Lovely Oman

Where have I been?  Oh here.  In onward assignment limbo.  But I thought I'd break the silence (and the emotional torture) with a little post about lovely, lovely Oman.  I haven't posted a lot about our time here and I have developed an idea that it's because it's so lovely and calm and beautiful.  Sounds like a crazy reason not to write, I know, but evidently I'm creatively motivated by discomfort and conflict.  I'm not sure how to unravel that just yet...

But anyway, I'm not much for New Year's resolutions but this year I'm going to work harder to share Oman.
Muttrah Souk Stained Glass Ceiling

Jebel Akhdar at Sunset
Ras Al Had

Oh, just a camel ranch

Jebal Akhdar Plants
The husband, contemplating they mysteries of the Universe
on Jebel Akhdar
Another great view from Jebel Akhdar
Muttrah Souk

Why I Love Maps

A few months ago I met a man from Sudan at the Muscat book fair.  He showed me pictures of a recent trip home to Khartoum.  I saw his family, traditional Sundanese food, a curly headed nephew pretending to smoke hookah, and lots and lots of sand.  One of the pictures was of the inside of a boat.

“That was my room”  He said to me.  

“Sorry, your room?”  

“Yes.  On the way to Sudan.”

From Oman.  On the way to Sudan from Oman...via boat.  He then mapped out his route for me:  Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Jeddah, Port Sudan, Khartoum.   Thousands of miles, multiple borders, many days, land, water, desert.  
I had just bought a beautiful book full of infographics and stylized maps from all over the world.  It is truly an amazing book, but after listening to my new friend describe his journey I thought THESE are the types of geographies, places and maps I really want to learn about. Geographies of shifting people, migrants, expatriates, people staying put but changing over time.  Stories of how people arrive at a certain location, a certain ideology or culture as evidenced by the places from which they come or even by the features of the landscape itself.  Map as story.  Map as identity.  Map as history.  Map as journey.     

I have become mildly obsessed with the 7 year journey of Paul Salopek, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and National Geographic Fellow who is spending 84 months walking around the world.  

"Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden world walk is an exercise in slow journalism. Moving at the slow beat of his footsteps, Paul is engaging with the major stories of our time—from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival—by walking alongside the people who inhabit them every day. As he traverses the globe from Africa to South America, he is revealing the texture of the lives of people he encounters: the nomads, villagers, traders, farmers, and fishermen who never make the news."  

Lately I’ve been circling around the things we can learn about people and history by slowness, by participation instead of voyeurism, by observation instead of consumption.  After my first real trip outside of America I proudly ticked off the cities we'd seen to family and friends who were kind enough not to roll their eyes.  But, partly prodded by the slower travel habits of my husband and by serious thought about ethical and authentic travel, those kinds of things don’t matter to me anymore.  What matters to me are stories and histories, values and traditions, contradictions and identities.  All things that are somehow, impossibly captured by the best maps. 

My friend's story might look like miles of sand separated by an ocean strip on a map, but 
lurking among the latitudes and labels are stories of political and economic instability, familial values across distance, the limits of technology and luxuries of speedy travel.  It's all there, we just have to dig.               

*If you are interested in more "Slow Journalism" I just finished "Beyond The Beautiful Forevers" about a garbage slum in outer Mumbai that will blow you away.  Such profound, complete story telling and reporting.  If we think the solutions and causes of poverty are simple then we aren't trying hard enough to understand them.