Our tired stroller wheels wobbled from side to side along the uneven cobblestone of the Muttrah corniche. My cousin was leading us across the busy street towards the fish market area, nestled right on Muscat port, near the souk. The narrow road into the covered market was encumbered by several dozen parked pick ups. Omani fishermen were selling their fresh catch from tarps strung to their hatchbacks. Despite this early morning hour, ice was melting under the intensity of the sun.
Pressing on a bit further, into the covered fish market, we could hear the haggling, the laughter and lively relational interaction that told us we were most definitely in another part of the world. Nearing the commotion, my soul came alive.
I grabbed my long black skirt, raising it ever so slightly above the wet ground. I looked up to see fishermen’s toes peeking out from the spread before them. Each fisherman was sitting at his fish-selling platform, showcasing a most splendid variety of fish on wadi mats, those all-purpose woven PVC carpets. Baby sharks, squid, tunas, sordid sweetlips, parava fish and so many more species I know not by name. My cousin settled on a fish that looked like it had run into a wall: the flat nosed white Koffer, the size of a frying pan. We’d take two please – plenty for our festive meal with friends that we’d later eat with our hand (right only!) after enjoying the last of the Omani sweet cardamom tea. The kids wanted to watch the fish being gutted, so they stood on the ledge and watched the gory scene before them that they’ll never forget… Or will they just forget it all?
Because we believe travel is never wasted on young kids, we just returned from the enchanting Gulf state of Oman with three kids ages 4.5, 3 and 1. We have no regrets – apart for not checking that all five passports are valid for at least six months! (Oops.) It was such a phenomenal trip on so many levels. I am convinced that an experience like this is more precious than any thing we could buy them.
But…we all have friends who think their kids shouldn’t travel until they are six because their children will never remember it. Despite the fact that many kids who start to travel at age six have already reached a level of discomfort, which could in fact make it a lot harder when they do come of age, it’s worth mentioning that even young kids can absolutely be given tools to remember their voyage.
To remember our trip, we invited our kids to make a little scrapbook along the way. We called it their “carnet de voyage” or little travel notebook. It was so much fun to put together, and dare I say that I discovered a few things about the so-called Norway of the Middle East myself.
The little travel notebook is a simple idea, perfect for ages 4-8, but I also made a little younger version and you could certainly think of adapting it to older kids. While terribly simple, these little notebooks have given our children words and pictures to describe their experience.
For once, this tool doesn’t have to cost anything other than the paper and ink you use. You can adapt it to any age or place you intend on visiting. Our kids wrote or drew in it each time their was a little downtime in our travel. On airport floors, during a quiet time, in the back of a car. It can be as detailed and creative as you’d like. And if you are a busy parent like me, you can include a bunch of extra pages to make it up as you go, and even staple it all together on the road. This tired mama is all about simple, non Pinterest worthy crafts these days..
Some of the prompts I included for our 4 year old:
– Draw who came along on this trip
– Draw your itinerary on the world map
– Find your boarding card and glue it in your book
– Cut out the country you are traveling to from the inflight magazine (ehem) and locate the capital.
– Crossword puzzle to find the capital city
– Fill in the blanks: I see a lot of ____. The buildings are mostly _____.
– Get your booklets stamped by the border police / customs (a little tricky, but we got two!)
– A model of a local flag and a rectangle to draw it themselves
– Which types of sea creatures did you see? (Choose from stickers)
– Draw something new you ate
– What is the local currency?
– Draw a local building (an Omani fort!)
– How do you say hello, goodbye and thank you in the local language?
– What was you favorite part of the trip? Draw it.
There isn’t anything like show-and-tell in French schools, but how could you not enthusiastically welcome little travel journals with adorable kid writing in a class setting? I was informed that the little classmates giggled hearing the greeting salaam alaikum after the whole carnet was read aloud. It all sounds so funny, so foreign, but precisely, that’s how to bring the world into the monolingual classroom, amiright?
Of course, our kids are proud as punch by the notebooks they chipped away at little by little. Today, they carry them around in resealable bags so they don’t get wet or damaged. They love them so much that we’ve decided we’d even add some photos of our trip on the blank pages. Maybe of their second cousins. Maybe of the date-farms at the foot of the jagged mountains?
Our children might be young, but they may just end up remembering more details about our trip to the Middle East than their parents ever will..