Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
I'm exhausted. It's been a long day. Here's a mini-summary of the past 48 hours:
(1) Protests continue in Sohar & Salalah
(2) Protests in Salalah quiet and peaceful
(3) Protests in Sohar violent.
(4) Police shot 2 dead (confirmed) in Sohar and maybe up to 4 (last I heard an hour ago)
(5) Tear gas and rubber bullets used on protesters in Sohar.
(6) Police in Salalah snoozing in their cars while protesters sit peacefully opposite the governor's office.
(7) Protesters claim they're not moving until their demands have been fulfilled
(8) Their plan seems to have worked.
(9) His Majesty reshuffles ministers around last night. Royal decrees can be read here.
(10) Protesters still not satisfied
(11) His Majesty (as of a few minutes ago) announced a monthly compensation package of 150 OMR for each registered unemployed person in the country. Where did THAT money come from?
(12) His Majesty has also announced the 'creation' of 50,000 jobs. Sounds highly suspicious. Where did the 50,000 come from?
(13) Huge protests expected on Tuesday March 1st all over the country.
(14) If you live in Salalah, RELAX. There's no violence and it's safe to go outside. The protesters have congregated in front of the Minister's office. There are no protests anywhere else in town. It's not even called a protest anymore. It's a peaceful 'sit-in'. Send them cookies if you want.
Read Muscat Mutterings for more details. I'm cross-eyed. Cheers.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
News next week: Largest Lulu Hypermarket in Oman opens up in Salalah on Saturday the 26th. BIG NEWS!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
I was at the wedding of a distant cousin on Thursday where I wore the same ‘thobe’ (traditional dress) that I had worn to another relative’s wedding a couple of months back. I was sitting next to a woman I didn’t recognize (let’s name her Fatma). She stared at me for a good half hour and then finally spoke. This is how the conversation went:
Fatma: You’re X’s daughter?
Me: Yes. And you?
Fatma: Don’t you work?
Me: Yes, I do. Why?
Fatma: So you can afford a new thobe. Why are you wearing an old one?
Me: Excuse me?
Fatma: I saw you wearing this thobe at Y’s wedding in November.
Me: It’s only 3 months old and I’ve only worn it once.
Fatma: But the same people have ‘seen’ you wearing it. What will they say? My husband is not well-off and we have four daughters but even though it’s expensive, all my daughters are wearing new thobes today. We know how to ‘act’ in this society.
Me: How much did you spend on the thobes, makeup, wigs, and henna?
Me: HOW MUCH DID YOU SPEND?
Fatma: Over 500 rials.
Me: And you’re convinced that it’s right?
Fatma: Of course. This is society. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t change society.
Me: YES YOU CAN.
Fatma: You think that because you’ve been abroad for too long. My dear girl, you don’t understand anything.
Me: God help you. (and I stood up and left)
The sheer collectivism that I witness in Dhofar every day is baffling. Most of the time I am able to just keep calm and carry on, but sometimes it just drives me crazy. Why is it that after being back in Oman for over two years, I still haven’t been able to adapt? Or perhaps I never will?
My dear readers, I hereby accuse Dhofaris (and Arabs in general) of being unable to break out of what I call ‘Dhofar’s Collective Identity Crisis’. A collective identity refers to people’s sense of belonging to a group (Dhofaris). A collective identity forms the identity of the individuals until they are unable (in some cases) to make their own decisions. Sometimes the sense of belonging to a particular group will be so strong (tribalism) that is will undermine other aspects of one’s personal identity.
In our defense, I must state the obvious: we have not been encouraged to think for ourselves. It all starts when we are young. We go to school and are taught to memorize. We spend 12 years memorizing and copying out what the teacher writes on the blackboard. When we get into college, we struggle because we are unable to write our own essays or form our own opinions and theories about anything. To survive, we plagiarize. We take the same courses as our ‘friends’ because we cannot face the idea of attending the classes alone and studying alone. We graduate (barely) and end up getting a job through someone’s wasta. We do what we’re told and nothing more. Then we whine like babies when we don’t get a bonus for being innovative. We watch hours of TV everyday and are fed media crap on a silver plate. We don’t do any thinking in the process.
We decide to get married when society starts pressuring us (you’re too old – 24- it’s time to get married!). We choose a husband or wife based on what society deems ‘suitable’ (i.e. someone from a ‘good family’ with a ‘good reputation’, ‘good morals’ and ‘good connections’ and preferably lots of money). When you finally get married, you are forced to spend thousands on stupid un-Islamic Dhofari wedding ‘necessities’ in order to be like everyone else, regardless of whether we can afford it or not.
We wear the black face veil and frequent the same stores, and buy the same things because other people are doing it. Men wear the kumma and dishdasha because guys who wear jeans are considered wild. (not only do we have an identity crisis, but a fashion crisis – a country of black and white).
Several years ago, us Dhofaris adopted the second head and decided anyone who didn’t wear it was ‘weird’ and unfashionable (Do you know Manal in Grade 12? Who? Oh yeah, the one who doesn’t wear the 3okfa?). Recently, some sheikh in Saudi released a fatwa that is was ‘haram’. Immediately (like chickens), people panicked and forwarded the fatwa to everyone they knew via SMS and email. Our precious 3okfas (2nd heads) are now being discussed endlessly at social gatherings (should we or should we not?). Why do we even DISCUSS such petty things? Does society (collectively) have to ‘decide’ whether ‘we’ (the society) should wear this or that, do this or that, and act in this way or that way?
Thank Goodness I don’t have to figure it all out myself! Hooray! *insert sarcastic tone*.
Dammit, people. It’s time to break out of our comfortable cocoon and learn to think for ourselves.
Our isolation from the realities of a bigger and greater world drives me crazy. Dhofaris are not travellers by nature. We stick to the tribe and stick to the homeland. We think we are better than everyone else, so why bother learning about other cultures and people? Most of us don’t really care about the rest of the world. Hell, we don't even like our fellow Omanis up north! Most of the discussions you hear among people in social gatherings or at your regular shisha cafes are simply EMPTY. The latest phone, latest car, cheapest abaya taylor, where to buy land, where to get wasta, whether the government is giving us a bonus, which minister is gay, who is marrying who, which girl was ‘SEEN’ driving a car in which area, what someone wore at a wedding, and what people are saying on the Sabla, etc. Most of us can’t go beyond that.
In our defense, we have some really interesting thinkers in this town (wonderful people) but they are a MINORITY (right, Ma7feef?). I’m talking about the majority.
With the revolutionary domino effect that is currently taking place in the Middle East (Arab subjects were significantly more collectivist, so no wonder…), don’t think Omanis aren’t watching. We all want change, but it’s time to realize that change comes from within. Do not be afraid of thinking for yourself. Stand up for your rights and decide what YOU want from life and how YOU want to live. There’s no point fighting unless you know what you’re fighting FOR.
I’m not saying rebel against the Sultan or the government. They’re not the cause of our problems. The problem with us here in Oman is that we act like children and expect the government to solve all our problems. For example, we criticize the government for not setting up a marriage fund to support ‘troubled young men who cannot afford dowries’ when the obvious solution would be to simply STOP feeding into these pathetic and useless traditions where a girl’s family demands a dowry of 10,000 Rials. Must we spend 2000 rials on frankincense and buhkoor, 2000 on a wedding dress and 4000 on jewelry simply to keep up with what everyone else is going?
Don’t blame the government or the Jews or the Americans. Blame yourselves. Start at the bottom. Change the way YOU live. Start making your own decisions. Forget about what people ‘think’. Make your own decisions. Break out of the habits that you’ve been stuck with for so long.
In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes a group of humans who are trapped in a cave (chained to the floor) and facing the back wall of the cave. Behind them is a roaring fire. The world continues normally outside the cave, but these men can only see the shadows on the wall. After some time, they come to believe that these shadows are reality. The brave ones break away from their chains and turn around and see the light and the ‘real world’ but the majority remain in the cave and are content with sitting there in their own little reality. My summary does the theory no justice, so I advise you to look it up and read if you can.
However, one thing remains true. A cave dweller who left the cave and then came back to educate his friends will not succeed. Why? Because TRUTH MUST BE EXPERIENCED rather than told. Language fails to convey belief. Language is the barest shadow of reality, yet it is the one weapon our leaders and religious sheikhs use against us. We must experience and see for ourselves what life is all about.
I can’t help but link Plato’s theory to society here in Salalah. For some reason, most people in our society are followers. We think collectively and act collectively. Anyone who is slightly different is looked down upon. We are expected to dress the same (black for women, white for men), act the same (women are timid and demure and quiet, men are MEN), attend the same events, follow the same rules and always care about ‘what people will say should we dare change’. We are afraid of change and of anything new and different.
I’m not saying all Dhofaris are isolated and the rest of the world are thinkers but I do believe that there are more cave dwellers in Salalah than there are enlightened individuals.
Dear Dhofari: Don’t be a cave dweller. God gave you a brain, so use it. Think for yourself. Life is too short. Aspire to be the leader, not the follower.
Ideas: Collectivism. Groupthink. Identity crisis. Blind followers. Individuality. Cave dwellers. Reality. Tribalism. Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. Ibn Tufayl. Socrates. Plato. Dhofar. Salalah.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011