An American Experience In Arabia During The War On Terror

Most people today seem to have lost the will to read a book, the world revolves around incomprehensible encoded messages 140 characters in length. So here is the review:

IMHO #MattHeines GR8 book US teacher in #Oman, local ppl ^5, culture dif, h8s uni teaching sys, falls 4 #Indian, 5*

OK, now let’s actually talk about My Year In Oman. Although I deny it if asked, under torture I will admit that I subconsciously put books in genre pigeon holes, however this one eludes my neat filing system, it has so many facets. It is part travelogue, part biting criticism of an education system, part love story, and part reflection of the differences between cultures.

It is September 11 2001, Matthew Heines finds that sleep is eluding him, he catches CNN right as they are showing The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre with gaping holes in them.

What could a teacher do to fix the obvious rift between the US and the Middle East? No one man is capable of changing the world. Sure many have tried, but few have succeeded, at least not for the better.

For Matthew Heines 9/11 was the perfect storm, for six grueling years he had toiled in the public school system, what a waste of a Masters degree in education. Schools were not interested in teaching, all they were looking for were coaches that could push students to pass standard tests.

It was with sadness and a huge amount of empathy that I read this biting criticism of our school system. Teaching alas is a lost art. To me a teacher is someone that imparts the skill to learn, the thirst for knowledge and the ability to think. Not some moron cramming test answers into kids heads.

Within two weeks Matthew had found his calling, teaching English in a University in Oman. What could possibly go wrong?

Actually quite a lot. The school turned out to be a university in name only. The students were indeed of university age however their abilities in the English language were anything but. While this lack of English was a hurdle it was compounded by culture. Many of the students came from wealthy backgrounds and had little enthusiasm for learning, this was compounded by a management philosophy of too rich to fail.

Matthew writes all of this with humor, however it was clearly a less than humorous situation. I have great admiration for the lengths that he went to attempting to motivate his students. Oddly enough this effort seemed to create an air of resentment, not with the students, but with the faculty. New brooms they mused were no more effective than old ones.

The second aspect of My Year In Oman that caught my attention is Matthews personal life. Omani men do not take lightly to foreigners messing with their women. It is a sure fire way to end up with broken or missing body parts or worse! The solution therefore was to find social contacts among the other foreign workers in Oman. Americans were a little scarce, I am sure that Matthew was not the only one in the country, but they were hard to locate. Brits, Ausies, South Africans, and Indians were more plentiful.

Having spent extensive time working and socializing with people from all over the world, I found the stories pretty darn funny.

Matthew does fall in love with a very pretty Indian woman, there is little humor in the story, and once again he is faced to accept the fact that love cannot always conquer culture.

I give very high marks to My Year In Oman. We all look for aspects in a book that we can relate to. I found many. On the humor side was his love of camping and BBQ’ing burgers. Why on earth you would travel half way around the word to make burgers is beyond me. On the envy side, Indian food. It is a very fine cuisine. It has been 6 years since I had an Indian meal, apparently it just doesn’t work in rural Mississippi. On the Culture side, Culture is what it is, we may live in a global world, but it is not going to change anytime soon.

To get your own copy of My Year in Oman use the Amazon link above, you will not be disappointed.

Simon Barrett

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