“Elka” or New Year for the little ones

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In Russia New Year’s celebrations are huge. So huge that people receive an official week or even longer- as paid leave. The entire country goes into a carnival -like celebration starting from the 27th December and slowly recovers later. There are home cooked meals, fireworks, natural pine tress, happy children and Santa or as Russians call him  “Ded Moroz” (literally translated this means Grandpa Frost”). New Year for Russians is now what Christmas has become for the rest of the world (in the light commercial, over-indulgence sense of the festivity). ]

It would be a major understatement to say that New Year’s is celebrated in Oman “lightly”. The children especially miss out on hanging up paper snowflakes, dressing up, joining celebrations and meeting Ded Moroz. Over the last few years the Russian community in Muscat has taken to organizing a special celebration for the children, a kind of show, where all the characters Russian kids know and love come to live in a magical performance. This is organized entirely on volunteer basis, there aren’t even sponsors or professional actors. The last 5 or so shows were the brain child of my mother, she put time and efforts into getting little kids and their parents involved in this festival of fun. Costumes are put together from scratch, the plays are “googled” and edited, lines are learned and the performance comes together on the grounds of the Russian Consulate of Oman just a week before New Years. I’ve attended the last two shows (and participated) and the number of people who how up every year is truly staggering. The children sit patiently, mouths open wide in awe as Santa emerges followed loyally by his army of fictional characters. Usually the kiddies get to perform, sign a song or recipe a poem and in exchange they receive a present from Santa. It’s always so much fun.

It’s happening again this year! If you are Russian or Russian speaking you are welcome to pass by the Russian Embassy (located near The Hyatt) this Friday, 23rd December at 11am sharp. If you have kids who wish to see the performance please bring a present with you to put into Santa’s “bag of gifts” and label the present with the child’s name. There is absolutely no entrance fee or age restrictions!

Here are some photos from last year’s show! (Guess where I am?)

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Ramadan and me.

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Last year I posted a modest explanation of how life changes around here in the holy month of Ramadan, please read it here. I thought it would be a good idea to shine some light on the traditional and cultural aspect of this month- especially for those reading this back home! This year is an altogether different story because I am pregnant, hormonal and hungry all the freaking time. So my routine has not really been effected by the fact that Muscat has succumbed to the sleepy, slow, quite days of fasting.
Luckily no one in my office fasts (well except one guy who is on his annual leave now) so I have not locked up my snack drawer that is filled with Oreos, almonds, waffles and crackers. I munch away the entire day. We haven’t even moved the water cooler from the room because my Omani colleague said it does not phase him- even when he is fasting. So, we took his word for it.
I am however cautious not to eat or drink anything whilst I am outside (which actually isn’t that often these days). This has proven to be difficult because my pregnant brain is always exploding with one stupid idea or the other, such as “Why don’t you eat a tomatoe while driving from home to work?”.
And as far as silly situations go, my oven ran out of gas while baking a few pizzas at home and had to resort to asking one of my neighbors if I could perhaps use his oven to finish dinner? Now if this happened in the afternoon I don’t think my fasting/Egyptian neighbor would appreciate the smell of two gigantic pizzas bubbling away in his oven…and it would also be virtually impossible to get the gas service to deliver during the day in Ramadan.
Just this Friday me and Is This Serious were getting some much needed shopping therapy in City Center Seeb when we realized that we are frightfully thirsty. I also needed sugar. A chocolate of some kind. We ranted a little in one of the stores and an expat woman overheard us and offered her sympathy.  Except we couldn’t eat it anywhere! As a last resort we bought the goods and headed….to the bathroom. I sat on one of the sinks devouring my Bounty and gulping down my Ice Tea. Seriously, it was sad. I felt a little sorry for my pregnant self. That should teach me stay home till 6pm from now on!
On a more pleasant note I was thrilled to find out that Oman Dive Center still serves beverages and food (not sure about alcohol!?). Alex decided to try out diving this weekend and I was a little worried about him getting a heat stroke or collapsing from dehydration- you know, because there is no food anywhere!!!! It turned out to be fine.
Oh and after we were done with the shopping I sat in my car and ate a freshly baked baguette with some cheese…luckily no one was around. Either way that sandwich was absolutely worth going to jail for.

Oh! The similaries

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Day 61/Project 365. Disclaimer-I am not stalking…this is research!
                                  Oman                              Uzbekistan



Population                   2,845,000                      27,606,007
Area                           309,550 km                      447,400 km                  
Religion                       Muslim                             Muslim
Language                  Arabic, English             Uzbek, Russian

The similarities may not just jump at you in the most obvious way possible, but I would like to argue that Oman and Uzbekistan are more alike than different. I am not going to compare histories, battles, rulers or statistics (who am I kidding?). I am simply going to say that the local people of both countries are made of the same mould. Take for example the house below:
This is a view from outside my sitting room window. Every morning as I am having my coffee, I hear their rattling engines and noisy footsteps. An Omani family of about 10-15 people lives there, most of them are children. Small, active, noisy children  Every Friday a bus (and I am not exaggerating) drives them off to visit relatives, or brings their extended family to their doorsteps. There is a grandfather who sits on the steps every afternoon with his cane an yells at the youngsters to be cautious with their football. There are women who scatter around the grounds with bundles of laundry, carpets and containers frequently leaving them outside to wash or to dry. There are proud mothers with their toddlers who come out every morning before the weather gets too hot, and rest the in the comforting shade gossiping away. During festivities the house is lit with lights, alive with crowds of men and filled with delicious aromas that sip into the street.
The given scenario is a déjà vous of a typical day in the life of an Uzbek family that lives in a big house with their extended family. It is also common for children to continue living with parents after they are married, which often results in 3-4 families living together. Women are also always busy with housework; they are friendly and closely knitted. Whole neighborhoods known as “mahallas” are supportive of one another both in festivities and in mourning. The cultures overlap not only due to a shared religion, but because of a general kindness that links these nations. I have time and time again heard that Oman has the most hospitable locals; funny how every expat would say the same thing about Uzbekistan…

Project 365. Day 32-37

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Day 23. A quick visit to Nizwa, the largest in the interior province, was the capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th centuries. Today it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions with its historical buildings and imposing fort built in the mid 17th century. Now that I am done copy pasting from Google, I can tell you what Nizwa is really like. Tucked away, about 250 km from Muscat, it a an immediate town center, full of life, busy shop keepers, curious tourists and extravagant Omani displays. After driving for two hours, on a road that seems to melt under the tires (did I mention is 48 degrees here in June?) you find yourself amidst Toyota Showrooms, Happy Bunny food outlets and hundreds of little stores. The most famous attraction is the fort- which has the magical ability to always be closed for lunch when I visit (I’ve been to Nizwa 4 times, only managed to get into the fort once- again, because Cynthia was with me!). It breathes history. The thick yellow, worn-out walls are enticing and inviting. The 50 meter deep (torture holes) wells are frightening. It’s a must see 🙂 and since you took 2 hours to drive there you might as well pop buy the silver souq, check out antiques, silver wear, handmade crafts, traditional dresses and other souvenirs. Be sure to stop by the fish and veggies market, where Tashkent-style Lorries are unloading tons of strawberries, melons, kiwi fruit and fresh veggies. These are a lot cheaper than in Muscat, negotiations are also accepted and the quality is undeniable. Wouldn’t I make an awsome tour guide?
Two thumbs up for Nizwa- I am in love with how quite, modest and intriguing you are.

Picture of the day. An old mud house close to the Nizwa Fort.

The longest 45 mins…

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My husband is not the most religious man in the word. He does not pray (at least to God), neither does he put the fear of God into himself or other people. He does however wear the cross, since the day we wed. He treasures it as he does his wedding ring, or his bikes. This is his choice. The church wedding was a necessity, the reasonable and the right thing to do. Having not stepped into church for over 10 years, he was right to be nerveous about it. All the wishfull people out there wailed about how long the ceremony is, how tired you get, how dizzy you get and how it never seems to end…. and they were so right.

I do not remember all the details, there was family, and wine, and candles, and icons and wedding bands and vows…doesn’t sound too bad does it? What has ruined the experience however is that another couple was getting blessed at the same time, sucking the uniqueness right out of the experience. Alex was a nerveous wreck, not knowing when to kiss the icon or when to say “I promise, I do, I will” and I was doing my best not to break out into giggles while hearing Cynthia fiddle around behind me. Cynthia and the best man had a very special task. They had to hold crowns ABOVE our heads. We are taller. And I am wearing heels. So the new measure of friendship is the amount of time you can hold a heavy crown on an outstreched arm, 50 cms above your head.

There is also a point in the ceremony, where the couple together with the crowns above their heads are supposed to follow the priest in circles around a basin. I didnt know that. Neither did Cynthia. But at least I speak Russian. She had to supress her exclamations of surprise, untangle my veil from under her shoes and try to keep the crown above my head as I walked ahead. She managed to contain herself througout the experience, but I heard plenty about it the momment we stepped out of the holy house of God…Casualties aside, the ceremony was breath taking, my then 5 year old brother, behaved unbelievebly well, aside from the casual tagging and nagging for me to talk to him. The icons were blessed and instructions were given to keep them nearby wherever we may go.

You’ve already won me over…

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…in spite of me
Dont be alarmed if I fall head over feet
Dont be surprised if I love you for all that you are
I couldnt help itIts all your fault”

(Alanis Morisette, Head Over Feet, lyrics)

When I heard the honking of car horns around 10 a.m, I knew that he was close. The bikers were coming to take me away from my grand mothers house-but it was not going to be as easy as they thought. My girls devised a cunning and particularly cruel maze of questions and dares that would have to be fulfilled to their satisfaction. They came up with such witty riddles and never done before tricks, in about 24 hours! They did such an amazing job. I still consider this to be the best part of the day. It all started as they greeted the bikers about 20 meters from the door…

They stood holding hands as 3 bikes roared towards them. Alex was riding together with the best man and my bouquette. The other bikers, were close friends of ours. They got off their bikes when they reached the girls and the first challenge was to cut the ribbon behind them to let them pass. The girls presented them with a tray which had 3 types of scissors on them. They had to pay to buy a pair. The next trick was to step on the footsteps laid out on the ground, and pick up the paper footstep and read the dare on it. These ranged from “dance the little ducklings dance”, “name 4 britney spears songs” to “scream as loudly as you can”. At this point, Alex screamed “Olga, I love you more than anything in the world”. I know. Anything. Thing. Ok. I told myself-anything-means bike. He loves me more that his bike. I can live with that. Other memorable moments included when he had to dress a baby doll in just 20 seconds, he had managed to put one of the legs into the pants, and then as he had 3 seconds left, he stuffed the doll upside down, inside his jacket. Which kind of works, because at least the poor thing was warm! At the door of the building, another unusuall challenge require bows and arrows. He had to shoot at the reason he married me, he shot three times, and mostly got “The party has ordered me”. Inside the hall, he had to guess the outline of my hand trace, and the color of my lipstick. He guessed neither 🙂 Alex them bravely drank 1 ltr of very questionable water to pick out the key to the house. He guessed the key from his first try! The last task included finding the room in which the bride was awaiting him. Alex had a choice of 4 rooms, my room, my grandmothers room, the bathroom and the toilet. I ofcourse hid in my grandmothers room. Biker people kept yelling “pick the room with the baloons!!!” but ofcourse I wasnt there. Instead there was my grandma with a white scarf over her head, yelling “You have found your bride!!!” it was hilarous! Alex them unsuccessfully peaked into the bathroom and the toilet, found me in neither and went for my grandma’s room. I was standing there, trembling, listening closely to the commotion outside. And as the handle of the door turned, my heart stopped beating. He walked in,tall and handsome and his eyes opened wide in amazement. He hugged and kissed for the longest time-unable to believe our luck…

On the other side of town the groom was…

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…hitting he snooze button until screams of panic reached from the adjoined room. “Wake up, you can’t sleep through your own wedding” shriked an emotional Liya,who’s boyfriend is Alex’s best friend. She woke them both up around 8:00 am,prepared coffee ad some breakfast to calm the nerves. Alex got dressed and soon his mom reached our aparment. After a few minutes of “Awws” and “Aaahh” she put herself together and began helping with the preparations. Soon after the photgrapher arrived, and began taking pictures of Alex getting ready for the big day. Followed by Kirill and Nadya, fellow biker mates-who all crowded in our tiny apartment.

I was sure to leave good guidelines for Liya, foreseeing the chaotic preparations so early in the morning. There was an A4 paper stuck to the fridge which contained instructions similar to the following:

“Don’t forget the bowtie and the rings. The rings are in a box on top of the TV, the TV is in the sitting room”

The list had a few more vital bullets to help locate the bridal bouquet,the golden cross, the ribbons and balloons and emergency contacts. Liya later told me, that if it wasnt for the list, Alex would have probably forgotten all about the bouquet and the rings, thats how nerveous he was.

You are probably wonderig, and where is the best man during all these events? Oh, he was home-sleeping 🙂 he did eventually wake up and flew to our place at the speed of light (or a honda bike…) to help get ready. The most important task, before they were to pick me up, was to tie ribbons and balloons around the bikes on which they would ride to my house. Yes. Bikes. My husband rode a bike to our wedding. In his suite. With my bouquet. Both survived.

Having decorated both the groom and the bikes, the party was on their way to pick up the bride. The camera man traveled alongside the bikes in a rented car, and shot the whole 15 minute journey into an amazing video soundtracked by System of a Down’s “Arials”…

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