group up the wadi into its narrows and waterfalls. Much of their bravery was following me when I didn't know the way! But, after a few slips and falls on rocks, we made it to a beautiful little waterfall. A few omani boys helped us climb up the waterfall and we continued to the next waterfall. Which was also picturesque and deserved to be on an Omani postcard. We headed back to meet up with Bretta and the rest of our group, had a short lunch and got back on the bus to head for Wahiba sands... The 'classic' desert in oman!
We arrived at Wahibi Sands with a few hours of light left. Our bus couldn't make it through the dunes, obviously, so we climbed into the 4 x 4 trucks which were powerful enough to make it up the dunes with enough momentum and skill. The kids unloaded their things into their tents/huts and came to the main tent to write in their journals. Bretta lead them through a mini poetry unit based on what they've seen so far. We were purposely trying to keep them out of the sun and doing something relaxed so they wouldn't exhaust themselves. After the journal writing and a few games we let the loose in the desert. We had some foot-races and did some flips down the dunes, went sandboarding and played some soccer. After getting very sandy and tired, we headed for the main tent for our dinner. That night we tried to start a Yahtzee tournament, but the kids were surprisingly tired (thankfully!) and went to bed around 9:30 or 10.
They went to bed early, so they also woke up early. With the rise of the sun. I got out of bed around 6ish to whispering voices trying not to wake up the camp. Bretta woke up from her tent at that time also. I feel like I got a little taste of what it feels like to be parents on Christmas morning when the kids are already staring at the presents waiting for permission to open them. When I stepped out of my tent, the whispering stopped and 4 boys looked at me, one of them ran up to me, and trying to be polite, whispered, "Hey Mr. Manker, do you think we could go sandboarding yet?" We had about an hour and a half until breakfast so we climbed the tallest dune and headed down. Most of the kids ended up falling off the board, which must have been slightly disheartening considering how difficult it was to hike up the dune with a snowboard, but if they were, they didn't show it, they just laughed and wanted to do it again.
After breakfast we went to a Bedouin family's house. Or, better yet, residence. Or, fenced in area with a few huts and a satellite dish (yes, satellite TV has even reached the nomads! I wonder if they've needed to buy an extra camel to carry it to their new spot when they move). It was an amazing experience and the students were both extremely respectful and in awe. They told us what the different jobs for the men and women are for each family/tribe. How to approach a residence, how to sit so you don't show the bottoms of the feat (it wasn't very comfortable for me), how to eat dates and oranges without letting the fruit touch your hands, and we had lots of tea. We also were able to watch the woman there making some crafts.
While leaving, Bretta and I snooped around a little bit. The kitchen was not only the largest hut, but they had huge pots and pans. They must have some amazing feasts! We also checked out the "master bedroom". In which, Bretta and I were startled to see a very familiar face on the wall. There was a medium-sized portrait of Jesus Christ, just a little darker. We looked at each other to make sure the other person took note, and after asking a few decoy questions (Bretta is very clever), she casually asked who the person in the portrait was. Well, not surprisingly, the man was not Jesus, it was Muhammed. No, not the prophet. This nomadic woman's brother. With that, we said goodbye to the goats, to Jesus' sister, the male host, and jumped in the truck.
After lunch it was time to get the caravan a-movin'! We split the group of 16 students in half. 8 would ride out to the desert today, and the other 8 would ride back on the camels the next day. The others would walk (camels can be fast, but not when they are in caravan mode). We took off walking while the camels and students past us slowly. After about an hour of walking we found 8 tents set up in the middle of nowhere. Well, in the middle of the desert next to a massive dune. We fixed up the tents and found wood for a fire. After dinner, we had marshmallows and told ghost stories. Then hit the sacks. The night was fairly windy, but we were snug in our tents and the camels were snug tied to a couple of trees.
The next morning I woke before anyone and decided to climb the massive dune. Halfway up I noticed one of the less-fit boys following me. I decided he may just need to use the bathroom since he seemed too heavy-set to want to climb the entire dune, so I kept climbing and tried not to look back. At the top of the dune I looked back, and found him struggling up the dune. I decided I would wait at the top of the next dune which wasn't far. I got to the top, and just when I started getting worried that he gave up and just fell on his face and suffocated, or rolled back down the dune and broke every bone in his body, I saw a sweaty, round face poke over the dune. I yelled hello, and waved. He gasped something, and put his hands on his knees. Then continued to drag his feet up the hill. We sat together at the top of the dune, looking over the ribs of dunes that is Wahiba Sands. The sun had risen, but it was still red and low. When the student stopped panting, we had some small talk, then I asked him if he wanted to see what was at the end of this seciton of dunes. He said he was fine, he would wait for me there. So I walked to investigate. Found very little and returned. Then, he and I ran down the dunes back to the camp, which was now lively, for breakfast. Well deserved.
On the way back to the main camp, one of the 8 who was supposed to ride the camels that day was a bit scared. So, we decided I would go. What fun! Right? Well, I am sure it can be fun, but I got a saddle that made me... raw. WARNING: This gets a little graphic. After about ten minutes of fun, novelty and figuring out how to balance on a camel, my upper... um... well... just below my... How can I put this delicately? On either side of my area below my tailbone started to chafe. I knew the ride was an hour long, but I thought it would just be uncomfortable, which it was, but I didn't know just how uncomfortable it would be. When we got back to our base camp, I was more excited to get off the camel than I was to get on it. I jumped off after the the camel knealed and walked bowlegged back to the tents with the students. I felt some wetness in my pants, and since I knew it wasn't anything from inside my body, I just figured it was very sweaty. Well, we rushed the kids to have a quick lunch and then to jump on the bus to head back to Muscat, ending our week of Discover Oman. During lunch however, the "sweat" never left my buttocks, in fact, I seemed to only be wetter. And more painful. On the bus, it finally started to dry, but it was also very sticky. It was then, that I thought it may be somehting different than sweat. I wasn't eager to find out how badly I was chafed, so I was happy to say goodbye to the kids and run to our principal's house with all the other chaperones, drink some beers and exchange stories. Later that night, and after plenty of beverages, I had almost forgotten about my butt problem. The smell of camel on my shorts wasn't enough of a reminder, apparently. We continued the party at Courtney's where I discreetly went to the bathroom and tried to look in the mirror to look at the damage. I peeled off my underwear and looked in the mirror to find two strips of skin missing from my buttocks. My first thought was that this was going to feel VERY weird in the shower. I wonder how long I could smell like a camel and a week of camping without people complaining? I decided that that was a question to be left until after a few more beers.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. Despite it being exhausting, it seemed like all the staff and students were reenergized the next week of school. We all had lots of stories to tell and some new relationships. Our personal communities had grown, and our TAISM community had grown and strengthened. And, after about two weeks, I had healed enough to sleep once again on my back.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The water trail head is just that, the rest of the trail is water and requires wading and swimming, so we had to leave our bags and belongings (that means no pictures, sorry). We followed Courtney since she had been there before down a very steep cliff and then into the water. Courtney isn't exaclty the most graceful person as she falls a lot even on flat ground or in the hallways, but she is suprisingly attentive when it comes to stepping and crawling over mossed covered rocks. Where I was falling all over the place, slipping on every rock or boulder I touched and flailing my arms all about my head as if I were swatting a swarm of bees to try to keep my balance, both Kara and Courtney just watched, laughed, and took the opportunity to get their payback for all the times I had mocked them for falling or stubbing their toes.
After the treacherous moldy rocks, we arrived at a deep pool in a box canyon. At first glance you would think that there is nowhere to go but the way we came from. So, you can imagine my confusion as I saw Courtney swimming to the far wall as if she could swim through it. I was even more surprised when she did swim through it yelling behind her that we were almost there. I swam to the far wall and discovered the small crack to fit my shoulders and head and treaded water through the 'keyhole'. When you pop out of the crevice, you do a double take and wonder if you just stumbled (or treaded) into paradise (yet another one!). You find yourself in a huge cave with a waterfall flowing on your left and a cave under the waterfall and light shining down from above the waterfall and from above your left shoulder. Kara and I were speechless; so, Courtney did the talking for us, "Pretty incredible, huh?" Yes it was. We climbed up the waterfall on a frayed rope and jumped from there as well as another huge boulder. Whoever comes to visit, you will see this Wadi, it is quite impressive.
After about 45 minutes of playing an soaking up the sun above the waterfall, we headed back. Grabbed our backpacks, had more lunch, and hiked back. As we passed the picnics and drummers, we noticed a huge mobile jackhammer coming to block our path. Omanis can be pretty inconsiderate and irrational (to us) sometimes, but blocking the only way out with this construction equipment just even too odd for Omanis, but when we looked to where it was actually going, we couldn't help but laugh. A big 4 wheel drive Toyota SUV that can do anything and go anyway found its limit; its limit being water (we thought is was just common sense that you don't drive a car into water, but I guess you don't truly know until you try! Maybe his GPS told him to drive into the water, damn technology!) We walked passed the Toyota and tried not to snicker too much as the crane approached. We left as the mud soaked car was being successfully pulled out.
We arrived home and I took a quick nap, then we had dinner and headed to the James Blunt concert which was great fun! I agree that his music is pretty slow paced, but he seemed to speed everything up, and had a lot of energy! He was jumping all over the amps, having the crowd sing along, and his hair looked like Beetlejuice's; a rocker through and through.
On what was supposed to be the last full day of Kara's visit, Friday, we ended up just hiking in small Wadi near Muscat. It was a nice hike and Courtney and I bouldered a bit, and swam in a small pool. The next day, my phone died and for some reason, I was the only one of the three of us to set an alarm, so we rushed Kara to the highway to catch a cab so she could catch the bus and I could make it to school on time. She missed the bus and showed up to one of my classes, I couldn't help but laugh when she came in and my students were extremely confused of who this tall, blond woman was. The rest of the day, she was at Courtney's and finally made it to a bus to take her back to Dubai around 4:30.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
In the spirit of crossing a body of water to... well, that's kinda where the parallels stop between us and the pilgrims, although we were invited to dinner with the natives, but that plan was dropped when the women inviting us never showed up to the gas station where we were waiting (Inshallah!). Anyway, for Thanksgiving, Sara, Jenelle, Jeff and I took Taj and Jenelle's care on a 5 hour drive down through the middle of the desert to a small dock where we jockied and positioned to get on an overcrowded ferry to take us on a 1.5 hour boat ride to Masirah Island.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
As a gift to myself, I bought a traditional coffee-table for my apartment. Like most things in Oman, it is a Omani idea but is made of a Yemenese door design and Indian wood.
Towards the end of the month, I took my first kite-boarding lesson and had some fun doing that. But, other than that, not much was happening (unless I am forgetting about something, which is another great reason to update more frequently!)
Oh, Allah, please heal these hands! (Mosque and DWS)
One weekend we decided to take it easy again. So, Thursday morning Jeff, Sara and I went to the Grand Mosque for a tour. Despite the heat we all had to cover everything except our heads and hands. Sara did have to cover her hair as well, but she made it stylish. The Mosque is open to non-muslims on Thursdays and you must take your shoes off before entering any of the buildings. But we just decided to park our shoes in one of the holders and just walk around in just our socks since the entire floor, outside and in, was perfectly clean. They must wash it a couple dozen times a day, and with the cheap Pakistani and Indian labor, why not!
After the mosque, Sara and I went with Courtney and Greg to one of the public beaches to find a fisherman and go psicobloc, or deep water soloing, or DWS, or rock climbing over the ocean! It was a pretty incredibly experience! Greg speaks Arabic, so he was able to get a fisherman and his boat to take us out the the cliffs on an island, hang out and laugh at us for just 8 rials! The most challenging and tiring part of the DWS was getting from the water to the base area. We had to pull ourselves out of the water while the waves are helping for only a split second then leave you to be pulled once again by gravity. I didn't get to see Greg go up the route he had so many times before, and with my awesome abilities that Hinkson and Bernie IV helped build up last year, I was confident that I would be able to figure out how to get up without any help. Well, the first thing I grabbed was a rock with seashells sticking out of it like pieces of glass. I immediatly let go and yelped.
But, I was determined to get up, so I placed my hands once again on the rocks and pulled as hard as I could, almost making it before I had to throw myself away from the rocks and back into the forgiving water. I felt my hands stinging from the salt and when I looked at them as I treaded water, they were literally being torn up. But, I knew I could do it, so I ignored the pain like a manly-man and swam over again and place my hands up on the rocks once more wincing as I felt the sharp shells once again under my hands. By this time, there were some curious Omani women in another fishing boat who came over to watch the spectacle. So, now I really had to step up my game to impress the ladies! For a third time I felt the shells insert into my skin and I pulled and grabbed desperatly at any rocks above. But once again, I failed. So, I looked up at Greg and how it was possible that he could stand all the pain. He looked at me confused and pointed out the shell free route that he took, I tried once more on his route, but had no strength left to rise out of the water. So I jumped back on the boat and the fisherman temporarily docked so Sara, Courtney and I could join Greg on the small rock platform. The Omani ladies were entertained by my pathetic showing and I began traversing our first route embarrassed. The first route was fairly easy with lots of options to give up if we wanted. Greg led, but tried something a bit too hard and ended up jumping back in the water. Courtney was now in the lead, with me second and Sara following closely. At one point, Sara asked me if it was my blood on the rocks. I looked back at her and saw spots of blood marking my holds. When I looked at my hands, all the rips in my skin were leaking blood. I decided to not let it ruin my experience unless sharks started smelling the blood in the water, and kept climbing. Our second route was the main attraction, though after all we had already been through and being out of climbing shape, we only tried the route a few times. But, it was great adventure!
Oh, the places baby turtles and Taj will go!
Our second turtle adventure was much like the first, however, there were fewer turtles. August and September are the best times to go for those of you who might be planning a trip. Another huge difference for this trip was that around 9:45 at night, as we were putting our innocent little heads to rest, an Omani ranger found us! We had heard stories that the previous weekends they tried to kick our friends off the beach because they didn't want people to terrorize the turtles. The Omani rangers were responding to a German couple picking up some of the turtles. So, it was valid, and I am all for fighting terrorism on any front! However, despite my excitement for the rangers doing a great job, it was scary to have silouettes roaming around the campsite and seeing if we would respond to their greetings. But, we all pretended to be sleeping, although I wasn't pretending, and they left. Jeff woke me up after they left and said there were people at the campsite. Of course, I was still half asleep and this just scared me, as I saw their tail lights pulling away, I became very concerned and it took me a full couple minutes to fall asleep again! I did end up having a lot of nightmares about people raiding the campsite though.
mornings rosy sky did not disappoint. In fact it did not disappoint so much that I ended up taking about 50 pictures of it.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
We woke up Saturday and the tide was pretty high, so we packed up and had a small breakfast and headed out of town back to Salalah. We we determined to see the blowholes at high tide. We drove back throught the green mountains, passed the army checkpoint and back down the steps to the blowholes. We arrived thinking they still weren't happening, but as we got closer, we heard the air being forced through the holes and then one of the holes spouted up a steady stream of water and mist, as well as a crab! The pressure of the air through the holes was powerful, and the sound shook our core. We watched a few spouts, then once mroe people started arriving, we left to visit the Salalah souk.
At the souk we bought some frankincense and some burners, then went to a juice shop and decided what we wanted to do the rest of the day and the final leg of our trip. This was where we had too many people with too many different ideas. But, we finally decided on a nice plan. Get pita bread, and find a nice tree on top of a mountain overlooking the green hills and have a picnic and rest for a few hours before starting our 1,000 km drive through the interior. We looked all over for pita bread and hommos, and finally got some after visiting about 5 different stores, then we headed out of town and found a beautiful tree which provided us with shade and friendly ants. We had our picnic and afterward, without saying a word, we all just put our heads on the wadi mat and rested, takin in all the browning green for the last hour.