by Stephanie McCreary
March 30, 2013
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.