Thursday, August 4, 2016

Letter to the CEO of Oman Air ... Part 2

Dear Oman Air,

I'm beginning to think I'm being targeted... like this is some mean joke someone is playing on me because I travel so much and because I probably pissed someone off with my last Letter to the CEO of Oman Air. in 2013... ( the one post that earned me 116 comments)

I will send this letter to the complaints section, but I would also like to share it with my readers because I'm a blogger. That's what we do. I'm sorry. 

On July 25th I had to endure one of your worst customer service failures of ALL TIME. I regularly experience customer service failures, but this almost takes the cake. I'm a frequent flyer. I'm a Gold Sindbad member. I'm loyal (have no choice really unless I fly up to Muscat on a magic carpet). My current statistics show that one out of every three flights I have an unpleasant experience. Yes, I maintain an excel sheet. These experiences usually involve one or all of the following:

1) Sindbad Gold/Silver counters in Muscat Airport have no one manning them

2) Online Checkin counter is hogged by one person with a serious problem who just can't sort out their ticket. 

3) Having to constantly remind your customer service people at the checkin counters to put the priority baggage tags on my luggage. 1 out of 2 times they forget unless I remind them. 

4) Arriving at gate only to be informed that "WOOPS we forgot to tell you that we changed planes and now you're in a different seat". Highly annoying when I'm traveling with someone and we wanted to sit together. That's why we checked in online and booked our seats in advance. That's what normal people do. Why can't you just inform us like normal airlines. A simple email. I register my phone number with every ticket I book but I have NEVER received an SMS from you. Ever. 

5) Looking at Boarding pass as I go through security only to discover that the flight has been delayed. Well why didn't you bother telling me at the counter? I could have gone out and had another passion fruit frozen yogurt at Pinkberry instead of sitting in the lounge for hours listening to Omani businessmen trying to sound loud and important on their phones while lining up to schedule foot massages in the quiet zone (while not being quiet). 

6) Arriving at the gate and being told to wait forever. 

7) Not finding a seat at the gate

8) Getting on the bus and waiting a good 10-15 minutes until it moves... with the doors open  (imagine Muscat heat in July... that was not fun)

9) Arriving at the aircraft only to wait some more in the bus (my record is 32 minutes in 2015... standing.... with bags...in a crowded bus)

10) Getting on the plane finally only to find someone else sitting in my seat. Usually a woman who doesn't want to sit beside a man, or a man who doesn't sit beside a woman. If I'm in a good mood I smile and ask the cabin crew for assistance, or I'll take the person's boarding pass and try to find their seat to take their place. If I'm in a bad mood I just ask them to get up with my "you don't wanna meet me in a dark alley" expression. The blank cold "I've been in a meeting all day and I'm not afraid to hurt you" expression. Yes, that one. 

11) Being told to move from my seat two or three times (happens regularly with me). They see a friendly-looking Omani girl with no face veil and automatically assume I'm cool sitting next to a man. I am, as long as we take off on time, but I hate being shifted again and again. Get your shit together and enforce rules. Or create a section for women. Stop this chaos. I have NEVER seen this on any other airline before.

12) Taking off finally. The food trolley comes. They throw (literally) a sandwich and apple juice on my tray as if I'm in a prison canteen. Normally I don't ask for anything. I hate eating on short flights. Why don't you ask before you force your cold little sandwich and warm apple juice on me? Why aren't there options. More importantly ... why do you sometimes offer water and sometimes not?

13) Taking off late and NEVER getting an apology for the delay. All the pilot or senior flight supervisor have to do is say "Dear Passengers - we apologize for the delay". Just admit you're late. Everything is better if you just say sorry. The indifferent we don't give a shit about you attitude drives me nuts. 

14) I've been on 45 minute flights across North America where they have an efficient food and beverage service with a choice of snacks and a choice of drinks. Why can't you do that? You have a one hour-twenty minute flight. Sometimes a cup of coffee would be nice. When we ask for one, the standard answer is "I'll see if we have time". If you have time for duty free, why don't you have time for coffee? Just have the bloody thermos on the snack trolley with you and a pile of paper cups. It's not rocket science.

15) Landing finally. Waiting in the baggage area. Everyone starts getting their bags ..... except me. What on earth is the point of Priority Baggage Tags if they're going to arrive at the very end? I just don't get it. If you don't have the ability to ensure an efficient priority baggage service for First/Business Class/Sindbad members, just don't offer the tags in the first place. 

So anyway, back to my experience last week from Muscat to Salalah. Bear with me.

I had spent 42 hours traveling across the world. Five flights. I was tired and jet-lagged and eager to get home. I checked in online that morning to ENSURE my seat was still there (economy aisle seat at the front of the plane... easy and quick to leave when we land). A few days before I tried to use one of my upgrade vouchers to upgrade to business class for this flight, but guess what? I applied through the website a good week before and to date I have not received a response. Great service, thanks.

 I went to the counter to drop off my heavy bags. The employee kindly put on the Priority Baggage tags. All was well. I went to Duty Free to buy something. Went to Costa Coffee for a caffeine fix. All was well. Wasn't in the mood for the lounge. 

I then headed to the gate a good 50 minutes before departure because I'm organized like that. The gate was full. I kid you not. Was this some kind of joke? You booked Gate EIGHT (one of the smallest) for the new Dreamliner aircraft? Some talented logistics people you guys have. For real. 

There were a few people at the gate ahead of me trying to get in. A family it turned out. A wife, children, a husband, and their housemaid. The Oman Air staff would not let the housemaid onto the flight. She had some permit letter from somewhere but it had expired two days before or something like that. The Omani husband was going nuts and arguing with the staff. I decided to be patient and observe the gate to see if I can spot one empty seat for me. My eye caught something... the flight information screen. Flight delayed. 

Wonderful.

I waited another twenty minutes hoping the Omani family would stop arguing with the two employees at the desk and quietly observing the monitor to see if the flight would be delayed any further. Finally, I asked Mr. I Don't Care Oman Air Staff  if I could just get into the gate to sit down. He looked at me then he said "There's a line behind you". I looked behind me... lo and behold, at least thirty people standing in line. INSANE. But that's what you happen when you try to stuff an elephant into a telephone booth. Bad planning, my friends. Bad planning. 

We waited for an hour. I kid you not. In line. Standing. No apologies, nothing. By the time 40 minutes had gone by, I was leaning against the counter for support. I had a heavy laptop and bag. The Omani family were still arguing about their housemaid. A more senior Customer Service person was brought over to convince the family. The "Senior" customer service person completely ignored the 40+ line of people who had been standing for ages because your gate was too small to handle all the passengers. I wasn't willing to yell 'screw it' and go back to Costa because I had no idea when the flight was taking off, and I didn't want to lose my place in line leaning against the counter. 

The indifferent J.A and M. B. staff at the counter completely ignored me for an hour even though I stared them dead in the eyes waiting for one of them to give me an apologetic smile and say "Madam, we're sorry for the delay and sorry you have to line up like this and sorry there's no room for any of you to sit". But no, they completely ignored us. 

A man from the back of the line came up to argue that his wife was pregnant and needed to sit. They asked to see the wife then declared her unfit for travel. The man went berserk. "What do you mean?!! We're checked in! We're going home!". J & M said "Nope, she's eight months pregnant'. Husband says "No she's not. I said SIX months". They argued and argued and argued. The family with the housemaid and the family with the pregnant wife took up a good twenty more minutes with the customer service people while we continued to stand in line staring at them.

Some people already seated at the gate asked to be released in order to go to the bathroom (five feet away from the counter). The staff at the counter CLEARLY discriminated. Omanis allowed to go easily. Hand in your boarding card and go to the bathroom. Poor Pakistani laborers were not given the same treatment and in fact were treated like they were asking for a HUGE impossible favor. For real, Oman Air? Why the discrimination. Mother Nature does not discriminate.  We all need to pee. I'm sorry but it's a reality especially if you've been stranded at a gate with no information on your flight. Stop treating us like we're part of Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment

By the time an hour had passed, your staff didn't even update the information screen for new departure information. I had no idea when we were taking off. We were still at the gate ten minutes after the screen said we would take off. So professional. I had no idea when to confirm my arrival time to the person picking me up in the Salalah. Unfair to them too. 

When we finally boarded, I was ready to murder. Fortunately, I'm not the type of customer who makes a loud scene at the gate. I prefer to bottle up my anger and release it through this blog. 



The flight took off without ONE apology or even MENTION of the delay from either your pilot, first officer, or senior flight supervisor. Why couldn't your staff just acknowledge that everyone had been treated like crap and you're sorry for it? When I landed in Salalah, I had to wait 25 minutes to get my bags. People with no priority tags received their bags before me. What is wrong with the baggage system?

Your letter above confirms that you are committed to going the extra mile for your valued customers. To be honest, sir, I'm not feeling it. I have flown KLM, Swiss, Gulf Air, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Czech Airlines, Jet, Air Canada, Delta, United, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, and Porter. Sir, I know airlines. I know customer service. Oman Air is in the KG-1 class when it comes to customer service half the time. 

I have flown Oman Air internationally to London, Paris, and Delhi. The treatment was 'slightly' better to London and Paris, but not much. Delhi was another story altogether.  

The domestic flights are a nightmare. 50% of my flights between Salalah and Muscat are unpleasant. I'm not even a difficult person. I just want to get to where I'm going with minimum hassle. That's what I'm paying you for. I want to be able to leave at a decent time, be informed of any delays via email or sms, receive my bags as planned, and not be shifted from my seat. It's not too much to ask for is it? If it is, please let me know. 

I know everyone complains about Oman Air, but I wonder how many people actually take the time to write you long letters with feedback. Something has to change. You are our national carrier. What happens if competition is introduced domestically? You'll lose half your passengers! Just because you currently have a monopoly over the Omani market doesn't mean you have the right to treat people like this. 

Find a way to improve. Please. I'm tired.  

Dhofari Gucci.

PS ( On a positive note, I'd like to mention how professional and efficient your Sindbad email team are. Whenever I email directly, they respond efficiently and handle queries quickly. Thank you Manal & team) 







Sunday, June 12, 2016

IT'S RAINING!

After weeks and weeks of suffering from extreme humidity, it finally started raining. Yesterday was a drizzle and this morning was full-on rain on the way to work. 

I'm not sure whether this is actually "Khareef" (monsoon) rain, but it's rain nevertheless.

Dhofari Gucci is one happy blogger. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chronic Wanderlust & Anantara

I am and will always be a traveler. I have one foot in Salalah and one foot firmly placed in the rest of the world. My heart is out there exploring, fantasizing, curious. In my free time, I look at airline websites to study the latest and easiest connections from Salalah to the rest of the world. I update my travel bucket list daily. One of the happiest days of my life was the day Qatar Airways launched the Salalah connection. 

When I'm not traveling or planning my next trip, you'll usually find me sprawled on the sofa flipping through travel magazines. During the months when I am stuck in Salalah, I comfort myself with my travel magazine subscriptions; National Geographic Traveler and International Traveller. I've been getting National Geographic Traveler for years. I decided to try out the Australian International Traveller last year. So far so good.

Yesterday I was reading the latest issue of International Traveller. In the section on the latest hotels around the world, something caught my eye..... Salalah! 

A piece dedicated to Anantara's new Al Baleed Resort, the new luxury resort opening up in the summer on the beach in Salalah. I've been following updates on the resort through various acquaintances including one of the board of directors. Someone (ehem... MM) offered to give me a tour of the construction site but I never got around to it. We snuck into the site a couple of months ago and it looks lovely. A hotel with (I think) around 30 rooms and then dozens of water villas. Yes, you can now actually rent a villa with a POOL in Salalah. 
(this is on their website for the pool villas)

All in all, very exciting. A true luxury resort, and not cheap either. For November a normal sea-view room with breakfast is around R.O 120. The pool villas start at R.O 200. In September during the monsoon it's way more expensive. The three-bedroom pool villa can cost you R.O 950 per night. Bookings start from September 1st according to their website. 

I'm looking forward to hearing about their dining options. Salalah has a very limited list of restaurants in town where one can go for a special dinner (you're basically stuck with either the Hilton or Crowne Plaza). The finest restaurant (in my opinion) is Silk Road at the Rotana, but it's 20 minutes out of town. Al Baleed Resort appears to have three main restaurants; international, Mediterranean, and Asian. They're also going to have a luxury spa and multiple activities, etc. 

They're right next door to Al Baleed archaeological site on the beach. According to my sources, staying at the hotel will gain you free entrance to multiple archaeological sites in Dhofar as well as the museum next door. 

SO EXCITING.

Over and out for now.

Gucci






Wednesday, April 20, 2016

To Marry or Not to Marry

I know the title sounds like Gucci is contemplating marriage, but the post is not about Gucci. It's about something that has been frustrating to me these past few weeks. I know I know, I tend to write when I'm mad, frustrated, on a roll, angry. Trust me, these feelings generate good posts. Happy posts just ain't my style unless I'm talking about Onken yogurt or coffee.

So, as someone who works in a relatively senior position where people are constantly trying to convince me that they need to be hired, I am faced with all types of people.

98% of them are absolute losers who are unemployed for a reason. 1% are professionals who are seeking to switch organizations and build their careers. 1% are the incredibly smart fresh-outta-college kids who have great potential but don't realize it yet. I tend to zoom in on this minority. They're the best part of my day. As for the other 98%, if I'm in a normal mood I'll give them no hope and gently end the conversation and hope they leave. If I'm in a good mood I'll give them shit about getting their lives together and give them advice on how to apply for jobs and write a CV. If I'm in a bad mood, I call security. 

Anyway, this post isn't about my job. It's about the types of people who come asking for jobs (the lazy ass college graduates who can't write a CV, the people who don't want to go to college and think they can get a comfortable office job with a high school degree, the people who think their connections will get them a job, the people who think they can charm me into hiring them, the people who use the "we're a charitable case" line, etc. The list is long. Little do they know that large organizations like mine have strict recruitment procedures including psychometric testing, English testing, and in-depth interviews. You don't get hired unless you're human gold. Period. 

Today's post is about a relatively significant percentage of the 98% male trash who come for jobs. Normally their fathers or uncles come (never could figure out why). These are the guys who either never finished college, never started, or finished and have been at home for years doing nothing (like zero). Their parents find a girl for them, and think that by marrying them off they'll somehow magically mature and find a job.

It doesn't work.

I have met SO MANY of these people, it's an epidemic. I don't know if it's the same outside of Dhofar, but we have this shitty terrible habit of arranging marriages at a young age when the guy doesn't have a job. Why do they do it? This is my theory: 

1) The guy graduated (or didn't), has been sitting at home for years sleeping and staying out all night with friends. He's useless. His family are fed up with him. Let's find him a bride in hopes that she'll "straighten him out". (sounds risky to me). 

2) Let the boy complete half his Deen (religion) and get married. It's Islamic. Marriage sex will keep him away from the dark side. God will bless him with a job later. 

3) WE NEED TO PROCREATE. OUR TRIBE IS DWINDLING IN NUMBERS! PANIC!

4) His brothers are getting married, so let's marry him off along with them. Bil Marra. It's cheaper. 

5) If he's married, companies and government are likely to take pity on him and offer him a job. I swear this is the case most of the time. 

I could think of more reasons once I've had my second cup of coffee. 

Anyway, it's the year 2016. Life is hard. We're in the middle of an oil crisis. The cost of living is not what it used to be. Families can't continue to support useless young men who can't get their shit together, let alone married ones. They are expensive (petrol, pocket money, clothes, food, cigarettes), let alone a wife and babies (diapers, milk, bottles, etc etc). Who is supposed to pay for them?! This is why I have so many fathers come to my office asking us to hire their useless sons. They can't pay for them anymore. They're tired. They're frustrated. I often just want to shout at them "Why did you marry them off when they had no means of supporting themselves or their wife/babies?!!!". 

In an ideal world (and in my head), a young man/or woman first finishes high school, then goes to college or university, then spends a year (or two? or more AT LEAST) working, growing up and learning about life and adulthood. THEN get married. First learn about responsibility, about yourself, about bills, about where you want to go in life. Go out, travel, learn, experience. 

Then again, my ideal world is very different from the one I'm living in.

What are your thoughts? 

Nadia. 


Monday, February 22, 2016

The Oil Crisis: Impact on Daily Life

Good afternoon my few loyal readers who still check in on me from time to time although I have yet to pull myself back into regular writing. Looking back at my posts from 2009, etc, I find that my angry posts were always the popular ones. My feminist outbursts and descriptions of women and life in Salalah. I find that I am not so angry anymore, and I'm not a very effective 'happy blogger' if you know what I mean.

Nevertheless, I'm pleased to inform you that I am a bit angry today, hence the post. 

I do not need to elaborate on the existing oil crisis in Oman and why it happened, etc. My post today is about the direct impact on the lives of Omani citizens from the perspective of someone who directly works on budgeting and employee benefits. 

As many of you know, in early January, the Minister of Finance announced that the price of fuel would go up. Muscat Mutterings wrote about that here.  That was the first step. Most people thought "Oh well, it's a small price to pay. I don't mind paying extra for fuel". Some of us knew this was just the beginning, We assumed electricity and water would be next.

In mid-December, it was announced (again through Ministry of Finance) that all government entities as well as government-companies, and any companies owned 40% or more by the government would not be allowed to issue any bonus/rewards to employees until further notice. Employees gritted their teeth and said "Ok, we can handle a hike in fuel costs and no bonus... we'll be alright". Some grumbled, but most were ready to sacrifice this to help Oman get back on its feet again.

December 31st, another Ministry of Finance circular, this one with more serious requests... They requested the following from government entities and companies again (40% or more government owned):

1) Reduction of operation costs by 10% at least
2) Stopping all promotions
3) Cutting over-time
4) Minimum salary spending (in other words, please don't hire anyone)
5) Monitoring vehicle usage (don't use your car after office hours, please)
6) Reduce spending on electricity, water, internet, and rent.
7) Cutting down on business travel whether inside or outside Oman, using Oman Air only, cutting business class, 
8) Not sending anyone to conferences abroad, and also not arranging conferences in Oman. 

A lot of people were royally pissed off, particularly about the promotions and over-time. Some of us were royally impressed. It made sense after all. Promotions aren't necessarily a given right. 

Silence for a little bit. Things calmed down. Then another F-Bomb dropped (F referring to Finance ministry, not what you think...). Yesterday another major announcement from the Ministry of Finance to all government organizations and companies 50% or more government (basically most of Oman, right?). The announcement was a polite order to murder all employee benefits. A neat table listing everything that should be cut... where do I start? Here are some samples:

1) Employee medical insurance (families included)
2) Life insurance 
3) Vehicle insurance
4) All internal loans (whether company sponsored housing loans or salary advances, etc)
5) No more 13-salaries or Eid money, or Ramadan bonus, etc. 
6) Basically no rewards. 
7) No schooling fees to be paid for employees' children
8) No scholarships or sponsoring employees' higher education
9) No gifts to employees 
10) No marriage support funds
11) No funeral support funds
12) No birth support funds
13) No phones and paid phone bills
14) No annual medical checkups
15) No company vehicles for top managements
16) No annual airfare tickets for expats (I presume) 
17) No payment towards house-maids (didn't know that was a benefit!)
18) No gym memberships
19) No home internet or phone benefits
20) No covering employees' rent
21) No share of profits for employees
22)  No relocation allowance or settling-in allowance or furniture allowance
23) No credit cards for CEOs
24) No monetary reimbursement in the event of a disability (say what?!)
25) No reimbursement in the event of death (even worse)
26) No benefits for retirees.

Etc, etc. The list is long. Basically what they're saying is "Your salary and nothing more".

Now, don't bite my head off, but I think a good chunk of the list is perfectly sensible. In fact, I respect the Minister's decision on those items. 

However, I can't help but wonder if this was thought-through. Did they really think carefully before cutting all medical insurance? For real? Do they realize that Salalah basically has one government hospital for a quarter of a million people? What about life insurance? 

What about internal study-assistance support for employees completing their university degrees. What do you tell them? Sorry, no more support halfway through your degree?

And disabilities and death support? Really?

Some of these benefits were clearly stipulated in employees' contracts. What does that say for Oman's legal system? What's the point of a contract? In fact, what's the point of a Board of Directors for many of these organizations if the Ministry of Finance can dismiss them and make these decisions on their behalf. Did the Ministry actually consult any of the sectors before dropping the bomb? Unlikely.

If companies aren't able to offer any benefits (whether private or public sector), what's the point of a job market? How do you retain your employees? 

I understand and respect his decision to cut down on some managerial benefits. In fact, I tip my hat to him. However, why not introduce other measures as well instead of cutting medical benefits from people and their families without any notice? 

Why not impose income tax on extremely wealthy people? What about land-tax for people hogging way too much land? Why not stop projects? Cut down on Diwan costs? Entertainment? 

The one thing the minister hasn't said outright is "Stop recruitment". But anyone working in the government and semi-government sector knows that's what's between the lines. They can't say it outright because it may lead to another mini Arab-spring. 

There are a lot of pissed off people in Oman today. These difficult times require leadership. I think Omanis would feel so much better if His Majesty gave us a speech along the lines of "We're going through a tough period, we need your support, we can get through this if we all work together and make small sacrifices,... what doesn't kill us will make us stronger".  

Is it so hard? In times of difficulty, clear communication is key. It's the only way to convince people. Change Management, my friends. Change management. 

Over and out for now.

Gucci 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Ancient Script Leads Dhofar to Colorado



Very happy that this incredible researcher is getting some of the attention he deserves. I've been to his mini museum and have read a lot of his work. He's one of the people who was working on the Salalah-Mormon connection as well. Most (or all) of the cave writings research done in Dhofar is his as well. 

This article was published in the Oman Observer two days ago:


By Kaushalendra Singh:  How a language would have travelled from Dhofar, south of Oman, to Colorado, a western US state or vice versa, is a complex question. The answer is also not simple, as experts from both sides have been researching to reach a conclusion and have done scores of papers, meetings and have collected samples to prove their points. But one thing is for sure that the scripts of an unknown language found both in Dhofar and Colorado are almost the same. And there has been similarity between climatic conditions of both the places. Like Dhofar, Colorado is known for its geographic diversity, with mountains and arid desert. Colorado, however, has snow-covered mountains and is perched a mile above the sea level. Experts from both the ends are trying to establish travel and other possible links to establish the history of a language and two cultures.


Ali Ahmed Ali Mahash Ash-Shahri, 68, has taken unto himself the task of establishing the fact that the language that has been found in Colorado was in fact the local language of the people living in Dhofar region some 2100 years ago. Ali humbly suggests adding or subtracting 200 years (+-200), as it has not yet been established and the language is yet to be deciphered. “Lots of evidences have been found, collected and documented but still not fully established,” he says and drops a hint that the language in question might be present day ‘Sahri’ which is known also as ‘Jabbali’ (Arabic word for something that belongs to mountain).

Ali Ahmed, however, strongly refutes the language being called ‘Jabbali’ “as mountains do not speak and languages are known by the people who speak them. The language was being used by local Dhofari Sahari tribe and hence it should honourably be called ‘Sahari’ language,” he insists and says “today there has been no written record of ‘Sahari’ language but it is spoken widely in Dhofar. He is trying to establish the missing link with the scripts that have been found in Dhofar and Colorado.

What makes more interesting is the fact that 28 years of research of this sexagenarian has led some researchers to understand that the remains of 33-alphabet language found in Colarado is very similar to the undeciphered inscriptions of Dhofar.

Ali Ahmed strongly believes that 28 years of meticulous research would lead him to get the written clue of the Shahri language. He is pained at disappearance of the written records of ‘Shahri’ language and says: “Each time a language disappears, a part of history and a way of thinking vanish. It is very important to establish written records of the language and we are lucky that its spoken form is widely practised in whole of the Dhofar region.”
The similarity between the alphabets found in Colorado and those of undeciphered inscriptions means a lot for Ali Ahmed. “It is a clear indication that the language is very old and the people from our place must have travelled to those places and finally settled there,” he says.

Tradition and culture is very close to Ali Ahmed. His studies in History as a subject in Beirut University and later his career in defence services made his passion for past more pronounced. He decided to do something for his own spoken language while collecting everything ‘old’ that came in his way.

His house in Saada speaks volumes of his hard work to give ‘Shahri’ a written identity. His living room has turned into a delicate house museum with all possible records in the forms of pictures, inscriptions, tools, photo negatives, audios and videos to support his research.

Besides all possible documents to support his research work, Ali Ahmed’s house museum has several items ranging from leather utility items to guns and gums.

He has written two books titled ‘Ancient inscriptions and drawings in Dhofar’ and ‘Language of Aad’. Both the books are written in Arabic and English.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christians, Muslims, Humans...

Dear Readers,

My 2016 list of resolutions is almost complete. Rest assured that it includes more blog posts. I have 12 topics lined up for the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, I just wanted to share something with you. Today as most of you know marks two special occasions; Christmas Eve and the Prophet Muhammad's birth. Both are significant dates for billions of people around the world. As the year comes to an end, we gather with our families to celebrate the holidays and wish each other a blessed whatever-occasion, let us not forget those who are suffering as we speak. There are millions of displaced humans with no home, many with no family, no shelter, and no clear future. As we gather to celebrate our own blessings, please keep these refugees in your thoughts and discuss with your loved ones how you can help. There are many many ways to extend your support, whether it's money or other means. Each and every one of us can and should help in any way we can.

On a happier note, the reason I'm typing this post is to reflect on my evening. It's 11 pm in Salalah on Christmas Eve. I am sitting in my garden in my thobe buthail sipping Dhofari tea and listening to the beautiful voices of the choir singing Christmas carols at the church up the street. I heard music and didn't know where it was coming from so I went outside and realized it was Christmas music coming from the church. I smiled as I thought to myself 'Only in Oman'. 

Yes, we have our problems in Oman like any other country, but in essence we are very peaceful people who like to avoid drama at all costs (obvious to anyone who follows Oman's foreign policy). The fact that as a Muslim, I can sit here in my garden listening to Christmas carols coming from up the street, knowing that there are thousands of Christians in Salalah gathered right now up the street from me is a happy thought. I live in a country that generally accepts you for who you are.

It had me thinking about how lucky I am to be living in a peaceful country that isn't torn apart by war, poverty, excessive corruption, sectarianism, and all the other horrible things humans have created. Our bliss probably won't last for long, but we should appreciate it while it does and extend a helping hand to others. Pay it forward. 

Love to all,

Nadia

PS (Donate what you can to the UN refugee agency at UNHRC . Every rial helps) 




Monday, November 23, 2015

Thoughts on National Day

Before you bite my head off, remember that I'm one person with an opinion. I didn't post patriotic schpeal on National Day (November 18th) because I didn't feel like it. I am torn between being happy and being pissed off. Not exactly a good combination, right?

As you all know, National Day celebrations are continuing in every Wilayat. Tens f thousands of school children trained for months (missed out on SO much school), performances, dancing, parties, balloons, badges, scarves, lights, fireworks, the whole thing. Every company/organization threw a party, even families covered their houses in flags and picture of Sultan Qaboos. People decorated their cars (at great expense), and there was the magnificent military show. 

All in all, a continuing party. It hasn't stopped yet. Yesterday was Ibra. Tomorrow is Sur. Salalah was on Thursday. It's just non-stop. 

ON ONE HAND:

Everyone was happy (not sure about the tens of thousands of kids), His Majesty made an appearance at the military show, people got to eat cake (Lots of Cake), people got to be wild, paint their cars, have parties, watch fireworks, do something different. Overall, tons of people celebrating something that many of them haven't even fully comprehended (kids especially). It's been fun.

ON THE OTHER HAND:

I'm no party-pooper (well, yes I am), but hear me out here. We are on the brink of an oil crisis.  Actually, we're already in the crisis.  Companies and government organizations are being pressured to cut costs (I have witnessed this and worked on this firsthand). 10% , 20% cuts. That's a lot of money. This is the WORST TIME to be spending millions and millions and millions on Wilayat celebrations and shows, etc. And in my opinion, it's completely unnecessary. Really, it is. Some of the shows were insanely boring and a repetition of the same stuff. Renaissance, Oman before and after, etc. 

45 years means a lot to us, but I can think of better (and cheaper ways to express loyalty and happiness).... ways that aren't just 'for show' if you know what I mean. 

For example:

1) I would have been 100% content if His Majesty had given a speech to the people of Oman. A sincere, genuine, informal, speech. Televised live. A real moving inspiring speech. His personal take on the past 45 years. I would give anything for a speech like that. Why not? I just don't get it. It would mean SO MUCH to every single Omani and non-Omani living in this country. 

2)  Major cities can have a march for Oman. Walking from point A to point B. Happy thousands of people walking for National Day. Minimum cost, right? 

3) Light up the streets, play a few songs on TV, get people together, give speeches, you know... like normal people do. 

4) Ok, you can have some fireworks. They're expensive, but they mean  a lot. 

5) Have cake. For heavens' sake, have your cake.

Overall, I was disappointed with the amount of money wasted on celebrations across the country that mean nothing. Everyone was celebrating the Sultan but he seemed so distant, so far away from it all (apart from the military show). National Day shouldn't just be about spending money. It should be about genuine patriotism. A mature understanding of the past 45 years and the way forward. 

Le fin. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

More weather conditions?

News of more weather conditions over the coming days. Have any of you heard anything regarding a tropical storm? It seems to be heading straight for Yemen again....  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Weather Update

Not that I want to jinx us or anything, but it seems we scared the cyclone off with all our obsessive preparations. The weather forecast for today indicates heavy thundershowers, torrential rain, and heavy wind. 

Looking out my office window, all I see is sun and scattered puddles. 

Hmm... is it too early to put the candles and buckets away? 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cyclone Chapala - Update

No major updates. Oman TV confirmed (at 10:00 am on Saturday) that the cyclone is 500 km away from the coast. They're still expecting rain to start today and the major effects to happen starting Sunday evening. They've evacuated Al Halaniyat Islands (officially reported on TV) and Rakhyout (word of mouth). Stay safe, stay home. Even if it moves towards Yemen in the next 24 hours, wer're still going to get major rainfall. Salalah is not equipped for major rainfall. Prepare yourself to have water in your home (especially if you live in a low area). Move important belongings upstairs. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tropical Cyclone Chapala: Eight Years of Rain Expected in Two Days

As you all know, Dhofar is about to be hit with Cyclone Chapala. There's a lot of information going around on social media, WhatsApp and the news. Lots of leaked memos from civil defense, police, schools etc. The government doesn't want people to panic, so they're not being informative about precautions except for the usual "stay away from wadis"  Here's what you should know:

1) It's around 800 km off the coast of Dhofar. Rain already started in Shuwaymia and Halaniyat Islands 
2) The cyclone is supposed to start "officially" tomorrow (Saturday afternoon/evening). 
3) They are expecting up to 60 ml of rain. 
4) It is expected to continue until Tuesday. 

A leaked memo from civil defense likened this cyclone to the one we had in 2002. Meaning? It's bad. 2002 was bad, not necessarily because of the cyclone, but because the rain had nowhere to go and Salalah pretty much drowned (highway was cut off), wadis running, trees fallen, cars floating around, dead animals, etc. Some lives were lost as well. Mostly people who were in or near wadis. 

I remember looking out the window and seeing trees bent over backwards and satellite dishes floating around (ones that had fallen OFF roofs). 

So my advice?

1) Stock up on packaged food, candles
2) charge your batteries
3) If you're anywhere near a wadi, move your vehicle/animals, etc to higher ground
4) Don't go NEAR Wadis. Flash floods are REAL, people. 
5) Even though Dhofar Power Company and Rural Areas Eelctricity company are working non-stop to ensure there is no power cut during the cyclone, keep in mind that you may have no power. These cyclones are powerful.
6) Omantel is also working hard to keep everything under control, but keep in mind that the 2002 cyclone led to zero communication for a couple of days. Make a plan in case there are no phones.
7) Stay indoors (and put towels near your windows just in case) 
8) AVOID THE BRIDGES. There are plenty of temporary steel structures around the two new bridges. THEY MIGHT COLLAPSE. 

Just stay indoors if the storm starts, and stay safe. 

Will update if any important info comes along.

Nadia

Friday, October 23, 2015

Festival of the Negroes 2015

Although I find the name of this festival quite offensive, this is what it's called in Salalah whether I like it or not. The festival, otherwise known as "Mahrajan Al Zunooj" is a gathering of all former black slaves and their families to perform dances and displays of loyalty for His Majesty. The date is this event is never known in advance. An order comes from the palace, Oman TV is informed to come record it, it's never on TV but as far as I know is recorded for the party mentioned above. The event I believe starts with a visit to a grave, followed by rituals, following by this gathering of thousands of people. They all wear purple indigo wraps and go crazy for a couple of hours. 

Today the festival took place (as usual, on a random date at a moment's notice. I was privileged enough to be able to go and enjoy it up close. The history of this event is ambiguous and even creepy (hint: involvement of djinn? magic?). I don't have time at the moment to post photos but I'm re-posting photos from 2012. Same exact scene.  Enjoy!














Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Upcoming elections and other tidbits...

Hello everyone. Greetings from my freezing office on this very hot day. I'll never understand why men need to have the central air-conditioning in our office building at freezing level. I suffer. 

Alrighty, so referring to the post below on the upcoming Majlis Al Shura (parliament) elections, take note of the following:

1) I'm still amazed about the Salalah Alliance selection criteria

2) I'm happy that this election season has featured fewer hideous bulletin board campaigns with        people promising to deliver the world (when we all know they have very little authority)

3) Elections will take place on Sunday October 25th.

Even though voting takes five minutes, and the polls are open until evening, don't expect to see many Omanis at work. For some reason, people feel the need to take the whole day off work to hang around feeling important. This will be my third time to vote. Every single time, I've worked a full day (normally alone in a big empty office) then went to vote after 5 pm. That's what normal people with job accountability should do right? Or take off say... an hour off from work to go vote? Does the country really need to come to a complete halt? 

On the topic of voting, congratulations to my Canadian readers (assuming they're not conservatives) on your new hot Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I'd vote for him any day.

And finally, rumor has it that the Oman navy are going to ruin occupy one of Mirbat's most treasured beaches.  Do you have any details about this? 


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.