Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Times They Are A Changin: A Look Into The World of Shura Elections

Before I spew forth one more word, rest assured that I speak only of practices in Salalah. I am not familiar whatsoever with election practices in other parts of Oman.

Oman's Majlis Al Shura is the only version of an elected parliament that Oman can speak of. The duties of this group of men consultative assembly are no where near those of a proper parliament, but they are something nonetheless. The members are sometimes ridiculous, and at other times effective. I've watched various live discussions they've had, and some have been ... well.... a little embarrassing.(example, demanding an educational children's channel to raise our kids on our behalf... yup, sounds like a critical item on the agenda for parliament). Nevertheless, having an elected body is a step in the right direction. We have a long way to go, though. 

Official schpeal sources will tell you that Majlis Al Shura is the only democratically elected legislative body in Oman. Unfortunately, our version of democracy is a little skewed. If you wish to read more about the duties of Majlis Al Shura, refer to this shallow little piece from Wikipedia

The Majlis Al Shura consists of 84 members representing all Wilayat of Oman. Because Salalah is a large-ish wilaya, we get to elect 2 members. Every four years, people in Salalah trundle along to local voting centers to select their candidates. The next elections are in October. Sounds all nice and dandy, right? Wrong. 

Despite the fact that Oman doesn't allow political parties officially (which completely defies the concept of democracy), political parties exist indeed in the south of Oman... in the form of tribes and tribal alliances. Tribal politics are complicated but they are intense politics nonetheless.

When it comes to Majlis Al Shura elections, the Wilayat of Salalah is divided into three political parties:

Group 1: The Qara Tribes... in other words, most of the mountain tribes within the wilayat of Salalah mountains. I'll not list any tribal names to avoid being arrested for causing havoc.

Group 2: The Al Kathir tribes... in other words, the fancy schmancy town tribes in addition to a few bedouin tribes, etc.

Group 3: The Salalah ِAlliance.... a mix of minorities (black families, small town tribes, some mountain families, etc). In essence, a large alliance of smaller groups. 

Around election time, these three groups become very active. The number of meetings increase, tribal male discussions heat up, and the number of alert bodies at our lovely intelligence hub increases. Of course, Oman will never officially admit that political parties exist in the form of tribal alliances, but rest assured they do. 

Now, from my modest observation as a redundant female (not of any value to the alliances), I have found that the third party, known as the Salalah Alliance, are more progressive. They've always been more progressive. The reason probably goes back to the fact that they are a group of minorities. They may not be so obsessed with tribal power. This is just my observation.

So, the big question is, ... how do the alliances nominate their candidates? And how do they secure votes? Well, they've all been following almost the same exact method for years. I'll give you an example: The Qara Tribes have a simple rotation method. Every four years, one of their tribes in  a particular alliance gets to select the nominee from within their tribe. This year, it's the turn of the T****k tribe. The male members of this tribe will have dozens of intense meetings and will finally nominate someone to represent the Qara Group in the elections. Meanwhile, all the Qara Tribes will be busy counting the number of eligible voters to estimate the number of votes this person will get on election day. They automatically assume that every adult in the Qara Tribes will vote for the person nominated within the T****k tribe. Fair or not, this is how their system works. 

The same thing will be happening in the other alliances... people counting the number of eligible voters within their tribes. So basically before election day even arrives, people have a pretty clear idea of who will win. They automatically assume that everyone over the age of 21 is going to blindly vote for the person the men chose in their closed meetings. 

My own family goes around counting the number of women and men over the age of 21. On election day, I'm normally given strict instructions on whom to vote for. I usually vote based on these instructions because I know nothing of the other candidates. When you go to the Ministry of Interior's website, they should have a list of all the candidates from Oman with their resume/CV and picture, etc.They never bother with updating their website, so there's no way in hell I can know who the other nominees are and whether they deserve my vote. It's the crappiest system e.v.e.r. 

So back to the tribal rotation system.... I tried raising the obvious question to a member of the T****k tribe, "What if you can't find a suitable candidate in your tribe this year?". He got all huffy and puffy and said they WILL. I dropped the subject, but it's been bothering me... 

Are we just supposed to assume there are a dozen qualified male members in each tribe that are ready to run for parliament?  Sounds impossible to me, so I'm pretty sure they often end up selecting the best of the worst just to keep up with tribal alliance tradition. 

I have had zero faith in the Shura system because of these tribal practices. Every year the more senior men in my alliance will get together and argue about who to nominate from the alliance for a particular election. They'll finally agree on someone, and then at the very last moment shuffle their women over to the voting centres and force them to vote. Why the heck should women have a say anyway in selecting the alliance's candidate? We're only the guaranteed vote. We're only second-class citizens, and tribal politics are male-oriented anyway. 

Sarcasm aside, something remarkable happened this year. I'm  still in awe. 

The Salalah Alliance (Group 3) decided to do something different (I told you they were progressive.. not Netroots Nation progressive, but for us ... progressive). They decided to follow a strict evaluation process to select the candidate who will represent the Salalah Alliance this year. Yes you heard me right, a formal EVALUATION PROCESS. Not a group of men around a fire sipping tea and throwing around names, but an actual P.R.O.C.E.S.S. 

The alliance had around 8 final candidates. These candidates went through a tough evaluation session on Saturday August 8th. I'm pretty sure there was zero media coverage at this event, so I'm reporting about it here because I find it truly remarkable for such a tribal society. 

The alliance chose six panelists I believe (those who question the candidates and challenge them). The panelists included the likes of the head of Oman's Journalism Association. They then selected 40 judges/evaluators from within the alliance (the evaluators being well educated, qualified, balanced male members of the alliance). They then selected a further 8-10 observers from outside the alliance. These were also highly educated and experienced men.  

On Saturday August 8th, that roomful of men witnessed history in the making. The eight (I think eight) candidates had to sit before this crowd, be interrogated by six panelists, and then be judged by 40 evaluators, while being monitored by a group of observers. 

How were they evaluated? They followed a 40/60 method. 40% being the qualifications and experience of the candidates, and 60% being the person's plan and performance in front of the judges. Each judge had to fill in scores on pieces of paper. A separate committee filtered through these scores and announced the winner. 

The Salalah Alliance officially selected Dr. Mohammed Al Ghassani as their final candidate following a strict, monitored, evaluation process. Do you have ANY idea what this means? This could be the beginning of the end for tribal powers in Salalah since Majlis Al Shura has always been one of their major ways of exercising tribal power. 

The other two alliances, Qara Tribes, and Al Kathir are following the same old tribal rotation system, but I'm pretty sure they've taken note of the new path the Salalah Alliance have taken and I'm pretty sure soon enough they'll do something similar and start choosing candidates based on qualifications/competence. 

I'm sure there were few glitches in the evaluation process, but it's still a remarkable first step towards proper democracy. I'm in awe. Did I already say that?

So, two more major questions remain for those of you who are not familiar with our system?

Question One: What actually happens on election day? 

Answer: all voters will head to the voting centers. There will be a list of candidate from Salalah. There will be three main candidates representing the three alliances, The Qara Tribes, The Al Kathir Alliance, and the Salalah Alliance. There may also be a small number of stand-alone poor souls who've bravely stood for parliament even though they know they don't stand a chance against the candidates from the three alliances who have a guaranteed number of pre-determined votes. 

By the end of election day, two of the three alliances will have won the Salalah seats in parliament. Normally it's the Salalah Alliance and the Qara Tribes. 

Question Two: Where the heck do women fit in?

Answer: They Don't. 

Well, actually, they do. Women are considered guaranteed votes. We have no say whatsoever in nominating someone, but on election day we are blackmailed and forced by our male relatives to go and vote for the person they chose around that fire while sipping tea. 

In terms of standing for parliament, another remarkable thing happened this year. One of the Salalah Alliance candidates was a WOMAN until the very last minute. She backed out at the last minute before the evaluation session on the 8th of August because according to a source who spoke to her "She didn't think voters are ready for a woman". I think she's pretty qualified, and I'm pretty sure she would have continued if men hadn't convinced her to back down. Pretty sure it wasn't her own decision. Nevertheless, kudos to her for stepping forward in the first place. Some women have stood for parliament before, but they've been loners, not nominated by one of the three big alliances. Salalah has never had a female member of parliament. In fact, Oman's record as a whole sucks. I think at the moment there's one woman? Or is it down to zero now? 

Overall, women in Salalah are nothing more than guaranteed votes when it comes to the tribal alliances for Majlis Al Shura. I asked my T****k pal if the women in his tribe will have a say in the selected candidate this year, and he almost bit my head off. Why would I suggest such a ridiculous thing?

I have plenty more questions to ask, so I've sent out feelers into my social network to find out the following:

1) Whose idea was it to deviate from the norm and do something sensible?
2) How were the 40 judges selected?
3) What kinds of questions were the candidates asked on August 8th?
4) Why the heck weren't there any women in that room on August 8th? At least as observers? 
5) What was the exact criteria on those evaluation sheets? 
6) Are more tribes going to join the Salalah Alliance because they now have a fair system in place?
7) Have other parts of Oman caught wind of this?
8) Are people from other alliances going to secretly vote for Dr. Mohammed Al Ghassani because they believe he was actually selected properly based on competence? 

Overall, remarkable change. 

I'll update you if I get more details or answers to the questions listed above. Thanks for listening reading to the end of the post. I really appreciate it.

Your Truly,

Nadia 






Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Night

Greetings from rainy wet muddy delightfully cheerful Salalah. 

First of all, thank you for those of you who commented on my previous post and for the many readers who emailed me privately to express their support/their own beliefs. It means the world to me.

Now, for news updates from our end of the country:

1) Salalah is officially invaded. Review my post from 2012. Nothing has changed. I avoid leaving the house at all times. Last weekend I went grocery shopping at 8:30  a.m to avoid the tourists, and the supermarket was still packed. Oh well.

(road from Ittin to mountains - avoid at all costs)

2) Very sad news today about the bodies of two missing young men from the UAE who drowned in Mirbat after attempting to swim in the ocean. Despite the signs up everyone saying "DON'T SWIM FROM MAY TO OCTOBER", people continue to risk their lives every year. Then every year we hear sad news about tourists who drown. 

3) I was VERY pleased to hear that Big Bus Tours is running tours in Salalah this khareef. It's 7 rials per person for 24 hours. The tour is 1 1/2 hours long and takes off from Salalah Gardens Mall main parking lot. You can get brochures with the route at the tourist kiosk in the mall near Carrefour (opposite Red Tag). 

4) Rumor has it that a mother-daughter duo (from Italy!) have opened up an authentic lasagna restaurant (take-out) in Salalah. It's on airport road (near Dhofar Hotel). The food is incredibly good. I'm heading there ASAP. 

5) The Festival: started officially on July 23rd but some of the exhibitions and attractions aren't open yet, so I'm waiting a few more days before I go to visit. For more details on the festival and news in Salalah, listen to Oman English FM (90.4) from 7-8 pm every evening. Informative program with interesting interviews. They have a new correspondent (Hani Al Baraka). He and Talal are doing Salalah proud. 

6) Dahariz Beach: has gone through a complete makeover. There is a lovely new walkway, barbecue areas, little gazebo thingies, and lots of seating area for about a kilometer. They're also about to open up a huge Al Makan Cafe (popular in Muscat). I've been walking there. It's a great place to be outdoors while avoiding the crowds. Tourists tend to head more towards the mountains during the monsoon with very few people congregating on beaches (the waves are rough because of the monsoon)


7) Oman lover and author Maria Dekeersmaeker has published yet another book on Oman. The new book is called Whispers of Oman and it is essentially stories about women. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Her book "The DNA of Dhofar" is also in my possession. Despite its unique structure, it's very informative. If you see any hard copies of the new book let me know.

8) RAFO roundabout is NO MORE. Salalah's infamous fountain roundabout that changes colors is gone. There is a story about that roundabout. Apparently back when it was first build, people had never seen color-changing fountains before. An old woman thought His Majesty had built a juice fountain to quench the thirst of all Dhofaris.  Well, it's gone now. In its place is an efficient set of traffic lights that have made our lives much much easier this week. They were inaugurated on Saturday. 

9) Most importantly, Lulu is selling caffeine-free coke. You have no idea what this means to me. Occasionally (like once every week or two weeks) I crave a coke. Problem is, I'm becoming increasingly caffeine intolerant. I have my coffee at 7 am. Anything after about 11 a.m will have me doing an Irish jig at midnight.

That's all for now folks. Back to snorting at Tom Hanks in Carly Rae Jepsen's video "I really like you". I finally got around to watching it.

Nadia 

PS (will the new Mall of Oman have Ikea? That's all that matters to me)






Tuesday, July 7, 2015

An Honest Post

Normally my Ramadan posts involve a lot of complaining about supermarkets, and gushing about spirituality.

This Ramadan is a bit different for two reasons.

Reason One: I meal-plan very carefully in order to ensure that I venture out for food once a week early on a Friday morning before the food-crazy crowds make it to Lulu. Trust me, it works. I plan the meals down to the very last cup of coffee.

Reason Two: The word Islam is depressing me. Don't misunderstand me. I love my faith, but the filthy horrible inhuman behavior of those whose name happens to be the Islamic State almost puts me off the word 'Islam'. I know it's not a positive thing. I'll find my way back, but for the moment let me share with you some minor rants.

The moderate, the peaceful, and the liberal Muslims out there all cry out 'but the Islamic state doesn’t represent Muslims!!". Oh but it does! It may not represent the faith that we believe in, but it represents a large majority of Muslims who have made a huge effort over centuries and centuries to misinterpret and screw up the message of this religion for purely political or otherwise greedy purposes.  They do not represent us. But their teachings have reached us and in many ways continue to govern our lives. Don't turn a blind eye to this. And don't act helpless. Start asking yourself difficult questions.

I'll give you an example. A couple of years ago I was invited into a WhatsApp group by a relative of mine whose purpose was to 'educate' women about Islam. Naturally, men in our societies still think women need to be taught about religion. So, I joined the WhatsApp group out of curiosity to see what they were up to and how this man intended to 'educate' women. The group consisted of 50 women, mostly housewives. After a year in the group I learned that the purpose of the group was to brainwash women. It was to spread the teachings of extremist Saudi scholars. It was to remind women that their place in the world is behind closed doors. It was to teach women that God will love them if their hands are gloved, if their faces are covered, and if they never met or spoke to strange men. The group spent hours discussing how corrupt and blasphemous normal people (like me) were. They spent hours discussing how God would punish women who drove, women who worked and interacted with men. They thrived on these conversations. Of course, I remained anonymous in the group as did everyone else. I knew none of these women.

After a year, I couldn't take it any more. I removed myself quietly and resumed my normal corrupt life (as they put it).

But you see… these women supported ISIS. Everything they were taught in this group supported extremism. These ignorant uneducated women were being groomed. They were being taught that the purest version of Islam is the extreme version. This dangerous school of thought (originating in Saudi) is what causes people to join organizations like ISIS (whether developed by western conspiracies, or locally groomed in the Arab world).  ISIS and mainstream Muslims share the same mindset to some extent and similar attitudes. This is reality.


These types of extremist schools of thought are messing up any chance we have as Muslims of promoting peace.

When you cry out 'They do not represent me!', think again. Anyone who goes around beheading people and blowing up people's lives in the name of any religion is damn well representing that religion whether you want to admit it or not. They are damn well representing the fact that something is screwed up in some of our teachings.

What are we doing wrong?  Where did we go wrong? And what can we do to collectively turn things around? I was asking myself these questions at Suhoor this morning. A little heavy for  4 AM but what can you say? 

I was listening to an interesting program on Oman FM this afternoon on living a 'life of worship'. I didn't listen to the whole thing, but it got me thinking about other things… about Ramadan. About what I perceive as hypocrisy while others perceive as piousness.

In my community, regardless of whether you do it or not, there is always an expectation that you will suddenly become a deeply pious hermit in Ramadan. It is expected that you'll go around holding prayer beads, pray all your prayers at the mosque, and spend hours on Taraweeh and Qiyam Al Layl (both forms of prayer and worship). It is expected that you will read the Quran cover to cover once if not twice.

In reality, I'd say a large number of people here would like to think they're doing all that, but in fact they're spending a third of Ramadan in bed, a third in the kitchen, and a third watching scandalous MBC soap operas.

In all cases, it is not what Ramadan should be. Not to me at least. This Ramadan I'm not tolerating any of the Holier than Thou drama. This Ramadan I'm focusing on something different. How can I be a better human? Will spending three hours at the mosque every night help humanity? Probably not. Should I be out instead actively trying to make a difference? Yes I should. With every step I take (in work and in my personal life), I am trying to ask myself "How can I be kinder?". With every phone call, message, meeting, conversation, email, and word I utter I ask myself 'How can I be kinder? How can I help this person? Let me put myself in their shoes. How can I go the extra mile for this person today?  It's hard, trust me. It requires one to slow down and be more conscious, more aware. Does God need me to spend all day praying? Doubtful. How am I helping others this way? Surely we can start comprehending the fact that worship is not restricted to prayer and reading the Quran. Worship is action.

This Ramadan, I am setting aside religious traditions. This Ramadan I choose to be kinder, I choose to be conscious, I choose to read about common human values (Karen Armstrong anyone?), this Ramadan I am focusing on bettering myself as a human, not according to others' expectations, but according to my internal moral compass. I refuse to feel guilty. This Ramadan is about family, about the bigger picture, about empathy, awareness, strength, freedom, charity, and peace. This Ramadan my religion is humanity.


So there. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Developments Developments!

Good afternoon folks from my quiet little corner of the world. Sometimes I just can't seem to get around to blogging, and at other times (like today), I find there is a lot to report. Anyway, no need to complain. I have a happy life and have learned not to feel guilty about not being able to blog so often. It's all about balance: 

This post is a mix of pieces of news from Salalah that are of interest. Separate posts to follow:

1) THE AIRPORT! Destiny ensured that I was on the first flight out of the new airport by pure coincidence on June 15th. The night before I was due to travel, I received a notification by phone informing me that my flight would take off from our new airport. A NEW AIRPORT! I was thrilled beyond belief. The building is beautiful, it feels like a proper international airport. A lot of work needs to be done still but it was a fantastic beginning. I took pictures and will post them. But just imagine, when I was returning to Salalah from Muscat, I had to wait at the hideous gate, get on a bus in the heat, drive for ages, climb a staircase to the plane in 45 degrees celcius... then upon arrival in Salalah I stepped off the plane into an air-conditioned tube (what are they called anyway? Those tube things?). Service was efficient, minus the security team who were still struggling with the system and didn't even notice I had a pair of scissors in my bag. 

2)THE BRIDGES! Bridges are coming along well. The one connecting Saada to the highway is progressing fast, whereas the one near Lulu's is as slow as a turtle. The roundabout that used to be the fountain roundabout has been flattened. Rumour has it they'll build a tunnel instead of the bridge because RAFO (Royal Airforce) don't want anyone looking  at their base from the top of the bridge. Who knows. 

3) THE MALL! No, not Salalah Gardens Mall, but the soon to be built Salalah Grande Mall (Sister to MGM in Muscat). The sign is officially up in Saada/Dahariz area very close to the Indian school and that sports complex. There's also a locally built mall in Saada that is about to open now called Salalah Galleries or Saada Galleries. It's huge, but I think the shops will be mostly crappy local (i.e. no big international brands). 

4) AL HAFFA is Al Haffa no more. It has been flattened and the last stubborn citizen who refused to leave his house was evicted and his house has been demolished as well. Haffa no more. Still no signs up explaining what the hell they plan to do with the waterfront area. I think it's stupid not to share with citizens. (Oh wait, this isn't a democracy... and we aren't responsible taxpayers... so why should they even consider what the locals feels? Bah)

5) AL BALEED! Al Baleed Resort/hotel appears to be almost finished. It's located on the beach between Haffa and the Crowne Plaza. It's huge. If my pal F.S. wants to give me a tour, don't hesitate. It looks fantastic; 

6) ANOTHER HOTEL! So, at the moment, Salalah's decent hotels include Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Salalah Gardens, Juweira, and Rotana. (Marriott doesn't count because it's so far away). I was at the Rotana for Iftar the other night and we noticed the new Al Fanar Hotel is looking good. It's no-where near finished but the structure is mostly done. Again, huge. 

7) KHAREEF! I know you all want to know. We had rain for two days on June 18th and 19th. Then it all went dry and humid again. I drove into the mountains yesterday and it's foggy up there, but no rain. So, don't get your hopes up yet. Within the next couple of weeks the rain should start properly. 

8) EID HOLIDAYS! We're expecting a full week for Eid (i.e. July 19-23) because Eid will be either the 17th or 18th, and National Day will be the 23rd, so they're bound to give us a week off right? Surely they will right? Especially since there's no way in heaven we're getting a week off for Eid Al Adha since it falls on a weekend. 

9) VISITING US! If you plan to visit Salalah during Eid holidays, I suggest you book your hotels ... a month a go! A friend of mind wants to come during Eid and she couldn't find any hotel rooms. It's insane. If you want to come, book now. 

10) Actually, don't come. If you want my honest honest advice... and if you want to actually enjoy the monsoon and some peace and quiet, don't come anytime between July 18th and August 31st. I know it's peak tourist season, but it will be INSANE. Best time to visit is September. The clouds will have parted, the fog will have lifted, and we can actually have the city to ourselves again. 

Nuff said for the moment. Time to fantasize about Iftar. 

Stay tuned for posts on more news including  Wasta woes, marriage insanity, and Whispers of Salalah......

Yours Truly,

Nadia 


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

That Time of Year...

It's that time of year.. When you get into your car and can't touch the steering wheel because it's too hot. It's that time of year.. When it's so humid outside, all your car (and home) windows fog up. It's that time of year.. When your trusty Panasonic split unit AC decides to stab you in the back and become a heater. It's that time of year... When you wake up from sleep feeling fresh and energetic.. but the moment you take one step out of the bedroom and into the hallway, you are hit with a wave of humid hot air. But wait! It gets worse! It's that time of year, when you put on your makeup, open your door, step outside and attempt to walk to your car. In those 12 seconds, your makeup fails you and starts melting. You get into the car, take one look at your face in the rear-view mirror and bid farewell to your mascara. It's that time of year when you would rather hide than go out and run errands. The time of year when you actually enjoy grocery shopping at Lulu's because it's cool. The time of year when everyone is irritated. It's hot, humid and so bright, you feel your eyes being baked if you are outdoors. It's that time of year when you're not entirely sure if the person tailgating is a mirage a**hole or a real one. It's that time of year when you actually don't mind going to the mall. Drive all the way to Salalah Gardens for an ice cream? Why not. If it's air-conditioned, it's for me. It's that time of year when people are frantically trying to get married because shucks... Ramadhan is in six weeks! Wedding season in July/August is fully booked and very busy, so let's get married in the hottest time of year. Very romantic. Poor bride with the 5KG of makeup and the oven of a wedding dress. It's that time of year when frantic construction is everywhere in a feeble attempt to get everything done before "Khareef" when the 300,000 thousand Gulfies will descend upon us. I've almost had it with road construction. It's that time of year when Dhofari Gucci is so obsessed with staying cool that she either plans a vacation to the North Pole, or she blogs. The latter was more convenient. Six more weeks Inshallah until the first rains then I'll cheer up...... Nadia.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Weight No More


The day before yesterday His Majesty Sultan Qaboos returned from Germany after eight months of treatment for what we believe was cancer of some sort, but we were never told. It doesn't matter now. The official statement on Monday said his treatment was 100% successful. 

For most of us Omanis, a huge weight was lifted off our hearts when news began to trickle in about his return. There had been rumors for MONTHS about his return. This felt different. News was trickling in from trusted sources. Insiders at Oman TV, the radio, the palace. For a few hours, WhatsApp and other means of social media were exploding with chatter about his return. 

But ... at 7:30 pm it became official. 

Read my post about his illness here. It's called "The Weight of Uncertainty". 

The past few months have been horrible for us. Media outlets and political analysts around the world have been speculating about his health with a huge focus on succession and Oman's lack of a clear succession plan. It was a healthy discussion, but for those of us in the dark, it was difficult at times. Not only were we not in the picture about his health and the future of our country, but the rest of the world were openly discussing a future of this country without him. We all know it's inevitable, but no one wants to think about it. If you've lived in Oman long enough, you'll know why.

The country has been in non-stop celebration since he arrived. It's almost out of control, in a good way. 

In Salalah, a march is being arranged on Friday afternoon with everyone invited (men, women, Omanis, non-Omanis) . The march will take off from the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque at the Nahda/23rd of July intersection and will end at Al Husn Palace in Haffa. Not a very long walk, so it's easy if you want to join. I believe people will start gathering around 4 or 4:30. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Overall, a happy week for Oman. 

Peace to all.

Nadia




Friday, January 23, 2015

Salalah No More

Well.... not as we know it anyway. Some may think I'm exaggerating and may even suggest I change the title of this post to "Haffa No More". But ... this is my blog after all and I've decided to name this post "Salalah No More". So there.

Dhofari Gucci is huddled in her little living room with a cup of tea and some country music. Lady Antebellum's "Hello World". You see, I'm feeling nostalgic. And when Dhofari Gucci is feeling nostalgia, she listens to country music. 

I'm having an emotional day, you see. I woke up to the news of the demise of the king of Saudi Arabia. Watching Saudi Arabia mourn created a tight knot the heart of every Omani as we all prayed for our own ruler's health. Trust me, it's not easy being in the dark as you can see from my previous post. After that, I was informed of the sad death of a friend's family member. Then I spent the morning in Haffa mourning Salalah as we know it. I'll say more about that in a bit. Following my heartbreaking morning in Haffa, I spent time cruising past Dahariz beach and Taqa beach, more areas that the government plans to revamp murder.  I decided to cheer myself up by seeing a movie. Unfortunately, the only movie showing at that time was American Sniper. I'm not a fan of war movies, but Bradley Cooper's kinda cute and I like Sienna Miller, so I went. 

Big Mistake.

No words can describe how much I despise Hollywood right now. It's like America (no offense) is begging Arabs to hate them. What a racist stupid idiotic movie. Sure, show your movie in all Arab cinemas. Throw in a good-looking actor playing an American sniper, a few hundred F-words, and refer to Arabs more than a dozen time as 'savages' as you shoot them one by one from your comfortable mattress on the rooftop of an Iraqi home.  Many events in the movie took place in Al Falluja, an Iraqi city. "A city of savages" according to the US Marines. Yep. Not very nice for those of us who actually KNOW people from Falluja. Two of my math professors at university were from Falluja, and they were some of the nicest people I've ever met. 

And then Americans wonder why the Arab world aren't fans. When people around the globe are struggling to strengthen understanding and build bridges to promote peace, out comes one stupid movie that ruins everything. I couldn't keep track of the number of people who got up and left in the middle of the movie. I consider myself to be a calm realistic and intelligent person, but I left feeling upset and well.... furious.  America, you failed.

Now, back to Haffa.

Anyone who has been to Haffa beach/corniche/souq knows what it means to us Dhofaris. In fact, the first post I ever wrote on this blog in 2009 was about Haffa. See the link here.  For decades and decades, Haffa beach is where locals go to practice the art of doing nothing. For as long as I can remember, Haffa has been the hub of local life. 

The picture above depicts Haffa as I know it.  Old men sitting in circles on the sand playing cards and board games. Young men playing soccer. Women huddled in groups sipping tea and talking. People on their front steps watching the world go by. Fishermen mending their nets. Guys smoking hookah. Kids build sandcastles. Tourists, locals, expats, everyone. All these people came to Haffa to chill. The entire length of the beach was dotted with ancient ancient precious coconut palms, old houses, cafes, a traditional souq, and at the other end Al Baleed archaeological site. Despite its ancient feel, people love the place. Local fishermen have lived on that beach for as long as they can remember. My friends and I sat on that beach every Friday evening for years. We'd gather to chat and sip tea. Haffa beach is part of us. It's in our hearts. 

Anyway, one day many years ago (at least a decade?) the government decided 'Hey, let's kill Haffa and build a few hotels'. So yeah, families who have been living there for generations were given land and money and told to evacuate. They fought, they struggled, this was all kept out of the media (of course... like seriously, why would Oman wants to cover REAL issues in the media?). I know about this because a friend of mine and her family were evacuated. 

It took years to get everyone out, and a few weeks ago they finally switched off water and electricity in Haffa. The houses were empty, vandals had stolen everything they could steal (windows, doors, metal, etc, etc). It looked like a war-zone (I have photos - to come soon). 

A couple of weeks ago I drove over there in the morning. The silence was deafening. It felt like the aftermath of war. Crumbling ruins. Abandoned homes. Stray dogs. Vandals. A lump formed in my throat. How we took this beautiful part of town for granted assuming it would always be there. Now that it's gone, all I had were these crumbling ruins and my memories. There were other Dhofaris there that morning, all standing there like I was, heartbroken. 

Last week they bulldozed everything down. Before they killed what was left, I decided to work on a very special project. I'll share it with you later, it needs a little editing. 

In the meantime, this is what Haffa looks like today:


Yes. That's what's left. The palm trees and a load of rubble. People's homes. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against development. I even like the idea of having Costa on the beach. But did they really have to kill the heart of the city? For tourism? People come to Salalah looking for something authentic. Haffa was authentic. Seeing life for what it really is was authentic. Five-star hotels, cafes, and fancy walkways are anything but authentic. Do we really want to become another Dubai or Doha? We need to hold on to what makes us Dhofari. Our local life. 

If you've been to Muttrah, imagine them tearing down all the waterfront buildings in Muttrah to make room for hotels and modern development. Imagine what the locals would feel. People come from all over the world to see Muttrah JUST AS IT IS. 

The same applies to Haffa. 

The worst part is that the government hasn't even bothered to share their plans with locals. We have no idea what they plan to do with the area. We hear through the grapevine... hotels, walkway, cafes, ... the usual. 

Dahariz beach is also being revamped. I fear Taqah is next. 

Is this what we want? Is this what tourists wants? 

Sigh. 



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Weight of Uncertainty

I often attempt to zoom out of my reality here in Dhofar and try to see our life from a different perspective... the bigger picture. Usually these attempts are successful when I'm in another country. Nevertheless, here I am yet again on an airplane between Muscat and Salalah thinking (no, I'm not going to complain about Oman Air again ... I have faith in the new CEO).
Anyway, I was thinking to myself how odd it is  to live in such a quiet peaceful country where you could almost swear there are no rules. There are rules of course, but they're almost invisible. 

For months I have been unable to blog about something that has hung heavy on the hearts of all Omanis since July. Most of you know what I'm talking about. 

His Majesty's health has been on everyone's minds, everyday. No one would talk about it openly but it was the topic of discussion behind closed doors. In July a cheerful message was released via the Oman News Agency informing us that His Majesty was off to Germany for his annual vacation. I thought to myself, that's odd. We're never informed of his personal holidays. Later, I recall a message saying he would be undergoing medical tests as well in Germany. 

Lack of further information led to speculation. External sources (outside Oman) speculated openly and even provided details on a possible illness. 

You see, in Oman we follow something called "the policy of silence". . . if we ignore problems in the press, they'll go away and won't grow out of proportion. Sometimes this policy works, other times it doesn't. In all cases, we are often unable to speak publicly about 'real' issues because of this form of censorship/self-censorship. 

When it came to His Majesty's health, newspapers and reporters worldwide were openly discussing it and those of us who blog about Oman were receiving emails from journalists/curious people abroad asking us for more details, asking us to confirm whether reports on cancer were true.

It hurt us that we were unable to either confirm or confidently deny these speculations/rumors. It hurt us that we were kept in the dark. It hurt us that our beloved leader was far away in a European city for months and none of us really knew what was going on. The world was looking at Oman and all we could do was stand there awkwardly and pray for his good health. Why? Because we were a nation kept in the dark. I asked myself, why should we be? Of course, no answer.

July came and went, August came and went, September, October,... ghost royal decrees were being issued every week. From where, I wonder?  Vague reports from ONA said he was following a medical program...more tests, etc. Omanis got more worried. We wanted a photo! A sign! A voice message! Anything! Just tell us he is ok. We can handle the rest. 

Then, last Wednesday morning the oddest thing happened. Oman News Agency announced that His Majesty would be giving a brief speech to the people of Oman from Germany. What?! 

People stopped work, schools stopped, everything stopped. People gathered around televisions waiting. It was very emotional. He appeared on the screen looking frail, but still powerful, confident, wise. My colleagues started crying. I was holding back tears. He's ok, I could hear my brain telling me... he's ok. He must be ok. He started speaking. The speech was brief, but it was enough. You could hear a collective sigh of relief across the country. 

Within minutes, you could hear cheers, cars beeping their horns, songs, happiness. It was like the country had come to life. Everyone in their hearts was thinking the same thing "He's sick, but he's ok! He's fighting! He's thinking of us! He's OK!". Celebrations continue to date. Omantel even changed the ringtone to national music for the whole country. People hung flags from their balconies, people decorated their cars, mosques gave sermons praying for his safe return.

It was the oddest feeling. One minute no one can talk about his health in public, and the next everyone is out in the streets celebrating his recovery. As I mentioned earlier, Oman is an odd country.

Yes, he's in his seventies and we're all human. We all get sick and all have to deal with difficulties in life. Yes, we will all end up the same way. But you must understand one thing if you are not Omani. You must understand what this man means to us. He resembles the only form of true leadership we know. He is the only person we feel our country is safe with. He is the one person Omani trust. Did Oman promote diverse leadership over the past four decades? Not really. We have been dedicated to him as a leader and only him.

I'll tell you why. People like my family will tell you why. My father was born in a cave. He lived a primitive and difficult life until he was an adult. No electricity, no running water, no warmth, living in the mountains of Dhofar sharing his shelter with animals. At times he was very hungry. There was never enough food. 

Today, he has a career, a big car, several houses, children, and a very comfortable life. No matter how happy he is now, he will never forget where he came from. People will never forget what Sultan Qaboos did for them and how he led this country from the darkness to where we are today. You need to understand that. 

In March 2011 I was in London. I met an elder Englishman, a bit of a political analyst. It was the peak of the Arab Spring. Leaders were dropping like flies. He confidently said "Oh, your leader is next, believe me". I didn't get angry or defensive. I simply laughed at him and said "You have no idea what you're talking about. Sultan Qaboos is different. He's something else. There's absolutely no comparison". On my walk home through the streets of London, his words bothered me, but deep inside I knew he was an ill-informed person. Despite this, I felt like I wanted to bite his head off and defend His Majesty. But then again, did he really need my defending? He's such a powerful and wise leader. Surely the world knows this? Surely the world sees him as we do?

For 44 years this man has paved the way for our future. He had a vision. He still has a vision. The past few months have been so difficult for Omanis. We have been walking around with heavy hearts. There are no other visible leaders in Oman. There is no clear successor. We don't want a successor. Not now. Not yet. None of us, young and old, can imagine Oman without him. None of us can even begin to comprehend our reality without this great human being in our lives. 

As the celebrations in the street continues, as Omani release the built-up worry and tension, I sit here on the airplane thinking about this country, my people, my leader. To those of you censoring this blog, I ask you to not harass me over this post. I am a citizen like you. I am extremely loyal to His Majesty just like you. 

To those of you who have kept us in the dark over the past few months, I urge you to have faith in us as a nation. Surely we are mature enough to handle information, whether good or bad. 

To His Majesty I say, .. your people truly love you. Get better, come home. We're waiting for you. We need you.

Yours from seat 11 A.


Gucci. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dhofaris Marrying Expats: The Sad Side of the Story

Hello world! Dhofari Gucci is officially out of hibernation now that the tourists have left, the mud isn't as bad, and I can actually go out and enjoy the mountains. The past two days have been rainy, but cheerful nevertheless.

Today's post is about  something I've been meaning to write about for quite some time now. It's a sad topic, and I know victims of this issue may be reading my post, so please forgive me in advance if any of my words hurt you.

After the oil boom in the 1970's in Oman and influenced by the Dhofar Rebellion, many Omani young men from Dhofar were sent abroad to study (by the Government or by the communist revolution) since no institutions for higher education were available in Oman and definitely not in Dhofar at the time (the first university in Oman was established in 1986 - Sultan Qaboos University). These young men (and I refer to men since women were not normally considered for overseas scholarships back then), were sent to places like Cuba, the Soviet Union, and later on to the UK and the USA. 

Naturally, being sent out to the world for the first time away from the conservative gender-segregated society in Salalah meant that these young men discovered beautiful women. To cut a long story short, many Dhofaris married Cubans, Russians, and later on American and British women. 

Many of these men married foreign women and kept the subject of their marriages hidden from their families back in Dhofar since the thought was so taboo, they knew their families couldn't handle it. A lot of these men came back to Dhofar, married their first cousins or a local girl and established a family here in Salalah. They would go back and forth to their foreign wife, keeping each wife hidden from the other. This has happened so many times. I've seen it. I've heard about it. I've helped people through it. 

Anyone who knew Salalah back in the 1980s knows that it was a harsh place, particularly for someone coming from more economically developed countries like the US. Our society is still harsh to women , particularly outsiders, but it was even more harsh back then. Therefore, it is understandable that very few of these Dhofari men would even think of bringing their expat wife to Oman in the first place. So many of them attempted to balance between their wife abroad and their wife at home.

Another set of men  braved society and brought their wives home to Oman. Some tried to adapt, some couldn't, some ran away, some marriages ended badly, and of course ... a handful succeeded.

Now, from my experience with mixed marriages (many of these foreign women have emailed me over the past few years seeking advice ... some who just discovered their husbands had married a cousin, and some who were contemplating marrying an Omani man full of promises), .... so where was I? From my experience with mixed marriages -  the ones involving a Dhofari man marrying a Western women -  most of these marriages don't work.

Sad, but true. They simply don't work. 

This post is exclusively about Dhofar since Muscat is another world. Being a foreign wife married to an Omani in Muscat is much easier and there are plenty of success stories. 

I have seen so many families fall apart. I could list 20-30 if I had to. People close to me. Colleagues. Friends. Family. I've seen ugly battles for custody (mostly won by the man of course - this is Oman after all), I've seen women run away (with or without the children), I've seen some ugly shit. 

From my humble experience on this planet, I will list the reasons why many Dhofari-expat marriages have failed. Then I will list the characteristics of the Dhofari-expat marriages that worked. I do this because I constantly get emails from women mainly who want to marry a Dhofari (most in the USA). If you're contemplating marrying a Dhofari man, please read carefully: 

So why do many Dhofari-Expat marriages fail? 

1. When a Dhofari man studies abroad and falls in love with a girl (say... in Portland for example), he's going to be charming, funny, handsome, and most likely he'll try to avoid talking about his family and societal pressure in Dhofar. He's not going to tell the girl about his family's expectations that he will marry a cousin. He's not going to tell her that he's 'already' married to a cousin. I'm not saying all of them do this, but many do. 

2. He's probably going to have a completely different personality than the one he has at home in Dhofar. Men here play a particular role in public. They put on a completely different face. Our culture doesn't promote individuality or personal interests. 

3. Our society in Dhofar is dismissive of outsiders, be it someone from another part of Oman or someone from another country (or even another tribe!! Been there, done that). We are proud and very tribal, often stupidly so. Dhofari society does not welcome strangers into the family. Most of them don't. Some families do (they remain a handful)

4. From a western perspective, Dhofari society can be described as 'dismissive of women'. Men are always in charge. Men are in control. Women play a secondary role. Unless the Dhofari husband is very liberal (very few of them actually living in Salalah), usually the wife is shocked. 

5. When a Dhofari man is brave enough to bring his expat wife home, the woman is usually shocked by the way of life. Quite often, the man hasn't given her enough information or details on what life is really like at this end of the country. Dhofaris aren't very good at going into personal details. It's not part of the culture. 

6. There is very little privacy in Dhofar if you're married to a Dhofari. People will constantly be sticking their nose in your personal life. If you can't handle it, think again. If you want an independent life, you want to raise your kids your own way, you want them to speak your language, you want privacy? Don't come to Salalah unless you're a very strong person willing to stand up and fight for what you believe in. 

7. Family roles and expectations here are very high. There is very little respect for your own private life, your private plans with your family, etc. Expectations are that you/your husband will attend family funerals, weddings, gatherings, and that people can drop by at your house whenever they wish. If you try to object, they'll be offended. Men here WILL not and CANNOT stand up to their families. I've seen it.  

8. The dress-code. If you don't already wear an abaya and cover your hair, rest assured that society won't leave you alone until you put on a black abaya and cover up. It's their way or no way. I'm not saying it's right, but it's reality. I've seen foreign wives forced into the face  veil as well and gloves. Hidden behind closed doors, told to be demure and quiet. 

9. Once you're pregnant, you're stuck. The law in Oman does not protect you if you get a divorce and want your child. From my experience with some ugly divorces here, the Omani husband always wins custody. The law does not protect you if you are a foreigner and your children are Omani. 

10. It is very difficult to make friends here, particularly if you're married to an Omani. He/his family will be very picky about where you go to make friends. Expat meetings at  local hotel? Forget about it! Meeting someone in a cafe? highly unlikely. I tell you, society is harsh. 

11. Your husband will be constantly 'needed' by family members, friends, relatives, etc, etc. Want him to spend a lot of time with you? It's difficult here. 

12. Relatives will also always be wanting money. All...the...time. 

13. If you're a Muslim revert/convert and you've come to Oman with your Dhofari husband to be in a Muslim society, you will probably become irritated by many things practiced in society that are contradicting Islamic teachings. 

14. There will always be a risk of him taking on a second,third, fourth wife.

15. There is very little compromise. Your upbringing and your history and your traditions have little or no value here. 

Do I sound depressing? Maybe I do. But, truly, I'm writing this post to help you. If you are contemplating marrying a man from Dhofar, make sure you really know him. Ask to come to Oman and meet his family. Judge their reaction. Get a feel of Salalah. Discuss the important issues (listed above). 

If you are a strong and confident person  who is able to adapt to a harsh culture and who is ready to fight for what you believe in and stand up for your own life, then good luck. Otherwise, think again.

I am not proud of everything listed above. I'm not proud of how harsh and horrible our society has been to some foreign wives. It's sad. I'm writing this to help anyone who needs help. I don't want to see another shattered wife torn away from her children. Really I don't.

Now..... the success stories.

Naturally, there is a silver lining to each problem. There are of course, a handful of successful marriages involving a Dhofari man and an foreign woman. I have met some of them. I know some very well. I have seen happy marriages. 

From my experience, Dhofari-foreign marriages work when (in no particular order)...:

1. They live in Muscat or anywhere outside of Salalah. (a major factor) 

2. The man is ready to compromise. 

3. The man is usually liberal.

4. The man is ready to stand up for his marriage. 

5. The woman takes an interest in understanding the history/culture of Oman. 

6. The man doesn't immediately try to enforce his traditions/dress-code/beliefs/lifestyle on the foreign wife. 

7. They take it step by step.

8. They make it clear to family members and relatives from the very beginning that they want their privacy to be respected. It won't be easy, but it's possible. It needs to be done gently. 

9. Expectations are clear from the beginning. 

10. The wife arrives in Oman knowing exactly what is waiting for her.

11. There is clear agreement from the beginning about things like the idea of multiple marriages, languages spoken at home, circumcision of children, privacy, whether or not the woman will wear hijab, whether she will work, whether you'll be living with the in-laws, etc. If you figure this stuff out from the beginning, your chances of success are much higher. These discussions should happen before you think of having kids. 

So, that's the end of my schpeal on foreign marriages. I'm fully aware of the fact that many people won't agree with me. However, I remind you that I have lived through many horrible marriages with close friends who ended up marrying Dhofaris. Or, some Dhofari guy or other has sought me out at the end to 'talk to his wife' and 'be her friend' and maybe convince her not to leave. They think it's so easy. Well, it's not. 

If you have more points to add to the bad list or the good list, let me know and I'll add them.

Yours from rainy Salalah

Nadia 











Sunday, August 17, 2014

No Plans to Enforce Dress-Code

So, referring to the post below on the two frolicking tourists at Mughsayl, a piece in the Times of Oman yesterday addressed the topic of tourists and clothes. You can read it here. The government apparently has 'no plans' for enforcing a dress-code. 

Oh, and a mini-comment on Thursday's major blackout in Dhofar. Those of you in Muscat may not know that Dhofar was out of power (yes, the entire region) for 3-4 hours on Thursday afternoon/evening. It was insane. Truly. I wanted to blog about it, but discovered I needed electricity to blog.

Oh wait! I could blog from my phone!

Woops. Phone battery died. Lemme charge it...

Oh shucks. I need electricity to charge the phone.

Never mind, let me cook.

Oh wait! I need power for that too!

Laundry?

Electricity.

Fine, ironing.

Nope. Still need electricity.

I'll watch a movie!

Nope.

Call someone? 

Phone dead.

Fine, I'll just lay on my back in the middle of the floor and listen to music until the power comes back on.

Oh, wait. I need electricity for that too.

It got darker. I had no power. No phone. I could do nothing but sit. It horrified me that my life revolved around being hooked up to electricity. The traffic was insane (thank you UAE land cruisers) so going out for a drive was not an option. The town isn't ours until at least September. Furthermore, the traffic lights were out of power so traffic was super-crazy.  

So yes. I read for a bit until it got dark. Then I sat on the sofa waiting for an epiphany. Fortunately the electricity came back on at 7 pm. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

The Indecency of it All

2 August 2014 - Times of Oman "Two tourists were summoned by Royal Oman Police, (ROP) on Saturday for allegedly committing acts and indulging in behaviour that are against public morals in Mughsayl area of the wilayat of Salalah"  - read the rest of the article here

The moment I saw the video on WhatsApp (merely an hour after the incident occurred), I thought to myself ... "I wonder how long it will take before they're arrested?".... then I thought again "Nah, Omanis are pretty tolerant". 

Then again, to quote the article ... they were indeed 'frolicking' and being pretty stupid to the horror (and entertainment) of the hundreds gathered at Mughsayl blowholes. I wasn't particularly offended by it, but I know a lot of people who were. Nevertheless, it amuses me to see how the video traveled at the speed of light and how worked up people got about it.

Maybe if they followed the depressing world news more often, they wouldn't get so excited about tourists in bikinis at Mughsayl posing erotically. Oh, well.

Salalah is never boring. 

Nadia.  

(PS: I'm hibernating until the mud and UAE population decreases)

ADDED NOTE: Based on the comments below, I'd like to ask all expat readers when/if/how they received information on the dress-code in Oman. Sometimes I think tourists simply don't know. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Invasion 2014

It's the UAE Invasion ........ see 2012 Post to understand. HELP!

I'm hibernating for academic reasons - but was forced to leave the house today briefly only to discover every second vehicle on the highway had a UAE license plate. They're everywhere. E...v....e...r...y....w....h...e...r..e

More on the Khareef soon. Yesterday was the first day of the main Salalah Tourist Festival in Ittin (lots going on there - check out the heritage village). There's also a mini-festival in Mughsayl, one in Sumhuram near the Hilton, and a new fourth festival called Saada Pioneer Festival in Saada near the main Police Station.

We've had a lot of rain. There are deep puddles everywhere, happy tourists, mosquito, coconuts, traffic, the smell of barbecues, dirty cars, and all the things that make up the Khareef in Dhofar.

Come visit.

But book in advance.

Seriously.


Nadia. 

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