Monday, September 24, 2012

How I spent my Saturday night

I find myself swimming once again in the murky bog of college applications, and all of them have these ridiculously pretentious essay questions like "In our university we all absolutely love to blah blah blah, please talk about how you also love to..." or "We know 90% of you are privileged suburban kids who have never known struggle, but still try not to sound like a total prick when you describe the greatest challenge you've ever faced."

I wish they would ask more meaningful questions 

Like, what color is this sayara?

Or what is the fish's name? Ma ismuha? 

This little girl was particularly interested in the fish and in taking pictures of them 
Or, in all the government schools in Oman, how many classes exist for children with disabilities?

How many kids have access to early-childhood intervention? 

My "Auntie" Sabah runs the Early Intervention Centre for children with Disibility, an NGO, which is one of the very few that teaches pre-school-aged kids in Oman. I had the chance to go see the school a couple weeks ago, when my host siblings and I went over to help convert an office into a classroom.

It's a cozy little school, pushed into the nooks and crannies of two converted houses; as I walked through hallways filled with murals and wheelchairs I felt like I was back at Cedar Lane, the special education school where my mom teaches. 

A school building may be nice, but without children it has no soul. I've been dying to help out with the kids, and I got my chance this past night. Every Saturday, parents have organized a support group for kids with Down Syndrome. Mostly it's just a disorganized time for the kids to run around the school and the parents to talk to teachers who volunteer their time doing extra physical or speech therapy etc. 

I hung out with the kids, pointing to things, building block towers, and yes, practicing my Arabic. I think I've finally met my linguistic equals in some of these 4-year-olds. 

I love kids because they're so full of life--they've yet to start following societal conventions which tell us to be unimaginative and mistrustful. Most of the those I met last night may never totally learn those conventions, that's why schools like this are so vital. These kids need a safe place to learn how to navigate a world full of people who have lost their wonder and excitement for life. 

But that's the thing, I mentioned that Early Intervention is a cozy space, I think about 5 classrooms, and there's so many families just on the waiting list to come. There's thousands more whose parents don't live near a school like this or who don't know a place like it exists.

It is so fascinating to see a country amidst transition, one that has been rapidly modernizing but which still has so far to go in many respects. I'm really lucky to have a host family that is right on the cusp of much of this change. My Auntie Sabah who runs the school, my host mom who works for World Health Organization, my cousin who is part of the growing arts community, or even my host sister who is wants to be a vet and is passionate about the (nonexistent) animal rights situation here. 

As an visitor, I can't make any sweeping proclamations or optimistic concluding statements about the future of Oman. I've only been here a month, and I while I only have the most rudimentary of understandings of this complex and diverse country, but I'm excited to be along for the ride

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