• Expat Life
  • Women’s Middle East Travel Guide

    Middle East is a very interesting region to travel and explore. It is enriched with unique culture, vast and elaborate history, countless old archaeological sites and breathtaking landscapes. Although it can be daunting, it shouldn’t stop women from visiting these awesome countries. Here are some guides for women when traveling in the Middle East:

    Dress modestly

    Women are encouraged to wear loose long pants or skirts and a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt in all Middle Eastern countries.  Avoid wearing transparent clothes. A headscarf is optional but if you plan on visiting a mosque, you will be required to wear a scarf and dress that will cover your whole body. This region is more culturally conservative than many parts of the US, Europe, Canada or East Asia.Dressing modestly shows that you respect local custom, culture and tradition.

     

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    Buy a local sim

    Upon arrival into the country, buy a local sim. Internet data allows you to update your family and friends of your destination. If you get lost, you can easily access the GPS. It can be used for emergency purposes, such as calling local authorities for help.

    Learn the language

    Arabic is the main language in the Middle East. Although English is widely spoken to some Arab countries, it helps to learn few important Arabic phrases like “As-salam alaykum” that means peace be with you. It is routinely used as a Muslim greeting equivalent to saying hi.  Other words that might be helpful are “Shukran” for thanks, “Aywa” for yes and “La” for no. Locals will appreciate any effort you make to connect with them.

    Travel in pairs

    It is always good to travel with someone in the Middle East for safety reasons. It is worth to remember you are entering a country with different culture and that locals are not used to seeing women traveling alone. But if you have to travel alone, be cautious and wary.

    Keep your smile to a minimum

    Having lived in the Philippines where men and women openly talk to one another, to some countries in the Middle East it is the other way around. In Oman, it is okay to smile and greet ladies but it would be better not to flash a smile to a male. A smile is more than a smile and may be misinterpreted as having romantic interest to the opposite sex. The best advice is to be more reserved than you normally would.

    Respect local customs

    Be prepared for gender segregation. Going to public areas or riding on local transport, men and women sit separately even if related. If you are traveling alone, sit where the group of women are sitting together.

    Know where you are going

    Plan you trip and don’t just wander around. There are places in any city that would be unsafe.  Get maps on the airport to know where you are going and study them before you leave the hotel. Keep the address of the accommodation you will be staying in English and Arabic language. Walk confidently at all times, even if you are lost or terrified.

    Bring toilet papers

    Toilet papers are rarely supplied on public places. Bear in mind, squat toilets are common in the Middle East. Hand sanitizer is a must.

    Wear sunglasses

    It is hot and you need protection for your eyes under the sun. Second, it gives you the opportunity to look around without drawing unnecessary attention.

     

    As long as you plan ahead,  make use of  your common sense, and know the cultural and religious differences, you will have a splendid, worthy and safe experience of the Arab country you are visiting.

     

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    Have you traveled in the Middle East?  Share your experiences on the comments below.

     

  • Expat Life
  • Arabic Food: 12 of the best dishes you should eat

     

    To experience culture, it has to be tasted. After living in Oman for almost 5 years, I have learned to explore not only the different tourist destinations but also indulge in some local Arabic food. I love the spices and herbs on the food. It’s unique and tasty! Listed below are some of my favorite Arabic food that you may want to try on:

     

    1. Hummus

    It is a mashed chickpeas blended with tahina (toasted sesame seeds with a consistency similar to peanut butter), olive oil, salt, garlic and cumin. It is a dip that goes along well with bread or any vegetable stick. I love having hummus as a spread on khuboos (flat bread) for breakfast.Hummus can be bought readily on any grocery store and usually last for 2-3 days on the refrigerator.

     

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    2.Labneh/Labnah

    It is yogurt strained through a cloth to remove the whey, resulting in a spread that is almost same the consistency of a soft cheese. There are wide varieties of labneh. Compared to all kinds of labneh, I personally like Turkish Labneh as it is not too sour. It has the balance taste of saltiness and creaminess that you can’t resist of. Instead of the usual cheddar cheese or any ready made spread, I like it better which goes well with cucumber and tomato. I love spreading it on a bread for breakfast.

     

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    3. Shuwa

    Typical Omani dish served during special occasion. It can be goat or cow cooked and buried underground for 1-2 days. The meat is loaded with herbs and spices. It is tender that melts into your mouth. The meat is enjoyed with a large platter of rice and tangy Omani style tomato sauce.

     

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    4.Manakeesh/ Manaqish

    Sometimes called Arabic pizza. It is made of dough topped with cheese, ground meat or zataar (an Arabic spice with a citrus/ lemony flavor). It is best to eat manakeesh when fresh out of the oven but taste as good after it cools. It can be sliced or folded and can be served for breakfast or lunch.

     

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    5. Kunafah

    It is a cheese sweet pastry made up of Akkawi cheese, mozzarella or any type of unsalted cheese soaked with sugar syrup and pistachios on the top. It is usually part of the breakfast best paired with Arabic coffee.

     

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    6.Mixed Grill

    It is usually made up of lamb chops, kofta (minced meat), beef (shish kebab) or chicken (shish tawook).  Mixed grill is usually served with salad and Arabic bread.

     

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    7.Tabbouleh

    This dish is made up of chopped parsley, tomato, mint, scallion, bulgur and other herbs with lemon and oil. It is usually served as mezze (appetizer) in Arab countries. I love the freshness and crispiness of the parsley and the contrast taste of lemon and salt.

     

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    8.Shawarma

    Probably the most popular Arabic food. Beef, chicken or lamb is grilled on a vertical spit then shave off for serving. The basic shawarma is stuffed with tahini, hummus or garlic sauce. Other sellers add vegetables or french fries on it then the ingredients are wrapped in Arabic bread. You can always find shawarma in every corner. A sandwich costs from 300 baisa/ .77 USD/ 36.7 PHP.

     

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    9.Batinjan Moutabal

    Another dip which is somewhat similar to hummus but made up of roasted eggplant and additional tahina sauce. It’s quite easy to remember as batinjan means eggplant in Arabic. It goes well with any bread. I like dipping grilled meat or chicken to this dip too.

     

    10.Mushkak /Mishkak

    If you are craving for a distinct Omani flavour, mushkak/ mishkak is a must try. It is a skewered chicken, mutton or beef drizzled with spicy tamarind sauce. The best skewers can be found on the street corner or souq (market). You can eat straight from the stick or wrap it in Arabic bread. Mushkak/ Mishkak is hugely popular among young people and commuters who want to enjoy the casual atmosphere and eat them on the spot. Don’t forget to try camel skewers if you want to try something different. One stick costs 300baisa each/ .77 USD/ 36.7 PHP

     

     

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    11. Omani bread crepe

    Paper thin crispy called khubz rakhal is filled with cheese, honey,eggs or chips  or a combination of all four. Omani bread is best enjoyed with karak tea. Karak tea is a blend of  black tea, milk, sugar and cardamon. It is very aromatic and tasty.

    Crepes are found mostly in the little tea-shops or coffee shops scattered around the major towns or cities of Oman.

     

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    12.Al Harees

    Al Harees, traditional dish consisting of wheat, meat (chicken or lamb) and salt is a prominent treat during special occasions like Ramadan, Eid or weddings. The wheat grains are ideally soaked overnight, seasoned and then simmered in water to cook. It takes time to cook and when cooked, it will be somewhat like an oat porridge. It was once a traditional dish made at Arab homes but can be found nowadays included on the menu of some Arabic restaurants around the country.

     

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    What is your favorite Arabic food? Share on the comments below.

     

  • Expat Life
  • The Life of an Expat in Nizwa Oman

     

    I have been writing so much of my previous travels but haven’t shared yet of my humble abode here in Nizwa, Al Dakhliyah, Oman.Nizwa is the place where I live and work. Nizwa is the regional center in the Al Dakhliyah region. It was the oldest capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th centuries. It is about 165 km, 1.5 hours away from Muscat, the present capital of the country. Nizwa has become a more modern city since 1970 but still maintain city traditional architecture such as historical buildings, forts, and souqs (old traditional markets).

     

    Nizwa Fort is one of the main attractions built in the 1668 AD by Iman Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’rubi in Nizwa. It was once used as a defense wall but now it has been renovated as museum. It is the most visited monument in Oman. The most prominent feature of the tower is the colossal circular tower soaring 115 feet above the rest of the fortification. Walking up the tower stairs shouldn’t be missed. It provides a 360-degree view of the town. Close to the fort is the traditional souq filled with vendors selling everything from fish, meat, fruits and vegetables to gold, silverware, potteries, dates and spices. Nizwa is known for its silver jewelry which is considered to be the best in the country. Scattered around are small coffee shops, garment, grocery, barbershops and restaurants which are very common in Oman. It is common to see more men in the souq than women. Men in the local culture do the shopping and women take care of the children at home and cook meals. If you wish to visit Oman, take a look at the hotel selection on Agoda

     

     

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    Nizwa Fort provides perfect view of the town

     

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    Nizwa Souq

     

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    Pottery Souq

     

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    Nuts, spices and herbs

     

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    Nizwa has a very traditional culture. It is a place where you seldom see women walking alone on public places. A place with less kind of entertainment. There is no kind of any lively social activities present. It is more of a quiet laid-back city, quite different from the capital of the country.

     

    Five years ago, everything seems so indifferent to me. There were only limited stores to buy food and other necessities. I often visit Muscat to roam and buy some Filipino food.  As of now, everything had changed. Nizwa has improved over the time. There are more selections to choose from, from foods to household goods. Malls, hypermarkets, and restaurants are everywhere. Banks have better services. Main highways have been upgraded.

     

    I found Nizwa as a nice place to live in. Most of the expat’s accommodation is in the form of apartments or villas. The rental fee is affordable compared to the city of Muscat. Rental agreement is usually 2 years. Utilities like water, gas, internet and electricity are excluded from the rental fee. I live in a flat type accommodation with 2 other Filipina. Our flat is located near the hospital where I am working.Flat usually composed of 3 bedrooms, living room and a kitchen. Housing allowance is provided by the hospital I am working. Living here is totally decent and peaceful. There is a growing number of Filipinos working in the hospital. When I started my job years back, there were like 20 Filipinos who worked in the hospital. As of now we are more than 100 and still growing.  You never feel like alone knowing there are more Filipinos and other nationalities working and living in Nizwa.

     

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    Apartment in Oman

     

    On a typical day, I spend most of my time at home after my work. I woke up with the sound of the Morning Prayer from the big mosque. Most of our neighbors are locals and expats working in the same hospital. Kids are out playing on a regular afternoon time. Diversional activities are available depending on what you like to do. Some expats are having fun walking in the afternoon when the weather is good. Some engaged in sports activities like basketball, boxing or badminton around the neighborhood. Others prefer to stay at home to watch television or movies, read books, surf the net, bake or cook specially on summer season.

     

    I love to run on my free time. It helps me stay active. There are days I like to write on my   blogs; there are days I love to cook. And some days I love to go around and explore more of Oman. I never get tired of doing something as long as I know it makes me relaxed and happy. Others may find Nizwa a boring place to live in. It might be a dull place for someone who loves the life in the city.

     

    Everyone has its own preferences of an ideal place to live in and work. Living in Nizwa can be very simple and challenging. But it is on those quiet moments that I have realized what I like to do most in my life. I love my work. I have realized there is no excuses for boredom. You can always be whoever you want to be and be the best no matter what the setup of the place is.

     

    Are you an expat living in another country? Or do you wish to work abroad? Share your stories with us on the comments below.