End of Book 1.

Well, here it is. My last blog post.

I’ve really enjoyed blogging, and I might start another someday, but I like that this one tells a specific story about a specific time in my life. Oman will always be a part of me, but Oman is not my whole life anymore and it is time to move on to other projects.

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place… like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” -Azar Nafisi

Looking back on my past posts it sounds like I am describing an old friend, not an 119,499 mi² stretch of desert. And that’s what Oman feels like to me. An old friend who I miss in an achy sort of way. Who I worry about seeing again, because what if things have changed between us? What if she’s moved on or changed? Or worse… What if I’ve changed?

And I know I have.

It’s been a lifetime since I got back to America.

I expected coming back to high school to be hard, and in many ways it has been, but my senior year has turned out to be the best of my American high school experience. My classes are challenging and I have devoted, inspiring teachers. I’ve met some incredible people, and I’ve gotten much closer to many of my friends here. My first semester was hectic, but this semester things have calmed down a bit. It is crazy to think I am graduating in two months. I intend to spend my last 60 days of high school living life to the fullest and spending as much time with my friends as possible.

This is not to say that re-adjustment was easy. Reverse culture shock is a real thing, and, even after 10 months, sometimes it smacks me in the face. It is still hard to talk about my experience with other people in a way that feels genuine. I still don’t know how to explain my deep love for Oman and the people I left behind in words that seem sufficient.

 

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A mini YES Abroad reunion last summer! L-R Me, Ginya (Oman), Sophia (Morrocco), and Dan (Bosnia)

Someone recently told me that after exchange it takes 2.5 times the length of the time you were abroad to truly readjust to your home country. I am not sure what they define as readjustment, but going by that rule I still have another 15 months before I achieve “normalcy.” Whatever that means. For now, I am fine with being the strange girl obsessed with Oman.

Last month YES Abroad flew me up to DC for an alumni workshop. I spent a week with 19 students from the United States, Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa, India, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Thailand, Kenya, Turkey, Philippines, Malaysia, and Mozambique talking about what it takes to be a changemaker. It was an incredible experience. I learned about the struggles of students in Ghana with disabilities, pollution in Kenya, and religious divides in India. Talking about the issues that face different countries around the world made me realize how much of a disconnect there sometimes is between what Americans perceive the developing world’s biggest struggles to be and what they actually are. Environmental degradation and pollution are huge issues in many developing countries, yet it is not even on many American’s radar. It was incredible to be in a room full of young people who were all so passionate about making their communities a better place. The only other time I’ve connected with a group of strangers so quickly was at my YES Abroad IPSE. I had deep talks about religion and love with people I’d known a matter of days. And of course there were nightly hotel room dance parties…

 

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Some of the amazing girls at the YES Alumni Changemakers Workshop. L-R Linden (American who was in Oman with me), Ca’reen (South African), Somaya (Egyptian), Me, Sylvia (Malaysian), Yanti (Indonesian)

The workshop was inspiring and it made me realize that, despite the fact I am back in America, I am still an exchange student. Being an exchange student is so much more than your experience in your host country. And I love that. I love trying to explain the American political primary system to Omani friends over Snapchat. I love that on an average day my facebook newsfeed includes 8 or more languages and almost as many different alphabets. I love convincing others to take the leap and study abroad. While I am done with this blog, I am not done with my exchange. And I am not done with Oman.

I will go home someday.

I think if you searched this blog you would find that the most used word next to ‘Oman’ is ‘Home.’ It’s a concept that I have written about many times over the past two years. Almost exactly two years ago I said: “Home is a feeling, home is a place, home is the people you love.” That statement is true, but it’s both more and less than that. Home is the feeling in your gut that you are where you belong. I am lucky enough to say there are many places and people that make me feel that way. Oman is one of them, but so is Asheville. I know there will be many others and I am excited to find them.

 

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These girls feel like home. Mini YES Oman reunion over winter break. T-B Me, Karla, Linden

For the third year in a row, I am entering April with no idea where I will be living in September. I’ve yet to choose a college. I am still considering a gap year because I haven’t gotten that ‘gut’ feeling at any school yet. My future is open and I’m excited, but also a little scared, just like I was in preparation for leaving for Oman.

And I think that is what life is about. Excitement and Fear and finding the places that connect you to your gut.

So this is it. Thank you for coming along for the ride. It’s meant the world to me.

–Kenzie.

A relevant growing up song.

 

 

P.s.- As always, if you want to learn more about YES or studying abroad please feel free to reach out to me through the comments or message me on Facebook.

It’s Date Season Again

This post was written in May of 2015, two weeks before I left Oman.


 

When I first arrived in Oman there were fresh dates everywhere. I had never had dates before and no one ever explained how to eat them to me.

Do you take out the pit first or do you open the skin with your teeth and then pull it out? Do you choose the sweet squishy, darker dates, or the less ripe, starchy, hard ones?

Fear paralyzed me and I did not want to do anything wrong, so I would watch the person sitting nearest to me and mimic their actions.

At one point early on I asked my host aunt how to eat the fresh dates. She gave me a funny look and went back to sipping her small cup of bitter Omani coffee. Asking an Omani how to eat dates is like asking an American how to eat an apple.

When I first arrived in Oman my entire life was asking questions with answers that seemed obvious to all the Omanis around me. Everything in my life felt confused and overwhelming. But hey, there were fresh dates. After I finally figured out how to eat them I fell in love.

Fresh dates filled my first two months in Oman. Everywhere I looked ripe dates lay drying in the sun. Looking back, I should have taken this as a sign that date season was drawing to a close, but, in my naivety, I did not even realize that there was a date season.

As October drew to a close the fresh dates slowly disappeared and sticky dried dates took their place. Yet again I was at square one with no idea how to eat them.

On the day of Halloween my whole extended host family and I celebrated a little cousins birthday. It was my first holiday away from home and it was one of the few times this year that I was truly homesick. My host mom and aunts fluttered around me asking questions I was too exhausted to answer.

Eventually we sat down to have coffee and dried dates. I was struggling to eat the dates and feeling like a failure of an exchange student when the aunt next to me leaned over and finally showed me how, gesturing with her hands where her English failed her.

You kneed the date with the fingers of your right hand until the pit falls out and the date is a sticky brown paste. Then you eat it.

Seven months later that action feels as natural to me as breathing.

Learning to eat dates seems like something so small in retrospect, but, at the time, it felt like a huge victory. I couldn’t understand anything going on around me, but I could eat dates like an Omani.

In the months since Oman has fallen into place for me. I know there are things I will never understand, and even with just two weeks left there are still many things I want to learn. Yet, for the most part, I am comfortable with the world around me.

Nine and a half months is a long time. This year I saw a date season end. I felt the days get shorter and then grow long again. I watched my host aunts’ bellies swell and welcomed three new baby cousins to the family. In nine and a half months the vacant gravel lot beside my school turned into an almost completed apartment building and my little host brother grew 3 inches.

The world around me changed and I changed with it.

I am no longer the girl who stepped on a plane bound for the Middle East, certain she had her life figured out, but neither am I the girl so terrified to make any misstep that she was too scared to eat dates.

Several nights ago my host father came into the living room with a basket full of fresh dates. I arrived in Oman during the time of dates, and now I am leaving in it.

I am not sure I am ready, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave the US nine months ago either. If I had waited until I was I never would have gotten to Oman.

And hey, at least I already know how to eat apples.

 

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A picture of fresh dates shamelessly stolen from the internet.

 

Comfort.

This piece is not finished but I am posting it now because I think it gives some insight to the hard parts of my year that are largely absent from the rest of this blog, and in the interest of keeping this blog authentic, I think it is important to post. I wrote it at the end of February, the hardest month of my exchange.


 

Well, it’s been awhile since I blogged. Again. How does this keep happening? I have so many ideas for blog posts, but I just never write them. I make excuses. Homework, studying Arabic, more homework. For some reason I never quite manage to make time to blog anymore.

I have a whole list of blog post ideas building up on my phone. I swear I will write some of them at some point. Right now, however, I’m going to be a little selfish and write something for me.

Yesterday I decided to take a mental health day from school. I was actually sick, so I guess, strictly speaking, it was a sick day. However, I don’t skip school when I am sick in Oman. Ever. Which was part of the reason I needed that day.

Since about mid-December I have been putting incredible amounts of pressure on myself. For my first few months in Oman I was okay with my slow progress because it seemed so early in the year. Things would get better. I was optimistic.

Then the mile markers I had unconsciously set for myself started slipping past. What? It’s Christmas and I still haven’t done the classic exchange student “cook a meal for your host family”? Wait? It’s New Year and I still have not had a real conversation in Arabic? Huh? It’s mid-semester break and I still haven’t been out with school friends?

And then the big one. Whoa. It’s my year mid point. And I am still not comfortable here.

I think when I applied to be an exchange student I always assumed the first half was the hard part. At some point, probably right after the holiday season, which is universally acknowledged to be one of the hardest periods of exchange, things would click. I would finally be comfortable.

I would belong.

Newsflash to past me: Exchange (and life) does not work like that.

Exchange (and life) is messy.

There is not always a perfect fairy tale ending. You know the narrative.  Kid studies abroad. Goes through the honeymoon phase where they love everything about their country. Starts to struggle for awhile. Almost gives up. Keeps pushing on. Learns important lessons. Finds inner peace. Falls hopelessly in love with host country despite its flaws. Feels like a true member of their host family. Spends last few months dreading the return home. Leaves with tears and language fluency. Arrives home and realizes that their home is no longer described by a physical location and other cheesy metaphors.

I’m not sure where I got this idea of exchange. I read the blogs. The guide books. I talked to previous exchange students. I knew it would be hard. I panicked the entire summer before I left, worried I was not strong enough to survive a year in Oman.

Yet somewhere in there I got the idea that exchange followed that one stereotypical blog-perfect narrative.

But here I am, almost a month past my halfway point. My exchange does not look like that. And I am realizing it never will.

Oman is not an easy country to understand.

At my mid stay orientation my coordinator said something that I have been chewing over a lot in the month since.

She told me I may never feel truly comfortable in Oman.

Bam.


And here the blog post ended. I think the reason I never finished this one is I was never able to find the right ending because I was still coming to terms with my discomfort. Over a year after I wrote this I think it is safe to say I still struggle with what I perceive as my failure to be the perfect exchange student and follow the typical narrative. But at this point I am finally beginning to realize that the hard parts of my exchange were what gave it its beauty.

I want to be

I’ve really enjoyed going through all the pieces I never shared last year and looking for things that were finished enough to post. This is just a short poem I wrote instead of studying for a test, but I have at least two longer length posts rescued from the archives that I will put up this week.


 

I want to be

Written on Dec. 7th 2014

I want to be

the type

of person who reads

 

with a pen in hand

and irks meaning out of

every word,

 

who can look past the heart

and get to

the soul.

 

I want to be

the type

of person who questions

 

everything

without becoming a

cynic,

 

who looks at the world

eyes wide

and digests.

 

I want to be

the type

of person who sees

 

the breadth of life

but lives

the depth of it,

 

who grabs on to

the world

and

 

wont

let

go.

Goodbye?

Hi, Universe! It has been over 6 months since my last blog post and 10 months since my return to the US. I have officially been back in America for as long as I was in Oman. Crazy.

Thank you so much to everyone who has followed me for the past 2 years. It has meant the world to me that so many of you have reached out to me to say that my blog is one of the factors that made you decide to become an exchange student, or that I changed your perspective on the Middle East.

l am the type of person who likes closure, and I think it’s time to formally retire this blog. However, before doing that, over the next few days, I am going to post a few pieces that I wrote last year that for some reason or another never made it to this blog but I feel should have. After I am finished posting those I will make one last real post before saying ma’salama and letting this blog out to pasture. There are a hundred more posts I could write about Oman, but it’s time to move on to other things.

 

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The YES Abroad Oman Squad chilling outside of the Sultan’s palace in Salalah last May. These girls truly made my experience what it was and I miss them all on the daily.

How To Make Banana Milk

Guess what! The 2016-2017 YES Abroad application is out! It can be found HEREThe only logical way to deal with the excitement is to make some celebratory banana milk.

Banana Milk Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Bananas- 1 per person
  • Milk- ⅓ cup per person
  • Ice- 1 handful per person
  • Sugar- to taste (optional)

Supplies:

  • Blender
  • Measuring cup
  • Glasses

Step 1- Peel the bananas and break them into chunks- place in a bowl and sigh wistfully because they are not as delicious as Omani bananas. Reconsider making banana milk because what is the point?

Your bananas should look like this

Step 2- Psych yourself up by listening to Elissa.

Step 3- Put the bananas and milk in the blender on high. Blend for 15 seconds or until the mixture is smooth.

Step 4-Test with a spoon to see if you need to add sugar. If you are using bland, store bought,  american bananas the answer is probably yes.

Step 5- Put the ice in with the banana milk mixture and blend until the mixture is smooth again.

Step 6- Pour into glasses and try to enjoy because this is just a weak imitation of the beauty that is actual banana milk.

Tah-da!

Tah-da!

Step 7- Cry, because why aren’t you drinking banana milk out of paper cups from a coffee shop in Oman?

SUCCESS

This selfie would be better if it was taken in Oman.

Hey It’s Good to be Back Home Again (But Also Really Confusing and Emotional)

Well. Hello again. It’s been awhile.

As I am sure many of you know, I have been back in the United States for several weeks now. 32 days, 22 hours, 23 minutes, and 55 seconds to be exact.

I had been waiting to write about being home until I was  able to process my return.  However, I am beginning to see that this may take years.

In many ways it feels like I have been back far longer than 32 days. So much has changed that the past 10 months might as well have happened to another person.

I do not know how to talk about Oman.

Somedays I am bursting with stories. I want to share every detail of my life in Muscat. I want people to know what the sun looks like as it rises over the Grand Mosque, and how green mangos taste fresh from the tree, the names of my friends and what my favorite subjects were in school.

But talking about those things is painful. Most of the time I try to change the subject to anything else. Questions like “What food do you miss the most” or “Do they have birds like this in Oman” trigger a physical response. My whole body tenses up and I snap some sarcastic answer to whoever asked the well intentioned question.

Your official YES Abroad Oman 2014-2015 graduates at the American Embassy in Oman

Your official YES Abroad Oman 2014-2015 graduates at the American Embassy in Oman

It hurts when people make casual comments about Oman. My life in Oman was not casual. It was intense, overwhelming and complicated.

I do not remember where I first saw this quote, but it has been ringing in my mind for several months now:

If you visit the Middle East for a week you think you can write a book. If you stay for a month  you think, well, maybe I can write an essay or two. If you live in the Middle East a year you won’t know what to say.

It’s true.

I am sitting here in my American living room watching the rain and realizing that there is no way I could describe this past year. There is no way to explain my little corner of the Arabian desert. Oman is a land of contradictions. The country is conservative, but welcoming, beautiful, but harsh, modernizing, but holding on to its roots.

Oman means so much to me. I have fallen in love with the culture and the people. I can not wait to go back to the Middle East. I already find myself browsing the internet in search of cheap airfare to Oman.

However, I am glad to be home.

Braden, Karla, and Me with our cakes at the surprise goodbye  party thrown by Braden's host family.

Braden, Karla, and Me with our cakes at the surprise goodbye party thrown by Braden’s host family.

It is the little things. The freedom to walk outside on my own. How simple it is to make my favorite foods. The ease with which I can communicate with the world around me.

I arrived back in Asheville 32 days ago to a world nothing at all like the one I left. Day by day I am working  to find a home in it again.

Somedays it feels like everything is falling apart.

Other days I can’t believe I ever wanted to leave.

The lock screen on my ipod for the past month has been this text from one of my closest friends in Oman.

text

She sent it during my last week in Oman. I was feeling torn and scared to face the world waiting for me at home. I was ready to leave Oman, but not ready to say goodbye.

“Everything is beautiful in its time”

It was exactly what I needed to hear right then and it has become my mantra.

Oman was beautiful.

But now, now it is America’s time. And America is beautiful too.

Now that I am back I am not quite sure what will happen with this blog. As time goes on I might use it as a place to share more stories from my year, information about Oman, advice for future exchange students, or post some of the things I wrote this year that never made it online. I also might never post again. I haven’t quite decided.

For now, I think I will take a break.

Before I go I would like to say thank you.

Thank you to everyone who has come up to me in the past few weeks to say welcome home. I am sorry I never know quite how to respond.

Thank you to the friends who wrote me long emails on the days I needed them most.

Thank you to everyone who has ever left me a kind comment on this blog. I read all of them, even if I do not respond.

Thank you to the numerous people who have taken me out for lunch and let me spew stories for an hour, but who have also understood the times I have not been ready to talk.

Thank you to my Omani friends who are always willing to snapchat me pictures of the things I miss and thank you to my American friends who are willing to look at my Omani friends snapchats.

Thank you to Linden, Karla, Braden, and Ginya, the four girls who went to Oman with me and changed my perspective on life forever. I miss you all every day.

But most of all I would like to say thank you to my amazing family. I know it was a tough year. I love you more than I can ever say.

Masalama for now,
كنزي

Dancing in the desert in January

Dancing in the desert in January.