The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Living the Quiet Life in Nizwa

 by Stephanie McCreary
 March 30, 2013

 I live in Nizwa, Oman, a town with a culture rooted in its former historical significance of being a center for Islamic education. It is in this land where local women are seldom seen walking alone in the evening. Instead, they wait in the car while their husbands make stops in mini-markets and restaurants. Cloaked in black abayas, they always eye me curiously and with a little suspicion, as I go about my own business—stopping to pick up my laundry or to buy water. This is a town where the Muslim culture prohibits a lively arts and social scene. There are very few places for foreign women to go out and have a cup of coffee, cinemas are non-existent and going to a play or to the opera is out of the question. So what does one do without the cultural resources that would thrive if they lived in a big city?

Many of us fantasize about what we would do if we had more time, or if we didn’t have to work. When I am at home, I look out the window and see mountains. If I wake up on time, I can see the sun rising like a ripe, warm, summer peach from my living room window. But I cannot see crowds of people milling around, going in and out of ethnic restaurants with friends for dinner. I don’t see lights flashing and businesses open for twenty-four hours. There are no distractions, just the whizzing of cars passing by and the call to prayer sounding its foreboding song five times a day from the local mosque. 

It is in this setting that I have realized that there is no excuse for boredom. The problem is that it is human nature to look outside of ourselves for intellectual, creative, and spiritual stimulation, when most of what we need is right inside of us. Before I left to come to Oman, I did some research on where I would be living so I knew that it was going to be quiet and conservative. Soon after I arrived, however, I thought to myself, “What in the hell am I doing here?” I looked around and saw men wearing dishdashas, the long white gown with the tassel at the neck that is the national Omani uniform for men. Many of them wore long scraggly beards that signified their devotion to the practice of the strictest form of Islam.


 I loved and needed to exercise daily. I quickly learned that the fitness center closest to my apartment was in the Falaj Daris Hotel and cost seventy-five dollars a month. It was outfitted with two; count them, two elliptical machines straight out of the early 1990s. The few times that I went there I had to wait for a turn on one of them. No, that was not going to work. When I first arrived in Nizwa the Sports Complex had a fitness center, but it wasn’t even open to women. I felt stuck and a little bit discouraged. Just before my arrival, I had been working out every day and took public transit to the gym. In Nizwa, public transit was limited to white minivans nicknamed “baisa buses” that picked riders up and dropped them off in random places, for miniscule amounts of money, as the baisa is the smallest unit of Omani currency. However, these buses did not run on a reliable schedule and operated whenever the driver felt like operating them. If one wanted any sense of independence and freedom, one had to have one’s own car.


I did not have my own car and did not plan on getting one. One of the reasons I had chosen Oman was to take advantage of the lucrative, tax-free salary, so I was not keen on making monthly car payments with it. Eventually, I was able to purchase a used elliptical machine from a friend so I could work out at home in the morning before work. I had teaching to occupy my time during the day, but when I came home I would look around for something “to do.” I would make and eat dinner, and then feel the boredom start to creep in. There was the big Lulu’s hypermarket located nearby, but when I was all stocked up on groceries there was no need to go there. The only cafes were set up outside local restaurants and only served the most basic of coffee, Nescafe in small paper cups, not exactly fit for someone who enjoys good, quality coffee.

I had always written, and I thought living in a small, quiet town would be a great place for a writer to concentrate on writing. But at times I found that my outer environment did not provide me with the right kind inspiration to fuel my writing. But what I learned from my experience living in Nizwa, in this quiet place, is that I could use the silence, this peace, to my advantage. I could tune into my inner voice that so often gets drowned out by so many "things to do” and I could answer the question: "What is it that I really want to do with my time?" "What do I want to do in this life?" "What would make me happy or give me a sense of accomplishment?" And I could take steps to answer those questions and accomplish whatever I set out to accomplish.

While living in Nizwa, the opportunity to write on this blog presented itself, thus giving me a way to keep my writing going. I thought of other projects that I could do while here like study Arabic, begin writing a book, and work on photography. I learned that instead of letting the silence distract me and drive me into an imagined state of “boredom” I could be empowered and motivated by it. The best thing to do when you’re living abroad and you find yourself in a situation that is less than ideal is to figure out how to make the best of it. Make things happen because if you’re bored, it’s your fault.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Carmen Sandiego Sightings: THE PHILIPPINES

By:  Brittany S

This has been my desktop photo for years.
On Feb 6, 2013, I "celebrated" my two-year anniversary of living in Korea by trying to force myself to stay awake so I can get over my jet lag a little more easily.  I went home for a little over a month and just returned.  While at the airport, I realized that it is time for me to get more pages added into my passport before I start to travel again, otherwise, I may not have a place for a stamp!  What a wonderful problem to have; I have truly been blessed over the past two years.  I have visited:  The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong.  So I figured I would share my travel stories in a mini-profile series.

When I was younger, I loved the show "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" and have always loved to travel.  Ever since my university days, my family and friends have known me to take impromptu trips places and started calling me Carmen Sandiego since none of them knew where I was most days.  It didn't help that I purchased a red trench coat.  So here are my Carmen Sandiego tales, starting with the Philippines.  Enjoy!


This is where we stayed.  Great location, service, and facility.

Heat exhaustion and one jumbo bed will do this to you.

WHEN:  July 2011, 3 days

WITH:  Two awesome people that I miss dearly!
My travel crew--the Power Rangers.

WHY:  Pfff!  Why not?!

HOW:  Cebupacificair.com

All jokes aside, apparently this is a big problem here.

I researched "Things to do in Manila" and found this to be extremely helpful in planning.


Even though we were only there 3 short days, we had a full itinerary!  We planned to and actually did:
dine at one of the famous restaurants.
pamper ourselves at a really nice spa.
shop til we dropped at the largest mall in Asia.
tour the historical ruins of Intramuros.
play in the water in some way.
try ice cream made with alcohol.
try a liquid nitrogen drink.
ride a Jeepney.

We planned to dine in a really famous restaurant but by the time we figured out where it was and realized it was super far away from everything else we chose to do, we passed.  Instead, we decided to eat at a restaurant across the street from our spa. It was REALLY cheap and A LOT of food! 

So good it'll bring out your inner "Animal Planet."

After we finished eating an entire bird, we moved over to Wensha Spa Center for our pampering.  I received an hour-long aromatherapy massage, a manicure and pedicure (in really comfortable chairs with personal TVs attached), and all the free shabu shabu I could eat for a little less than $100 USD.  A-MAZ-ING.  I was tempted to get another treatment simply because of the price but decided not to overdo it.  The service was excellent.  There were places to lounge and do other free spa things (like sauna, etc) but we had to move on.

From there we visited the Mall of Asia, the largest mall in Asia.  It was sooooooo big!  Can you believe the only thing I ended up buying from there was something to eat?!  I think if I actually lived there I would shop there often.  But given the fact that this was the first leg of a 3 country trip, I didn't want to just make unnecessary purchases.  So, I just walked around and saw what it had to offer.

"Mall of Asia"...my eyes lit up! SO MANY STORES!

It's not real love unless your outfits and bath towels match.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was something about this place that I found uninviting.

Fashion can leave you hanging?

WARNING: This section contains a picture you may deem inappropriate.

There were some ummm...really interesting stores around town, too.

Yep...these are actual cakes you can order.

From there we toured Intramuros, a historical district with ancient ruins.
We took a tour in a horse drawn carriage that waited as we went inside each place.

We rode in one of these around a historical district.

San Augustin Church

Students leaving school.

MORAL: Sell enough chicken, come up on real estate.

Next we headed to Manila Ocean Park for the "Aquanaut Voyage."  
Little did we know there were other things to do there as well.

SOOO much fun here.  "So many ACTIVITIES!"

Giant Roach-mobile!? EWWWW...

Trick Eye Museum

We attended a brief orientation, were given wet suits, then went underwater with everything from fish to eels to rays.  It was pretty cool having all of them just swim by and even brush up against us.

Getting ready to have a 30lbs helmet dropped on my shoulders...

Underwater adventures!

We spent a bit more time here, eating pancakes and watching the sun set on the waterfront.
It was a perfect way to end an adventure filled day.

We also were able to track down "elfav," a place that is famous for making ice cream with alcohol in it.  You could try ice cream with anything from kahlua to vodka or tequila in it, just make sure you bring your ID! :-)  It was pretty tasty!

You can get carded here!  Alcoholic ice cream!

We still had other objectives on our list, but some of them we just couldn't do.  When we tried to find the nitrogen drink, the place was closed!  It was no longer in business.  That was completely out of the way and very difficult to find, and we still didn't get one.  Oh well.  You live and you learn while traveling.  While we were on our search we saw plenty of Jeepneys.  It wasn't until the last night of our trip that we started to figure out how to actually use one.  Better luck next time.  We stuck with the taxi.

I mean seriously, who wouldn't wanna pray the driver doesn't slam on brakes?

Overall, we all thoroughly enjoyed our trip and were able to do everything we wanted for about $300 each (not including plane tickets).  It was definitely worth the trip!

I didn't find out there was a light rail public transportation system until after we left.  We took taxis EVERYWHERE.  Perhaps for at least one of those places (like the airport) we could have used the light rail.

  • Map out all the places you are trying to go relative to where you will be staying.  Go to places/activities relatively in the same area as each other each day to cut down on taxi costs and commute time.
  • Try not to convert your money to too much of their currency.  Some places will not exchange pesos for anything so you will be stuck with them.
  • Make sure you save about $25USD worth of pesos for the airport!  You will need to pay a fee at the airport when you get ready to leave the Philippines.

Good times...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

And I Thought I was Too Old to Begin Life as an Expat?

Notice anything a bit unusual about the group of expats in this photo? 

 I’ll give you a hint – all of us were born before 1970.  And no, we’re not retirees; we’re working while living abroad.  Although it didn’t hit me that I was the youngest one in the group until I saw the pictures from our recent trip to Anyi Ancient Villages.  You know why it didn't occured to me that I was the youngest?  It's because these folks are so full of energy and curiosity, and still looking at the world with such a sense of wonder that I'm constantly forgeting all about their age – which of course, also comes with the added benefit of making me forget about my own!  With the exception of Nicolas, a 61 year old Canadian (far right), this is the first time all of us have been to China and the first time any of us have lived abroad.  And I tell you, when I look around at my current peers and recall the angst I felt about becoming a 1st time expat  at the “late” age of 43, I feel rather silly.  Because now, I can so deeply understand that universal wisdom which tells us that nearly all of our limitations are just illusions created by our own fears.

 The trip to Anyi was incredible.  The group of villages there is over a thousand years old and it’s just an amazing place.  It’s a tourist attraction (I had to pay admission) but also an active, working village.  Many of the structures that are still standing date back to the 600s A.D. and the inhabitants still live the way most of us did at the turn of the 20th century.  Here's a few pics from that day...
It was incredible walking down the same narrow stone corridors that people have walked for over a thousand years!
This old lady and child were handwashing clothes with bar soap in weather that was cold enough for me to need gloves and a scarf. 
This tree is over 1000 years old!
And to think I almost missed it because … well, let’s just say my digestive system is still getting used to life in China.  But after popping some Imodium the night before, I woke up with a settled stomach and a mind set that was determined to go.  And I have to admit that it was the eldest of our group, a sweet 66 year old lady from Dallas, that gave me the extra bit of motivation I needed.  Because I thought, if she was raring to go on a day trip that included unlimited walking, sketchy bathrooms, and the unpredictability that always comes from foreign travel, surely I could make it!  So that’s right, instead of being motivated to keep up (and keep fit) because I’m keeping company with “young” people, I’m actually getting motivation from wanting to keep up with the “old” folks!

And that’s just one of the ways that my perceptions about age has been kind of been turned on its head since I’ve been here.  Another odd phenomenon is that the idea of being "old and wise" has simply become (at least within the group of expats living/working at my University) equated with how long a person has lived in China.  So that the couple who is in their 20’s, Matt and Jenn, who have lived here for a year (which is a year longer than any of us) have become the dispensers of advice and information in the way that elders usually are.  This 20 something year old couple - they are the ones that teach us, the ones who’ve already experienced what we’re now experiencing, and in so many ways, function as the "parents" of our little expat tribe.  Those of us in our 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s have no problem deferring to their wisdom on any number of issues related to being an expat here in China.  The fact that they are only in their 20’s is virtually meaningless. 
Now, in some ways it has been a bit disorienting to have my mental constructs and perceptions about age become so completely turned upside down.  Though I have to admit that mostly, it has also become downright liberating! 

http://www.loveniais.com/ - Living and Learning Life One Risk at a Time

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Five P’s of Preparing for Your Life Abroad

By:  eternitysojourner

Nouakchott, Mauritania
When my brother moved abroad more than years ago, his life seemed like an Indiana Jones adventure.  Unreliable internet access and expensive international calls made communication scarce.  Whenever we did make contact, he would engage us in long and winding tales of the people, places, and circumstances he encountered in the deserts of West Africa.  At that time, moving abroad seemed unimaginable, unpredictable, and risky.  But now, it seems easier to leave your homeland than ever before.  Folks are not only crisscrossing borders with greater ease but also blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing the entire journey along the way.  Everyone from Wanderlust Wendy to Computer Geek Gary has found a place for themselves abroad and you can too, with a few steps of preparation before joining the growing community of expatriates.

With seven continents to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin your life abroad.  There are various languages, cultures, and climates to consider but knowing your personal goal and objective can be a powerful navigator through the sea of choices.  A great starting point would be assessing your finances.  If financial freedom is your goal, you may want to look at destinations where you can earn big and spend little.  Once the “man” is off your back and debt collectors no longer address you on a first name basis, it’s time to look at destinations that have personal or spiritual significance to you.  Many a traveler find their expeditions unexpectedly cut short, so try to prioritize the fulfilling and meaningful experiences that memoirs are made of.  See those sights, make those pilgrimages, and bask in those precious, unforgettable moments.
The Door of No Return, Goiree Island, Senegal
Half-finished degrees do little to secure a respectable income abroad (if earning is your goal).  Once you’ve decided on a course of study, training, or certification, see it through to completion and don’t belittle your accomplishment.  Carry the banners of your hard-earned efforts and keep scanned and hard copies readily available. Even first-aid or scuba diving certificates have helped people secure their dream job abroad. Other important documents might include your birth certificate, background checks, recommendation letters, marriage certificates, name change documents, etc.  Even with e-tickets and mobile check-in, sometimes a printed itinerary can come in handy. 
Flying by the seat of your pants has its place and function but a little planning can save you time and money.  A flexible plan that allows for contingencies can help you keep the ball rolling when you’ve run into roadblocks and brick walls.  If planning is not your spiritual gift, then consider conditional plans like “I will start here unless...” or “I will do this until…”  Sitting back and charting your path will help you move more efficiently and cost-effectively through the land.  Even if the wanderers amongst us could care less about such formalities, it will certainly assure your more grounded family and friends that you haven’t completely lost it.
Sana'a, Yemen
What you think you possess of patience will not only be tested in your life abroad but also stretched, beaten, and contorted until it sits like a hard-won trophy on your mantle.  I really used to think I was patient, but perpetual frustration in my first destination showed me that there was more left to be acquired.  Challenges in everything from communication and correspondence to health, wealth, and sanity can leave you perplexed and aggravated, but keep in mind that new experiences are often powerful teachers in the subjects of life, yourself, and your place in this vast world.  When the bewilderment really starts to get to you, take the time to pause, quit beating yourself about the past, and let your purpose guide your next step forward. 
If landing yourself in prison abroad is on your bucket list, then feel free to ignore this piece of advice but for others, please take heed.  Even if sainthood isn’t your aim, a basic sense of good character and upright conduct can be life-saving in the most and stress-saving in the least, as you find your way in a new country.  Expats are not above the law and the rights and freedoms you enjoy in your home country may not travel with you.  If your lifestyle or personal views are illegal or in conflict with the laws and customs of your location and you feel the need to broadcast, publicize, and express them openly, maybe living in such a country would do more harm than good for you.  Drugs, drinking, or delinquency can make ugly turns and blemish not only your record but also your reputation, both socially and professionally.  Save risqué behavior for your own turf, and be on your best behavior when you’re in someone else’s home.  Also, don't forget to align yourself with the social and spiritual resources needed to be your best you wherever you go.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia