From literary references to Edward Said, visits to embassies and monuments, and of course, the hours of cultural preparation via powerpoints, "orient" was the word.
It was the cause for a buzz in the air, created by new friends that all felt like old friends, as the windowless conference room slowly filled with teenagers whose wildest dreams were unfolding. It was license to speak passionately, inquire incessantly, and note-take wildly (okay, more like occasionally).
I spent the past four days in DC, where all the YES students converged for a cultural crash coursee. It was also the first time the entire Oman group came together and we really got to know one another. I feel so blessed to be a part of and travel with such an awesome group of people.
I think I spent most of the time asking questions, whether it was to Mother Hen Noah (so as not to be confused with Little Noa, who is Morocco-bound) the alumnus and group leader who bribed us with Doritos and attempted to field our often tactless questions with some tact (though we wore him down in the end), or to important-looking public servants behind State Department conference tables, I questioned until couldn't think of anything else to ask and then I asked some more.
I'm the sort of person that hates and has to break group silences. The kind that emanate after an ominous "Any Questions?" lingers in the air for longer than a few seconds. It's not that I want to say something, it's just that, I don't know if you've noticed, but with every second of awkward that passes, a raging fire of uncomfortable rains down on your brain and it will grow bigger and more painful until someone, please, for the love of shawarma, somebody breaks the silence. I envy those of you who can sit by in silence and ignore the firestorm of pain.
But even for someone like me, and even for someone desperately eager to learn as much about Oman as humanly possible, there comes a point when you recognize that the answers given to you can only go so far.
Not that I think I've learned every cultural subtlety, or asked every question possible. I'd be delusional to even come close to thinking that. But, an orientation is only a pointing in the right direction. This week I've been inundated with metaphorical maps, and compasses, flashlights, and maybe even a tent or two.
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