I left for Oman on Wednesday 27th September. My flight was at 8.50am, but as we were staying relatively close to the airport, we didn’t set off until before 7am. Big mistake! I thought there wouldn’t be a lot of people at the airport so early in the morning (when I flew to Liverpool in June there was hardly anyone there and it was in the afternoon which is usually very busy), but the opposite turned out to be true! Needless to say, if we hadn’t given some cash (still less than £10) to one of the airport employees who took me straight to the door, there was a chance I might not have made it. It’s important to mention one thing about the airport in Islamabad. Usually the first place you go to at the airport is the check-in desk and then security. In Islamabad, you first go through security with ALL your luggage (at which point anyone accompanying you has to leave), then check-in and then go through security again. It’s a massive pain and there were so many people that morning that B. had to leave me with the man, who thankfully helped me with most of the luggage. We couldn’t even say goodbye properly (with B. obviously) and when I realised that he had left, I started crying uncontrollably which lasted for about an hour until I actually went up to the departure lounge. It must have been quite a view, actually, but when I’m that upset I don’t care if people stare at me or what they think of me. I get stared at a lot in Pakistan anyway so I have kind of got used to it.
When I finally went through to the check-in desk I was told that I had 10 kg excess luggage, which I knew was the case, and asked if I was prepared to pay. I said I was and asked if they took cards, they said they didn’t, at which point I said I didn’t have any rupees on me since I was leaving the country, so they could either take my card or Omani rials. I added I could pay on landing if it helped. After much deliberation amongst the staff who asked me to show them a copy of my visa, etc. they decided to… let me go without paying! Perhaps they just felt sorry for me because I cried the whole time and couldn’t help it, but my getting away with it was just as well, because I paid £90 extra when I was flying from Manchester less than three weeks earlier. The crying continued despite the fact that I had just saved a considerable amount of money, so while waiting for the second security check, I got asked if I was okay. When I said that I was leaving behind my husband, people thought it was very romantic and that he was a very lucky man…
The three-hour flight was uneventful, but though I’m a regular flyer, I was impressed with on-board technology. There was an impressive selection of movies (I had just managed to see Two Is a Family with the amazing Omar Sy), CDs and radio stations as well as other features and everything worked smoothly. The staff were a little abrupt though. For the first time ever I also saw my suitcases going into the belly of the plane on the conveyor belt whilst I was actually sitting on the plane already. Before the luggage, the plane was loaded with dozens and dozens of sacks with green beans.
What happened when I landed in Muscat was the best thing that has happened to me in Oman so far, very closely followed, however, by the least good thing that has ever happened to me with regard to moving countries and it has continued ever since. As soon as I was off the shuttle bus at the impressive Muscat airport, even before I got to passport control, I was met by a University staff member who took me straight to the visa desk at which I was the only customer. The process of getting my passport stamped lasted for about 5 minutes and then I waited for my luggage for less than five minutes (as compared to 1.5 hours at Islamabad airport) and literally within 20-25 mins of landing, I was on the way to Nizwa. I couldn’t believe how quickly and smoothly it happened! I didn’t even have the time to connect to the airport Wi-Fi to let B. know I had landed and for some (sic!!) reason, my SIM wasn’t working (even though it had been activated to work abroad).
What struck me in Oman was that it was boiling hot. Two weeks before going I had been checking the weather on Eltiempo.es, which had never let me down, and according to their forecast it shouldn’t be more than 24-260C, but it must have been that + 12-150C. The scorching weather has been around since then and I’m being told that it’s not even that bad! I’m finding it hard to survive this heat, because while it’s true that the majority of places on the campus and at home are air-conditioned, there has been a fair amount of walking around the campus, plus even if you travel by car, and I’m being driven at the moment, you’ve still got to wait for the AC to kick in before you start feeling less than about to melt into a puddle.
The road from Muscat to Nizwa is easy and straightforward. As for the landscape, there is nothing except for a long stretch of bare mountains and the desert though every now and then you can see an oasis. I was sort of impressed with the landscape, because it was new to me, but kept asking myself how people managed to live in the middle of nowhere and thinking about the lush green mountains of Isamabad and Nathia Gali, which we had just visited. I was worried about not being able to get in touch with B. but fortunately he called me on my mobile so I could let him know I was safe. During the journey, the person who picked me up was describing everything to me in broken English and literally every piece of information that he gave me included how far something was located or how much it cost (both very useful!).
In about an hour (the road was clear), we got to the hotel where I was about to stay for the next three days. When I went up to my room, I connected to the Wi-Fi, but couldn’t call B. I was able to message him, but couldn’t Skype. I wasn’t sure what was going on. The Wi-Fi wasn’t brilliant, but still and we had never had these problems before. It wasn’t until the following day that I started to suspect, which was later on confirmed by my new colleagues, that no video or audio calling apps were working: no Skype, no Messenger, no WhatsApp, nothing that involved any form of talking. We could message each other but not speak. It was a shocking discovery for me. We always talk to each other when we are away, always!! That’s how we manage to survive being away from each other. I was so desperate to solve this problem, so managed to download a VPN, but though it worked initially, it wasn’t too reliable. I teach on Skype a lot and intend to keep my student, so this was and continues being a major obstacle. I had spoken to people before I came here, but no one mentioned this (in)significant piece of information, which for me, with B. still not being there, was and continues being a disaster.