The Holidays in the Middle East

Christmas decoration in the mountains of Oman

It may be that I was trained at an early age, but I always find it weird to be a warm location during the holiday season. Snow should be coming out of the sky, forcing me to bundle up in a warm coat, and watch the blinking lights from a safe distance. The malls should be crowded with holiday shoppers, and everybody should be in good cheer.

Jabreen Fort in Oman

But when it is warm out, it doesn’t have the same feel. I want to go for hikes, and explore the world around me. This was more the focus of this holiday season, and though it may have been different, in a way, it was more authentic.

Abu Dhabi’s skyline

In the hustle and bustle that we lose ourselves into during every holiday season, we sometimes forget that in reality, it is not about the snow, and pine trees. It is not about the presents, and the parties. It actually started off in a very humble manner, in the place where I am now living, and traveling through during the holiday season. Maybe, instead of having this Nordic experience every year, we should turn our attention to sand, and camels.

The Old House in Misfah, Oman

Despite the stringing up of power lines, and the introduction of indoor plumbing, the Middle East has not changed a lot over the two thousand years since the birth of the holiday season. There are many opportunities to find small old houses to stay in, sleeping on the floor, and hearing the voices of animals just outside your window. The community still gathers together in those places for meals, and enjoys the company of each other under skies that do not threaten you with anything more than a warm day. It is completely unlike anything that we think about when the holiday season comes to mind.

Staircase up to the Imam’s rooms in Jabreen Fort in Oman

Granted the Middle East is a predominantly Muslim part of the world, and the further that I get away from my home in Jordan, the harder it is to see the aspects of Christianity that I grew up with and became accustomed to. That does not mean that the holidays are not celebrated there. New Year’s Eve looks like the bigger celebration, especially in the bigger cities, but still there are aspects of Christmas around as well. It is just shown in different ways, and it reminds me of those ornaments that, as a child, we always placed on the bottom part of the tree. They were of shepherds, and camels, and donkeys, and of course, the whole crew to fill out the nativity, and those are everywhere to be seen out in the Middle East. It just reminds me of a Christmas celebration that is sometimes pushed to the side, instead of being celebrated more.

The Corniche beach in Abu Dhabi

Though I found myself wandering the desert, and relaxing on the beach this holiday season, it did not mean that it wasn’t any less special. Yes, it definitely felt different than what I was accustomed to, but it was still a nice way to spend the holidays.

Sunset in Abu Dhabi

The beauty of the season did not come in electric systems that were put to the test to keep lights blinking, but instead from the explosion of color in the sky that came from when the sun set. The warmth of the season did not come from bundling up close to a fire, but standing in the sand letting the sun thaw me out. The feeling of the season still came from those I was able to share it with which, in the end, is what the holiday season should be about.

Al Qana in Abu Dhabi

I did enjoy the time that I got to have in both Oman and Abu Dhabi. It is a side of the world that I have gotten to explore, and I do believe that this experience has given me a greater appreciation for the place in the world that I live in. I hope that you can come to the same agreement with wherever you find yourself. Be sure to appreciate the ones you are near, and look forward to not just the dawn of a New Year, but each day that follows it.

Thanks again, until next time.

Shopping – The Holidays Day 3

I know that it is the third day of my trip and this is only the first picture I have shared on my blog. I am usually a little bit better than this, but I am sorry to report that I have not been any place really exciting yet. So far, it has been sitting around the house and bracing myself against the gloom of the Portland fog. I did have to escape once to go out and finish my Christmas shopping. In all truth, I had to go out and start my Christmas shopping, but luckily enough I really did not have a lot of shopping that I had to do. This has always been a problem with me ever since I have become a teacher. December is a busy time of the year for people who teach high school English. I always have a stack of final essays to go through and I do not have a lot of time for anything else. Fortunately, most schools get out with enough time for me to go out and get this other thing done before the actual holiday. Over the last couple of years, I have spent my time sitting in front of a computer and having everything sent by Amazon. It is an easy and convenient way of doing this, but I really need to go to the website knowing what it is I am getting everybody because there really is no browsing going on. Considering I am usually a few thousand miles away from the people receiving the gifts, somehow this impersonal approach works, but I do not know if they really appreciate what they are getting. That is why I think that the malls are a better shopping option. It makes me go out and find that perfect gift for everybody. I go out looking with nothing in mind of what I am going to get, and go out and search for the one that will make them happy. It takes some stumbling around as I look, and I do have to fight Christmas shoppers, and battle for parking spots, but I think that I get something better by going through it this way. It is the only thing that I have done so far on this holiday away from school that did not involve traveling from one spot to another. I know that things will get more exciting as the weeks progress, but for now it is all about the buildup. It might be the boring part of the story, but it is necessary to making a good one.

The Long Day

Airport travel.

I know what a lot of you just did. You screamed loudly and clicked off of this blog post because there was no way that you ever wanted to read a long post about traveling through airports. It is the comedians cliche. It is the third topic that should never be spoken about at bars after religion and politics. It is something that nobody ever enjoys, yet there is always a large group of people congregated at the airports around the world looking to shift their location from one place to another. And this time of the year seems to bring a bigger group of people to these places.

But do not worry. I will try not to bore you with the details. There were the typical delays. The lunches being held down on the shaky approaches in. And of course, there were the long hours wandering around the airports, looking for ways to make the time go quicker. But there was a certain excitement in the air as well that I had not felt before a long airplane flight for a very long time.

It could have been that I had just finished one of the hardest semesters I have ever been through in my educational career. It wasn’t because my students were cruel, or because administration was always breathing down my back. In fact, in both of those cases, they were both some of the greatest students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching, and after a couple of stumbles with a new administration, they are finally finding their stride and making a community at the school that makes a great environment to teach and grow in. It was just the fact that I had taken on a little bit more than I could chew, and it really ran me ragged. This break was something I was looking forward to, and the vacation would be one that I would take full advantage of.

It could have been that I took the school bus out the airport as soon as the last day of school was over, and I had an opportunity to visit with people that I usually do not get to hang out with, due to the fact that we live in different parts of the city. The extra time that I got to spend in the airports was actually fun, and added to the excitement that I would be traveling to a different part of the world for the holiday season.

But I think the real reason that this trip was not that I was dreading so much was that it was a last minute decision to go home for Christmas instead of spending the holiday season in Vietnam and Thailand. There were certain events happening in that part of the world that required our attention during the break, and it made sense that we would be down there then. But then the situation suddenly changed, and it didn’t make sense to go down there anymore. We were left with the option of picking from anywhere in the world. Of course, we only had two weeks to really decide where we would go, but only one place really made sense, home. I know we spent the holiday season in the States last year, and it wold be like going over the same routine again, but there is really nothing like spending the holidays with the people you love. It brings with it the warmth and joy that you always think of when you think of the holidays. It was in anticipation of this warmth that made the twenty-four hours spent in the world’s airports and planes worth the time. The delays, bad food, and turbulence could not bring me down as I slowly made my way home, and now that I am here, I can just relax and enjoy a much needed break.

So for all of you that will be going through the same experience in the next couple of days, try to find that joy that you know you will eventually get to, and do not let the long time that airport travel forces you into bring you down. It will make everybody else’s experience even that much brighter, and this holiday season will be a joyous one for all.