A Meeting of my Favorite Things: Oman and Moffet School

Last Friday I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Moffet School kids about the country Oman and its history and culture. The students reactions reminded me exactly why Al-Bustan’s work is so impactful: we help expose people from all backgrounds to Arab culture, while simultaneously providing a forum for those of Arab heritage to feel pride in their culture, especially at a school like Moffet where there are a significant number Arab students.

Saeed (front right) brings his copy of The Turtle of Oman
with him even to after-school art class. Photo by Emily Ganser
The roots of my presentation stem from a scholarship I received from the Omani government to study Arabic and learn about its history and culture while I was in college. During my seven weeks living there, I became enamored with the place and ended up writing about Oman as part of my senior honors thesis. So, when I joined Al-Bustan and found out that we were bringing Naomi Shihab Nye to Philadelphia to talk about her latest book, The Turtle of Oman, I got very excited. Then, when I heard that some of our dedicated Al-Bustaners (“gardeners”?) were donating money to purchase a copy of The Turtle of Oman for all fourth and fifth graders at Moffet School, and that Naomi would come and speak to these kids about the book, I was overjoyed.
The intersection of Moffet, Naomi Shihab Nye, and The Turtle of Oman meant that I had the opportunity to go do one of my favorite things: talk to people about the Sultanate of Oman. As all the fourth and fifth graders are reading the book now, the teachers invited me to speak with their students about my time in Oman  They only gave me 45 minutes–I could talk about Oman for hours if you gave me the chance–which was just enough time to review the geography, the impact of Sultan Qaboos on the development of the country, and some show and tell about the food and clothing.

Me giving the first of two presentations on Oman.
Despite the distance of Oman from their lives, the Moffet kids were attentive listeners and inquisitive questioners. They asked about everything from the types of weapons Omanis used to use (small shields!) to the traditional way of eating food with just your hands. And let me tell you, when I spoke about my experience camping in Wadi Ash-Shab (the most fun adventure I’ve ever undertaken) the room was filled with that eerie quiet that comes about when everyone is really focused.

As fun as the talk was, my conversation with Ms. Anderson afterwards was, perhaps, the most gratifying moment of the day. She told me how one of the Arab girls in her class has become more engaged and confident while he class is reading The Turtle of Oman.  As a native Arabic speaker she was able help her classmates with translations of the Arabic words. This is a perfect example of how intercultural work can help engender pride in youth. By introducing a book which contains Arabic and Arab cultural themes it provides opportunities for Arab students to contribute to class from their unique perspective. I can’t wait to see what happens when the students get farther along in reading The Turtle of Oman, and what they say when Naomi Shihab Nye visits their school this Friday!

– Max Dugan, Program Coordinator