Might as well follow the Dragon's example and publish my answers to Sandhya Menon's questions (intelligent reporter from the Times of Oman) before the paper is out. I was asked by Sandhya (also a blogger) a couple of weeks ago if I would be willing to participate in a piece she was writing on bloggers. I agreed, for the sake of all newspaper readers who crave something interesting every once in a while.
She also asked for recommendations and I immediately sent her the links to some of my favorite blogs. Muscat Confidential was at the top of the list and it amused me terribly to hear that he was banned by the Times of Oman and thus could not be part of the article. Shame. However, fear not, for someone must have gotten in a good word somehow and he was invited to answer a set of questions. I will say no more. Part One on bloggers is in today's newspaper and part two will be out tomorrow. Stay tuned.
PS (please note that I chose mild/polite/friendly answers for the newspaper)
Will you ever blow your cover?
No. Blowing my cover will limit the topics I can write about. Anonymity gives me the freedom of writing honestly without worrying about being labeled.
Are you afraid you might be found out?
Not really. I'm not committing I crime, you know? Being anonymous is just more convenient.
If you are, what do you think the consequence would be? I chose not to answer.
How was it for you to have moved back after living in environments that afford women much more freedom that Oman?
I do not feel that I lack freedom in Oman. I am proud of being Omani and I would never choose to live anywhere else. However, I do live in a conservative town and unlike Western countries, social networking is huge. Everyone knows everyone. It bothered me at first that I seemed to have no privacy, but I just needed time to adapt. It was hard moving from a country that values individuality back into a society where collectivistic thinking rules and people are afraid of anyone 'different'.
Apart from realization of writing skills and a wonderful level of comfort with English, what was the reason you started to blog?
I started blogging because I want to write a book on society in Dhofar sometime in the future. A friend of mine (an author) told me that in order to work towards this goal, I had to write one good page a day. Writing for yourself can get depressing after a while, so I thought 'why not find an audience?'. Blogging was the perfect solution. I needed to write about real issues and I needed feedback in order to stay motivated. My readers are my inspiration. It has been an amazing journey.
Do you think you can bring about a change in society, however slow and tedious, with your writing and the awareness that your blog spreads?
Definitely. When I first started blogging, I thought I'd be writing for myself, but within a month or two when Dhofari Gucci became more popular, things changed. I'd meet someone for coffee and they'd immediately ask 'Have you heard about Dhofari Gucci?'. It was insane. I came to realize that whenever anyone Googles anything about Dhofar or Salalah in English, inevitably a link to my blog shows up on the first search page. That's how most people find it. I feel a strong sense of responsibility, especially after I discovered that my articles are being used as teaching material in colleges and I even discovered that someone quoted me in their Ph.D! This is why I try to do a little research before expressing my own personal opinion.
Has your blog ever been noticed by anyone who has objections to what you write in there?
Yes indeed. I get hate mail on a regular basis. I can't please everyone, especially since I'm writing about sensitive social issues. If you're asking about objections from higher authorities, I pick my topics carefully. My intention has never been to offend anyone. (I know that I've annoyed some officials from the Ministry of Information in Dhofar on several occasions. A lot of people don't appreciate my spreading Dhofar's dirty laundry - as they put it- on the internet)
If yes, how have you responded/reacted?
I had to start moderating comments a few months back when Dhofari Gucci started gaining publicity.
How far do you plan to take your blog in that that it reveals a side of Dhofar/Oman and its people that is not very well known?
Last year after doing a little online research, I realized there are absolutely no blogs about Dhofar written by Omanis in English. In fact, it's quite hard to find any information about life in Dhofar online unless through expat websites. There are many aspects about our culture that expats do not understand. So many people come here as tourists but don't have any idea about our history and society. They're shown the green mountains, beaches, camels, coconuts, etc, but where can they find 'real' information about the people? Dhofar is such an amazing place. I feel it's my responsibility to live up to the role of Dhofar's ambassador to the English speaking world. I try to stay real without sounding like a tourism website.
Do you have any ambitions for the blog?
Yes! There's so much I want to write about and there are so many issues that need to be tackled. I'm hoping Dhofari Gucci will become the most reliable online source of information on Dhofar. In order to reach that goal, I need to find more time to do research write. At the moment, obligations and duties in my 'real' life have taken all my spare time and I find I don't have an hour or two a day to write.
Does it bother you that you have to be anonymous to tell it like it is?
Not much. Sometimes it gets frustrating when I have to change details around before publishing posts in order to conceal my identity. However, the advantages of being anonymous completely outweigh the disadvantages.
Does anyone know of your identity? Family, close friends?
No. However, I have met other female bloggers in person for coffee and a chat. We're now great friends. Bloggers cover up for one another because we're all on the same boat. I have met some very enlightened young women. We all have a lot in common and after following each other's blogs for a while, it only makes sense to meet in person. I'm constantly fascinated by the number of young Omani writers out there who are capable to expressing themselves so easily in English.
How does having this unlimited space affect your personality? For eg: Are you more interested in the goings-on of things so that you can have material for your blog? Are you more socially aware because you realize you can't put up something that you don't understand?
Yes I definitely feel that I'm more tuned in to my surroundings. I'm always looking for topics to write about. When I'm with my friends, I'm constantly asking for their opinion on anything from polygamy, witchcraft, divorce rates, local traditions, to local food and music! I carry a notebook around with me wherever I go. I definitely feel more passionate about Dhofar and I find that I'm more interested in reading about the history of this region. I find that I am able to zone out and look at Dhofar from an outsider's perspective as well as from a local girl's point of view.
Do you write in Arabic as well?
I'm fluent in both Arabic and English, and I do write in Arabic. However, I'm more comfortable writing about Dhofar in English because I'm dealing with a completely different audience. The English-speaking online community in Oman is very different than the Arabic one, and there's plenty of information available in Arabic, so why not explore new territory?