From My Back Porch: Oman vs. the U.S.

From My Back Porch: Oman vs. the U.S.

Written by Stephanie Siam

As summer winds down, and my daughter and I start planning for our return trip across the sea to our home-away-from-home – Oman – I find myself caught in nostalgic daydreams about what I’ll miss when I leave the United States for another year.

Then I’m interrupted by the sound of two kids screaming – the younger has pulled the older one’s hair, and she’s traumatized greatly – and dogs barking (yes, my family has two of them. . .but it’s not my house, so there’s nothing I can do about it), and I run into the living room, narrowly missing what could have been a painful outcome as I jump over the pile of toys strewn around the floor.

I catch my breath, calm the older one (mine) and remind the younger one that ‘we don’t pull hair’. In response, he laughs and runs away. The older one still sniffles.

Keep Calm and Live in Oman
The national tag line of my host country

This isn’t a situation we encounter back ‘home’ in our three-person household. Nobody is pulling hair, and there are no animals running around. Even the toys have their own space, and they’re corralled there most of the time thanks to two OCD parents and a spare room off the family area.

The fleeting thought runs through my mind, “… only a couple more weeks … then everything will be in its place …”

Then I’m daydreaming about hanging all the clothes up where they belong – in our closets – and not having to go through piles of them due to limited space in an already overflowing closet.

And I smile at the thought of rounding up all the toys and returning them to their room, leaving the living area clean and clutter-free. But a quick glimpse out the kitchen window reminds me of what we’re leaving behind, again, when we board the plane to the East.

The truth is, Oman is an awesome place to live. It’s truly an ideal location for me and my family – for now.

It’s an Islamic country, but everyone is free to be themselves and worship according to their own beliefs. There are lots of things to do, from cultural festivals and performances at the opera house to hiking and swimming in the wadi (a wadi is a valley between two mountains; they are usually very lush, full of greenery, and have a river flowing through them), from camel-riding in the desert to shopping and movies and more.

The scenery is amazing, with views of both the mountains and the sea from my neighborhood. And I can’t forget to mention the natives. As a whole, Omanis are quite possibly the most welcoming, humble, and genuine humans on this planet – no embellishing!

But it never fails, whether I’m here (in the USA) or there (in Oman), I find myself comparing my two ways of life. Of course, whenever I’m one place, the other life seems to float away out of reality. However, once the plane lands (hither or thither), I’m brought back to the reality of my ‘current’ home and all it has in store.

So, I’d like to share just a few parts of my life I always find myself comparing when I’m in the opposite location:


In the left corner, we have. . .
graphic by Nicole Elmasry

1. Food Shopping

Oman has virtually every kind of shopping store you may desire. There are open-air fruit and vegetable markets (I’ve never been to one, but my daughter said they smell “horrible”), corner convenience stores (called bakala), mid-size grocery stores and HUGE hypermarkets (think Wal-Mart or Target).

Some of the grocery stores are import-focused. While imports are usually ridiculously expensive (cereals, especially), you can sometimes get a good bargain on items that remind you of home. Sometimes, though, you just get a craving … and you either do without, or you turn into some kind of Betty Crocker-fiend trying to reinvent the recipe.

Despite having a plentiful selection of foods available to us in Muscat, it never ceases to amaze me at how overwhelmed I am by the sheer volume of choices that can be found in American supermarkets. Walking into (insert any grocery store or superstore name here) usually leaves me slack-jawed at what is available for reckless consumption.

Anything the heart could desire – or fathom – can usually be found. And I always thought the food in the US was expensive, but it turns out, there are plenty of cheap choices on every shelf. Now, they may not be healthy, but that’s another issue altogether.

I always look forward to going shopping with my mom upon return to the States. Sure, I grab a few ‘old’ faves to revisit memories, but I generally just love to walk around and look at the possibilities.

2. Outdoor Play Area

The view from my kitchen window in our apartment in Oman is the (kitchen? bathroom?) window of our neighbor in the adjacent building. From our living room window, I can see the top of the gardener’s hut in the neighbor’s back yard. The courtyard next to our building is cobblestone and cement. There is a rickety, rusty old swing set and slide that sits in the corner of the walled-in area.

We don’t allow our daughter to go downstairs alone. It’s not that we think she’s in danger of being taken, but I just think she’s in danger of being hurt. Aside from the non-friendly kid area, the front of the building is overrun with cars – both parked and driving up and down the street.

I shiver at the thought of her running out into the street. So, unless we’re with her, she stays inside. We do take her to the park a couple of times a week, if the weather is nice.

From the window in my parents’ kitchen in the US, I can see the green backyard surrounded by the privacy fence. The grass is usually mowed because it seems to be my father’s favorite pastime (along with washing cars … ????), and there is enough seclusion that I can even sit out there in ‘comfortable’ clothing without being seen.

Out the front door is the front yard, also green and frequently mowed, a couple of rockers on the porch and the smooth asphalt of the interior street of the subdivision. There aren’t many cars that drive up and down the street, and when they do, it’s slowly.

Though I don’t let her play in the front yard alone (due to fear of her being taken … thanks crazy people!), she can go out in the backyard anytime she wants. And she does. And I can go with her – or I don’t have to. And it’s something I miss when we’re in Oman.

3. Just Chillin’

It is no joke when I say Oman is a laid back place. Everything in its own time. Nobody’s in a rush. Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? Or, as some Muslims tend to say, “Insha’Allah…….” (in this case, meaning ‘eventually’ instead of ‘if God wills’). It’s nice to finish work and go home, sit with my family and relax.

Even my work is generally non-stressful. I teach 4 hours per day, and most students are respectful and kind. It’s a great place to live and work, as I’ve said before.

Maybe because I’m only here in the US for a short time, or maybe because my family isn’t a bunch of introverts like I am, but from the moment we hit the ground in Tennessee, I feel like I’m always on the run. With shopping, running errands, and most recently a load a doctor appointments, and don’t forget two kids (daughter and nephew) and the regular game of feed, clean and nurture that comes with being a mom, I feel like we never, ever stop.

By the time I get to sit down and just take a deep breath, it’s almost time to put everybody to bed (hence, why I’m writing this at … 3 AM?!?!) The only time I’d be up this late in Oman is if I was watching a reallllllly good movie or if I had insomnia. But here, this is my chill-out and re-energize time that I need as an introvert.

So, looking at just these three aspects of life, I ask myself: where do I prefer to live?

The answer: both.

I love that my daughter is getting the opportunity to learn about different cultures by living in other countries. And I love that when we’re in the States, she’s acclimated to my family’s lifestyle, too.

Sure, there are positives and negatives about both places. I wish we had a green area nearer to our apartment that was safe for her to play outside. I also wish our time in the States could be less rushed and more relaxed. But for now, we’re making it work. Alhumdulillah.

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