A Night on Jabal Shams

A couple of weeks ago we spent the night on Oman’s highest mountain, Jabal Shams (in English, that means The Sun Mountain). It was a remarkable experience and one I won’t soon forget. I haven’t had the chance to show you photos yet but, as I finally have my new laptop (yay!), I can now give you a glimpse into our camping adventure. Enjoy!

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This road doesn’t mess around. While the grade on the sign might be slightly hyperbolic, it wasn’t too far off.

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Chris does the driving on these roads. I am a huge wuss about them, particularly when we’re going down. I don’t do well with edges.

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Once we made it to the top, we got our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon of Oman. They say it’s over a kilometer from where we’re standing to the bottom of Wadi Ghul.

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To get to our campsite (that’s our little blue tent there), we hiked a trail called the Balcony Walk, which took us down from the top and along the edge of the canyon into an old, abandoned village. It’s a long way in and we kept thinking about just how remarkable it was that people used to live here, particularly when we finally got a glimpse of their farming strategy. If you see look at the last terrace there on the bottom of the farm above, the next step from would drop you off a sheer cliff thousands of feet long. From our first vantage point of the village, we could barely even make out that it was there, it is so small in comparison to the grandeur around it. Our tent is even less significant.

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I must say, the heights did lend themselves to spectacular views and we got the best camp site in the canyon. This was what we saw out of our tent.

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After we set up camp, we roamed around in the abandoned village for a while. I still don’t know how people managed to live here.

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The next morning, we woke up to this. Clouds formed in the canyon and floated up as the sun warmed the air.

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Above our campsite was the water source that made this whole village viable. Water drips from the rocks constantly, filling this pool with fresh, clear water. When the rains come, the pool overflows and cascades in a waterfall to the village below. There they collect it and distribute it out to the farms. Quite a handy system.

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My favorite part of the whole adventure may have been the caves behind the pool. They were so surreal and out of place in Oman. Nothing is that wet here. There were ferns and moss and I am almost certain I even saw a fig tree. It was gorgeous.

We only stayed one night but it was such a perfect experience and so deeply relaxing we felt like we’d been out of the city for a week.

Sigh.

Until next time, Jabal Shams.

Being an Expat – The Real Deal

There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about being an expat. You see these world travellers, people out there “living their dreams” and it seems like the most romantic, fulfilling life in the world. I’m not here to tell you it sucks. I’m here to tell you it’s just another way of living life.

Expats get a lot of, “Yeah, but you live in London!” or “Yeah, but you live in Oman!” or “Yeah, but you live in Bali!” The key word there being live. We live in those places. We have jobs in those places. We pay rent in those places. We get stuck in traffic jams in those places. It’s life. It’s our actual life. We don’t spend every minute of every day gallivanting about barefoot on the beach or backpacking our way through the countryside. We do those things on the weekend. When we have enough time and money. Like everyone else in the world who has to work for a living.

And another thing. We don’t just plop down and live somewhere. No, no. There are visas. There are papers that need stamping. There are rules that change at the drop of a hat. There are hidden fees and shady deals and who-you-knows. We have to purposefully commit to being the places we are. We have to decide that we want to be somewhere badly enough that we are willing to put up with all the shit that comes as part of the package. Visa runs. Hiring moratoriums. Regulatory chaos.

I put up with more crap, more bureaucracy living abroad than I ever did or ever would at home. In many, many ways it’s far easier to stay home where you know the system, where you are part of it and not an outsider, where your voice might actually have an impact on the rules that govern you.

It’s not an easy life. It’s not a stable life. Friends come and go in waves. You will come and go, having to get your feet under you again every time. Places that were easy to live in, full of opportunity and growth can turn. The industries propping up the country can break down and the whole game can change over night.

Being an expat isn’t a wonderful, magical escape from the frustrations and inequalities of life at home. If anything, there are more of both. Enough more to sometimes make you question why you do it at all.

But then you remember that every day you meet people who make you see the world in a new way. You laugh with them about how you’re completely different. You smile with them about how you are exactly the same. And every once in a while you have enough free time to explore the majestic landscapes that brought you here in the first place.

Those are the things that make it all worth it.

Our Big Dream

There’s something I’ve wanted to share with you for a long time, a story I want you to be a part of,  involved in, helping to direct. But I’ve been really freaked out that it is not that interesting for you, that it is me just talking about my life and that’s not a very exciting or meaningful thing when you’ve got all kinds of other things going on in yours.

I don’t know why I’ve cared so much, but I have.

Maybe it’s because I really want to include you in the story, make you a part of it, get your ideas and your insights, learn from you, share with you and interact with you along the way. The idea that you might not find it remotely interesting, that you will be bored to tears by it is just too much for me to handle.

I’ve finally decided to tell you anyway.

What I want to share with you is our dream. Chris and I have a dream that we have talked about for years. It’s something that lights us both up in a way that nothing else ever has. When we start talking about it, the vision is so clear, the purpose of it so strong that it feels like it is anchored in my chemical makeup. It feels like the thing I am meant to do with my life. It feels like what I was put here for. But, it is not going to be easy. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take some dedication, and it’s going to take a lot of pushing when we might feel like we’re out of gas.

What we want is to create a place that makes a positive difference to a community (two communities, actually) and the surrounding environment. We want to create a home away from home for travellers – a place where they can feel completely at ease and where they can reconnect with nature. We also want to create a place that adds value to the surrounding area –  a place that builds up the people who are associated with it and puts that value back into the community and environment.

Our dream is to open a small guest house (maybe 10 rooms or so) and accompanying dive centre somewhere in east Asia (probably). We don’t know where yet, that will depend on timing and funds. We don’t know how yet – we are both totally freaked out but crazy excited at the same time to see how it unfolds.

We do know a few things though. We know we want it to embody some fundamental concepts:

  • It will support the local economy. We will hire locals and use local vendors. We will decorate with local artists. We will support local businesses by teaming up with them. We will tap into the knowledge of the people who have been there forever and give them fair compensation for their time and effort.
  • It will be as eco-friendly, sustainable, etc as possible. We have a lot of ideas about this and we have a lot to learn to make them happen, but we want to eliminate plastic at our hotel, organise clean up dives for the reefs,  and educate locals and visitors alike in the value of respecting nature.
  • We want it to be about people. We will create a welcoming environment that helps people unwind and relax but also helps them meet new people, learn about new places and cultures, and feel at home no matter how far they have come to get there. We will treat our staff well, pay them fairly, give them holidays and sick leave, ask only for reasonable working hours and give them an education that they can build on in the future.

That’s it. That’s our dream. That’s where we’re headed and where we hope to end up. We mostly don’t know what we’re doing, but we know we want to do this. We also know that we’ll need a lot of ideas and support from other people to make it happen.

My big dream in sharing this with you is that you will journey along with us and help us make it the place we envision – help us choose our location, cast your votes for the hotel design, share your ideas for eco-friendly systems we can use to make it even more green, maybe even come and visit us when it’s all said and done.

Who knows. Maybe it’s possible to do it without you, but it would be a whole lot more fun to have you along for the ride.

See you next week,

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My Life With Fish

My relationship with fish has always been a confusing one.

I grew up in a house with a big pond full of goldfish. I loved them. They were my friends (and my cat’s enemies). I fed them every day in summer and worried about them every day when our pond was frozen over in the winter. I loved them endlessly.

But, for the vast majority of my childhood I had one recurring, anti-fish dream that was really terrifying. It happened in two very consistent forms over the years and the premise for both was the same: I had to complete a task that involved going through water to get from A to B.

At the beginning of the task, the water was like unto a swimming pool. Clean. Clear. Chlorinated. As I progress, it got more natural – muddier, smellier and with more floaties. Panic started to set in as the seaweed appeared, tickling my toes and wrapping around my legs. I ran or swam on (depending on which version of the dream I was having) into the deeper water; the murkier water; the fishier water.

Things carried on getting more and more hairy until I was nearly at the end, almost free of this horrible experience. That’s when the piranhas came, snapping at my ankles – the sparkle of their teeth the only light coming from the now nearly opaque water. I always managed to get out just in the nick of time (with only a few nicks on my toes as evidence of the encounter).

Needless to say, it was terrifying.

Looking back, I think there were a few things that led to this fear of the water.  A) Jaws. Just like the rest of the world. 2) A particularly awful experience on a canoe in Montana. C) my very active imagination. 4) That time my mom told me the log bobbing up and down in the water (water we were sitting on top of in a tiny boat) was a monster. I crawled up to the top of my dad’s head to try and hide under his hat.

While most of those are typical childhood fears, it’s C that really kept the panic afloat well into my adult life. I am now 32 and I am happy to say that things have changed. Slightly. Ponds can still fuck off. But there’s this new and wonderful thing I have discovered about swimming in what used to be my nemesis: the big, endless, deep, unfathomable ocean.

I have finally discovered my super power.

I can see under water.

You may know this by it’s more common term: goggles.

You know those stories you hear as a kid where someone is afraid of something so they are given a magical item (maybe special shoes or a magical hat or fairy gloves or something) and then they go along doing things they could never do before, not realising that the magic wasn’t coming from the thing but from inside of them without them knowing it? It’s was all so terribly heartwarming.

Well, that story happened to me. In fact, it is still happening to me. I haven’t quite gotten to the part where I can get along without goggles, but I am getting better. You see, before I had goggles, I imagined that when I was swimming, all the fish just below the surface were eyeing me up and planning their imminent attack, and  that all the seaweed was wrapping itself in to tight curls around my ankles so in one swift move it could drag me down to the mer-world, never to set foot on land again.

When I wear goggles, though, I can see what’s actually down there. And what’s actually down there is a whole lot of fish who are either completely uninterested in me or very interested in not being anywhere near me. Then my biggest frustration is trying to get close to the damn things so I can see them and all their colorful glory without them running away from me in fear of their lives. Oh the irony.  Now I am the scary thing stalking poor innocent creatures under the water.

After I started diving (that’s where this whole goggle thing came into the picture), I noticed something weird happening with my dreams. Instead of having scary dreams about water and the fish it contains, I started having dreams where I got into the water and actually went down to see what was going on down there. It was still a little scary (and, in typical my-dream fashion it was dark and mysterious and more than bizarrely surreal – think underwater gorillas), but I started to dream about being under the water, purposefully going check stuff out and to follow the fish and observe them going about their business.

It was a weird and wonderful thing.

Like I said, not all water is my friend now, but the ocean is a big enough place to keep me entertained for quite a while to come. Thanks to my new superpower, that is finally a fact that excites me much more than it terrifies me.

Not Too Shabby

Hi all,

Long time no chat. As it turns out, there are certain things in life that suck the creative life force out of you pretty quickly. I have been in the thick of one of those things for the last month and a half and am happy to announce that I finally walked out the door and will never look back.

Hooray, huzzah and all the other happy, onomatopoetic sentiments one can muster!

This liberation has allowed my mental imagery to shift back to bursts of color, fanciful designs and long-shelved project concepts. One such whim is a series of Oman-based postcards I’ve had floating around in my head for quite some time. I saw visions of these over the summer, but, as is so often the case, when my vision is clearest my resistance is strongest.

My problem is that I’m not an artist. I mean I AM an artist, I have the soul of an artist, the inclinations of an artist, the desire to make art central to my life…but artists are just so so cool and talented, right?

I am NOT cool or talented.

I’ve talked about this before: it seems that making art is really about letting go of what we think we have to be in order to be an artist so we can just get on with making art.

Lessons learned are often revisited, it seems.

My resistance stems from the fact that, when presented with a fantastic image in my mind, my hand struggles to render it on the page. It’s a real battle, folks. I want so much to share what I’ve got in my head, but the only tools I can think to do it with seem to lock up and refuse to cooperate the minute I touch them. Woe is me.

Here’s where the letting go comes into play.

I won’t ever be a Rembrandt. I won’t ever draw still lifes with peaches so ripe you can smell them through the canvas. I won’t ever draw a dog that looks like anything but a pig.

But maybe I’m destined to draw the best damn pig ever. Maybe my style is abstraction, imperfection, essence as opposed to replication. Maybe that’s just who I am. Maybe that’s my thing, the way I share what’s in my head.

There are talented people in the world – incredibly amazingly talented people – and, rather than envy them, I would like to be proud of them, encourage them, support them, send people their way because they deserve to be found and fawned over.

The only way I can have the energy to promote other people, however, is if I put myself out there as much as they do. When it comes down to it, we all feel the same way when it comes to sharing our work. We all respect and appreciate other people with beautiful talents. And we all battle imposter syndrome every time we sit down to the page. All of us.

We’re all constantly re-learning that there is no spoon. There is no creative blessing that makes some people artists and other people not. There’s only art. Making stuff. Trying things out. Experimenting. Practice. And, above all, having fun and not worrying about the end result.

Letting go and riding on the wings of your creative voice. That’s where the joy is at anyway, isn’t it? For some that might be in mastering the details of a portrait, for others it might be expressing their emotions with flashes of paint across a wall. For me, making art means playing with whatever ideas come to mind in that moment without concern about the final product.

That makes it sound so easy. Oh boy. Let me tell you right now that it is not. Letting go of the dissonance between the images in my mind and the replication I make on paper can be a serious battle – which is weird because the words themselves imply something so simple.

“Letting go” alludes to a muscular decision, an action that can be done with the zap of a few neurons. Maybe it can for some, but for me it feels like just the opposite. It often takes all the energy I can muster.

I’m working on this by trying to get myself to the page / the canvas / the paper as often as i can but, as you can see, I often avoid the battle all together by just disappearing from my creative pursuits for long periods of time. I’d love to say it won’t happen again, that I’ll see you regularly from now on, but that would just let us both down.

For today, at least, I have great news: I finally sat down with this postcard concept and gave it a whirl. Here’s the final product for you to oooh and ahhh over.

Wadi Shab Sketch with color and pen-002

For those of you who don’t live in Oman, this is a painting of possibly my favorite wadi around: Wadi Shab (here’s where you appreciate the pun in the title of this post…I’ll wait…)

Because of the previously mentioned internal battle I have when I’m making art, I also wanted to share the process with you – mainly to show you that I really did plan to give up a few times along the way.

Scanned Work

I’m learning that, to get to the end product, you have to make your way there in stages. Don’t laugh. It really was news to me. I always thought artists pulled up a canvas and worked their way from top left to bottom right, every line a perfectly finished product until they reached the end. That’s very much not the case. Each work is a lasagna of refinement. You start with the basics, the general layout, the big essential elements and work your way to the details (there’s a life lesson in there I’m sure).

The funny thing was, nothing looked like the end product until I actually got to the end. It wasn’t until I scanned the last image in and saw it on my computer that I thought “Well damn! That looks like exactly what I had in my mind! Whaddya think of that?”

I didn’t see that coming.

All along the way I wanted to stop and give up, frustrated that it wasn’t what I thought it would be, what it could be. But, for a change of pace, I didn’t. This one time I kept telling myself it was just practice, my first attempt and nothing more, that it didn’t matter what it looked like at the end because I was learning along the way.

I don’t know how I managed to let go with this one, but I’m pretty freakin’ pleased with the result. I’m even more pleased that I forced myself to learn my lesson once again while still having fun along the way. And I’m pleased that I could think of such a fitting title for this post while also making it a cheesy pun.

I’m easily pleased.

Until next time.

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An Aristic Retreat

Voices from Within

Cutting the ribbon to kick off the show! Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery

One of the most liberating things I have done in my quest to unleash my inner artist is to suck up my fears and attend the Gailani Art Retreat in Muscat. The idea of painting in front of other people was absolutely terrifying, and for the majority of my first retreat I was actually shaking a little. But I made it through the first one, eagerly went back for a second, and am happy to announce that one of my paintings was in the retreat’s Voices from Within exhibition last Saturday!

At my last retreat, I met a muse in a new 9-year old friend who had no fear about changing things up mid course. When I was stuck she wouldn't hesitate to throw something on the canvas to give me a new starting point. It was fantastic! There's nothing like a kid to help you paint without fear.

At my last retreat, I met a muse in a new 9-year old friend who had no fear about changing things up mid-course. When I was stuck, she wouldn’t hesitate to throw something on the canvas to give me a new starting point. It was fantastic! There’s nothing like a kid to help you paint without fear. Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery

These retreats are such a breath of fresh air. The purpose is not to create amazing pieces of art (though they create themselves anyway!), it is to spend an entire day dedicated to allowing your artistic expression to find its way to the canvas.

If at any point, you appear to be planning, plotting, outlining or in any other way deciding on the future of a piece, Gailani (the fantastic artist and founder of the retreats) will come by and mess everything up for you. He’ll turn the canvas upside down, streak red paint across your blue background or take your brush away and slap your hands on the canvas. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process, which makes every moment interesting and exciting. Every stroke, every motion is about doing what you feel inspired to do.

Gailani Retreat Growth

These paintings came from the retreat theme of growth. I have come to see growth as a natural and inevitable fact of life – a guaranteed outcome from everything we do – but it is something I have often tried to control in my own life. I’ve attempted to force growth in a predetermined direction (despite its inclination otherwise) or inhibit it to maintain my own status quo out of fear. This retreat challenged me to let growth happen as it wants to without judging it, forcing it, censoring it or editing it. Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery.

Although I couldn’t be in Muscat for the exhibition, I am really pleased to know that it had a huge turnout (over 430 guests!) and inspired more people to look to art as a way of finding their voice. I certainly look forward to meeting some of them at the next retreat.

To read more about the exhibition, check out the Times of Oman write up here! It really captures the purpose of the retreats and the brave and engaging spirit of all the people who participate in it. I’m so glad I’ve found this group of artists in my new hometown.

See you next time!

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We're Here!

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We’re finally here!

Ok, we’ve been here for about two and a half weeks now, but we’re officially here in blog world. It’s been plenty of time to learn a few things about the place and to start exploring some of the hidden spots nearby.

Three Things I Have Learned About Living in Oman So Far

  • I will learn patience by being here. I hope.
    • Things happen slowly here. I know, I know, I am meant to be the one who touts the ideals of slowness, but sometimes slow is frustrating. It’s particularly frustrating when there is not a thing you can do to influence the speed in any way. You have to just accept that it will take twice the time you think it might, even if you have already prepared for double the amount of time you think it will take. That’s just the way it is. Have some tea and relax into the phrase insha’Allah. This is good practice for me, but man is it hard sometimes!
  • Winter is a relative term.
    • Someone yesterday asked me if I agreed that it was a little too cold. I did not agree (although I pretended to to be friendly). In the deepest darkest of night last night it was 65F/18C. We slept under light blankets with the window wide open. It is not cold.
  • I really like it here.
    • Despite frustrations about flat hunting, bureaucracy about visas and general disagreement about why some things must happen the way they do, I am really enjoying it so far. The aforementioned frigid temperatures are just right for me. I have met a lot of really lovely, very friendly, totally laid back and enjoyable people. We might have a flat to live in in the next couple of days; a little home of our own after years of temporary living. That might even happen today. Insha’Allah.

Our First Official Hike

One of the things I am most excited about doing in Oman is exploring the natural wonders it has to offer. There are wadis that need hiking, dive sites that need visiting, and sand dunes that need Jeeping. So much to do! My best Christmas present may have been this stack of books and maps about Oman. I am dying to start working through them!

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We have been flat hunting on the weekends, so we haven’t had a lot of time to get out and about yet, but we did manage to sneak in a little hike in the city last week and it was beautiful. We saw incredibly dramatic scenery and stopped to watch lots of little creatures going about their days. Plus, we had the whole place to ourselves. Without anyone else around or any sounds from the city, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and yet we were still home in time for lunch. Continue reading

We’re Here!

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We’re finally here!

Ok, we’ve been here for about two and a half weeks now, but we’re officially here in blog world. It’s been plenty of time to learn a few things about the place and to start exploring some of the hidden spots nearby.

Three Things I Have Learned About Living in Oman So Far

  • I will learn patience by being here. I hope.
    • Things happen slowly here. I know, I know, I am meant to be the one who touts the ideals of slowness, but sometimes slow is frustrating. It’s particularly frustrating when there is not a thing you can do to influence the speed in any way. You have to just accept that it will take twice the time you think it might, even if you have already prepared for double the amount of time you think it will take. That’s just the way it is. Have some tea and relax into the phrase insha’Allah. This is good practice for me, but man is it hard sometimes!
  • Winter is a relative term.
    • Someone yesterday asked me if I agreed that it was a little too cold. I did not agree (although I pretended to to be friendly). In the deepest darkest of night last night it was 65F/18C. We slept under light blankets with the window wide open. It is not cold.
  • I really like it here.
    • Despite frustrations about flat hunting, bureaucracy about visas and general disagreement about why some things must happen the way they do, I am really enjoying it so far. The aforementioned frigid temperatures are just right for me. I have met a lot of really lovely, very friendly, totally laid back and enjoyable people. We might have a flat to live in in the next couple of days; a little home of our own after years of temporary living. That might even happen today. Insha’Allah.

Our First Official Hike

One of the things I am most excited about doing in Oman is exploring the natural wonders it has to offer. There are wadis that need hiking, dive sites that need visiting, and sand dunes that need Jeeping. So much to do! My best Christmas present may have been this stack of books and maps about Oman. I am dying to start working through them!

IMG_8922

We have been flat hunting on the weekends, so we haven’t had a lot of time to get out and about yet, but we did manage to sneak in a little hike in the city last week and it was beautiful. We saw incredibly dramatic scenery and stopped to watch lots of little creatures going about their days. Plus, we had the whole place to ourselves. Without anyone else around or any sounds from the city, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and yet we were still home in time for lunch. Continue reading