Category Archives: Blog

مسجد جامع یزد

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Exploring Yazd (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I had the opportunity to admire the brilliant mosaics decorating the Jameh Mosque of Yazd this fall while a guest speaker for Harvard University in the Islamic Republic of Iran…

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Whirling in Paradise…

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Eram Garden in Iran (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Whenever I travel as a guest speaker to the Islamic Republic of Iran — as I did this fall for Harvard University — I like to whirl through Eram Garden, the template for paradise

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تخت جمشید

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Exploring Iran (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Seriously come to the ruins of Persepolis in the Islamic Republic of Iran — my friendly gatekeeper friends await you!

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Communing with Nature…

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Conjuring in Asia (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Looking forward to sharing more about this image and research endeavor soon in my academic work, stay tuned…

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Cyrus the Great…

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Tomb of Cyrus the Great in Iran (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Iranians gather every year on October 29th to celebrate the unofficial holiday of “Cyrus Day.” I was at his tomb last year just hours before the large gathering emerged and evolved into a protest. As a result, the authorities were fearing what might unfold there this year. According to the powers that be, they foiled an online plan yesterday to organize an “illegal gathering” at the site. All roads to leading to Pasargad were closed.

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Rossini in the Sultanate…

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Last night in Oman

I had the joy of seeing Gioachino Rossini’s L’Occasione fa il Ladro (Opportunity Makes a Thief) last night at the Royal Opera House in Muscat — great show (even wore some of my new Turkmen jewelry)! If you visit the Sultanate of Oman, definitely book a ticket to see a show at the Opera House or at least take a tour of it — it’s not to be missed!

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Commonwealth Club in Central Asia…

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Commonwealth Club of California on the Caspian

I was very happy and grateful to be the expert guest speaker in Central Asia for the Commonwealth Club of California, the oldest and largest public affairs forum in the United States. Some of the many notable speakers in the history of the Club have included U.S. presidents back to Teddy Roosevelt (too many to count), Hillary Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Gates, Mikhail Gorbachev, Kofi Annan, Robert F. Kennedy, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The mission of The Commonwealth Club of California is to be the leading national forum open to all for the impartial discussion of important public issues. Having spent significant periods of time in all five Central Asian Republics, I was elated to have the opportunity to share my expertise and experience in situ on the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. Since I lived twice in Turkmenistan, I was especially delighted to share my experiences there with such an adventurous and enlightened group.

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Caravanserai dinner on the Silk Road

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Harvard in Iran…

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Enjoying Esfahan (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I was humbled and honored to be the expert guest speaker for Harvard University in the Islamic Republic of Iran this fall. Being with this adventurous and intelligent group brought back fond memories of my time teaching Near Eastern Studies at Harvard. It always brings me great pleasure to introduce Americans to Iranian literature, history, art, archaeology, culture, and film to increase understanding between our two nations. I’m looking forward to returning soon to Iran, inshallah…

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Stanford in Iran…

Stanford in Dubai (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Stanford in Dubai (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I was honored to share my Iranian expertise and experience with adventurous folks from Stanford in Dubai on their way to travel through the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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گنبد جبليه

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Exploring Iran (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful and unique building — Gonbad-e Jabaliye — while an expert guest speaker for Harvard University in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The original purpose of this octagonal stone masterpiece in Kerman remains a mystery. I’m happy to share that I will now start posting photos more regularly (upon request!) from my far-flung travels from Mongolia to Rwanda and many places in between.

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On Being: Refugee Yoga in Beirut…

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Refugee Yoga in Beirut (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

If you enjoyed my new NPR essay for On Being, “Performing ‘Our Town’ in Oman,” you might also like my previous On Being essay “Refugee Yoga in Beirut.”

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My New NPR Essay: Performing Our Town in Oman…

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Performing Our Town in Oman

I am so grateful that NPR’s stellar program On Being has published my latest essay — “Performing Our Town in Oman.” Thank you for any help in sharing the piece/peace via Facebook/Twitter/email. Here is a link as well to my previous On Being piece, “Refugee Yoga in Beirut.” Enjoy!

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Coming Soon…

Waking up in Dubai (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Waking up this week-end in Dubai (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I’ve been overwhelmed (in a good way) this summer and fall with speaking engagements, fellowships, upcoming publications, and travel — so I’m looking forward to sharing all of my photos from the road soon when I catch up to myself!

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Gorillas in the Mist…

With my gorilla family in Uganda (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

With my gorilla family in Uganda (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Gorillas in the mist — and me! Here is a photo of me with my gorilla family this week in Uganda. I have so much to share from these past few months. My recent adventurous travels have carried me to Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Mongolia, Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Burundi, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the United Arab Emirates — so I’m a bit behind on sharing snapshots from the road. Stay tuned though, as I will soon be sharing unique glimpses of everything from yurt life in Mongolia to gorilla babies in Uganda. Never a dull moment!

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Cambridge Conference…

Cambridge University

Cambridge University

It was a delight to speak today at Cambridge University on Omani literature at the Gender and Identity in the Gulf: Cultural Constructions and Representations Conference of the Gulf Research Centre. Many thanks to the organizers who made it all possible!

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Birthday Boy…

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Celebrating Anubis (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Happy birthday to the sweet heartbeat at my feet! I enjoyed a quiet day at home yesterday in the Sultanate of Oman celebrating Anubis’ birth and fourteen years of growing old together! Lots of snuggles and treats!

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My old man (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Naadam in Mongolia…

This week in Mongolia (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

This week in Mongolia (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

And the award for cutest Mongolian baby wrestler goes to…this little guy! A delight to celebrate Naadam in Mongolia!

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Our Town in Oman…

Our Town in Oman (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Performing Our Town in Oman (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

This spring in the Sultanate of Oman, the seemingly impossible happened – a cast of expats and Omanis put on the first performance of Our Town in the Middle East. While directing this intrepid cast of mostly ​university ​students and teachers and performing the central role of Emily Webb, I was forced to contemplate the relevance of the play’s timeless themes, and the significance of performing this American classic on the Arabian Peninsula.

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Grover’s Corners in Muscat (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The actors in our staging of Our Town in Oman this spring hailed from towns around the globe — the Sultanate of Oman, the United States, Somalia, India, Great Britain, Holland, Ukraine, and beyond. To represent this diversity, I posted color photographs of “our towns” on the walls of the performance space like postcards, to bring together our far-flung geographies – from the desert dunes of Oman to the bombed-out buildings of Donestsk – as we tried to bring this masterpiece to life in Muscat. Stay tuned for more on this historic theatrical event that we staged in the Arabian Gulf…

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Bringing this dramatic class to life in Oman (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Atana…

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Infinity pool at Atana Musandam (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

If you visit Musandam to enjoy the northern fjords of the Sultanate of Oman, I recommend staying at Atana Musandam or Atana Khasab. I enjoyed a stay at Atana Musandam, but journeyed just a few minutes down the road one night at sunset to dine at Atana Khasab with a phenomenal panoramic view of the Musandam shorline. Atana Musandam is a brand new hotel — and definitely the nicest one in the area. The entire property is intended to resemble a traditional Omani village — from the falaj irrigation system to the colorfully painted wooden beams of the restaurant. The tranquil atmosphere of the hotel makes it the ideal place to unwind and rejuvenate — either in the infinity pool or on your own private balcony. If you have a family, however, I would recommend Atana Khasab for the larger pool and distinct family feel. Atana means “come to us” in Arabic — and that’s just what you should do if you find yourself visiting the northern tip of the Sultanate of Oman.

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Atana Khasab (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Today in Mongolia…

Strolling in Ulaanbaatar (Photo: Emily O'Dell)

Strolling in Ulaanbaatar (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I passed by this lovely blue yurt (ger) near my home today on my way to get bimimbop — Ulaanbaatar’s awesome!

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Peace from Musandam…

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Peace from Oman (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I enjoyed swimming & snorkeling through the majestic fjords of Musandam in northern Oman — turquoise tranquility!

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Dolphin Mirror…

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I see you (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I was drawn to this dolphin weaving through the fjords of Musandam, its arch a mini-mountain rising from the water…

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Dolphins in Musandam…

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Dhow time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I boarded this dhow in Khasab to go dolphin watching and swimming in the fjords of Musandam in northern Oman…

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Riding the side (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Anantara: Paradise in Arabia…

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Welcome to paradise (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

This spring, I had the chance to enjoy a serene stay at Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara while doing research in southern Oman. From its stunning beach (where guests swim with dolphins) to the quiet luxury of its pool villas, the hotel is without a doubt the best accommodation available along the southern coast of Dhofar.

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Our pool villa (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Desperately in need of some rest and relaxation, my friend and I booked a pool villa to unwind in the comfort of privacy and quiet. Upon entering our pool villa, we were delighted (and surprised) to be treated to a relaxing complimentary foot massage — the perfect way to begin our stay. In addition to the inviting striped couch in the living room, we also had multiple lounging options for relaxing outside near our private pool.

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Villa lounge time (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The red and white pillows stationed around the pool add a subtle Middle Eastern touch. We used these cozy pillow platforms to read and snooze after cooling off in the pool. The private pool can be entered from the living room on one side or the bathroom on the other — so you can take a dip and then directly hop in the shower or tub.

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Where’s Waldo? (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

As you can see, the secluded privacy of the pool is ideal for families and covered Muslim women who do not feel comfortable wearing revealing swimwear in front of non-relatives (the pool villas were likely designed with that in mind). For venturing out of the villa to head towards the beach or infinity pool, old-fashioned blue metallic bikes (shipped from the United States) are provided for rides under the property’s towering palms.

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Biking in paradise (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Since I could not ride a bike due to an injury, I instead whirled to the infinity pool each day for a swim and snack. The stunning infinity pool that stretches all the way to the beach is the centerpiece of the sparking white hotel buildings — and the restaurants surrounding it got our taste buds whirling too.

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Whirling to infinity (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

From thin-crust poolside pizzas to a magnificent (and large) mezze platter, the menu of the beach cafe Al Mina (below) next to the pool is filled with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culinary treasures. I had been told by a local friend before our stay that the food at Anantara was fairly priced, and I was relieved and glad to find she was right — we could have our fill and not worry about overspending.

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Poolside Mediterranean dining (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

The breakfast buffet — an impressive display of international fare — is also served poolside at Sakalan Restaurant. In addition to the enormous selection of breakfast cuisines (from Oman, Lebanon, India, Japan, Europe, and the U.S.A., to name a few), there is also a menu from which you can order special breakfast dishes and drinks.

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Brunch at Anantara (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I ordered the Eggs Florentine from the brunch menu, and was not disappointed. I liked it so much that I ordered it again the next day to fuel up on protein before heading out for another long, fun-filled day at the beach. From breakfast to dinner, we were pleased with the culinary offerings of the hotel. We especially enjoyed feasting on Thai food (pad thai along with a sumptuous vegetarian Vietnamese appetizer platter) at Mekong — an elegant restaurant on the property that specializes in Asian cuisine from countries bordering the Mekong River.

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Eggs Florentine, yum! (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

After powering up each morning with a hearty breakfast, I hit the beach to go look for dolphins (one dolphin pod stayed near the beach for a good hour while I swam), enjoy a long sand stroll, and collect unique shells. After communing with nature in the strong turquoise waves each morning (the summer monsoon was beginning to brew), I spent my afternoons swimming, bobbing, and floating in the infinity pool. It was just what the doctor ordered.

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Swim time! (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

While it was tempting to spend all of our time on the grounds of the hotel, we pushed ourselves to go out and explore Dhofar in between meals and swims. Fortunately, Al Baleed Archaeological Park sits literally right next to the hotel. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains sprawling archaeological ruins (including those of the grand mosque and citadel) in addition to the Museum of Frankincense Land — a slick, modern museum which documents Oman’s history. Al Baleed Resort by Anantara opened just several months ago — and from what I can tell, they are already doing everything right. We were greatly impressed by the high quality of the service, the heavenly vision of the grounds, and the welcoming luxury and comfort of the pool villa. I was grateful to enjoy this special slice of paradise in the Sultanate of Oman — and can’t wait to return one day soon.

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Finding peace at Anantara (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Traffic Jam in Dhofar…

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Beep beep (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I got caught in this camel jam in Dhofar while cruising towards the Yemeni border to explore this stunning beach…

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Exploring windy beaches in Dhofar (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

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Blending In…

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Exploring Salalah (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

I got dressed in these traditional clothes (that match the couch and curtains) while visiting this Omani family in southern Oman.

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Khor Rori…

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Enjoying the view at Khor Rori in Oman (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

While doing research in Salalah in southern Oman near the Yemeni border, I visited the ancient port of Khor Rori / Sumhuram (4th century BCE to the 5th century CE). The ruins of Khor Rori (Sumhuram)​ ​–​ ​which are about a 40 minute drive from the city center — overlook a breathtaking harbor and excavations there are ongoing.

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