Driving through Muscat on our first night I noticed a huge, lit-up structure, impossible to miss from any angle—even from the sky (I could see it from the airplane as well). This was the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, ordered to be built in 1992 by then-and-current Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Building started in 1995, and in 2001, only six years later, this impressive structure was completed.
So of course, on Monday morning, we hopped on a baisa bus (an inexpensive transportation service named after Oman’s smallest denomination of currency, the baisa) to begin our trip by visiting this beautiful house of worship.
I did not make this trip alone; the people with whom I traveled were hugely important to my experience, including the gains in my knowledge and understanding. They each brought something different to the table, asked important questions and made significant insights. And on a personal level, we bonded quickly, sharing stories and laughs, forming real friendships. Thus, I could not continue writing without introducing the other five students who were fellows on the 2012 Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project in the Middle East.
Mark’s lecture on the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Before our departures, the group had lunch at Bistro Français in Georgetown, where Mark delivered a lecture to prepare us intellectually for the trip. Mark’s primary realm of expertise is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so this was the focus of the conversation. He started by talking about the Arab Spring in this context—phenomena that he called the “Israeli summer,” where Israel’s middle class rose against increasing costs and huge inequality, and the “Palestinian fall,” in which Palestinians gave up on negotiations and Abbas took their statehood bid to the UN. Also, Israel has itself moved the focus away from peace with the Palestinians—and instead toward war with Iran. With concerns growing about the Iranian nuclear program, IAEA demands with lack of compliance, and a loss of faith in diplomacy and sanctions, for many people the situation is basically, “either Iran gets the bomb or gets bombed.” This is the foremost foreign-policy concern of Israeli politicians at the moment, so it’s easy to see why there is now such little traction on the Palestinian issue.
On June 1, 2012, five other students and I walked into the Institute of International Education knowing few details about how we would spend our two weeks on another continent. The trip had been in its last stages of planning, partly due to the fact that cultural attitudes about time in that part of the world are not nearly as rigid as in the United States. Only two days earlier did we find out that we would not be able to visit Saudi Arabia and thus were traveling to Oman instead (the program coordinators, due to some unforeseen circumstances, could not get us visas into the Kingdom—last year’s group of students were the first to make that trip, and whatever connections it took to make it happen were less successful this time around). So we arrived at the IIE office, eagerly anticipating the revelation of the final itinerary for our travel between the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and the State of Israel.
I haven’t managed to blog even once since the night of orientation, and I apologize. The trip has been exhausting (albeit amazing), so every time we get back to our room for the night, no matter how early it is, all I want to do is sleep.
Our visit to Oman was such a special experience, and I’m currently experiencing culture shock in Dubai (who would have thought, here, of all places?). I have so many things to say and I want to say them well, so it is best for me to wait rather than write something haphazardly solely to get it over with. What I plan to do is to write a summary of each day in each country, then a post reflecting on the whole visit to that country; the concluding piece would be a reflection on the whole trip.
I’ve been journaling and taking hundreds (literally so – before we landed in Dubai, I’d already taken over 600) photos. But posting these thoughts and images will most likely have to wait until after I return.
I don’t believe anyone was aching for me to post, but here’s an explanation for why it’s not happening too soon.
I just wanted to explain how and why this site came to be.
I’ve been meaning to make a blog for quite some time. I’m a student of international affairs with many thoughts that I’d like to share, and I think that this would be the best medium for my writing. I already tweet freely and frequently, but I find that Twitter doesn’t suffice for many things. Twitter is great for keeping up with the world and interacting with others who care about the same issues as you, but when I want to write a longer commentary on something (as I often do), tweeting is not the best method. Even when I cut my thoughts into 160-character blurbs, there is the problem that tweets tend to fall back into the abyss of time, especially when you tweet as indiscriminately as I do – and I’d like to be able to find certain things I’ve said long after I said them. So that brings me here.
Tomorrow, I am leaving for Washington, D.C. in order to attend an orientation for the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project. Then, I will spend two weeks traveling to the countries of Oman, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), and Israel (including the West Bank). Five other students and I are making this trip thanks to the program I named above, which is an all-expense-paid study tour of the Middle East aimed at facilitating interfaith dialogue and giving us the opportunity to experience dialogue efforts first-hand. You can visit the website for more information. This is undoubtedly going to be an amazing, unique experience – so of course I’ll want to write about the things I see, hear, and learn from the people whom I meet. The program schedule seems pretty rigorous, so I likely won’t have enough time to blog while I’m abroad, but I’m bringing a journal so I can write down my thoughts before they escape me.
The program also has its own blog for the participants: Straight from the Source. We haven’t been briefed on this yet, but I’m guessing I will be able to post there as well.
The next two weeks will only conjure up the starting material for this blog. Afterward, I’ll just post about whatever I find interesting – you can get the gist of what that means by checking out my About page, but I can also say right now that I will definitely speak my mind about certain specific issues: women’s rights, drone strikes, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Occasionally I’ll just sprinkle in quotes and sound-bytes, or photos and videos, that speak for themselves.
I don’t expect this blog to elicit much of a following (or any following at all, really), but I’m not too concerned about that. I love to write and I need to express my thoughts, so ultimately I’m doing this for myself (I kind of feel like I’m talking to myself right now, so if anyone is reading, I’d appreciate if you leave a comment).