We all have been students at some point in life, and we are forever students of life. So what can be so extraordinary about being a student or for that matter being a student learning the Arabic language?
If you are from the Netherlands and you speak Arabic fluently, then it makes a lot of difference. For this anthropologist, he is not confining his learning however inside the classroom but considers the whole country as his classroom.
Keye Tersmette’s parents were once in Oman for a holiday and their stay left quite a mark that when their son was trying to practise his Arabic, they made the suggestion that he goes to Oman. Before then, he used to go to Syria.
The Embassy of Oman in the Netherlands chose the place for him of where in the Sultanate he can refine his Arabic speaking skills. As part of his graduate studies in 2012, Keye was assigned to Birkat al Mouz in the Wilayat of Nizwa.
What is interesting is that Keye’s understanding of Oman predominantly came through the eyes of the youth.
“I had picked up other languages while I was in other parts of the world. In addition to my mother tongue, I had studied German and French in school and Thai when we were in Thailand. But in Oman, I was with my age group – youth who were also going to university and attending colleges. I lived with them and the language came with ease. They even chose an Arabic name for me. My friends took me to their families and they showed me these amazing places. I have seen Oman through the eyes of the youth,” he shared.
Years later, he is back as an anthropologist. There was not much research material about the Gulf countries so he took upon himself to find the books. The more he talked to people, the more he learnt and there began the bond.
And when the time came for him to take his Masters and Ph.D., the focus became Middle Eastern Studies. He would eventually discover that not many studies were conducted on the Gulf countries. While he did his research, he also combined it with studying History of Art and History in general.
“Since I thought that what I had been doing up until that moment fell squarely within the discipline of anthropology, pursuing a PhD in anthropology seemed the most convenient option. And then I discovered that anthropology was so much more. It is a discipline with a rich but immensely complicated history,” Keye said.
Anthropology is evolving even more along with the societies.
“Traditionally, anthropology or perhaps ethnology had people going out into the fields, spending a lot of time there and all the while writing monographs. They would record how people lived, their economic situation, their kinship, faith and so on. If you see their work, they all have the same table of contents but the details are different. Today, anthropology is fairly convinced that it is not fair to generalise a group of people within a country even if you were to study the smallest of island nations,” he noted.
“I think the ultimate goal of anthropology is definitely to provide material for comparisons from which we can learn more about who we are and what we are about – the humans in this blue planet,” he said.
Fast forward from 2012 to 2018 and Keye is back in Oman visiting his friends from Buraimi to Muscat and Salalah to Sohar, Maddha and onwards.
“This is the fifth time I am coming back to Oman. This trip, however, is a two month period,” he shared.
Asked what Oman to him is, he promptly answered that Oman is ‘a second home’.
“I have always been with the shabab – the youth. It is fun because the friends of my generation are getting married and having children. I just feel I am growing up with them,” he said.
As someone who dabbles in academia and related fields, he noted, “Oman is unique especially because there is so little scholarship on Oman. The information that is readily available to western audience is quite limited. There are a few stories that go about every five years but they almost have the same information. They go in different jackets but only a slight difference in the content. But to see it in person and experience it is nice. Oman is dynamic and if I were to choose one trait that is a key feature – it would have to be hospitality!”