Monday, September 13, 2010

EID Nizwa

After getting ourselves settled into our apartment and solving some of the problems the week was spent getting familiarised with the Nizwa Training Centre and the expectations of the job.

From the material on the Centre computer the job entails delivering a series of training modules to the local teachers of the region in three centres- Nizwa, Samail and Ibri over the course of the year. The modules are designed to equip the teachers with strategies to encourage a communicative approach to teaching English from entry level to year five as well as up-dating the Senior Teachers on the processes required to run their Departments. There is another programme to be delivered later in the year to improve the teachers’ own English language skills that I will need to get to grips with.

Once I have worked through the delivery of the modules with the other trainer, an Omani who has presented the modules before, I should have a better handle on what is expected of both me and the teachers involved.

I have been introduced to the local English Teaching Supervisors whose job it is is to visit the local schools on a fortnightly basis and check on the delivery of the curriculum and the running of the Departments. I gather that during the year I will have to work quite closely with them especially when delivering the Subject Administrator’s course.

My next task is to visit four of the local schools to get an idea about the way English is being taught, the student readiness and the way the local schools are run. So next week I will be picked up in the morning by one of the male English Supervisors and taken to the selected Nizwa schools, introduced to the staff and then observe a couple of lessons but, as it is the first week of the new school year it is highly probable that a great deal of what I see will be administration and classroom introductions rather than full on teaching. But then I could be pleasantly surprised.

Joy has been along to the Training Centre with me during the week where she has been helping out in the Library sorting out and re-shelving the English language books as they had been simply placed on the shelves as they had been returned or taken from storage boxes and as the texts will be of value to the teachers on their training programme as well as those who are looking to improve their qualifications getting them into a logical order is important. Joy soon discovered that what looked like a day’s job soon became a week long exercise as she found other texts for other subjects hiding amongst the English Language programme texts so it looks as though she will have an opportunity to be out of the apartment and be able to meet people for a while especially as we’ve been told of an English Training Library associated with my role in another room within the Centre that also needs resorting and organisation.

Apart from getting sorted at the Training Centre Joy & I have spent time settling in and getting orientated with Nizwa and its roading system. For the tourist the system is easy... you drive in from the highway, spin off the Kharaj round-about and park outside the souq amongst the trucks laden with either goats or cows or bales of hay, tour the souq and castle then drive out through the town centre past the Book Round-About onto the road to Bahla and Ibri heading to the North of the country but for us the routes can take us through the date wadis on a meandering tour of rural village Nizwa.

These roads are essentially one way with little passing bays built so cars can move in both directions given that one of the vehicles can squeeze into the bay and idle rather than having to back up along the track to find a passing point. Our route from the apartment to the Training Centre takes us along faluj (irrigation channels) and walled in date wadis, past a couple of tiny mosques and peoples’ house walls, the doors opening onto the track, a building site and several small shops selling cosmetics, coffee and odd grocery items until we open out into an area with several large entrances to what looks like an office area, a possible school and the Training Centre. This is a 10 minute journey in our 4x4 which is punctuated by having to back up, pull over or wait at intersections for trucks laden with sugar cane, grass or cardboard to get past as they head out to either the souq or processing plant.

On the Thursday before Eid Joy & I headed down to Muscat for the day to pick up our final suitcase and do a basic explore of the capital before getting into LuLu’s and stocking up on food items we can’t, as yet, find in Nizwa. We picked up several books, and grocery items along with some turps for Joy’s painting then, after beginning our familiarisation with Muscat’s road system, we headed back into the interior and Nizwa.

On Friday the In-Country Managers for the company came up to Nizwa to get an idea of the reality of accommodation in Nizwa and the maintenance of the complexes their staff live in. As a result we have been assured that the air con in the lounge will be repaired and other issues will be addressed rapidly and efficiently.

We now have all our gear and can settle ourselves into the rhythms of Nizwa. Once Joy has built up a supply of photos of scenes and activities around our apartment and the Fort Joy can begin painting so that she will have an activity other than filing books on the Library shelves.

We were planning to head down to Sohar on the Saturday to meet up with the other ex-pat Trainer-Adviser on the team when we got a call from Hamed, one of the staff at the Training Centre, inviting us to his family home in Adam to celebrate Eid with them. A rapid readjustment of our planning and we were set to head into the desert.
Joy with her hostesses and children.
Being hennaed and the final product

Adam is some 60 kms from Nizwa along one of the straightest roads I’ve driven on outside of Australia. The distance between settlements grew longer and longer without any indication we were getting closer to the settlement which lead us to believe we were heading into the big empty and that we should have turned off the road some distance back. Fortunately Hamed texted and assured us we were heading in the right direction so we pressed on and 15 minutes later arrived at the turn off for Adam where we were met and guided into the maze of winding lanes that made up the village and to Hamed’s home.
Saif & Hamed outside the ruins of the family home. The family last lived in the mud-brick home in the mid 1970s.
There we were introduced to his 90 year old father and a bewildering succession of family members. As the old man had 19 children, 8 sons and 11 daughters, there were a large number of nieces and nephews of all ages drifting past us throughout the day.

Once we had been offered food and drink and completed the initial introductions Joy was taken off to be hosted by the women while I was escorted to the neighbour’s majalis to meet others in the community. Joy was given the full treatment with her hands and arms being hennaed in a series of intricate decorations before being driven around the village to see the historic sights of the township.
In Nasser's majalis. The place of honour among the oldest men present.
For me the neighbour’s majalis was like being back on a marae at home. All the men there lined up to welcome us and to wish us Eid Murbarak as we shook hands and hongi’ed our way to our nominated seats along the majalis wall. I was seated between some of the oldest men in the room. My immediate neighbour having a long white beard and a face that looked as though he’d experienced so much sun and wind that his skin was more leather than anything else. He spoke no English but made sure that I knew I was welcome with constant smiling and offering of succulent morsels of meat from the communal pot.
My other neighbour turned out to be the Walid of the town. The Walid is a government appointed official who acts as a combination Mayor and community trouble-shooter who hears and resolves local disputes and problems on behalf of the government. He had also a prominent business presence in Nizwa.
Nasser, the local MP, & me outside Nasser's majalis.
Our host, Nasser, was the local Member of Parliament so I was given a rapid introduction into Omani governance and the roles of the MPs in the country. Being able to make comparisons to the political system in New Zealand made for an interesting conversation over the constant flow of food, coffee and sweet milky tea.

Once my hosts had decided we’d stayed long enough I was taken on a tour of Adam.

Adam, I was told, had not known a motor vehicle on its streets until the mid 1970s. Until then the community was dependent on camels and donkeys for transport. Saif, Hamed’s elder brother, said that, as a young man, he’d ridden by camel for 21 days to travel 200 kms to another, larger township and marveled that, now such a journey would take about 2 hours!!
The family home of the Sultan's Grandfather under restoration
Joy outside the small mosque being built by two competing families in Adam
Painted walls in Sultan's grandfather's house

The centre of the township was a fort, court, prison, mosque, souq, madrassa and the restored family home of the Sultan’s Grand-father all built around the complex of falaj or irrigation channels that fed the date palms, sugar cane and banana plantations that sustained the village. I was shown the sundial system that the villagers had used to regulate the flows of water to their individual plantations up until it had been replaced by the mechanical clock.
Sundial system for regulating falaj flow
With our tour complete we headed back to the family majalis for lunch and conversation.

On Sunday Joy and I went for a drive to Bahla to check out the fort and city walls that circled the town renowned for its pottery. We’d stuck a New Zealand sticker on the bumper of the 4x4 as an indentifier both as a vehicle marker and of ourselves and were wondering how long it would take before we met other Kiwis driving around the interior of Oman when the answer came.... almost immediately.

We pulled into the car park in front of the Bahla fort where four other Europeans, the men wearing All Black T shirts, were standing contemplating the obviously closed site who immediately greeted us with “Kia Ora” and big grins and a palpable demonstration that the six degrees of separation scenario doesn’t work when it comes to Kiwis as the party were Angela Sellwood, with whom I’d worked at Rotorua Girls High, and other Cognition consultants from Al Ain.

It remains to be seen who else we meet as a result of the New Zealand sticker.

1 comment:

Lynley said...

REally enjoyed this Alan you are getting a wonderful experience to build on what you did in Qatar. They will all love you both