Stream of Consciousness at the Starbucks Overlooking Qurum Beach

 
I am writing this blog post from a Starbucks patio overlooking the Qurum beach in Muscat, Oman—a sign warns not to swim in the ocean because the water is turbulent, cranes stand in the shallows waiting for something edible to pass underfoot, a couple fishing boats are in the distance trying to net the morning catch, white seabirds swoop and dive, swoop and dive in the water at small fish who swim too close to the surface. Behind me an Omani man walks and whispers SalaamI repeat Salaam back to him, not looking up from my laptop. A young European couple is leaving the Starbucks, they might be speaking Italian (not sure); the Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese of tourists passing by always sounds same same to me. I came to Starbucks to get my caffeine fix. Did you know, I have a golden rule when traveling?: never eat at a restaurant that you could eat at back home! As tempting as it might be to dine at a familiar franchise, what is the point of traveling if you aren’t going to take culinary risks? Do people in the other parts of the world not like food that is delicious? However, I have two exceptions to this rule. My first exception is that I can eat at a familiar franchise like McDonalds if I order the bonkers regional-only menu items; for examplein Barcelona, I ordered a McChicken Extreme with fried onions, potato wedges, and a beer. My second exception is when it comes to coffee; I can order coffee from franchises like Starbucks and Caribou because if the local coffee culture doesn’t offer me enough caffeine, I get too sleepy to explore and sightsee, and I risk incurring headaches by the end of the day due to caffeine withdrawals. I need my coffee in trucker mug quantities—an espresso or double espresso ain’t cutting it! Yesterday, I had a long day with the family of an Omani colleague from work. She invited me to her hometown of Al Suwayq. I spent the day with her nephews as they showed me around some of the notable sites of area. The oldest of the three nephews explained to me how he used to live in Muscat, but he missed his family’s farm and the other natural amenities of his rural hometown: being able to work in a garden in the morning, buying fresh fish from the local fishmongers, or spending time with the men in his family in the desert where they keep their horses, camels, and goats. My time with the nephews went nonstop from noon to 10pm, and a couple times I was running on fumes because I failed to stop and get a coffee before my engagement. A couple times I looked around the various locales wondering if any of restaurants offered a to-go cup of strong coffee. No luck. Still, my hosts offered me Arabic coffee, which must contain some caffeine, but isn’t served in the quantity that I desire, for I was given a little cup that holds the equivalent of a shot glass, and a younger brother was tasked with standing next to me and refilling my cup whenever it ran low if I extended the cup towards him signaling for more coffee, and if I shook the cup, it meant hallas, or finished. The Starbucks balcony has filled up in the time since I began writing this blog, a couple of Omanis are sitting in front of me, the smell of cigarettes and cologne waft downwind in my direction. Behind me a couple of business men are engaged in discussion; from their English accents, I can tell that they are American; however, I am not sure from which region; if I were to guess, I would say from the East Coast. Cars cruise past the beach, and there is a well-placed speed bump that forces them to slow in front of the Starbucks—probably to give the signage enough time to convince the reptilian brain of its primal need for coffee (it worked for me!). Two days ago, I was driving back from the Muscat Hills Resort and got myself lost again; I drove by this Starbucks and made a mental note, thinking that this would be a good spot to get coffee and write my blog post. This is primo real estate. Behind the Starbucks is the marshland one would expect near a coastline; however, parallel to the beach a narrow strip has been built between the water and the marshland, a two-lane road allows for cars to crawl through in both directions, a corniche permits pedestrians to walk and enjoy the view of the ocean and the costal breeze. Thankfully, the strip hasn’t been infected by garish t-shirt and souvenir shops that tend to overrun the roads that are built near beaches. I don’t know if a t-shirt shop would be a very good tourist venture in Muscat. Local Omanis wouldn’t wear a cartoonish drawing of a muscular male body or voluptuous female body in a bikini over their dishdasha or abiyas they strolled about the area. As tolerant and friendly as the local people are, this type of tourist garb would most likely out-harram harram. Even I feel a bit underdressed in my Northface hiking shorts, my floral print H&M t-shirt, and my Columbia hiking sandals—the cherry on my tourist outfit is my Mark and Spencer Cuban hat. Everything about my ensemble screams foreign tourist. Still, when in Rome, sometimes you want everything about you to say that I am not Roman because I get tired of people from the Gulf thinking that I am a local Filipino because of my Vietnamese features, I also get tired of local Filipinos thinking that I am Filipino because of my features; I want it to be plainly clear that I am American so that local Arabs don’t wonder how come I got the day off from my food service or hospitality job. Off in the distance, I can see condos built atop a cliff that overlooks the ocean. Originally, I thought that I might spend my day at this beach. However, because of the turbulent water warning, it might be best if I head back to the Muscat Hill Resort and pay the 10 OR (or $30 USD) to swim in the pristine water and sunbathe on the beach where the resort serving staff will deliver my food and drink order and I do not have to  worry about being swept out to sea. This would be a little too expensive if I were traveling with my boys, but since I am by myself, I can afford this indulgence. Besides, after I turned 40, I decided that I am living on borrowed time, and I best not put off things for tomorrow that I might enjoy today. There is no certainty that there will be a tomorrow for me, or for any of us, for that matter. Even on this trip, I am reminded of my age and mortality. As I was walking the 45 minutes to get to the waterfall in the cave pool of the Wadi Shaab, I thought about how easy it would be for me to slip on the rocks and crack my skull or break a bone. A younger Conan might have nimbly jumped from rock to rock as he tirelessly made the trek, overconfident in his vigor and invulnerability. He might have thought, If I get hurt, I’ll heal in no time. Older Conan wonders, If I get hurt, will my insurance cover this injury? Still, much like my eating imperative when traveling, I try not to allow fear to prevent me from enjoying new opportunities and adventures—not certain where I am going? that’s ok, I’ll enjoy the sights while I am lost—never tried drinking camel’s milk or riding a camel before? that’s ok, the local Omanis wouldn’t encourage me to do so if they thought it would kill the American visitor who looks Filipino—not strong enough to use the rope to pull yourself out of the water in order to jump off the waterfall in the cave? that’s ok, be content to have made it into the cave and that you still have the stamina to tread water and take pictures without drowning and sullying the water supply of the locals living downriver. A tourist next to me is speaking loudly on her phone, her British accent is quite clear as well as her obliviousness to how disruptive she is being, maybe it’s time that I head off. I have two more days of my vacation left, and I need to accomplish my fill of swimming and sunbathing, swimming and sunbathing, and maybe a bit more sightseeing before my holiday ends and before I must return to the toil of teaching 20 hours per week in dusty Doha. It’ll be about two months until the Eid al-Fitr holiday that precedes the long summer holiday from work and I was thinking about flying to Turkey for Eid but I am not sure I can afford a mini-trip and then my long summer vacation back in the US, during which I was planning on taking my boys to Canada for a week in order to keep my stay under the 30-day cap in order to avoid paying US taxes in 2018 (inshallah)—for now it might be best if I just made my way to a beach and bide my time.    

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