beer bizarre

So a few weeks ago, I wrote about activities that are considered haram is Muslim countries in hopes of teaching friends, families, and followers about the interesting country we currently call “home.” Here I am at it again. But this time it’s about a product Rob and I have a deeper affinity for (at least more so than bacon or speeding on the highway)– beer!

Oman is one of the Muslim-majority countries that allows non-Muslims to enjoy libations. Whether it’s because they want to increase tourism, relish the taxes generated from alcohol sales, or just because they are open-minded, I don’t know what the reason is. And quite honestly, I don’t really care why Oman has an open alcohol policy. But I am happy and thankful to live here just the same because sometimes, a nice cold Belgian beer or a tall glass of South African Shiraz is just the antidote required after a long day.

So, here we are in a slightly dry country learning the ins and outs of how to purchase a drink which requires a bit of work.

First, you need to get a liquor license. Yes! A LICENSE to buy. And to get said license, you need to first become an Omani resident. With that resident card in hand, you then go to the police station with a smattering of paperwork (including a letter from your employer that states your salary as you’re only granted permission to spend up to 10% of your salary on alcohol). Once you’ve paid a fee, signed some documents, and submitted passport-size photos you are granted a license.


And…you’re nearly there.

Alcohol is hidden in shops with blacked out doors and no windows! Like this:


Dodgy, right?

Once through the doors you arrive in a mecca (bad choice of words) of alcohol products. Beers. Wines. Spirits. Oh my!

Most beers are sold by the case (because why buy 1 when you could buy 24?). But you better be satisfied with your choices because your liquor license authorizes you to spend only up to a specific amount of money per month and not a rial more. This limit (which is listed in your license and tracked without error) makes shopping for alcohol a planned activity. Questions like How many beers do we have at home? or Do you think they’ll prefer red or white with dinner? are actual conversations people need to have before entering through the bulky black doors.

The other thing we’ve learned is–you don’t waste your purchase power! If you are allowed to spend 50 OMR ($129/€116) per month, you spend it! You spend ever baisa (read: cent) you have been allotted because your unspent limit doesn’t roll over from month to month. And since you can’t just go and pick things up when the last minute game night is planned–you’ll need to hoard a few drinks in your cupboards. You need a mini stockpile to get you through the dry month of Ramadan or those evenings when you invite 20 people over for dinner so you can offer them a caipirinha or an after dinner drink.

And once you understand the license, the limit, and the planning issues you’ve got one more thing to consider. How do I get it home? The secret is the black plastic shopping bag. It is this miracle item (accompanied by your receipt and license) that allows you to transport your purchases home (the only legal place you are allowed to consume) without anyone knowing what you’ve got in there. Yeah right!

For tourists and those out and about, alcohol is available at hotels and restaurants around the city… at a price. I think a delicious (yes, I’m being sarcastic) Budweiser or Corona will run you about 2.5 OMR ($6.5/€5.8) so your best bet is to have a drink at a friend’s house.

That said, the country has a NO TOLERANCE policy for drunk driving. Driving under any influence of alcohol can result in immediate jail time and huge fines.

Anyway, we’ve got it all sorted out. We’ve now got a mini stash for your upcoming visit (hint, hint).

On a side note, I’m not sure if I should have called this post the Beer Bizarre or Beer Bazaar because buying and drinking alcoholic beverages in Oman can be a bit of both!

when did I know?

Many have asked me when I knew I wanted to become a teacher. Was I always born with the passion to teach? No (but my mom would probably disagree as she recounts a story about me standing in front of the neighborhood children who were all huddled on the grass while I nattered on about… something. Everything!) Did I have an inspirational teacher who made me want to follow this vocation? Yes. I had many teachers who inspired me to think, ask questions, and challenge myself. But they didn’t really persuade me to become a teacher.

My first real teaching experience took place at ISK in Nairobi, Kenya. Though I was affiliated with the school as a volunteer, it was not until I had my first hands-on day with kids, papier mâché, and a lot of fun, that I even fathomed teaching as a career.

All through my credential work, earning my Master’s degree, and 10 years of teaching I liked my job. I was passionate about what I did. I knew I did it well… on most days. And I was proud of the work that I did. But I still didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher.

It wasn’t until just last week (Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 8:00 am to be exact) in my new adopted country of Oman, that I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

I had dropped Rob and the kids off at school for a 7:30 am start time. Then I got back in the car and drove. Away. Did I drive to another classroom at another school? Nope. I didn’t go to a curriculum planning meeting or a school supply store. I went… to a coffee shop! I didn’t know what to do with myself so I ordered a cappuccino and tried to read a book.

About 20 minutes after reading the first paragraph… again… and again, I realized I wanted to be a teacher.

Driving away from school (in a year when there was no ES teaching job available) was one of my lowest moments. How could I share my talents if there were no students to teach? Who would need me (besides my family before and after school)? How was I going to affect change in the community or world? What was going to happen to my PLN of educator contacts and collaborative colleagues? Who was I going to be?

All of these feelings, questions, worries, and value judgements of myself, my career, and my professional reputation weighed on me. And then the tears came. I began to grieve. The feeling was similar grief I had experienced before. It was the grief of death. Of lost love. You know… the type of sorrow that makes your chest ache . That was the feeling I had when I walked away from school, got in my car, and drove away. Complete and total loss.

During that cappuccino I felt useless. Unnecessary. Wasted. And those feelings are terrible on a normal day. But the feelings seemed even more desperate because I had just realized what I wanted to be when I grew up!

So now what? What’s the next step? What the hell am I going to do to wipe these sorrowful feelings from my heart? I don’t know, but I guess I’m gonna have to try something new.

I’m going to make friends, volunteer, write Genius Hour curriculum, try to sell myself, and then… secretly hope a lot of teachers get pregnant so I can get back in the classroom where I belong. Because now. Only now, do I know that I want to be a teacher!

Some of my favorite teaching moments and people who have made me better at what I do:



MY learning safari

this post was written on 10.27.14 and never published… darn technology!

It’s been over a month since I returned from the Learning2 Africa conference. I have started writing this reflection a dozen or so times, but every time I begin, the pull of my “to-do” list calls me and I end up DOING something instead of writing about what I want to do. But with deadlines looming, I am pushing the to-do list to the back, getting my act together, and sharing (or writing, rather) my thoughts on one of the most motivational professional experiences I’ve ever been part of.

Learning 2Africa. Being married to someone whom I consider, a tech visionary means that words and names like “Learning2,” “Kim Cofino,” “PLNs,” “Jeff Utecht,” “COETAIL,” and “Genius Hours” have been part of my dialogue. While braving traffic, through grocery shopping trips, or in moments stolen while watching the kids flop around the in pool, my husband and I often “talk shop.” From unit plans to integration—we push one another to try something new. But, as an elementary classroom teacher who has been working in schools with pre-determined goals that rarely include technology integration and learning “outside the box”, I’ve spent my professional development time (and money) on work that aligned more directly to my job. So attending Learning2Africa was a way for me to put my learning focus first!

Overload. For three days my head was swimming (and not just in amazing Ethiopian coffee thanks to my dear near friend Bezuayehu and the traditional coffee ceremony). I was learning inspired at every turn. The stimulating conversatations shared with like-minded educators from around the globe revitalized my enthusiasm for a profession that I have, in recent years, become rather discontented by. From the TED-type Learning2 Talks to my extended session with Kim Cofino (Developing a Connected Learning Community) and Alex Lancia (Electronic Portfolios), I could feel gurgles of enthusiasm bubbling inside of me as questions were asked and ideas were fleshed out. Touring around the word with Marcello Mongardi by using Google Tour Builder helped me brainstorm some fascinating ways to use the program across curriculum areas in my own classroom. Workshopping with Jeff Fessler was both motivational and moving. Jeff walked me through the journey he and his students went on as they used Comic Life software produce a dual-language graphic novel during a service learning project for Malaria awareness in Bamako.

Bezuayehu and the traditional coffee ceremony

Conferring. Unconferencing. Reconferencing. Poster Sessions. And any other way in which people could be paired up to discuss and learn– at every corner I was being inundated with ideas and discussions to challenge my own learning safari. Regularly regrouping with my cohort group helped me reconnect with my Elementary people. During these sessions, we brainstormed strategies to help one another tackle tough agendas with our administrators or dialogued about how we could share authentic learning with parents.

Planning. My plane ride home to South Africa resulted in a 6-page to-do list with next-steps, people to contact, plans, outlines, and scenarios—the contacts from my cohort group and Twitter leads all tripled my PLN within hours. The top three items on my list—convince my Principal and TIC to allow my students and I to create an online portfolio for (at least) one unit of study, build a Facebook presence for my elementary class; and set up voice-activated Google on our classroom desktops.

Final Thoughts. To say that the top three items on my list are all in place and working beautifully would be a massive overstatement.  I’m a teacher—life gets in the way. There are always planning meetings, parent emails, bulletin boards, assemblies, and every day student issues that get in the way of one’s good intentions. But I’m on my way. My 6-page to-do list has now grown to 13 or so pages with registering for and working towards my COETAIL in capital letters across the top. But teaching is not a race. It’s a journey. A safari, rather. One that includes exploration, innovation, and connection.

Friends from our Nairobi days


It’s been a difficult week for the world as Madiba takes his final walk to freedom. But we are all much better for his presence on Earth and that is clearly evident in all we have witnessed in the last four days here in Johannesburg. Beyond the constant radio tributes and commercial spots paying him homage, the city and all of South Africa seems to be stopping to give thanks, smile more genuinely at one another, and pay their respects by striving to live his lessons. Even at 7 am on a Sunday morning, his house in Houghton (not his museum  house in the township of Soweto), was teeming with people grieving for our world’s loss.

At school, my students and I read Chris van Wyk and Paddy Bouma’s abridged children’s story Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom while trying to figure out what the zulu word, UBUNTU meant. The word ubuntu is one that Mandela referred to often and literally translates to “human kindness.” During Apartheid, ubuntu developed in to an ideology called Ubuntuism but became commonly used internationally once Mandela became president in 1994.
As a philosophy, ubuntu is something we should all achieve for. To look for the virtue, goodness, and kindness in one another’s human nature. To that end, my students and I reflected on how WE could demonstrate ubuntu. According to them, it doesn’t take much:
  • “Be caring to people.”
  • “Hug a person when they’re sad.”
  • “Say, ‘Thank you!'”
  • “Don’t judge people.”
  • “Be principled even when it’s hard to do the right thing.”

alive and well in Africa

Sorry about this delayed blog post. The internet “dongle” we are using at home doesn’t seem to like our house and it can’t regularly find a wireless connection to tap in to. Additionally, I think our house is in a vortex of communication suckage in that we can’t seem to get a great connection on our mobile phones either. No worries– that will all come in time. In any case, I’m at school now. I’m connected. And here’s the update:

The landscape of Johannesburg is dramatically different from that in Nairobi. Remember how we all envisioned Nairobi to be arid and dry upon arrival? Well, winter in Joburg is just that. Apparently, the combination of weather, altitude, and air pressure stagnate all the vegetation during the winter so everything stops growing until Spring (which begins in late September/early October).

The roads are such a contrast to those in Nairobi–these are flat, beautiful, and HUGE! We have moved to a massive metropolis. The city is bustling, the roads are robust, and the music is bumping. The one oddity we’ve seen thus far is that the shopping (including most grocery stores) close by 6 pm when a mass exodus begins and the taxis (which we remember from Kenya as matatus) all escort the local workforce back to their communities.

The house we are in is amazing! It’s a new build in the area of Fourways. Our house is just minutes away from grocery shopping, restaurants, good shopping spots, and a MASSIVE casino! We are in a lovely community a stone’s throw from old friends and new. The kids have met others they will go to school with next year and those that will be their neighborhood friends. We feel like we live at the UN with the number of accents and nationalities we live and work with—it’s wonderful to be part of such a diverse community.

As you may be able to see in the pictures, the house has a nice size living room and dining space with a gorgeous fireplace that’s getting a bit of a work out. Off the living room are three bedrooms and 2 baths. They do not compare (in size) with the bedrooms in Indonesia but the finishing is lovely and the house needs very little preparation for our shipment’s arrival. Just off the living room are two doors that open up on to a spacious garden. The covered area behind our fire place houses a built-in braai (the South African word for BBQ) which we tested out tonight. We are on the hunt for some outdoor furniture as we can envision many a dinner outside next to our pool. Yes, you heard that—we lucked out and got a house with a pool! Though some may consider it a fish pond, we believe that it will cool our weary minds after a long hot day at school!

The back garden is beautifully landscaped and the side garden has a lemon tree in hibernation. We are on the prowl for an outdoor dog house for our little Mele who will arrive here on the first day of school (if, of course, the pet movers don’t screw up the paper work… again!) It appears as if we won’t have regular house help so Mele is going to have to learn how to be an outside dog!

Walking in the front door and up the stairs is a family room space which is soon to house our couch, TV, piano, etc. The room has lovely windows that overlook the back garden and an indoor balcony that looks down on the living space below. But the pièce de résistance is the huge balcony built on top of our 2-car garage. The balcony overlooks the city of Johannesburg with little obstruction! Without a doubt, this space will come in handy whether it’s for enjoying the view and a glass of Merlot during a sundowner or doing some yoga early in the a.m.

Anyway, it’s time to get back to work.

Next update will be about our school which is…AMAZING!