On the second day after my arrival, I was supposed to catch the university bus from the hotel and go to report in the HR offices of the University of Nizwa. The bus was supposed to arrive at 7am, so at 6.30am I went down to the restaurant to have breakfast. At 6.50am I was waiting in the hotel lounge and was convinced that the bus would stop just outside the hotel, not because I was being snobbish, but that’s what I’d understood, but I suddenly heard someone asking the receptionist the very same question, so I said “I think we’re going to the same place”. That’s how I met A., an amazing woman, a godsend. Without her my life here would be a hundred times more miserable than it actually has been, even though it’s still been far from what I had imagined.
It turned out that she had worked at UoN before but never took the university bus, so we walked over to the other side of the road, because it became clear that the bus wouldn’t be pulling up at the hotel. Now, roads might be very good here, very new, but there aren’t any pavements and few zebra crossings so we had to be very careful crossing the road. One of the things that I’ve already been told a thousand times over is that people here drive like mad and there are multiple road accidents in which both drivers and pedestrians are involved. We have even seen one today on the way to work! Anyway, the bus certainly didn’t come at 7am, but when we started thinking that we had missed, it did turn up about 25 minutes later.
We were supposed to report in the office on arrival, but we hadn’t been told what time. A. said that it was too early anyway, so we went to visit her ex colleagues, many of who are still here, so thanks to her 1) I didn’t get lost straightaway, which I certainly would have done; 2) we spent about 2 hours going from one office to another and meeting my new colleagues. I quickly started to realise that it was an incredibly mixed staff team. There are people from virtually all over the world and not only the West by any means, which is actually quite fascinating. Multiculturalism is without a shadow of a doubt the only thing that I actually like about London, for instance.
After the initial getting to know some of the staff, we ended up in the HR office of our department where we were given quite a few things to sign and complete as well as keys to our rooms at the uni, desks, drawers, etc. Afterwards we went to the office of the director who happened to be the very same man who had interviewed me for the job six months earlier. Him and the assistant, gave us, or rather me, because A. has worked here before, an introduction and a bit of the insight into the work of the institute. We also went to the HR department of the University and completed more forms. I immediately asked to speak to the person who had told me that the visa for B. wouldn’t take long, but was disappointed to hear that she wasn’t there that day and I should go back on Sunday. Yes, Sunday, because the weekend here is Friday (which for Muslims is like Sunday) and Saturday (which feels like an actual Sunday to me), which I must say I find slightly confusing.
On this first day, I made the following observations:
- The AC is on literally everywhere inside each building, but as the different offices are located in different parts of the campus, which isn’t so big and most of the walking paths are covered with a roof to protect from the sun, there is still a fair amount of walking that you do every day, particularly now that there are still lots of things to be sorted, so you do get really very hot.
- Everyone is super nice and polite to you, asking how you are and sounding very genuine when doing so and welcoming you to the University with a smile on their face. They are also very calm and don’t seem to be in any sort of rush, which I understand and appreciate, but which is also the reason for my current despair.
- There is a strong smell of frankincense almost everywhere, similar to the smell of incense in churches, particularly when someone dies.
- In bathrooms, you aren’t allowed do throw toilet paper in the actual toilet, and there are bins (but not in all cubicles) where you’re supposed to dispose of it. There are signs informing you about it everywhere (there wasn’t one in the hotel, but there in on the front door of my current flat). All bathrooms are equipped with little showers, exactly like in Pakistan, but unfortunately there are far fewer squat toilets.
- There are separate spaces for men and women everywhere. There is a female and male rest areas, female and male mosques, female and male restaurants, female and male staff restaurants, but in case of staff spaces, we do mix. A. also takes me almost daily to me to a male coffee shop, because there are fewer male students at the University in general so the place is much more spacious and airy than the full and hot (despite the AC) female coffee place. We get looked at when we’re in the male coffee place, but it’s obvious that we aren’t students, so no one has ever told us anything. Besides, A. is a Muslim and covers her head. As for me, I don’t but wear my long kurtas and dupattas (the scarf).
- 98% of the female students wear the traditional long black cloak, i.e. abaya and cover their head with the hijab. Males wear a long white garment called dishdasha and the turban type of headwear or a traditional cap. For this reason, the campus does look mostly black and white, apart from the non-Omani staff and non-Omani students.
On that second day, we or rather I was anxious to know when we were going to actually live. The university provides accommodation or housing allowance, but since it is my very first time in the country, I didn’t want to have to look for the place myself. Unfortunately, we were told that the person who was supposed to show us the flats wasn’t there and that he would come to the hotel on Saturday. This wasn’t ideal, because we were supposed to check out on Saturday and if we were to stay longer, we’d have to pay. I didn’t like that at all. The two things that were most important, i.e. the accommodation and visa for B. weren’t happening before Sunday. On top of that, when I went back to the hotel that day and knew for certain that I couldn’t speak to B. and the Wi-Fi was really really bad, it started dawning on me that I might have made a mistake and things were not turning out to be what they were supposed to…