‘The Baluchi Boys’ Part III: The Musicmaker

‘I am the music man. I come from far away and I can play. (What can you play?)

I play the Spanish guitar … but also ladies’ hearts …’

‘I think that you have been treated badly by Omani men.’

Now, I am not one to generalise, but this was an Omani man making the generalisation and arguably, it wasn’t a generalisation yet. It was a statement. A generalisation would be the deduction that all Omani men behaved this way, based on two experiences.

‘This is what they do.’

Ah ok … there it is. Well, just to reiterate, it wasn’t me talking; it was the Omani.

‘But I will prove to you that some are not like that,’ he continued, ‘because I am not like that.’

This was a fluent, serious and intelligent chap and I believed him. The intelligence was reflected in his cavalier attitude towards his fellow Omanis. To hold an unpopular view and to announce it so boldly, is a sign of intelligence. It is a sign of integrity, of conviction, of commitment to a cause … all very attractive traits. But the intelligence lay in the fact that he knew this would impress. I believe that he believed in his judgement; but was he different? Was the real intelligence that he knew he was the same, so all he could do was pretend he would be the hero, the odd-bod, the one who bucked the trend? Let’s see …

I had met the Musicmaker at a Karaoke night. It was at one of my favourite haunts for dancing, drinking and singing (only on Wednesdays) and he started chatting to me on the balcony overlooking the beach, a swimming pool and a scattering of people enjoying a drink al fresco with perhaps a shisha or two, with the obligatory palm trees to remind us all that we were in a hot country.

My friend with the beautiful headscarves crept up behind me and snatched my mobile from my hand. There was a momentary standoff while I smiled at her and she smiled right back … but her smile said why aren’t you fighting me for it? While mine said I’ve already given him my number … weeks later she would reveal to me that she didn’t want to see me get hurt yet again. Some weeks after that, I would realise that this was a bit of a stretch, but we’ll save that for another post …

We met the following night and this was a man who knew how to soften a woman with romance. We drove into the mountains with food, drink and his Spanish guitar. We stopped where we could look out over the lights of Muscat from a serene vantage point nestled amidst millennia-old rocks. There was something comforting about the contrasting environments; the shooshing of distant cars was hushed by the flawless plucking sounds of Musicmaker’s guitar, accompanied by his unusual, if slightly nasal (in a strangely appealing way) voice. In addition to how impressive this private concert was, I was also struck by Musicmaker’s confidence. Many hide their lights under bushels until the truth is revealed by removing the wrapping paper of pretence that no-one must know; others openly boast; but this perfect-looking man presented his talent at the opportune moment. I felt suitably serenaded, seduced and also shown that he had talent.

To be fair, Musicmaker was very complimentary towards me about my singing voice.

“Lisa has a beautiful singing voice,” he announced to a musical friend one night.

In the early days we camped and barbecued on the beach, went out to lunch, watched TV shows in my apartment and went out dancing and drinking with his friends. He brought his guitar round … hang on. Yep … it is all sounding a little familiar, isn’t it? He surpassed Batman easily with the guitar, though. He wrote his own songs and was keen for me to learn one of them. (I wish that I could erase the melody from my mind. It happened in a film, didn’t it? Come on someone … mimic fiction and invent the darned thing already and make my mind spotless and full of eternal sunshine again.)

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The honeymoon period was brief. Around a week. But it only took a week to fall for Musicmaker. Batman needed longer to make me fall for him, ergo it was vital that the honeymoon period lasted longer. Musicmaker was clever, smooth and wore a facade of sincerity, rather like Rusty when he can see a treat in my hand. Enough said.

So week two was unremarkable. I had to wait till the weekend to see my potential new accompanist and love.

Week three and even WhatsApp messages couldn’t be bothered to crawl out of his phone and into mine.

Yet still I hoped.

“I am not spending enough time with you,” he said, whilst looking directly into my eyes and holding my hands firmly, after a spontaneous visit one Thursday night.

“No,” I replied, “You’re not,” I agreed.

He was blunt so I felt I could indulge my equivocal bluntness.

“I have so many problems,” he continued.

Yes, it really was that similar … to be fair, Musicmaker’s problems were grim. He had suffered two major traumas in his life in the space of a year and like all Omani men (it seemed) he was building a house and had parents.

“Are you in a position to be in a relationship with me?” I asked, fairly and nicely.

“Yes,” he replied with a steely determination, “and the next time my mother invites me for lunch, I am going to tell her that I bringing someone!”

This wasn’t just a big deal – this was a deal with proportions similar to The Rock – it was so huge I couldn’t process it. Which is just as well really, seeing as it never happened. Sorry for the spoiler, but you know that only the failed relationships reach my blog!

I had stopped expecting to see Musicmaker at weekends and was, frankly, allowing the union to fade into obscurity and experience (and eventually my blog). He had told me that he was busy with his house and his mother that weekend and so I ventured to a rooftop venue complete with a swimming pool and palm trees as well as a bar, a dance floor and a DJ. I went with three female friends and – forgive the cliche – we were dressed to kill.

“You’ll see him tonight,” said my closest friend out of the three, in between taking selfies in a very cramped car (but it was a lift so we were just grateful).

We blagged free entry, only to have large amounts of money extorted from us in return for drinks which would not last and eventually danced to the very repetitive (and slightly disappointing, given the wondrousness of the venue) dance music. The youngest of my friends leaned into me …

“He’s here,”

Instinctively I looked around.

“Don’t go to him!” ordered the third friend who had two moods: ecstatically fun and angrily difficult.

I didn’t. I couldn’t even see him and I didn’t look for him. But at some point I needed to venture beyond the two points between which we were moving (our spot on the dance floor and one of those tall tables where you can place your glass and lean, when you’re a bit bored) to visit the bathroom and/or get a drink. I forget the purpose for my journey but I made it all the same and on my return I spotted him, dancing alone. I smiled as I walked past and he extended his arm to me, to invite me to join him. We danced well together and anyway, I wanted to dance with him. So we danced. And talked. I said nothing about the lie but he broached the subject, explaining it away by saying that his friends dragged him out because he was sad … etc … etc …

I let the matter go because I didn’t care. I adored this man, but his lack of reliability was causing me to withdraw and therefore to become less vulnerable to any hurt.

Our last date was at a music festival. This was a relatively hushed-up affair … only made known to those on the music scene so, thanks to my involvement in this area, I made the hour and a half journey in my humble hire car one weekend to a remote beach with a backdrop of a mountain range. The journey was eventful … it began with six people rammed into my car which was all too much for it, because after five minutes it had a sulk and conked out. A kind man fixed it, after Youngest Friend asked him to and for various reasons the rest of the journey was made with just two of us, which I was keen to complete before sundown as I had lost a contact lens. After getting slightly mislaid en route, Fun But Difficult and I arrived (after sundown).

After the stresses of the journey had been laid to rest, we drank, danced and generally had the sort of fun you expect to have at a music festival.

Then Musicmaker arrived. I was surprised about many things concerning the Musicmaker and this festival. I was surprised that he knew nothing of it until I told him about it. Then I was surprised he agreed to come along. Then I was surprised he actually came. It preyed on my mind however, that he had told me that his ex would probably be there. How did he know this? And why would he go to something so far away that potentially would upset him? Especially as he intended driving home the same night. Was he going there to see his ex … ?

Then it all happened. He saw her. She was dancing with her new boyfriend. At this point I realised that my boyfriend was slightly unhinged. He had a tantrum and dragged me into it. Aggressively, he introduced me to her. Then he left.

I chased after him and tried to take his hand, yet he shook me off. Enough, I thought.

“I have done nothing wrong!” I announced.

He stopped and turned.

“She lied to me!” he replied, as if this somehow excused his poor treatment of me.

“So?” I questioned, boldly, continuing with she’s your ex!

“She told me she wasn’t seeing anyone!”

“Again,” I squared up to him. “she’s your ex!”

“I still have feelings for her,” he softened and put his arms around me.

“I’m sorry.”

And he left.

As I predicted, the relationship petered out and I accepted this. I saw him around a month later and he apologised for many things and told me what a wonderful person I was.

“You told me you were different,” I complained, “but you were the worst of the lot.”

“Well I was different then, wasn’t I?” he smiled.

And that was it.

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‘The Baluchi Boys’ Part II: Batman

Shortly after The Playboy had silently slithered out of my life, I found myself returning to the UK, after just a few months of living it up in the sunny utopia of Oman.

I was there for just a week; the Playboy of the Persian Gulf was a mere memory (ok, he was writing material too) and I was struggling with the inner turmoil of being at home unexpectedly, whilst knowing I would be returning in a week to the chalk face in Muscat.

Then one day a message bounced into my What’sApp app on my phone.

‘Hi,’ it said.

‘Do I know you?’ I questioned.

Then one of those audio messages appeared … turned out that it was the Playboy’s cousin and he had contacted the Playboy about meeting up.

“Is Lisa free?’ he had (allegedly) asked the Playboy, when the latter announced his inability to meet up for a drink, due to other commitments.

‘Call her and find out,’ replied the Playboy, glibly giving my number to his cousin.

I had met him one night when the Playboy had taken me to an American-style bar, complete with pool tables and a weird glass smoking room in the corner. He had introduced him to me as his cousin and we had got along well. Despite having played pool many times in my life, I am still fairly inept at potting any of the balls, let alone ones of the correct colour and the Playboy’s cousin was very attentive to my tuition in this area. At this point, I had wondered if the Playboy had lied about his age, as he became increasingly stroppy at my growing expertise with the pool cue and actually left our company and danced, alone, on the vacuous dance floor, in true toddler-tantrum style. His cousin joined him and proved that he was something of a twinkle-toes, which seemed to ignite the Playboy’s ire further. The gradual realisation that these were two peacocks vying for the peahen’s attention took me to the bar to order some drinks, whilst enjoying a silent chuckle on the way.

The arrival of vastly overpriced beer pleased the competitors and once more we were reunited and enjoyed the refreshing beverages, complete with the usual Omani accompaniment of peanuts.

We left as soon as the beers had been supped and the Playboy was driving his own car that night, which was a first, but I was also struck by the fact that he had had a considerable amount of alcohol. I, too, had drunk and driven in my early days in Oman, before realising that there was zero tolerance for drinking and driving. Upon learning this fact I had taken it upon myself to never drink and drive, lest I found myself languishing in an Omani prison for an indefinite amount of time. (This was also the night I realised that the Playboy shaved his legs, as he was wearing knee length shorts.) I had much to learn: I think the zero tolerance regarding drinking and driving actually encourages the phenomenon, which is what happens when you set the standard as impossibly high.

Back to the story: the Playboy’s cousin seemed a decent sort, so I temporarily overlooked the Playboy’s political incorrectness of giving out ladies’ phone numbers without their permission (this argument had its day in due course) and arranged to meet up on my return.

We met at The Beach Club in the PDO camp; again, a nostalgic experience, reminiscent of bygone days with ex-hubby No 1 and thus began a two month romance with one who would be named Batman.

Batman liked Batman … in fact, he sported a Batman pendant and his job smacked of more than a slight obsession with the very human super-hero. His job was to climb the Telecom towers in PDO to fix them. Coincidence? Nah … I have come to realise that very little just happens. Batman liked to take risks. Life had disappointed him thus far and one indulgence – a liking for Batman – could be played out every day if he wished, by climbing the Telecom towers and being Batman for a bit. (And those who are suffering from terminal disappointment, sadly, take very risky risks.)

Initially, it was a fine romance. The honeymoon period was .. well, present. There was no such thing with his cousin; that debacle was just a week or two of mismanaged meetings and stress. But Batman couldn’t get enough of me … he visited me often, bringing roses, alcohol, even complete dinners at times. He brought his guitar; he serenaded me; we lunched out at the weekend; we had barbecues on the beach … and by the way, a sparkly shoreline of phosphorescence with a blazing supermoon setting fire to the sea, to Dan Seals’ ‘If I Had Only One Friend Left’, scores an easy 10/10 for romantic value.

Then the weekday visits stopped and our relationship became one of weekend drinking and dancing into the small hours. This was satisfactory for a while, until I became dissatisfied with the same formula every weekend: ie, always going out with Best Friend plus girlfriend and not playing out any of our plans – rewatching ‘Game of Thrones’ for one thing – or continuing with all the lovely, little, normal things we used to do, like lunching out or chilling at home with him plus guitar. So the weekend shenanigans ended and our relationship became a weekday only affair. This was not satisfactory either, as the evening would sometimes start at 10pm, giving little time for anything more than a short conversation over a fairly rapidly drunk alcoholic beverage.

So the weekday visits stopped and I wondered if I had a boyfriend.

“I never see you,” I complained.

“I have so many problems,” he replied, “like the house I am building … and I have to see my parents … and my children,” (he was a divorcee with four children).

So I ended it.

“But I have all these problems!” he cried.

“So you don’t have time for me,” I shrugged.

But I gave him one last chance.

“Be ready by 9pm,” he instructed, one Thursday afternoon, “and we will go out dancing.”

I was ready.

But he was not.

I waited till midnight and by then I wasn’t really feeling the love anymore, neither for him nor dancing, as this was the umpteenth time that I had wasted precious hours of my life waiting in my apartment. There was a reason, of course: there was always a reason. This one involved Best Friend’s family … lifts to Seeb … what could be done … etc … etc … If it just happened once, then maybe I could tolerate it. But this happened a lot and I began to realise that I had only just made it onto the very end of the priority list. Batman blamed Best Friend, on whom he was reliant for a lift, but over the period of three hours, I felt certain that an alternative method of transport could have been arranged to deliver him to me. But that would mean letting Best Friend down, was the argument. What about letting me down? I argued. This was the crux of the matter … extended families (parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins) came first. Friends came second. Children came third. Girlfriends were bringing up the rear in a poor last place. During the honeymoon period, children and girlfriends temporarily swapped places, to be fair. I would never expect to usurp children – I would have been content with second place to Batman’s children – but the irony is, that they were the only category that Batman would shortchange in favour of me, even forgetting his eldest child’s birthday on one occasion because he was whiling away the hours in my company.

But anyway, back to the story: he sent Best Friend to my apartment and I tried to send him packing. But Best Friend was persistent and I found myself in the confines of his car, with Batman in the front, en route to the local hop, which was always a small Irish bar/club in the basement of a hotel.

Batman was not talking to me, with which I struggled. I had become angry in an audio message but after three hours of waiting, I think that is fair.

On arrival at the club, or ‘disco’ as they still call it in Oman, Batman broke his silence and bought me a drink by way of apology. We had the obligatory argument, after which we danced and things were good. Then he sloped off outside and I didn’t see him again until I attempted to leave. He brought me back from the taxi which was about to transport me home and seemed baffled as to the cause of my incandescence.

“If this is you trying to make things up to me, it’s poor,” I stated, “because I have hardly seen you all evening.”

“But this is my only chance to see my friends!” he argued.

I don’t need to explain my position on this, as you are all decent people who can see how flawed his argument was.

Best Friend’s girlfriend, a sweet Filipino girl with straight, black, waist-length hair which she kept off her face with an Alice band, insisted that I remained with them. Considering her child-like appearance, she was surprisingly strong and also determined to protect me from the perils of travelling home alone. There is an irony to this, which is coming up … I found myself in Best Friend’s car once again (strangely without Best Friend) and when we stopped, a short drive away, outside Best Friend’s girlfriend’s house, so she could collect her belongings with a view to staying at Best Friend’s house (wherever he was – his absence was strangely unnoticed by all but me), I attempted to talk to Batman.

He ignored me.

I left the car and walked.

I didn’t know where I was.

I had no credit on my phone.

I had no money in my purse.

As soon as I had taken the decision to leave his company, I felt a mixture of relief and panic, as I knew how vulnerable I was.

I walked … and walked … and walked … until I found an open petrol station. I didn’t know what I would do at this petrol station, but as luck would have it, a taxi was at a pump and I requested a ride to a cash point and then to my home.

Batman contacted me hours later, wanting to know if I was ok.

Too little, too late.

‘The Baluchi Boys’ Part I: Playboy of the Persian Gulf

I met The Playboy of the Persian Gulf one Saturday afternoon, after another sunny day in paradise. I had been residing in Muscat for around a month and continuing with my mission to drive to a new place every weekend, I had taken myself to a beach which was only accessible by clambering over rocks. It occurred to me that I needed to start building up a tan, as that was one of the trade-offs associated with tearing oneself away from all that one holds dear in one’s homeland. I had been shown the way by a colleague, but I challenged myself to find it on my own and feeling pleased with my small victory, I stopped on my return journey to take pictures of the view of the PDO (Petroleum Development Oman) camp.

After around five minutes of taking in the view, reflecting on the time when ex-hubby No 1 worked there and therefore also reflecting on bygone days, when Joseph and Rhiannon were about a quarter of the size they are now, a sparkly 4X4 pulled up next to me. The tinted passenger window slowly and smoothly disappeared into the door to reveal a ridiculously pretty face wearing a welcoming smile. The ridiculously pretty face belonged to a young man and he greeted me warmly before disembarking from the car. He was wearing formal Omani dress – a white dish dasha and a kuma – and was not much taller than me.

He asked me how long I had been living in Oman – in time I would become accustomed to this question – and upon learning that I was a newcomer, he told me that he worked for a tourism company and he would be happy to show me around.

Ah … touting for business, I thought. This was not the first time a chatty cheery Omani man had given me his business card showing him to be some sort of tour guide.

I thanked him and said that I had a car and so I was quite keen to find my own way around, thank you very much. (And felt a renewed resolve to tan my skin, whose paleness was bellowing ‘newcomer!’ without my permission, to all and sundry.)

“Join us now!” he invited, but I declined, on the grounds that I had work to do, but in reality, because I was not about to allow myself to be driven around by strangers.

“Let me at least take you out for a drink,” he continued with his line of suggestions which would put me in his company for a period of time.

I laughed and pointed out that he was a little young for me.

He laughed back and asked that heart-sinking question: how old did I think he was?

“Twenty-something,” I guessed.

“Thirty-eight,” he replied.

That wasn’t so bad, I thought … same age as ex-hubby No 2, so after mulling it over whilst chatting, I agreed to meet for a drink.

*************************************

I should have realised after half an hour of waiting outside a hotel bar, that this was not going to end well.

We had agreed to meet at a designated place at a particular time, but this seemed problematic for The Playboy.

“Take a picture of what is right next to you,” he requested.

I did so and sent it via What’sApp and only after sending it, did I realise the inappropriateness of my view. Part of it included a bridal shop. Oops.

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But it worked; within five minutes my date had arrived.

If I thought that half an hour was an inexcusable amount of time to keep someone waiting, I had much to learn.

We dated for two weeks. Well, one week really, seeing as I did not see him the second week. Some evenings were just a little strange; everything about him smacked of poor little rich kid. His car was chauffeur-driven, every in-built container contained chocolate and the back seat sported a permanent box of beer. I am not sure that I ever witnessed him sober. Some dates consisted of driving around and taking in the sights whilst drinking beer. But ‘strange’ was acceptable in comparison with other evenings when I would wait an hour … two hours … three hours even for him to arrive to pick me up from my apartment. Some evenings went well; he would arrive on time and we would go to a bar or a club – his favourite being a small, slightly sterile venue within a large hotel. Or, he would impress me with a moonlit walk along a private beach and we would sit in the perfect night-time temperatures of the September weather, with just the hushed sounds of palm leaves rustling in the balmy breeze and the occasional wave splashing, apologetically, on the sand.

There was something slightly surreal about his chauffeur always sitting a little away from us … I felt like I was being chaperoned … or, worse, that he was being chaperoned … but in time I became accustomed to his presence and he did a remarkable job of blending in with the environment and only speaking when addressed. A little like a butler. (Some time after my brief friendship with The Playboy had ended, I would learn that the chauffeur’s presence was entirely due to The Playboy’s lack of driving licence.)

But this was a man whose being was rammed with empty promises. The words of a friend before I left the UK rang in my ears … Beware of men who will promise you everything and give you nothing …

“I have a vegetable stall in a market,” he announced one day via WhatsApp, “so I will bring you some fresh vegetables today.”

“You sing?” he questioned, on another day, “Then I will come to Copper to hear you sing!”

“Cancel your car hire,” he instructed, boldly, “because I can get you a better deal.”

Let us reflect on this last one.

It was bad manners of him to ‘forget’ to bring me the vegetables as promised and insensitive of him to display false interest in my singing. It was frustrating when he arrived late for a night out – or not at all. But this last, worthless pledge nearly cost me the convenience of my car

This was not a course of action I would take lightly. There was much discussion about this and so when I was certain that this was genuine – and why would he lie about this – I cancelled my car hire. Then he began to ignore my messages. I became desperate to speak to him, just so I would not be without a car, never mind about any future relationship.

My car hire company were very understanding and allowed me to keep my car. But I was not understanding and I did not allow The Playboy to keep me as a potential girlfriend. I’m not sure how I feel about a man who shaves his legs anyway.

And So It Begins …

Sunday August 20th … first day of term.

The latest we could arrive at school was 7.30, so I intended to arrive even earlier at 7am, knowing that in time this may change. I decided to leave at around 6.30 – it was a fifteen minute drive but I had not encountered rush hour traffic yet and it was easy to imagine all six lanes of the Expressway rammed at every interchange. So I was up at 5.30, my alarm having gently eased me into the waking world from 5am onwards.

Confident that I could find my way, yet nervous at the prospect of meeting the students (I don’t know why this should be so concerning, but it is) I made my way down to the parking lot to my humble Hyundai steed. On the one hand, I liked that it was a pale blue hatchback, whereas all the other hire cars were white saloon cars; on the other hand, I felt it reflected my obstinacy over the price (I knocked them down by OMR 20 – or rather, Helpful Head did when I raised an eyebrow over the price). My hunch that I had, indeed, been fobbed off with an inferior car, was affirmed when I tried to open the driver’s door and the handle parted company from the door and I found myself standing in the parking lot, holding a car door handle and staring at my door which looked strangely naked without its handle.

Another thing that was not in the game plan.

So I climbed across from the passenger side and worried less about meeting the students on my journey to work and more about finding my way back to the car hire place. I was wishing that I had taken more notice of the journey there, as a passenger in Helpful Head’s car; I should have foreseen something falling off this slightly ropey car.

But ‘first day stress’ replaced ‘detached door handle stress’ on my arrival at work. I clocked in by way of the fingerprint machine and felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Total Recall’. I’m sure I am alone in this – the rest of the world has probably been clocking in with fingerprint machines since before the movie even.

In honour of our first day there was a stand set up with mini jars of sweets, scented candles and cute little smiley emoji tins with our names on, which was thoughtful. In honour of the students’ arrival there was a popcorn stand and a candy floss stall. I am fairly certain that no school in the U.K. would consider such a thing for even a moment, on the first day of term. I was tempted by the candy floss but in the absence of any other teacher evidently tempted, I (very maturely I thought) sailed past said stall. As I took my ‘homeroom’ group to my classroom, I spotted one or two teachers chomping away on the heavenly pink stuff …

Homeroom groups are tutor groups. As is the way with secondary teaching, one does not necessarily see a great deal of one’s homeroom/tutor group. The principle task is to register them in the morning. Secondary to that is to act as a mentor for each student within the group and following on from that, one finds oneself ‘carrying the can’ for their conduct and therefore liaising with parents when necessary. Not forgetting those all-important tutor reports; just when you think you’re done with report writing, because you’ve written all your reports of the thousands of students you teach (well, it feels like that) someone says, “Have you done your tutor reports?”

Anyway, I digress. With six Grade 9 boys (13-14 years) in my homeroom group, I think I have the smallest homeroom group in the school. Some homeroom groups are 20+, so I am fortunate, especially as they are all, without exception, wonderful. Boys and girls are separated for lessons and for break-times. There is not the space for the latter, however, so they take their breaks at different times. My school is both a lower and an upper school on the same site and the younger contingency are not separated by gender and so take their breaks together.

On the first day I spent a considerable amount of time with my homeroom group and I met some of my teaching groups. I would be teaching Grade 9 boys, Grade 9 girls, Grade 10 boys and Grade 10 girls, so the two top year groups in the school (GCSEs are taken a year earlier here). We had been warned that students would arrive ‘in dribs and drabs’ for the first few weeks and indeed this was a fair warning. So the pressure was off initially, as no-one wanted to launch into anything that would have to be repeated for the latecomers, of whom there were many.

My classroom transformed from a health and safety nightmare during the week of inset, to an actual classroom by the first day of term. I was relieved that there was a projector and that I was given a laptop, as there was a query over the former. Suspended on a curiously long rod from the ceiling, I was to bang my head on it several times a day for the first week, reducing to maybe once or twice a day for the next two weeks. Now I just bang my head on it very occasionally, as do the students. It is a small classroom, with small desks and small chairs, which is not problematic for my homeroom group, as there are few of them. It is satisfactory for my girls’ groups; there are more of them, but not an intolerable amount and they move gracefully. But for my Grade 10 boys: well, there is a sense of relief if a few are absent. There are sixteen of them and for fifteen year old boys, they are, generally speaking, very mature for their years. Physically, that is; they are prone to the usual scuffles that one associates with teenage boys. And they are not averse to catapulting missiles at one another, of which I am caught in the crossfire from time to time.

But back to my classroom: I was delighted to discover that I had a balcony. I have to climb out of a window to reach it, but the windows are large and low down. However, there is little opportunity to sit on it and in fact, sitting in the sun is not a pastime that people undertake as a rule in these parts.

My classroom also boasts a toilet, which – fellow teachers will understand – is most welcome. Some students will use it; others prefer a toilet that is not actually in the same room as the lesson. I am just grateful for a toilet that is close enough to use in between lessons.

So the first day came and went and as it drew to a close, I turned my attention to my broken car and transferred my stress to my Head of Department, who kindly offered to escort me to Value Plus. I would have to find my way home, but I had been driving for a couple of days by now and was familiar enough with a few places close to Qurm, to be able to muddle my way back to my apartment.

On arrival, I explained my predicament to Candy Crush man, who offered me his trademark chai tea, but instead of fetching it himself, he clicked his fingers at an Indian man, pointed to me and said something in Arabic which was probably along the lines of ‘get her a nice chai tea and take your time about it so we can faff around with this door handle’.

I had left the handle on his desk and after placing my order for chai tea, he took the handle outside to my car. He slotted it back into place with a firm shove and stood back to admire his handiwork. Then he tried to open the door with said handle and looked surprised when it came off in his hand, taking off his kuma* and scratching his head.

He returned, cap in hand (and door handle in the other), replaced the handle on his desk, his kuma on his head and sat back down.

His senior came along, checked the status of the chai tea situation (I assured him that there was one on the way) and also took my car handle to my car … after shoving it back on, wiggling it around and removing it, convinced that it was, indeed, permanently detached from my car, he too replaced it on the desk.

After some time my lovely chai tea arrived and finally, Candy Crush’s senior offered me a new car.

“Would you like a new car?” he asked.

“I think that would be best,” I replied.

And so I drove back to my apartment, looking like every other ex-pat on the road, in a white saloon car, with four handles attached. I had filled my first car with petrol and then swapped it for a car with almost no petrol. But at OMR 7 at the most to fill it, I thought I’d let it go. There are benefits to living in an oil-rich country.

As the week panned out, the school routine became a little clearer.

Assembly is at 7.45 and lessons begin at 8am. There is no homeroom time, so I am fortunate to have a small homeroom group, as I can see at a glance during assembly if all are present. Assembly begins with the National Anthem and all students face the Omani flag. Music is not on the curriculum and this is evident when one is listening to their rendition of the National Anthem! A colleague has since sent me a phonetic version, as I would like to join in with this. The start is identical to the start of the hymn: ‘One More Step Along the World I Go’, which fascinates me, but that is a whole other story …

There are eight lessons in a day, each lesson being forty minutes long. There is a 20 minute break in the morning and a 10 minute break in the afternoon. Lessons finish at 1.50pm and then there are prayers for 20 minutes. The students are free to leave at 2.10pm and we have until 3pm for planning, marking, etc. I supervise girls’ prayers with a female colleague and during said prayers on the last day of the first week, she invited me to join her on the beach straight after school. This sounded like a good idea as I had not yet devoted any time towards topping up my tan. And so it became a Thursday thing; Thursdays are like our Fridays and indeed, on these days we can leave half an hour earlier at 2.30. So it is possible to be prone on the beach by 3pm.

In this first week we lost our deputy (aka the man with the peaceful aura) to another school in the same small group of schools, which was sad. On one of the inset days Scottish Colleague and I, disappointed in the lack of lunch, asked Peaceful Aura man if there was a shop nearby selling food of some description.

“I show you,” he smiled and we followed him to the gate, expecting him to point down the road and impart directions which neither of us would remember (Scottish Colleague and I share a terrible sense of direction, which means we should never travel in convoy, which we have done too many times). Instead he remotely unlocked his car and invited us to travel to a nearby cafe with him. Again, our expectations (grabbing a sandwich and returning to school) did not match the outcome, which was a pleasant lunch, paid for by the man with the Peaceful Aura.

So it was sad to see him leave, not just because he bought us lunch once.

So the first week finished and I survived.

*kuma:

Adam Cole at Monk’s Tap House, The Cave

The weekend of National Day … Friday night and I’m in, washing my hair, playing The Killers loudly enough to block out the sounds of people daring to have fun whilst I have no plans. Having left my hairdryer in the UK, I just wait for my hair to dry. On this particular Friday night I decide to do the social media circuit, in the order they appear on my iPad, whilst waiting for said hair to dry.

I only get as far as Instagram, however and only a few posts in because on scrolling down, a friend’s post leaps out at me and my night is sorted.

‘Can I just turn up?’ I message him, thinking he won’t reply because he’s about to get up and perform.

But he does: ‘Just turn up,’ he replies.

So off I wander, with demi-sec hair, down to the taxi station, to barter with a taxi driver over the cost of a five minute drive. On the verge of returning home to get my car and drinking fruit juice all evening, I reach a satisfactory conclusion with the taxi driver and off we go to Monk’s Tap House at The Cave, Darsait Heights.

A five minute drive but a ten minute farewell with the taxi driver.

‘I come later? Take you home?’

‘That would be good,’ I reply.

‘In one hour? In two hours?’

‘Er … I don’t know – I’ll take your number.’

Number taken.

‘Now you call me. A missed call.’

‘Why?’

‘Then I have your number.’

‘Why do you need my number?’

This goes on for some time until I tell him that it’s a nice night and I feel like walking home. Which is obviously a lie as that would mean walking down a busy multi-lane carriageway for quite some time, but I’m walking away from him anyway …

The Cave is a labyrinth of bars, clubs and restaurants pretty much inside a mountain. Hence the name. It actually is a series of caves. I found Monk’s Tap House and there was the star performer, sitting down to a platter heaving with … well, everything. He offered me a spicy chicken wing and I said ‘Aren’t you supposed to be performing?’

He looked around and looked back at me and I saw what he saw – an empty venue.

Adam Cole is one of the most relaxed people I know. Many would have reacted differently but when you’re as at ease with yourself as Mr Cole is and you have every confidence in your musical prowess (and quite rightly so) then why stress?

I joined him and his lovely wife and a friend of theirs (who turned out to be my niece’s friend’s uncle … and yes, it is strange that we managed to make that connection within minutes of meeting each other) and waited for him to make a dent in the heaving platter of everything.

At some point this happened and the show began … a few people had arrived by this time, so it was starting to feel like a proper gig. I was expecting one or two other band members to arrive but Adam is a one-man band. At times, he says, he is joined by a fellow musician or two, but not this night.

A few songs in and I realised that I had completely taken it for granted that I felt like I was listening to a full band. I only ever see Adam play a guitar but I know that he can play many instruments and this was evidenced in his elaborate set-up. He was lead guitarist but flanked by electronic representations of other instruments and considering the number of songs he played, this was clearly a reflection of many hours of preparation.

But what about his performance? Flawless, of course. This was my first experience of Adam at a gig; I have seen him play many times at his popular Open Mic sessions at Copper, but hitherto not at a gig.

Primarily a rock musician, we (not just the three of us – the venue filled at the same rate as our glasses) were treated to covers of Pink Floyd, REM, U2, Oasis … to name a few. All the best rock bands. And when it came to Breakfast at TIffany’s, I marveled at the fact that I had not heard that song for a number of years until the night before, when I was at another gig and here I was hearing it for a second time not 24 hours later. I came to the conclusion that rock music is a bit of a hit in Muscat.

I am in awe of Adam’s tenacity … he reminds me of one of those bunnies from the Duracell adverts. (Well, his tenacity does – you can see from the pictures that he doesn’t look like a bunny at all.) He just keeps going and he shows no signs of flagging and he even had the good grace to turn and smile, while I was taking pictures of his performance. By the time he finished, it was a full venue and by the way, it’s a cool venue. I did not sample their culinary delights but I could see that they were of a good standard. Pleasant staff (who even gave me the WiFi code because I ran out of data) and as with all the venues in The Cave, great ambience. Of course, being inside a mountain gives you a headstart but you have to get the lighting just right to get that ‘inside a cave’ atmosphere, which they do to perfection.

Adam Cole: catch him at Copper Restaurant (Sayh Al Malih Street) every Tuesday night and also performing all over Muscat, so look out for the posters!

Monk’s Tap House: https://www.facebook.com/monkstaphouse/

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor on Friday 17th November 2017

‘The T-Band’ at Route 66, Qurm Resort

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage and indoorHaving only been in residence in Muscat for a few months, I am still on a newcomer’s voyage of discovery of the live music scene. Initially, I didn’t think there was one. I asked around on arrival and I was told that Cliff Richard was soon to perform at the Royal Opera House Muscat; much as I liked Cliff Richard back in the day, it wasn’t quite what I meant. But gradually, I am peeling back the layers of this busy, bright city to reveal a hidden gem of rock and folk music (I’ll let you know when I stumble across any other genres – I am certain they are here somewhere!).

So when I went out a couple of weeks ago, having made an arrangement to meet friends at ‘a bar where you can dance’, I was unaware that I was about to attend a gig. I raised an eyebrow or two at the entrance fee, mumbling that there were other bars ‘where you can dance’ that do not require an entrance fee. That said, it was clearly one of the smarter hostelries in town, proffering that typically Muscat hospitality of a cornucopian supply of peanuts with your beverages (guaranteed to make you drink more of course, as your mouth starts to feel like the surrounding desert) and popcorn also. Not a personal favourite, but my friends enjoyed it and I managed to avoid telling them how wasteful their posh fragrances were, because all I could smell on them was popcorn.

But when a four-strong band hit the stage and confidently started to throw out some cool nostalgia, I realised that I had paid to see a live rock band.

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, standing and indoor

They had me at ‘Turn Back Time’ but then they had me a bit more with ‘Creep’ and then again with ‘Losing My Religion’.

When we reached ‘Breakfast at TIffany’s’, one of my friends commented that it was a good song.

‘You know this song?’

‘Yes!’ he said, while his friend laughed.

‘No,’ he admitted, ‘I never heard it in Pakistan but I can like it if I want!’

Absolutely – and testament to a good song – moreover a good cover of a good song, that you can hear it for the first time and like it.

Pink Floyd … Bob Marley … Police … this band has boundless energy and a repertoire to match. I started to jot down the songs but I was there for a drink and a boogie so when there was the inevitable migration from the edges to the dance floor at the centre, I joined my fellow revellers to start my weekend.

I recall a crescendo of Queen and Bon Jovi however, as I danced Thursday night into Friday morning and I was glad that they were playing covers, because much as I love original music, people don’t always dance to little-known songs.

Front man Tarek Khorshid is a powerhouse; flanked by fellow guitarist Adil and bass player Ashraf, he is ably supported by equally powerful musicians. But then my favourite – because he posed and smiled for my picture whilst continuing to maintain that all-important beat at the back of the stage – Akbar on the drums. The newest addition to the band apparently and clearly only there because his name begins with an ‘A’, but what a stroke of luck that he turned out to be as talented as the other three.

Image may contain: 1 person

The T-Band: worth checking out every other Thursday at Route 66 and other venues and more than just a rock band – it’s just that they played mostly rock when I saw them!

https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-T-Band-306340852718661/about/?ref=page_internal

 

Route 66: worth checking out at the weekend for a classy boogie and pleasant outlook over Shatti beach

https://www.facebook.com/Route66Oman/app/267091300008193/?ref=page_internal

 

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor at Route 66 on Thursday 16th November 2017

Huffman: Swarm and Exist In Mist

Firmly established as a rock band, I was not expecting Huffman’s new release ‘Swarm’ to have an intro of haunting piano and equally atmospheric percussion (Paul Provensano). Despite Don Huffman launching into his rock star vocals early on, the piano continues to repeat variations on the same phrase throughout the song, coming to the fore during instrumental breaks and definitely giving this talented rock band an alternative/indie edge. With three accomplished musicians on strings (Kurtis Goad on rhythm guitar, Josh Pickeral on bass and Anton Tuvelman on lead guitar), as with all the best rock bands, the instrumental breaks are an integral part of the listening experience. Throw in some enigmatic lyrics with a slightly dark vibe, and this is one song to remember.

Swarm

A more upbeat offering, Exist In Mist hits you with full-on percussion and strings from the outset and continues with an energetic style throughout. Huffman’s vocals are more distant and deliberately less imposing, giving the boys on guitars their rock band moment, which they do to perfection. An abrupt end rounds off the song with as much confidence as the start. Pure rock.

Exist in Mist

http://www.indienink.com 

http://www.facebook.com/huffmanrock 

http://www.mantarayrecords.com 

Lisa O’Connor

Oops! I wrote a travel blog … Bimmah Sinkhole.

Sinkholes, as you probably know, are holes in the ground. They are usually caused by ‘karst’ processes, for example, any combination of dissolution of soluble rocks, underground caverns and surface erosion. They can form gradually or suddenly and vary in size from 1-600m in depth and width. They are found the world over, but I have visited just one – Bimmah Sinkhole – which is 50m by 70m wide and approximately 20m deep. I am fortunate to have visited it twice, the second time being around two months ago.

It was the afternoon after the morning of trips to and from school to burn the journey into my short-term memory. Frankly, I was done with driving after near misses, getting lost and being tailgated, so I was happy to crawl into the backseat of the car belonging to my new friend with the beautiful headscarves, as she had lived here a while, loved driving and knew the way (more or less).

It was an hour away, but with petrol stops, toilet stops and changing-into-my-swimsuit stops, it took nearly two hours. Every stop involved the obligatory wander round the resident foodstore at the petrol station, as every stop was at a petrol station and when one is on a road trip, one must take advantage of available food for sale, because you never know. I don’t know what you never know, but it seems a reasonable excuse for buying those heavenly peanut cookies (in my case) because they are hard to come by.

We arrived mid-afternoon, spread between two cars as there were several of us and after a small blip at the end where we seemed a little lost – no, just mislaid perhaps – we arrived at Hawiyat Najim Park, home of said sinkhole. The first time I visited was with Rhiannon and Joseph when they were around nine and ten years old respectively, so around thirteen years ago and I don’t recall the park, so unless my memory is mistaken (or there are two sinkholes in Muscat), I imagine that this has been built around the sinkhole during that time. ‘Hawiyat Najim’ means ‘Falling Star’, because the locals believe (or believed at the time of naming the park) that a meteorite was the cause. To be fair, the commonly held theory of dissolving limestone is not conclusive and the sinkhole remains somewhat a mystery today, even with current seismic technology.

When I read travel blogs or peruse glossy travel brochures with their equally glossy pictures, I imagine the turquoise of the water to actually be the deepest turquoise of a convenient filter, but on gazing down at Bimmah, I felt humbled. These waters are turquoise … enhanced by sandy-coloured walls which surround this natural swimming pool protectively. The steps down, carved out to make this natural phenomenon accessible, blend perfectly and the unevenness of some steps gives the only man-made part of this structure a necessary naturalness.

Despite the turquoise appearance, the water is clear. It is not unlike a mini-beach, with a shoreline, shallows and then deeper water as you wade in. It is easy to wade in; none of this ‘come on in – you’ll get used to the cold after a while’ business because the waters are positively balmy. There are rocks at the far end where you can jump off and had I known, I would have dispensed with the contact lenses beforehand but there we are.

Back in the UK, there is a trend for fish pedicures using Garra rufa fish, which are tiny toothless fish native to the Middle East and the Anatolia region, who just love to nibble hard skin off your feet. Bimmah Sinkhole, whose water is a mix of freshwater and seawater, is home to these fish. Sit on a rock in the shallows and these tiny, helpful creatures will gather around your feet and do their stuff. I totally abused their hunger and I reckon I experienced around OMR 50’s worth of fish pedicure.

But the sinkhole is not entirely round … swim to the left and you find yourself in a still, secluded lagoon. In fact, ‘80s movie The Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields, came to mind as I swam round and the noises of families became more distant and the temperature dropped. Taking rest on a large rock I felt less alone, as more Garra rufa fish gravitated towards me but these were bigger and they were not content with nibbling my feet. Instead, they descended onto my thighs, where the skin was not hard and with bigger mouths, I started to feel the occasional pinch and wondering if I could actually be eaten alive if there were enough of them, I opted for rejoining the human race. I hauled myself up onto the rocks, so I could climb to my things and have a peanut cookie by way of consolation.

As sunset approached, so did growing hunger and so we packed up and walked to one of the wooden gazebos sprinkled throughout the park, so we could enjoy a picnic.

En route to the car, we walked amidst date trees and I want to say that we idly picked dates and chewed on their sweetness as we ambled into the sunset. But instead we gazed up at the dates, asking that age-old question: Why is the best fruit always so inaccessible? (By the way, just in case anyone is going to answer that, it is rhetorical.)

It was too hard to resist. We had to have a go. It started out as a gentle shake, which then grew into a prod with sticks; (apologies Regina Spektor https://youtu.be/oUObGCCXAfs ) which then turned into actual shoe-throwing right into the middle of the poor date tree which hitherto was only accustomed to people looking upon it lovingly and taking pictures with the sun setting behind it.

But we were rewarded with a whole bunch of dates falling into our laps. Well, into the dust. And they really weren’t nice. I shall continue to buy them from from the supermarket. Divine retribution, I feel, for abusing the date tree, especially after we had been so welcomed by nature at such a remarkably beautiful corner of the planet.

Bimmah Sinkhole at Hawiyat Najim Park: well worth a day of your life.

Still Only Day Two

The following day was a Thursday and therefore the last day of the working week in Oman. We had been promised a minibus to collect us at 7.30 (because they were taking ‘it easy’ on us on the first day) and so we gathered in the lobby of the ‘Teachers’ Apartments’ as they would become known, to await our transport. There were around 20 of us, split between 4 schools, but most of that number, it would transpire, were starting at my school. On arrival at the school we were given breakfast – Omani bread – and Omani coffee which, I have been reliably informed by the lovely maths teacher downstairs, contains no caffeine! No wonder I was capable of drinking vast quantities without feeling like I was going to take off. It might not sport caffeine as an ingredient, but it is heavenly nonetheless.

This was the day I learnt ‘inshallah’. Anyone reading this who understands the meaning, will, no doubt, be stifling a chuckle at this point. The literal translation means ‘God willing’… but in reality, it means that it might get done. Whatever ‘it’ is … and if it does, there is no telling when it will get done.

After a few hours of becoming familiar with our new work place, we moved outside to await collection by the minibus. 11am was the expected arrival time and we had been promised a tour of Muscat.

‘Don’t wait outside,’ advised the vice-principal, when she observed a few of us basking in this new phenomenon – an extremely hot sun.

‘Our minibus is due at 11,’ I spoke for us all.

‘Inshallah,’ she smiled and winked as she sought shade, adding as she walked away, ‘Omani time.’

Indeed, our minibus arrived two and a half hours late, so it was what you would call a whistle-stop tour of Muscat.

The souk … the Sultan’s palace … the beach … The Al Bustan … there may have been more but some of it blurred into the next attraction and so was forgotten.

Next stop an Italian restaurant for lunch, after which the head had kindly agreed to take me to a phone shop in ‘downtown’ Muscat so that I could replace my now useless iPhone.

‘Don’t worry that everyone is staring at you,’ he reassured me, when we arrived.

I peered out of his car window and yes, everyone was staring at me. When I say ‘everyone’, I mean every man, as there was not another female in sight.

‘Yeah … they don’t get many women down here,’ he affirmed, ‘so that’s why they’re staring.’

I was glad that we were parked near to the phone shop, so that the walk through this male-only end of town was short.

I stepped out of myself for a moment, whilst in the phone shop, to reflect once more on the situation.

The head was helping me to buy a phone.

‘Are you sure you don’t want the next one up in the range?’

I looked up from the counter to see the vice-principal of all four schools, who was to leave soon, as he was working his notice.

‘I would go for this one,’ said a third voice.

The newly appointed vice-principal of all four schools had also arrived.

I struggled not to laugh; three of the most senior members of this chain of schools were with me, in ‘downtown’ Muscat, helping me to buy a phone.

To this day I am unsure as to why they were there, but there was certainly something rather endearing about the whole scenario.

With their help, I bought an almost-bottom-of-the-range Samsung for OMR 29 (£58).

The next day was Friday and the first day of the weekend. I thought a walk to the beach was in order, as I was in a coastal city which basked in a permanent summer and of course, all the beaches boasted long stretches of yellow sand. So I walked. And walked … and walked a bit more, until I was aware that the number of times I had been beeped at by passing cabs was certainly reaching triple figures. I did not imagine I was being beeped for ‘boy meets girl’ reasons so I wondered if my mode of dress was inappropriate. I would have compared myself to other women but there was not a single woman in sight. There was not a single human in sight. No-one goes for walks I realised. Feeling the sweat pouring down the centre of my back indicated the reason for this. But I was determined to reach the beach … which I did. It was a pleasant beach, but exposed. There were no women – only men. Not a beach for swimming then … unless you’re a man. I realised that the cab drivers were beeping to offer their services. It was tempting, on my return journey but I resisted. Had I known what the evening had lined up for me, I might have taken one of those cabs.

For the first time in my life (with the exception of the occasional holiday abode) I had to pay for my electricity unit by unit on a meter. We had been told that our meters had a small number of units as a starter. Given how long my units have lasted since I bought some myself, I presume that I had a very small number of units on my meter as a starter. Like less than OMR 1 … as mine ran out after a few days. I had heard that these all-elusive units were available from OmanOil (a petrol station) and so I set off in the afternoon to find such a place, as my meter was issuing a panic-stricken ‘Feed me!’ alarm every half hour. I knew that the nearest shop, a humble affair called ‘Mars’ (Mars shops are like Co-ops in the UK: plentiful, reasonably priced but a little lacking in quality) would not sell me any such units, but I hoped that they might direct me to somewhere that would. The man on the counter where I bought phone credit pointed vaguely over the road and said something in Arabic (or maybe it was poor English with a rich Arabic accent), so I crossed the road and continued walking. I saw a Shell sign in the distance and got hopeful, as this meant I was near a petrol station. When I arrived at the sign, however, it indicated that Shell was 1km away. I could see the petrol station by this time and although a 1km trek was not appealing in temperatures in the late 30s, neither was a night roasting in an apartment with no air conditioning. So I continued to walk. And when I arrived they told me that they did not sell electricity units … by this time I was near to a large supermarket called Carrefour, so I took advantage of my unplanned trip along the Expressway and popped in for some light (given that I was on foot) shopping. It was daytime when I went in. When I emerged just 15 minutes later it was completely dark. I had forgotten about the lack of dusk. I looked at my shopping … I looked at the night … I looked at the busy Expressway. I reflected on the fact that I was hot and sweaty and could not see this oasis of electricity units and decided to allow myself to be talked into a cab by a group of Indian cab drivers.

‘Five rial!’ announced one, after much collaboration with others about how much I should be charged for a ride to OmanOil followed by a ride back to the teachers’ apartments in Qurm.

I was quite certain that this was a special price for a newly-arrived, naive immigrant such as myself, with tell-tale white skin. As my skin has toughened with UV rays, so have I, much to the embarrassment of anyone sharing a cab with me, my overarching argument always being:

‘It costs you no more than 7 rials to fill your car, therefore I am not giving you almost enough money to fill your car for a ten minute ride to a bar.’

There is no meter, so every financial settlement in a cab is reached by bartering and also, some cab drivers want to charge per person.

But anyway, I was deposited at OmanOil to purchase electricity units and duly dropped back home, paying a high price for the pleasure.

The following day we were transported to a nearby hospital for medicals – I thought, just to gain medical insurance, but in fact it was also to gain residency. Thus ensued the first round of fingerprinting. I have been fingerprinted so much since then that I’m sure my fingerprints have worn down a little.

And then a whole week of inset. Despite trying to find pictures on the website, I had very little idea of the appearance of the school until arrival. It is compact. There are two rows of attractive cream-coloured blocks, with five blocks in each row, separated by fake grass in the middle. The fake grass is where breaktimes, assembly, boys’ prayers, P.E. and any other gathering happens and so there are colourful canopies covering the area, to block out the sun. Each block is on three floors and as my classroom is on the top floor of the tenth block, I feel a little like Rapunzel … no-one needs to pass my classroom and on busy days I may be in there for the whole day, making the occasional trip across the minibus parking lot to refill my water bottle.

‘Why do you walk in the sun, Ms Lisa?’ asked one of my students, some weeks later.

‘I love it!’ I replied.

‘Why do you love it?!’ she wondered, continuing with, ‘It is too hot!’

If, like me, you thought that indigenous people of hot countries are super-equipped to deal with sweltering temperatures, then you are as misguided as I was. The disagreements over the AC in my classroom are testament to this! Put simply, I want to be warm whereas my students want to be cold. To be fair, the girls wear long-sleeved tops under long pinafore dresses and headscarves; and the boys wear dishdashas, so my attire is considerably lighter than theirs.

Every day, the minibus collected us to take us to school, with the exception of the first day, when it took us to a swanky hotel for a meeting and a feast of fabulous food. A young, glamorous Omani lady headed towards me and greeted me. She introduced herself and I realised that she was the HR lady with whom I had liaised over the job offer.

‘You look nothing like your photograph!’ she remarked.

I was about to explain that it had been a ‘bad hair day’, but that I’d known she’d needed the passport photos, but she followed it up with,

‘I think you were overweight then!’

A strange silence descended on the group, while they looked to me for my reaction, but I had none.

‘Oh well – better that she thought I’d lost weight than gained weight!’ I said, as she wandered off, unaware of her clumsiness. Or was it a cultural difference in tact? Time would tell.

On the penultimate day the minibus took us to get our residency status (more fingerprinting) and the words ‘don’t hand over your passport’ rang in my ears as I handed over my passport. We would see them again when we received our residency cards several days later. I was a little concerned that my form stated that my Christian name was ‘O’, my middle name was ‘Lisa’ and my surname was Connor.

‘It is fine,’ said an official when I queried it, followed up with, ‘inshallah.’

So I left it, not reassured at all.

On the final day of the week before the most terrifying part for new teachers – meeting the students – the head took me, as promised, to hire a car.

As he drove into hitherto unknown (by me, anyway) parts, I recalled his words earlier that week – I’ll escort you to your apartment – and they were a comfort to me.

So when he said,

‘You’ll be ok finding your way home, won’t you?’

I felt a flood of adrenaline dropping from my chest to my toes. I had driven abroad – ie, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – once, 15 years ago for one week. I had been a passenger in a minibus for a week and I was not familiar with the geography of the area at all. It was busy – every road seem to be in possession of about six lanes – and it seemed to me that drivers here had short tempers. And I had no GPS.

‘No!’ I responded, deliberately imparting abject terror to the most helpful head I had ever encountered.

‘It’s just the kids have got swimming tonight and I’ll be late if I escort you all the way home,’ he elaborated.

‘I have a poor sense of direction,’ I argued.

‘Ok – how about I take you as far as the Expressway?’ he offered, ‘I’ll ring you as I’m leaving you,’ he continued.

I had noticed that Oman clearly had no laws concerning the use of mobile phones whilst driving, taxi drivers being the worst offenders, not bothering to use loudspeaker at all.

At ‘Value Plus’ car hire I proudly produced my Omani residency card, only for the very helpful head to surreptitiously slide it back towards my bag, mouthing put it away. Bemused, I obeyed and when our car hire man took everything else in my bag with my name on it to photocopy (I became accustomed to carrying all available ID around with me for the first month), he explained that I should have procured an Omani driving licence as soon as I had my residency card. My look of horror on hearing that I may be breaking the law, led him to assure me that he would make sure the man with the peaceful aura took us all to the relevant place. At some point. My look of horror continuing, he added that I should not produce my residency card if stopped by the police. I believe I still wore a look of horror when my car was duly hired and I parted with OMR 150 for one month’s hire.

‘No petrol!’ warned the young chap who seemingly got paid for sitting at a desk, playing Clash of Clans on his phone and getting me really nice cups of chai tea while the Helpful Head conducted my car rental in Arabic.

‘Enough to get home?’ I asked.

‘No – go to next petrol station!’ he warned.

With a shamefully pleading look, I turned to Helpful Head, not wishing to be responsible for a late start to the swimming lesson, but not wanting to end up driving to Dubai either.

‘We’ll swing by a petrol station,’ he assured.

So my drive home was a baptism of fire. On the wrong side of the road, struggling to pick a lane as there was so much choice, no GPS, alone, amongst irate drivers in unfamiliar surroundings, worrying about being stopped by the police and keeping my residency card a secret, not to mention the threat of a night in jail if I accidentally jumped a red light or got zapped by a speed camera… I’ll stop there. I made it home and I had a car in which to get to work. Just had to figure out how to get there now, with no GPS and no Wifi at home to look it up.

Enter the nice Scottish man downstairs who would become my colleague in the English department (and partner in crime on Thursday nights when in search of alcohol: either in his apartment with his seemingly never-ending supply of gin, or in The Crowne Plaza when the gin turned out to be an ‘ending’ supply). He also cleared up my eye infection when a chance conversation within minutes of landing in Muscat led him to give me a tube of magical ointment.

Anyway, his good deed this particular weekend was to drive to and from school several times so that I could follow and therefore learn the way. If you have ever followed someone through unfamiliar territory with many twists and turns, you will understand how stressful this was. I wiped away many a tear as I almost jumped red lights and almost drove on the wrong side of the road in my quest to ‘keep up’. Had I been in possession of any form of map, either paper or virtual, I would not have undertaken this venture. But Scottish Colleague was generous to give me his time in this way and without his generosity, I would not have found my way to work the following Sunday; in other words, I had little choice and it is no reflection on him that the experience was stressful … it just was.

Lazer and Levi’s ‘The Prologue’

Lazer & Levi The Prologue

I definitely felt a touch of nostalgia on hearing the opening bars of ‘One More Time’ – the first track on rock duo Lazer and Levi’s EP ‘The Prologue’. Iconic ‘80s rock band Dire Straits came to mind as accomplished lead guitar, then a confident drumbeat (David Laine) promised a rocking first song … which indeed it was. A more mellow opening to second track ‘Just a Game’ reflected a shift in mood; a slower beat (and still I’m reminded of said ‘80s rock band) and a platform for Levi Blehm to show off his impressive vocal range – his honeyed tones hit the high notes with as much consistency as any other notes.

Versatile and Enduring

Track number three, ‘Confessions’, begins with a solid bluesy feel, embracing rock about a minute in. The ability to adapt to a number of genres is the hallmark of a versatile and therefore enduring band, as is an ability to finish a song with a flourish, as demonstrated beautifully here.

Penultimate track ‘Go On’ has an overall feeling of flawlessness and takes us into a country genre with its folky strings and later on, some rousing drums, leaving us with some feelgood motivational lyrics to soften the blow of the (almost) finish.

The aptly-named  ‘Say You Want More’ hits the spot with a lilty, old-timey vibe and some gentle lyrics, fitting for a gentle voice.

Best New Artist

‘Those Boys from Colorado’ have written over a hundred songs and were nominated for the ‘Best New Artist’ in the Rocky Mountain CMA’s (iHeart) and listening to this EP, this is a deserved accolade. I look forward to hearing more from these immensely talented brothers, who have been making their way in the music scene from childhood. And I needed an alternative to iconic ‘80s rock bands …

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Lisa O’Connor