CHRIS ALLEN: Oman Journal — Back In Oman

I feel at home. I’m 6,000 miles or more from my house, the town I live in, the university where I teach, and yet I feel at home.

I’m in Oman, a country my wife, Elaine, and I came to love when we were here in 2011-2012 while I taught at Sultan Qaboos University on a Fulbright Award. I loved the landscape, the mountains, the beach, the rugged shoreline. I loved the students and my colleagues at SQU. I loved the food enough to fuel a 20-pound weight gain (since lost again). I loved the exotic aromas of frankincense, myrrh and oud.

And I loved the people.

There are dozens of clichés about home. Home is where the heart is. Home is where you hang your hat. Home sweet home. Some even contradict: There’s no place like home/You can’t go home again.

This feels like home, but in the three years I’ve been gone, Oman, or at least Muscat, the capital, has changed. Construction cranes are everywhere, and the building boom that was under way when we left in June 2012 has grown. Office and apartment buildings are spouting all over the sprawling city, and new highways are winding their ways through mountains and across wadis.

I’m back to try to give 14 students of mine a small exposure to this small but important country. So far, they’ve learned that formal relationships with Oman go back to the 1830s and that Oman was the first Middle East country to recognize the U.S. Oman was the link to Iran in getting three young hikers taken hostage there released. Oman nursed along negotiations between the G5+1 and Iran to reach the nuclear arms deal. Oman has flown more then 3,000 refugees out of Yemen for medical treatment.

That’s just the formal part of the program. They’ve explored some of the museums and experienced the increasing traffic problems. They’ve eaten shuwa and pizza, though not at the same meal. And they have experienced the most oppressive heat they’ve felt in their lives. Today, it was 106 with a 61-degree dew point. Standing in the shade was unbearable. As my former colleague Obaid al Shaqsi told one of my students tonight, “It’s kind of like a natural sauna.” Except you can choose to walk out of the sauna.

People work in this every day, but the worst are the expats who do construction and other outdoor work. We drove past a road crew laying asphalt in those conditions. There was no relief.

We are here nine more days, and with a packed itinerary that takes us to places outside of Muscat, along the coast and into the mountains, I hope they find out more about Omani hospitality and the unique culture that makes the country what it is.

To me, it’s my second home.

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