Running with the Bulls

Last week was “El Carnaval” in Spain. Traditionally, this time was designated for the people to, well, purge themselves before Lent. Carnival doesn’t have the same religious implications as it once did, but that doesn’t stop the party. For about a week (sometimes more), people eat, drink, and are merry in celebrations all around the world! Last week I had the distinct privilege to travel to a local pueblo near Salamanca called Ciudad Rodrigo. In this small corner of Spain there is a Carnival celebration unlike any other in the world; they run the bulls. As I’ve heard, this is not a common practice to do during Carnival, in fact, this may be the only city in the world that incorporates the running of the bulls into their Carnival. Either way, being a romantic myself, and always having idealized bullfighting as it has been described in works of literature (Hemingway, etc), I had to see it for myself- to run it for myself. I wanted to stare in the face of death – of a 2,500 lb horned beast – and, with the grace of a great bullfighter of old, at the very last moment, to slip past the animal, with adrenaline potent in the blood and sweat running cold down the neck.

Let me disclaim: I did not run with the bulls. I didn’t ever really consider it. We had been told (this was NOT an IES sanctioned event) by IES and many others: “People die every year, don’t run with the bulls, these people are trained professionals, this is not a game.” They were right. But that can’t stop me from dreaming, right?

Anyways, determined not to run, I set myself up in perfect position to watch the running. The narrow streets of cobblestone were fenced in, and me, perched high on top of a section of fence that allowed me a clear double-view of a bended section of road. Then, we heard it. Three rings of the church bells. People started to clear the streets at a leisure pace. Three more rings of the bell. Then three more. It’s starting, I thought. Why are people still just walking in the streets? Just then, the town’s church bells began to holler frantically, as if signalling a foreign invader; and they were doing just that. The wild beasts were coming. The streets literally shook as a tangible electricity passed through the crowd. The streets were empty before you could blink – save for a few, seemingly fearless, young men. These men weren’t drunk, they weren’t scared, and they didn’t seem distant and preoccupied. If ever there was a group of people alive, awake, in the precise moment with which they were presented, the bull runners certainly were it. They were electrified, vigilant, intently watching the road before them, feeling the very tremors of the cobblestone under their feet. And then they came. There we were, all together in one place: six bulls running for their lives, a handful of young men running for theirs, and thousands of onlookers holding their breath. The bulls charged onward trying to harm any man who stood in their way. Their horns, impossibly sharp, thrashing past at a break neck pace. It was hard, if not downright impossible, to watch. After an intense fifteen-second swirl of adrenaline and excitement, the bulls had all passed, and the crowd audibly exhaled.

Luckily, this year, nobody was injured. I imagine that the bull-goring specialist doctors that were there were relieved to be unneeded. However, their job was far from over. These bulls would continue to run twice a day for the next several days, to and from La Plaza de los Toros. On this particular day, I followed the bulls to their destination in the plaza, a small sand arena where, for 10 euro, you can sit and watch La Corrida, the actual bullfight. I decided I had to see it. Although controversial, I will tell you that my reservations about bullfighting were mostly resolved after watching a bullfight in person. Think what you will about the event (I certainly have my own opinions on it), the absolute artistry of these small town bullfighters nearly blew me off my seat. Their grace, their style, their showmanship, all eternally referencing, in a way, a respect for that great animal. I stayed for hours watching four bullfights and La Capea (where the people are allowed in the ring with the wild bulls) and truly enjoyed every moment.

This experience was undoubtedly my favorite so far of being in Spain. The cultural value of seeing, with my own eyes, a real running of the bulls was priceless. This will be one of the memories that I recall with extreme fondness that will have characterized my time here in Spain.

 

My view from on top of the fence lining the street shortly before the bulls came running through.
La Plaza de Toros, Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain
An amateur bullfighter tests his luck
View from on top of a hill of the city. The festival includes carnival rides, games, street food, parades, music, and bulls.

 

Dressing up in costumes is… required. As you can see, we chose the “farm animal” theme, although it is much more common for “groups” of friends to dress up as the same exact thing – to better identify themselves, I’m sure. I am depicted on the bottom row dressed appropriately as a bull.

 

México Mágico

 

Hello everyone,

Mexico is an amazing country to study abroad in. One of my favorite parts of being here is the opportunity to venture out into other parts of Mexico. The culture is so rich and diverse and traveling is not very expensive. Although it seems impossible to see all of Mexico during this semester, UPAEP does a great job of giving us a chance to see some breathtaking areas. With the university, international student can attend trips to various “Pueblos Mágicos” with the international leaders as guides.

“Los Pueblos Mágicos” (The Magic Towns) was originally a federal campaign to attract more tourist to recognize Mexico for its diverse landscapes and communities among each of its 31 states. 15 years later the people who live in these “pueblos” have continued to value them for their individual history, traditions, and cuisine.  Here are some of the destinations I have been to so far:

  • Toluca, Estado de Mexico: Where we are able to visit the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in the forest.

 

  • Tepoztlan, Morelos: A traditional town where there are more Aztec relics pertaining to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl.

 

 

 

 

Pyramid of the Sun
  • Teotihuacan, Estado de Mexico: To walk through the pre-hispanic ruins named Teotihuacan (Birthplace of the Gods) of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Pyramid of the Sun.

 

Un Intento Hacia la Orientación: An Attempt at Orientation

Castellano:

Estas últimas semanas han sido de las más desorientates de mi vida y eso que tuvimos que venir con una semana de anticipación para la orientación.

Recuerdo como fue mi descenso del avión aquí en Madrid. Fue una experiencia tanto inolvidable como abrumadora. Primero me bajé del avión a un aeropuerto muy típico, pasé aduana sin problema: solo le dije al de migración que venía para estudiar y luego recogí mis maletas y pelé gallo. Venía con una maletota, otra maleta más chiquita y mi mochila atascada de cosas. 

La ultima foto antes de salir de México. The last picture before leaving Mexico.

Mi primer reto fue encontrar de donde salía el metro del aeropuerto. Después de preguntarle a un montón de gente local, que ninguno ayudo mucho, llegué con un guardia del aeropuerto que me guió hacia la parada del metro. Después de lidiar con la maquina de boletos de metro por fin me subí.

Luego empezaron la miradas. Toda la gente se me quedaba viendo porque iba bien cargado e iba en el metro. A mí me había contado una tía que viaja muy a menudo a Madrid que el metro era muy seguro y que no tenía nada que ver con el de la Ciudad de México. Por afuera yo me quería ver lo más calmado y tranquilo que pudiera, pero por dentro me estaba mordiendo la uñas. Cada vez que se me quedaba viendo cualquier persona apretaba un poco más mis maletas. No quería que me fueran a robar en mi primer día en Madrid. Mi temor nacía de ver este nuevo mundo a través de tinieblas; no tenía ni la menor idea de donde estaba parado y mucho menos de como era le gente aquí en Madrid. Esa incertidumbre que el ser humano a veces vive puede ser de lo más atormentador. En muchas maneras estaba como cuando un venado se atraviesa la carretera y no sabe que hacer antes de ser arrollado por un coche. Estaba de rodillas ante el mundo, completamente en sus manos.

Ese sentimiento de incertidumbre y miedo lo vive cualquier persona que esta en un país que no conoce. Pero esto lo saben muy bien los organizadores de IES. Así es que eso fue lo primero que repasamos cuando tuvimos la orientación del programa. Repasamos las normas culturales en España y como se comparan a las de los EEUU. También tuvimos una charla con la embajada Estadounidense y vaya que sí aprendí muchas cosas. Pero es que no hay número de explicaciones y recomendaciones que te preparan para Madrid. Nadie te prepara para la hermosura de las calles estrechas, el Palacio Real, Las Ventas, las catedrales y toda otra divinidad de esta ciudad.

¡Nevó en Madrid por primera vez desde el 2011!

Otra cosa para la cual no te preparan en la orientación es para le gente española. Hay que decirlo como es: la gente española es la más acogedora de europa, pero no tiene nada que ver con lo que somos los latinos. Yo recuerdo que muchos compañeros americanos me contaban que los españoles eran muy buena gente y esto es cierto desde un punto de vista. Pero la tortilla siempre tiene dos lados. Cuando hablé con mi primo Irwin, me dió un punto de vista mexicano; me dijo que eran secos, que sí te ayudaban si les preguntas pero igual hasta allí. Ahora que ya llevo tiempo aquí y lo estoy viviendo en carne propia les doy mi punto de vista. Los españoles no se esmeran en platicar y desenvolverse tanto como los latinos, pero todo esto no significa que sean payasos, sino que lo llevan empreñado en su cultura. Si no lo sabían, España tuvo un guerra civil justo antes de el comienzo de la segunda guerra mundial. En esta guerra pelearon el partido Nacionalista de Francisco Franco junto con Mussolini y Hitler contra los comunistas, anarquistas, socialistas y la Unión Soviética. Fue una guerra muy sangrienta que duro casi tres años. El resultado fue que España quedó con un dictador encargado del país desde 1939 hasta 1975 al morir Franco. Las consecuencias de esa dictadura permanecen hasta hoy en la manera en que se trata la gente y en muchos aspectos de la vida cotidiana. Un régimen totalitario como el de Franco marca y evoluciona a cualquier país. La gente es reflejo de su país y vice-versa. La verdad es que la gente aún esta sacudida y aún siente los efectos de esa dictadura tan pesada para el pueblo. Éste es el hecho que yo creo que más ha transformado a la gente contemporánea de este país tan bello. En cuanto a la percepción que tenemos los latinos de España y su gente, sea buena o mala, siempre hay que recordar que muchas de nuestras costumbres, manías y, más que nada, nuestra lengua proviene de España. Por lo tanto estamos más que enlazados, aunque a algunos no les gusten los españoles. 

Bueno, ya para no hacer esta publicación tan larga solo los dejo con esta anécdota. Cuando llegué a mi nueva casa de los siguientes meses, no tenía ni idea de donde estábamos situados en la ciudad. Pero al final de cuentas, después de tirar rostro por la calles, ya varias veces me fui dando cuenta que era un barrio muy bueno en donde vive mucha gente ya mayor. Entonces le pregunté a mi Señora con la que estoy viviendo que qué había para hacer por nuestros rumbos. Me dijo varias cosas pero lo que me quedó plasmado fue que vivimos a cinco minutos de Las Ventas. ¡A cinco minutos de Las Ventas! A cinco minutos de la plaza de toros más famosa del mundo, que además de ser la más famosa, es de las más bellas. Es una plaza que combina tanto influencias arquitectónicas Españolas como influencias Musulmanas . Yo la tenía que ver con mis propios ojos y les juro que fue más bella de lo que pensé. Desde ahorita ya sé que esa plaza es la construcción arquitectónica que más me va a gustar en Madrid. Es que dentro de esa plaza se vive un espectáculo único, con un ambiente repleto de fervor y adrenalina. La verdad es que no me aguanto las ganas que lleguen abril y mayo para ver y sentir mi primera corrida de toros. ¡Es un evento que siempre he querido vivir y que bueno que mi primera vez será en la plaza más famosa del mundo!

 

English:

These last couple of weeks have been the most disorientating ones in my life, and we did have to come early to be “orientated.”

I still remember my descent into Madrid. It was both unforgettable and overwhelming. First, I got off the plane to be greeted with a very typical airport. I passed immigration without breaking a sweat. All I said was that I was here to study; I picked up my bags and headed out of there. I had traveled with a very large suitcase, a smaller one, and my backpack was full to the brim.

My first challenge was to find where the metro stop was located within the airport. After asking a bunch of locals, none of which were very helpful I finally arrived with an airport security guard who guided me towards the metro. After fighting with the ticket machine I was finally aboard the metro.

Then the staring began. Everyone kept looking at me, because I had so much luggage on the metro. My aunt who travels regularly to Madrid told me that the metro in the city was very safe, a far cry from the one in Mexico City. On the outside I wanted to look as calm and secure as possible, but on the inside I was biting my nails to the nub. Anytime someone stared at me I clenched on to my suitcases with a firmer grip. I didn’t want to get robbed on my first day in Madrid. My fear was grounded in looking at this new world through the darkness, I had no idea where I was standing and even less of an idea of what these people’s intentions were. I was a deer in the headlights. I was at the mercy of the world, in their hands.

That uncertainty and fear is what anyone experiences when they are in a country they don’t know well. However, the organizers at IES know this all too well. During orientation the feeling of uncertainty was the first thing that we went over. We went over culture norms in Spain and how they compare to the U.S. We also had a talk with the American embassy, and I did learn a lot. But, there is no explanation or tips that prepare you for Madrid. Nobody prepares you for the beauty of the small streets, the Palacio Real, Las Ventas, the cathedrals and all other beauty within this city.

It snowed in Madrid for the first time since 2011!

Another thing that they don’t prepare you for during orientation is for the Spanish people. The truth is that the Spanish are the most open and helpful people in Europe, but nowhere near as much as Latinos. I remember that a bunch of American classmates told me that the Spanish were very nice, and this is true from one point of view. But there are always two sides to any story. When I asked my cousin Irwin, he gave me his Mexican point of view. He told me that they were very distant, and that they did help you if you asked, but nothing beyond that. Now that I have spent a bit of time here and I have lived it first hand I will provide my opinion. The Spanish aren’t very good at opening up and taking to new people like Latinos are, but that doesn’t mean they’re snobby; it is just something ingrained within their culture. If you didn’t know, Spain suffered through a Civil War right before WWII. In this war the Nationalist party of Francisco Franco fought alongside Mussolini and Hitler against the communists, anarchists, socialists, and the Soviet Union. It was a very bloody war that lasted almost three years. The final result was that Spain was left with a dictator in charge of the country from 1939 until 1975 when Franco died. The consequences of this dictatorship remain evident till this day in the way people treat each other and in several aspects of Spanish quotidian life. A totalitarian regime like Franco’s affects and evolves any country. People are a reflection of their country and vice-versa. The truth is that people remain shaken and still feel the effects from such a harsh regime. I think this is the event that has most transformed the contemporaries of this wonderful country. In regards to the perception that Latinos have of Spain and its people, whether it be good or bad, we always have to remember that a lot of our customs, mannerisms, and most importantly, our language, derive from Spain. For this reason we are more than connected, whether you like it or not, with Spain.

In an effort to not make this post too long I will leave y’all with an anecdote. When I first arrived to my new home for the next couple of months I had no idea where in the city I was. However, after walking through the streets a few times I realized that my neighborhood was very good and that there were a lot of older people living within it. So then I asked my host mom for recommendations in the area. She told me there were a lot of the things, but what stuck the most with me was that we lived five minutes from Las Ventas. Five minutes from Las Ventas! Five minutes from the most famous bull ring in the world, that, besides that, is one of the most beautiful. It is an architectural feat that combines both Spanish and Muslim influences. I had to see it with my own two eyes, and it was more jaw-dropping than I thought it would be. As of now I know that it is the site that I will most like in Madrid. The thing is that within its walls you live a unique spectacle, engulfed in an excited and adrenaline-filled atmosphere. I cannot wait until April and May so I can see and live my first bull fight. It’s an event that I have always wanted to live and it is awesome that my first time will be in the most famous bull ring in the world!

Sunday, Paella Day

Sundays in Spain, as they are traditionally known, are for making paella. For those of you unfamiliar with this Spanish dish, it is perhaps the most well-known and best tasting cuisine you could really ask for in Spain. It consists of a delicious mixture of seafood, rice, vegetables and sometimes (although not this time) rabbit. For those of you who have had paella, you certainly understand why it deserves a blog post of its own. This week my host mom asked me if I wanted to learn how to make this sea-food and rice wonder. I delightfully accepted. So, today, I intend to blog a step-by-step process of what I learned (for my memory’s sake as well as for you all). Although you can always find “recipes” online, my host-mom insists hers is the most authentic.

DISCLAIMER: All measurements are 100% eyeballed because according to my mom, “real cooking doesn’t have a recipe”. Let’s begin.

1.) We cut: onions, red peppers, and green peppers. Done.

2.) Heat up some olive oil in a saucepan (pictured below, the pan on the far right). Once the oil is hot, throw in all your veggies.

 

3.) The most important part of paella is the broth. This is where all the flavor comes from (there are no spices involved in paella). To make the broth you take basically all the stuff that the fish market throws away (fish bones, fish heads, skin, etc), and put it in water and boil it for 15-20 minutes (that’s what’s in the covered pot on the right). You’re welcome for forgetting to take a picture of this step.

4.) You take out the fish eye balls, bones, and guts, and, leaving the “broth”, throw them away. In the trash. My mom is depicted (above) picking the meat off the “trash items”. This step is optional. She really likes fish, I guess. Now we can get to the real cooking.

5.) Clean (slightly) some fresh mussels and put them into the broth. Boil them in the broth for 5 minutes or until they open up. Take them out, leave the broth. Set aside. Take off the side of the shell without any meat on it. Trash.

6.) Clean some fresh clams. Repeat step 5.

7.) By this time your veggies are probably ready. Take all that tasty fish/mussel/clam-broth you just made and pour it right into your veggie pan with a colander! The colander of course, to sift out the stray fish-eye here and there.

8.) Dump some rice into the mixture (about 1 cup per person) and boil it. You can’t really use basmati rice, or even long grain rice for that matter (the rice has to have no flavor to best absorb the fish flavor). Use round short-grain rice.

9.) Salt indiscriminately. I think my mom had her eyes shut for this part. Not sure. Like I said before, this is the ONLY SPICE/HERB/ANYTHING in this entire dish, and she barely put any in. Less is more, blah, blah, blah.

10.) Clean some fresh fish filet, and throw them right on top. I think you also have to say, “Ole!”, when you do it for it to be effective. (Remember, clean as little as possible in order to leave the flavor of the fish). Choose a fish you like. My mom chose her favorite (and Spain’s most popular paella fish), Monkfish. This fish is perhaps the ugliest living thing I’ve ever seen, but tasted magical.

11.) Cut up some fresh calamari, and throw it on top of this magical boiling Spanish stew. Keep a light boil going throughout this whole thing.

12.) Time for some gambas. Er, I mean, shrimp! Whole shrimp. Head, eyes, and all. My mom used krill instead, but shrimp is most common. Remember, fresh!

13.) Remember those mussels and clams? They’re already cooked, so go ahead and toss them on top of everything too. (Pictured below, you will start to notice you’re running out of room in the pot, and it becomes like playing Tetris, fitting in all the seafood!)

14.) Let the mussels and clams heat back up (face down, of course), let the rice finish its last few minutes, and remove from heat.

15.) Put the pot on the table next to a couple of lemons cut in half. Feel free to douse your rice with some lemon juice. This, so they say, is they authentic way to eat paella.

16.) (Below) Serve in giant heaps on your plate and dig in! Make sure you have a communal “trash plate”, where you can throw your shrimp tails, mussel shells, etc.

17.) A glass of white wine is MOST typical, but my host brother is 17 (sorry, man), and also my host mom forgot to pick some up, so water works fine too!

Note*** “Old style” paella typically contained saffron, a herb/spice that gave the traditional dish a yellow color. Saffron got too expensive to say the least. Buying enough saffron to make our dish today would have costed us about $50 USD. Since the flavor of saffron “really doesn’t matter or change the dish that much”, we didn’t use it today. I commented on the lack of color (I’ve seen pictures in textbooks, okay?) so my mom added some yellow food coloring at the very end just for me, so I could feel like my paella experience was more “authentic”. The things we do for our guests, I guess.

Enjoy!

Back to Business

Friends, I’ve moved! The city lights and seaside views are no more in this small, interior town called Ibri. The desert dust seeps into my apartment and my sense of direction is all turned around – although if you know me, it may not have been there in the first place. I know that Saudi Arabia is one way, and Yemen the other. Needless to say, shifting from Muscat has been a bit of a challenge. But, the prayer call remains the same and I am more certain I will have more and more conversations with Omanis and others who have settled in this rocky, traditional town because of the language skills I will be learning here.

Side of the bus I take to school in the mornings

The next six weeks I will be studying Arabic at an institute about a forty-five-minute walk away. I’m sharing an apartment with three other students from the United States and a wonderful Irish woman who has just spent the last seven weeks in India. We are all so passionate about learning the ancient language, and as we walk from place to place with our hair flowing wild, it is painfully obvious that we don’t necessarily belong here. Yet, having a bit of a crew has been refreshing.

On the first day of school, we were picked up at 8:00am and driven by bus to the institute. We had some Omani style Cardamom coffee and Karak tea (sort of tastes like sweet chai—yum!) and settled into the space before those who have some experience with Arabic took a placement exam. David, another Hope student, Éabha, my Irish roommate, and I skipped out because we had too little or zero (me) Arabic experience and decided to venture about outside.

We marched down the road and came across a group of Omani men standing in a circle under a roofed ring. As we approached, the bleeting of goats and the booming shouts in Arabic revealed we had entered an auction. Goats of all sizes were being dragged, tugged and carried about by men of all ages. One man welcomed us in with a crooked-toothed smile and invited us to take a picture of his prized goat. I was distracted by the baby goats running after their mothers and whining for their morning snack. Older men smiled and joked with their neighbors, while the man in charge of it all recorded prices and names in his book.

Goats watching the madness

Every morning this business goes about in Ibri. These goats aren’t pets, rather the next meal, but it is remarkable to think that this trade has been going on for centuries. Maybe, it has been happening in this same spot near my school. I think one of the highlights of living here will be to walk through the community near the school and remember how old the world truly is. We are surrounded by mountains that were once flooded with sea water. Now, they boast beautiful layers of color from oranges to purples and greens. A geologist’s paradise—and now my new home! I cannot wait to soak up the details of it all, although it’s going to be pretty dry for the next six weeks in Ibri.

Robert Burns Night

As an aspiring poet and avid reader of poetry, I was familiar with Robert Burns and his work before coming to Scotland; however, I was not familiar with the celebrations hosted on and around January 25th (Burns’ date of birth) to commemorate the famed Scot. “Robert Burns Night” or “Robbie Burns Night” is a very big deal in Scotland, apparent in the number of people that gather to partake in a myriad of traditional festivities memorializing Burns and his work.
On January 25th, I joined in the festivities by attending a ceilidh with several friends that was hosted by a society on campus. The traditional ceremony began with a number of Gaelic folk dances which allowed me to parade around my two left feet. Luckily, I was not alone in this; and, everyone had a good time whether they remained standing when the music stopped or lay twisted and tangled on the ground. As tradition dictates, the dancing was followed by a ceremonial haggis being “piped in,” or ushered in by a man playing the bagpipe. Once the bagpipe player and haggis reach center stage, a Burns poem, entitled “Address to a Haggis” is recited as the haggis is ripped open. The ceremonial haggis was followed out by a tray of “haggis, neeps, and tatties.” Neeps, I believe, is simply another term used for rutabaga, and tatties are mashed potatoes. Haggis, on the other hand, is a unique treat.
My only other run-in with haggis up to this point was at a restaurant I went to during my first week here. I had heard a lot of talk around the food but wasn’t sure exactly what it was. All that I knew was that it was some kind of meat, but I didn’t want to know what kind until after I’d eaten it. Having detected my American accent in ordering, the waiter asked if I had ever tried haggis before and I explained the situation. He responded, “you either love it or you hate it” (a statement I have heard used by many people here in reference to haggis). On the contrary, I was somewhere in the middle. While I did not enjoy my first experience with haggis too much, I did manage to finish my plate before the waiter returned.

“Okay, now you can tell me. What’s in it?” I asked.

“I’m just going to let you look it up on your own,” he replied (always the response you hope to hear when questioning what kind of meat you have just eaten).

After looking it up later I came to the conclusion that it tastes much better than it sounds, though that is not saying much. If you would like to know what is in it you can do the same as I had to and look it up on your own.

Nevertheless, I tried haggis again at the ceilidh, and I was pleasantly surprised! At the ceilidh, the haggis was served in smaller portions with the neeps and tatties, and it all tasted really great together! My friends and I even returned for second servings (and some of us thirds). I left shortly after the food was gone with a full stomach, the memory of an evening I will never forget, and a new life-goal: to one day have some type of meat musically ushered into a room and cut into while a poem of mine is recited. Although, I am thinking that maybe we could do a nice cut of steak or a juicy hamburger for mine.

Dishdashing at the Omani Opera

Jessica, Laurel, and I in our Opera attire posing before the show.

When I packed for my adventure abroad, I went for the practical hiking clothes, clothes to cover up and the comfiest t-shirts I could find for lounging around our home. What I did not anticipate were the glittering gowns and long stunning skirts I would find venturing around the market. In the middle of this rocky desert landscape, there is so much glamour, and I have found the center of it all: The Royal Opera House in Muscat.

Our lovely resident seminary student and musician Laurel encouraged our group to join her at the Opera last week. The show: “The Fifteen top Classical Arab Songs”. My first thought: what will I wear? While the boys went shopping in the Souq and got fitted for dishdashas—the traditional menswear of Oman– my roommate Jessica and I ruffled through our stuff deciding what to wear. Jessica selected a gold caftan that she had bought the week prior and I pulled out a skirt, a cotton top and the fanciest scarf I had thrown in before I left. It would have to do.

When we arrived at the Opera, we walked into the lobby and immediately were met with an architectural gem. From floor up, white and gold accented details danced until they reached a wood-paneled ceiling with hand-painted designs. Around us, men draped in spotless white dishdashas and topped with brightly wrapped Musalas strutted about as women’s skirts sashayed over their strappy high heels.

The front of the theatre glittered as lights danced off long silver pipes. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said comes often to the Opera for organ concerts and the center of the space is devoted to the beloved instrument. In front of the organ on the stage were seats set for a full orchestra. We sat in our seats and waited watching people chatter and the ushers leading guests throughout the theatre. After a while, the lights dimmed and the concert began.

The orchestra silently marched on stage, men in tuxedos and white bow ties and women in red and green garb with beautiful, gold headdresses. The conductor bowed and took his place. Then, the first singer, Jahida Wehbe arrived on stage in a stunning sheer green draped dress with gold accents. When she opened her mouth to sing, a stream of Arabic flowed out and she held notes I wish I knew how to reach.

Drums deep and low set the undertones, the flutes twinkled their tunes, and the strings sang along. The singer performed with great control using her arms to gesture on the fast-paced Arabian journey. The woman next to me in her sparkling black and silver wrap was wiping her eyes during the lullabies and clapping along to the marching melodies. The audience’s attention and their hearts went especially for the next singer Ali Al Haggar as he went on in deep vibrato.

Drums deep and low set the undertones, the flutes twinkled their tunes, and the strings sang along.

What started as a one hundred thirty-minute show quickly became a three-hour event as Ali offered encore after encore. Women swung their gold bangled arms and cheered to the songs as the orchestra carried on. By the end of the night, I was exhausted, but the atmosphere kept my eyes wide. The traditional tunes are still much loved here, and I am so lucky I got to hear them from the best of the best: the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra.

Check out the Opera site: https://www.rohmuscat.org.om/en and Ali Al Haggar (I couldn’t film during the show) here.