Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday + Monsoon

And as expected, the monsoon never fails to start on time or even early! It started raining this morning in Salalah. Folks, Khareef is officially in. HOORAY! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Salalah on a Tuesday

I'm alive! I promise. Don't go away! I won't explain my blog's slowdown because previous posts have done enough explaining. Tonight I'm busy reading through 37 journal articles (skimming, cross-eyed, looking for key words, forming ideas, scanning through bibliographies, etc ... you can imagine).

My inbox is over-flowing with questions and requests! I promise I'll get back to you! 

Now, .... news from Salalah:

1) Weather sucks. Heavy. Humid. Hot. The absolute worst. Of course, this is only a build-up to the first monsoon rain that we hope will happen on June 21st, not a day later. You do realize that's four days away right? MONSOON IS FOUR DAYS AWAY! For some reason, I truly am excited this year. I want to see green and rain and mud.

2) Ramadan is next week. You do realize Ramadan is probably on June 28th or 29th? That's like next week. Time to prepare myself. Month of fasting, here we come! It will be a nice change to have Ramadan in the rain like last year. It will be over by July 26th or 27th? Meaning we have the whole of August to picnic and party. I was at Lulu's yesterday looking for chevre and stumbled upon a mountain of vimto, reminding me that Ramadan is just  around the  corner. For more on the mountains of vimto, read my old post here

3) Naturally, our municipality totally screws up their road-building schedule by ensuring the main highway and roads are under construction in the middle of tourist season. Right now they're in the middle of building two major bridges (one near Saada over Um Al Ghawarif roundabout) and the other at Hamdan/Lulu intersection. Furthermore, the main highway is shut from the clock-roundabout to the fountain round-about, causing wonderful traffic jams each morning, as policemen stand by the side of the road and watch blankly expecting the traffic jams to go away all by themselves. 

4) Casa Mia, the new Italian restaurant is open at Salalah Gardens Mall. I hear their Tiramisu is very good. I'm waiting to pay them a visit. Does anyone know if they serve gelato? I could do with some Italian gelato. Perhaps passion fruit, cookies, and nutella flavours. Oh yum.

5) I haven't seen an accident for two weeks. Something must be changing.

6) There's a major anti-drug campaign in Salalah from May 27th to June 25th I think. Posters everywhere. For some reason including photos of children. I didn't know drugs were a serious problem with younger kids. 

7) Yesterday I noticed a sign on a building near Lulu entitled the 'Association for Caring for Orphans' or something to that effect. It looks brand new. I'll have to investigate. If they're active, this is fantastic news. If they'll look at children born out of wedlock who are abandoned at the hospital in Salalah then sent up to the orphanage in Muscat, that would be even better. Orphans who have only lost their father but whose mother and siblings are alive are usually much better off because of the tribal network and support in Dhofar.

8) I stumbled upon a new chocolate (and watch and expensive gift) shop in new Salalah behind Barbecue Nation and near the new Al Fair. It's called Al Awadi. Their chocolates are darn good.

What's new with you?

Nadia 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Family Bookshop Closing

I realize the post is a little late because news spread around town like fire a couple of weeks ago. The much beloved Family Bookshop, Salalah's only English bookstore is closing tomorrow. It was the only bookstore in Salalah where you could buy English books, postcards, English publications, magazines, and also the only guaranteed bookstore where you could purchase books on Dhofar in Arabic and English. You would always find books by local authors on sale as well as other treasures on Oman. The bookstore has been running for as long as I can remember. However, the sad truth is that Dhofaris don't read. I'm not surprised they closed. As far as I know, they had been struggling for years to keep up the business. Most customers were expats. All I can say is, it's a true disappointment.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Five Years

Five years ago today Dhofari Gucci came to life. I was sitting in my living room fuming at something (ok .. someone) and I was scribbling furiously in my diary. Unfortunately, my hand wasn't moving fast enough. This is when I decided to start a blog since my typing skills are top notch. I told myself "Nadia, honey, why not start a blog to write everything down... don't worry, no one will read it but at least you know your thoughts will be preserved somewhere out there on the world wide web". 

So I sat down at my laptop and created Dhofari Gucci. The reason I chose the name is a long story that I'll save for some other time, but the idea behind the blog is something I will share. 

You see, I love writing. As a child all I wanted were paper and sharpened pencils. I started scribbling down notes and thoughts and ideas from a very early age. In fact, I wrote a 237-page novel at the age of 13 about a girl called Sarah Spindle, my alter-ego. I liked the idea of having an alter-ego, particuarly in Salalah where girls are constantly told to act and behave in a certain way. Having an alter-ego meant I could live something that I couldn't in real life. Going to a public girls' school in Salalah was not my favourite experience. 

Books and writing to me were often more real than anything in my own life. I have spent half my life with my nose in a book, but one eye peaking over the top taking note of what is happening around me. The other half has been spent scribbling notes. If you peak into my purse, you'll find paper, notebooks, and at least five pens. I write everywhere. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write a book or novel about Dhofar. A human being close to my heart once referred to Dhofar and its people as a 'Living Museum' which is the truest description I've ever encountered for my region. 

Dhofar is fascinating. Its people, traditions, culture, landscape, insanity, connections, tribes, contradictions, things that drive you crazy, conformity,support, everything. I've been taking notes for my 'book' for years. One day I'll write it, even if I'm a little old lady.

 In early 2009 I read a novel by award-winning author Isabel Allende... well, I've read all her novels actually, the first being House of the Spirits. For some reason beyond my comprehension, I wrote to her in early 2009. I told her how much I loved her books and then I proceeded to describe Dhofar and my dreams of becoming a writer. Lo and behold she wrote back within half an hour. She was sitting at her writing table in San Francisco early in the morning and my email was the first to grab her attention. Maybe I was lucky. She wrote to tell me to WRITE WRITE WRTIE. She told me I could do it and that the secret was to write one page a day. She then asked for postal address so she could send me some books that would help me. Yes, this story actually happened. I still have the big brown envelope that arrived at my little post office in Salalah from her. 

Because of this encounter, I  toyed with the idea of starting a blog. I figured it's the easiest way to write one page a day. Over the past five years the changes in my life that have taken place because of this blog have been overwhelming. I met some of my closest friends ( V & W!) and closest humans (WP) through this blog. I have attended many blog meet-ups in Oman and have met some incredible human beings. The number of journalists and researchers who have contacted me is insane. International and local publications have contacted me to do some writing for them on Oman/Dhofar/Salalah. Sometimes I obliged and other times I had to turn offers down because of time. 

My inbox was overflowing with emails, requests, questions. People moving to Salalah for the first time would email me for advice and tips. I would put them in touch with other people I know who could help. I have been invited to attended countless conferences and workshops around the world. Many times I accepted and went, other times I had to turn down offers due to the time issue again. When you Google Dhofar, chances are I'm the first thing that pops up. My journey through Dhofari Gucci has been CRAZY and WONDERFUL.

I know I've been slow with blogging lately but that's because I had to prioritize in life. You see, I'm doing a graduate degree on a topic that I'm passionate about. Those of you who know me understand. For the readers who complain that I've been a lazy blogger, please forgive me. I intend to return to blogging full-time in the very near future. I totally love this blog and everyone who reads it (excluding the internet trolls who constantly accuse me to hanging Dhofar's dirty laundry for the world to see). 

My focus in writing has always been Dhofar and particuarly the struggles of women. Female empowerment, change, marriage, love, working, society, tribalism, female genital mutilation, and any taboo subject out there. It's what I'm passionate about. Occasionally there has been the viral post here and there (hint: my letter to the CEO of Oman Air, who resigned recently). My posts have been a mix of humor, anger, and passion. I know they're not everyone's cup of tea, but you can't please everyone. 

So, the bottom-line is, thank you for reading my outbursts. Thank you for passing through. Thank you for emailing me. Thank you for adding me to your blog-roll. Thank you for inviting me to your conferences in all corners of the earth. Thank you for getting in touch and meeting me for coffee. I'm a busy person but I try my very best to make time for people. I'm a firm believer that everyone who passes through my life (even for a cup of coffee) was brought to me for a reason. I wouldn't be who I am today without you (yes you, reading this). It has been a wonderful journey, a very personal one, and one that will continue. 

Yours truly from my little corner in Salalah, Gucci

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Twisted Kind of Love

No, this isn't the post I was referring to earlier. That one is still cooking. Today's post is the result of an 'Aha!' moment I had yesterday morning when a wonderful human being (you know who you are) enlightened me with one sentence that suddenly made sense. It all started with me ranting on as usual about people in Dhofar interfering in each others' business non-stop and continuously bombarding you with unwanted advice. 

I'll give you an example. Recently I was at Carrefour in Salalah in the home section ... in the corner where the annoying voice attracts you with 'Everlock! The solution to all your problems! The suction cup system that holds and holds and holds....'. Yes, that corner. 

As I was attempting to choose a few boxes to store my ever-growing pile of papers, notes, musings, and writing... I heard someone approach me. High heels. I stuck my head deeper into the boxes hoping whoever it is walks by without recognizing me. You see, I'm not very social. I don't like to be out in public particularly in shopping malls or supermarkets unless it's at 9:00 am on a Friday morning (as Travelallergy so very well knows since we tend to shop at the same time). 

Anyway, I wasn't lucky. The heels stopped two feet away from me and I hear the usual "Nadia? Are you Nadia?". I look up and see a woman in a burqa (face veil). I smile politely and nod my head. She immediately sticks both her hands out and takes my right hand in both of hers. 

Weird Woman: "Nadia?? It's you? Daughter of X and X? Cousin of X and X?"

Me: "Yes, that's me. I'm sorry I don't recognize you. Who are you?"

Weird Woman: "Did you sister get married recently?"

Me: "Uh, yes. Who are you again? Sorry I didn't get your name..."

Weird Woman "Oh, but she's younger than you, no?"

Me "Um, yeah"

Weird Woman "You know Nadia, everyone knows that you studied abroad and are independent and everything, but you really shouldn't see marriage as an obstacle to your life .."

Me: (by then I'd given up finding out who she was) "Don't worry. Insha'allah everything will be fine"

Weird Woman "Yes, but you've reached an age where you need to start making sacrifices and getting married. You can't let past experiences or other people's experiences stop you from getting married"

Me: "Um, ok?"

Weird Woman "Look at your cousin X and sister Y. They rejected the idea of an arranged marriage at first. But look at them now, they're settled and content"...

Me: "Um, thanks. I'm kind of in a hurry to meet someone in ten minutes, so..."

Weird Woman "Really, you should open your mind to marriage. It's time. Stop being difficult. The more independent you get, the fewer men you'll get. It's not worth it"

Me: "Ok, well thanks. See you around" 

I walk away fuming and thinking to myself "who the hell does she think she is? I don't even know her! she didn't even give me her name!!! I HATE THIS TOWN"  as I pull out my emergency packet of Dettol wipes (I have OCD and can't stand the idea of someone holding my hand ...I had to disinfect immediately)

If you think that conversation that took place was weird and completely rude, then you're probably an expat. In Dhofar it's completely normal. People do it to each other every day ... all day. And if you're an expat living in Salalah they probably do it to you too. (why don't you wear an abaya? It will make you more beautiful. Why not wear makeup?  Teacher, you should do this or eat this or wear this, etc, etc) 

In that past one week alone, I've been told to wear the veil, stop driving, become more demure, wear more makeup, wear less makeup, get married, not get married, eat, not eat, lose weight, not lose weight, etc, etc. 

It's insane.

It drives me crazy.

And there's nothing I can do about it.

Another example, one of my cousins got married to a girl who is slightly darker than he is. The girl is extremely pretty and wears makeup to match her skin color (i.e. not Marylin Manson white please click on that link). At a family lunch, a bunch of women approached the groom's sisters and proceeded to inform them that they NEED to advise their new sister in law to wear more makeup because it's shameful to be darker than the groom. 

Yes, they had the nerve to approach the family with serious faces with serious advice concerning something that is none of their business. 

Here's three main points one needs to keep in mind before telling a Dhofari to 'F*** Off' if they offer unwanted advice: 

(1) They really do believe from the bottom of their hearts that they're doing you a FAVOR. 
(2) They give you advice because this society is all about conformity. They want you to be just like them. Take it as a compliment.
(3) When they interfere in your business and ask you personal questions and insist that you answer them, it's because they're looking for flaws in your life that they can help make better. 
(4) They do it out of love.

Ok, so you're probably thinking I've gone nuts. But I haven't. Yesterday morning I was sipping coffee with that wonderful person and complaining to them about someone else who keeps offering advice and telling me what I'm doing wrong (everyday, all day). The wonderful person (we'll call him W.P) chuckled and said "But Nadia, it's a form of love"

I stopped for a moment and looked at him blankly. Love? What love? Telling me I need to start wearing the burqa is a form of love? Telling me I'm too liberal and I need to calm down is a form of love? Telling me I shouldn't be driving is a form of love? Telling me I should make myself whiter is a form of love? What the heck was he talking about?

Then, when I let it sink in for a little bit I realized he may be right. They don't do it because they're horrible, nosy and rude people. They do it because it's their way of expressing caring. When you live differently, they worry about it. It keeps them awake at night. They want everyone to be the same (collectivism at its best). They feel comfortable and secure when everyone around them lives the same way they do. Dhofaris are terrified of change. They want society to remain the same. When someone tries to do something different they stick out like a sore thumb. Society then does its best to correct that by offering advice. 

This isn't an affectionate society. It isn't a society where people openly express love or their feelings. Hell no. People here express their love in different ways. When someone dies they'll be the first people at the funeral helping to get things organized. When you get married, they'll support you. And most of all, they'll offer advice. On everything and anything. 

It drives private people like me CRAZY. But if I look at it from a different perspective, it becomes easier to handle. 

So thank you W.P for phrasing it like you did. It's a form of love.

Oh well.

Nadia. 


Monday, March 10, 2014

Bitterness.

Why yes, my last post was on January 20th. And yes, about a MILLION things have happened since then. I was planning a post on Saturday March 8th to mark International Women's Day. But then horrible things happened that made me despise the way women are treated in Oman sometimes, so I put that post on hold. I didn't want to vent 'on' women's day itself otherwise I'll get harassed by all the Oman internet trolls who have nothing else to do and who keep accusing me of spreading Oman's dirty laundry to the 'expats'. Well, why should we hide? Problems don't get solved unless you bring them out into the open and talk about them. I can't become a renaissance spokesperson who assures the world that things are peaches and cream in Oman as usual. Life isn't peaches and cream anywhere. And I'm not anyone's spokesperson. I'm Nadia. A blogger. A fierce feminist in the works. Someone who feels more comfortable highlighting issues through writing. I'm not a social person. But I'm strong-willed and determined to improve the situation of women in Oman, in whichever way I can. Blogging is only one aspect of my life. I do a lot more. And I will do a lot more until I feel satisfied in my old age that I have contributed to the empowerment of women in my conservative society (Dhofar). 

Several incidents over the past two months have caused me to grow very bitter at times. These incidents involve ill-treatment and disrespect towards women close to me. I have tossed and turned in bed for nights on end with a heavy heart. Sometimes I think things are improving, then society turns around and slaps me in the face to remind me that shit still exists for women. I'm lucky, but many women around me are not. Forced marriages, social-pressue, in-law abuse, control-freaks, etc etc etc. Salalah is not going to change fast. 

I will try to write when I am not so bitter... not so angry. I will try to be objective and less furious in my writing. It is difficult but I will try.

Until then, I hope you forgive me for not writing everyday like I used to. I'm working full time and completing an additional degree. It's not easy. I had to prioritize. Few months and I'll be back to normal. 

Yours from my quiet corner in Dhofar, 

Gucci 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Value of Planning

Anyone who has lived in Salalah long enough knows that people here don't plan. In fact, they actively avoid planning. When they are forced into planning something, they take great measures to screw up the plans at the last minute. I'll never understand why. Maybe you can help me.

The reason this has come up today (and every other day in my life here in Dhofar) is because I was sitting with a colleague of mine who wanted to take annual leave. Why? Well, his sister is getting married and she mentioned that she wanted to go to Dubai to buy fake designer products and to spend her dowry in style. All fine till now right? Until he told me they intended to go 'tomorrow'. Naturally, being the obsessive compulsive person that I am, I immediately asked the usual "Did you book tickets? Hotel?". 

The answer was a blank 'no'.

But Amer, you said you're going tomorrow. Do you have any idea how many people are going to Dubai for the school holildays? Yes, he said.

So why didn't you book  tickets and plan in advance?

Well, we still hadn't decided, he said.

But Amer, GO BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW!

Ok, I'll see if I can go by a travel agent.

ONLINE, AMER!

Nah, I don't like to take the shortcut. I'd rather waste my time at a travel agent.

A few hours pass.

Amer shows up at my office again. Ok, we have tickets he says.

What about your hotel I ask frantically.

Oh, we'll get something when we land at the airport. There are hotel offices there.

Me: AMER, no one does that anymore. It's high season. You have to book in advance.

Yes I know, he says. I'm sure when we get there, there won't be any reasonably priced hotels left. We might have to spend a lot of money just to find a room in Dubai.

By then, my fingers are already on the keyboard and logging into Booking.com

Amer, look! There's nothing in Dubai under 60 OMR a night. NOTHING. But here, there's a small hotel in Ajman about 13 km away and it's a good price. Do you want me to book it for you?

Nah, he says. We'll get something at the airport.

I tell him that this non-planning mentality of Dhofaris just won't work anymore. You'll just waste time and effort and money. What's so difficult about booking in advance?

He says "Well I dunno, it's just how we Dhofaris are".

And off he goes with his tickets.

Later on I find out that they landed in Dubai at 7 pm and ended up in a lineup of people all needing accommodation. By 10 pm they had found a room in Sharjah. He sent me a long message complaining about the lineups and the chaos and the lack of hotels...... as ... if .... we ... hadn't....had....that ....conversation .... the .... day ..... before.

I tried not to pull my hair out in frustration. I shouldn't get frustrated. It's their lives.

Among my theories to explain this ridiculous phenomenon is that they refuse to plan anything in advance because:

1) They might jinx themselves and get cursed by the evil eye

2) They enjoy not planning because then tons of problems arise due to lack of planning and they get to be manly heroes by making a lot of noise in an attempt to solve the crisis. It makes them feel good. Gives them something to do.

3) They just don't value planning and don't see the benefits of planning ahead of time.


This goes for all planning crises in Salalah. Another example is weddings. A girl at college will go weeping to her teachers that she can't take a final exam because it's on her wedding day. The men in her family come and make a fuss at the college to 'rescue' her in her distress. But no one asks the obvious question: why the HECK did you plan your wedding in the middle of final exams?

I could give tons of examples. Tons.

It drives me crazy.

I'm typing this from the business class lounge at Salalah Airport. No, I'm not off to Dubai to rescue Amer. An older gentlemen (obviously a businessman) who was sitting on the other side of the lounge came up to me and pointed to a tiny walled-in corner of the room and said "That's for ladies". I look up from the laptop and smile "Yes?". He said "that room there is for ladies". I said "I know, can I help you with anything?". So he shuffles off back to his corner and huffs and puffs. If I were in a different mood, I'd probably give him a dose of feminism and ask him exactly what's bothering him about my presence in the main area of the lounge. Then I'd tell him he offended me and that I think men should be walled in instead.

Oh well, maybe another lifetime. 

Adios! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bits and Pieces

Brace yourselves for one of my random posts that cover bits and pieces from absolutely everything and anything Dhofar. To give you an idea of the scenario, yours truly is in a bright pink thobe budhail hibernating in her room over a mug of Salalah Chai and country music (don't judge). I've just finished drafting my 2014 resolutions, one of them being to blog more often. You must understand that I really love blogging. I've just been so bloody busy that I've had to put some things aside until I finish a couple of large projects. Anyway, 2014 will bring more posts. You may now roll your eyes.

So, in Salalah....

1) My last two posts were about the security threats in the Dhofar region,particularly concerning possible attempts by A Qaeda to cross the border from Yemen. The UK and US embassies both warned their citizens to steer clear of Dhofar. The warnings seem to be over, although to the best of my knowledge there may have been a mini-threat alert yesterday evening (hint: Port). 

2) There has been an exaggerated burst of nationalism these past few weeks after Oman bluntly refused to join any future Gulf Union. Read this article for more details on the Iran-ties that have come up again and again in any conversation concerning Oman's stance. 

3) Dhofar Club (primarily a soccer club) has set up dozens of clothes donation boxes around Salalah. Needles to say, it's the first 'organized' clothes donation initiative in Dhofar since ...well .... never. I've donated a lot and so have my friends. As far as I know, a lot of it is going to Syria. They're having a rough winter and the refugees need all the help they can get. The one I've used is on 18th of November Street, the main street in Saada right at the corner from Trygve Harris' frankincense ice cream heaven. 

4) The  weather these days is awesome.

5) I've witnessed two forced marriages over the past two months. More on that later. I'm fuming.

6) If you've emailed me over the past four weeks, I apologize for not getting back to you. I haven't been able to keep up with emails. I WILL answer.

7) I'm not a Facebook person. I'll try to re-activate my page, but can't make any promises. There's only so much social media I can handle. Don't even say the word Twitter to me, or I might internet-troll you.

8) Speaking of trolls, you guys need to get a life (those of you whose lives are so boring you waste your time sending horrible messages to others using multiple accounts. Seriously, get a life)

9) Remember our mini Arab Spring in Oman? And the one in Dhofar that ended rather harshly on May 12th, 2011? Remember this photo of the protest square? Well. they're currently in the middle of digging up the WHOLE FRIGGIN SQUARE to build a POLICE STATION. You heard me right. A police station.

10) Hasik-Shuwaymia road (east of Salalah) is finally open. We can finally drive up the coast easily. Bring on the day-trips! (ignore the photoshopped picture)

11) As of January 1st, Omanis can travel to the UK without a visa. Oh yes. OH YES! 

12) I found this hilarious definition of Salalah in Urban Dictionary. We heard our animals, they said!

13) Someone at work keeps on using my coffee press and carefully hidden Sumatra coffee. I'm going to find the sucker and I'm going to kill him.

14) Patchi is finally open at Salalah Gardens Mall. 

15) Khumba (3D Animation movie - still on at City Cinema Salalah) was awesome. Everyone in the audience were adults by the way. Don't be shy. 

16) Finally, you do realize we have a public holiday next week for the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? Probably Monday or Tuesday, but most likely Tuesday. Hooray!

The End

Nadia 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Update

Well, I guess a little post won't do harm since I noticed there was a mention of this on Al Jazeera yesterday. The official line? Omani armed forces were taking all precautions to prevent Al Qaeda militants from crossing the Oman-Yemen border in Dhofar. The US embassy and UK embassy have issued warnings to their citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Dhofar and to specifically avoid the Thumrait area. Whether we'll ever hear all the details is unlikely knowing how Oman functions, but those of us living in Salalah know there's something up. It would be polite though if the Omani government would warn its own citizens (I know someone who has to attend an event in Thumrait today and they haven't been warned of anything). A little transparency goes a long way especially if there's any threat to civilians. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Alert

All I can say is that there's some insane security stuff happening down south today. Seriously. It's probably best not to blog about it. Stay safe everyone! (re-read my previous post on the US Embassy alert) 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The World Mourns

I  woke up at 5 a.m. today  for no particular reason. I knew something was wrong; it was the same feeling I had when other people close to me had passed away in the night. I dragged myself out of bed and opened up Google News. I took a deep breath. There it was. Nelson Mandela had passed away. I sat there staring at the screen battling with my own thoughts and the feeling of emptiness that began to engulf me. Why was I so affected? My family was safe, the people close to me were ok, Oman was ok, Mandela was so far away. He was someone else's president, someone else's father, grandfather, husband,..... but no. Those thoughts didn't win. I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling for over an hour. Judging from my Facebook newsfeed, pretty much everyone I know was feeling exactly the same.
We all knew he was ill and old. It was inevitable. But even that didn’t prepare us for his death. For a few hours or days  the whole world is mourning the same person for the same reasons. Forgiveness, peace, humility, love, that’s what he stood for.  I remember in junior high in Salalah writing an essay about him for my “Amazing Leaders” project. I couldn’t think of anyone else in the world alive at the time that I would consider a true leader. Since then I have been fascinated by Mandela. I recommend you read some of his speeches and even his book “Long Walk to Freedom” if you are not familiar with his life.
 
Unfortunately, I was able to hear the Friday sermon at my local mosque today as well. The sermon was about selling our souls to the devil. It was one of the most negative horrible sermons I have ever heard.  The word 'devil, sin, punishment, hell' were repeated at least a dozen times each. In an ideal (but not unrealistic)  world the Imam would personalize the sermon. He would gather his congregation and talk about the passing of Nelson Mandela. He would discuss the ideals that Mandela stood for. Forgiveness, humility, love. and how they very much reflect the true message of Islam and all religions. In an ideal world, that would have been our Friday sermon. Instead, we got a load of negativity. I felt even sadder.
II spent the afternoon reading up on Mandela's life. It was a privilege being alive while he walked the earth. Despite spending 27 years in prison, he remained a symbol of everything good in this world.
Rest in Peace Madiba.
Yours from Salalah,
Dhofari Gucci

Dhofar Warning

The US Embassy in Oman has issued a warning to all American citizens effective today until January 1st. This is the message:
 
"The United States Embassy wants to alert US Citizens that it has deferred all non-essential travel for US Embassy employees to the Dhofar region in Oman due to threat reporting. This limitation on travel is effective immediately and will remain in place until January 1, 2014 unless more threat information develops at which time a new Consular message will be transmitted. US Embassy personnel based in Dhofar area have been reminded to be aware of their surroundings, to avoid large crowds, to vary their routes and times when traveling or commuting and to continually assess their personal security habits"
 
I can tell you it's pretty quiet in Salalah today. I'm assuming that warning is related to the Qaeda bombings in Yemen yesterday that killed 50+ people at the Ministry of Defence.
 
Stay safe.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To Discuss or Not to Discuss?

A few days ago I just happened to be in an office with a few colleagues (male) after a meeting and one of them joked about Oman being ranked second in the Arab World  for women's rights, etc. Yes I can personally attest to the fact that Oman is an awesome place for women... BUT, that doesn't at all mean we can pretend problems don't exist (a technique we all know so very well). Since they brought it up, I started pointing out that there are definitely things that require improvement in Oman.. but that we're on the right track.
 
They casually told me that nothing requires improvement and that Oman and Islam have granted women every right they need. I started listing the things that I felt stood in the way of female empowerment in Oman (Examples: the right to marry/divorce, freedom of movement, the right to marry a non-Omani, and the huge societal pressures that block women from living the life they want... particularly in conservative areas of Oman like Dhofar).
 
These colleagues I was talking to are western-educated and spent a considerable amount of time abroad. They see themselves as 'open-minded' and 'liberal'. Both had girlfriends their 'abroad lives' and female friends, etc, etc. You know, the typical Omani scenario. But they came home to Oman, married their first cousin, and live completely traditional lives.
 
To my horror, they flipped and point-blank accused me of promoting 'Western ideologies' in Dhofar and warned me of how dangerous it is. To them, women in Dhofar shouldn't be working and mixing with men because "a little freedom will lead to huge corruption" (an exact quote). To them, a woman's place is at home because if she works, her children will be raised badly. To them, allowing women to drive means giving them the freedom to date and move around as they like (the horror!). To them, promoting women's right to divorce is absurd (currently an Omani man can divorce his wife in court without her knowing, and the court doesn't even bother to make sure she knows - same goes with marriage). To them, female empowerment will 'destroy society'.
 
So, yes Omani legislation may grant women their 'rights' (Oman ratified CEDAW in 2005 with reservations on several articles not in line with Islamic Sharia law) but in Oman, I've said it and I'll say it again "Society is more powerful than the law". If your brother or father or uncle or husband decides you can't work, then forget any dreams of working. If they decide you're not allowed to study, then forget about it. If they don't let you drive, then you don't drive. If they don't let you go anywhere without a chaperone, then you aren't going anywhere. The list is long, but this is how our girls in Salalah live. This is their reality.
 
These men told me that girls aren't 'trustworthy' or 'responsible' enough to be given freedom. THEY SAID THAT. I asked them why; they answered that this is how women are. I told them if they raised their daughters differently things will change. They said society will never change. I disagreed.
 
These men at work accused me of 'living in an unrealistic bubble' and 'promoting western ideologies'. Since when has making my own choices in life been a western and unrealistic ideology? I humor society by being timid and quiet in public, by wearing the black abaya, by attending the social gatherings required of me.... etc. Yet I still have the freedom (thanks to my family) to work, drive, travel, run my own errands, and make my own decisions. They raised me differently. I told my colleagues that this is possible for all girls. Change is possible, if slow.
 
The conversation took a turn for the worse when they told me that my ideas were un-Islamic and that Islam grants women full dignity 'within the four walls of her home'. I chose to end the conversation at that since I don't want to delve into any discussion of Islam with people who have mixed up cultural values with Islamic ones. My Islam is different. My faith in God is strong, but I am not afraid of using my head to challenge myself and the traditions I grew up with.
 
As you can see, the conversation with these colleagues upset me. It ruined my mood for the rest of the day and had me thinking. Deep inside me I know change is coming and that it's possible to live life to the fullest without giving up religious values. I don't agree with the current lives girls live in Salalah, a life dictated by 'society' and 'what will people say', and when the girls attempt to challenge society then religion is brought in as the final force to shut these girls up and keep them behind closed doors.
 
So.... no, things aren't all peaches and cream in Oman.
 
I'm sorry for sounding so negative, but that whole discussion left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was a reminder of the society I live in.
 
Sigh.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mozart and Missiles

This article on His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’ role in the Iran agreement is worth reading.
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/Olive-Press/2013/1124/The-man-behind-secret-US-Iran-talks-Sultan-Qaboos

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

National Day Holidays

Just after spending my coffee break complaining to my colleagues about the government's refusal to give people dates for public holidays in advance, the government announced the holiday for Oman's 43rd National Day. The holiday is on Wednesday November 27th and Thursday the 28th, attached onto the weekend of the 29th-30th. Overall, purely awesome.

At least now people can "plan" and make any travel arrangements.

Hurrah! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Garbage Rant

This morning I cleared out some junk from my storage room. Old magazines, boxes, kitchen things, rolls of cloth that I never got around to sewing , you name it. The things that were usable I spread out on my front steps for the neighbourhood housemaids to come and choose from. They took almost everything. The real junk I put in the neighbourhood garbage bin... the big ugly metal bins that get emptied every day by municipality workers in orange. The end, right? Wrong.
 
Twenty minutes after my trip to the bin, I peer out the window and see four men on bicycles rummaging through the bin, pulling out my bags of garbage, ripping them up, and then picking through them. Naturally, I wanted to head down again and scream at them to piss off and leave my trash alone, but then again ... it's Salalah and these things are almost normal.
 
In Oman we don't really recycle things. Everything gets tossed into the big communal bins. Soon we'll have a garbage problem and the government will have to start thinking seriously about recycling, but until then the only recycling that takes place are the little bins in Shatti that someone decided to put up.
 
Well, and the little Asian men on their bikes in our neighbourhood and every neighbourhood who spend their days rummaging through bins with a metal pick trying to find empty soft drink cans that they crush with their feet then toss in a bag attached to their bike. Evidently they take it to the factory and get 1 or 2 Rials per sack of crushed tins. To them, it must be worth it.
 
But seriously, it's so annoying to not be able to throw out any trash without having it picked through by another person. They leave the trash spread around the bin for the world to see. I make a point of never throwing out anything personal (letter, photos, bank statements, anything....) without shredding them first. It's just not worth it.
 
Le fin.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Dreaded Maghboor

Only Dhofaris would understand what this post is about just by reading the title. A slight warning, this post is a mini-rant, not an objective analysis of social customs.
 
In Dhofar, the word 'Maghboor' مغبور or 'Maghbair' مغبير is a term that every man has to live with... every month from the moment his friends start to get married till the day he dies.
 
As many of you know from my previous posts about the south of Oman, Dhofari weddings are quite an event. A typical scenario will involve a young man telling his mother he wants to get married. She will turn on her 'bride radar' and get to work (along with all the aunts and sisters) to find a suitable bride. She will start visiting relatives with eligible daughters. She will attend more and more weddings of distant relatives just to see how the unmarried girls look like in dresses. Naturally, unmarried girls spend ages preparing for weddings anyway in order to catch the attention of future mothers-in-law.
 
Once the bride has been chosen, the mother and aunts will make contact with the prospective bride's mother and aunts. The women will work it all out between themselves and then the men will finally be informed. The groom's father or uncle (or the groom himself) will call the prospective bride's father to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. The father will graciously tell him that he has to ask his daughter. Both parties pretend the women haven't figured out all the logistics beforehand. Father asks daughter, she agrees, a dowry and wedding date is set, then the son goes back to his father to figure out expenses.
 
Now ... this brings us to the Maghboor part. Assuming the girl's father asked for a dowry of OMR 6000, and it will cost the son perhaps OMR 10,000 to set up his 'room' and fix some things in the house(decoration, fancy hideous furniture, perfume cupboard stocked with the world's most expensive bukhoor, etc, etc). Add on the actual wedding expenses which usually involve renting a hotel ballroom  for 400 women ... that's around OMR 4000. Then the men's wedding involves slaughtering a handful of innocent cows, drinks, halwa, coffee, tent, rice .... (meh... another OMR 6000).
 
Do the math. It's about 26,000-30,000 Omani Rials. That's what it costs to build a small house, buy three cars, or four bachelor degrees at Dhofar University. All so you can live in a little bedroom with a girl you don't really know.
 
So how do they fund this? Well, .... that's where the Maghboor comes in.
 
On the actual men's wedding day (often a few days before the women's wedding when the bride actually gets to see his dolled up wife for the first time), men from far and wide will come to the tent to congratulate the groom and pay the 'maghboor'. Several hundred (or thousand) men will come to the men's tent and after greeting the groom and his family will head to the table where a man (usually a relative) sits with a big blue notebook and a box. A guest will pay anything from OMR 10 to two or three hundred rials, and the book-keeper will put the man's name down and the amount next to his name. By the end of the day, the groom sometimes ends up with anything from OMR 5000 to 20,000 cash paid by all his relatives and friends. That ends up covering most of the wedding costs. Distant relatives will pay around 20 rials. Close relatives will pay 100 each usually.
 
Awesome system, right?
 
Maybe not.
 
Sometimes I think it's a great social investment... but then again, you keep that darned blue book in your home forever and ever. Whenever any of the people who paid towards your wedding get married (or their sons or cousins or whoever), you have to go to their weddings and pay the same amount they paid towards you or more. It's all fine and dandy until you end up having to attend weddings every single month. It ends up being like a life-long loan towards society.
 
A friend of mine had to go to SIX WEDDINGS last week. He spent 400 rials in one day paying towards weddings. He's only 28. Is it fair? Is it worth it?
 
Even stranger, some town tribes do the same with women. Women hand money over to the mothers of the groom at the women's wedding.
 
All this money being passed around each month. Everyone in debt. Everyone struggling to keep up with these traditions. But stop for a minute and think about our friend the groom who spent all that money but all he has left is a little bedroom with a set of furniture and hideous décor (and a wife on the side). No everyone gets enough Maghboor to cover a large chunk of the weddings expenses. Someone I know spent 35,000 rials on his marriage but only got OMR 8000 out of the men on the wedding day.
 
Is this system logical anymore? If I were a man spending 26,000 on a wedding, I'd invest it in something that will last (like a home..... or a honeymoon?). Oh, I forgot the honeymoon. If a groom decides to take his wife to the usual spots (Thailand or Malaysia) then that adds even more expenses.
 
All the girl has to do is receive her dowry, spend it on things she doesn't need to impress people she doesn't even know. Thobes, abayas, gold, perfueme , bukhoor, etc. She then has to spend months oiling and dolling herself up for her 'husband'. That's all she does.
 
Somewhere in there is a lot of unfairness and a lot of  illogical expectations. If everyone in Salalah were to secretly vote on this, I'm willing to bet they're all ready to ditch these traditions. Times are hard, life is more expensive, and its just not feasible anymore to keep up with these traditions. Men spend an average of anything from 100 to 1000 a month on weddings. Surely that money could go somewhere better? Savings perhaps?
 
The reason I'm ranting is because I was made to pay towards a wedding of some distant relative because it was 'duty'. I've never even met this relative and never even went to the wedding.
 
Your thoughts?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eid Al Adha

In Dhofari Arabic I would say حد صرابنا
 
In other words, someone has given us the evil eye. Seriously. The entire country was expecting the entire week of October 13th to 17th to be a public holiday for Eid since we're  already required to take the 14th to 17th off for religious reasons. Why make Omanis work for that one day on Sunday?/
 
Yesterday afternoon the Oman News Agency announced that Eid Al Adha holidays would be Monday to Thursday only, with Sunday being a regular work day.
 
People read the message in shock. Then immediately started assuming His Majesty the Sultan would wait a little bit then surprise us with Sunday off as a 'Royal Gift'.
 
Twenty four hours later, and it still looks like holiday are only Monday to Thursday. Everyone who booked their tickets to go abroad for the once-expected nine-day holidays is dismayed. Every Omani who was going to drive back to his village today and spend the next nine days chillaxing with the tribe over meat is dismayed. People like me who needed to hibernate, bake, and study in peace for nine days are dismayed.
 
In other words, national-mourning.
 
Then again, how much longer are Omanis expecting to be spoon-fed holidays by His Majesty every year? The world is moving and we need to get moving with it. The number of holidays we get here in Oman is well...... a lot. We used to get a day or two for the Islamic new year, a day or two for the Prophet PBUH's birthday, a day or two for the Israa & Miraj, nine days for Eid Al Fitr, nine days for Eid al Adha, at least two days for National Day in November, an extra day for National Day in November, and a few days here and there if a GCC ruler happens to pass away.
 
We were in holiday heaven.
 
Holiday heaven no more, Oman.
 
Grrrr.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Eid

Eid Al Adhha dates have been announced for Oman. Monday October 14th Yom Arafa, the day day before Eid when pilgrims head to Mount Arafa. This day is always a holiday in addition  to the three days of Eid. In this case it is guaranteed that we'll get the whole week off meaning Friday the 11th to Saturday the 19th. Just waiting for the Sultan to announce it!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Salalah Gardens Mall

 

So, Salalah officially has a mall. A decent shopping mall with good lighting and a nice layout. Interior in some parts is like MGM in Muscat. I'm not a huge fan of shopping malls (claustrophobia), but I did enjoy my 8 a.m. coffee last week when it was practically empty:
 
My thoughts on the mall:
 
1) I love the layout. The mall is built around a huge courtyard with fountains and a lovely seating area with plenty of tables and chairs that are packed in the evenings.
 
2) Around the courtyard are several entrances to the mall including a direct entrance to Home Centre and City Cinema
 
3) WE HAVE A CINEMA!!
 
4) WE HAVE HOME CENTRE! Farewell gaudy hideous Salalah furniture. Hello, decent stuff.
 
5) Food court is pretty small right now.. there's a McDonald's, an ice cream shop or two, Subway, and I think Harvey's . Haven't been yet so can't confirm.
 
6) Cafes... ahhhh. Unlike malls in Muscat, the cafes at Salalah Gardens Mall are all lined up next to and opposite one another. There's Costa, Papparoti, Crystal Coffee, and Nestle Toll House (not available in Muscat!). I've been to Nestle twice. They have awesome cookies and bars, soft serve frozen yoghurt in various flavours,  and really good decaf coffee.
 
7) Restaurants: until now there's Pizza Inn (not recommended until they stock up on ingredients and train their waiters on serving) and Dalas Steak House (a little local eatery owned by someone obsessed with cowboys who can't spell Dallas).
 
8) Shops: plenty and some international brands that aren't even available in Muscat like Nose and Carpisa. Lots of shoe shops, watch shops, jewellery, makeup, Capital Stores, Smart Diet, abaya shop, fashion stores, pharmacy, hmmmm.
 
9) Services: several bankshave opened up branches at the mall and Omantel also has a branch. I'm not sure whether Nawras does too.
 
10) Carrefour.
 
11) Fun Land or Fun City for the kids.
 
12) Salalah Gardens Residences (the hotel above the mall)
 
13) One thing about this mall that I love is that there are plenty of benches inside the mall. I think it's the only mall in Oman with benches in the mall to take a break from shopping.
 
Overall it's a pretty decent selection for Salalah and there's more to come. I love the idea of the open courtyard in the middle of the mall with seating and fountains/trees. It's perfect for Salalah because we do have lovely weather.
 
So, it has earned Dhofari Gucci's stamp of approval. I don't see myself going there regularly but I'm glad Salalah has a mall. It's nice for the women and children who don't have places to go to. On my second visit to the mall I was pleasantly surprised to see Dhofari women sitting in the cafes. I thought they'd chicken away from that or their 'male relatives' wouldn't allow it. Apparently not.
 
Have you been to the mall? What do you think?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Black Widows: Ze Update

Well, thankfully the government issued a statement last night denying that they 'confirmed' the existence of black widows in Oman. They haven't denied the existence of the spiders (that would be stupid), but they haven't confirmed anything yet. So, no reason to panic quite yet :)
 
On another note, it RAINED for like 4 seconds this morning. Khareef is still very much here (the mountains are beautiful) and I found a slug in my backyard.
 
Back to baking ....

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Black Widows: Fact or Fiction?

So.... anyone on social media will have seen the nation-wide panic these past couple of days concerning the possible sighting of the deadly black widow spiders in Oman.
 
Knowing how things work in Oman, it may be a complete rumor. However, the spider in the bottle looks a lot like a black widow, particularly the red marking on the back. I've been doing some Google-ing to find out more about black widows. Fortunately, I haven't had to think about them at  all since I'm not south American.
 
My Jebbali friends here in Dhofar tell me these aren't black widows and that they are seen regularly in our mountains after the monsoon. Every online forum has been discussing them these past 48 hours and the photos have been going around on people's phones.
 
So, my two cents (literally)... the government should issue a statement ASAP about the exact type of spider that has been located and how locals should handle it.
 
As for me, I'm terrified of all types of spiders so you won't find me anywhere near them.. red-backed or not.
 
Your thoughts?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Outsiders: Update 2

And..... as per an SMS received now from the Oman News Agency, the author and the editor of the article (see below) are being referred to public prosecution and will have to go to court. The Week's website has been shut down. Sigh. Oman, get over it and get a life.
 
After crackdowns around the world recently on LGBT individuals (Russia, anyone?), Oman is bound to hit headlines soon enough. We've already made it to the BBC twice this week and our human rights reputation has been tainted enough recently.
 
Fifteen years ago, people were up in arms about journalists even 'suggesting' Oman had an issue with drugs. Now look at the amount of media coverage is dedicated to drugs. We have a hard time being realistic about our issues here in Oman if they don't fit in with the "Peaches and Cream Renaissance" portrait of Oman that our government has been trying to maintain since 1970.
 
By sending that message out to the public, the government has chosen to make a big deal out of one petty article. Everyone I know is trying to get their hands on the piece. Is this really the right course of action?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Outsiders

A very interesting and controversial episode occurred on Thursday with the publication of an article titled 'The Outsiders' in the weekly magazine The Week.
 
The article briefly discussed Oman’s ‘gay community’ and how they are ‘findings ways to live life the way they want to’ or something to that effect.’ I looked at the cover page with bulging eyes and the first words that popped in my head were ‘ouch’.
 
The piece was a brave introduction of the word ‘gay’ to the Omani public in official print, but to be honest I found the piece to be poorly written. The Week can always be counted on to introduce controversial topics and I applaud them for that. However, the topic of LGBT issues is extremely sensitive.
 
If you’re going to introduce it to the public for the first time, it has to be done with great care and tact. The article failed to do that and it appears to have backfired. This morning I found a big apology on their website and the article appears to have disappeared.
 
As a Muslim, religious scholars and interpretations of religious texts tell me that homosexuality is a disease. As a human, I respect all humans regardless of their religion, race or sexual orientation. I have gay friends from my time abroad and they are some of the nicest people I know. Reconciling faith and my view of humanity is not an easy task, and I continue to think, struggle, accept, and question constantly.
 
Regardless of what I believe, I don’t think Oman was ready for the piece. It was a bit graphic and it’s worth noting that Omanis in general are not comfortable with discussing their personal lives in public, let alone their sexuality. When you ignore all this and introduce a piece on same-sex relationships, you can only expect readers to get offended. We are a tolerant country, but then again we are a Muslim one. To suggest that 6-10% of the Omani population is gay was pretty stupid, even if it’s simply a suggestion. Anyway, I hope the author of the piece is safe and that Apex publishing doesn’t suffer too much because of this. My overall view? Oman wasn’t ready.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

92,861 Visitors to Salalah During Eid

92,861 visitors came to Salalah during Eid holidays on Aug 9-12. Yes. I remind you the population of Salalah is around 190,000 ONLY (and a good chunk of them live in the mountains behind the town). The metropolitan area is probably only about 140,000. So you can imagine what a crowd of 92,861 would mean to our town. INVASION. (photo below shows four lanes of traffic on a narrow two-lane mountain road - chaos)

This is the statement from the Oman News Agency:

Salalah: The number of visitors to the Governorate of Dhofar during Eid Al Fitr holidays from August 9 to 12 this year stood at 92,861.

These figures were issued by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and Royal Oman Police (ROP), which has been monitoring the Khareef Salalah visitors.

The Omanis constituted the bulk of visitors to the governorate with 55,965 visitors. The UAE visitors came second with 24,959. Visitors from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia totalled 4,199. Indian visitors came fourth with 3,978.

In terms of the country of residence, the statistics pointed out that 64.5 per cent of the visitors are residents in the Sultanate and 27.7 per cent of the visitors are residents in the UAE. The official statistics added that 94.2 per cent of the total visitors arrived in the Governorate of Dhofar via the road route.

The number of visitors to the governorate on the first day of Eid Al Fitr stood at 13,262, whereas it touched 26,014 on the second day and 23,392 on the third day. The fourth day of Eid Al Fitr witnessed the largest number of visitors to Dhofar as it reached 30,193.

It is worth mentioning that the total number of visitors to the Governorate of Dhofar in 2013 since the beginning of Khareef season from June 21, 2013 to August 12, 2013 stood at 184,910 compared to 134,437 during the same period last year, an increase of 37.5 per cent.
(Mughsayl Blowholes west of Salalah - insane)
 
Dhofari Gucci is hiding in her kitchen making bread until the visitors go home. I dare not venture out of my home.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

TEDx in Salalah

I don't think there's anyone out there who isn't familiar with TED talks and TEDx events, so I won't bother explaining what they are. Click on the link if you'd like to listen to ideas worth spreading. Dhofari Gucci is a huge fan of TED and for a little over a year, I've been hearing about TEDx in Salalah.  Finally, I received an email from one of the awesome organizers (a Dhofari female.... girl power!) informing me that the TEDx event is finally taking place on August 24th at Al Baleed archaeological site museum. It is in Arabic this time, and the list of speakers is up on their website. Registration is free, but seats are limited, so if you're interested go to their website and register.  The website will give you more information about the initiative and the speakers. I'm definitely tempted to register .......
 
Kudos Asma & Fadhila for organizing this. You make me proud.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eid Al Fitr Holidays Announced

If Eid is on Thursday August 8th, then holidays will be Wednesday 7th to Saturday 10th. If Eid is on Friday August 9th then holidays will be Wednesday 7th to Monday the 12th with work resuming on Tuesday. It makes no sense whatsoever, but hopefully the moon will cooperate and give us Eid on Friday!!!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Don't go to Rakhyut!

The road in the direction of Rakhyut yesterday (past Mughsayl west of Salalah towards Al Hotha village in the Wilayat of Rakhyut). Our heavier-than-normal monsoon season this year has done some damage...... PS (thank you Amer whoever you are for the pictures) ....




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Public Holiday

And we can officially say 'Public Holiday season is BACK'. Tuesday July 23rd marks Oman's 43rd Reniassance Day (to mark the day His Majesty overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1970 - yes Uncle Mti, you can comment and tell me power was handed over peacefully and lovingly as much as you like). Government has declared next Tuesday a public holiday for the private and public sectors. Yipee.

When I say 'public holiday season', I mean the following:
- Reniassance Day - July 23rd
- Eid Al Fitr - August 8-13 probably
- Eid Al Adha - October 14-18 probably
- National Day holiay in November
- Islamic new year holiday
- Ehem... a month of annual leave for me sometime in the next two months

etc, etc,

For the first half of the year we get nothing. Then suddenly all the holidays come piling on.



Sunday, July 14, 2013

People Gone Mad

Why the heck is everyone so obsessed with the Sohar story this morning? Apparently a mad blonde woman ran into a mosque, grabbed a Quran, ripped it a part and wrapped it around her feet. Judging from the photos, she looked a little mad. I've received at least ten WhatsApp messages today about the incident, each with different details. Some say it was Saham. Others say it was Sohar. Some say it was a mosque. Others say it was a bank. Then another weird photo appeared of the same woman inside a building wearing a Burqa. It's all very weird. ... but who cares?
Why is the whole of Oman up in arms about this? I saw some really disturbing messages on Facebook from people calling for her to be killed. Is this what we waste our time on in Ramadan? People have gone mad. The reason nothing changes in the Arab world is because we are completely illogical and defensive to the point where we can't see straight anymore. It's a shallow view of religion and Islam.
Minor rant. Back to my sit-ups.

Monday, July 8, 2013

More On Ze Mall

So .... the 'girls' and I went to inspect Salalah Gardens Mall a couple of days ago to see what there was to see. And there was a lot!

First and foremost, Costa is almost ready:

The arrival of Costa in Salalah marks the arrival of decent coffee in this town (and no Browniz doesn't count - their coffee is terrible). Remember, I said 'decent'. Costa isn't necessarily my favorite, but it'll do for the moment.

Several shops (including watch and jewellery shops) are already open. The banks appears to be open. Omantel's branch is opening today as far as I know. City Cinema opened last night according to my WhatsApp updates that I skimmed through at 5:59 a.m this morning when I stood at the coffee maker waiting for my espresso. McDonald's is also open (blah).

Carrefour has been open since May. Lulu appears to have succumbed to competition and are now selling STARBUCKS SUMATRA COFFEE BEANS (oh yes they are. Saw em with my own two eyes on Friday morning... packets cost a rial or so more than Muscat, but I don't mind. As long as I have my extra bold coffee beans).

Home Centre is a miracle. You can actually now buy decent furniture, duvets, sheets, kitchen stuff, and about everything else you need for your home. The overly-huge vase and 'decoration' section at the front baffles me but once you get past that and into the home section you'll be happy. Prices are actually decent (ever been to Cavallini? Don't). I was on the lookout for three things though that they did not have (French coffee press, frother, and wicker laundry basket). Oh, well.

So, that's my report on the mall for the moment. Things are looking up.

Now .. back to reading about British concentration camps in South Africa in the Second Boer War over my second cup of coffee. Damn you Wikipedia. All I wanted was information about typhoid symptoms and look where it got me.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Morning

On a finer note, nothing makes me happier than waking up early on a weekend to the sound of birds and RAIN. There are six puddles in my garden. The best part is that it's likely to rain until September. Hooray. (and Home Centre is open! Finally some half-decent furniture in Salalah! And Carrefour is selling smoked salmon after Lulu stopped! And there are already UAE and Saudi license plates in Salalah when we weren't expecting the hordes of tourists until the end of Ramadan! And Ramadan is on July 10th! And desperate couples are getting married this week and the next (Ramadan fasting is going to make a happy honeymoon ... not) And our first proper cinema is opening on the 2nd day of Eid!) Overall, good signs everywhere. Have a happy Saturday wherever you are.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

British National in Nightmare Situation

Hi All,

Read the latest post from my pal Sythe over at Muscat Mutterings on a British man and his family who are in a nightmare situation with his employer and the Ministry of Manpower:

http://www.muscatmutterings.com/2013/06/british-national-in-nightmare-situation.html

Unfortunately, there are many more who are in this type of situation and most of them are poor labourers who dont' know where to start in order to get help.


Gucci

New Budget Airlines in Oman

I am staring at my computer screen wide-eyed. Today's newspapers tell me that new budget airlines in Oman are soon to become a reality!!!

From the Oman Observer
June 27, 2013

New budget airlines


Private players to be allowed to operate flights — By Kaushalendra Singh — SALALAH — Private players may soon be allowed to operate in the Sultanate’s low cost aviation sector as two to three companies along with the national carrier Oman Air are doing feasibility studies to explore the possibility. The Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA) is also considering the issue positively keeping in mind huge potential for budget airlines in the Sultanate.

According to Salim al Aufy, Chief Executive Officer of PACA, investors are looking at launching low cost carriers in domestic as well as international destinations, while the Sultanate’s civil aviation authority is also positive about the move. “We are open to this option to help boost residents’ travel options by allowing suitable partners in this sector. It is like serving local interests with international backing,” said Al Aufy, who was Guest of Honour at the Arab Aviation and Media Summit 2013.

The two-day summit began yesterday at Hilton Salalah Resort with the participation of about 100 journalists from 10 Middle Eastern countries. He said the current share of low carrier airlines in Oman was about 7 per cent with likely growth potential of 10 per cent in coming years. “We don’t want to flood the low cost sector at the same time we don’t want to starve our own passengers. We are taking a balanced approach to ensure better results,” he said.

The final decision on operation of low cost airlines, according to Al Aufi, is likely by the end of this year or early next year. He also mooted the idea of launching helicopter and amphibious services, corporate and executive jet services as many other steps being taken by the PACA to ensure better aviation transport system in the Sultanate. Al Aufy gave an overview of developments on Muscat Internation Airport and other regional airports in the Sultanate. The new terminal at Muscat International Airport, according to him, would be completed by 2014 and will have the capacity to handle 12 million passengers annually.

Further expansions planned in three subsequent phases will ultimately boost the airport’ capacity to 24, 36 and 48 million passengers when the demand is required. The new terminal at Salalah Airport envisages an expansion of capacity to 1 million passengers annually by 2014. The airport has been designed to allow for further expansions to cater for future demand growth to 2 and 6 million passengers annually when the demand is required.

“Salalah Airport may get operational earlier than Muscat Airport,” he said. Al Aufy expressed satisfaction over works on Sohar, Ras al Hadd and Duqm airports and said: “We have done flight test in Sohar and runways in Ras al Hadd and Duqm have been finalised. All the airports are of international standards by design.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Reply from Oman Air

Date      : 24th June 2013
Ref         : TC_18174
 
 
Dear Ms. Nadia,
 
Subject: Your travel experience on WY911 on 20th June from Muscat to Salalah
 
This has reference to your complaint addressed to our Chief Executive Officer – Mr. Wayne Pearce, highlighting your concerns and giving a candid description of your travel experience on the above flight. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your experience with us.
 
We sincerely regret to learn about the inconvenience caused to you due to the delay of the above flight. Please be assured that this issue had our CEO’s utmost concern and is currently being reviewed by all concerned. We would appreciate your patience and understanding while we gather necessary information in order to revert to you conclusively.
 
We believe that it is the feedback from our valued customers that help us to identify areas that need improvement and enhancement as expected by our valued customers.
 
Oman Air assures you of its care and concern always.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Letter to the CEO of Oman Air

Dear Wayne Pearce,
 
I am told that you are the CEO of Oman Air, our national carrier. I have never written to a CEO before so I hope you don’t mind my honesty.  Someone told me that you are a good listener, so I hope you have time to read my letter.
 
Let me introduce myself. My name is Nadia and I am a blogger from Dhofar.  You may have even heard of my blog. It’s called Dhofari Gucci. I live in Salalah and often travel to Muscat for work and pleasure. You are the only airline that flies between Salalah and Muscat. There are several flights a day between the two cities and I thank you for that. It really is a great help to those of us living in the south.   
Last year I took 38 flights between Salalah and Muscat. I am a Silver Sindbad Member. I always book online, check in early, label my luggage, don’t complain, and am very polite to your sometimes incompetent staff.

Over the past three years I have flown Oman Air to Europe. The experience was always wonderful. The Air Bus planes are state of the art, there’s internet on board, my phone works, plenty of leg-room, great entertainment system, delicious food, and flights always arrive early. Oh, and the bathroom is even big enough to let you turn around in. I can actually sit down without my knees hitting the door. What a bonus!  I’m using Oman Air more and more to go abroad because compared to KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways, Swiss, my experience on Oman Air’s international flights has been much better.
There, I’ve gotten over the good part.

Now, I beg you to listen to me while I spew forth. I have been silent for years. When domestic Oman Air flights get on my nerves, I write letters to you on napkins on the plane. Then I throw the napkin out and tell myself to be patient because life is too short.
 Last February I wrote a three page letter to you when I flew in from Europe and waited patiently for my Salalah flight. After three hours of waiting at the gate, I was finally informed that the flight was ‘delayed’ (as if we didn’t know already?!). When the door to the gate opened, your poor passengers rushed to the bus … eager to just get on the flight. Unfortunately, the bus did not move for twenty five entire minutes. Yes, you read me correctly. Twenty five minutes. The doors were open. We exchanged desperate looks. We were hot and helpless.

By the time I got on the flight and settled down, I was beyond exhausted (remember, I had just flown in from Europe).  Within two minutes, the distressed looking cabin crew approached me to tell me to change seats because a woman at the back refused to sit next to a man. I begged them not to move me. The senior flight supervisor was brought over to convince me to move. In the end I had to. I was sent to the back of the plane and sandwiched between two women after I had originally selected a window seat. During that flight, I decided to vent by writing a letter to you. I never sent it.

Out of every four flights between Muscat and Salalah for me, at least one is delayed. Mr Pearce, this is not normal. It shouldn’t be acceptable.

As I type this now, I am sitting at (Gate 1) in Muscat Airport. You know, the ugly little gate on the ground floor where you send the Salalah passengers? That one. The one with the peeling metal seats that are designed to ruin people’s backs.

Well, my flight to Salalah was supposed to take off at 6:40. I have been at the airport since 3pm. After waiting in line at the Silver Sindbad queue for 25 minutes, someone finally paid attention to me. I smiled and said nothing. I want to be a good human.

At 6:00 I made my way to the gate like a good passenger and settled down to wait for the boarding call. 6:40 came and went, 7:40 came and went. Passengers started to get restless , children started crying, some people settled in for a nap. The Oman Air employee at the desk said ‘we will update you!’. Well, at 7:56 we finally got our first announcement:

 “Dear Passengers, we apologize for the delay. The new flight time is 8:30”.

That’s it. No explanation.  Despite the two hours delay and lack of professionalism and tact, I was thrilled to finally have a set time for departure.

It is now. 8:33. I am still at the gate.

The Oman air guys at the counter are chatting. Our flight has disappeared off the screen entirely. Some people are royally pissed off. No one has bothered to offer us an apology. People are lining up at the desk to beg for their boarding passes to go to the bathroom.

There are 17 Omani women on this flight. By the time they finally get us to the plane, it’s going to take at least ten minutes to re-shuffle passengers so every woman doesn’t have to sit next to a man. Where are your security measures? Why can’t your people just book women in to dedicated female rows? What’s so wrong with that?

By the time we take off and the food service comes around, you will toss a drink onto my table and a soggy sandwich. I will look up and ask for water but you will have already moved on to the second row. Never mind, I’ll think. I can survive without water.

 I will try to get the sandwich out of its box but the soggy dough will be glued to the side of the carton. It will take me two minutes to attempt to unpeel it without losing half the tasteless chicken mushroom sandwich. By the time I have successfully unpeeled it and taken my first bite, your crew will be back again to take my trash. It’s ok, the sandwich wasn’t edible anyway. Take my half-eaten soggy sandwich.

8:50 and I’m still at the gate. I remind you I’ve been here since 3:00. My back is aching. Someone else’s child has fallen asleep on my feet.

I am fantasizing about my flight. I booked a window seat. Once your staff remove my soggy sandwich I will pull out the inflight magazine, Wings of Oman. I am too tired to do work, so a little light reading is in order even if it’s full of grammar mistakes (hire an editor who speaks English, will ya?)

 I flip to the front page and there you are with your winning smile and confident pose. Wayne Peace, CEO of Oman Air. CEO of our national carrier.

You refer to Oman Air as one of the world’s leading luxury airlines. I agree. The WORLD’s leading luxury airlines. Unfortunately, Oman is not the WORLD. We are your trash. Your leftovers. Your ignorant citizens. The people you don’t give a shit about.

It’s 9:00 pm. I have been here for six hours, Mr. Pearce. Six hours. No explanation. No apology.

OH WAIT! There’s some action. An angry passenger is arguing with the Oman Air employee. He is now getting up on to a chair. He has called our attention. We all listen:

“Ladies and Gentlemen! I am an Omani citizen and I am a passenger on this flight! Listen up! We’re not taking off till after 10:00, you hear? TEN! Not an apology, not an explanation, no water, no food, nothing. I want you all to know that Oman Air doesn’t care about you. Doesn’t care about your babies or your sleeping children. Doesn’t care about even giving us an apology. All they care about is their money. Worthless fools Not even an explanation or an apology and this is our national carrier!!!”

A feeble cheer erupts form the crowd.

It’s 9:00.

An Oman Air employee comes to the middle of us and says ‘We’re offering you dinner upstairs. Come back here at 9:45”.

Thank you angry Omani passenger for getting us free dinner. However, I’m not interested.

If we come back to the gate at 9:45, I wouldn’t dream of taking off before 10:30.

No explanation, no apology.

People start to shuffle out slowly. Women with sleeping children remain. There are several angry passengers shouting at the employee. It’s not his fault. He’s taking the crap on behalf of top officials.

9:30.

Mr. Pearce, I am tired. If I’m lucky, we’ll land a midnight. If we’re extremely lucky, we’ll get an apology.

Rumor is going around our gate that your staff are on strike. At this moment, I don’t blame them. If your passengers are treated like this, I can’t imagine how your staff are treated.

What are you thinking?

This isn’t a first time incident. This has happened to me again…. And again….. and again, Mr. Pearce.

What have I done to you to deserve this kind of treatment? I’m a loyal passenger.

The ironic part is that when you board domestic Oman Air flights, the senior flight supervisor cheerfully tells us “Thank you for choosing Oman Air”. As if we have another choice? As a favour, could you ask your staff to stop saying that on domestic flights? It sounds ridiculous and you know that everyone makes fun of Oman Air for continuing to say that.

Mr. Peace, I’m tired of being treated like a worthless object.

Yours Truly from Gate 1

 
Dhofari Gucci 
 
Update: we finally took off at 10:45. I asked the cabin crew what happened and they said 'operations problems!'. I was indeed shuffled from my window seat because they totally screw up the seating for a woman with three young children. I was thrown next to a woman who was sick. She asked for a blanket. The crew promised her one. They never brought it. My sandwich was indeed soggy and glued to the side of the carton. The male Omani cabin crew member was being rude to a Filipino woman who refused to move (her right!). He told me 'That stupid Asian woman.. she should cooperate!'. I gave him my coldest look and told him she was tired and had every right to sit in the seat she chose. He said 'we're all tired!!!!'. I told him 'It's your job to be polite to passengers even if you're tired!'. He stormed away. THANK YOU FOR CHOOSING OMAN AIR!