Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December Homesickness and the Middle Eastern Me

I don't get homesick very often, but in December I always do. I left Canada not because I did not love the life there, but because the people, my people, sorely dissapointed me from the moment I put on a headscarf to announce to the world that I was proudly, but humbly, a Muslim woman. But December was different. You could call it the "Christmas spirit" I guess, as made-up a holiday as ever there was, but the 'good tidings' and 'good cheer' and 'good will to all men' part of that season people back home seem to practice in December, and that part of it is very real.
Why on earth should my Omani husband want to visit Canada in December, when he doesn't like the cold any more than I do?
Because of the spirit of December.
For some reason people hope again, are kinder, and after the bleak months of October and November, the world seems more full of light in its darkness, and more beautiful. Maybe because we decorate it and string up our lights, and even sing? I don't know. But that part is lovely. That part I miss.
This morning there, tonight here, my sister says they woke up to snow. I am so jealous.
I love snow. I love the look of it falling, I love the sight of it dusting the roof tops, I love it on trees, I love the taste of the air before it snows, I love sledding, I love snow ball fights, I love skiing, and skating. Snow gives everything a short second chance to be clean again, to be covered and pure. At least in my mind;).
I miss my old job of decorating store windows, planning Christmas office parties, decorating Christmas trees, and doing personal shopping for gentlemen who have no idea how to shop for their wives. Trust me, it was awesome, it was like James Bond-in-high-heels+Santa Claus meets temp. job at Martha Stewart. I even miss handwriting the invitations and thank you cards, which I rather hated at the time.
I miss Christmas decorating in general. I know as a Muslim, why it is shirk, and why I don't do it now, but that doesn't mean I don't treasure vintage family ornaments, and how fun and pretty it all was.
I miss the parties. Work, friends, clubs, school, you name it. I liked to dress up and be all crazy with girls while we tangled ourselves in tinsel and garlands and lights, and glued bows into each other's hair. I loved the romance of donning a ballgown and dancing, or going to the theatre or ballet. Or even a performance of the choir, singing carols. Now I could probably still do this in Oman, but everything always involved cocktails or wine as well, so now, I can't.
Also the food. Hot chocolate with peppermint, roasted chesnuts, cheese platters...and gingerbread is my favourite cookie. I am also rather fond of Turkey...and Turkey leftovers.
I like the family traditions as well. As a French family we got to open presents Christmas eve not the morning, but only some, because not every one was French. That always meant new pajamas and slippers. And the morning meant stockings or slippers filled to the brim with chocolates, peppermint, mandarin oranges, and cashews, along with make-up usually for me, and in the days before internet was used for music, CDs.

I honestly liked buying everyone presents. It wasn't too terribly commercial and if you couldn't afford you made or just handed out cards and candy.  The month before Christmas there were always a lot of craft markets to buy decorations from which made great affordable gifts. At these places there were boxes to donate toys and winter clothes for kids whose parents couldn't afford.

Also, we would go for a walk around the family property, in the woods, and I loved this best. One time we went horse back riding there, instead of walking, because of the snow. I think I was five but I still remember the snow on the evergreens and cedars perfectly.

Then we'd come in by the fire, open that years' family wine (Uncle J's was always the worst bottle that had gone bad on purpose), and talk until supper. Supper was served, and we'd open the Christmas crackers, and usually I would read because someone would buy me a decent book, but sometimes my Aunts and I would dance until dessert. My Auntie G is the coolest.

I have one Aunt, who liked to go to different Churches. So we'd see the live nativity scene at one Church, and attend Catholic mass at another. I liked singing hymns in Church, and the candles in a Catholic service. My father dislsikes Churches rather a lot, and my mother was always pressing me to be more Christian, so going with my rather spiritual Aunt on Christmas eve was memorable.

My father would force us to volunteer at the food charity for making hampers, and I had an Aunt who ran the charity Christmas dinner, so I usually had to help out with decorations or children's games while other people in the family who can actually cook served in the kitchen. Sometimes she'd make us freeze in the recruiting section, so we'd be on the street, trying to convince anyone, homeless and those more fortunate as well, to come down to eat and to take away gifts. My father also liked to visit the Ukranian Cultural center, because he loves their Christmas traditions.

I miss my family and my city, its food, things to see and do, and that sort of spirit, more than any time of year, in December, as an expat convert-Muslim woman living in the GCC. Every year I tell myself it will be less, but every year the missing is the same.
For any long time expats in Oman, is there a certain time of year that makes you homesick? And if so, what do you do about it? Because I am at a loss, truly.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

SHOPPING: Used Books in Muscat from Dar al Atta'a

One of the things I most often complain about regarding life in Oman is the poor selection at book stores. However, I came away with quite a score this last weekend at Dar Al Atta'as Charity "Let's Read" bookshop on the top floor in the Al Qurum Complex (we used to call it CCC). They were having a sale. All paperbacks were 500 baizas and the hardcovers were 1 rial each. I also got some magazines.
Just because they were lovely hardcovers, I got a House and Garden "Bedrooms and Bathrooms" coffee table book, a "Basic Guide to the Prado" art museum with a ton of colour plates and some extensive academic commentary to make one feel confused and dizzy while reading, and a book on oriental carpets "Rugs to Riches" because you never know, I could totally take up collecting carpets now couldn't I? My stepfather, I remember loved collecting two things in the GCC, one was rifles, the other was rugs. Of course, both collections went up for auction years ago, but I could carry-on the tradition right? Highly unlikely, but you never know.
I am also trying to build back up my classic lit. collection, but this being Oman, I find I have to make due with paperbacks unless I want to order online or carry-over my collection in lots every few years in carry-on:
We also will start doing up the yard on the new house so I got some gardening books. On dry gardens, container gardening, and small yards/gardens. As I am a worse gardener than I am a cook, who knows if reading can help me, but my Omani husband was a farm boy;) so maybe he'll find them interesting?
My kids also got books. Every night before bed I read them a story in English. They love to read as a result, because it means they get to stay up a little bit later;).

The staff at Dar Al Atta'a seemed overly excited to have an Omani family declare their children loved reading. They were oddly disappointed to learn I was not indeed Omani when I told my daughter she'd have to get her father to read her the Cinderella story (it was in Arabic) she was enamored with. Still, my Omani husband dashed aboard their "Maktabati" bus to get some Arabic stuff for the kids.

Now, I love used bookstores, and Oman needs more books in general. I have to keep in mind to donate all the stuff I am not filing away for our home library use. Dar al Atta'a also, being a charity, uses the funds from book sales to purchase children’s books, in Arabic and English, for a mobile library with its aim being to promote the love of reading for children in Oman.

Apparently the book sale can also be open at convenient times to suit women’s groups, clubs or schools. This can be arranged via calling 99314230 or by e-mailing Dar al Atta’a at letsreadoman@ gmail.com to book an appointment for a group of eight or more adults or children.

Book sales on the last Saturday of each month at the Al Qurum Complex will continue, Muscat Daily reported;) when I Googled it. Apparently on Wednesday they also set up a branch or some tables at the Qu'rum Public Knowledge Library, so I'll have to check that out too when I next get time.