Saturday, October 2, 2010

September Fades into October in Nizwa

September becomes October

The past few weeks have been devoted to getting established with the job of Teacher-Trainer / Adviser. The first week was one of gaining a sketchy insight into the position without being aware of the level I should be pitching any training and advice at.
While the school text books and Teachers’ manuals indicated the language competence expected of the students the training modules did not prepare me for where the teachers were.

The Eid break meant that my initial local colleague left for a year’s training in England so, in the weeks following the break I was on my own until the first presentation scheduled for the last week of the month.

However, the MoE consultant asked me to drive up to Ibra on Monday to meet the trainers there and observe them presenting a workshop introducing the Integrated Curriculum courses that are being phased into local schools. There are three schools involved in the immediate Nizwa area and a similar number in the Ibra area that I will have to monitor and present workshops to.

The drive to Ibra took Joy and me three hours as I took the long route which took me from Nizwa to BidBid then across country, along a road the was, apart from the desert scenery, as twisty as the Paraparas. As the person who’d told me the route had described the road as climbing up an escarpment I had pictured a more torturous route that would have tested my driving I was prepared to take a lot longer getting to Ibra. As it was I got caught behind a series of heavy trucks crawling through the blind corners which tended to slow me down any way.

The journey home was, however and much to Joy’s relief, a lot faster as the local trainers gave me directions to a shorter, more direct route across the tops that only took an hour and a half!! This route took us through scattered villages, past wandering herds of goats grazing the bonsai like scrub that dotted the wadis and plain, past occasional pairs of camels stalking across the gravel and up and down wadi valleys until we reached intersection that looped us onto the highway and back to Nizwa. As I will be driving this route every Monday for this semester I’m sure I’ll become even more familiar with the sights and sounds of the interior of Oman.

The Ibra training session gave me a good insight into where I will need to pitch my presentations and additional workshops once I launch into my own programmes here at the Training Centre. I will, also, have, at least for a couple of months, a colleague working with me from the beginning of October when the other Omani trainer stationed in Nizwa returns from her year of training in the UK.

The first week, post Eid, was an opportunity for me to translate the training modules into a series of units that I would be more comfortable with as well as beginning to plan out a series of workshops to complement the training modules at Ibra. It was also a chance for Joy to finish off re-shelving the English language texts in the Library... a job that took her five days as they had been placed on the shelves in a totally random mass.

Joy and I met a fellow expat in one of the “super-markets” over Eid. We were checking out where we could buy reasonable meat and vegetables other than resorting to the butcheries in the souq so struck up a conversation with her. It turned out that she was an American who had been living and working in Nizwa for the past nine years. She has been teaching at one of the schools that form part of the University of Nizwa and, obviously, enjoys working in Oman. She invited us around to her apartment on the Bahla Road side of the Wadi where we spent a very pleasant afternoon swapping travel stories and learning more about life in Nizwa.

We were also invited to lunch and a chance to view a new home that one of the staff had just moved into and, the next day, to another lunch to celebrate one of the staff’s son being admitted to university to study medicine. On both occasions the hosts were most concerned that I was, apparently, not eating enough even though, by the end of the meal, I felt as though I had eaten enough to last me for two meals. I think having to eat with one’s hand makes it look as though I’m a slow eater compared to those for whom such dining is second nature!!

We have also taken to going for a walk every night after tea as the temperature has dropped to a more pleasant level than the regular high 30s we have been getting during the day. As a result we see more of the rhythms of village life than we have seen if we had ended up in Muscat. Most days the evening air is redolent with smoke from burning grass and weeds and occasional date palm that some one has decided has passed its productive period. The ash from these fires is then scoured into the soil prior to the planting of new palms and whatever crops the farmer chooses to plant.

The date are being harvested throughout the area which means that we often see little groups of men and boys knocking the dates off the fronds thrown down from the palm by the tree-climber who has rappelled his way up the trunk using a woven rope harness that he heaves and leans himself against as he swarms up into the spear tipped fronds to hacksaw the bunches of dates from the tree.

The dates are then washed then spread out on the plastic sheeting to dry in the sun for one or two days when they are ready to pack down into buckets for storage over the winter.

As well as the date harvest there is the constant cutting and pulling , by hand, of young maize plants, alf-alfa and grass by the local farmers for sale at the souq each day. There is always a huddle of men, crouching in the shade, under the bridge selling piles of grass and maize leaves to those who need the feed for their goats or calves further up the wadi. The fields around our compound are a mix of sugar cane, date palms and grasses which are irrigated from the maze of falag that weave around the roadsides, through peoples’ compounds and across the fields.
The falag also become places to bathe and to wash clothes. Several times on our walks we have come across men crouched down in the falag busy soaping themselves off while around the corner, huddled in the shade, a woman is scrubbing clothes.

If we are walking when the call for evening prayer echoes across the wadi we will often pass groups of men hurrying to one of the many small mosques scattered through the palms. Some evenings we get followed by giggling clumps of small children who clamour to be noticed and who will, full of bravado, sometimes run up to us to shake hands and ask “Hello, How are you?” and run away back behind a wall until we have turned a corner and disappeared from view. In recent evenings we have come across groups of women chattering outside their homes who Joy always greets with a cheery “Salam Alaykum” as we wander past.

It all makes for an different sort of evening than we had in Doha where we’d end up either in the Souq Waqif or the air conditioned comfort of the shopping mall.

Last weekend we drove through the mountains and down to Sohar to meet up with one of the other ex-pat Teacher Trainer/ Advisers who is stationed there. The three hour drive took us up to Ibri and then across the tops to Yanqul and down, through the mountains, to the coast. A good test of my driving especially as the road was a narrow two lane with a 100kph speed limit... even my own experience driving under NZ conditions on a two lane motorway did not equip me for being passed at 120kph with oncoming traffic and no real room to move unless one went off road into the gravel of the desert at speed.
We had a very pleasant weekend there exploring the historical features of the town. Well, we were able to look at the outside of the Fort and associated museum for, like many of the forts in Qatar, it was closed for renovation.

On our return trip we were stopped at a heavily armed police & army checkpoint in the middle of the desert and asked to show our driver’s licences then waved on up the mountain towards Ibri. We hit the town of Yanqul just after the noon call for prayer which was interesting as we drove alongside a queue of cars that ran for a good two kilometres from the large mosque on the outskirts of town back into the township as the men all headed back to their homes.

We got back to Nizwa late afternoon to find that someone had done a clean up of the compound and had disposed of the rubbish simply by burning it so there were two or three piles of fire scattered around the place along with several other fires along the street in front of the compound.

This week I’m joined by Khalsa, the second Omani trainer at the Training Centre so I might be able to some of the paperwork translated, completed and sent to the right persons.

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