Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our First Christmas in Oman

Merry Christmas from the Holmes family, from sunny Oman!  Um, better late than never.
Our Christmas week began with a few days in Dubai, for Christmas shopping.  Here is the Christmas tree outside of Bloomingdales in The Dubai Mall.  There were not really any decorations in the mall itself, but just in certain stores.
We voted on Texas Sheet Cake for Christmas Eve.  We really wanted German Chocolate, but I have not seen sweet chocolate or buttermilk in Oman.  This cake tasted great, even though my oven (just one step up from camping) baked it lopsided.  Yes, those are real Texas pecans, though the smallest I have ever seen.

Finally got some wrapped gifts under the tree.

Amanda gave me this camel for my birthday, the first camel of my collection.  I will buy more as soon as I figure out where to display them!  I used to display all my Santas on my mantle in the US, but no fireplace mantle here in Oman.
Here is Joe, talking to Jared on our Christmas morning, Jared's Christmas Eve.  Joe has a program on his computer that uses the internet, which of course is free.  FYI, Skype is illegal in Oman.  We are exploring other options, but just don't have them set up yet.  Facetime doesn't seem to work either.
Savannah's turn to chat with her older siblings.  We called Amanda at work, catching her in between helping delivering babies on Christmas.
              Oops!  I think Joe's present got mislabeled.  Those are my beautiful new sandals.

Austin gets a new xbox.
Christmas dinner was at the Intercontinental Hotel in Muscat.  There was a scrumptious buffet held in the garden. 

                                                          Complete with ice sculptures.

    This picture is out of order, but Savannah and Austin both wanted radio-operated helicopters!

We were a little early for the buffet.  And to be honest, still full from Christmas breakfast.  We splurged on bacon!
                    The other ladies in our group, wives and daughter of Joe's work colleagues. 

                    There was entertainment for the children, including Sponge Bob and Dora.
Savannah's Christmas nails!  She was so excited to get all her nail tools from the air shipment, which was delivered to our house on Christmas Eve!  The air shipment was supposed to take 15-25 days and took 69, but who's counting?

Here's the thing.  There was live music at the buffet.  I was looking forward to that, because I have really missed all the Christmas music this season.  I was anticipating Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, Deck the Halls, etc.  But no, this couple played salsa music!!  They played a barely recognizable version of Jingle Bells.  Leave it to me find salsa music in Oman on Christmas day!  I loved it, even though I was strictly forbidden to dance by my children. 
I hope y'all had a wonderful Christmas and may you have a wonderful and blessed New Year! 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

No Longer a Tourist

It took some weeks, but I am no longer a tourist.  I am a bonafide, card-carrying resident of the Sultanate of Oman!  And I also have my Omani driver's license, something not to be taken for granted!

First of all, Joe had to get copies of my driver's license from Illinois, as well as copies of my passport.  He took them to work, and I have no idea what was done with them.  After a few weeks,  Joe, Austin, and I met with Khalfan, Joe's office PRO.  Since Austin is 15, he needed to have his own resident's card.  Savannah is too young right now and will get hers at a later date. 

Here we are with Khalfan - he is a Public Relations Officer (PRO).  Many companies and offices hire PRO's (Omani nationals) to deal with all the government agencies and legalities associated with living and working in Oman.  They help secure visas and licenses for all the employees and their families. 

On a sidenote, I want to talk about Khalfan's attire.  This is a typical Omani dishdasha, worn by all the Omani men and boys.  Every day.  (Joe says he would like to wear it because it's so simple, cool, and requires no mixing and matching!) The following information comes from Oman's Minstry of Information website.    The national dress for Omani men is a simple, ankle-length, collarless gown with long sleeves called the dishdasha. The colour most frequently worn is white, although a variety of other colours such as black, blue, brown and lilac can also be seen. Its main adornment is a tassel (furakha) sewn into the neckline, which can be impregnated with perfume. Underneath the dishdasha, a plain piece of cloth covering the body is worn from the waist down. Omani men may wear a variety of head dresses. The muzzar is a square of finely woven woollen or cotton fabric, wrapped and folded into a turban. Underneath this, the kummar, an intricately embroidered cap, is sometimes worn.

Next came the fingerprinting.  Expatriate, that is what I am.  Expat for short.  Now I was a bit concerned about being fingerprinted.  You see, I was wearing white pants and didn't want to get any ink on them.  You have to realize that the last time I was fingerprinted was 1985 when I was getting my private investigator's license.  There was a lot of ink involved.  Oh, you didn't know I was a private investigator?  I'll save that story for another time.  Anyways, I was taken back to a 'Ladies Only' room, and electronically fingerprinted by a policewoman. 
At this point, we waited for a while and received our freshly printed resident's cards.  Now Khalfan was on a roll.  He suggested that as long as we were together we should go for the double and get my driver's license.  Music to my ears.  You have to understand, you work around the PRO's schedule, he does not work around yours. 

Anyway, another line and more paperwork.  But it should be an easy process. We sit and wait while Khalfon deals with the agency officials.  It seems that they were looking at my driver's license and frowning.  Uh oh.  Here's the deal.  My Illinois license had expired.  The state sent me a sticker to place on the back on the license, stating it was good for four more years.  It was valid until 2015, but the Omanis did not believe it.  Khalfan tells me they need a letter from the American Embassy, verifying my license is valid! 

We are on a roll here, so we drop Austin off at school, and go to the Embassy.  I would have loved to  take pictures of the American Embassy in Muscat.  It was beautifully landscaped, sitting on the ocean, and the building is covered in flowers.  But there were several signs forbidding photography.  I figured no blog is worth jail time!  Joe and I park and walk into the embassy.  The small front room has an x-ray machine and several local guards.  They required two forms of ID.  Then they asked if we had an appointment.  Uh oh again.  We had to turn around and leave.  In case you were wondering, the American Embassy in Oman is very well protected.  So I got an appointment, came back the next day, paid my $50, and received a notarized letter stating that my Illinois license was valid. It took several more days for Khalfan to make it back to the driving license office, but I finally have my license!

As Americans, it is relatively simple to get an Omani driver's license.  You just have to fill out the correct forms and have a valid driver's license issued at least six months earlier.  I didn't have to take a written test or a driving test.  Thank God!  I have heard of people taking the test one to two dozen times, and still not passing. 

Well, I am going off for a drive now.



Monday, December 17, 2012

DD, not to be confused with DDD

This past weekend was filled with Dining and Driving (DD), not to be confused with Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (DDD.)  On a side note, we get the British version of the Food Network over here.  They seem to love Guy Fieri, who can be seen like three times a day!  But back to DD.  This blog posting was just going to be about the scenery around Muscat.  But we ended up going to three restaurants this weekend, and we took pictures along the way. 

                              This is the road down to the Shangri-La Resort, where we had lunch.  

The scenery off to the side.

The road to this resort and was literally carved out of the mountains.  There are amazing rock formations all around.  We had to wait till the restaurant opened at noon.  Meal times are later in Oman.  We were happy they opened at noon.  We had the lunch buffet at Al Tanoor restaurant in Al Bandar Hotel, one of the three hotels at Shangri-la.  I have no pictures of the buffet, because this posting was just supposed to be scenery.  But take my word, it was a scrumptious buffet.  I loved the selection of Omani, Bristish, Indian, and Iranian dishes.  I had the chance to try things I may not have ordered in a restaurant. I also indulged in strawberries, something I am too cheap to pay for in the grocery store.  If you come visit us in Oman, I will bring you here!

These are some on the Oman Ministry and government buildings on our drive back to Muscat.

There are lots of roundabouts in Muscat and Oman.  A lot of the roundabouts have beautiful artifacts, monuments, or artwork in the middle.

                                                            Another roundabout.

                       There were several of these pavilions in this park near the corniche in Mutrah.

                                                       This is the Mutrah Corniche. 

We tried to go to the Souk, or marketplace, this afternoon.  Unfortunately, many businesses close in the afternoon, open around 4 or 5, and stay open late.  We keep forgetting that.  It should have gotten the hint when we easily found a parking spot!

In the evening, we ate at a Tahi restaurant with some new friends.  The restaurant was Meji's Aroy Thai, in Shatti Qorum.  The food was very good, especially the soup.  I can recommend the beef with red curry paste.

But this was the highlight of the weekend-- the Samman restaurant in the town of Sifah, a 45 minute drive from Muscat, most of it in the mountains.

This is the restaurant.  It looks like a beachside shack, and that is pretty much what it is.  A nice shack, though.

                The views to the side of the restaurant.  Again, I am thinking Hollywood backdrop.

                                                                The view from our table!

We started with some Arabic bread, hummus, salad, and some other yummy thing.  I am trying to get the names of all these foods, as best I can.  Notice our water.  It came with a slice of cucumber, a slice of lemon, and a mint sprig.  Very refreshing!  We all also had the seafood soup, and we could have stopped there.  It was delicious and filling.

This was Joe's plate.  Grilled lobster and fish.  I had grilled prawns.  The lobster comes off the coast of Oman, as did all the fish.

                                                       Other side of restaurant's view.


As we drove back to Muscat, we passed a couple of small villages.  And yes, the goats roamed freely in all the villages.

These fishermen were returning at the end of the day.

And that is the end of this weekend's Driving and Dining.  Stay tuned for the next episode.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Little Like Christmas

I have a hard time remembering it's the Christmas season.  There are no Christmas commercials on TV, no 24-hour Christmas music on the radio, and no Christmas decorations in the stores.  Not to mention the sunshine and 80-degree days.  It was time to bring Christmas to our home!  Luckily, there are trees and decorations for sale in Muscat.  Our first order of business, find a tree!

We found one at the Sultan Center, the same place I found Blue Bell ice cream.  We got an 8-foot tree for 38 OR (Omani Rials), or about $99.  They have a section of the store full of Christmas decorations and other items.  This is the only public place I have heard Christmas music.  I will admit to a wave of homesickness when I heard it.  

Next order of business-- lights.  Now I take my Christmas tree lights seriously.  I have not had a pre-lit tree because I have not found one with enough lights.  And considering I am living in a Muslim country with different electricity, I didn't know what kind of lights I would find.  Here is one strand of lights.  The little black box is a heavy transformer.  I was just happy that the light strand would actually plug into the wall.  Some of the appliances we have bought over here have required converter plugs.  I decided we needed more lights, and couldn't find any to match what we already bought.  My sweet husband went to several stores, looking for more.  When he couldn't find matching lights, he got a whole new set of lights.  Let's just say, we spent more on lights than the tree!  

Three strands of light, plugged in.  

Tree is put together and lit!  Now for the ornaments.  

Savannah is attaching hangers on the ornaments.  I found all these ornaments in several different stores around the city.  All our Christmas decorations were left in storage.  And besides, we have yet to receive any of our stuff from the US.  Don't even get me started!

The finished tree!  I have ribbon coming in our air shipment and will make a bow for the top.  I still need to  find some fabric for a tree skirt.  And here is our first camel ornament.  Now I just have to get the kids to put some Christmas music on my iphone.