The intense Omani heat is gradually turning into pleasantly cool mornings and evenings. Despite the fact that it still does get rather warm throughout the day, it is really nothing compared to the scorching heat that welcomed me here just over eight weeks ago. I struggle to acknowledge that in all the places around the world that I have some connections with, and particularly in my beloved Islamabad, people are wrapping up warm and preparing for the winter, whereas I’m not even sure if I will have to put on a coat at all here. Surprisingly, on the perfectly clear blue sky which for weeks on end didn’t feature a single cloud, light grey clouds have started gathering and perhaps in a couple of months there’ll even be some rain, though I’m not too hopeful about that. I really miss the dramatic winter skies of San Sebastian and Islamabad, but fortunately still have plenty of amazing photos and memories that I cherish.
I’ve been here for nearly two months now and as it feels much longer than that, I’ve been wondering if I have adopted some new habits or started doing things slightly differently as per Omani culture. Doing things slowly and being laid back about virtually everything is something that I’m least likely to succeed in, but we have, for instance, started consuming larger than usual amounts of dates. Dates are omnipresent here, because they are grown here. There are bowls/boxes full of dates in almost every office you go into and we have also started buying them on a weekly basis and eating as snacks throughout the day. There are many different types, some of them extremely expensive, but we settle for the cheaper ones, particularly as we still haven’t got paid. When I was organizing a visa for B. several weeks ago, I frequented a PR office where they had fresh dates, dried dates and date paste as well as extra supplies in a form of a massive bag hidden under a coffee table.
Another new thing that we’re doing here is drinking Arabic coffee with cardamom instead of normal black coffee. Some may argue, but as far as I’m concerned, it is like normal coffee, but with bits of ground cardamom and after brewing, it looks exactly the same. This week I’ve also been asked by a couple of Omani students from the German department to sing a little bit of the Omani national anthem due to the National Day celebrations which have taken place earlier this week. I had a couple of afternoons to prepare for that and I took it so seriously that we ended up singing it a home, because it was so stuck in our heads. Then, I met the girls and they recorded me sing, but sadly, I never asked them to send me the video. Perhaps I will.
The drama with delayed salaries continues and has been seriously impacting my enthusiasm for work and general settling in. For the first time in my 13-year career I haven’t got paid and the future looks bleak, but at least I’m not just sitting around waiting for someone else to sort things out. Instead, I’m trying to stand up for what I believe in. With mixed success, but at least I’m doing something. If you have ever been in such a situation, you will understand how frustrating it is to put in a lot of hard work into something and not be financially rewarded as per your contract.
This is, however, only an example of a much more worrying trend that I believe is becoming increasingly present in today’s changing reality in which a given word, a promise, a responsibility is taken less and less seriously than it would have been in the past; people and institutions are much less reliable than I remember them to be. I think I can still recall times when a promise was a sacred thing, for example if someone said they would do something (not necessarily a favour, but more importantly, as part of their job), they would almost certainly do it – they would get back to you, check up on something, try and solve and issue or a problem, etc. It seems to me that there was much more humanity in human relations, much more kindness and understanding – ideals which seem to be slowly disappearing off the face of the earth and being replaced with greed, ego, wasta (an Arabic word for clout, influence, ‘who you know’), and God knows what else. And this trend is cutting across nations, cultures and religions! Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps it’s always been there, but I’ve been too blind to see it or lucky enough not to experience too much, but I’ve certainly witnessed it a lot more in the last several weeks. The human condition is making me incredibly sad, depressed even and the helplessness wears me down, because even though I try to do the right thing against injustice and unfairness, I always end up being the bad guy and lectured on how I should just keep my opinions to myself and turn a blind eye to all that’s corrupt and unfair. Compromising my integrity is perhaps the worst type of emotional suffering that I can be put through and I’m constantly being tested on that these days.
On the other hand, now that I’ve written that, I feel a pang of guilt, as I do certainly know a handful of righteous, decent and wise people out there whose presence in my life I value enormously, even though we might not always be in touch on a regular basis. The realization of how rare a breed they are in this day and age makes me feel lucky that I’ve got to know them and perhaps I should work harder on keeping those relations alive whilst I still can. Another thing that is helping me through this difficult time, apart from the gorgeous and amazing B. – a safe haven slash a budding professional cyclist (his cycling is going so well!) – is a strong network of support from my colleagues, particularly an incredible Polish team! I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, because I’m not a massive fan of Polish people abroad and prior to my coming here had been particularly worried if they would accept my being married to a Muslim and a convert herself (not that it matters in general terms, but it helps in a work environment, I guess), because in a team of just over thirty teachers based in my building, seven of us are Poles, but I needn’t have worried, because despite the fact that we have very different stories and backgrounds, we really stick together and try to help each other out as much as we can. I’ve also noticed that us, Poles, are incredibly ambitious and passionate about things. For instance, one person is an amazing methodologist, another one is doing her PhD, one speaks fluent Spanish, another one is studying French; there’s a terrific musician who records albums and whose music I adore, and a professional and passionate cyclist. It’s quite reassuring, really, having seen examples of less noble behaviour of my compatriots earlier this year in the UK.
Things to look forward to? Getting paid obviously, for two months now, and a 10-day break from 1st to 10th December during which we will most likely be going on a road trip covering a large chunk of Oman.