Episode 12: First Impressions

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Chris was packing up and moving into the new flat while waiting for Noelle to arrive via London and Singapore.  

I have officially been in the Possibly Perfect Place for a week now! A lot of people have been asking about my first impressions, so I figured I would jump right in and tell you some of my thoughts so far.

As a basic summary: this is a new country. A really new country. To put it in terms of those who aren’t super into history (such as I), imagine you are in America at a time when it is totally normal to see a retired George Washington hanging out at the local saloon. It’s that level of new. The man who led the resistance movement that brought about the country’s independence (it’s second independence, actually) and became its first President still lives in town and is often seen kicking about. So, that’s kind of bizarre and trippy.

Being in such a fresh-out-of-the-oven place feels both exciting and chaotic. As in the early days of America, they’re still trying to figure it all out. They’re constructing their foundational laws, their forms of government, their political parties, and their infrastructure. They have very little money to do this all with, so there is a lot of prioritizing going on. Is it more essential to have garbage collectors or teachers? Is it better to invest in agriculture or tourism?  Even their driving system is in flux. A new one-way system was recently implemented, but the road markings haven’t changed as quickly, so you don’t always know if you are on a two-way street or a one-way street or which way the one-way goes. Couple that with driving on the left and you are in for quite an adventure!

All that to say, there are some significant challenges I have seen so far and certainly more to come. But there are also some pretty sweet rewards. I will enumerate a few below and let you decide to which category they belong.

Market limitations: This isn’t the type of place where you decide what you want to make for dinner then go get the things and make it. You go to the market, get what they have then put your imagination to the test. It makes for more creative cooking, that’s for sure. It’s kind of fun for now, though I can see there being a day when all I want is the perfect nacho and there are no tortilla chips in the whole country. That will be a sad day, but in the words of Aragorn, “it is not this day!” (I’m reading Lord of the Rings in preparation for our New Zealand trip and Hobbiton visit, obviously).

Regular G&Ts – Speaking of market limitations, a few weeks ago Chris tried to get tonic water for us to make gin and tonics, but no shops had it. The week after that it was back in stock, but you could only buy it by the flat. So we now have 24 cans we’re working our way through (using the very adorable bamboo straws he also acquired). Our first night here we also went to a beautiful beachside restaurant where we watched the sunset and drank our new signature drink. Bliss.

Airline Drama: The need for antitrust legislation came to light last week when an airline started essentially holding the country at ransom. There are three cities you can fly to from here, only one of which is really a useful connection for the majority of people. That route is served by two airlines across four flights a day. It is the country’s lifeline to the outside world in many ways. People use that for their visa runs, for long weekends, for buying things they can’t get here, and for going back to wherever they call home. Last week, one of those two airlines bought the other one and more than doubled the prices overnight. It’s a been a problem, to say the least.

It has affected us personally as my parents are trying to plan a trip to visit and now have to pay a hell of a lot more to get here. And it has had huge ramifications for NGOs who have to frequently fly people around and for tourist-based businesses who will see a massive drop in their clientele. As such a new country, however, there isn’t a lot of bargaining power to fix this with. The Ministry of Transportation is doing its best to stand up to the airline by imposing sanctions, or bringing in a new airline for the route, or increasing the national airline’s current routes from zero to one to fill the gap, but this could take a lot of time. Until then, no one can stop this company from charging extortionate prices with no consequence.

Internet not strong: Chris set my phone up with internet a couple of days after I got here and it’s sort of decent-ish (some things work and others have no prayer). It feels like we went back to the 90s a bit, but I am also kind of enjoying it. I have a lot more time to do things because I can’t be bothered to sit around waiting for pages to load. It makes banking pretty annoying (and I can’t imagine how long it would take to reset a password with all the emails and temporary codes and yada yada yada), but it means I don’t waste time with pointless crap online, so that’s nice.

Not many bugs: This one has surprised me a lot. I haven’t had one mosquito bite yet. I have seen one sort-of-chunky-but-by-no-means-huge cockroach, but nothing else gross in the house (or outside of the house for that matter). I really expected to have bites all over after a week and I don’t, so that’s a win!

Color!!!: They are not afraid of color here. There are gorgeous tropical flowers everywhere (long live bougainvillea!) and the local tapestry craft uses some incredibly bold and beautiful color palettes. I love it mucho.

Protests: A few protests took place this week over decisions made by Parliament and the police. This does belong somewhat in the “challenges” section as it causes minor concerns over safety, but it also feels like good thing. We recently lived in a place where this would simply never happen. I was hard pressed to find anyone there who said anything against the government in the privacy of their own home, let alone proclaim it on the streets with their feet and their voices and their signs. While I intend to steer well clear of these situations when they occur, the fact that they have the right to protest and to speak their minds publicly is quite significant to me. They are doing something right there, in my books.

It’s hot: It is only really in the high-80s F/ mid-20s C, but the 70-80% humidity really adds a whole new level of fun. It is not as hot as Arabia was, of course, but it’s more of a daily presence. In Muscat, if I wanted to run the AC all day every day, at the end of the month we’d have a bill of about $15 for electricity. Here, we have spent double that in a week with it on only some of the time. Because utilities are so much more expensive, we try to get by with a fan if we can, which means we are often pretty sweaty.  It *is* the beginning of the rainy season, though, so I don’t think it will always be so muggy. On the bright side, my skin and hair are really feeling great!

Cold showers on hot days: In Muscat, our water tanks were on the roof, which meant that in the heat of the day (when you most wanted a cold shower) the water was scorching hot. Here they have quite cleverly put a roof over the water. Hot afternoon? Cold shower. Fantastic.

We’re social butterflies: In the week I’ve been here, I have already: attended a really lovely yoga class with our really lovely neighbour, gone on a splendid walk with a hiking group (then to a party with them that night where I met more new friends) and been to the beachside cinema where I made friends with a beach dog who can shake hands. In short, we’re very busy and important people, so do be sure to have your people reach out early if you want to schedule a time with us.

Kingboy: I’ve also made friends with the dog who lives at our house. His name is Kingboy, and he is, admittedly, pretty stupid. He likes to chew on rocks and plastic bowls and rags and arms and anything he can get his mouth around. I am in love with him already.

Piglet Rescue: Kingboy had an exciting moment this week when a piglet happened to wander through our gate accidentally. While he looked at it curiously to see if it was worth chewing (the mama pick snarling and cursing at him from the other side), I had the pleasure of distracting him long enough for the little one to get back to its (very angry) mama. It took all my strength not to try and cuddle it.

Chris is here: Last but not least, not only are Chris and I now on the same continent, we’re in the same country, same city and, if you can believe it, same house. We ride in the same car to shop at the same grocery store and watch the same movies on the same tv. In a couple of days we’ll go on the same boat to swim by each other on the same dive. It’s been delightful to simply share the same spaces without a screen between us.

So there you have it, a few observations from my first week in a brand new place. In the time it has taken me to write and post this (see: “internet not strong” section above), I have had even more interesting experiences and made more notes of more tales of woe and wonder to share with you soon. Can’t wait to see what the next week holds!

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