Yesterday afternoon I had the intensely satisfying experience of conducting a research interview in Arabic. I asked my acquaintance from Batinah, the region to the Northwest of Muscat, a list of questions in order to get a sense of how he perceives Omani identity and how he explains it to outsiders. I had intended to interview in English, but in this case it was clear the conversation would proceed more efficiently if I could at least try to explain my questions in a mix of Arabic and English (mostly the former), which I did on the fly. Miraculously, he seemed to understand me and provided thoughtful responses to questions like “What makes Oman different from other places in the Gulf?” and “What are the most important moments in Oman’s history?” Even more amazing was that I understood most of what he said, as I checked my comprehension by restating his ideas. Like many others that I’ve talked with in Oman, this man was eager to point out the distinctiveness of Omani dress (for men) and firm commitment to quiet, peaceful living that Omanis have long valued and that continues to inform their social interactions as well as international policies.
I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I also came away encouraged by this proof that my Arabic skills have improved and that the last five weeks of immersion study of both Modern Standard Arabic and more particularly Omani dialect have clearly aided my research. The days I have spent exploring museums, forts, and other heritage sites have also contributed to the vocabulary that I now use in discussing Omani identity.
I have a number of other interviews scheduled for this week, and then I return to the States on July 15. For the remaining two weeks of my summer research, I will be working on collecting additional sources and synthesizing the data that I’ve gathered in Oman. I am excited to go home and see family and friends in Virginia, but I am also sad to leave Oman and the kind people who have so eagerly made me feel at home here.